Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Kombucha in the Making

Well, the day is finally here: Kombucha bottling day! It has been a long, arduous journey (alright, actually just two weeks).

Some of you may remember from past posts that I obtained a Kombucha, or SCOBY (aka Scobi Baby) starter from a friend in Madison....who obtained it from another friend...who obtained it from an Amish Lady, who gave her the recipe that follows.

This is probably the first thing that struck me about Kombucha, this mythical quality it seems to have, shrouded in hippy lore. Some people say it comes from Russia (tea kvass); others that it comes from gypsies, others still from the Chinese (the immortal health elixir), or of course, the Amish. These days, Kombucha isn't just a drink, its a symbol of a certain kind of nature-driven, probiotic lifestyle (which is ironic, since many of the same parents who I hear touting Kombucha are also obsessed with Purell).
I'm not really making Kombucha because I want to test it's health food properties. Although, it would certainly be intriguing. Kombucha is reported to do everything from reducing depression to fighting cancer. However, all research thus far on Kombucha has been based on anecdotal evidence and animal tests. To date, no human trials have been reported in any medical or health journal.  So, you will not, and probably should not, find any licensed physician recommending Kombucha for medicinal purposes anytime soon.

Also, as a note of caution, because of the manner in which Kombucha is made, there is a danger of "bad bacteria" growth. Incorrectly brewed Kombucha has the potential of leading to metabolic acidosis, which can be fatal. The evidence for this, however, also seems rather anecdotal. As thinking human beings, we can assume that most foods may pose a risk if consumed excessively, or if prepared improperly. This is true with Kombucha, as it is true with raw eggs and bagged grocery store spinach.

So, with a healthy dose of caution, and an open mind---lets get fermenting! 

Step One: Bring a gallon of distilled or filtered water just to a boil in a large pot, made from stainless steel or glass (not aluminum). Straight tap water is not recommended, because you want to start with as few impurities as possible.

Step Two: Add 1 cup granulated sugar, and stir until dissolved. Then, add 8 tea bags, or servings of loose tea. You want to chose PLAIN tea; no added dried flowers or fruity stuff. Just plain old green, black or rooibos tea. For my recipe, I chose to do half and half:

        Black Assam Tea
Organic Rooibos

Let this steep for 5-20 minutes--general consensus is a bit longer than you would steep tea normally. 20 minutes seems a bit far out on the spectrum to me, but if you forget to take it out at the exact right time, the point is that you'll probably be ok.

Step Three: Take the tea out, and cover the pot of sweet tea. Let this sit covered for 8 hours or overnight, until completely cooled.

Step Four: Pour the tea into a large jug with a wide mouth. Glass is preferable; I used a sun tea pitcher, which also has a pour spout that comes in very handy later.

Step Five: Add the SCOBY Baby. Most recipes recommend at this point that you wash your hands again and take off all metal jewelry, as the culture is very vulnerable at this point. Just pick up the baby gently, as slide it into the jug, pouring the tea starter in the container with it.

 Scoby Baby Starter

Step Six: Cover the top of the jar with a few layers of cheesecloth, and secure with a rubber band. Do not seal with a tight fitting lid; it is important to let the Kombucha breathe; it is ALIVE!

Fermenting Kombucha

Now, you wait. Place the jug in a a cupboard or in a corner where it will not be disturbed. Leave it there for 2-2.5 weeks. Try to resist opening it up, because this will only endanger your culture.

The Scoby Baby, now your new Mother, may not sit on top of the tea; it may float to the bottom, of sit somewhere in the middle. This is fine. If you use a clear jug, you'll be able to see all the funky layers of the Mother.

As the Kombucha ferments, the culture will form a new layer on top of the jar. This will be your new baby, which you can pass on to friends!

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of filling my jug too full. The new baby began to grow right up to and through the cheesecloth. I attempted to peel it off the cheesecloth, but alas, it was too late.

The new baby attached and mixed with the cheesecloth to such an extent that there was no way to separate them.

With a heavy heart, I made the decision to abort my baby. Take that, google search engines!

Step Seven: Bottle your Kombucha! Alright, we're into the home stretch. If you would like to flavor you Kombucha, this is the time. I flavored half of it with half a container of frozen juice concentrate. It seems that lighter flavors work better, but who knows; add what you like!

I left the other half of the Kombucha plain (as you can always add flavor later) and bottled both into glass growler jugs from my favorite Madison brewery.

I sealed the jugs, then put them back in my cupboard to sit for another 5 days. When this is done, I'll refrigerate it and then it'll be ready to drink.

I still haven't tasted it, but I have high hopes! Mostly  to me, it just a fun food experiment.

On another note, if anyone out there would like a Scoby baby to make their own Kombucha, let me know. If I keep up with this, I'll be making a new one every few weeks!

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Back Log of Delicious---Mostly.

So it turns out that when you don't blog for two weeks, the food pics really start to pile up. Also, when the cumulative results of 2 weeks of baking and cooking are before you, certain things become clear. First, I clearly bake a lot.

Apple Cinnamon Muffins with a oatmeal granola streusel.

Verdict: A bizarrely healthy muffin for a mix. The mix uses whole wheat flour, which has a slightly bitter after taste. Personally, I think banana melds a bit better with whole wheat, but still good!

Whoopie Pies!

Verdict: YUM. These were creamy, cakey, and also great frozen. I'd make them smaller next time I think, as the traditional fist-sized cookie sandwiches are a bit larger than I imagine is a good single serving size. Interestingly, most recipes for whoopie pies (including the one I used) use raw egg whites for the filling. I'm not sure why, but it works. Using egg whites puts you at a lower risk of salmonella poisoning than using raw yolks, but it's still a potential issue.

Homemade Butterscotch Pudding

It turned out a tad thinner than I'm accustomed to, though this might be because this recipe does not include any gelatin as a thickening agent. It had big brown sugar flavor though, which I loved. Way more than boxed pudding. Allowing it to cook a bit longer would likely have allowed the butterscotch flavor to develop more, but I was impatient. Dave was less of a fan I think, but he's also very attached to his boxed pudding.

Chocolate Meringues

Verdict: As Dave said, "they're like an inside out s'more!" I didn't have the pastry bag they called for in the recipe to pipe the cookies with, so I constructed one out of a sandwich bag. The more awkward looking cookies came out looking a bit more like doggie poop, but trust me, they all tasted great. They were also addictive. I made these for a game night, but I think I'll probably be eating all the left overs. Today.

In between cookies and puddings, I did manage to squeeze in a few actual meals. Even got Dave to cook once or twice.

Grilled Teriyaki Salmon with rice. Mmmmmm. I'm always impressed whenever anyone manages to cook fish and NOT leave half of it on the grill. I never have the patience to do it right, so its a good thing he's in charge of the grill, in a stereotypical Man-Make-Fire way.

After a great dinner like that, someone deserved a great breakfast.

Cinnamon French Toast with Sausage Links and Fresh Pineapple.

I usually make the promise about once a week that I'm going to get up early and make a great breakfast. It always sounds like a better idea the night before. If I could eat this every morning though, I might consider it more regularly.

Of course, there are plenty of days when we barely have time to make any meals, much less an elaborate breakfast. I knew we'd have a few days like that this past week, so I went with one of our favorite left over meals:

A big old rotisserie roasted chicken.....

with baked red potatoes with rosemary and thyme.

Finally, I successfully resisted, over and over for the past two weeks to NOT disturb my fermenting Kombucha, just to see how it's doing. However, my baby's due date is in just a few more days, at which point, we'll get to open it up, and see if it is a stunning success, or unqualified disaster.

There it sits. Waaaaaaaaaaiiting......

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Gettin' Back

Sometimes its good to get back.

I spent about a week in Madison around this past Memorial Day, working from the main office, seeing some really good friends, enjoying the wonderful weather, and of course, enjoying some killer food.

It didn't take me very long to find my way to a local microbrew. This particular pint is a Rochambeau Belgian Ale from the newly created Vintage Brewing Company, which took over the old space of JT Whitney's, including their brewing equipment. Their selection of microbrews is impressive for a new brewery, and I can't wait to try the rest of their beers.  With the amount if trips I make back to WI, it shouldn't take me too long.

After an evening of beer, I needed something fresh and light the next morning to wake up my sloshing stomach.

Strawberries, blueberries, banana and a splash of lime juice. Delish! It definitely made me appreciate my parent's well stocked fridge.

Speaking of delicious things eaten at my parent's house---

I think there is a law somewhere that says you must grill over Memorial Day weekend. As good law abiding citizens, I like to think we did our duty admirably. Thai grilled chicken with a sweet-spicy sauce, pasta salad, fresh pineapple and a (regrettably not pictured) bowl of fresh garden lettuce. The recipe for Thai Grilled Chicken was obtained from possibly the best issue of Cook's Illustrated ever written. If you'd like the recipe, it should be archived neatly on their website, which you can get a 14 day trial membership to obtain. Sure, you can get lots of recipes for free online, but I think they're somewhat justified in their membership-based business model. As cooking rags go, Cook's Illustrated and their various magazine/TV ventures are by far the best and most reliable sources of cooking info and recipes out there in my opinion. If you've never picked up one of their cook books, or read their magazine, seriously, check it out.

But I digress. Then, I had Bratfest ice cream.

The color of this ice cream may be slightly horrifying, but I assure you the taste was pure cookie dough heaven. In honor of Bratfest, which is a local fundraiser and brat extravaganza held every Memorial Day weekend in Madison, The Chocolate Shoppe dyed their cookie dough ice cream the official Bratfest colors. The kid in me was giddy about eating this; the adult in me mildly wondered what chemicals they used to get it so unnaturally bright. Both enjoyed it immensely.

Whenever I return from a trip to Madison, I almost always bring some food/drink back with me, whether it's cheese curds or Great Dane Beer. This time however, it was something slightly more unusual: A SCOBY baby!

SCOBY Babies (or Symbiotic Cultures of Bacteria and Yeast) are the mushroom-like starters that are used to create Kombucha Tea, a probiotic beverage popular with health enthusiasts and unabashed hippies the world around. It's like bringing back a little piece of Madison with me. The tea takes about 2 weeks to ferment, and I'll write a more expansive post on it as the Kombucha develops---hopefully it will turn out!

(Apologies to all the delicious food I ate that I forgot to take a picture of. Cheese Fondue, this one's for you!)