Kombucha: The Necessary Stuff

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So, the things you’ll need to make kombucha are a bit too unsophisticated to be called equipment, but because starting to make kombucha is a bit of an undertaking, I’ll list all the “stuff” you’ll need to begin brewing your very own probiotic drink!

First off, a couple of things to keep in mind.  Kombucha is acidic, and it can suck nasty stuff out of a plastic container, or one that contains aluminum or lead.  So it’s best to stick with glass for the finished kombucha, and stainless steel for boiling the tea.  Also, kombucha doesn’t like soap, so you can’t wash anything that will hold finished kombucha with soap or in the dishwasher.  Instead, it is very important to sterilize everything with boiling water.

To make kombucha, you’ll need several basic household items.  First, a large (at least 5 L capacity) stainless steel pot with a lid.  This is for boiling the tea.  Second, you’ll need a large glass container (no lid necessary) to brew the kombucha in.  Mine are two-gallon size, with a narrow rim on top.  I think they were originally intended to be some sort of glorified candy jar.  I think I put them to much better use.  Make sure the glass is fairly thick, because you’ll want something sturdy and well-made.

IMG_0348   You’ll also need something to cover the tops of the crocks to keep dust and bugs and other intruders out.  It’s important that the cover you use allows the scobys to breath.  If it’s cloth, it must be 100% cotton.  I like to use bandanas– they’re the perfect size and material, and tightly knit enough to keep dust out.  I highly recommend them.  Make sure you have some big rubber bands to keep the bandana on, like the pink ones in the photo above.  I always use two rubber bands, just in case one of them breaks.

The last things you’ll need are lots of glass jars or bottles to hold the finished kombucha.  They need to have tight-fitting lids, but other than that, they can be any shape or size.  Mason jars work well (I like the 1/2 gallon size), as long as they haven’t been previously washed with soap.  You can also re-use commercial kombucha bottles, but even thoroughly sterilized food jars (think spaghetti sauce) will do in a pinch.  Just remember: NO SOAP!!!  (You can use vinegar with boiling water to make sure everything is squeaky clean.)  You’ll also need a couple of sturdy wooden spoons.

And that’s about it!  Let me know if this post was helpful, and I’ll write more about kombucha (including- eventually!- a recipe) in future posts.

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Summer Salad

Something about the warm weather makes me crave fresh food.  Crisp greens, savory herbs, and crunchy raw vegetables combine synergistically in this colorful salad.  This salad combination is my favorite, as its delicious blend of seasonal vegetables, protein, and healthy fats  provides a complete meal and a treat for the senses.

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Ingredients:

1 1/2 c. (a giant handful) greens (I like a combination of Romaine & spinach)

1 hardboiled egg (How to boil perfect eggs:  place egg in cold water, bring to boil.  Boil 3 minutes, cool 5-10 minutes.  Remove egg, crack all over.  Run under cold water; peel.)

1/4 c. sliced carrots

2 Tbsp. raisins (may use fresh strawberries or apple instead)

3 Tbsp. shredded cheddar cheese   IMG_0654

2 Tbsp. ranch dressing

may add diced bell pepper, peas, cherry tomatoes, crumbled bacon, chopped chicken, or other vegetables or toppings if desired

Wash and coarsely tear greens.  Shake dry and place in a shallow bowl.  Chop carrots and optional additional vegetables.  Strew over greens.  Quarter egg and arrange on top of salad.  Add raisins.  Drizzle ranch dressing over salad and garnish with shredded cheese.  Enjoy!

 

Shepherd’s Pie

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Shepherd’s Pie has been one of my family’s favorite meals for I don’t know how long.  We originally used a recipe, but over time, we’ve made so many alterations and modifications that now it’s our own personal masterpiece.

If you’ve never had Shepherd’s Pie before, it’s not actually like a regular pie.  It’s composed of a base of savory beef or lamb with a creamy sauce, topped with mashed potatoes and cheese, then baked to blend the flavors.  You can add in extra vegetables, like steamed corn, peas, or diced carrots, or just keep it simple with the meat and potatoes.  In a pinch, we’ve skipped the cheese, or even substituted the potatoes with steamed, mashed cauliflower!  It’s delicious with any of these vegetables, so ransack your fridge and make your own!

Ingredients:

7-8 golden potatoes (may substitute a different variety of spud, or use cauliflower)

1- 2 lbs. ground beef or lamb

1 medium onion, diced

1/2 tsp. basil

1/4 tsp. garlic powder (or 1 fresh clove)

sea salt & black pepper to taste

2 c. steamed corn, carrots, or peas (optional)

3/4 c. milk, broth, or water

1/4 c. rice flour

1/2 c. butter

1/2- 1 c. shredded cheddar cheese (optional, or use a different kind)

Wash and roughly chop potatoes (no need to peel).  Place in a large pot and cover with water.  Boil potatoes until soft; drain.  Meanwhile, brown beef in a skillet.  Add onion and cook until soft.  Add basil, salt, and pepper.  Blend 1/2 c. of the milk and the flour in a cup with a fork; add to beef mixture.  Stir and cook over low heat until slightly thickened.  Set aside.  Add butter, remaining milk, garlic, and salt & pepper to drained potatoes.  Mash until smooth and creamy.  Stir in shredded cheese.  Spread meat mixture in a large, shallow casserole dish (about 9 x 13).  Top with optional steamed vegetables.  Spread potatoes evenly over the top, smoothing to edges.  Bake at 350 for 20- 25 minutes.  Cool 5 minutes before serving.  Serves 6-8, depending on amounts used.

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A Bit About Kombucha

Okay, so this isn’t exactly a recipe- it’s more of an introduction, because kombucha is rather a complex subject.  For starters, you might be wondering exactly what kombucha is.  Well, kombucha is an awesome probiotic beverage made from sweetened tea, which is mixed with a special culture and allowed to ferment.  It’s a little like the principle of yogurt making, but with tea and sugar, not milk.  A kombucha culture is sometimes called a scoby, which stands for Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast.  It looks like this while it’s fermenting:

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The top part is the scoby, and the liquid underneath is the actual tea- fermenting- to- kombucha.  The liquid is the part you drink; the scobys aren’t edible.  They look weird, and when I first started making kombucha over two years ago, my mom referred to it as my science experiment.  Which, I suppose, it kind of is- but a tasty one!

Kombucha is nutritious because it contains lots of different kinds of probiotics, the “good bugs” that support the immune system by warding off pathogens.

Fortunately, kombucha isn’t just good for you- it tastes great, once you get used to the slight vinegary taste.  The flavor is a little bit acidic, not at all like tea, and the finished kombucha is usually bubbly, rather like soda, but nourishing.  The finished product doesn’t have much sugar, because the sugar and caffeine in the tea are eaten by the culture during fermenting.  It can be flavored with nearly any sort of fruit, and even more exotic foods like ginger, chia seeds, or hibiscus!

I’ll write more about kombucha- including how to make it and what not to do- in future posts.  In the meantime, feel free to ask me questions, and I’ll do my best to answer.  More soon!

Lenten Lentils

This is a satisfying lentil soup that is perfect for Lent!  It contains no meat, and can even be completely vegan, though I like to serve it with cheddar cheese.  Remember to soak the lentils first; they will cook much better and the nutrients will be easier to absorb.

IMG_0562Ingredients:

4 c. dry green lentils

1/4 c. apple cider vinegar

warm water

Combine above ingredients in a large bowl or pot, adding water to well above lentils- they swell quite a bit.  Cover and soak about seven hours.  Drain and rinse; proceed with recipe.

Chop the following vegetables:   IMG_0559

1 onion

1 c. carrots

Saute onion in 1 tbsp. coconut oil in a large Dutch oven, until soft.  Add carrots and the following ingredients:

15 oz. diced tomatoes (canned or jarred)

4 c. vegetable broth (or water)

the soaked, drained, and rinsed lentils

1 1/2 tsp. dried parsley

1/4 tsp. chili powder     IMG_0561

1/4 tsp. paprika

1/2 tsp. garlic powder (or 1 clove fresh)

1/2 tsp. basil

sea salt & pepper to taste

Stir everything together and add water as necessary to cover lentils.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat.  Simmer, uncovered, for about two hours or until vegetables are soft and lentils are cooked.  Top with shredded cheddar cheese.

*This does make a gigantic batch (at least 12 servings), so freeze the leftovers or serve it to a crowd.

 

Strawberry Sauce

This sweet and simple sauce is perfect with pancakes, but it’s also delicious on ice cream or in yogurt.

 

 

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Ingredients:

1 1/2 c. fresh or frozen strawberries

1/4 c. sugar

1/4 c. water

1 Tbs. arrowroot dissolved in 1 Tbsp. water

Wash strawberries and place in a small pot.  Add sugar and water; bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat.  Blend arrowroot and water in a small bowl, add to sauce.  Cook and stir about 5 minutes, until thickened.  Serve warm.

Pancakes

I was surprised to find that gluten- free pancakes can be easy to make.  I thought they would be one of those “problem foods”.  I figured they wouldn’t taste right quite right and would fall apart or stick upon my attempting to fry them in a skillet.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to find the reverse was true.  These pancakes are easy to mix up, cook reliably, and taste, well… just like pancakes!  Try them plain, with the classic butter and maple syrup, or with a more exotic fruit sauce (like strawberry sauce), or chocolate topping (like Chocolate Coconut Spread).  Breakfast… or lunch… or dinner… is served!

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P.S.  These are also vegetarian, nut-free, and contain no added sugar. 🙂

Ingredients:

2 eggs

1 c. milk (or milk substitute- coconut milk is great)

1/4 c. melted butter or coconut oil

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1/4 c. arrowroot

1 1/4- 1 1/2 c. brown rice flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. sea salt

Beat eggs lightly with a fork in a medium bowl.  Add milk, butter and vanilla, blend well.  Stir in dry ingredients, mixing until just combined.  Heat a large skillet (well-seasoned cast iron is a good choice), and add a little butter or oil to the skillet.

When it is quite hot, cook pancakes over medium- low heat.  Use a scant 1/4 cup batter for each pancake, and make 3-4 at once.  Be sure the pancake is well- cooked on the first side before flipping gently.  Don’t panic if they seem to be sticking.  Add a little more oil and cook until crispy.  The second side will cook faster than the first, so watch closely.  Makes 10-12.