Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Friday, December 19, 2014
After a couple dry years, our California winter finally returned. It has been raining for weeks. We almost forgot what a normal California winter looked like, wet socks and green hills. The vines are loosing their color, but the meadows between them are lime green. There are toads croaking everywhere.
Even though winter has returned, it's still mild and the normal rules of winter aren't taken into consideration. As I drive back and forth between San Francisco and Sonoma, I count the baby sheep and cows. I broke into the barn to dig out my winter coat consisting of a sweater and a rain jacket, and rain boots. Unfortunately the rain boots have a rip along the side of the foot that even the strongest duck tape won't fix. It is time for the return of wet socks warming by the fire.
Almost everything had already been removed from the garden, but our peppers never seemed to end. I gave two bags full to the Winemaker at Deerfield Ranch Winery, Robert Rex, for his Sicilian Grandmother's traditional meat and peppers recipe. By the time everybody and their mothers were tired of peppers we still had enough peppers to fill a five hour pickling event, including 40 jars.
- 4 cups vinegar (preferably apple cider vinegar)
- 2 cups water
- 4 TBS salt
Combine the ingredients in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Stir to ensure all the ingredients dissolve.
PEPPERS AND OTHER VEGETABLES
Fill our jars two-thirds full of fresh washed vegetables and other flavoring components. I recommend slicing the vegetables so the pickling process works better. Definitely slice your peppers.
- bell peppers
Pour the hot brine into the vegetable filled jars. Seal the jars through your canning method of choice. Wait at least three weeks for the pickling process to complete. Store jars between 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Learn more about canning here. I boiled the jars after they were full, and then let them cool on the counter until all their tops popped indicating a fresh sealed jar. This method also runs the risk of glass jars breaking under the stress of the high heat.
Remember to always sterilize your equipment before using. After the jars have been filled, they need to be sealed, just like making jam in the summer time. There are different acceptable methods of canning.
Pickling works by creating a high acid environment that selects for the growth of the bacteria lactobacilli, which ferment the sugar in veggies producing lactic acid. Not very many microbes can live in high acid environments, so the vinegar is not only selecting for lactobacilli which 'pickle' the veggies, but also deselects for potentially harmful alternative bacteria. The idea in pickling is to create an environment made specifically for lactobacilli, so this good bacteria can out compete all other potentially harmful bacteria.
The addition of salt is used for the same selection principle. At certain salt concentrations lactobacilli grow faster than other organisms. Too little salt allows for the quick growth of other organisms, but too much salt will also kill the good lactobacilli bacteria. Thus, it is important to not alter the suggested ratio of salt and vinegar.
If your jars are not properly sealed and the contents are exposed to oxygen, spoilage it almost always certain. Also the temperature at which you store your fermenting jars will affect your pickled products. Try and keep the contents between 70 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Tuesday, December 9, 2014
SOMA, Sonoma County Mushroom Association, holds mushroom forays with mycologist who can identity all the mushrooms found. Last time we went mushroom hunting at Salt Point State Park at the Sonoma coast. We were on the look out for Porcini's, but ended up finding candy caps, shaggy manes, and hedgehogs as well. I was thrilled to find candy cap mushrooms in the wild for the first time. Candy caps smell like maple syrup, which intensifies as the mushrooms are dried. This time, I want to dry my candy cap mushrooms, crush them, and then add them to my holiday hot chocolate.
I brought home the shaggy manes for dinner. My go to method for cooking mushrooms is to sauté them with butter, shallots, and garlic. I generally add the ingredients by feel and taste. The shaggy manes were paired with wild rice and kale sautéed in garlic and olive oil.
- 4 shaggy mane mushrooms (or substitute another mushroom)
- 1 small shallot
- 2 medium cloves of garlic
- 2-4 tablespoons of butter, more as needed
Chop up the shallots and garlic. Heat a cast iron skillet. Once hot, melt one tablespoon of butter, and add the shallots and garlic. Mix over medium heat until the shallots are translucent, and the garlic soft. Melt another tablespoon of butter before adding the mushrooms. Heat over medium heat, mixing occasionally so the ingredients do not become overly crispy. Continue to add butter to the skillet as needed to keep the skillet greased. sauté the mushrooms until they are soft and pliable. The shaggy manes will open up and become slightly translucent when done.
WARNING: Wild mushrooms are an amazing resource, but when foraged incorrectly can be lethal. Do not forage without the supervision of a mycologist.
The next forage with SOMA is December 20th. After a forage there is a potluck supplied by the members, full of decadent homemade food often full of mushrooms. SOMA provides information on mushrooms regarding identification, cooking, dyes and paper, growing, foraging, and health. Membership is around twenty dollars.
Thursday, November 27, 2014
The evolution of my involvement with Thanksgiving has mirrored my switch from the biotech industry to the wine industry, and marked the beginning of my food blogging. One of the first recipes I blogged was this kale and brussels sprout salad, which I originally obtained from Saveur magazine in 2011. The copy of the recipe below is now my family’s version. This recipe has been passed around, with each new person adding a small twist. It is our favorite hearty holiday salad, and satisfies almost all dietary requirements. Gluten-free, and easily vegan, if the cheese is removed.
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
John brought us to his outdoor kitchen, beaming. He had built an outdoor wood burning oven so he could cook a whole lamb for his family. They used to gather here, against the rickety wooden table, drink their homemade merlot, and converse over the freshly cooked (and killed, I may add) lamb. You could see the memories set fire to his eyes. In celebration of life and the land, he brought us to his small cellar, and gave us a bottle of the merlot he had just made this harvest. “Drink today. There are no preservatives.”