These days there is a much concern about healthy gut bacteria. It’s great when you can defend yourself against certain food born bacteria and a good defense is eating fermented food to help balance the good and bad bacteria floating around in you.
Even if it’s not bugs of the holidays, with all the over processed food conveniently available our guts don’t stand a chance taking on a chemical warfare of flavor enhancers, anti caking agents, and colorants as well. Time to hit the reset button! We need to turn to the things Grandma and Grandpa used to do; that is to say, get back to the basics in our everyday food preparation.
There are a lot of products available at the supermarket and the drug store to help bolster that healthy gut bacteria; things like yogurt, kefir, kombucha and probiotic pills. These things are expensive! Except for the pills, these things can be cultured at home but all one really needs to feed their gut the good stuff is a head of cabbage and some salt.
It is a week long process to culture these healthy bacteria already living on your head of cabbage: Leuconostoc mesenteroides, Lactobacillus brevis, Pediococcus pentosaceus, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus bavaricus. All of this can be had for about forty cents. You just have to like sour kraut. Even if you don’t, you might like the fresh stuff because the taste and texture is far superior to anything store bought.
First, you’ll need a good knife, a small mouthed quart Mason jar and a standard pickle jar that has been thoroughly cleaned. Next, chop a head of cabbage into thin strips, cutting lengthwise then cutting one half at a time into 1/8th inch shreds. In a gallon size freezer bag sprinkle two teaspoons non-iodized salt over the shredded cabbage, seal it with as little air as possible and pound it with your fist or a can of soup or a heavy sauce pan..what ever you like to use. Take out a measure of frustration on this cabbage until you notice it rendering some juice.
It will take a bit of time to stuff as much cabbage as possible into the mason jar from the bag but do so until you see the level of juice rise. After releasing your frustration you will have the patience to persevere. Keep stuffing until the juice rises all the way to the top of the cabbage. Stuff, stuff, stuff! Take a rest if the juice isn’t there yet. After a few minutes the salt will help render enough to cover the cabbage. If it’s not happening after ten minutes or so, a splash of non chlorinated water is all it should take to cover the cabbage. Almost an entire average head of cabbage will fit in the jar.
Invert the clean pickle jar over the mason jar and you will have created the perfect fermenting vessel. It will keep out dust and other unwanted air born stuff yet let carbon dioxide gas escape without blowing up on your counter. That’s it! All you have to do now is wait about a week, maybe more if you like a mushier product. You can taste it along the way to check your progress.
From day two to about day four, if you keep your jar at around 72 °F, you will notice bubbles increasing on the surface each day then diminishing the rest of the week. Those first four days the fermentation is in high gear. It continues but the kraut becomes more mellow and a bit softer in the last four days. You don’t want it to go so far as to get it too mushy or the good bacteria will have languished, thus, the product is less beneficial.
It is important for the cabbage to be covered in liquid and press out all air bubbles. If air gets to the cabbage it may oxidize and turn brown. Having a little brown does not mean a total fail. Just remove the oxidized pieces, place a tight lid on and refrigerate after the 8 days. It will still be perfectly edible.
Our grandparents and ancestors from all countries did these things to preserve food to survive harsh winters. Want to be tough like them? It takes guts! So take care of yours with your own special recipe for sauerkraut.
Jeff and I took a camping/hiking trip over the weekend and while we ate well, we had to take a more rustic approach to cooking it in the wilderness. There is a place Jeff and I have out in the countryside of South Central Missouri that we are making DIY improvements upon. So we took advantage of walking the hills with our loads of supplies heaped on our backs and being dragged behind us to our site. It was great exercise and we (who are not spring chickens) took to some great huffing and puffing.
During our trip, which we already anticipated getting good exercise, we decided to try a more Paleo style diet to jump-start our plan of trimming down a bit before our life insurance renewal date (with physical exam in a couple of months). It’s a lot cheaper if you are skinny (Um…I’ve got some work to do), a non-smoker (woo hoo!) and have good vitals (I’m in good shape there). So we’ll be tackling both land improvements and personal fitness improvements for the next couple of months so we can hopefully snag the best rates.
After day one and an honest day’s work, we decided we’d better eat because it was getting dark. Being so tired we didn’t fuss with any gear except a knife and the cooler…it turned out that a chunk of rib-eye skewered on a sturdy but green sassafras twig over a pear tree wood fire had a unique and wonderful taste. We roasted onions and and corn on a grill propped on rocks over over the fire as well. The cave men didn’t have it so bad! This food was fun to cook this way, very filling and very tasty.
Bacon and hard boiled eggs were our breakfast Saturday morning, cooked on the camp stove in a small skillet then crumbled and cubed up over the pre-cut and washed romaine we had taken along in the ice chest (I need my greens). We both found that this diet was invigorating and we didn’t feel hungry even after doing tons of hard work clearing saplings and brush from our path to the creek.
There was something else that we suspected was keeping our minds off of food…. the peace and quiet of being far from civilization and deep in a natural woodland setting was definitely food for the spirit. But here also, there were no billboards, commercials, signs on businesses, or junk mail coupons pounding us in the head to buy this extra-super-cheesy-deluxe-double burger, pizza, or chicken sandwich with bacon, gobs of creamy sauce and extra large fries and soda.
It surprised us both as we sat by the campfire, how much these things really do rent space in our brains on a daily basis living in suburbia. There was this ethereal feeling each night of profound peace under that brilliantly starry sky instead of the usual TV ad bombardment… no gooey strings of melty cheese streaming from the slice of pizza as it’s pulled away, and none of the commercial actresses were having a near sexual encounter with a giant hamburger while we’re trying to watch the news… We took a moment to ponder and recognize that we are being brainwashed into thinking we need heavy over sweetened, super sized, and over processed food. It’s been the background noise for most of our lives. It’s ironic how these commercials left us feeling a void…a hunger, and being in the countryside, away from it filled us with peace and tranquility.
So when we got back home, all I could think of is food again. It didn’t take long for the food ads to jump out at every stop either. We’re resolute about eating to reduce, and with the epiphany we had in the woods, it has brought the aim of the ads (to hopefully make you feel empty and hungry) to our consciousness. The more I think about the ads and their purpose the more it drives me to look away. Very few fast food places serve food that will make you leaner and healthier. One place made oatmeal into a sugary pile of goo. Another place took grilled chicken and threw it into a “bowl” with cheese, corn, and biscuits sopping with grease. What is supposed to be an Angus beef sandwich with 94% lean beef turns out to have 600 calories and thirty something grams of fat. Once you get over a thousand milligrams of sodium, who cares what will happen next, right? How is it that foods that have good diet potential, end up being loaded with crap once they are served in a fast food restaurant? Do fiends and goblins haunt these buildings, go out at night and inject the food with all the bad stuff in the world, then disappear into the woodwork during the business hours? What, WHAT?? What’s going on? Why are they compelled to make good food bad for you? I have a feeling that when we answer that question, things will really change on our planet.
This weekend I want to barbecue but I don’t want to have my teeth fall out and my blood sugar to go through the roof doing it. Some kinds of barbecue sauces are better than others but even so, after reading the label I’m left completely crestfallen. I had a very popular brand of sauce in the fridge. It is really tasty but the first ingredient is that health ruining stuff I call high fructose corn poison. It’s everywhere! It’s the meth amphetamine of sugars! It’s causing diabetes across the planet! It should be illegal!!! I’m done with you Sweet Baby Ray! I can’t responsibly feed you to my family anymore!
I threw it in the trash can and went to work making a baste of my own. I started by simmering some finely chopped onions in a spot of olive oil. When they were nicely browned, I added a 6 oz. can of tomato paste, about half a cup of water, maybe a little bit more, and some minced fresh garlic. I let that bubble a minute then added 1/3 cup vinegar, 1/4 cup each of soy sauce, and Worcestershire, then a tablespoon of yellow mustard and 3/4 cup brown sugar…you could add up to a cup for sweeter sauce. I let that bubble up another minute. Then it was time for some spice. In went a teaspoon each of black pepper, dried parsley from last year’s garden, paprika, and cayenne pepper. It needed salt…just a pinch, and a good splash of lemon juice to brighten it. Last I added a bay leaf and allowed the sauce to simmer for a while until it thickened into a sauce worthy of the best cuts of meat.
After using only one half-breast of chicken in our dumplings yesterday, I used the other two halves from the package to try out my sauce. I fired up the grill and basted each breast when they were almost done.
It was a great sunny day perfect for grilling. The chicken was done just in time for Jeff to get home from work and try out the HFCS free sauce on a bite of chicken…and another bite…and another…then a sandwich…then, well, lets just say he appreciated it very much.
Don’t you just crave green vegetables sometimes? Man, I sure have lately! It’s Spring and many perennial flowers have poked through the soil but there is only wild lettuce in the garden right now. I’ve been eating a lot of it in salads but I discovered today that it is delicious when cooked also…a bit like spinach. It was even more delicious when I cooked it up with all these other vegetables. I used two good size ribs of bok choy, about a fourth of a green pepper, a small leek cut in bits, some quartered grape tomatoes, a couple of sliced button mushrooms and two good handfuls of the lettuce.
All this simply added to a skillet with a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and a few shakes of soy sauce made me and my daughter the best breakfast! It only took a few minutes to wilt down the lettuce and yes, my nine year old ate six kinds of vegetables before 8:00am! Oh happy Day!
Since it is Lent, I’m trying to make fish a larger part of our diet. I’m really trying to get my husband on board…but not just because it’s Lent. Fish oil in the diet is recommended for lowering cholesterol therefore promoting better heart and blood vessel health. Who wouldn’t want that? I’ve had a tiny bit of success with this Vietnamese catfish called Swai.
Swai, also called Striper (from Trader Joe’s), and technically named pangasius hypophthalmus. It is a light flaky white fish similar to tilapia, but the fillets are nearly twice as big. You will only find them frozen here in the U.S.A. For fresh, I’m afraid Americans will have to travel half way around the world to the rivers of South East Asia. Frozen fish works for me as I never know when everyone will be home for dinner. Nothing to go bad.
To prepare these fillets, I allowed them to thaw completely, then pan-seared them in a spot of olive oil with onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, salt, and pepper. I cooked them on one side for three minutes and a little over two minutes (also seasoning) on the other.
For the side dishes, I re-heated some black-eyed peas I made previously, and made a salad with spinach, slivered almonds, tomatoes, onions, feta cheese, cracked pepper, and a vinaigrette dressing. Since it smelled so good while cooking, and the side dishes were ones he liked, my husband, the fish naysayer actually tried it and ate every last bite on his plate. He said it wasn’t fishy tasting at all…and to me that was the equivalent of receiving the Pulitzer. Hope springs eternal!!
This one’s too easy. It has to be on the bad list but I can’t think of a reason how unless you are watching the carbs. Sweet potatoes are the best food stuff ever, especially in winter months when your eyes, your brain, and skin can use all the beta carotene it can get. On top of this 1 cup baked cubed sweet potato is 1/2 cup plain yogurt, another winter booster for the immune system with its zinc, manganese, good bacteria, tons of calcium and protein.. There’s Indonesian cinnamon on top which is very sweet, and best of all, this 200 calorie, extremely filling dessert has no fat and no added sugar! I get a yummy dessert and get to keep my resolution. Yay!