Health Food Experiments: Kombucha and Spiralizer

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Yesterday, K and I had an epic playdate with some friends (gotta keep the kiddos entertained), and I was introduced to homemade kombucha. Have you ever had kombucha? The fermented tea can be easily made at home if you have a starter SCOBY, which is an acronym for “symbiotic ‘colony’ of bacteria and yeast”. My friend has been brewing up a batch regularly and kindly sent me home with my own jug to ferment. I had a sampling to taste, and it has the tang of apple cider vinegar with more sweetness. I really liked it and am curious to see if it’ll help with gut health. It seems to be the big new thing with the microbiome rage that’s going on. The SCOBY (shown below) I received isn’t the prettiest thing, but my friend assured me that in a couple of weeks, this black tea concoction will transform into kombucha.

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In the spirit of healthy food experimentation, I also remembered that I purchased a spiralizer recently. It had been sitting in the box all but forgotten, but I gave it a test run after we got home from the playdate.

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So pretty! The spiralizer is a small one but it comes with three blades, and is very easy to operate and clean. Though I’d seen similar contraptions online, I’d been mystified by how they actually work — now I know that it’s actually a lot of fun! I happened to come upon this model at my local store, but this one looks even easier to clean.

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Basically, you stick a vegetable cut to about 2″ in height on the “post” which looks like the end of a small metal pipe sticking up, and a pronged surface holds the veggie in place while you crank the handle for slicing. What you see above is the ribbon blade in action. This is what the noodle looks like (you can also see how the cucumber “core” remains — it’s mimicking the apple coring concept):

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The third option, “coily cut”, is slightly thicker than the noodle and would be great for curly fries. Alas, my coily cut cucumber didn’t turn out so photogenic so I don’t have a visual to share. Here’s another shot of the ribbon cucumber though — I just love the way it looks.  I’m going to be making a lot of ribbon cucumber salad, I can already tell.

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I bought a bunch of zucchini and plan on making zucchini “pasta” tomorrow and will be utilizing that left blade up there. I’m so excited! And I am so going to make sweet potato curly fries. Yum.

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As for the black tea kombucha, I’ll have to wait until August 16th to see if it fermented properly. Since my friend did all the prep work, I don’t know exactly how to make it (yet), but if I can manage to keep the SCOBY alive, a green tea kombucha would be lovely for the next round.

Have any of you tried kombucha-making or spiralizing? You know that I’m always looking for recipe recommendations. Which reminds me, thank you for all the light and summer-y recipe tips here!

P.S. Furoku members, #17 is headed your way in a couple of days!

Mini Onigiri

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The last time I posted anything food-related that didn’t feature cookbooks was October of 2014 (this delicious cashew milk that promptly made me break out in hives after overdosing on it for two days — I can eat the nuts by the bucketful without any issues, so that incident was a mystery).

I give you mini onigiri — which translates to rice ball, though the literal meaning is more along the lines of “squeezed” or “clasped”. They are also known as omusubi. I felt that my diminutive snack deserved a post of its own, just because it’s so darn adorable. Standing a smidgen higher than an inch, these tiny seaweed-adorned rice morsels were a runaway hit at K’s birthday party. It’s been two days since the festivities, yet I can’t stop making them. On a slightly more practical level, they would be a fabulous school lunchbox addition. Have the kiddos in your life resumed school yet? We have three more weeks to go till K starts fourth grade, and my mind is full of fall clothes and cute lunches.

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You’d think that these would be incredibly labor intensive, but they’re super fun and fast to make. The secret weapon is this handy dandy mold:

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I can’t remember where I got it since I’ve had it forever, but I did find online the other cube-shaped mold that I don’t use as much because I prefer the classic rounded triangular shape. This one seems to come close, though I’m not sure if it’s as awesome as mine. As I was searching for onigiri molds, I encountered a dazzling array of options — this penguin set sort of blows me away.

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First, I cooked some rice; for the ones in the photos, I blended in a mixture of sesame seeds and nori flakes after the rice was done, but I normally just add a little salt. Then I snipped several strips of nori or seaweed (roughly 3/4″ x 2″). Next, I scooped a few tablespoons of rice into the mold and packed the rice in. Push the mold out of the clear casing, slap on a strip of nori and voila! Yum, yum, yum. So far, I haven’t come across a soul who hasn’t delighted in these bite-sized onigiri — highly recommended!

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Cookbooks

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These Japanese candies are called kompeito, little constellations of pure sugar. They taste like rock candy with perhaps a slight flowery undertone. I have quite a lot left over from the Little K launch party (they didn’t fit in the piñata), and I’m not sure what to do with them, but they take me back to my childhood. My mom didn’t buy very many sweet treats when I was a kid. She made almost everything from scratch, and the ones I requested over and over were sliced, candied sweet potatoes fried to a crisp called karinto, and oshiruko, which is essentially a sugary azuki bean soup with small floating mochi balls. Because we ate mostly whole, unprocessed foods and dessert wasn’t a regular offering, I savored the homemade confections my mom would energetically whip up on special occasions.

I’ve noticed that when my schedule gets frenetic, the first thing that goes is nutrition. Overwhelmed by one thing or another, I’ll quickly assent to eating out or will resort to serving my family Mac n Cheese (the blue box which is not the kind found in the “Natural Foods” section that’s supposedly healthier). On some occasions, I forget to eat altogether. Worse, I’ll toss together a salad but because I’m tired and want to avoid the food-related skirmishes, I’ll douse K’s plate with cheese and let her dip everything in ketchup.

I want to return to my roots of whole, unprocessed eating. Every June, I buy a stack of reading materials as a birthday present to myself and this year, I focused on books about food. I’m really excited about these four:

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Dinner: The Playbook: A 30-Day Plan for Mastering the Art of the Family Meal

By Jenny Rosenstrach of Dinner: A Love Story (blog and book). It looks like a considered, wholesome meal plan for the entire family designed to encourage kids to eat better.

Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family’s Whole Health in a Busy World

By Sarah Kolman. Well, the title says it all, doesn’t it? The author is a nurse and takes a food-centric approach to health, which I absolutely advocate.

Super Natural Every Day: Well-Loved Recipes from My Natural Foods Kitchen

By Heidi Swanson. With her award-winning blog 101 Cookbooks, Heidi Swanson is the grand dame of food blogging, and I’ve listened to and read rave reviews about her cookbooks for years. I saw the paperback version at the bookstore and immediately snagged it.

The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook: Over 300 Delicious Whole Foods Recipes, Including Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Soy-Free, and Egg-Free Dishes
The title of the book does beg the question, “What exactly can you eat?” I’ve already almost completely eliminated dairy from my diet, and I’ve seen some remarkable improvements with my skin and premenstrual bloating. Inspired by this, I’ve been toying with the idea of going gluten-free. There’s a lot of material out there about how thyroid conditions are exacerbated by gluten, and though my carb-loving body is rebelling at the thought, it might be worth an experiment. Also, one of my very good friends who is also a magician in the kitchen told me that the recipes are superb, and her endorsement is enough for me.

Do you have cookbooks to recommend? I love me a good cookbook!

Cashew Milk

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As I grow older, I’ve noticed that I have a harder time digesting cow’s milk and end up with a bunch of weird reactions. In particular, my monthly PMS breakouts are worse and painfully cystic when I’ve consumed too many dairy products, so I’ve been trying to find tasty alternatives. I love soy and almond milk, but I’ve been reading about some scary additives (like carrageenan) and though I usually pshaw those types of hyped up warnings, I figure I should stay on the safe side.

A few weeks ago, when I was chatting with a friend, I noticed her swigging a creamy liquid that she kept shaking up. It turned out to be cashew milk, and I was intrigued. Cashews are my favorite nuts! Why didn’t I think of cashew milk before? Alas, the stuff is not readily available at even my uber granola, natural foods market.

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Did you know that it’s super easy to make cashew milk? This was a happy discovery as I had cashews and water on hand, and that’s all I needed! Using my trusty Vitamix (though any blender will do since cashews are softer than your average nut), I just blended one cup of cashews with 3 cups of water for about 40 seconds. Some recipes suggest soaking the raw nuts overnight, but I didn’t bother.

In fact, I didn’t even use raw cashews. I got the “less salty” kind from Trader Joe’s and the result was a thick, milky beverage that tastes like liquid cashew butter. Adding a sweetener would perhaps be advisable, but I actually like the slightly salty undertones. Action shot:

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I’m starting to feel like a televangelist for Trader Joe’s, but I seem to constantly have memorable experiences there. About a week ago, I was having a bummer of a day as it happens sometimes. I’d just placed all my grocery bags in my trunk sporting an Eeyore-esque expression, and was about to go return the cart, when a young man happened to be approaching from my right. He smiled pleasantly and said, “Here, let me take that for you,” and rolled my cart away to the designated area. He wasn’t an employee, and I was looking pretty unsexy (yoga pants, frizzy bun, no make-up, grumpy, cystic acne) so I wasn’t having a cougar moment or anything — he was just being nice. That tiny act of kindness completely lifted my bad mood, and I drove home hoping that K will grow up to be a considerate young adult like that.

But I was talking about cashew milk. It’s taking me a bit to get used to, but I really like it in my coffee as you can see below. I also made a cashew hot cocoa and that was definitely yum. And I bet cashew milk chai using my go-to recipe would be divine…it’s got potential, this one. Lots of potential.

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Happy Friday + Randomness

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Happy Friday! I am extremely lazy at heart, and when several friends told me about the easiest bread to make, I was in. The no knead bread has been around for a while, and I’ve seen various versions of Jim Lahey’s original recipe around the web and I suppose in a vague sort of way, I’d been curious about this wonder bread. My first attempt, sadly, was a bust. Though the crust was amazing, the glutinous, uncooked middle was disgusting, and the bottom burnt to a crisp.

I’m not easily put off by failure and have since tweaked the recipe to get the best result from my decrepit oven. It literally requires no kneading, and yesterday I stirred up the dough in the morning, and by dinnertime, I had a bubbled mass that easily rolled into this loveliness ready for some baking:

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Which came out like this:

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It’s so delicious that it makes me salivate just looking at the photo. Look at that beautifully crackled artisanal beauty! K has been cramming her mouth with the stuff, generously slathered with butter. Nothing beats freshly baked bread with butter.

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In order to have an easy reference for myself, I’ve written down my own version of the no knead bread. Perhaps you’d like to give it a try too?

No Knead Bread adapted from the Sullivan St. Bakery

3 cups unbleached white flour
1/2 teaspoon rapid rise yeast
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups water (room temperature)

1. In a large glass bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.

2. Add water and mix just enough to combine. Don’t mix too exuberantly, and scrape off dough from sides of bowl to create a gloppy, singular mass.

3. Cover with plastic wrap (I ran out of plastic wrap so I used a slightly damp towel instead – worked great). Let sit at room temperature for 10 to 18 hours. I’ve tried 1o hours and 20 hours and both times the bread came out wonderfully.

4. When you’re ready to bake the dough, check to make sure it’s full of bubbles. These bubbles will give the loaf those airy holes once baked. Sprinkle a generous amount of flour on a surface and scrape out the dough onto the floured surface. I like to also sprinkle a thin layer of flour on top.

5. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. My oven runs hot, and I had tried it at the recommended 500 degrees first and the loaf was disastrous. You may have to play around with different temperatures. Place your dutch oven with lid in the preheating oven for about 30 minutes.

6. Gently fold the dough once or twice — remember not to knead — and shape into a ball with seam side down. This is optional, but I like to put the dough on parchment paper.

7. Place parchment paper with dough into preheated dutch oven. I’m a little OCD so I trim the parchment paper to the edge of the dutch oven opening. Put the lid on.

8. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes with lid on. Remove lid and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until crust is an achingly beautiful golden hue.

9. Slide loaf onto a cooling rack and wait a few minutes if you can to cut into it. We haven’t been able to wait.

That’s it! I’ve already baked four loaves and plan on baking another one tomorrow. It’s gluten heaven, I tell you.

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The winner of the Kyuuto book is Max, congrats!

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Full of emotion, M told me this week:

“Man, it’s such an honor to be K’s father…guess what she said the other day? ‘Daddy, you know what I love about you? You really listen to me.’

They’re a good pair, those two.

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Happy weekend, friends!

Fall weather is here
Crisp air and rain aplenty
The crunch of apples