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Experimentation with Fermentation! Part 2

My maiden name is Guenther, and my dad’s side of the family has a pretty German heritage, but somehow or other I don’t think I ever tasted sauerkraut until I was an adult. Most likely my mom, who is all Irish, didn’t fancy the stuff. So it just wasn’t something I ever ate as a kid, and I must have therefore figured it was a “yucky” food, and never sought it out. Until one day I was visiting some relatives on my own after college, and they had sauerkraut as a side dish. I enjoyed it from the first tentative bite! It was like pickles, sour and salty and a bit crunchy. I started buying it at the store from then on – not religiously, but when I remembered it as a flavorful condiment.

After learning more about fermented foods, recently, I have decided that homemade sauerkraut is the next project!
And not only that, but I decided I first needed to make my own ceramic crock to ferment it in, being that I am a potter, after all.

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My first attempt at a handmade fermentation crock

Now that I had a crock to ferment in, here’s the process I followed for homemade sauerkraut!

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Chopped Cabbage and Salt

I filled a huge bowl with chopped cabbage. Just one head, about 2 lbs. One head of cabbage was more volume than I expected! But then I added sea salt, probably about 3 teaspoons (I didn’t measure), and started squeezing the buhjeezus out of it.

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Massaging the salted cabbage

This got the cabbage all coated with the salt, and already it started drawing the water out. After walking away, and then coming back to repeat the massaging process every 10 minutes or so, the cabbage really started releasing its juices.

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Cabbage juices pooling in the bowl

After an hour of this, I felt the cabbage was sufficiently reduced in volume and wilted enough to start packing into the crock. I tossed in a teaspoon of caraway seeds (because Michael Pollan added some to his in Cooked), and then into the crock it went, handful by handful.

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Pounding down the cabbage

I used a cocktail muddler to really pound down the cabbage. This forces out the air, packing it down, and it gets the water to continue squeezing out of the cabbage. The cabbage juice (or brine) needs to be at a level above the solid cabbage; this protects the kraut from exposure to air, which can cause it to mold (bad).

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Weights to keep the kraut submerged below the brine level

Once I felt I’d pounded enough, and the cabbage was sufficiently juicy, I topped them off with two half circle ceramic weights I’d also made when I made the crock. These will keep the kraut from floating to the top and getting moldy. The bacteria that transform the cabbage in to sauerkraut prefer an oxygen-free environment, so that’s the environment I intended to create.

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Adding water to the moat creates an airlock

The photo above shows my little helper Ethan, pouring the water into the reservoir around the crock lid. The water will let CO2 out (it’ll “burp” to release pressure), but won’t allow any air to go in.

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My kitchen helper

Look how proud he is, helping Mama. Nevermind that he spilled most of the water on the counter, haha. By the way, how is it possible that this kid is two-and-three-quarters already?? Obligatory observation on how time flies.

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And now we wait…

So that’s it! Now my pretty little crock will live on the kitchen counter for a few weeks, and hopefully it will produce a yummy, probiotic sauerkraut!

And out in my studio I’m working on improving my design. Swing over to my Jadeflower Ceramics Etsy Site – I’ll have crocks like this (better, even!) for sale in my Etsy shop.

Here’s to my continuing fermentation adventure! Bye for now!

 

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Filed under DIY, Fermentation, food, Recipes, tutorial, Uncategorized

Itadakimasu: let’s eat!

M and I had such a fun evening last night, I decided I want to share. And this is also a chance for me to showcase one of my favorite foodie blogs – Just Hungry! ( I love Maki, the blogger, who also has a  site called Just Bento; people who know me may be aware that I have a slight obsession with all things Bento!)

Both of Maki’s blogs are great sources of recipes, both Japanese and otherwise. Yesterday morning I decided to make a whole meal from some of her recipes, which evolved into a picnic dinner! With the spring sunshine finally arriving in the Northwest, I thought a picnic would be perfect, and these dishes are very picnic-friendly.

I started with Maki’s popular kinpira recipes – basically taking firm veggies, chopped into thin sticks, and stir-frying them briefly with a little oil, soy sauce, sesame seeds, and maybe some hot pepper flakes for some heat. I had a ton of carrots in my fridge, and also 3 crowns of broccoli (and I frugally only used the stems of the broccoli, and saved the florets), so I knew this would be a perfect to make.
Next I made fried tofu, which is a very simple process :
Take a block of firm tofu and cut into 1 inch cubes. It is necessary to get as much moisture out of the tofu as possible, so arrange the tofu on a surface with some paper towels, cover with more paper towels, and then weigh them down to press out the moisture (I used a cutting board and just let it sit for a minute or two). Meanwhile, preheat a pan – I use cast iron – with a little 1-2 tbsp of oil (I used peanut), and then place the tofu in the pan over medium heat. Don’t move the tofu once they’re in the pan! You want each side to get nice and browned, so give each side 1-2 minutes per side. Use tongs to rotate the cubes. A little patience will yield beautifully golden cubes of tofu that are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. I also sprinkled a pinch of garlic salt on them during cooking for a little more flavor. Yum!

{image from Just Hungry}

While the tofu was cooking, I put the water on for my soba noodles; Maki has a great article on soba right here. They are definitely picnic-friendly since they are intended to be eaten cold – no worries about keeping things hot outside!

So with delicious Japanese cuisine in tow, a blanket and a soccer ball, we headed to the park just a block from our place and had a lovely evening. OH, and to make the meal complete, I picked up this adorable little bottle of sake from the grocery store!

It was unfiltered sake (see the milky white color?), and very tasty for being the cheapest bottle on the shelf, haha ^_^


After eating we had some fun kicking M’s soccer ball around and enjoyed the sunshine that decided to stick around. M also played around with his new camera – it can take slow-motion video, and I filmed him doing a slo-mo bicycle kick which was pretty sweet ^_^ But I doubt he’d want me to post that here, haha.

Hopefully we’ll have lots more opportunities for picnics this summer, and certainly more times to cook up yummy Japanese foods!

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Filed under Day to Day, food, Recipes