Main dishes, Recipes

Dried Mushrooms

I can be lazy. I admit it. I wait for sliced mushrooms to go on sale, and then I buy lots of them, rinse the residual compost (or whatever—I don’t want to think about it) off them, drain them, and shake them onto the dehydrator trays. Easy peasy.

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It only takes about 20 hrs. to dry them. I put some in yesterday afternoon, and by this morning, they were done.  I don’t have to slice them, and I’ll always have mushrooms on hand for my gluten-free Eggplant Lasagna.  And if you haven’t tried that dish, you should when fresh eggplant is available again.  (I just planted the ones I started from seed in March into the greenhouse planting beds!)

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You can make the lasagna without mushrooms, but they do add a texture and earthiness that I think enhances the flavor of the whole dish. Dried mushrooms are also great in soups or stews or dishes like Creamy Polenta with Mushroom (and Meat) Fricassee.  (Don’t be afraid to try various meats in this dish.  Beef stew meat will work perfectly well, as will any red meat.  I just happened to use bear meat.) This is a hearty dish for fall and winter that will reward you for taking the time to dry mushrooms when they’re on sale.

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You can substitute dried mushrooms in any cooked dish that calls for fresh mushrooms.  I always rehydrate the mushrooms for about 5 minutes in a bowl with enough warm water to cover them, then add both mushrooms and liquid to the dish.

The beauty part about drying mushrooms? The dehydration process intensifies the flavor of white button mushrooms. You know how the chefs on the food channels always say something like: don’t buy white button mushrooms because they have no flavor? (Yeah, they always want you to buy the expensive mushrooms, don’t they?) Well, dried white mushrooms have lots of earthy, mushroom flavor. And while they’re drying, your kitchen (or wherever you park your dehydrator) smells like you’re making the most incredible mushroom sauce.

Dried mushrooms last practically forever. Well, for two years, at least. Look at the label on the jar on the left. Those were dried almost two years ago, and they’re still perfectly good.

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Time to fill up another jar.

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condiment, Fermenting, Recipes, Uncategorized

Berry Vinaigrette Salad Dressing for Spring Greens

I love those fresh greens from my garden and greenhouse:  spinach, lettuce, kale.  I’m picking them now, a little late because I didn’t have my usual volunteers (I’m blaming the drought for that) and because my surgeries kept me from getting into the garden and greenhouse as early as I usually am in spring.

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But now it’s time for fresh salad, and to go with those lovely, fresh spring greens, you need a special salad dressing.  I have one.

Some years ago (2013 to be exact), I made some raspberry- and blackberry-infused vinegars from my own homemade apple scrap vinegar and the pulp from my jam making.  I must say, those vinegars turned out beautifully, but I have not used them as much as I thought I would, so I still have some in the fridge, two years old but as delicious now as when I made them.  So to honor my fresh spring greens, I dug up my recipe for berry vinaigrette salad dressing.  Last time I wrote about this, I used my raspberry-infused vinegar, but this time, I used the blackberry-infused vinegar.  And all I can say is:  WOW!  Here is the recipe, with links to instructions for making your own infused vinegars.  I hope you will try this recipe, because I know you’ll enjoy it.

Raspberry or Blackberry Vinaigrette with Chia Seeds

(makes about ¾ cup)

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Ingredients:

2 tablespoons of minced onion (I like red onion in this)

¼ cup raspberry-infused vinegar or blackberry-infused vinegar

2 tablespoons of honey or agave syrup

½ teaspoon dry, powdered mustard or prepared Dijon mustard

½ cup olive oil

2 teaspoons chia seeds

 

Mix all ingredients in blender or food processor (if using food processor, you can mince the onions with it) or with a whisk in a bowl. The mustard will help to emulsify the dressing, but it will separate slightly, so it should be shaken well before using. If you like a sweeter dressing, add more honey or agave one teaspoon at a time until the sweetness level is right for your taste buds.

Now, if you don’t have any raspberry-infused vinegar, and don’t want to make it, for whatever reason, you can make this dressing without it. Simply substitute white wine vinegar or even rice vinegar for the raspberry-infused vinegar, and for the honey or agave, substitute raspberry jam or preserves. Again, taste your dressing to see if you’d like it sweeter. My version isn’t very sweet, as I don’t happen to care for sweet salad dressings.

Update:  When I started looking for recipes for raspberry vinaigrette salad dressings, I noticed that they all contained poppy seeds.  I have nothing against poppy seeds, but I don’t keep them in my kitchen.  However, I do have chia seeds on hand and am working on ways to incorporate them into more dishes (oatmeal and puddings, for example).  So I thought, why not?  At the time I decided to put chia seeds into this vinaigrette recipe, I didn’t know that chia seeds release a substance that thickens liquids.  This actually makes them perfect for a salad dressing, because they keep the dressing thick and emulsified.  In other words, they give the mustard, the traditional emulsifier for dressing (emulsification, put simply, is the smooth mixture of fats and liquids) a helping hand. This salad dressing won’t separate on you the way most vinaigrettes do.  And the chia seeds are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, good for your heart and other body parts, so it’s all to the good to incorporate them into as many dishes as you can.

Eat your spring greens with some delicious berry vinaigrette dressing with chia seeds.  It’s all good for you!

 

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condiment, Dairy, Fermenting, Recipes, Side dishes

Homemade Buttermilk Ranch-Style Salad Dressing

My husband is addicted to ranch salad dressing. I like it too, but I don’t like all the extra junk they put in the stuff sold in stores: soybean oil, for instance. I stay away from soybeans because they are treated with glyphosate herbicides. So I’ve been working on a buttermilk ranch-style salad dressing that is made with the freshest, healthiest possible ingredients. These include homemade buttermilk, cultured at home and full of good probiotic organisims (make it from organic milk for best health), homemade mayonnaise (also made with healthier, higher grade oils than the commercially-produced mayos), and home-grown and dried herbs. Now, you can make this dressing with store-bought buttermilk, store-bought mayo, and store-bought herbs, and it’s still going to taste better and be better for you than any ranch dressing you buy in a store. I hope you’ll give this a try.

Homemade Buttermilk Ranch-Style Salad Dressing

3/4 cup homemade mayo *

¾ cup homemade buttermilk **

1 tablespoon homemade apple scrap vinegar ***

1 tablespoon dried tomato skin powder ****(optional—I’m always looking for new ways to use this)

¼ teaspoon hot smoked paprika (regular paprika may be used)

1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes

1-2 tablespoons dehydrated onion bits (ground in clean coffee grinder or spice grinder) or onion powder

1 teaspoon dried tarragon

½ teaspoon dried hyssop (I like this herb, it adds a sharper greenness than parsley, but it isn’t common, and can be omitted)

Pinch (or more) of dried thyme

¼-1/2 teaspoon sea salt (I used pink Himalayan salt)

¼-1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (I like freshly ground)

Start with the lesser amount of seasonings. Mix well in jar with tight lid. (You can see I used an old ranch salad dressing jar to make it easier for my husband to find it in the fridge. He’s a bit challenged when it comes to seeing what he’s looking for!)

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Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. You may substitute other herbs, or use fresh herbs, but fresh herbs will lessen the storage life of your dressing. I use dried in the winter when we eat fewer salads, and fresh in the spring and summer when my herbs have greened up and my own lettuces are producing, and we go through the dressing in a week or two.  Fresh chives are delicious in this dressing when you have them.

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Store in fridge. Keeps about 2 weeks in fridge, or longer, depending on the freshness of your buttermilk and mayonnaise. I’ve had it last over a month. It might separate, but you just shake it back together. Discard if the dressing becomes moldy.  That’s when you know the dressing has exceeded its shelf life!

Notes: *If you have not yet tried the easiest homemade mayo ever, please click here for the recipe. It is so good, and it also contains some probiotics if you use active culture yogurt and raw vinegar in it. If you use store-bought mayo, the dressing will still taste great.

**Making your own buttermilk is so easy. I love making it at home because I can make it the amounts I am likely to use. I used to buy it a quart at a time, and half of it would always go bad before I used it up. I hate wasting anything and discovered that I could freeze leftover buttermilk to use as a chicken marinade or in baking, but if it’s been frozen very long, the active cultures in it die, and then it can’t be used to make sour cream or more buttermilk, although I believe it’s still good for baking. (When you use buttermilk in baking, you need to add baking soda, which reacts with the acids in the buttermilk to make light, fluffy, baked goods).

So now I make my own buttermilk, about a cup at a time, which is perfect for making a batch of gluten-free buttermilk pancakes (recipe coming soon—so good!) or a jar of buttermilk ranch salad dressing, or cakes, biscuits, and other baked goods. To see how to make your own cultured, probiotic buttermilk as you need it, please click here.

***Those of you who follow this blog know that I make my own apple scrap vinegar. It is probiotic and tasty. If you’d like to try it yourself, click here.  You can make it on a small scale, in a half-gallon jar, which is how I started out. Now I have enough organic apple scraps from my apples to make it in 5 gallon buckets! But you can buy Bragg’s vinegar raw, or you can use any apple cider vinegar in this recipe.

****Also if you follow this blog, you’ve seen me write about saving my tomato skins when I make charred salsa, tomato-apple chutney, and Italian Red Sauce. I’ve found various ways to use them; please click on the links if you’re interested in new ways to use your dried tomato skins: pulled pork rub, braised and barbecued pork ribs. The tomato skins can be omitted from the ranch dressing recipe if you choose, but I like it.

I hope you enjoy this ranch dressing recipe enough to ditch the store-bought dressings with all the added ingredients that nobody needs to be ingesting. The bonus with this recipe is that you get some probiotics to boot! You really can’t beat that deal.

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Beverages, condiment, Dairy, Desserts, Recipes, Side dishes

Making Buttermilk

Now, some of you might be asking, why would you want to do that? Well, buttermilk is probiotic. It’s a culture/ferment that uses lactobacilli to alter the chemistry of milk. I must confess, I do not drink the stuff, although my father loved it. One of his favorite snacks was a big glass of buttermilk poured over a bowl of cold, crumbled cornbread, with a couple of fresh green onions from the garden on the side. I never developed a taste for that dish, but I have learned that buttermilk in baked goods lends a lightness only rivaled by sourdough. And it is excellent in salad dressings, and as a marinade for chicken, so I’ve been told, though I’ve never done it. I’ve come to love the stuff, and I keep a small jar of it in my fridge at all times. I enjoy knowing I have something freshly probiotic to mix into a salad dressing, for instance. I’ll be sharing a couple of my favorite buttermilk recipes with you in future posts.

Making your own buttermilk is ridiculously easy. All you have to do is mix 1/3rd cup of cultured buttermilk from the store with 1 cup of fresh milk. Shake it up in jar with a good lid, let it sit at room temperature for 24 hours, and you’ll have buttermilk. On the left is the old jar, with what’s left of the buttermilk I made a couple of days ago, and on the right is the fresh batch that will be ready in 24 hours.

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You’ll know it’s ready when you tilt the jar and the buttermilk pulls away from the side of the jar. It will be thick and viscous.

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At this point, it will keep in the fridge for up to a month.

I’ve learned through experimentation that the more often you culture buttermilk, the tangier and thicker your buttermilk will become. Also, you can make buttermilk from milk of any fat content, but the more fat, the thicker the buttermilk tends to be. Buttermilk mixed into half and half or heavy cream will produce sour cream that is similar to crème fraiche. For that recipe, click here.  You can use this cultured cream just as you would any sour cream or crème fraiche, in dips, in baking, as a topping for baked potatoes or cheesecake!

Always save 1/3 cup of cultured buttermilk to mix with 1 cup of fresh milk for a new batch. Of course, you can double or triple these amounts, keeping the same proportions, if you wish to make a larger volume of buttermilk.

Check back with me in a few days for a recipe using fresh, homemade buttermilk.

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Desserts, Recipes

Blackberry and Wine Poached Pears

Update:  December 19, 2015

I made Blackberry and Wine Poached Pears for dessert tonight–the first time this winter. I just love this dessert.  Tonight, I gave it a little twist.  To the spice mix, I added a half-teaspoon of mixed peppercorns that I crushed slightly in my marble mortar.  They added an interesting little zing to the pears and the syrup.  Yum!  I hope you’ll try this dessert this winter, if you missed it last year.

This is one of my favorite fall and winter desserts, and it’s so easy to make.  I am not an elegant plater, but if you have the right dishes and plate this dessert properly, it’s pretty as well as delicious.  Be sure to give this one a try before pears disappear from your grocery store.

Blackberry and Wine Poached Pears

Serves 4

2 cups red wine (pinot noir or merlot are best)

½ cup blackberry jam or blackberry jelly

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1-2 cinnamon sticks

10 whole allspice berries

3 whole cloves

4 ripe but firm pears suitable for cooking, with stems if possible (Anjou or Bosc are best, but Barletts can be used as well)

Vanilla ice cream

Combine wine, jam, and spices (ground spices can also be used:  1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, and a pinch of ground cloves) in a pot or pan  large enough to hold the liquids and the pears; bring to a boil, reduce to simmer. Peel pears, leaving stems on fruit. Carefully lower pears into poaching liquid and simmer, covered, until cooked through (15-30 minutes depending on the ripeness and type of pears you use).

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Rotate fruit as needed to ensure even color and flavor.  Check doneness with a fork near the base of the fruit, where it is thickest. The fork should slide in easily all the way to the core. Do not overcook the pears, or they will simply fall apart.

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Remove pears from poaching liquid and set aside in warm oven to stay warm while sauce reduces.

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Turn poaching liquid on high and boil rapidly until it begins to thicken, then turn down and continue reducing at a medium low temperature until syrup is as thick as pancake syrup. Strain syrup off into glass measuring cup or pitcher to cool slightly.

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Plate each pear with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of slightly cooled spiced blackberry-wine syrup.

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If you have any syrup left over, save it for pouring over ice cream alone or for topping pancakes and fruit for a luxurious winter breakfast or brunch.

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condiment, Gluten-free, Recipes

Stick Blender Healthy Mayonnaise

How many of you have given up mayonnaise because of health reasons? How many of you have tried making mayonnaise with a more nutritious oil, only to end up with a gloopy mess in your blender or bowl that didn’t amalgamate? There is a better way.

Do you have a stick blender (a.k.a. immersion blender)? An egg? Some good oil? Some fresh lemon juice or apple cider vinegar? If so, you have the makings of the easiest,  healthiest, and best mayonnaise you’ll ever taste.

Recently, I read an article about twenty-one foods that were supposed to not only prevent arterial plaque build-up but to actually clear out plaque deposits. One of those foods was avocado. Now it happens that I had just found quite a bargain on avocado oil, normally rather expensive, at our local Grocery Outlet. And it also happens that I was out of mayonnaise and couldn’t find a brand I wished to buy. I’ve gotten rather picky about my mayo in the last few years, and I don’t buy bargain brands of mayonnaise any more. They just don’t taste right.

So, avocado oil, no mayo, and an ah-ha moment. I’d read about stick blender mayo about a year ago, had meant to try it, and had just never gotten around to it. Besides, there’s not much point in making mayonnaise when you have a great big jar of Best Foods from Costco sitting in your fridge. But now, convergence.

There are so many different stick blender mayo recipes on the internet, it was hard to choose one. Then a particular recipe was recommended to me, so that’s where I started. Here is the link to the recipe I began with, although I altered it a bit, and ended up with the most delicious mayo I’ve ever tasted. Dennis didn’t really want to taste it because he’s not that fond of mayonnaise and usually only puts spicy brown mustard on his sandwiches, but when I insisted, he said, “Mmmm. Wow, that’s good. Way better than store bought. I’m going to start putting that on my sandwiches from now on.”

I rest my case.

Stick Blender Mayonnaise

1 large egg*

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (I used my homemade apple scrap vinegar)

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon plain active culture yogurt** (I used my homemade yogurt)

1 cup light tasting oil *** (I used avocado oil.)

Now, this is where the fun begins. You need a container to hold your ingredients that will also hold your stick blender. I used a jar I’d saved, because I could mix the mayo right in the vessel I intended to store it in. You can use a plastic container, or a deep bowl, and transfer your mayo after it’s made to any storage container you like.

Put all the ingredients in the order listed into the vessel of your choice. Let the egg settle to the bottom of the vessel, then put your stick blender all the way to the bottom of the vessel and turn it on. You’ll see mayonnaise forming almost right away. Move the blender around and up and down a little to mix in all the oil. The entire process only takes about 30 seconds.

When all the oil has been mixed and your mayo is creamy white and thick, you’re done.

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Turn off the blender, remove it from the vessel, and scrape off all that lovely lusciousness. Your mayonnaise should last for several weeks in the fridge. Because it contains no preservatives, it will not last indefinitely like store bought mayonnaise. But that’s okay—it’s so easy to make, whenever you run out, a fresh batch is only 30 seconds away!

Notes: *Using raw eggs scares some people. There’s a process for pasteurizing eggs at home if you’re one of those folks. I just use the freshest eggs I can buy whenever I have a raw application, and I don’t worry about it. In this case, I think the combination of oil and acids in the vinegar (lemon or lime juice can also be used) and mustard, as well as the salt, makes for a pretty safe combination. And the addition of the **active culture yogurt is also said, according to some, to keep the mayonnaise fresh longer.  I found a recipe for coconut oil mayonnaise, not made with a stick blender, but which I would very much like to try with a stick blender, that uses Greek yogurt and whey. Whey is simply what drains from the yogurt and contains the lactobacilli which make milk into yogurt, so adding active culture yogurt has the same effect.  ***For oil, you can use any light-tasting oil: extra-light olive oil, grapeseed oil, avocado oil, walnut oil. Strongly flavored oils, like extra virgin olive oil, may cause your mayo to be too strongly flavored.  I stay away from canola oil because it is one of the commercial crops sprayed with glyphosate herbicides.

I now have about 1 ½ cups of avocado oil mayonnaise so good I can’t decide exactly what I’m going to do with it. Sandwiches, of course, maybe some tuna salad or egg salad. Homemade buttermilk salad dressing? Potato salad? How about a little mayo mixed with some lemon juice and lemon zest as a sauce for steamed broccoli or asparagus, or perhaps a dip for artichokes? I am going to have some fun!

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Canning, Main dishes, Recipes

Spicy Braised Chicken Thighs with Coconut Milk and Tomato Apple Chutney

Sometimes, I just like to play in the kitchen.  This dish is a result of some play after long abstinence following shoulder surgery.  It turned out so well, I just had to share it.

Spicy Braised Chicken Thighs with Coconut Milk and Tomato Apple Chutney

1 can light coconut milk

6-8 chicken thighs

1 tablespoon refined coconut oil*

Spice Mixture

Blend together the following:

1/8 teaspoon ground coriander

1/8 teaspoon hot smoked paprika

1/8 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon curry powder**

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon onion powder

1/8 teaspoon celery salt

1/8 teaspoon African pepper*** (cayenne is fine)

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Heat 1 tablespoon of refined (so it won’t burn) coconut oil in a Dutch oven. Rinse chicken thighs and pat dry. Sprinkle and rub the spice mixture liberally over both sides of the chicken (you may have some left over). Place chicken skin side down in Dutch oven and brown skin until very crisp, but don’t burn the spices. Turn thighs and brown other side. Quite a bit of fat will render from the skin.

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Remove chicken from pan, pour off fat. (Lower fat version: remove skin from chicken thighs before browning in coconut oil. There should be no need then to pour off fat from pan, since the coconut oil is healthy.) Pour 1 can of light coconut milk into Dutch oven, heat to boiling, stirring up the spices from the bottom of the pan. Place chicken back into pan, cover with lid, and braise in 375 degree oven for 75-90 minutes, or until chicken is tender enough to pull away from the bone with a fork.

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Remove chicken from pan. Stir 1-2 tablespoons of flour (I use brown rice flour) into pan juices. Whisk over medium heat until boiling. Boil and stir one minute to thicken sauce. Serve sauce over chicken thighs.

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As you can see from the pictures, I only had 3 chicken thighs, and there was enough sauce for several more thighs.  I wish I’d had more!  I served this with red quinoa instead of the traditional rice, with a good dollop of the tomato-apple chutney I made last fall on the side.

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We also had kale with Canadian bacon and onion, one of Dennis’s favorite vegetable dishes.  Dennis was over the moon! He’s been getting pretty tired of his own cooking since my shoulder surgery in early December.

Notes: *Use refined coconut oil to brown the chicken because you’ll use a relatively high heat, and unrefined coconut oil burns too easily.  You can of course use vegetable oil, canola oil, olive oil, or any other fat you like.  I just like the health benefits of cooking with coconut oil whenever I can.  **If you have a good curry powder or paste, you probably don’t need all the extra ingredients I added to the spice mix, but boy, it sure was good! I just used an inexpensive, all-purpose curry powder from the supermarket. ***My African pepper was given to me by my Nigerian co-mother-in-law, Theresa. She buys the hot red peppers in the market in Kaduna, cooks them, dries them in the sun, and then grinds them to powder. It is hot, but with great flavor. I love it, and I use it in everything. Cayenne is an acceptable alternative. It adds just a little heat, and of course, you can add more of any flavor you particularly like.

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Gluten-free, Recipes

Hot “Cereal”

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It is officially winter now, and in many parts of the country, outside temperatures reflect the season.  It’s time, then, for a reminder of a grain-free, gluten- free “granola” that can also be ground in the food processor for a high-protein porridge.  Mmmm, I do love a bowl of hot “cereal” on cold mornings.  For this versatile recipe, which can be eaten either hot or cold, and which also makes an excellent trail mix, please click here.

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Fermenting, Recipes, Uncategorized

Ginger Ale Update

I’ve got a new batch of homemade ginger ale fermenting.  In the past year, I have been learning more about ferments in general and about making homemade ginger ale in particular.  I still use the Sweeter Ginger Ale recipe below, but in contrast to the recipe and method I started with, I have learned that an open ferment produces better, bigger bubbles more quickly.

Therefore, the ginger ale mixture should be placed in a large bottle or jar and the top covered with a breathable fabric cover or coffee filter, and secured with a rubber band.  If conditions are warm, the ale will ferment within 48 hours.  When large bubbles appear, the ginger ale can be strained and bottled tightly for a second fermentation.  This is what produces a truly bubbly ginger ale, the second fermentation in an airtight bottle. The Sweeter Ginger Ale recipe below provides enough sugar for a viable second fermentation where others do not.

Generally, a 24-48 hour second fermentation in warm conditions is sufficient to produce good carbonation.  After small bubbles appear in the capped bottles during the second fermentation, the bottles should be chilled and stored in the refrigerator.  Care should be taken in opening the bottles.  They may foam over, so they should always be opened over the sink, or over a bowl if you wish to catch the overflow.

Sweeter Ginger Ale

(makes about 2 1/2 quarts finished ginger ale)

Simmer together for 5 minutes:

2 cups water

2 tablespoons minced ginger

1 cup raw sugar

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Cool mixture.  Add:

5 cups cool water

1/4 cup lemon or lime juice

1/2 cup ginger bug (follow link for directions for making and maintaining your ginger bug)

Mix well and pour off into large jug or jar, cover with breathable fabric or coffee filter, and secure with rubber band.  Let sit in warm place for 2-3 days or until large, yeasty-looking bubbles form.  Strain and bottle in bale-top type bottles or other bottles with air-tight caps.  Ferment again in warm place for 24-48 hours, or until carbonated.  Chill before drinking.

My previous post about ginger ale, called Science Experiment, details the progression and development of this recipe and technique, and also tells how to make, feed, and store a ginger bug, which is the base ferment for ginger ale.  However, I recommend following the above procedure for making ginger ale.  It’s a wonderful holiday drink, and a great digestive after a large meal.  If you wish, you can allow your ginger ale to ferment longer for an alcoholic content and champagne-like bubbles, but beware opening the bottles!

 

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