Yay, it’s mah birthday. I’m buyin’ myself kefir :).

My birthday is always a special day for me. Although I don’t actually care about the birthday part of it. I care about the groundhog part of it. Mostly because asking a groundhog if spring is coming reminds me of the other day it is.

It’s Imbolc, a Pagan holiday that celebrates the coming of spring, the time of year that we honor that cows begin lactating and seedlings germinate. I like playing with my houseplants, I like foraging, I like warmer weather and longer days, I like spring being near and the season of hope and joy and youth that it represents, love, frolicking, all that. So, it’s one of my favorite holidays. Sure, the actual spring solstice is nice too, but Imbolc means its soon to be here, and I love having something to look forward to :). Festival meals usually include dairy and sprouts.

This means two things for me:

1) Time to plant my seeds, and I get to do it in a way to honor my religion! Oh. Dang. This year I already planted my seeds, because they had to be in the refrigerator for a month, and I wanted them in the ground by April (after I let them get started here). Usually I don’t have seeds, but I can at least propagate my houseplants. This year I’ve already planted some ginger root already and some dandelion roots to grow those as houseplants (we’ll see how that goes), so that part all came early this year. So far the dandelions are growing like weeds ;). I only planted them a couple of days ago. I planted the ginger about a month ago.

 

Spring is settin' forth to spring

2) In my area, the dandelions are starting to become visible out on the lawns as well. Foraging season begins :). No blooms yet, but I’ve already added the greens to some soup (obviously where I got the roots for planting). This year I’m gonna ferment the flowers too, maybe not the traditional dandelion wine way, but in a ginger bug soda. I also have a small sample of the roots pickling, so I get to try those in a couple of weeks. More foraging is peeking out, chickweed and henbit are both very prolific in my apartments and I’m starting to see signs of them. Since I didn’t get to forage (here at least) last year because I thought they were spraying, I will really enjoy the fact that they actually aren’t, and all because of my weird ass.

Anyway, this year I’m going to celebrate the dairy part as well (the purchase of it anyway). My son and I are lactose intolerant, but I can eat cheese and yogurt. So I risked drinking a quart of kefir to see what would happen, and since I didn’t explode that widens my possibilities some.

After much deliberation (between yogurt, kefir, and kombucha), I shall add kefir to my kitchen pets. There’s going to be so many things I can make now.  Dips and cream cheese will pair well with Bob’s children. Sourdough Bob has given me more flatbreads lately, and crackers (kind of tired of bread for a bit). I’ve been thinking about trying pitas, or returning to pretzels. All of those (and bread itself) will go great with dips and spreads made from my kefir :). It will be nice to have dairy in the house that won’t um, make my home less hospitable to company.

Bonus, my super picky kid loved the kefir. He actually doesn’t remember reacting to milk and keeps “correcting” me saying he’s not lactose intolerant, he just hates milk. He is though, and I’m looking forward to us both being able to consume more calcium and b12 on a regular basis.

Only I get to buy the kefir culture with my birthday money from Grandma (thanks Grandma!) which means I won’t have it in my hands for a bit. Sigh. The planting came early and the dairy comes late. I’ll be at a loss for what to do today. Well, I might splurge on more store-bought kefir, and put some sprouts in with dinner. I wish I knew some Pagans to go run around in the damp grass all barefoot with. Oh well.

How have my kitchen experiments been going you ask? So far, still experiments. I think I’ve made some serious progress with how to handle my ginger bug (I’ve had a problem with too much sweetness, fermenting too fast or too slowly, how to handle spent wort, stuff like that). Still working on that too though, but I’ll let you know more soon I’m sure. Anne-Marie of The Zero-Waste Chef pointed me at an Alton Brown recipe for candied ginger for my wort, and that turned out fantastic. In a few weeks I should know more of what I’m doing here, so I’ll let my tiny corner of the world know about it then.

 

Candied ginger from ginger left over from making ginger ale. Waste not!

Remember the kvass?

Pretty just never really lasts, does it?

I really did enjoy those pretty stars for a day or two, but I hoped I’d end up with a pink monochromatic watercolor with little light stars on a dark beet background. You can’t even see the stars! Anyway, most of the recipes I saw said a day or two for kvass, so after about three or four days I still wasn’t getting a hint of tang or bubbles. I juiced it and it was way too salty, and very inactive. So, I went ahead and put it back in the jug, minus the fiber from the veggies, and watched it for a week. Nothing, really.

I tossed a pinch of Bob the sourdough king in there (poured out a cup of kvass, whisked him in, and added it back to the mix) and the next day it was really active. The day after that it was very pleasantly tangy (made me smile with delight at the tang) but still way too salty. Next time I’ll try 1% brine instead of 2%. Also, the recipes said a day or two, but then I ran across other recipes that had a much longer time frame. So, I’ll still play with this one for a bit and see how it goes. I might even do stars to make me happy for a couple of days :).

Or flowers. I totally wasted some money on vegetable cutters back when I did bento, and I hardly used them because I had to get a wide enough carrot to use the cutters on, and all that slicing into rounds and punching out flowers wasn’t worth the effort. I was hoping that if i put flowers in my son’s soup, he might eat the carrots. He didn’t. We’re still working on getting beta-carotene into him, though he does like the purée in soup.

Anyway, I ran across a YouTube video that made the pretty carrots so much easier. Check her out at about 1:03. The rest of the video is cool too :).

By the way, the pulp from the juice after I ran the kvass through the juicer? Excellent in sourdough crackers. The crackers weren’t quite perfect in texture just yet, but the flavor was great and I see a lot of potential here.

Oh, and one more thing about fermentation that I’ve learned: I hate Rejuvelac. No matter how I flavor it. That is all.

Seasonal Treats: Bloomin’ Apples For Fall.

Baked bloomin' apple

Well, this is interesting. I’ve thought about starting a blog for a few months now, but on the day I happen to have something worth saying, it just happens to be Halloween. That makes my blogiversary Halloween too, my celebratory contests should be fun. Now on to the show. This one features my version of a caramel baked apple recipe that’s been bouncing around Pinterest.

How to make a Bloomin' Apple, baked and drizzled with a butter deglaze sauce and buttery caramel.

I recommend this be baked with the apples placed in a glass or enamel casserole dish. If you don’t have a double boiler, I recommend a stainless steel bowl set on a pot of boiling water. If you don’t have a steel bowl, use the thickest metal sauce pan you have. Preheat your oven to 350°F.

How to make a Bloomin' Apple, baked and drizzled with a butter deglaze sauce and buttery caramel.

How to Cut a Bloomin’ Apple

Bloomin’ Apple (for four apples)

  • 4 apples (I like how Gala apples work with this recipe) that have had their tops cut off and have been cored, then cut in a grid pattern like the picture shown.
  • 8 Tablespoons (one stick, or 1/4 a cup) butter
  • 4 Tablespoons brown sugar, or a natural and unprocessed sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Corn Starch (this thickens the sauce so it dribbles more slowly as it melts over the apple, allowing for even seasoning)
  • 1 teaspoon each of powdered ginger root and cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon each of salt, nutmeg and allspice.

Caramel Sauce (use either)

  • 20 pieces of caramel candies with 2 Tablespoons of butter melted on low or in a double broiler.

Or:

  • In a double broiler, melt: 1 cup brown sugar (packed), 1/2 cup whipping cream or half and half, 4 Tablespoons of butter (chopped), and a pinch of salt together. Stir frequently until sauce thickens. Remove from heat. For a butterscotch twist, stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract while cooling.

Bloomin’ Baked Apples (from gunnysack.com) is a fantastic baked apple recipe, especially for this time of the year. It is simple, and seems easy enough. I love seasonal treats, I love the holidays, and I love alleviating my boredom by pretending I’m Donna Reed.  So, I decided to indulge my domestic side and make this the feature treat for the autumn and winter holidays. Naturally I had to add my own personal touch to things as well, and I ended up with something so different from the original you might wish to see both and decide what fits your style best.

Unfortunately, I do not have a narrow, thin knife that the original recipe called for. I have an apple corer that I’d never used before, so I enjoyed that part of the prep, but carving the circles around the hollowed out center proved to be impossible with my thick little paring knife. My cuts would not allow my apple to bloom, meaning it wouldn’t take in heat evenly or brown properly. Also, I don’t own a microwave, and I think this changed part of the recipe as well. My apple took forever to cook, didn’t seem properly seasoned, and the caramel did not spread. So I fixed it for the tools I have available and some of my favorite seasonings. The best change was to slice the apple in the grid like pattern shown above. I found that having no circles made this much simpler and quicker to cut with my clumsy knife.

In the next step, as I said, I do not have a microwave. Odd of me, I know. I’m quite happy being behind the times. So, I took two tablespoons of butter per apple and let it set on the counter for twenty minutes. Then I used the back of a fork to blend in the dry goods, mashing the mixture to an icing like consistency, and then I smeared it on to the top of my apples as if I were icing a cupcake. Save a tablespoon or two of the butter mixture for later, to loosen the sauce on the bottom of the pan after baking.

How to make a Bloomin' Apple, baked and drizzled with a butter deglaze sauce and buttery caramel.

Notice how the back one is missing a sliver from a slice being cut too far, causing the piece to fall off. My knife skills need some honing up.

I bake them at 350°F for twenty minutes. Some varieties of apples may take longer. When the apples are done, remove them from the oven and use a fork and a spatula (trust me, the fork helps) to place the apples in individual bowls and arrange the “blooms”. Take the rest of the butter that you set aside before baking and add the rest of the seasoned butter to the pan or dish the apples baked in. Loosen the browned bits with a spatula and pour this sauce over the apples as they wait for the caramel.  Save some of this apple butter sweet deglaze for sauces you might be making soon, it seems like it would go well with citrus sauces, or maybe some dessert cream cheese sauces could have a bit of it whipped in.

The final step is, naturally, to top with the sweet caramel sauce. Yes, I could have stuck candies inside the apples, but I wanted to make sure that my apples were evenly distributed with caramel goodness. Since I couldn’t melt them in the microwave, I tried both versions of the caramel sauce. The sauce with the candies has more of a traditional caramel apple flavor, but it seems a bit simple for the baked apples. It was good, I’ll probably make it again if serving kids, but the brown sugar and cream sauce makes a perfect version for adults at a festive setting. I bet some rum in the deglaze would be interesting, or cider.

These methods make very buttery caramel, and this was possibly the best homemade dessert I believe I have ever put into my mouth. It actually rivaled something I might expect to find in a restaurant. It was like heaven punched me in the face. I was tempted to try topping with something like coarse sea salt, crushed graham crackers, homemade vanilla whipped cream, melted dark chocolate, or vanilla ice cream… but then I thought I didn’t know if I wanted to mess with perfection.

Update: I’ve been having fun the last few days using my leftover caramel and heavy cream. I splurged and got a full quarter gallon. A spoon of cream and a spoon of caramel added to hot chocolate or fresh coffee is seriously brightening my chilly fall weather. I also spooned the caramel over pumpkin biscuits, I hope I have enough the next time I make pancakes or muffins. I may be splurging on cream for caramel more often.

Update again: Okay I fully admit that the success of this apple stunned me. I did not expect it to go that well, and I seem to have really impressed myself. Over the last two days I’ve actually found myself stressed out at a couple of points and stopped and told myself, “Hey, it can’t be that bad. I made the shit out of that apple, didn’t I?”