Category Archives: Cooking and recipes

Kombucha Series Part 6 - Troubleshooting (Plus a GIVEAWAY!)

This giveaway is closed.  Thanks for the entries!

Well, we have reached the end of the weekly kombucha series and I hope you all have enjoyed it. Kombucha is my favorite thing to ferment so I’ve loved writing this up for you.  Plus, I am SO EXCITED about the giveaway!  Details are at the end of this post.  You do NOT want to miss this one!

If you’re just joining me for the first time, here is what you missed:

1. Make your own SCOBY
2. Choosing the right tea
3. Choosing the right type of sugar
4. Equipment
5. Make kombucha – woo woo!

Throughout the last six weeks I have gotten a few questions about what is normal SCOBY behavior, what the tea should look like or smell like, etc.  Here are a few answers to some FAQs about your ‘buch.

1. Cloudy tea and/or brown bits in kombucha – This is good!  When you initially combine your sweetened room-temperature tea, the SCOBY, and starter tea, it is all mostly clear.  Sure, it’s retained the color of the tea that you brewed, but it isn’t cloudy.  As the SCOBY gets to work and the bacteria and yeasts do their job the tea will turn cloudy.  You may also start to see brown stringy bits floating off of your SCOBY and in your tea.  This is just yeast growth and you want it in there.  Fear not!

Kombucha Closeup

(Look at the stringy bits hanging off of this SCOBY.  It’s growing yeast!  WOO!)

2. SCOBY storage – The most important thing to know about properly storing your SCOBY is that is must be kept in liquid at all times.  If it won’t be hard at work fermenting any tea for a month or two, a SCOBY needs to be stored in tea and kept wet especially if they are going to be used again in the future.  If you are taking a fermentation break or find yourself with extra SCOBYs simply keep them in a small jar covered in sweetened room temperature tea.  Cover loosely with a light cloth or handkerchief secured with a rubber band.  Store at room temperature.
SCOBYs can be refrigerated or dehydrated for longer term storage, but there is not guarantee that they’ll come back to life when you’re ready to use them again.  This is why I don’t wholly recommend refrigeration or dehydration.  It isn’t a terrible idea, but nothing is guaranteed.  To dehydrate, simply put the SCOBY on a Pyrex plate or on a piece of all-natural parchment paper and allow it to dry at 90 to 100 degrees in the oven for several hours, or until it has the same texture as gummy candy or beef jerky.  For instructions on rehydrating your SCOBY, check out this video from Cultures for Health.

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3. SCOBY looks and feel – A healthy SCOBY will be whitish/ivory colored.  Sometimes it will have brownish tea-colored stains on it (especially if you use black tea to ferment your kombucha), but it will never ever be black, red, green, or blue.  If you see any colors beyond white/ivory/beige and brown, this is most likely a sign of mold growth and the whole batch (SCOBY included) must be discarded.  Do not take chances, and please use your best judgement.  If you are in doubt at all over your SCOBY’s health, toss it and start over.
A healthy SCOBY should also feel like a handful of dense gelatin.  It’s wiggly and jiggly and feel kind of squishy in your hand.  It shouldn’t be dry at all.

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4. SCOBY size – They say size doesn’t matter, and with SCOBYs at least, that’s true.  My very first SCOBY given to me by my buddy Liz was about three or four inches across and a quarter inch thick.  She gave it to me in a little jar with a cup of starter tea.  From that wee SCOBY I brewed a gallon of kombucha and have been making batch after batch ever since.  Plus, that original mother has given birth to dozens of new SCOBYs that I’ve gifted all over the place.

5. SCOBY placement – When I started my first batch of kombucha, I dumped my SCOBY and starter tea into my gallon of sweetened room temperature tea and it promptly sunk to the bottom. I (stupidly) stuck my hand in the jar and tried to get it to float on the surface.  It didn’t work.  I had a minor freakout.  It turns out, it doesn’t matter one whit where the SCOBY is in the jar.  It will still do its job nicely.  A new SCOBY will grow on the surface of your tea (you might notice it starting to grow when you see a cloudy film start to appear.) no matter where your original mother decides to settle.

6. Metal – Kombucha, SCOBYs, and metal do not mix.  As previously mentioned in the equipment installment of this series, you should not ever ferment tea in a metal container.  Period.  Some kombucha makers say that a SCOBY should not ever ever ever come in contact with anything metal.  While I agree, I don’t happen to think that very brief encounters with metal will not hurt your brew or your SCOBY.  I brew my gallon of tea in a metal pot and I have cut sections off of SCOBYs with metal knives or kitchen shears with no ill affects yet.  Technically speaking, molecules of metal are left behind when you do these things and over time can affect fermentation.  My rule is this: Never ever ferment tea in a metal container.  Avoid using metal tools when you can. Anything that will come in prolonged contact with your SCOBY or kombucha should NOT be made of metal.  Otherwise, if you want to use a knife or kitchen scissors to snip off a bit of a SCOBY to give to a friend, just do it quickly.

7. Kombucha storage – After I flavor and bottle my ‘buch, it doesn’t tend to last very long in my house.  Honestly I haven’t ever had a bottle sitting in my refrigerator for longer than a couple of weeks.  However, as long as it is kept cold, bottled kombucha will last for a very long time.  Note, however that fermentation does not stop just because it’s in the refrigerator.  It is slowed down to an almost near halt, but not quite turned off.  Over time your kombucha will continue to ferment very slowly.  Consider this an aging process much similar to what wine goes through.  The taste of a bottle that is two weeks old will be slightly different than one that is 6 months old.  It’s up to you to decide whether or not that’s a good thing or a bad thing.  It’s a matter of taste.
Also note that a little wee miniature SCOBY may start to grow on the surface of you bottled ‘buch.  That’s just further proof that the little bacteria and yeast friends in the bottle are still fermenting away.  This mini SCOBY can be strained out and discarded or even consumed if you want.  It definitely won’t hurt you.

8. How much to drink – Like any fermented product, kombucha is alive and can do a lot of wonderful things for our bodies.  However, if a little is good, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a lot is better.  When I first started making kombucha I was guzzling several bottles of it a day.  It tastes wonderful, plus it’s fizzy. I haven’t had a pop in YEARS so it was nice to drink something cold and fizzy!  While this might have tasted good at the time, it started to negatively affect my body.  Fermented foods are meant to be enjoyed regularly, but in small quantity.  Eight ounces of kombucha a day is plenty to keep your gut populated with beneficial bacteria.  It may be difficult to resist those wonderful little bottles of ‘buch in your fridge, but overdoing it with kombucha or any fermented food will take its toll.

Kombucha Mixed Berry

So, there you have it!  I know that there may be many more questions and concerns about your ‘buch that will crop up as you go through the process.  Please let me know!  I am always more than happy to help you troubleshoot and answer questions.  As always, leave me a comment, send me an email, drop me a line on Facebook, Tweet me, or even give me a little shout out on Instagram.  I’m never far from my technology!

NOW!! On to the giveaway!!!

Although in the last six installments of this series I have given you all the info you need to make your own kombucha, I thought I’d make it super simple and easy for one of you to get started.  My friends at Kombucha Brooklyn are going to send one lucky winner a half-gallon kombucha starter kit!

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Can I just tell you how awesome this kit is?!?!?!  It comes with a glass jar, a large tea bag (enough for one batch), enough organic cane sugar to get you started AND your very own SCOBY!!!  They even throw in a thermometer and a light cloth to cover the jar with.  You guys, this is EVERYTHING you need to get started brewing your own kombucha all in one cute box!  When I got mine in the mail, I nearly fainted from excitement.  This kit is SNAZZY!

kit

 

whats in the kit

So, here is how this is going to work.  As usual, you’ll have several chances to win.

1. Leave me a comment telling me what your favorite kombucha flavor is.
2. Facebook – 1 entry each for liking First Comes Health and Kombucha Brooklyn on Facebook. (Already like us? Tell me that in your comment below!)
3. Twitter – 1 entry each for following First Comes Health and Kombucha Brooklyn on Twitter. (Already follow us?  Tell me that in your comment below!)
4. Instagram – 1 entry for following First Comes Health on Instagram. (Already follow me? Tell me that in your comment below!)
5. Newsletter – 1 entry for subscribing to the First Comes Health newsletter. (Already subscribed?  Tell me that in your comment below!)

Bonus entry: Did you pre-order my book Fermented yet?  If so, forward me the order confirmation and you’ll earn another chance to win.

kokmbucha lives(It says this right on the kit’s box! I love it so much.)

I wish every single one of you could win this one because this kit is simply fantastic.  You can earn up to eight chances to win this one!!  And because the giveaway is so awesome, I’m going to give you until noon EDT on Wednesday, May 29, 2013 to enter.

Good luck to all!  One of you lucky folks is going to be super excited when this baby arrives at your house!

 

Kombucha Series Part 5 - Let's Make Kombucha!

This is the post you’ve been waiting for!  It’s time to take what we learned in the previous installments in this series and put it to good use!

If you need to catch up to speed here is where you can find the first four posts:

1. Make your own SCOBY
2. Choosing the right tea
3. Choosing the right type of sugar
4. Equipment

Hopefully by this point you have assembled all the stuff you’ll need to get your first batch of kombucha going strong – SCOBY, tea, sugar, and a jar at the very least.  Once you have all you need, the procedure is actually quite simple.  The hardest part is the wait!  Kombucha making – fermentation in general! – requires patience.  If you’re anything like me, you’d prefer to have your ‘buch sooner rather than later, but trust me.  This is worth the wait.

Kombucha Jars Collection2

Part 1

  • Water – Fill a large pot with enough filtered water to fill your fermentation jar almost to the top.  Leave about two or three inches of headspace (that is, empty space at the top between the tea and the very top of the jar.).  If you have a gallon jar, you’ll want a gallon of water MINUS a cup or so.  Eyeball this.  It’s not that scientific.
    By the way, I suggest filtered water because regular old tap water can contain flouride, chlorine, or other chemicals, additives, or particulates that can interfere with SCOBY growth and fermentation.  I use a water filter pitcher for my drinking water and I’m thinking of getting a really nice household sized one in the near future.  I don’t want anything in my water to negatively affect my ferments!
  • Tea –  If you are using teabags, use 6 or 8 of them.  If you are using loose tea, you’ll need about 1/3 cup of the tea leaves.  Also with loose tea you have two choices: The first is to just brew the tea by tossing the loose leaves directly into the water.  You’ll have to strain them out later before you add your SCOBY.  The second is to put the 1/3 cup of tea into a tea ball, infuser, or make a giant sachet with a coffee filter and butcher’s twine.  The choice is yours and the quality of your kombucha will not be affected by whichever path you take.  Personally, because I have many coffee filters on hand, I opt for the sachet method.
  • Sugar – You’ll need a scant cup (just a bit under a cup) of sugar for every gallon of kombucha you’re making.
  • Procedure
    1. Heat the filtered water to just shy of boiling (approximately 200 degrees).  (It’s not a big deal if it boils, but tea isn’t meant to brew in water that is at a rolling boil.)
    2. Add the tea and allow to brew for at least 5 minutes.
    3. Remove tea infuser or sachet (if using) and remove the pot from the heat.
    4. Add the scant cup of sugar and stir with a wooden spoon until completely dissolved.
    5. Leave the pot of tea on the countertop to come to room temperature. (If you used loose tea without an infuser, strain the loose leaves out of your sweetened tea after it has come to room temperature to avoid scalding yourself!)
    6. After your sweetened tea has come to room temperature (that is a VERY IMPORTANT STEP!) carefully pour it into your fermentation vessel.  Use a funnel if you are accident and spill-prone like I am.
    7. Add your SCOBY and the starter tea it is sitting in to the sweetened room temperature tea.
    8. Cover with a coffee filter or light cloth secured with a rubber band and allow to ferment at room temperature.
    9. Check on your brewing kombucha every day or so.  You should start to see a new SCOBY form on the surface of your tea.
    10. After a week or 10 days, taste test an ounce or so of your brew.  It should start to have that characteristic “fermented” tang to it.  Depending on how you prefer your kombucha to taste, it may or may not be finished at this point.  It is up to your taste buds to decide.  If you prefer a sweeter kombucha, it will require a shorter fermentation time.  If you prefer a more tart or dry kombucha, you’ll want to let it ferment a little longer.  This is up to you!  Taste test it each day or so until it suits your palate.  To give you a bit of context, in my (rather warm) home it can take 10 days to 2 weeks for my kombucha to taste the way I like it.

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When your kombucha tastes right to you, you’re finished.  Congratulations! You’ve made kombucha!  Drink up!
But please don’t stop there.  You’d be missing out on a really terrific opportunity to explore your ‘buch-making artistry if you didn’t bottle it and ferment it a second time.  Read on…

Part 2

There is really no requirement that says you MUST bottle and flavor your kombucha, but to me, this is the best part of making it.  I love it plain, but I love it even more when it’s been flavored and is fizzy.  Here’s the simple lowdown on how to turn your jar of kombucha into bottles of fizzy fruity goodness.

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  • Fruit, juice, and herbs – Gather up the stuff you want to use to flavor your kombucha.  The possibilities are nearly endless here and now that we are in the midst of springtime here in the Northern Hemisphere, you have more and more fresh options available to you at farmers’ markets and your local grocery.  Take advantage!
    If you don’t have access to fresh fruit, use frozen.  If you want to try using pre-packaged juices, go for it.
    Here are some of my favorite (and easy!) suggestions:

    • Freshly squeezed lemon and lime juice
    • Freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
    • Fresh or candied ginger
    • Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries
    • Kiwi
    • Bottled mango or pear juice.
  • Procedure
    1. Get your flip-top bottles ready and fill each one with fruit, juice, herbs, or any flavor combination you’ve decided to try.  Try whole pieces of fruit, fruit purees, combinations of juice and fruit, herbs, etc. Use an ounce or two of flavoring agent for every 16 ounce bottle.  This does not call for super-precise measuring, but make sure you do not overload your bottles with fruit or juice.  A little will go a long way.
    2. Fill the bottles with your finished kombucha.  This is where a racking cane and/or funnel really comes in handy!
    3. Seal up the bottles and allow them to sit at room temperature for 3 to 5 more days.
    4. Refrigerate your bottles and enjoy your kombucha cold.  Be extremely cautious when opening a bottle of kombucha!  Contents are under pressure and it is not unheard of for a bottle to erupt like a volcano! Cover the bottle with a dishtowel before opening to keep from being sprayed with an entire bottle of kombucha.  Trust me on this one.

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Important Notes

  • It’s helpful to understand a bit of elementary fermentation chemistry in order to properly manage your kombucha: The bacteria and yeasts that are in your SCOBY will eat the sugar you sweetened your tea with.  One of the byproducts of this is carbon dioxide.
    While your kombucha is fermenting in the jar that’s covered with a coffee filter or light cloth, the carbon dioxide just escapes into the atmosphere.  You might see a wayward bubble here and there in your jar, but it won’t be fizzy or effervescent.
    When you bottle your kombucha with more sugar (in the form of fruit or juice), and seal the tops to the bottles, the carbon dioxide can’t escape.  It stays in the bottle which is what makes bottled kombucha fizzy.  You’ve trapped the carbon dioxide inside and when you open it, it all rushes out.  Fizz!
  • Another byproduct of kombucha fermentation is alcohol.  If you’re a regular kombucha drinker you may have noticed that you might get a wee bit of a buzz after downing an entire bottle.  (I can’t be the only one).  There is a very small amount of alcohol in kombucha.  Here are some numbers for you:
    An average batch of kombucha will contain .5 % to 1.5 % ABV (alcohol by volume) as opposed to beer or wine which can range from 2% to 19% ABV depending on the label.  You can see that it is a very tiny amount compared to actual alcoholic beverages, but it’s in there.  If you avoid alcohol for any reason it might be wise to stay away from kombucha too.  Use your best judgement!
  • Fermentation times will vary.  Because bacteria and yeast thrive in warm temperatures, they will work faster when the weather is warmer or the temperature in your kitchen is warm.  During the winter months or when our homes are cooled by air conditioning, fermentation times can be a bit longer.  This is why you taste test to determine when your kombucha is finished fermenting to your liking.

There you have it!  The very basics of kombucha making!  I am sooooo excited for you guys to start brewing your own.  Please please please keep me updated with your progress and do not hesitate to contact me with questions.  I’m always available by leaving a comment, email, dropping me a note on Facebook, tweeting me on Twitter, or even cruising on over to Instagram.

And don’t forget to pre-order your copy of Fermented, A Four Season Approach to Paleo Probiotic Foods.  There are several very unique kombucha flavorings included in the recipe sections.  Go beyond fruit and juice and incorporate vegetables, herbs, and more into your ‘buch flavorings!

Next week is the final installment!  I’ll be covering troubleshooting and FAQ, so get your questions, comments, and problems to me ASAP!  And you do not want to miss the kombucha-related giveaway I have planned.  One of you is going to win a pretty sweet gift.  Stay tuned!

Kombucha Series Part 4 - Equipment

If you missed the first three parts, check them out here:
1. Make your own SCOBY
2. Choosing the right tea
3. Choosing the right type of sugar

I hope you’ve taken the time to read the first three installments in this kombucha series.  The previous posts will guide you through the preliminary steps necessary for top-quality ‘buch making.  This week’s post is focused on the necessary equipment needed to make kombucha.

To be completely honest, this post could be just a few sentences long.  Allow me to give you a list of all the necessary kombucha-making hardware:

1. A clean glass jar.

That’s all.  This is the beauty of fermentation – because it is such an old craft there isn’t a need for fancypants equipment and gadgetry.  If your great great great grandparents were making kombucha, chances are they didn’t have pH strips, racking canes, continuous brewing rigs, flip-top bottles, etc.  They just used what they had.

But, we live in 2013 and just because we don’t NEED all kinds of equipment for fermentation in general and kombucha making in specific, doesn’t mean that we can’t use some modern-day equipment to make our lives easier.  I mean, my forebearers didn’t have cars, but I’m using one today, right?  Conestoga wagons aren’t my style.

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So, below you will find a list of suggested equipment for kombucha making.  I’ll let you know which things I believe to be more useful than others (my opinions), and you can start assembling your ‘buch-making arsenal.

1. A clean glass jar – As noted above, this is probably the only piece of hardware anyone needs for kombucha making.  The size of the jar depends on how much kombucha you want to make.  For me and my household of two adults and no kids, a half gallon jar is enough for an 8-pack of flavored kombucha.  You may find that you want more or less, so adjust the size accordingly.  Just make sure the jar is food-grade glass.  Ceramic is a possibility if you know the glaze on it is food-safe (some are lead based), and metal and plastic are no-nos.  Just stick with a big glass jar and you’ll be fine.

2. Jar covering – Many jars come with lids, but don’t use them for kombucha making.  You want air to be able to get in and out of your kombucha as it ferments and closing it off with a lid just won’t do.  Instead, use a piece of cloth (clean handkerchief) or a coffee filter secured with a rubber band or string.  I do not recommend cheesecloth for this job as the holes in cheesecloth can be large enough for bugs to get in and out of your kombucha jar.  If this happens you are immediately in a throw-it-all-out-and-start-all-over-from-the-beginning scenario.  A piece of light cloth or a coffee filter are light enough to allow air to escape, but have a tight enough weave to keep any intruders at bay.

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3. Funnels – I find funnels to be one of the most useful kitchen tools whether or not I’m using them for fermentation.  I’m clumsy and sloppy so any gadget that keeps me from spilling and making a mess is alright in my book.  As far as kombucha making goes, you may find yourself pouring liquids from one vessel to another and funnels of various sizes come in handy.  I have two that are rather small that I bought in a kitchen supply store and one other that I use for large jobs that I picked up in an auto parts store because it is made for helping with an oil change.

4. Racking cane – When I first starting making kombucha I had never even heard of such a device.  Then I met Naomi of Red Star Kombucha and she told me about it.  She regularly makes enough kombucha to fill kegs, so her glass containers are 10 gallons or more.  That’s a lot of kombucha and a lot of HEAVY jars. It is dangerous to pick up a 10 gallon glass container and pour ‘buch out of it!  Instead she uses a racking cane.
A racking cane is a siphon of sorts that is also its own little pump. Simply put one end in the large kombucha filled container and the other in the empty vessel.  Pump the pump a few times to get the liquid flowing and voila!  You have kombucha flowing from your large jar into smaller containers in no time.
Racking canes are available at brewers’ supply stores and come in various sizes.  Many of them also come with a choke device to fit on the tube to stop the flow of liquid when necessary.
Honestly, when I’m bottling kombucha for a second ferment, I use my racking cane AND a funnel, (Like I said, I’m messy.) but the racking cane was a life saver for me.  I love mine and wouldn’t want to bottle an 8-pack without it.

racking cane

5. Flip-top bottles – In the next installment in this kombucha series I am going to cover putting it all together and actually making kombucha.  When you read that, you will see that kombucha is finished and potable before it is bottled.  Therefore, flip-top bottles are not at all essential equipment. However, I would be willing to bet that most kombucha you have ever had in your life has come in a bottle and it’s fizzy.  Flip-top bottles (or even jars with tight-fitting lids) are what help make it fizzy.  Straight out of your fermentation vessel, kombucha is not that fizzy.  Remember, you’ve covered it with something that allows air to escape so any effervescence that could have built up has now escaped.
For the time being, do not get mired down in the procedure of kombucha making.  That is for next week’s post.  But if you are interested in fizzy kombucha, flip-top bottles are what you want to have on hand.

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6. Mortar and pestle, food processor, blender, or mini-chopper – When it comes time to spread your creative wings and fly into the world of flavoring your kombucha, having some piece of equipment that will pulverize fruit and herbs will come in handy.  If your knife skills are up to the task, then by all means, skip these things.  I prefer my ‘buch flavored with juices and finely blended fruits.  This isn’t something I can do by hand so I let the machines do all the work for me.

7. A fine sieve – If you are anything like me, and chunky kombucha isn’t your thing, then blending fruits for ‘buch flavoring in a blender or food processor is step one in the prep, and step two is running the fruit pulp through a fine sieve.  You kombucha will be free of miniature seeds, fibers, leaves, and pulp!

8. A continuous brewing vessel – This is not at all necessary equipment for kombucha making, but it definitely falls under the category of convenience devices.  When I make kombucha, I use a half-gallon glass jar, bottle it using a racking cane and funnel, refill it with tea after that, and I’m done.  This system works for me, but the only downside is that once I bottle a batch and start another, I have to wait a few weeks before my next batch is finished.  There is some down time between when Dude and I have finished the 8 bottles and when the next batch is ready.  Like I said, this works in our household, but if you absolutely cannot live without your ‘buch from day-to-day, perhaps a continuous brewing system is what you need.
A suitable vessel for a continuous brew system is similar to what you would need in any kombucha making vessel – glass or ceramic food-grade jar.  Continuous brew vessels are typically larger (a gallon or more) and also feature a spigot near the bottom of the container.  This allows you to remove kombucha from the container without disturbing the SCOBY (which is usually found on top of the liquid).  You will regularly remove kombucha through the spigot and bottle it (or just drink it straight from the tap!), and then replace what you have removed with sweetened tea.  No need for racking canes, funnels, or waiting for the next batch to brew.

9. Various other gadgets – When you get in to bottling and flavoring kombucha, a collection of other gadgets may come in handy.  Citrus reamers, cherry pitters, strawberry hullers, ginger graters, etc.  Use these at your own discretion.  They are far from necessary!  I live in a small condo with a modest kitchen so I don’t have room for all kinds of extra stuff (or as Alton Brown would call them, unitaskers!). But I know that kitchen gadgets are popular and some of you may have these tools already in your arsenal or you just like collecting fun kitchen tools.  Power on.

A note about materials:  As mentioned in the SCOBY post, because it is a live delicate collection of beings, it is also fragile.  Harsh chemicals, cleaning agents, and certain materials are bad for kombucha making and SCOBY health.  Be sure that your vessels are all food grade glass or ceramic.  Metal and plastic have no place in kombucha making.  That is to say, anything that will come in prolonged contact with your ‘buch should not be made of metal or plastic.  Siphoning your kombucha from a jar to a bottle through a racking cane with plastic tubing or straining fruit juices through a metal sieve is perfectly fine.  But brewing a batch in a metal container or plastic jug is not.  If you are considering a kombucha continuous brew system, be sure that all of the components are food-safe and made of the proper materials – especially the spigot!

As with any hobby, kombucha making (or any kind of fermentation) can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.  Have a jar?  You have enough to get started.  All other equipment is optional, but as I mentioned above, there isn’t a thing wrong with injecting a little convenience into your life.  If you are just starting out, do not buy a kitchen full of equipment!  Get the basics and grow your kombucha making operation from there.

Feel free to check out my Amazon store for a listing of equipment that I use to brew kombucha and other stuff that I find indispensable in my kitchen including all the stuff I list in this post.  (Note, that this link leads to my Amazon.com affiliate store where I will earn a small percentage of moolah for each purchase you make from it.  Just FYI.)

Stay tuned for next week’s post when we put it all together!  SCOBY + tea + sugar + equipment = KOMBUCHA!  At last!

And as usual, if you have any questions, comments, or issues you’d like me to cover in upcoming installments, leave me a comment, catch me on Facebook, send me an email, or tweet me a Tweet.

Giveaway! Gather: The Art of Paleo Entertaining

The winner of this giveaway has been chosen and notified and the contest is closed.  Thanks for participating!

Can I just say that I had the best weekend?  I did.  First of all, yesterday I completed my second half marathon!  Yippee!  I plan to give you all the details of that accomplishment in a post later this week.  Saturday was one of those days where I got many things finished around my house. A quiet day.  But Friday was something special.  Dude and I went to a local restaurant and celebrated our friends Hayley and Bill‘s latest book, Gather: The Art of Paleo Entertaining!

Gather

First of all, I have to offer my most hearty congratulations to my dear friends.  First, because now that I have written my own book (You know it!) I have an ENORMOUS amount of appreciation for the amount of heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears that goes into an endeavor like this.  Here’s the thing, however: I wrote my book, meaning I wrote all the text.  Beyond that, I had someone take all the photos (Bill!) and I have another person putting it together to look like a real book.  These two have not only written this masterpiece, but they took all the photos, AND put it all together in a gorgeous (not-so) little package.  If you don’t already know, that requires dedication, time, and most of all, skill. In tremendous supply.  This isn’t some weekend project.

I knew this book was going to be something special – it is created by two cooking devotees who just love real food, they’re both artists who have a special eye for beauty in all things – but I must be honest that when I finally got a copy of this book in my hands, I was blown away.  It. Is. Fabulous.

And not in that “the sizzle sells the steak” kind of way.  Sure, they could have devoted all their time to the pretty photos and skimped and cut corners on the recipes, but they didn’t.  Even if this book had line drawings instead of dozens of fantastic pictures, the recipes on their own would stand out as nothing short of masterful.

Can you tell I love this book?

Gather 2(Hey! That’s the back of my head! Did you know the New Year’s Eve party was photographed at my home?! Totally.)

I have already tagged some favorites and have put them in heavy rotation around my house.  Teriyaki Country Ribs, Braised Pork Belly, Sweet Potato Hash with Rosemary, Sauteed Japanese Eggplant with Onions and Sage.  Just a sampling of some of the favorites that have emerged so far.  But to be honest, I’ve barely dug into this book!  I anticipate it never seeing my bookshelf, and instead it will find a permanent home on my kitchen table so I can have it ready for quick reference and inspiration.

Gather 3(This photo is so beautiful! It almost looks like a painting!)

So, here’s the good news for you!  I have a spare copy to give to a lucky winner!  I don’t want anyone to be without their own copy of Gather.  Seriously.  And if you play your cards right, I might even be able to get it signed for you too.  Let’s get to the details on how you can find yourself with your very own copy…..

There will be a random drawing for the winner from the entries received.
For one entry in the drawing, comment below and tell me whether or not you like to entertain in your home.  Let me know why or why not.

To earn additional entries, join me in the following ways:
1. Like First Comes Health on Facebook
2. Follow First Comes Health on Twitter
3. Follow me on Instagram
4. Sign up to receive my newsletter

This gives you the opportunity to earn FIVE entries into the Gather giveaway drawing!!!  Comment, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, newsletter.  Do it!

And because I’m feeling generous, I’m going to give you a sixth way.  Pre-order my book Fermented from Amazon.com and email me the confirmation to score another chance.

How do you like that?  That is six whole chances to have my pull your name as the big winner.

It all starts today and ends at Friday May 10, 2013 at noon Pittsburgh time (EST).  Don’t delay!

(By the way, It’s not a secret that Hayley and Bill are my friends, but my opinions are my own and I’m always brutally honest.  For more info on my policy on reviews, check out the legal tab at the top, or click here to see where I stand.)

 

Kombucha Series Part 3 - Choosing Sugar

Are all strapped in and ready for part three in my kombucha series?  I sure hope so.

In case you missed the previous hoopla:
Part 1 focused on making your own SCOBY from scratch.
Part 2 was all about choosing the right tea for successful kombucha brewing.

If you’ve been following along so far, you are well on your way to successful home kombucha making.  Your SCOBY should be in fine shape and hopefully you have some tea on hand that will eventually be turned in to some delicious ‘buch.  Before you get started, however, there is one final element needed to get the fermentation ball rolling.

Fuel.

That SCOBY you now have is a bundle of living creatures whose very nature it is to eat and procreate.  Now, you won’t have to put on any Barry White music to encourage those little bacteria yeasts to make wee babies, but you will have to provide them with food to eat to fuel their reproductive efforts.  That is where the sugar comes in to play.

Right about now I anticipate a comment like this:  “But!!!  But!!!  But!!!! Isn’t sugar BAD for you?!?!?!”

Yes.  It isn’t called the white devil for nothing.  HOWEVER!  We’re talking fuel here.  We aren’t talking about added sugar to be consumed by the teaspoonful.  We aren’t even talking about making something that is even considered “sugary”. The bacteria and yeast need food to eat so they can proliferate and therefore ferment our tea into ‘buch.  By the time it is all said and done, there will be far less sugar in a bottle of ready-to-drink kombucha than there was when you started brewing it.  My point is, do not freak out over the use of sugar.  It’s a necessary part of the process.

barbados sugar cane

(A sugar cane field in Barbados)

The deal with sugar is this: There are almost as many kinds on the market as there are types of tea.  What to use?

Let’s first talk about what all of those sugars are, how they’re made, what their individual merits are.  Then we’ll move along to a recommendation or two.

Sugar comes from one of a few sources – sugar cane, sugar beets, a beehive (honey), leaves (stevia), various grains (corn syrup, rice sugar), and even sap from various plants (coconut sugar, agave nectar, maple syrup, etc.)  Generally speaking the raw materials are harvested, refined in some way by removing impurities, and then packaged for sale and consumption.  That is REALLY watering down the process, but for what we are covering here, the exact tedious and history-rich process is not important.

Sugars

  • White sugar – The ubiquitous white sugar is very processed sugar cane (or sometime sugar beets) that has all impurities, molasses, and excess water removed from it.  It is usually sold in five-pound bricks in any supermarket.
  • Raw sugar – Although calling raw sugar “raw” is a bit misleading, it is not as processed and manipulated as its cousin, white sugar. When sugar cane or beets are processed into table sugar, they go through several steps of refinement. The original crop is chopped, crushed, and essentially juiced of all the liquid inside. That liquid is boiled to concentrate it and the resulting product is molasses and molasses-rich raw sugar crystals. Further refinement of these crystals extracts more molasses and turns the crystals white and into the common white table sugar. The reason that raw sugar has a light brown color is because it is only partially processed and molasses has not been completely removed.
    Other names that raw sugar is sold under include turbinado sugar, demerara sugar, and the brand name Sugar in the Raw.
  • Barbados or Muscovado sugar – This is a type of sugar found very commonly in the United Kingdom and has a very high molasses content. The sugar crystals are a bit larger than one would expect from standard white table sugar, and the texture is slightly sticky. Elsewhere in the world, Barbados or Muscovado sugar is called Panela sugar or Rapadura.

  • Brown sugar – Unlike raw sugar or Barbados sugar which are indeed brown, brown sugar, the kind commonly used in baking, is not actually partially processed sugar. Instead, it is processed white sugar that has molasses added back into it to give it a brown color, sticky texture, and the ability to be packed like wet sand.
  • Cane juice – Cane juice is another name for the liquid that is yielded in the preliminary steps of sugar processing when sugar cane is mulched into small pieces. The resulting liquid can be bottled and used directly as a sweetener and is sold as cane juice.
  • Evaporated cane juice – It is exactly what it sounds like. The cane juice, which is a product of grinding up sugar cane, is heated and the water content evaporated leaving sugar crystals behind. Evaporated cane juice is often sold under the brand name, Sucanat.

There are several other types of sugars and sweeteners out there, but they are not at all recommended for kombucha making.  This list of no-nos include honey (unless pasteurized), molasses, stevia (leaves or liquid), agave nectar, coconut sugar, rice sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, or any artificial sweetener like aspartame, saccharine, xylitol, etc.

So, given the list of acceptable sugars, which one do I highly recommend?  The answer might surprise you!  Plain old, highly-processed, inexpensive white sugar.

Because it is just about pure sucrose, there is really nothing in it that will interfere with SCOBY growth and development, taint your kombucha with a molasses flavor, or discolor it in any way.  It has the right chemical compound in the right proportion that is easily accessible to the bacteria and yeast that will fuel the SCOBY’s fermentation power.

A drawback to white sugar is that it is difficult to find organic white sugar.  In the previous installment I was adamant about using organic tea to make kombucha because you just don’t know what else is on the tea leaves when they’re not organically grown and handled.  The same is true for sugar. Do you know what they put on sugarcane or sugar beet fields to keep pests at bay and to facilitate crop growth?  Me either, but it’s typically chemical laden garbage that ends up in your food and there for in your body.  Blah.  Chemicals and fertilizers and pesticides do not make good SCOBY food either.

Also, if you are avoiding GMO goods, white sugar made from GMO beets are an obvious do not use product.

So, what to do?  Truthfully, I grit my teeth and use regular white sugar anyway.  On the off day that I can find organic white sugar, I buy some and use it happily.  But most other times, I just use the conventional white sugar made from cane.

Lionel cream and sugar

(Yeah, this is a Lionel Richie cream and sugar set.  Wanna fight about it?)

A few words about how much sugar to use
In upcoming installments, I will share my kombucha recipe with you.  It will contain proportions and measurements for each ingredient.  Please do NOT skimp on the amount of sugar called for.  Remember, it is in the recipe because it is SCOBY food/fuel.  It is a very important part of the yummy chemical experiment you will be conducting in your kitchen.  I know that as a healthy eater it seems almost counter-intuitive to use heaps and heaps and cups and cups of sugar, but trust me on this one.  You will be rewarded with a healthy SCOBY and delicious fizzy kombucha.

Ok!  That’s all for this week.  Please let me know if you have any questions, problems, or concerns.  I want to hear from you!  Email me, contact me via Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments below.  And heck you can even find me on Instagram.  Tell me about your own kombucha experiences or what you would like to experiment with in the first place.
And don’t forget that these kombucha posts will be a weekly occurrence for a while so if you have issues, questions, or topic suggestion for future weeks, tell me in the comments or through one of my aforementioned social media outlets and I’ll do my best to address it.

Kombucha Series Part 2 - Choosing Tea

In case you missed Part 1 about making your own SCOBY from scratch, check it out here.

Let’s move right along with dissecting the art of kombucha making by getting to the very essence of what it is all about – tea.  Kombucha is fermented tea, of course, so without it we have a whole lot of nothing.

There are approximately a million and one teas on the market (scientific counting method!) and the range in quality from artisan fancypants teas that bloom a flower in your cup to disgusting little paper bags of tea dust that was swept up off the floor of a teabag factory.  There are teas that make you sleepy, pep you up, settle an upset stomach, and one that are supposed to make you do a number 2.  It is almost overwhelming how many teas there are in the average supermarket aisle.

Teas

What Is Tea?

When you break it down there are only a few kinds and styles of tea.  True tea comes from the leaves and buds of the plant, camellia sinensis. Without getting too complicated or too scientific or muddy the waters with details that aren’t essential to kombucha making, there are four types of camellia sinensis and they come from different regions of the world.  Do not worry about these finer details, however.  For the purposes of casual kombucha making we’re just going to talk about camellia sinensis in a general way and leave it at that.

Ok, so camellia sinensis is the actual true tea that you think of when you think of tea as a beverage.  Generally speaking, after the leaves and buds are harvested from the plant, they are dried and oxidized and possibly subjected to a whole host of physical treatments in order to bring out the certain flavors. This one kind of leaf goes through different processes depending on what the desired outcome is.  Look at this table to see the different ways leaves are handled to produce various types of tea:

Teaprocessing.svg(Courtesy of Wikipedia, click to enlarge)

Let’s focus on the most common types of tea; the ones you are most likely to find in your local market or from your favorite tea purveyor.

Types of Tea

  • Black tea -Black tea is the most common type of tea produced in the world.  It is what is found in the most common and most inexpensive teabags that are widely available in every restaurant and supermarket in the western hemisphere.  As you can tell from the table above, black and oolong teas are the most “processed of all the teas because they go through the most handling before they are finished. Black teas are the most popular choice for kombucha making.  It offers a nice flavor and is widely available.
  • Green tea – Another popular tea and often touted for its health benefits, green tea is still made from camellia sinensis, but once the leaves are picked it goes through a vastly different series of processes than its black tea cousin does.  Green tea tends to be a bit milder in flavor and have grassy notes whereas black tea can be almost woody, fruity or even smoky.  Green tea makes excellent kombucha and personally speaking it is my tea of choice when I brew my ‘buch.
  • Oolong tea – This is a compromise tea between black and green.  It is processed in much the same way as black tea, but the oxidation session is not as long.  The tea’s flavor profile sits between fresh/grassy/light and woody/robust/strong.  Oolong teas can be found in supermarkets, however, they are overshadowed by the overwhelming number of black and green varieties.  Kombucha made from oolong tea is terrific.
  • White tea – While still coming from camellia sinensis and still subjected to a few processes before it is ready for brewing, white tea is made from immature leaves and buds.  If you are brewing white tea to drink hot or iced, it is a fantastic light tea.  For kombucha making, however, it is not the strongest choice.  There are chemical compounds that are present in mature tea leaves that are needed to successfully brew kombucha.  Because white tea has not fully matured, it is a bit more difficult to make a batch of ‘buch with it.
  • Rooibos tea – The one exception to the rule!  Technically rooibos (pronounced ROY-bus) tea is a type of herbal tea and is not made from our friend camellia sinensis, but rather made from aspalathus linearis, which is native to South Africa.  Rooibos teas are generally sweet and grassy or sometimes smoky and naturally caffeine free.  Also commonly known as red tea, rooibos teas make really good kombucha especially for those wanting to avoid caffeine.
  • Herbal tea – While extremely delicious and flavorful, herbal teas are not really teas (that is, they often do not contain any measure of camellia sinensis) and therefore cannot be brewed into kombucha.  Sometimes called “herbal infusions” because technically they don’t contain any tea, this type of tea simply does not have the stuff needed to make kombucha. There are some herbal teas on the market that are blends of herbs AND genuine tea leaves, but they just aren’t quite strong enough to ferment properly.  If you are looking to flavor your tea with herbs, I recommend doing so after the kombucha has fermented (this will be covered in future posts!)
  • Flavored tea –  This type of tea is not recommended at all for kombucha making.  While flavored teas are typically black, green, rooibos, or oolong teas, teh artificial agents used to give the tea a specific fruity or herby flavor can interfere with SCOBY growth and development.  There are kombucha-friendly teas commercially available that contain dried fruit and herbal extract, and these can make wonderful ferments, but if a tea is merely coated in artificial flavorings, steer clear.

IMG_6827

Ok, so now you’ve settled on a black tea, green tea, oolong tea, or rooibos tea.  Now what?

Details

  • Organic or Conventional – Because you are cultivating a living, growing creature during your ferment (your SCOBY), you want to make sure that you are giving it the best, most optimal environment in which to grow.  This is why I choose to use organic teas when I make kombucha.  There is no telling what in the world is sprayed on to your leaves while they are still in the field, and because they go through some heavy processing to become brewable you want to make certain that the whole system is as natural and as clean as can be.  Spend the extra money and get organic tea.  Your SCOBY will thank you for it, and you will have a better final product when you’re sipping your ‘buch at the end of the process.  Verdict: organic all the way.
  • Tea bags or loose tea – There are many reputable companies out there that sell top-quality teas in teabags.  It would be incorrect to say that you cannot find a decent tea in a teabag.  It simply isn’t so.  However, it is really very easy for a tea purveyor to hide tea dust poor quality tea inside a bag.  Caveat emptor! Teabags do not equal bad tea, but you have to do your due diligence and find out if you are getting a good product.  Rip open a bag and see what the leaves look like.  Do they actually look like leaves or are they shards of leaves and dust?  Remember, tea comes from a plant and it ought to look similar to its original form.
    Obviously loose teas cannot hide in a bag and you can very easily see, smell, taste, and feel what you are buying.  Their only drawback is figuring out how to brew a large quantity (a gallon or more) of loose tea, but we’ll get to that in a future post.  Verdict: It depends.  Good kombucha is made from good products so if you find a quality bagged tea, use it.  Loose teas are often less expensive per pound, plus their quality is readily visible.  What really matters is that you are using the best tea you can afford whether it comes in a bag or not.

IMG_6669

  • And now here is the part where I will go against everything I just said – Yes, you can buy inexpensive store brand teabags full of cheap tea and make kombucha out of it.  It will work and the tea will ferment.  It might even taste just fine.  However, I strongly encourage you to go for quality on this.  Get the finest tea your budget will allow because the quality of what you are making hinges upon it.  Sub-par ingredients yield a sub-par final product.  Quality matters.

Where to Buy?

  • Supermarket or co-op – Your local market probably has an enormous tea section.  Most places do.  If you belong to a food co-op you may even have a section where loose teas are sold in bulk.  Before buying anything, be sure your choice contains camellia sinensis, or it isn’t tea and won’t ferment into kombucha.  (Unless it’s rooibos, but see above for that exception.)
  • Asian or Indian markets – Because tea is widely grown in China, India, and Japan (among many other areas), some really unique and delicious teas are available at Asian or Indian markets.
  • A coffee and tea specialty shop – If you happen to live in a larger metropolitan area, then chances are you have a gourmet coffee and tea purveyor nearby.  You will find teas imported from all over the world in shops like this (often sold in bulk), and if you get to know the owners and buyers for these places, you can get some serious education about their coffees and teas.  Plus they’re often locally owned so not only will you get some terrific tea, but you’ll support your neighbors too.  Win-win.
  • The Internet – Research, research, research.  And then buy teas online.  Be sure you are getting what you pay for.

The Take Home

In a quick little nutshell, here is what you need to know about tea selection for kombucha making:

  • Viable tea candidates – black, green, oolong, rooibos
  • Buy organic
  • Loose or teabags, but be sure what you are buying is top-quality tea
  • Available nearly anywhere – mainstream supermarkets, food co-ops, Asian or Indian markets, coffee/tea purveyors, online

Please let me know if you have any questions, problems, or concerns.  I want to hear from you!  Email me, contact me via Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments below.  And heck you can even find me on Instagram.  Tell me about what you have been using to brew your kombucha, or what you would like to try.
And don’t forget that these kombucha posts will be a weekly occurrence for a while so if you have issues, questions, or topic suggestion for future weeks, tell me in the comments or through one of my aforementioned social media outlets.

Kombucha Series Part 1 - Make Your Own SCOBY

A few days ago I mentioned on Facebook that I get a lot of questions about various aspects of kombucha making.  First of all, keep them coming.  I love getting questions!  Secondly, kombucha is one of my very favorite things in the whole world so talking about it and answering questions about it makes me happy.

Many of the questions I get are from first-timers who want to start fermenting tea into kombucha and yet do not have the very basic materials to start and/or are hesitant about the procedure, troubleshooting, etc.

Kombucha SCOBY

Well, short of saying, “Wait until August 6 and BUY MY BOOK!”, I’ve decided to put together a few posts about the kombucha making process and hopefully answer some common questions around the procedure.

Today’s topic: Make your own SCOBY.

As mentioned in previous posts, a SCOBY is a gelatinous glob of bacteria and yeast needed to ferment tea.  In fact, SCOBY stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.  It is necessary to have one in order to turn tea into kombucha.

IMG_6660

SCOBYs are not hard to come by if you have a friend who makes kombucha.  Each batch of ‘buch creates a new SCOBY and if your friend is a prolific kombucha brewer then chances are that he/she is overrun with SCOBYs and will gladly give you one along with some starter tea in order to get your new batch going.

However, if you don’t know anyone who brews ‘buch and you still want to give it a go, you will find yourself wondering just how to begin without this essential piece of equipment.  Fortunately there are other resources for you to turn to.

As weird as it may sound, you can sometimes find a SCOBY for sale (or for free!) on Craigslist.  Give it a shot.  You can also order a SCOBY from a reputable online source like Cultures for Health or Kombucha Kamp.  But if you’re like me and you’re cheap and like to save money wherever you can, making a SCOBY at home from scratch is quite easy.  It takes a little bit of forethought, a few materials, and time.

Materials needed:

  • A few cups of raw kombucha – I have always used store-bought, but I have read that using commercially bottled kombucha has an additive that inhibits SCOBY growth.  Personally I have had much success using store-bought, but your mileage may vary.  Also, I use plain (not flavored) kombucha when I grow a SCOBY.  For no reason other than if I am going to buy flavored kombucha, I’ll probably want to drink it.  Plain is plenty tasty, but I love flavored ‘buch.  Plain kombucha has fewer things added to it, obviously, so it makes it a logical choice for me.
  • A few cups of strongly brewed tea – Do not use herbal tea for this.  You must use real, honest to goodness camellia sinensis for this – more commonly known as black tea or green tea.
  • A few tablespoons of sugar – I use regular old white sugar, but you can use evaporated cane juice (Sucanat), or raw sugar.  Do not use powdered sugar, honey, stevia, or any kind of artificial sweetener.
  • A glass jar – Large enough to hold 2 or 3 cups of liquid.
  • A cloth or coffee filter to cover the jar and a rubber band to secure it.

Procedure:

  • Brew the tea using the traditional method.  When it is still hot or warm, stir in the sugar until it dissolves.  I use a tablespoon of white sugar per cup of tea.
  • Set the sweetened tea aside on the counter until it comes to room temperature.
  • Pour the room temperature sweetened tea into the glass jar and add the raw kombucha to it.  Lightly stir.
  • Cover the jar with the cloth or coffee filter and secure it with a rubber band. This allows air to flow in and out of the jar, but will keep bugs and critters out.
  • Allow the jar to sit at room temperature for several days, or up to two weeks.  During this time, a SCOBY will grow in the jar.  It will start out as a thin, milky film on the surface of the liquid and get whiter and thicker as days pass.

Notes and Troubleshooting:

  • As you can tell by the equipment and ingredients list, measurements do not have to be exact.  A few cups of room temperature sweetened tea plus a cup or two of kombucha is about as precise as you need to be.
  • The amount of time it will take a SCOBY to grow depends on the ambient temperature of your house.  Fermentation, generally speaking, goes more rapidly in warmer temperatures than in cooler temperatures.  My place, for example, is generally very warm and things ferment and grow rapidly in my kitchen.  However, my parents’ house is usually very cool and ferments take a bit longer there.
  • There are no hard and fast rules about how thick a SCOBY has to be in order to be fit for kombucha making; however, I allow my SCOBYs to grow to between a quarter inch and a half inch thick before I use them for fermentation – this can take a couple of weeks.  The only reason I have to doing this is because at that point it is solid enough to handle and I know that the bacteria and yeasts are robust and healthy after a few weeks.

IMG_6662

  • Do not discard the liquid the SCOBY grew in!  This is the starter tea you will need to use when making your first batch of kombucha.  It is full of bacteria and yeast and will keep your SCOBY hydrated and well fed.
  • If you see brown thread-like things floating in your tea or growing off of your SCOBY, do not worry.  This is good!  Little yeasty goodness that will help make your first batch of buch healthy and full of probiotic goodness.
  • Kombucha and SCOBYs smell like feet.  Do not be alarmed.
  • Mold, insect eggs, rancid garbage-like smells mean that something went wrong.  Discard the whole enterprise and start over from scratch.  DO NOT USE!
  • If nothing grows after a week or so, start over using a different kind of kombucha to start.  Get a cup off a friend, or try a different store-bought brand.  As mentioned above, I have never had a problem making my own SCOBYs from store-bought, but you may run into a snag.

Please give this a try if you are considering making your own kombucha.  If you have made your own SCOBY, share your tips and hints and tricks in the comments.  ALSO! I will be doing a weekly post about kombucha making and I want your input!  Leave me a comment.  Email me.  Contact me via Facebook or Twitter.  Let me know what you want to learn about, what your burning questions are, and how I can help you to get going and brewing your delicious delicious ‘buch!

Recipe: Easy Mole

Does anyone else out there watch American Horror Story?  If you are in to creepy, terrifying, twisted, unbelievable, shocking horror shows, then you ought to be.  Dude and I watch it and although he has been a fan since the beginning of the first season, I was late to the game.  My friend Kelly kept encouraging me to watch, but I didn’t right away.  Finally, before season 2 started this past fall, I watched season 1.  Whoa!  It’s a crazy show and not for the faint of heart or easily scared.  Spooky!

When season 2 started we decided to make watching it a weekly event with the aforementioned friend, Kelly, and our other buddy, Liz.  It has turned into a once a week dinner party of sorts!  We rotate where we watch the show, and whoever hosts makes dinner.  The four of us gather a few hours before the show, eat, talk about the previous episode, and then get ready to have our pants scared off.  I look forward to Wednesday nights for so many reasons now!

First and foremost, I love hanging out with Kelly and Liz.  They rule.  Second on my list is the food!  These ladies have treated us to some real delights over the course of the season, and I feel challenged to make something interesting each time it’s our turn to host.  For me, AHS nights have become much more than an excellent TV show.  It’s more about food and friendship.  In fact, once the season is over, we’re going to keep getting together weekly to watch True Blood.  (Again, I’m late to the party with this show too.  I haven’t seen a single second of it, but it comes highly recommended.)

ANYWAY!  This past Wednesday, Liz hosted us and made roasted pork in mole sauce.  ERMAHGERD!

This was such an epic meal that I begged Liz to give me the recipe THAT VERY NIGHT so I could recreate it at home the next day.

Before I go on, let me say a few things about Liz and her cooking.  (You might remember Liz from previous mentions here, here, and here.) The two of us eat the same way, we like the same foods, we are both adventurous in the kitchen.  In spite of all these commonalities, we are drastically different cooks.  We could be charged with making the same dish and we would take vastly different approaches to making it and end up with two entirely different things.  I love talking food with her because she makes me think.  We run parallel paths in the kitchen.  Our paths are similar, but rarely cross.

Case in point: Mole (which, by the way, is pronounced “MOL-lay”).  Sure, I’ve heard of it, and had it in restaurants.  I love it.  But it never occurred me to make it at home.  Liz, on the other hand, makes it frequently and has experimented with a few different recipes.  Below is her recipe, but allow me to give a little mole history and background.

First of all, the recipe below is for an easy mole sauce.  It is positively delicious and you will want to make it right now.  However, historically it is a very complicated sauce that can have dozens of ingredients.  It originated in Mexico, and different regions have slightly different takes on a recipe.  An authentic mole sauce starts with chili peppers.  This quick and easy one does not.  An authentic mole sauce often uses day-old bread or tortillas as thickening agents.  This one is grain-free.

Let’s get started!

1 pork roast (I used a 3.5# pork butt, boneless)
1 cup water
3 T apple cider vinegar

Rinse the meat and pat dry with paper towels
Put meat, water, and vinegar in a slow cooker.
Cover and put on high for 4 to 5 hours, or until meat is thoroughly cooked and easily shredded.

pork butt in slow cooker
Remove the meat from slow cooker, and reserve all the remaining liquid in a glass bowl.
Shred meat and return to slow cooker, but turn slow cooker down to low.

shred pork

While the meat is initially cooking and before you shred it, make the mole sauce.

3 cups chicken or beef stock (fresh is best, but use store bought if necessary)
1 T. coconut oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
2 T. chopped garlic (approximately 5 cloves)
1 t. dried oregano
1 t. ground cumin
1/4 t. ground cinnamon
2.5 T. chili powder
2 T. coconut flour
3 ounces of dark chocolate, finely chopped (70% cocoa or above.  If using 100%, add 2 T. or amount to taste of maple syrup)
2 T. cocoa powder
Salt to taste

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium low heat.
Add onion, garlic, oregano, cumin, and cinnamon.
Cover and cook until onion is almost tender, about 10 minutes.  Stir occasionally.
Mix in chili powder and coconut flour.  Stir for 2 minutes.
Gradually whisk in chicken broth.
Increase heat to medium high and let the sauce comes to a boil.
Let the sauce lightly boil for about 35 minutes, or until reduced to a thicker consistency.

thick mole(This is the thickness to which I let my mole sauce get.  Notice that when I use that spatula to stir it, it is thick enough to expose the bottom of the pot. It was also thin enough to still cover that bare spot a few seconds after I took this photo.)

Remove from heat.
Whisk in chocolate and cocoa powder.

chopped chocolate
Season with salt.

Pour the mole sauce into the slow cooker with the pork in it.  Mix very thoroughly.  If the mixture is too thick, use the reserved pork juices to thin it to your liking.  When I made it, I used nearly half of the cooking juice to give it a looser consistency.  Let the newly sauced meat bubble away in your slow cooker on low for about a half hour to make sure it’s all incorporated and delish.  You will love it.

back in slow cooker

final mole

Serving suggestions:
Liz, being the creative cook that she is, served her pork mole with jicama slices.  Didn’t I tell you she was on the ball?  I never would have thought to do that.  It’s delicious.  Peel a jicama root, slice, and serve.
Another great Liz idea is to serve with cabbage leaves.  At her place we used red cabbage, but you can use anything you like.  Cabbage tends to be thicker than lettuce so it makes for a stronger delivery device that won’t break in your hand.
If you want a spicier mole sauce, finely dice  a jalapeno or other hot chili pepper and add it in the step with the onion.  Remember, pepper seeds and ribs provide the heat!
This sauce would be fab with any kind of meat you choose – chicken, beef, goat.  Simply braise or poach the meat until it is easily shredded.  Use a slow cooker or whatever method you like. Shred the meat, then mix the mole sauce into it.
No matter what meat you choose, a little squirt of fresh lime juice or even some freshly chopped cilantro is nice too.

Use this mole sauce recipe as a gateway drug.  I am.  It is fast and easy and wonderfully yummy.  My next mole foray (ha ha) will use chili peppers.  I plan to experiment with all kinds of stuff.

Rick Bayless is THE GUY when it comes to Mexican cuisine in the USA.  Here is his recipe for red mole sauce.  It is quite complicated and requires a commitment of time, but I’m sure it’s well worth it.  To make it grain-free, omit the day-old bread completely or use a tablespoon of coconut flour instead.

Here is Mark Sisson’s Primal mole sauce recipe.  I love how he serves it over a whole chicken breast.  That would save the poaching/braising step for sure!

So, who is a mole fan?  Who has made it before?  Who is trying this recipe ASAP?  What do you think is going to happen on American Horror Story this season?  What can you tell me about True Blood? Share all of your thoughts with me in the comments or on Facebook.

Recipes: A Meal of Laughs - And A Contest!

Last night was the final LadyFingers and First Comes Health dinner for 2012.  We do have one more event coming up soon (more details below!), but this was our last dinner around the table with two special guests that we’ll serve this year.  It makes me a little sad to say a temporary farewell to our monthly ritual with Diane and her husband Jim, but we’ll return in 2013.

What doesn’t make me sad was the entirety of last night’s meal.  Our winner from two months ago was Kelly F. and she brought her friend Lori along.  I almost (not really, but ALMOST!) forgot what we ate because we sat around the table and laughed so hard.  It was a terrific evening made even more special because we celebrated Diane’s birthday too!

So, let’s get to the food, which was exceptional!

Asparagus Roasted with Finocchinona – serves 6

12 asparagus spears, medium thickness
12 Finocchinona slices or any other flavorful salami
Garlic-infused olive oil

Heat oven to 425-degrees.
Rinse asparagus spears and pat dry.  Trim woody ends.
Tightly wrap each asparagus spear with salami and place on a non-stick foil-lined baking sheet.
Lightly brush with garlic-infused olive oil.
Roast for 8 – 10 minutes or until asparagus is tender and salami has begun to crisp.
Serve with Zucchini-Caper Dip.

Zucchini-Caper Dip – serves 6

2 medium zucchini or 1 ½ large zucchini
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
juice from ¼ lemon
2 teaspoons capers
¼ teaspoon dried chili flakes
Salt, to taste

Slice zucchini and place in a steamer.  Steam for 3 – 5 minutes or until zucchini has begun to soften.
Transfer zucchini to the bowl of a food processor.
Add garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, capers and chili flakes and process until the mixture is smooth.
Add salt to taste.
Garnish with capers if desired and serve.

Seared Sea Scallops with Garlic Sherry Mushrooms – serves 6

1 pound mixed mushrooms including mini white button, crimini and shiitake
2 tablespoons garlic-infused olive oil
2 tablespoons unflavored olive oil
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped and then crushed
1 teaspoon tomato paste
4 tablespoons dry sherry
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
6 large, firm, unbroken sea scallops
Garlic-infused olive oil

Clean and coarsely chop mushrooms.
Add both olive oils to a large skillet and heat over medium-high heat.


Add mushrooms and sauté, stirring often, just until mushrooms begin to release liquid.
Add crushed garlic to the skillet and stir to combine.
Whisk tomato paste and dry sherry together and add to the skillet, again stirring to combine.
Reduce heat to medium and allow mushrooms to cook until liquid is reduced.


Meanwhile, place a large skillet over high heat.
Rinse scallops and pat them dry.  Toss the scallops with garlic-infused olive oil until scallops are lightly coated.
Place scallops in hot skillet and cook until bottoms are crisp and well-browned.
Turn scallops and cook on second side until crisp and well-browned.  To ensure that scallops are cooked through, cover the skillet with a lid during the second side.
Transfer scallops to serving plates.
Add fresh thyme to the mushroom mixture and stir to combine.
Spoon the mushroom mixture over scallops and serve.

Grilled Flank Steak with Caramelized Onions – serves 6

2 1 ½-pound flank steaks (3 pounds total)
Garlic powder
Onion powder
1 cup red wine
4 sweet or Vidalia onions
4 tablespoons butter or olive oil

Three hours prior to grilling, lay steaks on a cutting board on a flat, sturdy work surface.
Using a large serving fork, thoroughly pierce each steak on both sides.
Lightly sprinkle each steak with garlic powder and onion powder and thoroughly pierce each steak again.
Place each steak in a gallon-sized zip-lock bag and add ½ cup red wine to each bag.  Squeeze out as much air as possible from each bag and tightly seal.  Refrigerate for 2 hours, turning bags occasionally.
One hour prior to grilling, remove steaks from refrigerator and place on counter to come up to room temperature.
Heat grill to high.
Cut each onion in half, peel each half and then slice very thinly.
Place sliced onions in a large pot or Dutch oven with butter or olive oil (Olive oil is the Paleo method but butter will brown the onions with better flavor).
Heat onions over medium-high heat, stirring to coat the slices with the oil or butter.
Allow onions to cook, stirring frequently.  After 20 minutes, reduce heat to medium, continuing to cook and stir.
As onions begin to brown, scrape the caramelization from the bottom of the pot and stir it into the onions.
Continue this process for an additional 20 – 30 minutes or until onions are a deep caramel color and taste quite sweet.  Keep warm while steaks cook.
By this time, the grill should be extremely hot.  Reduce the heat to low and remove the steaks from the bags.  Place steaks on the center of the grill and close the lid.
Grill on low for 5 minutes.  Turn the steaks and grill for an additional 5 minutes for medium rare.
Transfer the steaks to a large cutting board and allow them to rest for 5 minutes.
Slice the steak, placing 5 – 6 slices on serving plates and top with caramelized onions. (We served ours with roasted beets!)

Didn’t I tell you? As usual the menu was fantastic.  I could have had seconds or even thirds on everything!  Here are the downloadable and printable versions of all that we made:

Asparagus Roasted Finocchinona
Zucchini Caper Dip
Seared Sea Scallops with Garlic-Sherry Mushrooms
Grilled Flank Steak with Caramelized Onions

And now to the BIG BIG announcement!!!

In 2012 LadyFingers Private Chef and Catering and I have hosted seven winners.  Seven lucky folks have followed our monthly cooking extravaganzas on Twitter and submitted a correct response to the questions we’ve asked about each meal.  They were diligent about following along and paying specific attention to ingredients, technique, and detail.  To celebrate these 7 lucky people Diane and I are hosting a holiday hors d’oeuvre party on December 4, 2012 and they (plus a guest!) are invited.  Yippee!

AND YOU ARE INVITED TOO!

Or at least you can be if you are one of the THREE winners we will choose!  Here are the details:

Including this month’s menu, Diane and I have prepared 38 different recipes.  To win one of three invitations for you and 1 guest to our holiday hors d’oeuvre party you must prepare 1 recipe (not one whole meal menu, just one recipe), photograph your steps as you go along, and email us your version of our recipes along with the photos. No Twitter or Facebook required! We will choose three winners from all the entries, and those lucky ducks will be invited to our holiday hors d’oeuvre gathering on December 4.

So, to recap:

1. Choose one recipe from the 38 we’ve prepared in the last year.
2. Cook this recipe and take photos of your progress throughout just like Diane and I do.
3. Email photos plus a description of what you did to Diane or me. (info@ladyfingersprivatechef.com  OR jill@firstcomeshealth.com) DEADLINE: November 21, 2012 at 11:59:59 PM
4. Wait with baited breath to see if you are one of the three lucky winners who will attend our holiday bash on December 4.

Fine print:
Only one entry per person.
If you are chosen as a winner, you will provide your own transportation to and from the party which will be in Pittsburgh, PA, USA on December 4, 2012.
Winner will be notified via e-mail.

Recipes:
You can see all the LadyFingers posts right here.
Or choose from one of these downloadable and printable PDF versions:
Wild Mushroom and Green Bean Salad with Goat Cheese
Tapenade Crusted Salmon with Roasted Red Onions
Southwestern Shrimp and Snapper Stew
Baby Greens Wrapped in Prosciutto with Blood Orange Vinaigrette
Osso Bucco alla Milanese
Savory Squash Souffle
Avocado Gazpacho Salsa
Lemon-Seared Tuna and Rosemary Skewers
Scallop BLTs
Spinach, Orange, and Beet Salad
Grilled Lamb Loin Chops
Mint Pesto
Roasted Vegetable-Stuffed Zucchini Boats
Chilled Ginger-Cantaloupe Soup
Spicy Salmon and Zucchini Patties
Orange-Glazed Carrot Ribbons
Romaine Wrapped Halibut
Watermelon Mint Gazpacho
Grilled Asparagus Salad with Bacon
Carrot and Zucchini Slaw
Spicy Paprika-Grilled Chicken Kebabs
Grilled Asparagus with Crispy Prosciutto
Crab-Encrusted Scallops with Green Pea Puree
Spicy Yam “Fries”
Garden Stuffed Peppers
Macadamia and Cashew-Crusted Chicken Bites
Mango Dipping Sauce
Asparagus Green Curry Soup
Grilled Filet Mignon with Balsamic-Roasted Tomatoes
Hard-Boiled Quail Egg with Tapenade Trio
Tomato and Spaghetti Squash Salad with Chive Oil
Poached Duck Breast Rolls
Raspberry Red Wine Puree
Maple Roasted Parsnip “Fries”
Asparagus Roasted Finocchinona
Zucchini-Caper Dip
Seared Sea Scallops with Garlic-Sherry Mushrooms
Grilled Flank Steak with Caramelized Onions

GOOD LUCK TO ALL!

Recipes: A Special Dinner for Special Guests

Last month when I posted the LadyFingers recipes I hinted a little bit that we were hosting a few special guests in September.  Well, last Friday night we were really sneaky and had a LadyFingers/First Comes Health dinner and didn’t tell a single soul about it.  No Twitter contest, no hyped Facebook posts.  We just had a really great dinner with some cool people.

So, who were our special guests?

Hayley Mason and Bill Staley from the Food Lovers’ Kitchen!

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been buddies with these guys for a while now and I can’t think of a better way to spend time with friends than to cook and eat with them.  We thought it would be fun to invite some awesome people/Internet luminaries to share in a very special menu.  We had a great time in the kitchen talking about food, wine, being Paleo, and their upcoming wedding.  And then we sat down for dinner to a tailor-made feast.  Diane didn’t disappoint!  Three courses that were not only delish, but looked fab too.

Let’s get to the recipes!

Hard-Boiled Quail Eggs with Tapenade Trio – serves 6

12 quail eggs
10 Kalamata olives
10 large green olives
10 large pink olives
3 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Place quail eggs in a pot and cover with water.  Heat on high just until water comes to a boil.  Remove pot from heat and allow eggs to stand for 7 minutes. Carefully transfer eggs to an ice bath to cool.
Pit olives as necessary.
Using one type of olive at a time, place olives in a mini food processor.  Add 1 teaspoon olive oil and process until finely chopped.  Add additional olive oil if mixture is too dry.  Transfer olive mixture to a bowl.
Stir in 2 teaspoons of chopped parsley to each olive mixture.  Add a third teaspoon depending on quantity of olive mixture.
Remove the quail eggs from the ice bath and carefully peel.
Slice each egg lengthwise and place 4 halves on each serving plate.
Place a small mound of each olive mixture between egg halves and serve.

Jill’s note: This is, by far, the most visually striking dish we’ve ever prepared.  And uniquely yummy too!  It’s worth it to find some quail eggs in your area.  In preparation for this dish Diane and I thought we would have to span the globe to find quail eggs.  Turns out they were readily available at our local Asian supermarket.  We were a bit intimidated by them at first, but we practiced a few hard boiling methods and settled on the one described above, and there was nothing to be afraid of.  Easy!  And they make for a really special plate.

Tomato and Spaghetti Squash Salad with Chive Oil – serves 6

1 bunch fresh chives
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium spaghetti squash
1 ½ teaspoons minced fresh thyme
8 plum tomatoes, finely diced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

For Chive Oil:
Rinse fresh chives and shake to remove water.  Pat dry with a paper towel.
Place chives in a blender, reserving 6 chives for garnish.
Add ¾ cup olive oil to the blender.  Cover and puree until smooth, adding more olive oil if necessary.
Place a fine mesh sieve over a bowl and pour chive puree into the sieve.
Using the back of a spoon or a pestle, swirl puree around the bottom of the sieve until oil has been strained into the bowl and pulp remains in the sieve.  Discard pulp.
Transfer chive oil to a squeeze bottle and set aside.

For Spaghetti Squash:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cut the squash lengthwise and place cut-side down in a glass baking dish.  Fill the dish with ½-inch hot water and tightly cover with aluminum foil.  Bake for 45 minutes.
Carefully remove the foil and turn the squash halves over.  Using potholders, re-cover the dish with the foil.  Bake for an additional 15 minutes.
Allow the squash to cool until it can be easily handled.
Using a spoon, remove the seeds and discard.  Using a fork, remove the squash strands and place in a bowl.
Refrigerate the squash until well chilled.

To Assemble:
Place a ring mold on each serving plate.
Spoon ¼ – ½ cup spaghetti squash into each ring mold and tamp down.
Sprinkle ¼ teaspoon finely minced thyme over the squash layer.
Toss diced tomatoes with just enough olive oil to coat lightly and then spoon ½ cup tomatoes into the mold atop the thyme layer.  Gently tamp down.
Using the squeeze bottle, squirt a ring of chive oil around the outside of the mold.
Carefully remove the molds, garnish with reserved chives and serve.

Poached Duck Breast Rolls – serves 6

2 large fresh duck breasts
salt and pepper, to taste
dash of allspice

Place a large pot of water over high heat.  Bring to a boil.
Pound duck breasts flat and trim each breast piece to roughly form a rectangle.  Season with salt and pepper and allspice.
Place two 15-inch pieces of plastic wrap on a flat work surface.
Tightly roll each duck breast lengthwise into a cylinder and place on long edge of plastic wrap.  Keeping breast rolled tightly, roll in plastic wrap.  Take one end of plastic wrap and twist tightly against breast roll.  Take the other end and twist tightly in the opposite direction.  Tie twisted ends together to secure rolls.
Place breast rolls in pot with boiling water and poach for 7-8 minutes for medium-rare.
Remove breasts from boiling water and let cool briefly.  Remove plastic wrap and cut each breast into three sections.
Spoon sauce of choice onto serving plate, top each with duck breast section and serve.

Raspberry and Red Wine Puree – serves 6

4 packages raspberries
4 ½ tablespoons red wine

Rinse and gently pat raspberries dry.
Place raspberries in a blender, reserving 18 berries for garnish.
Add 4 ½ tablespoons red wine to the blender.  Cover and puree until smooth.
Place a fine mesh sieve over a bowl and pour raspberry puree into the sieve.
Using the back of a spoon, swirl puree around the bottom of the sieve until liquid has been strained into the bowl and seeds remain in the sieve.  Discard seeds.
Serve raspberry sauce with meat or poultry, using reserved raspberries as garnish.

Variations: Substitute orange juice for red wine for an alcohol-free puree, or substitute pure maple syrup for a sweeter puree.

Maple-Roasted Parsnip “Fries” – serves 6

6-8 medium parsnips
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Cover large baking sheet with non-stick foil.
Peel parsnips and cut into 4-inch “fries”.
Place parsnip fries in a large bowl and toss with olive oil.  Add maple syrup and toss again until evenly coated.
Spread parsnip fries on prepared baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes.
Turn fries and roast for an additional 10 – 15 minutes until fries are tender and maple syrup is caramelized.
Serve immediately.

This is a slightly more complicated menu with some more complicated techniques than Diane and I usually provide.  Some of the ingredients aren’t always readily available at the run-of-the-mill supermarket, but they are definitely worth seeking out.  I encourage you to give these recipes a try the next time you have a special occasion!  Duck isn’t a meat that is typically eaten regularly in the American household, but it’s so gosh darned delicious and easy to prepare that it ought to be!  Branch out and try something new and be brave!

Very special thanks to Hayley and Bill for being our special guests.  They took some beee-yooooo-tiful photos of the meal which put our little iPhone shots to shame!  Ha.

In the coming weeks I will be announcing a all new LadyFingers/First Comes Health contest. Stay tuned for this because the very special prize is something you do NOT want to miss!

As always, printable versions of this month’s recipes:

Hard-Boiled Quail Eggs with Tapenade Trio
Tomato and Spaghetti Squash Salad with Chive Oil
Poached Duck Breast Rolls
Raspberry and Red Wine Puree
Maple-Roasted Parsnip Fries 

 

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