8 Ways to Ferment Food Faster

I will admit that I’m a bit of a speed freak.  I tend to move fast and Dana will gladly tell you that I generally have two speeds – FAST and SLEEP.

I’m also conscious that it’s important to slow down and enjoy life.  This is especially true of preserving; it’s not a race and a measured pace can lead to a lot of enjoyment.  And, in the case of fermenting, it’s arguable that a longer approach can yield better tasting (and perhaps even more nutritious results).  I’m a fan of slowing down but sometimes you need results fast.

Note: slow ferments are often crunchier, richer in flavor, will last longer and some argue that they produce more probiotics.  There is a trade-off for speed but it’s good to have options!

Lactofermentation vegetables (like sauerkraut or pickles) is easy but can take weeks.  There are ways to speed up the process; you can use these tips to slow down a ferment by doing the opposite (i.e. using more salt instead of less in tip 1).

How to Ferment Food Faster

  1. Use less salt.  Salt will slow fermentation; less salt will speed it up.
  2. Add other bacteria (such as brine from another active ferment or whey).
  3. Keep the ferment in a warm spot (be careful not to be too warm; temperatures in the high 70s can slow and eventually prevent fermentation).
  4. Peel hard vegetables (like carrots or pickles).  This allows water to be pulled from the vegetables faster.
  5. Crunch the vegetables thoroughly (like cabbage).  As you crunch them it helps break down their structure and helps water escape faster.
  6. Cut the vegetables as thin as possible (increasing the exposed surface area and allowing water to escape faster).
  7. Cut the vegetables the same width (using a grater or a mandoline).  Inconsistent width will lead to inconsistent fermenting times.
  8. Allow the vegetables to sit in salt for 8-10 hours before covering with water.  I can’t prove that this speeds up the process but I am confident it speeds the fermenting process as the salt isn’t diluted at the start and the increased percentage of salt will draw liquid rapidly from the vegetables (often eliminating the need to add much water at all the next day).

The first 3 tips can be done to any ferment while the last 5 will only work if you use them when you’re making your ferment!

How do you speed/ slow your fermentation?

An Introduction to Wet Chopping – and Why I LOVE it

When we bought a high-speed blender we were beyond excited.  We had been thinking of taking the plunge for years (and even had a jar to collect money that I left in my pockets and placed in the wash to put towards it) and we were pumped to get one.

I don’t know why we were so excited.  There was the promise of smoothies (it’s true that the blender is so fast that it will even blend strawberries seeds smooth!), the ability to puree hot soup and the ability to crush ice for cocktails.  These were all exciting ideas but not exactly reasons to invest in a significant piece of kitchen hardware.

When we bought the blender we watched the awful video that came with it.  Friends had warned us to watch the entire thing before using the blender less we’d risk personal injury or improper use that could burn the motor out!  We watched the video dutifully and found most of it to be mind-numbing.  Until the video introduced…. wet chopping!

I had never heard of wet chopping before.  It’s an easy way to quickly grate/ chop vegetables into little pieces in moments!  Here’s how it works:

  1. Place vegetables in the blender.  If the vegetable is large (like an onion), cut it into pieces.  If it’s narrow (like a carrot), place multiple carrots in the blender (I tossed 7 or 8 carrots into the blender last night).
  2. Cover the vegetables with ample water.
  3. Turn the blender on (generally on low).
  4. As large pieces of the vegetable are chopped into small pieces, the water carries the smaller pieces to the top of the blender and allow the larger pieces to hit the blades and get chopped.
  5. Strain the vegetables!

The water is important; it allows the small pieces to circulate and get out of the way of the larger pieces.

Wet chopping isn’t as ‘pretty’ as grating or chopping veggies by hand.  But it is convenient – I can chop an entire onion, a few stalks of celery and 3 or 4 carrots in less than 30 seconds.  On a busy weeknight that can be the difference between cooking from scratch or ordering in!

I’m pleasantly surprised at how often I use the high-speed blender; even more surprised at how often I use this technique!

When is the Best Time to Make Sauerkraut?

Right now.

I’m not really being tongue-in-cheek.  If you’ve never fermented before, you really should give it a try.  I’m writing this article at 9:10PM.  I left the house at 6:50AM and got home from work 10 minutes ago.  Dinner is warming in the oven (leftover lasagna) and I’m going to make a batch of sauerkraut before relaxing the the rest of the night.

I’ll start by shredding cabbage and carrots.  I’ll use far more cabbage but I won’t measure the ratio.  I’ll stop shreddiing when I have two quarts of shredded vegetables.

I’ll add some garlic and 4 tablespoons of salt.  I’ll crush the mixture in my hands for a few minutes and leave it in a jar, covered overnight.  If I use a food processor it should take 10 minutes.  If I chop by hand, 15.

Tomorrow I’ll cover the vegetables with unchlorinated water and place a smaller jar on top of the cabbage to force it under the water.  I’ll leave it covered in a warm spot in my kitchen and begin tasting after day 2.  It will take 1-4weeks depending on the warmth of my kitchen.

Fermenting really is that easy.  And it’s incredibly gratifying.  So, won’t you come along and join in?

Is Garlic in Olive Oil Safe?

I remain reluctant to dispense saftey advise on our blog (I outlined my concerns around bloggers claiming to be safety experts in 2011).  My learning is a combination of significant research, learning from others, extensive reading and practice.  I try to keep sharp (and safe) by re-reading safety material and find resources like the updated version of Putting Food By and The National center for Home Food Preservation to be fanstastic resources to guide my actions.

There’s a fine line between not commenting on safety and sharing best practice.  There are certain things that are generally accepted as safe and others that are generally avoided.  Rather than avoiding the topic I figured that it would be a good idea to answer a few emails we’ve had about storing garlic in oil

Despite growing up with jars of garlic-infused olive oil, the idea of storing garlic in oil on your counter is now seen as something to avoid because of the risk of botulism.  We had no idea the risk we were taking and I still don’t know how significant the risk is but I now firmly avoid storing garlic in oil.

Don’t trust me on that though – I looked to the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s guidance on the topic and they advise against the practice.  Instead they suggest:

  • Garlic submerged in oil can be kep n your fridge (under 40 farenheight) for up to 7 days
  • Garlic in oil can be frozen for longer storage

Although I used to love garlic-olive oil it’s something I don’t bother to make these days.  I’m bad at keeping track of how long something’s been in the fridge andthe risks outweight the potential benefits for me.

Infusing olive oil and honey can be dangerous.  Both liquids are low-acid and very dense; the combination creates an oxygen depraved environment that is ideal for encouraging the growth of botulinum spores (a good primer on botulism can be found on the website for the University of Minnesota’s Extension office).

Like any advice you’d receive from a stranger I’d strongly reccomend doing your own research and deciding what is safe for you.

A Trick for Better Tasting Ricotta Cheese (Especially for Lasagna)

We don’t eat a lot of Ricotta Cheese though I find it useful to cook with from time to time.  It’s especially handy when mixed with Mozzarella and Parmesan in lasagna.

I used to think that the purpose of Ricotta was only for texture as it’s very mild.  Then I learned a simple trick from a friend: mix a tub (1 pound) of Ricotta cheese with the juice of a half lemon and some salt.  Stir it well and leave it on the counter, covered, for a few hours.

The change is subtle but noticeable and I think it’s a far more interesting cooking ingredient.  It maintains all of it’s texture while becoming slightly stronger and more noticeable.  You can store any unused portions in the fridge.

You can also make your own ricotta if you’d prefer!

Making Pasta? Beware of Coarse Salt

Sometime between 2011 and last month I forgot there was such a thing as ‘fine’ salt.  I didn’t mean to forget that fine salt existed, it just slowly diminished until it eventually disappeared from my consciousness.  I have to admit that I feel a little silly about this fact; but it’s the truth.

When I was learning to make pasta I was careful about all of my ingredients.  Precise with my measurements.  I would even time my kneading to guarantee success.  I’d sweat and sometimes even swear a little.  Yes, I was aiming at pasta perfection.

Then Christmas happened.  Santa (Dana and my parents) brought me a stand mixer.  Pasta became an easy thing; weigh the ingredients, toss them in the bowl and let the machine do it’s magic.

My pasta ingredients are simple: flour, water, eggs, a bit of olive oil (sometimes) and salt.  There’s not much that can go wrong… Or so I thought.

I few weeks ago I began to notice that my pasta was ripping as it was going through the roller/ cutter.  Pasta was getting stuck, the machine was clogging or the results were inconsistent.  This hapened a few times and I didn’t think much of it; I’d jostle the machine and hope it was fixed and move on.  Sometimes it worked and other times I’d have a bit of a mess and would have to re-roll some of the dough.

I’ve only recently realized my error; I was adding coarse salt to the flour mix.  It wasn’t dissolving and little salt pebbles were clogging the pasta machine.  Coarse salt was my downfall.

There’s two fixes to this problem:

  1. Dissolve the salt in the water before mixing it with the flour or
  2. Use fine salt (now that I remember that it exists!)

Use either method and you won’t clog your pasta machine!

You can check out our entire pasta archive here.

Eating Locally in March…in a Polar Vortex

Dana and I aren’t exclusively local though more than 90% of the food we bring into our house is locally grown.  We don’t prescribe to any one label on how we eat but we’re pretty close to locavores when it comes to our home diet (this is challenged when eating out or spending time with some friend and family).

And every winter I seem to end up reflecting on that decision; especially in March.  March and April are the leanest months of the year for fresh, local food in Toronto.  That’s especially true this year when we’ve been buried in more snow that we’ve had in years and faced the coldest weather (over the longest periods) than we’ve faced in many years.  The farmers markets have less selection and many farmers begin to close their tables as they run out of stored foods and less people attend to purchase them.

Toronto is an amazing place when it comes to local food.  We’re surrounded by farmland in all directions (even south as Lake Ontario turns east around Hamilton).  Relatively long summer months (for Canada) mean ample supplies of fruit, vegetables, meat, game fish and more.  The cold winters allow for cold storage and recent years have seen many farmers start to grow crops to sell over winter as they know there’s an appetite (pun intended!) to support the supply.

We’ve been eating this way for about 6 years.  Each year we learn new things; we didn’t get here overnight and continue to learn day-by-day.  And, when March comes, I tend to reflect on why we do this and how it’s working out.  And, as in years past, I am often surprised to find that each year gets easier (even when the previous didn’t feel like a struggle) and that we’re as committed as ever to support the farms and markets that we do.

5 reasons why eating local has become easier in recent years:

  1. Availability.  Farmers are planning for winter markets.  In addition to planning, they are investing in storage facilities to extend the harvest and are interested in attending winter markets.
  2. Low-technology.  Many of our farming friends have invested in low-cost technology that allow them to grow organic food in the winter.  Hoop houses, greenhouses and more have been bootstrapped to create affordable solutions to extend the growing season.
  3. Innovation.  Instead of looking at traditional crops, farmers have figured out alternatives (such as sprouts and shoots) that can grow in the winter without elaborate infrastructure.
  4. Our cooking ability.  As we learn more ways to use squash, sunchokes, sweet potatoes and other winter food we gain diversity on our table.  If the ingredients are limited (compared to summer), our imagination and ability in the kitchen can bring variety to our plates.
  5. Our evolving pantry.  As we preserve more food and learn other ways and recipes to do so, our pantry becomes more interesting.  This evolution allows limited options to be transformed into endless combinations.

If you eat locally, what are your options/ what do you do to get through the winter months?

Another Tip for Oil and Vinegar Salad Dressing

I shared the best tip I’ve ever learned about making oil and vinegar salad dressing (specifically it was about when to add salt to the dressing) last year.  These things seem to go in cycles so it’s time for another simple tip.

I grew up learning that you used mustard emulisfy (which essential means to mix or blend) an oil and vinegar recipe in to a condensed (not separated) sauce.  I experimented with tahini to do the same thing last year and found that it was great as well!

Lately I’ve been using chevre (goat cheese) to emulsify my salad dressings.  I mix 1 tablespoon of salted wine vinegar with 3 tablespoons of oil and a tablespoon of chevre to make a base salad dressing.  From there you can add any ingredients (including jams, nuts and even honey) to extend the sauce.

How do you jazz up a simple salad dressing?

Canning Quiz from The University of Nebraska-Lincoln

We’ve had a number of safety questions lately.  My favorite resource is still The National Center For Home Food Preservation but I stumbled on this video presentation/ quiz from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln this evening:

Canning & Freezing Safely & Successfully: A Quiz from Alice Henneman on Vimeo.

It’s not the most exciting format but there’s a lot of great information and a decent way to check your knowledge/ discover holes in your knowledge.

What sources do you turn to for safety information?

Get Pickled! HomeEcNight #26

It’s time to announce another HomeEcNight!

We’re totally pumped for this theme:

Get Pickled! HomeEcNight #26 [Read more...]