book review

Book Review: Fermented Vegetables.

I'm so happy to see the book I've already read and immensely enjoyed  popping up on all kinds of gift lists and book recommends lately, but with every mention I have felt more and more guilty that I didn't write a more timely review.  I have read quite a few books this year, but this one struck more of an immediate chord with me than many others.  Yes, I went through a fermenting phase, but this book reminded me of all the things exciting about the natural world, how simple things like vegetables have been handled and transformed for storage for as long as humankind has needed hold on to the season.  It also reminded me of just how beautiful the finished products can be, as varied and colorful as all of nature.  The Shockeys refer to the palette of vegetables, and that term definitely fits.

fermented veg book

It's gorgeously written too, I would challenge you not to read every word as I did back in October over a long weekend at my Parents farm, imagining yourself in a world of homesteading and pickling.  I sat in my Dad's comfortable chair with a stack of sticky notes and made a list of things to pick up at the Amish farm stands before leaving to come back to the city... sort of wishing I could just stay out in the country without coming back at all.

I made time the night I got back to start a kimchi.  I never made a vegetable ferment that started by brining the whole cabbage cut in quarters, and it really worked well.  Not overly fond of fermented garlic, the only modification I made was to cut the garlic content way back.  I packed three quarts before bed that night, and then only had to wait a long 12 days for it to ferment at room temperature before it was done to my liking.



I can't say I've had kimchi more than seldom, but I remember the first time like it was yesterday.  Our high school had open campus for lunch; so long as you didn't drive anywhere you were free to roam the town (population 850).  Fortunately for me, I met a new student my sophomore year that quickly became a friend.  Her mother was Korean, and in her little kitchen, mere steps away from the back door of the wood shop where I tried to spend as much of my high school career as possible, I discovered all kinds of interesting flavors I had never encountered before. 

Now I wish I knew if her mom made her kimchi from scratch, but at the time I didn't want to spend much time in the kitchen and probably wouldn't have thought to ask about such things.  I can't remember what I tried alongside the kimchi that day, but I'm sure it contained rice - I didn't know that some people kept constant pots of rice going in small electric cookers, that rice was integral to a whole culture and was eaten with every meal.  I never have traveled to Asia, but those days in 10th grade have stuck with me and every so often I get a real craving for those types of flavors...


It's easy enough to eat a spoonful or two of fermented veg right from the jar, likely with the fridge hanging open when you're pondering what else to eat for lunch.  But I thought that since I made such a lovely kimchi with the Fermentistas' help, I would make myself a more complex rice bowl.  I chopped up a good amount of kimchi, steamed some kale, found some already roasted beets, made a 6 minute egg and a simple dressing with ginger and sesame oil.  Then I ignored the silly amount of dishes I made for myself and sat down to a very nice lunch.

kimchi rice bowl.
It was really good, and satisfied my craving for Asian flavors.

I wasn't able to start fermenting all of the things that piqued my interest in Fermented Vegetables, but I am so excited to have this book as a resource for the upcoming seasons.  Whether you have fermented forever or have never fermented before, this book really is an excellent resource for cultivating a growing addiction or lighting a fire under a timid, first timer.  It has reignited the passion I once had for fermenting, and is going to be a first stop for new ferments for a good long while I suppose!

Disclaimer:  I did receive a copy of Fermented Vegetables for review, but as always my opinions are my own.

Book Review: Preserving by the Pint

Preserving by the Pint

When I got my review copy of Marisa McClellan's latest book a few weeks back, time seemed to stand still for the moment and I almost immediately read the entire thing cover to cover.  I had been looking forward to cracking open this one since I had the pleasure of testing a few of the recipes for it last year, and it truly is a lovely addition to the growing canning book section of my kitchen library.

I couldn't help but think as I turned page after page that Marisa is going to be writing new books for years.  She has the magic trifecta in her cookery books: timeless recipes, succinct instructions, and simple inspirations.  She is passionate about her craft, and eager to share with everyone - which I think is the underlying theme of Preserving by the Pint.  Organized by season, this book encourages everyone to make small batches using local and seasonal foods.  It tempts us to branch out and try something maybe we haven't considered before, even to source special ingredients that might not be cost efficient if making a more traditionally sized amount.

small batch preserving.

Personally I like to can for my storage shelves, but with my ongoing quest for sugar reduction, having a jar or two of a really stellar preserves is an excellent idea - especially since I can tend towards the hoarding jams and jellies even when I've made 8 or 9 jars of them.  After finishing the book, I immediate found some Meyer lemons at my co-op to make Candied Meyer Lemon Slices.  Only needing a pound for the recipe made it feel doable for me when I didn't have the foresight to get on the Lemon Ladies list for bulk fruit like Marisa did.  (And, she had made a beautiful Meyer Lemon Syrup on her blog not long before, and I was feeling especially bad for missing the lemon season...) 

candied meyer lemon

I really loved these candied lemons, they had a nice marmalade texture and trademark Meyer lemon astrengency.  I was glad I had a little bit of the syrup leftover which set into a little lemon jelly to enjoy right away on morning toast.  I intend to make a pound cake for my birthday in September and crown it with a jar of them, and I should be able to save a jar that long since the 2 jar yield leaves me one to enjoy before then.

Spring in my neck of the woods also signals maple syruping time and for a while my family had planned to make it to an Amish neighbor's sugaring operation to reacquaint ourselves with the small miracle that is maple syrup.  Last weekend, a small group of family members went to see Daniel Hochstetler's rustic sugar shack.  We arrived just as he was getting the fire going underneath a stainless vat of sap.  Already, he had harvested over 100 gallons of finished syrup and he was hoping for another good week of syruping weather.  (Last year was a perfect year for syrup; they harvested more than 300 gallons and still had some leftover before starting this year.  If boiled to the proper temperature, maple syrup never really spoils.  The two past seasons make up for the strangely warm spring two years ago when there was no syrup to be found.)  My Mom and Dad generously sent me home with 2 gallons, which usually can last us the whole year if we watch our pancake breakfasts...

sugar shack (#2)
I respect the Amish desire not to have their faces photographed, but was able to capture a photo of Daniel and his sugar shack from a distance...

As I stood there breathing in the sauna of maple scented sap, I was dreaming of a recipe Marisa included in the book for Blueberry Maple Jam - thankful for my hoarding of a gallon bagful of blueberries in my freezer from last year, and thankful for a new harvest of syrup to replenish my waning stores. When I got back home, I started the jam right away but got busy.  Fortunately, letting the fruit macerate overnight with the syrup and brown sugar is an acceptable practice.  My yield was a little less than the 2 half-pints, but I suspect it is because I used frozen fruit.  I haven't had blueberry jam in ages - in part because of the amount of berries it requires - and this one was so good.  I was actually glad I was a little shy of a second half pint so I had some to enjoy right away.

blueberry jam maceration

I made this jam with frozen berries and using the metric weights.  As I mentioned above, I think I lost a little volume due to the frozen fruit - but this is so good I probably wouldn't have needed to can it!  If canning, be sure to use the bottled lemon juice.  As Marisa explains, maple syrup is lower in acidity than sugar and the bottled lemon juice ensures a safe acid level.

Blueberry Maple Jam (Marisa McClellan, Preserving by the Pint)
Yields 2 half-pints
  • 1 dry quart fresh blueberries, rinsed, pickedd over, and mashed (about 1 1/2 lbs. / 680 g.)
  • 3/4 c. / 175 g. packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 c. / 120 ml pure maple syrup
  • 2 T. bottled lemon juice
Prepare a boiling water bath and 2 half-pint jars.  Place 2 lids in a small sauce pan of water and bring to a gentle simmer.

Combine the blueberries, sugar, maple syrup, and lemon juice in a large skillet.  (I used this 3-quart one, which was a perfect size.) Stir to help the sugar dissolve and to integrate the maple syrup.  Once the mixture has begun to look syrupy, place the skillet over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.

Stirring regularly, bring the fruit to a boil and cook until it bubbles and looks quite thick, 10-12 minutes.  It's done when you pull a spatula through the jam and it doesn't immediately rush in to fill the space you've cleared.

When the jam is finished cooking, remove the pot from the heat and pour into the prepared jars.  Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

blueberry maple jam

I can't say I've ever used my 3 quart saucepan to make jam before, and that is a great tip for small batches in particular.  The surface area helps evaporate the liquid faster; I really couldn't believe the small batch was finished cooking in just 10 minutes. 

Another great thing about this book is that if you make just a few jars of something, you wouldn't necessarily have to can it if you didn't want to.  Save yourself a jar, and share another with a neighbor or two and save yourself a hot water bath and the canning time.  But I am looking forward to a little patchwork of fully preserved jars on the shelf by the first frost of fall, new preserves from this beautiful book to take me through the winter and help me wait out the time until Marisa's next book.

You can catch more glimpses of Preserving by the Pint at The Preserved Life, Well Preserved, Hip Girls Guide to Homemaking (still a couple of days left to enter their giveaway), and of course at Food in Jars where you can also find Marisa's upcoming appearances.

blueberry jam pot

DISCLOSURE: I received a copy of this book for review, but as always all of my thoughts and opinions are my own.

Book Review: Deliciously Holistic by Shelly Alexander

 I'm closing in on the 3 week mark before the new baby arrives.  In spite of my enormous belly, I still feel like a long-legged stork will in fact drop the little parcel wrapped in pink or blue cloth on the doorstep and be gone in the blink of an eye.  But I know that isn't the case, especially with the lack of appetite I've had lately.

Even though I haven't felt a whole lot like eating - or at least eating very much at one sitting - I have felt like reading about food.  It's probably the first time in years that I've been current on my feedly blog stream.  I have a record number of books on my shelves from the library, and I even had the time to read a book for review from cover to cover:  Deliciously Holistic by Shelly Alexander, CHFS.  What attracted me to this book was the description, "There is a simple, easy-to-follow recipe for eating healthy, delicious foods that can also lead you on an enjoyable path to vibrant health."

I was particularly interested in this claim because I read a lot on whole food diets and I know first hand just how confusing all of it can be.  Keeping all of the linguistics of whole food eating can be daunting as well, and just where should a person new to the idea of a whole foods diet start?  I found this book to be a very good resource for someone just starting out in holistic eating.  It gives a broad overview of healthy diet without subscribing to just one diet trend (vegan, paleo, primal, vegetarian), but includes simple, tasty recipes for those who might already follow any one of those diets.  It also confirms a lot of information I've already gained from reading about and following a mostly holistic diet for some time.

It's been a good 3 years since I ditched my microwave, gave up boxed cereal, and in general started taking more hands on control of my own diet.  That also directly translated to the diets of my immediate family so much as I can help it.  I try not to be militant, but also aim for consistency.  Most food in my house is slow food.  I take genuine pleasure in adding new kitchen processes that are (hopefully) healthier than packaged or more convenient counterparts.  I've become a real bread baker, all my beans are soaked and cooked from dried, and I try to focus on purchasing raw materials and then making the most of them as the mood strikes me.

This means thinking ahead a good part of the time, and in the cases where I haven't thought ahead, it causes me to be creative in coming up with nutritious meals for my family.  It definitely helps to be consistently reading real food blogs and cookbooks, and like I said, Deliciously Holistic would be an excellent first step resource for someone completely new to the lifestyle changes that whole food diets require.

orange pumpkin seed milk 

Another thing I appreciated about the book were the simple recipes.  So often, real food recipes are overwhelming, especially to those new to eating that type of diet, and these recipes are simple enough for those who are even new to cooking from scratch.  And this isn't just a vegan or vegetarian book, either.  There are plenty of recipes for fish and meat entrees that

For those unfamiliar with making homemade, alternative milks, there are a number of creative non-dairy drinks, plenty of flavor combinations I've never seen or considered before like Carrot Pecan Milk or Nectarine Walnut Milk.  The recipe for Orange Ginger Pumpkin Seed Milk sounded particularly good to me, and it surely did not disappoint.  It was a refreshing change from ordinary homemade almond or coconut milks, and had a truly nourishing taste to it that just felt comforting to drink. 

orange pumpkin seed milk

As Alexander explains, nuts and seeds are usually best soaked or sprouted because it breaks down their enzyme inhibitors.  I've gotten rather used to soaking and sprouting, and a bit of planning ahead doesn't bother me at all.  For this recipe, you'll need to soak the pumpkin seeds in filtered or spring water for 4-6 hours before continuing.  Be sure to use an organic orange for the juice and zest, non-organic are often waxed and artificially colored.

Orange Ginger Pumpkin Seed Milk  (Shelly Alexander, CHFS - Deliciously Holistic)

yields about 4 1/2 cups
  • 3 cups filtered or spring water
  • 1 1/4 c. soaked pumpkin seeds
  •  3 T. coconut sugar, 3 pitted dates, or stevia to taste (I used dates)
  • 1 t. fresh peeled ginger, grated 
  • 1/4 c. fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 1/4 t. grated orange zest
Blend all the ingredients in a blender until creamy and smooth.  Taste and add more sweetener to your preference.  Strain with a nut milk bag, or other fine strainer (a homemade bag made of unbleached muslin will also work just fine).  Milk will last 3-5 days in the refrigerator.

 orange pumpkin seed milk

I have a high-speed Vitamix blender, so I don't have to be too careful about chopping up things like ginger and dates, but you may have to take more care with a regular blender.  The finished drink is the palest green and has a very unique flavor.  It's definitely a recipe I'll make again, and I'm excited to try many of the other alternative milks in Deliciously Holistic this summer as well!

orange pumpkin seed milk

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Deliciously Holistic for review.  As always, all opinions are my own!  You can find a copy of the book for sale on Amazon, or through Shelly's website where you can also find more recipes and whole food information.

Crackers & Dips: Ivy Manning's Latest Book (And Giveaway!)

Ivy's Skinny Mints

When I think about Ivy Manning's new book, I can't believe that I've been looking forward to seeing the final result since October of 2011.  Time seems both to linger and fly in waves, and looking back over the amount of time that has passed since I first became acquainted with Ivy and was welcomed into cookbook testing with vigor seems oddly surreal.  

Ivy and I have never met; we were introduced online by another online friend who I have actually met in person, Deena Prichep.  Last Thanksgiving, I looked forward to an evening dinner with Ivy as she visited her homeland of Wisconsin, but an unfortunate flu plagued her (and I was iffy about eating, being newly pregnant) and the opportunity slipped by, drowned under the weight of even more passing time.  The good thing about this passing time is that I know Ivy and I will one day finally sit down to supper together, and when dark days hit, I think about this with great anticipation.

I read a lot of cookbooks.  Some year, I should actually keep track and write them all down.  I've talked about this before, how my library was my greatest resource when I was somewhat economically challeged this past year. Kind souls have somehow graced me with copies of books found in thrift shops or book sales, even the occasional author sent me a review copy of a new work I really wanted, when even those $13 meager dollars sent to Amazon were going to be a stretch.  Good things have a way of making themselves available to those who really appreciate it I think...
Amaranth Crackers with Cheddar and Pepitas served with Roasted Tomatillo and Avocado Dip
 (Photo courtesy of Chronicle books.)
While things on the personal finance front are finally looking up, my bookshelves could quickly grow heavy with new titles that are worth owning, and Ivy's newest book is definitely among them.  Crackers & Dips:  More than 50 Handmade Snacks is a DIY foodist's dream: and I should know, because I got to make and taste firsthand quite a lot of the contents.  The books that usually find permanent residence in my house are the ones that I grab not only for inspiration, but because I know that the recipe will work on the first go - if I'm making it for the 20th time, or just last minute for company.  The other necessary criteria for cookbook ownership is beautiful design, and this book is also beautifully photographed and illustrated, a unique combination of photography (by Jenifer Altman) and chalk drawings (by Kristina Urquhart).  There might not be a better book suited for both gift-giving and practical use!  Every recipe in this book is going to work for you, for snacking, appeasing the kiddos, gift giving, or party-going.

A School of Fish Crackers (Gluten-Free!)
(Photo courtesy of Chronicle Books)

I decided that to celebrate the release of this book, I'd make one of the crackers that I didn't get a chance to test: the Skinny Mint Chocolate Grahams.  Billed as a dessert cracker, these would remind you of a much tastier version of the classic Girl Scout classic.  And after reading this article on the suspect ingredients in them, I feel all that much better to have a really good DIY version!

I love baking by weight, since it is much faster than measuring all the ingredients traditionally, and is more consistent.  This book has metric weights for all of the ingredients listed. I know that when doing my portion of the testing, I double checked the volume to metric ratio, so even if you bake by volume, you can be assured of a good result.
Skinny Mint Chocolate Grahams (Ivy Manning, Crackers & Dips: More Than 50 Handmade Snacks)
  • 14 T. (200 g.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 c. (100 g.) sugar
  • 2 T. honey
  • 1 1/2 t. peppermint extract
  • 1 1/2 c. (185 g.) all purpose flour
  • 1 c. (130 g.) whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 c. (30 g.) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. fine sea salt
  • 1 c. (170 g.) bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1 t. canola oil
Preheat oven to 350 f. (180 c.).

Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.  In the bowl of an electric mixer or in a large bowl using a handheld mixer, beat the butter, sugar, honey, and peppermint extract together until fluffy, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Sift both flours, the cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl.  Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix on low speed until the mixture forms moist crumbs; do not overmix.  Gather up the dough with your hands (it will come together when squeezed), and divide the dough into two equal-size pieces.  Form each piece of dough into a rectangle measuring 4x6 inches, cover in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 days.

Place a piece of parchment paper on a work surface and lightly dust it with all-purpose flour.  Place a portion of dough on the paper, dust it with flour and place a piece of plastic wrap over the dough.  Roll the dough out until it is 1/8" thick, picking up the plastic once or twice to make sure there are no creases in the dough.

Cut the dough into the desired shapes using cookie cutters, and use a lightly floured spatula or bench scraper to transfer the crackers to one of the prepared baking sheets; reserve and chill the scraps.  Prick each cracker a few times with a fork or comb and bake until they are crisp and smell chocolaty, 10-12 minutes, rotating the sheet once from front to back while baking.  Transfer the crackers to a cooling rack.

While the first batch of crackers is baking, repeat the rolling and cutting process with another ball of dough; the chilled scraps can be re-rolled once.

In a small microwave-safe bowl or a double boiler, melt the chocolate chips until smooth.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the canola oil.  Using an offset spatula, spread about 1/2 t. of the melted chocolate mixture over each cracker and place them on a baking sheet.  Refrigerate the graham crackers until the glaze is set, about 30 minutes.  Once the glaze has set, store the crackers in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Ivy's Skinny Mints
Ivy's Skinny Mints

In my whole foods kitchen, I successfully substituted sucanat for the sugar, and olive oil for the canola.  I also like to roll out the crackers directly on a silicone mat with a piece of plastic wrap over the top.  I found that I didn't need to use any additional flour that way.  I also cut the crackers into squares in part because I was a bit lazy, but also because there is less waste that way.  And besides, that way I get to nibble every ragged edge of chocolate mint graham cracker myself.

Ivy's Skinny Mints

So now for the fun part:  I was given a copy of this book to giveaway!  This is the first giveaway that I've had that didn't contain something that I made myself (Pomegranate Jelly or Candied Jalapenos), or something that I bought to giveaway (WMSE Rockabilly Chili Cookbook).  Historically, I am a small blog with a dedicated readership, so your chances to win this beautiful book are very good.  I wouldn't mind if you share the post and the word about Crackers & Dips with your friends however, because I know they would appreciate a homemade batch of crackers too.  To enter, just leave a comment below before midnight next Friday, May 17th.  I'll choose a winner using a Random Number Generator on Saturday the 18th, and post it here and on the CakeWalk facebook page.

I'll leave you with the image of my favorite recipe from the book:  another dessert cracker made with rich olive oil, orange blossom water and aniseed.

Spanish Olive Oil Tortas
(Photo courtesy of Chronicle Books)

This recipe is alone is worth the cover price, especially when you consider that a gourmet, wax papered bag of pretty Ines Rosales crisps costs quite a bit in specialty food markets... and isn't it so much better to make it yourself anyway?

Congratulations to Ivy Manning on a gorgeous accomplishment!

Disclaimer:  I did receive a copy of this book for review, and another to giveaway.  My opinions of this book are my own, well deserved, and are not embellished!