Monday, January 31, 2011

Vanilla Specimens

This kitchen project was inspired by form more than function. We scored a pair of these beautiful glass jars at Goodwill. But what to display in them? Homemade vanilla extract seemed like the natural fit. We can get vanilla beans for cheap in bulk at our local co-op (though I can't attest to the quality). $7 worth of vanilla beans and two cups of vodka, and voila! Right now the jars have a beautiful color gradient, from a darker brown on the bottom to colorless on the top. The varying thickness of the jar's walls magnify the beans inside, making them look like specimens in a science project.

I followed instructions from a google search to make the extract. We opened up the beans and covered them with the vodka, where they will sit for at least eight weeks.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sustainable Seafood

Choosing sustainable seafood can be overwhelming. Fish is healthy, and supposedly three servings a week is ideal. But maybe not if that three servings is full of mercury, and not if the fish is being hunted to the point of extinction. So what's a seafood-loving girl to do?

I carry the Seafood Watch iphone app with me on every trip to the fish market. They also make a wallet chart that you can pick up at Whole Foods or other such places. A quick glance will tell me whether a potential purchase is a "Best Choice" a "Good Alternative" or something to "Avoid". If you want to delve deeper, it will also explain the rating to you. I used to avoid seafood all together because the subtleties were too overwhelming, but this tool makes decision-making much easier. That said, food fraud runs rampant in the seafood industry, so make sure your fish market is knowledgeable and trustworthy so you don't end up with catfish instead of snapper (But you wouldn't buy snapper, right? It's on the "Avoid" list.)

Where I live there are many seafood peddlers to choose from. There's the small, locally-owned fishmonger, which has the best quality fish around but not always the most sustainable choices. Then there's the local food co-op, which has plenty of sustainable options at crazy high prices (though their little packages of leftover lox ends are super cheap and have become a staple for me). I've found that Trader Joe's, at least last time I checked, doesn't carry very many sustainable options in their freezer. Even the generic grocery store in town has a pretty fine seafood counter, which is where we ended up last night in our search for mussels.

I was on the hunt for an iron-rich snack, because I'm starting to suspect I'm running a little low in the iron department. Mussels are a great source of iron, and according to my handy-dandy iphone app, farmed mussels are a "best choice" purchase because they are raised in an environmentally responsible manner. The seafood counter at Big Y had bags of live mussels farmed in Prince Edward Island (not exactly local, but not Thailand either). The price: $5.50 for 2 lbs. Sold! We took those puppies home and made an amazing meal by steaming them in a creamy wine sauce. A big win for my iron intake, my wallet, and sustainable seafood!

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Vinegar Jar

Vinegar making is as simple as any other fermented food. As our fermentation book Wild Fermentation says: "just leave it out!" We've been keeping a half gallon jar on the counter with a screened lid. The jar started out with some dated fresh apple cider. I dumped the fizzy brew into the jar and let nature take its course. After a week or so the fermenting stopped and I racked it (i.e. poured the liquid off the yeast cake on the bottom, rinsed the jar and replaced the liquid) and let the vinegaring commence! Whenever there's been some left over apple cider we just dump it in the jar. Now the jar contains a sharp acidic aroma rather than an alcoholic one, and the liquid is quite tart! The stuff can be used just like any other apple cider vinegar: in sauces, dressings etc. and also for cleaning and sanitizing. The same method can be used for a wine vinegar. Just dump out the hair of last night's dog into a jar and cover with a screen of some sort (mesh or cheese cloth). Once it's converted it can be used for dressings and sauces, and in the meantime you can always use it, in whatever state, to deglaze after sauteing.