Posts Tagged kefir

Slow, slow oatmeal

Readers of this blog will know that steel-cut oatmeal has revolutionized my winter breakfasts, especially after I found a low-risk, low-maintenance way of getting the perfect taste and texture, precooking things in advance and letting them sit around to plump up nicely overnight. This year I got more adventurous, but also even lazier, and the oatmeal is, if anything, even more perfect. It’s a high-fibre, filling and low(ish) calorie way to start the day, and it keeps me going until mid-morning at least, especially if I add a few walnuts to add a protein filler. The secrets? A $20 slow cooker from the discount kitchen store, a selection of different grains to supplement the oats, far more liquid than you ever think you’ll need and patience.

The recipe is infinitely flexible, but here’s roughly what I do. Each batch lasts me for a week or so, maybe a bit less if I feel particularly hungry in the mornings.

Slow-cooked steel-cut oatmeal
generous half cup of steel-cut oats
skimpy one-third cup of other grains (I’ve used tef, amaranth and very small amounts of freekah so far, with amaranth at the top of the list for taste and texture)
2-3 cups water
1-2 cups other liquid (apple cider, coconut milk, milk, depending on mood)
generous pinch of salt

Put all the ingredients in the slow cooker and cook on low for 3-4 hours. Stir once in the middle if you remember. Allow to cool in the cooker and then store the porridge in a tupperware in the fridge. Come breakfast time, spoon out a portion into a bowl and reheat it in the microwave. Then add fruit and nuts, perhaps some cocoa nibs for bitterness and a generous splash of milk, buttermilk, yogurt or home-made kefir (which curdles slightly in the hot oatmeal). You could add honey/sugar/maple syrup too, or even jam, but I find the apple cider offers enough sweetness for my taste.

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The Guardian describes tef (an Ethiopian cereal) as “the next big supergrain,” while HuffPost gives a similar moniker to freekah (wheat that’s harvested when it’s still green and then cracked and roasted), dubbing it “the next hot supergrain“. HuffPost also offers “14 reasons to eat amaranth” (an eat-everything plant — the dark green leaves are used in Caribbean cooking and known as callaloo), and says cocoa nibs are “even better for you than dark chocolate.” How can I go wrong?

I’d note I don’t like to add too much freekah, because it adds a very wheaty taste to the finished cereal. I get a wheaty taste from bread; I like my oatmeal to taste mostly of oats.

Anyone got other ideas to jazz up oatmeal?

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Like buttermilk, only better

There are those who rave about kefir because it contains the good bugs that our anti-bacteria society seems to want to purify out of existence. I just prefer the tart-sour kefir taste to the blandness of milk. But I rarely bought it, and never dreamed of making it myself. Then someone swapped me a jar of jam for a handful of kefir grains, and my life turned upside down, just like the discovery of steel cut oats revolutionized my winter breakfasts. There’s no machine, no thermometers and nothing to worry about, and kefir tastes great in oatmeal, cold oats or granola. Why didn’t I discover this decades ago? kefir2The secret for me is to make enough kefir for a day or  two, and just let the grains rest, covered with water, in the fridge when I’m not in kefir making mood. When I’m ready to ferment, I rinse the grains (which look like mini silicon brains), put them in a clean Mason jar and top up with as much milk as I think I’ll need the next day. I close the jar loosely (the ring/lid combo is my alternative to covering with a cloth) and let it sit on the countertop until it’s sour enough to use. In summer that can take as little as 6-8 hours, although the recipes all say 24 hours at least. Don’t close your jar tightly — the milk bubbles as it ferments, and a cracked jar (or an explosion?) could create a nasty mess in the kitchen.

kefir1 When it smells sour enough, I tighten the seal on the jar and shake it up to mix the whey back in with the solids, and then sieve it. The grains are little squeaky things so you sieve the mix gently – don’t try to force the grains through the mesh. Save the kefir, rinse the grains, cover them with water and put them back in the fridge until you want to start the game all over again. I’ve kept the grains in water for as long as a week so far, although I understand you can freeze them for longer storage. I’m planning that for the next few weeks; I’ll update this entry once I figure out if it works.

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The beauty of all this? Kefir grains grow as they sour the milk, so you almost always have some to give away. If my grains don’t work from the freezer, I can always find a way to get grains back.

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Say cheese

Canning buddy over at Alliums to Zinnias is always several notches ahead of me in terms of Doing Stuff, so when she suggested we punctuate my visit to her part of the world with an attempt at making cheese I wondered if a new era in my culinary life was suddenly opening up.

I made kefir for a while a couple of years back, but never quite managed to keep up with the ever-growing kefir culture and ended up pouring more kefir away than I put on my morning cereal. But cheese is different.  This had to be worth a try.

It turns out that making cheeses involves all sorts of specialized equipment, which canning buddy acquired after a cheese making class in Missouri over the summer. There were containers with holes so the cheese could drain, mini colander/strainer thingies with more holes as well as strong, fine-mesh cheesecloth (well duh) and little packs of fairy dust (rennet and other cultures) to make the milk go sour. It was actually quite fun.

We started by gently heating our gallons of milk (special low-temperature pasturized milk) and then adding the fairy dust until it curdled on us, looking pretty gruesome in the process (this was the heat-the-whey picture, of which more below).

Then we slopped it into cheesecloth, and hung it up to drain, knotting our bulging bags of will-be cheese to sturdy kitchen spoons.

Instructions suggested adding salt or herbs at this stage, before stashing it away in one of the containers-with-holes for more draining and firming up.

Ok, it doesn’t look perfect, but it disappeared pretty damn quick on home made no-knead bread.

The whey from the first batch, heated gently until it curdled, and then strained, turned into super creamy ricotta, while canning buddy was converting our second gallon of milk to feta cheese as I left for the airport. She reports that it shrank significantly in the multi-day salting process, but refused to come out of the container in a single chunk. More practice is clearly needed.

Now I need to figure out if it’s even possible to buy low-temperature pasturized milk here in Toronto, let alone order all the special pots and fairy dust. Any ideas?

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