Brewing and Stewing

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I didn’t post last week (sorry!) as I was snowed in and snowed under with freelance work and getting my new novel out there. If you’re interested in a literary romance with colorful characters in a magical town – then get “The Willow Lake Group” – and let me know what you think of it. (Shameful plug – I know!)

Here’s the link: (Kindle and paperback)

The Willow Lake Group on Amazon

Here’s the book trailer (I made it myself!):

Okay – on to brewing and stewing!

I started my Kombucha tea (fermented probiotic tea – which I’ve talked about in previous posts) on Sunday 1/17/16. Here’s the “flow” – recipe is at the end.

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I bought my scoby online (live culture – like a slippery disc) – seen in the clear plastic bag in the picture above. I used a bottle of plain Kombucha for the starter and 8 black tea bags. (The recipe called for 4 black and 4 green, but I only had black.)

Kom 2

The recipe calls for a total of 14 cups of water (filtered – 3.5 quarts) – so I boiled only 2 cups to start with – to reduce the wait time for the tea to steep and cool down. Before the teabags went into the hot water – I stirred in a cup of brown sugar – even though the recipe calls for white sugar. Don’t worry about the sugar content – as the scoby “eats” the majority of it by the time the tea is ready to bottle.

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Then I poured the cooled, brewed tea into a large glass bowl and topped it up with the remaining 12 cups of filtered water and the starter tea, before gently sliding the scoby in.

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I then covered the bowl with a couple of layers of paper towels and secured the cover with a rubber band. After draping one of my black tea towels over it, I put it in a dark corner of                    the counter and left it to ferment – undisturbed for a few days. (The total time for fermenting is 7 – 10 days.)

Kom 9 7 day

On 1/24/16 (the 7th day) – I carefully uncovered the Kombucha to check on its progress. You can see a new scoby forming (the circle of bubbles) – with the active scoby having sunk to the bottom. I gave it a taste test but I wasn’t satisfied with the level of tartness. (Apparently – the longer it brews the less sugary it is – which is fine with me!)

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Now – I know this looks like a gross science project – but I wanted to share what the scobies looked like after 10 days of brewing/fermenting. The compact scoby on the left is the original scoby and the blob of “matter” on the right is what I pulled from the top of the tea. I nearly threw it out, until I researched it and discovered that this can be another scoby for me! (I was very careful scooping the scoby from the bottom of the bowl. Remember – it’s a live colony of bacteria! Yay!)

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So – this is what I was left with after I removed the scobies on the 10th day.

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Okay – I just had to show you one of my Pinterest fails. I followed the recipe for a concoction that’s supposed to remove labels “in a jiffy!” Being a cheap-ass, I decided to use the bottles I’d kept. After submerging them in a sink of hot water, baking soda, dishwashing liquid and white vinegar – the fizzing stopped and the labels refused to budge. I left it until morning and they still wouldn’t budge. At least the bottles were spotless and clean – ready to be filled with my Kombucha.

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So I tore and ripped what labels I could manage to remove and decided to make half the batch with lemon juice and a few rinds – and left the other half plain. The recipe makes six bottles of Kombucha (approx 16 oz each). The lemon Kombucha has a whole lemon’s worth of juice in each bottle. (You can insert other fruits if you want or ingredients such as grated ginger – at this stage.)

At the moment – my babies are hiding in a dark cupboard – for a total of three days. I bottled them on 1/28/16 – the 10th day – and have tested the “carbonation” by opening a couple to see how they fizzed. A tiny hiss could be heard – but I’ve decided to let them sit until tomorrow, before placing in the fridge to chill for approx 4 hours. The Kombucha lasts for a few weeks in the fridge, but I drink one every day – so they’ll be gone in a week – when my next batch will be ready!

This recipe has been modified from the one I found at “The Kitchn.”

Kombucha Tea

Ingredients:

3 1/2 quarts filtered water

2 cups plain Kombucha (store bought or from your previous batch)

1 cup Brown Sugar

8 bags of black tea

1 scoby

Equipment:

I large glass or ceramic bowl

Measuring jug

Funnel

Six x 16oz bottles – washed good and proper!

Method:

Bring two cups of the 14 cups (3 1/2 quarts) of filtered water to the boil, stir in the sugar and then place the tea bags in to brew. Once it’s completely cooled down, take out the teabags after squeezing them and pour into the bowl, along with the pre-made or store-bought Kombucha tea and the remaining 12 cups filtered water.

Then carefully slide the scoby onto the surface (don’t worry if it sinks) and cover with a couple of layers of paper towels and secure it with a rubber band. (You don’t have to drape a tea towel over it – I just wanted to as I wasn’t putting it in the cupboard.) Leave in a dark place – away from direct sunlight – and leave undisturbed for 7 days.

On the 7th day, gently pour some of the liquid into a cup to taste it. If you’re happy with the levels of tartness and sweetness – you’re ready to bottle. Otherwise – cover and leave for another 3 days. When you’re ready to bottle, gently take the scoby (and the new one – if it’s grown) and slide them onto a plate – to be used for the next batch (if you want to do it again. Why wouldn’t you? I know I did!)

Then pour the tea into your bottles with a funnel (this is the stage when you can place fruit etc if you like) and cap them tightly with the lids. (Leaving at least an inch of room at the top.) Place the bottles in a dark cupboard and leave for up to three days – testing occasionally for carbonation. When ready, place them in the fridge for at least 4 hours to chill – then enjoy!

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This is Vali – Thor’s sister – doing her best cutesie-pie routine. She was trying to get my attention when I was bottling (on the counter on the other side of the kitchen – where the cats don’t go – and for those who freak about animals in the kitchen: I wipe our table down every time we use it.)

Fitness update:

Yeah whatever – did it sometimes (exercised) – but still losing weight and normalizing now that I’m settling into the life of a freelancer. It’s amazing how stress had a lot to do with me overeating (at times) – essentially fighting a losing battle for a long time there – even though I was slowly losing weight.

Food update:

Mostly good – although blips on the radar included takeaway and a day of movie watching with chips and chocolate! (I ought to be spanked – really!)

Here’s a soup I made – apparently close to one of Olive Garden’s.

Zuppa Toscana

Zup

Zuppa Toscana Soup

2 tsp olive oil
1 pound Italian sausage, hot or mild
4 oz bacon, diced into ½ inch pieces
1 small onion, minced
5 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
2 medium russet potatoes, skins washed and sliced thinly
1½ tsp sugar
salt and fresh ground pepper
2½ cups half and half
1 cup packed kale chopped into bite size pieces (I used Swiss Chard)
1 cup finely shredded Romano cheese for serving

Instructions
Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Crumble sausage (remove casings) and cook, breaking large clumps apart, until sausage is fully cooked and browned. Add diced bacon and saute for about 5 minutes. Add onion and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Saute until the bacon is cooked through (not crunchy) and onions are soft, about 5 minutes more. (Then tip off the excess fat.)

Add the chicken broth, water, sliced potatoes, Kale or Swiss Chard, sugar, salt and pepper to the bacon/onion mixture. Bring soup just to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Remove excess fat from the surface with a large spoon or ladle. Stir in the half and half. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of cheese over individual servings. Garnish with seasoned croutons if desired. Serve.

Mars

Chicken Masala

2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (8 ounces each)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup plus 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup finely chopped shallots
8 ounces sliced cremini mushrooms
3 ounces sliced shiitake mushrooms (I only used approx 11 oz of Shitake)
⅓ cup Marsala wine
½ cup Swanson 88% fat-free chicken broth (I used chicken stock since it was all I had on hand)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

INSTRUCTIONS

Slice the chicken breasts in half horizontally to make 4 cutlets. Season with ½ teaspoon salt and a pinch of black pepper.

Put the flour in a shallow bowl and lightly dredge the chicken pieces in the flour, shaking off any excess. Reserve the remaining flour to use later.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add ½ tablespoon of the butter and 1 teaspoon of the olive oil to the pan and swirl the pan until the butter has melted. Add the chicken and cook until slightly golden on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a baking dish and place in the oven to keep warm. (Preheated to moderately hot.)

Add the remaining ½ tablespoon butter and 1 teaspoon olive oil to the skillet. Add the garlic and shallots and cook until soft and golden, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and a pinch of black pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle in the reserved 1 teaspoon of flour and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds. Add the Marsala wine, chicken broth, and parsley.

Cook, stirring and scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Return the chicken to the skillet with the mushrooms, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer in the sauce to let the flavors blend, about 4 to 5 minutes.

To serve, put a piece of chicken on each of 4 serving plates. Spoon the mushrooms and sauce evenly over the top, and serve hot.

Spirit Update:

Okay – for those of you who know that I re-dedicated myself to the pagan path on Halloween last October, I’d like to share some interesting developments and observations.

At the time, I was still working for the State and stressed to the max. I called on Kali (to help cut my negativity) and Ganesha (to help with my writing career). Even though I lean towards atheism or at least – agnosticism – I understand how ritual and visualization speaks to the subconscious, in order to program ourselves for whatever purpose.

Over the next few weeks, certain “anomalies” became known to me. Whether or not it was wishful thinking – the following occurred:

  • I inadvertently swapped my handbags out – switching to my black leather satchel that has a skull design on the front. After a couple of weeks I realized the connection to Kali.
  • Elephants became prominent in my web searches, TV and movie watching, etc.
  • My energy stabilized and I conducted myself well when dealing with “snakes in the grass.”
  • My husband advised that he was earning enough for me to leave my job in early December ’15 – so we made plans and I handed in my resignation on 12/21/15. I’d already started picking up freelance work, so the transition was almost seamless.
  • I started getting reviews for my books and people coming out of the woodwork – willing to help with promoting me and my work.
  • I have repeat customers with my freelance work – with great feedback

and many more that I can’t think of right now. (I’ll update next week!)

Okay – I’m done! Catch up next week and until then – stay happy and healthy!

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