Monday, April 23, 2012

Why Store Vinegar?

Every summer, we make several pints of pickles – sweet, dill, zucchini – you name it, if it can be pickled, I’ll try it. So, naturally, we store several gallons of vinegar.

The word “vinegar,” comes from the French word (vin aigre) for sour wine, which tells you all you need to know about how vinegar used to be made. Nowadays, they make vinegar from a number of ingredients, including grains, fruits, and vegetables. There are also several types of vinegar; some of the best known include:
  • Apple cider vinegar, made from apple cider that has been fermented.
  • Balsamic vinegar, made from white grapes and then aged in wood barrels for several years.
  • Distilled white vinegar, a clear vinegar made from fermented grains (I reserve this type for cleaning, since its flavor is so harsh).
  • Malt vinegar, made from malted barley (this type is sublime when sprinkled on French fries).
  • Red wine vinegar, made—you guess it—from red wine (this type makes superb vinaigrette).
  • Rice vinegar, mild, sweet, and made from fermented rice (indispensable when making sunomono, or cucumber salad).
You can easily make your own vinegar and there are several recipes online for doing so. The resulting vinegar will be fine for making salad dressings and other refrigerated items, but DO NOT use homemade vinegar for canning. This is because there is really no way to ensure the acid content of homemade vinegar (the FDA requires that manufactured vinegar be at least 4% acidity, though some types contain more).

In addition to pickles, we use vinegar to make chutneys, ketchup, mustard, marinades, sauces, and salad dressings. One of my favorite summer treats is to marinate fruit (particularly raspberries) or herbs in apple cider vinegar. After a few days, we strain and discard the fruit (or herb). The resulting flavored vinegar lends a subtle but distinctive taste to marinades and salad dressings (it also makes a beautiful gift when placed in a decorative glass bottle).

Vinegar’s uses are not limited to food; here are a few additional uses:
  • Clean windows with a weak vinegar/water solution.
  • Clean your coffee pot by placing 1-2 cups of white vinegar in the reservoir and brewing as normal; rinse by running a full reservoir of clear water.
  • Soften fabrics in your washing machine by adding 1cup of white vinegar during the rinse cycle.
  • Tenderize meat; pour vinegar over the meat and let sit (refrigerated) overnight.
  • Clean your toilets, sinks, and bathroom floors (no need for toxic chemicals).
  • Kill weeds (they can’t take the acid).

Monday, April 16, 2012

Salt Scrub

In previous blogs, we’ve mentioned the importance of having food storage items do double, and even triple, duty. Take salt, for example. Besides its uses in cooking, preserving foods, and cleaning (see our blog of March 21, 2012), salt can be used to make a salt scrub—an effective and inexpensive way to remove dry, flaky skin (a process called exfoliation), so new, fresh skin can shine through. Use this salt scrub at the end of your shower to seal in moisture and nurture your skin (it is also an effective way to soften winter-weary hands. Wet your hands and then massage 1-2 tablespoons on the tops and palms of the hands and then rinse). Makes one cup.

· 1/2 cup oil (sweet almond, sunflower, or olive oil)
· 2 teaspoons lavender buds (or any herb of your choice)
· 20 drops rosemary and/or peppermint essential oil (optional)
· 5 vitamin E capsules (vitamin E acts as an antioxidant and will slow the oil’s natural tendency to turn rancid)
· 1 cup salt (use fine-grained, rather than coarse salt)

1. Place oil in a half-pint canning jar.
2. Add the herbs, stir. Place the lid on the jar and allow the mixture to sit for two weeks (keep the jar out of direct sunlight).

3. Strain the herbs (a strainer or coffee filter works well) and discard.

4. Transfer the oil to a glass bowl or a glass measuring cup.
5. Add the essential oils (if using) and pierce the vitamin E capsules and add to the mixture.
(Note: Exercise caution and use eye protection when using essential oils.)
6. Add the salt; stir. I frequently use a chop stick to stir, because I can discard it when I am finished.

7. Store in a plastic jar with a good seal. You will be using this in the shower, so avoid storing it in a glass jar that may break if it slips from your hands.

Giving this as a gift? Try tying a fabric circle (cut 2” wider than the jar lid) over the lid with a ribbon in which you have tied a sprig of rosemary.

To use: Place about two tablespoons in your hand or on a bath mitt or sisal pad. Massage over the entire body (not intended for use on the face). Rinse. The final result? A wonderful glow and soft, silky, and smooth skin. Use caution, as the oils can make the bath slippery and the mixture can sting if you use it right after shaving (nothing like salt in an open wound). Makes enough for 8-10 uses.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Boiled Wheat

Most preppers know the importance of storing wheat. It’s fairly inexpensive, stores virtually forever, and can be used in an almost infinite number of ways. Wheat is a key ingredient in most breads, cakes, cookies, pancakes, pasta, cereals, and seitan (wheat meat). It can be sprouted and added to a salad or tossed into a stir-fry (wheat sprouts contain 2.8 mg of vitamin C per cup, while unsprouted wheat contains none of this important vitamin). You can even use wheat to make boza or wheat beer. Sometimes I get so involved in grinding, sprouting, and other treatments that I forget about the basics, including simple cooked wheat.

Cook up a large batch of wheat berries (also called kernels) and store in your fridge, ready to be used in the following ways:
  • Add a handful to soups and stews.
  • Add to chili and other bean dishes to help improve the protein content.
  • Serve it warm with milk, sugar, and cinnamon as a hot breakfast cereal. I’ve found that 1/4 to 1/2 cup of cooked wheat is ample, since it is so dense and filling.
  • Use it as a meat-extender in meat dishes, such as meatloaf.
  • Toss a handful into a frying pan with sautéed mushrooms and eggs for a more nutritious egg scramble.
  • Place some in a casserole dish and add a can of soup, sautéed onions, cooked meat chunks, and cheese. Bake until warm throughout.
  • Make a tasty salad with cooked wheat, sliced celery, apple chunks, and a vinaigrette.
  • Combine with cooked garbanzo beans, lemon juice, and olive oil for a wheat tabbouleh.

To Cook Wheat
Rinse and drain the berries to remove any dust and broken pieces. Place 1 cup of rinsed wheat berries in a medium-sized saucepan. Cover with 2-1/2 cups water and place on the stove. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover, and simmer for one hour. Remove pan from the heat and allow to sit 10-15 minutes. Fluff and enjoy. Store any remaining cooked wheat in the refrigerator.

Boiled Wheat