Red Wine Vinegar

Do you remember boredom? I can recall a time, so long ago, usually mid-summer-vacation, whining to my mother, “I’m boooooooooored. There’s nothing to dooooo.” (This was probably followed up with, “Take me to the liiiiiibrary.”) I think the last time I was bored was when I was ten. Sometimes I miss being bored. I hardly even get time to read any more. Most of my reading lately is done on the treadmill, although my brother recently caught me reading a book while brushing my teeth and found that hilarious for some reason. (Is that not normal?)

Anyway, I am TOO BUSY. Ironically, though I haven’t posted in a while, I have been cooking a lot, and even doing some experimenting, which should be perfect for post ideas, except most of my experimentation has been so experimental that I don’t remember what I did once the food is done (a lot of it has been fermented, so there are usually several days or more between putting it together and the final product). I need to remedy this because I’ve actually made some pretty good stuff that I’ll never be able to recreate. Shame on me.

One thing that takes a lot of waiting time (but about zilch active time), but is so simple I can’t possibly forget what I’ve done, is making vinegar. I love vinegar and am becoming a bit of an aficionado. Types of vinegar I keep constantly in stock are: apple cider, rice, malt, tarragon, sherry, Chinese black, balsamic, and of course distilled white. But perhaps my favorite is red wine vinegar, which I often use in salad dressings and various other dishes. We’ve converted almost exclusively to boxed wine these days so I no longer have leftover bottles of wine as I did when I started my crock of vinegar (at the time, Mark wasn’t yet a wine drinker so I had to drink the bottles by myself), but I’ll still sometimes pour myself an overly ambitious second glass of wine that I can’t finish before going to bed, and my reluctance to waste it (or gulp it down without savoring it) was part of the impetus to start making my own vinegar. The other part was just the dearth of high quality wine vinegars in the shops.

I don’t really have a recipe for the vinegar. All you need are wine and a “mother”. A vinegar mother is a strange-looking, slimy substance comprised of cellulose and beneficial bacteria that converts the alcohol in the wine to acetic acid. Some commercial vinegars (frequently apple cider but sometimes wine) contain some of the mother, which you can save and use to make your own vinegar. (You would want to make the same type of vinegar as what you found the mother in, however, so if you want to make red wine vinegar, you’d look for a red wine vinegar that had some mother.) You can also order a mother online, which is what I did. (Unfortunately, I don’t recall from which site.) Or if you know someone who makes vinegar, they can share with you. In fact, part of the reason I’m making this post is to offer my mother to you. (My mother of vinegar, that is…although you can make offers on the mother of Renae. JUST KIDDING, MOM.)

Other than wine and a mother, the only other thing you need is a gallon crock or jar. Because light is damaging to the bacteria, I suggest the crock. I had one with a spigot, which allowed me to have vinegar on draught, but first the spigot got clogged (presumably with mother), and then it leaked, so now I’m using a regular pickling crock, purchased from an antique store and sanitized in the dishwasher. It’s covered with a porous fabric (cheesecloth works great).

To start off, pour a bottle of wine into your crock. Add the mother. Cover with cheesecloth or something similar, securing it with a rubber band. Stow somewhere out of direct sunlight for about 3 months, occasionally tossing in a cup or so of wine. Every few weeks, check the growth of new mothers, removing any large, thick, old mothers and keeping maybe a quarter cup or so of young mother.

This is what my crock looked like today, maybe a month or so since I’ve last checked the mother. I just washed my hands thoroughly, reached in and removed the old mothers. Don’t forget to do this periodically: I once neglected my crock for so long that ALL of the wine had converted to mothers – layer after layer of mother and no vinegar. I had to save the youngest mother and start from scratch. Fermentation occurs faster in warmer months, so check more frequently in the summer.

I usually scoop out all but the youngest mother and put it in a strainer over a measuring cup for a few minutes, which catches the dripping vinegar, which I return to the crock or bottle. This picture gives you a better idea what a mother looks like. These aren’t too old: older ones are thicker pads (usually about 1/4″ thick) the same diameter as the crock.

What to do with the discarded mother? Share it if you can – as I mentioned, I’m willing to send mine (any time I have it available) to anyone the United States (sorry, international friends; it doesn’t seem like a Customs-friendly item). Otherwise, it’s great for your compost pile.

The vinegar is ready when it tastes ready. I know, I’m so precise. This is usually about 3 months. Once you have a crock going, all you have to do is periodically feed it more wine and you’ll have a constant supply of vinegar. When fishing out old mothers, I’ll generally remove a small bottle’s worth of vinegar, in which I’ll also include a little of the mother, and then I use that for cooking and salad dressings.

And that’s my “recipe” for red wine vinegar.

A couple of you asked me to keep you updated on my mangy fox, whom I’m planning to treat. I got the medicine he needs from a local rehabber, but I’m having a bit of a problem building a feeding routine with him. The problem is you need to dose the fox during the day, because if you put food out at night, the chances of the fox eating it are at best unknowable, and probably pretty slim. Around here, if I put out food after dusk, it’ll be scarfed down by raccoons within 5 minutes. The fox doesn’t stand a chance. So I need to establish a daytime feeding pattern with the fox. To do that, I need to put food out during the day and then watch to make sure the mangy fox is the animal that eats it. The problem is that I am almost never here during the day, and since it’s practically winter (lovely 70-degree temps this week notwithstanding), I don’t make it home before dark even on the best of days.

What is a girl to do? Install a surveillance camera, of course. (That’s normal, right?) Now, I didn’t buy the camera JUST for the fox. We have a lot of wildlife in our yard and Mark and I have been talking about getting a camera for a long time. I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with knowing who is in our yard at all times, but I can tell you that the wildlife and birds we have here (a surprising amount for our suburban home) bring me a ton of joy. So I should totally be spying on them…that’s my conclusion. And now that I need to monitor this fox, the time just seemed right to take that final step towards crazy animal person and buy a wildlife camera. I had to decide which kind to get; basically I had to decide between a wireless security cam I could monitor over the internet and on my phone, or a “trail cam” that I could leave outside and periodically cull pictures and videos from an SD card. I chose the latter because it just seemed a lot easier. Most wireless security cams aren’t meant to be set up outside and most require an external power source. And I can’t put an infrared camera inside to take pictures through glass for night photography. Unfortunately, the market for the type of camera I chose seems to be hunters and the instruction manual for the camera even assumes I’m planning to murder the animals I’m photographing. So between buying a hunter’s camera and actually purchasing chicken from Whole Foods (to feed the fox, not me! And yes, it was hard.), this week I’ve felt like someone is going to revoke my vegan card. But believe me, after this week I’m only more vegan than ever. (I am going to have to get more used to the whole dead – and living – animal as food thing though; our raccoons don’t usually eat anything too gross, but once I start working with raptors it’s going to be a whole other story…)

Anyway, the camera is all set up and I dealt with the whole chicken thing, and now I wait. This morning I managed to NOT TURN THE CAMERA ON when I left for work, like a big dummy. I guess it doesn’t matter since the chicken I put out was still there when I got home. So I’ll try again tomorrow. Once I see the fox eat the chicken for a couple of days in a row, I’ll inject his next serving with the first of three weekly doses of the medicine. And by then I should see his fur starting to fill out. So I don’t have much real news on the fox front, but I DID get some pictures last night I can show you.

There were really no surprises. THIS is definitely NOT a surprise!

We have tons of raccoons. If you live in North America, you probably do too!

Skunks make me super happy! They are shyer than the raccoons and opossums, so I don’t see them as often, but when I do I’m thrilled, although I know they are out there every night prowling around. I intend to rehab skunks in the future.

THIS is a fox, but not the right fox. This is my healthy fox. He’s very pretty. I’m always glad to see him, of course, although I don’t want him eventually eating my mangy fox’s medicine. It won’t hurt him (if anything it will kill any worms or parasites he might have), but I want the mangy one to get it.

And guess who showed up at 5:14 a.m.? Mr Mange. COME BACK DURING THE DAY AND EAT THE STUPID CHICKEN, MANGY FOX.

More updates as they happen…and perhaps even recipes that are actually recipes and not “pour a bottle of wine in a crock, add some bacteria, and voila!”.

Comments (12)

Sauerkraut Stew

Okay, I bet some of you are hoping I never go on vacation again. Good news: I have a recipe and a mere four pictures today! (Bad news: we have a week-long mountain escape planned in a few weeks, but I can’t imagine that will overtake my blog for a month afterwards.)

First of all, Happy Bloomsday! It’s mid June and although so far weather on the East Coast has been cycling from unbearably hot (Memorial Day weekend) and super-nice (this week), I decided the other night that I was making a stew for dinner. Honestly, it was a pretty wintry dish, but I eat soup year-round and I won’t apologize for it! Also, I had some sauerkraut that needed to be eaten. And I missed the farmers market last weekend so I didn’t have many vegetables and was totally lacking in inspiration. I suppose you could say my lack of inspiration inspired this stew.

Sauerkraut Stew

12 oz vegan “beef” (I used Gardein Beefless Tips, but TVP chunks or any seitan would work, and I think Soy Curls would have been excellent.)
1 medium onion, chopped (instead of this, I used pearl onions)
2 large carrots, chunked
2 stalks celery, chopped large on the bias
1 large or 2 small/medium potatoes, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
4 cups vegan “beef” broth
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
2-3 cups sauerkraut
1 tsp dried thyme
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat some oil in a Dutch oven over medium high heat. If you are using regular onions cook them for a few minutes. (If you are using pearl onions, skip this step and just add them with the other vegetables.) Add whatever “beef” you are using and brown it, then add the garlic and fry for a minute or so. Then add the rest of the vegetables and fry for a minute or two. Add the tomatoes and use their juices to deglaze the pot if necessary. Add the “beef” broth, sauerkraut, and thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about half an hour or until the carrots and potatoes are soft. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Mark and I top almost all our meals with some form of hot sauce, and I naturally assumed I’d add some to this stew, however, it was so delightfully perfectly sour, with a small kick of heat from the pepper, that I didn’t want to ruin it with hot sauce, especially a vinegar-based one. You’ll want to add the sauerkraut in accordance to your tastes, depending both on how sour your sauerkraut is and how sour you like your stew. Mark took one bite of his and said simply, “I approve.”

Guess what we haven’t had in a while? A raccoon update! We have, I think, 27 babies right now, and most of them are very healthy; several have overcome great hardships like being burned in a chimney and being chomped by some unknown predator. What we need is help! We really don’t have enough volunteers. Anyone in Northern Virginia interested in cleaning (or building) raccoon cages….and feeding little faces like this?!

Meet Tobias. He’s a real sweetie and one of my favorites.

This is not Ulysses; I believe it’s Unity, however we do have a Ulysses and I’m not telling whether or not I put Guinness in his formula today for Bloomsday! (Alright, I’ll tell: obviously I didn’t.)

Remember Emmy, the awesome surrogate mother who is raising five of our babies for us? Here she is during Memorial Day weekend trying to beat the heat by hiding under a deck. You never know where you might find a raccoon at the sanctuary! She was probably a lot cooler than me.

Comments (6)

Making dumplings from sauerkraut-making leftovers

Guess what? I’m going to talk about FOOD! No cats, no raccoons, no sewing, no infrared pictures, just food, like in a real food blog! (Actually, I think cats are considered a normal part of food blogs.) How many of you figured it would take me a week or two to get around to the food I’ve been promising in my last two posts? In all fairness, I wasn’t planning to make a post tonight, but I got part-way through making dinner and thought, “this would be a good post; I’ll have to remember to do one next time I do this.” But then I thought, well, why not do it THIS time? It’s really more a suggestion than a recipe though.

See, I was all hyped up from the Sandor Katz class and making a couple kinds of sauerkraut. (It’s a good thing Sandor convinced me I don’t need to weigh my salt because my scale is on the fritz, which is terrible because even if I don’t need it for sauerkraut, I NEED it for bread. ACK!) I don’t know about you, but when I make sauerkraut, or really any time I use my mandoline, I end up with a bunch of little nubbies – the ends of vegetables I can’t slice on the mandoline without slicing my fingers along with them. Because I was making cabbage-based sauerkraut/pickles, I thought it would be smart to use those leftover pieces in wontons or dumplings, which I’d been planning to make this week anyway, because Mark moved a package of wonton wrappers from the freezer to the refrigerator.

My Sandor-inspired sauerkrauts:

I don’t have pictures of the first couple of steps because, like I said, I didn’t think to turn it into a post until a little into the process. But what I did was take a scant cup (because that’s what I had) of TVP and reconstituted it with an even more scant cup of boiling “beef” broth (I used Better Than Bouillon) by placing them together in a bowl and covering with a plate for a few minutes.

Next, I took the scraps I had from making sauerkraut: both green and red cabbage, some carrots, and daikon – about 2 cups worth – and put them into a food processor/chopper along with a few cloves of garlic and some roughly chopped ginger and processed until of a minced consistency. I ended up with somewhere between a cup and a cup and a half of minced vegetables. I also chopped a couple of scallions and assembled some shaoxing wine (sherry is a good sub), soy sauce, and toasted sesame oil:

I heated some oil in a cast iron skillet, then added the contents of the food chopper (i.e. the veggies) and cooked them down just a little, then added the TVP and cooked it all for another 3 or 5 minutes. I tossed the scallions into the mixture, then I sprinkled it with some of each of the soy sauce, shaoxing wine, and (less of the) sesame oil. Just a bit, you don’t want it to be soggy or even all that wet; you just want to add some flavor.

This is the exact moment I decided to start documenting – I didn’t even do my neurotic cleaning-as-I-go before I snapped the picture: look at that mess! I’m moving it from the skillet to a bowl so it cools down faster.

A close-up:

Next I found my trusty wonton press:

To fill the wontons or dumplings, a rounded tablespoon measure is perfect …

… or a small cookie dough scoop is perhaps even more perfect:

Put a round wonton wrapper (watch the labels; these aren’t always vegan) onto the press:

Plop the veggie/TVP mixture into the middle, …

… brush a little water on the edges of the wrapper, and squeeze the handles together. Look, it’s the Easter bunny!

Voila, a perfect wonton! Or dumpling. Or whatever you want to call it. Tasty stuff in a wrapper.

Keep on truckin’ until you’ve gone through all your filling. Don’t worry about making too many; these things freeze beautifully. I made about 3 dozen.

You have your choice of cooking methods from here. You can steam them, or boil them for a couple of minutes, or add to soup, or bake them, or steam/pan-fry them as I did. I followed Bryanna’s pan-fried dumpling method in Authentic Chinese Cuisine. I’ll show you pictures without writing out her entire instructions because Bryanna is extremely generous with her recipes and you should buy her books, and this one in particular is great. Basically you just fry on one side for a bit …

… then add some water and steam for a few minutes.

Make a dipping sauce of your choosing; I always just mix up some soy sauce, black or rice vinegar (they’re quite different so aren’t interchangeable, but both are nice in their own right), a few drops of toasted sesame oil, chili-garlic sauce, and some chopped scallions. I also served the chili green beans from Authentic Chinese Cuisine:

(Gomez is in this picture. Sigh.)

Don’t cook any leftover wontons you have. Instead, arrange them in a single layer without touching on a tray and put in the freezer until solid (this only takes 15-20 minutes, which is good because unless you have a gigantic freezer, you’ll have to do it in pretty small batches), then plop them all into a freezer bag. When you want to make them, just start to so as if they were freshly-made – no need to thaw. I’m excited to have stored some of these because with baby wildlife season coming up, I’m going to be having some late nights when I come home starving and these are going to get devoured.

Next, to show you how serious I am about staying on topic, tonight’s bonus picture is NOT of cats, NOT about travel, NOT of raccoons, NOT related to crafts, NOT taken with an infrared filter, and is FOOD! I don’t know why, but when I chopped this cabbage in half this evening, I was struck by its beauty. I can’t decide if the core reminds me of a woman dancing, Ganesh, or the tree of life, but I was moved by it nonetheless. Moved enough to spend 45 minutes with a tripod trying to get what I saw to show up in a photograph. Not sure I succeeded, but this is me demonstrating to you that in addition to all the other things I celebrate in life, I celebrate food.

Comments (7)

« Previous entries