Lazy Days

Another low-key weekend has passed me by. On the one hand, I’ve got to get on the ball with my Christmas crafting. Only five more weekends left! On the other hand, sometimes relaxing at home is just what’s called for.

Saturday, I made a simple breakfast of scrambled eggs, apple-smoked bacon (this batch had a high fat-to-meat ratio – I’ve got to ask to look at the cut of pork belly more closely next time I buy), and toast, with tea for me and coffee for husband. Then I spent a good chunk of the day at our local café, The Common Cup, which I absolutely love. I find most cafes to stuffy and pretentious (don’t get me started on the one in our old neighborhood). The Common Cup always has a good crowd, but you can always seem to find a seat. And they sell sandwiches, soups, quiches, pies, muffins and cookies that are actually good. They have all the coffee drinks and teas you could possibly want. You can get a small pot of tea for under two dollars, with a free refill and of course, they have free internet, which was the purpose of my visit. I spent my time at the café doing a little more redesigning here (like the new theme?), catching up on reading from my favorite sites on my feed and just general mucking around on the internet.

After the café, I popped by Morse Market to pick up something for dinner. I got lamb shoulder chops, which I marinated in a little olive oil and thyme, then baked them in the oven. Mushroom orzo was a great accompaniment to the lamb. With a glass of cabernet sauvignon, it was a perfect cool-weather dinner.

Sunday was just as lazy. We slept into ten, which is pretty late for us. We went by The Common Cup so husband could get a coffee (since I dropped our French press last week and it shattered) and then went by the first session of the Glenwood Winter Market. All of the usual vendors were in attendance and it was a bustling event, as always. I met with the market director for a few minutes and came home with a head of red cabbage and a pretzel roll.

The cabbage helped me get-reacquainted with my mandoline. I’ve had it for a few years now, but I’ve only used it a few times. It’s one of the best gifts my husband has ever gotten me, but I have to admit, I’m afraid of it. Those things are sharp, and it takes a bit of muscle and firm stance to operate them. My husband pointed out recently that this fear goes directly against of my belief that you have to be fearless and confident in the kitchen, and you’ll only get hurt if you aren’t. Confidence, coupled with respect for the tools you’re using, are the ways to go. So, I decided to slice my cabbage for sauerkraut on the mandoline. I learned two things – first, follow through is important. You have to complete the long stroke over the blade and not stop when you get to the blade. Stopping will only jam things up. It’s also important to not have the blade set to a wider thickness than you need. I had mine set to ¾ of an inch, when 1/8 would’ve done the job better. So always check the setting before you get started. I am proud to report that I successfully sliced an entire head of cabbage on the mandoline, save a few of the outer leaves that came off and I had to slice with a knife. Not too bad. And since I’m feeling more confident with it, I’ll be using it again soon – maybe I’ll try it out with carrots and potatoes next time I make beef stew. And juilienning carrots for sure – cutting carrots is actually one of the few things in the kitchen I hate to do. And the thing I really want to work up to is slicing batons for fries… I’ll get there!

Sauerkraut, at least getting it going, was pretty easy. Fermented foods are highly nutritious and I love sauerkraut in cold weather – there’s nothing better than a plate of beer-steamed sausage (bratwurst or Sheboygan style are equally delicious), boiled parslied potatoes and a tidy mound of sauerkraut, with a little dollop of mustard on the side. And maybe a slice of toasted rye bread. I got out a good selection of my preserving books, but was a bit stumped at first. All of the recipes were for huge quantities – fifteen to twenty pounds of cabbage! Frankly, I can’t even imagine eating that much in a whole year. But then I remembered my copy of Charcuterie, where Brian Polcyn and Michael Ruhlman were thinking of people like me when they wrote their book. Their recipe calls for one three-pound cabbage and 17 cups of brine. My little red cabbage only weighed half that, but I was closer to my goal. I figured I could give it a shot by halving the brine, which is made my dissolving a half cup of pickling (the recipe actually calls for kosher) salt in two quarts of water by bringing it to a simmer. Once dissolved, you let the brine come up to room temperature, then chill it until cold in the fridge. While the brine is cooling, you slice up your cabbage. Remove the tough outer leaves, then cut your cabbage in half. Slice it on the mandoline or cut it into strips with a knife. Then you put your cabbage into the bottom of a crock or non-reactive container. It needs to be a least four inches taller than the cabbage, because fermentation will cause gases and bubbling and you don’t want it spilling it over. I have mine in a five gallon plastic bin, which is a bit large for just one head of cabbage, but I’d rather have it too large than too small. Then I weighted the cabbage into the brine with a clean soup plate so all the cabbage stays submerged in the brine. My soup plate fits pretty snugly in the container, so I didn’t need to place an additional weight on top, but if you find you need one a water-filled canning jar makes a good one. I’ll leave it alone to ferment in the pantry (you want it warm, but not warmer than about 70 degrees) for two weeks and then I’ll have my first batch of home made sauerkraut. I’ll let everyone know how it turns out!

After that little bit of food crafting, we had a pot roast that I’d put in the crockpot in the morning for dinner and some mashed potatoes – and lazed in front of the television to watch the Hawks game. A little reading, a little writing and a bit of sitting around. But next weekend – next weekend is Food for Thought book club in Chinatown and a trek out to Paulina Meat Market to see if I can get my hands on a pheasant for Thanksgiving and some venison. And a stop at the Spice House because we’re completely out of peppercorns, low on onion powder (an essential ingredient in my Norwegian meatballs), and in desperate need of some fresh red pepper flakes. And sewing! I’ve got a list a mile long for Christmas, so it’s time to get on it!