Thursday, March 17, 2011

Master Food Preserver Program Returns to LA - Upcoming Classes - Weekly Email


It has been awhile, too long, since I've sent out one of my preserving emails. I hope that everyone is well, and I do intend to send emails more frequently.

However, I do have a fairly good excuse: I've been doing a lot of food preservation and (although many of you have already heard) ...

Brenda Roche (UC Cooperative Extension Nutrition Family & Consumer Sciences Advisor), Dr. Rachel Surls (Director, UC Cooperative Extension Los Angeles) and I are re-launching the Master Food Preserver program in Los Angeles County.

Yep, after more than a 10-year absence, the Master Food Preserver program is returning to Los Angeles.

We were very excited to have received so many applications. Unfortunately, we could not take everyone who applied. We could have easily filled three or four classes with highly qualified individuals.

We have accepted 18 fantastic and enthusiastic volunteers for our first class. I look forward to introducing them to you down the road. And, perhaps, some of them will help with these newsletters.

I will be teaching the majority of the classes, but will also get some assistance from Master Food Preservers Delilah Snell and Kevin West.

Soon, there will be many more people qualified to provide information on food preservation in Los Angeles. And, hopefully, some of you on this list will also join the ranks of the Master Food Preservers through a future class.

For those of you not familiar with the Master Food Preserver program, it is similar to the Master Gardener program, in which volunteers are trained by the UC Extension to teach and train others in proper and safe food preservation techniques.

Here are a couple of posts on the relaunch of the program:

Additionally, I've been doing a lot of preserving as chef for the Farmer's Kitchen in Hollywood. I encourage everyone to stop by my restaurant, where you can see dozens and dozens of different preserved foods, both sweet and savory. Every week we are making new and interesting canned goods using farmers' market produce. For example, I'm doing a pickled carrot series using Weiser Farms carrots. Red heirloom carrots in a spicy brine, yellow heirloom carrots in a dill brine, and, next week, "Purple Haze" heirloom carrots in a fennel brine. Or, you can check my series of herbal jellies, such as mint, dill, and apple/sage (more to follow). If we're not too busy, I'm also happy to discuss food preservation and answer questions.

You can keep up with what I'm doing at the Farmer's Kitchen via our twitter:

I'm particularly enthused by the response of our customers to preserved foods on the menu. Our fried egg reuben (with house made sauerkraut) is our most popular sandwich, while our "pickled egg" egg salad sandwich is also getting very good reviews and our Sunday fried sauerkraut and eggs is our second most popular egg dish.

We're also lining up classes on food preservation. A week from Saturday on March 26th, I'll be teaching a class on fermentation: how to make yogurt, sauerkraut and vinegar. Participants will taste a variety of preparations and take mother cultures home with them.

You can sign up here:

You'll also see some of the other classes we're doing, such as a class on mushrooms.

The next preservation class isn't posted yet, but in April I will be doing classes on pressure canning and a separate class on basic knife skills. I'm also scheduled to do a couple of demos in April, including on Earth Day in South LA and traditional food preservation for Ranchero Days at the Workman-Temple Homestead in the City of Industry. More information on these events in a future email.

That's it for this email - I look forward to seeing some of you at my classes and at the Farmer's Kitchen.

As usual, if you have any questions about canning, pressure canning, fermentation, dehydration, freezing, pickling, curing, smoking or brewing, feel free to email me at ernest.miller @

Be sure to check out the blog, which hasn't been updated in awhile, but I plan to do some updating (probably):

And/or join the Facebook group:


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Happy New Year - Classes, Classes and Lots of Sauerkraut - Weekly Email

Greetings and Happy New Year!

I hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday and new year!

Did you notice that food preservation was actually represented on one of the Rose Parade floats this year?

Discover's float, "A State Fair to Remember," represented many of the activities of a state fair; rides, pie-eating contests, and livestock judging. They also had some award-winning pies and preserves made from flowers. On the right side of the float, just behind the pies, is a blue-ribbon jar of preserves, which is mostly blocking a view of some canned pickles:

I was pretty excited about that. But then, I get excited about food preservation fairly easily.

Speaking of state and county fairs, it is never too early to start canning and making preserves for the LA County Fair ... don't wait until the last minute ... start making some of those marmalades, pickles and jellies now from in-season fruit. This year's forms aren't up yet, but they probably won't change all that much from last year's. Check out the rules for all their culinary contests here:

I'm hoping to be involved in the judging this year.

Of course, maybe you want to learn a little more about canning before entering a contest. In that case, I've got several classes coming up.

This Saturday, the 15th, I will be teaching a class on pickling basics at the Farmer's Kitchen in Hollywood from 9am-1pm:

Sour, crunchy, spicy, tart, sweet, and aromatic, pickles bring exciting seasoning, piquancy, nutrition and interest to our meals. They are a flavor counterpoint; harmonically interdependent with the aroma and taste of the main elements of a dish. Eating would be much less interesting without pickles, chutneys, relishes, salsas and other such condiments. Of course, pickling is not only a means of creating flavor, but also of preserving food.

Learn food safety and pickle basics in this small, hands-on class featuring recipes using fresh food from the farmer's market.

Space is limited. Participants will take home one or more jars of what we preserve.

Cost: $75.00 (pay when you arrive)

Registration deadline is 1/14/2011 8:00 p.m..

You can register here:

The Saturday after next, on the 22nd from 11am-2pm, I will be teaching a class on citrus and marmalades at Delilah Snell's Road Less Traveled Store in Santa Ana.

Learn about some of the more obscure citrus available to us in California (yuzu, calamansi, and buddha's hand, among others) and a couple of techniques for turning them into delicious marmalade.

Cost: $50.00

You can register here:

On February 5th, I will be teaching a class on fermentation (yogurt, vinegar and kombucha) at the Road Less Traveled Store and on February 12th, I'll be doing another hands-on workshop at the Farmer's Kitchen in Hollywood in anticipation of Valentine's Day "Food Preservation for Your Sweetheart." More information on those classes in a future newsletter.

I've been keeping my food preservation externs busy at the Farmer's Kitchen. We've been making lots of sauerkraut as Tutti Frutti Farms keeps providing us with plenty of cabbage. We made 36 pounds of what I consider a spectacular red cabbage kraut that kept its' beautiful color with fantastic flavor. We canned 25 pints and served the rest as fried sauerkraut and eggs on our breakfast menu. I like the dish, a lot. The saltiness and tartness of the kraut pair wonderfully with the richness of the egg yolk. Even though I like the dish a lot, I was surprised when it sold out within a few hours. Don't worry if you
missed it, though, we've got a lot more sauerkraut on the way for future breakfasts, and we'll probably be making an egg Reuben with our kraut for the lunch menu.

One of the reasons I put the sauerkraut with eggs on the menu was to get people to think of kraut in new and different ways. It is culinarily versatile and darn healthy. Like many fermented foods, we should probably be eating more. Those visiting the Farmer's Kitchen should expect to see a number of different and interesting recipes using kraut for the near future.

I'm very happy with the flavor of the kraut we made, so I'm keeping the left over brine as a starter. One of our guests this Sunday liked our sauerkraut so much that they purchased some of our brine to use as a starter to make their own kraut.

You can, of course, purchase starters online, but I'm not that big a fan of those for this type of fermentation. The reason is that, though the starters will work well initially, over time natural bacterial flora will tend to take over anyway. That is why you can't make San Francisco sourdough outside of San Francisco. Boudin, for example, has bakeries in Southern California, but they ship in new mother culture to their bakeries every month to keep the bacteria strain pure and not taken over by local Southern California flora. So, rather, than purchase a starter for sauerkraut online, I prefer to make my own. When I do find a local, natural culture that works well, then I will keep that strain as a starter.

We've also been making lots of grape jelly from MB Farms grapes. The regular jelly is fantastic, but we've also been making flavor variations, such as Cinnamon-Grape, Ginger-Grape, and a favorite of mine, Rosemary-Grape. More on flavor variations in a future email.

That's it for this week - I look forward to seeing some of you at my classes and at the Farmer's Kitchen.

As usual, if you have any questions about canning, pressure canning, fermentation, dehydration, freezing, pickling, curing, smoking or brewing, feel free to email me at
ernest.miller @

Be sure to check out the blog, which hasn't been updated in awhile, but I plan to do some updating (probably):

And/or join the Facebook group:


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Canning Journal and a Class - Canning for the Holidays! - Weekly Email


Happy holidays to all ... I hope that Thanksgiving was enjoyed by everyone. I had a very nice holiday with my family and I am looking forward to more celebration as the holiday season continues.

Of course, I've remain busy at the Farmer's Kitchen. We're now selling baked goods for holiday - if you are having an office party or family feast, what is better than some baked goods featuring local farmers' market produce?

And speaking of holidays, Happy Hanukkah! This Sunday we will be serving latkes with sour cream and applesauce we canned a couple of months ago.

Someday I'm going to have to do a newsletter devoted to that pantry must-have, applesauce. Seriously, applesauce is something everyone should keep in their pantry - it is extremely versatile - but enough about applesauce (for now).

I'll finally be getting around to making my turkey stock tonight from the two turkey carcasses taking up room in my refrigerator. I think that I'll be freezing the stock, rather than pressure can it, because I'll probably be using it sooner rather than later, and I won't have too much.

Of course, I've been doing a lot of canning at the Farmer's Kitchen (over 60 pints of lemon squash concentrate the last two weeks)! This has really re-emphasized to me the need to keep a journal of my canning. When your shelves start to fill up with canned goods, it is not only important to label the jars, but to keep a good record of what you did so you can repeat successes and avoid less-than-perfect results.

What information should you keep? Name, date and ingredients are the most important. I like to write where I got the key ingredients as well (i.e., Scattaglia Farms' Arkansas Black Apples for my apple butter). The recipe is crucial. I'll either write out the entire recipe or a reference to the recipe in a book with any modifications I've made. Processing method and time come in handy. Finally, notes are very important.

For example, last spring I made a raspberry-based jam. One batch I strained the seeds out, the other I left the seeds in. Needless to say, the seedless jam required more berries than the one with seeds. Because I kept notes, next year I'll know how many berries I need to make either version. When you do a lot of preserving, this is the sort of detail that you forget the next year.

A journal can save you from making the same mistakes and remind you of your past triumphs. Canning journals - start one if you haven't already.

As for me, I'm ready to make the leap from a simple spreadsheet to a database for my canning journal. Is there anyone on this list interested in helping me develop a canning journal/database? It would be an open source project we could share on the internet for all the canners out there. If you have some database experience and are interested in helping, email me.

It has been awhile, but I would also like to announce that I'll be holding two "Canning for the Holidays" classes at the Farmer's Kitchen. Both classes are the same, so you only need to go to one. They are both on Saturday, Dec. 4th (in 2 days!) and Dec. 11th, from 9am - 1pm (4 hours). Snacks and beverages will be available, and you'll take home some of the items we can. From the class description:

"Learn the basics of jam and jelly making just in time for you to create homemade gifts for the holidays. This small, hands-on class covers food safety, elementary canning techniques, and simple, but delicious recipes for preserves using fresh produce from the farmers market. Other gift ideas using canning jars and preserved foods will also be covered. Space is limited."

The cost is a bargain at $75, paid when you come, so please don't sign up unless you are certain to attend.

You can sign up here:

That's it for this week - I look forward to seeing some of you at my class.

As usual, if you have any questions about canning, pressure canning, fermentation, dehydration, freezing, pickling, curing, smoking or brewing, feel free to email me at: ernest.miller @

Be sure to check out the blog, which hasn't been updated in awhile, but I plan to do some updating (probably):

And/or join the Facebook group:


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Proposed LAUSD Menu for 2011-2012

I've been talking about the new proposed 2011-2012 menu for the LAUSD and how it is a significant step forward from previous years, but unless you've been to the meetings, you haven't seen it. So, I'm posting my version of the document (since LAUSD hasn't provided an electronic copy yet). [The original wasn't much better formatted.]

Obviously, this is merely a rough first draft so we need to focus on fixing some of its deficiencies but keep the advances.

The proposed 2011-2012 menu: Here [PDF]

LAUSD Seeks Assistance with the 2011-12 Menu

This past Friday, October 15th, several members of the community met with representatives of the Los Angeles Unified School District to discuss the, dare I say, revolutionary changes to the 2011-12 school menu.

Present at the meeting was Jennie Cook of Food for Lunch, Nicole Feenstra of and Walter Smith and I represented SEE-LA and the Farmer's Kitchen. LAUSD was represented by David Binkle, Deputy Director for Menu Compliance and Florence Simpson, Senior Food Service Supervisor.

Read on for my notes on the meeting.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Observations and Suggestions on LAUSD School Menu

Below is the memo I sent to the LAUSD based on my analysis of the existing school menu.

To: David Binkle
From: Ernest Miller
CC: Mark Baida
Date: Oct 13, 2010
Subject: Observations and Suggestions on LAUSD School Menu

First I would like to thank you for the opportunity to contribute to the nutrition and health of our schoolchildren. This issue is very important to me and I am excited to be part of the process.

Second, I am aware of the extreme constraints you struggle with to feed such a large population of students with such meager resources and limited physical plant. Thus, some of my suggestions may be more aspirational than anything.

In a related note, my experience and knowledge base concerning your operation is rather limited, so my suggestions and observations may be faulty on a number of levels. Hopefully, a discussion of these issues will assist in improving the quality of future suggestions and observations.

Herewith my suggestions and observations:

1. Seasonality
I believe that seasonality is a critical aspect in menu planning and healthy eating for a number of reasons. Among other things, it ties us to the land and the production of food that seasonless industrial food production does not. In teaching good eating habits, seasonal produce is better tasting and less expensive. Quality seasonal ingredients need less cooking to produce a quality output. It forces us to think more about our food, where it comes from and how we consume it. I could go on, but you get the idea.

In addition, seasonality can be used to tie school gardens into the cafeteria. Although school gardens will never produce enough food to be anything more than a small supplement to the school meal programs (if they get in at all), it is possible to add seasonal recipes that mimic what is being grown in the school gardens, thus reinforcing what the school gardens are doing. For example, if carrots are being harvested in the school garden, we should ensure that some variation on fresh carrots are being served in the school cafeteria. This will require coordination between school gardens and FSD, but it will be possible.

Seasonality can also be used to coordinate with other programs, such Farm-to-School and Harvest of the Month.

2. Localism
There is no acknowledgment of local sourcing for any of the menu items. Though it won't be possible for the entire menu, it would be good to highlight when local sourcing is used.

3. Cultural/Historical
There doesn't seem to be much social studies built into the menu, especially considering the rich cultural history of Southern California and our diverse cultures.

4. Salads
The only salads I see on the menu are daily spinach side salads. I believe there is opportunity for more variety and seasonality in side salads. Perhaps it might also be possible to occasionally have a salad as an entree option? I'm not talking salad bar, but potentially a composed salad. There are limitless possibilities for savory fruit salads, grain salads of all sorts, bean salads and pasta salads.

5. Soup
Soup is nutritious, inexpensive and often a healthier option but is not on the menu. The possibilities for stews, chilis, gumbos, paellas, jambalayas and curries is also rather large, but not utilized.

6. Fish
Fish seem underutilized on the menu. Additionally, are the fish nuggets sustainably farm-raised or …?

7. Pork.
Outside the sausage, perhaps, pork is not part of the menu.

8. Breakfast
Hot cereal is not an option – but there is a lot of potential for hot cereals and healthy toppings.
Yogurt is not noted as a breakfast option.
Though it is undoubtedly popular, Frosted Flakes doesn't seem like a good selection for cold cereal.

9. Whole fruit?
Is whole fruit available, particularly for secondary school?

10. Beans and grains
With the exception of the bean and cheese burrito, there doesn't seem much in the way of legumes and other grains on the menu. Such items as black beans, black-eyed peas, and red beans are all excellent sources of nutrition and are inexpensive.

11. Whole Grain Pastas
The menu doesn't indicate that the pastas are whole-grain. If not, I'm sure you've considered the switch.

These are some of my more general comments, I have a number of more specific questions and observations about particular menu items, but will reserve those for our discussion if appropriate.

I apologize for the poor formatting and organization, but I wanted to get these notes to you before our conversation this afternoon.


LAUSD - Cafeteria Improvement Committee Meeting Notes - 2010-10-11

The monthly Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Cafeteria Improvement Committee meeting took place this past Monday, October 11th. This committee has been meeting for several years, but recently there has been an increase in interest in the issue of school nutrition, and the committee has become more popular. It is open to the public, so parents and other concerned citizens can provide their input as well.

Now is actually quite an exciting time to participate on the committee because not only is there increased interest in the topic, but the LAUSD is preparing to make some of the biggest changes in its school menus in its history.

The committee is chaired by Dennis Barrett, director of LAUSD's Food Service Division. David Binkle (Food Service/Menu Compliance) also represented LAUSD FSD.

Unfortunately, other (should be) interested parties from LAUSD were not represented. Facilities Service Division, which is responsible for the construction of new schools and modernizing existing schools was not present. There was some discussion about getting them involved, but it seems that Facilities hasn't been much interested in hearing the committee's suggestions on providing adequate kitchens, food distribution designs and eating accommodations.

Did you know that in many of LAUSD's secondary schools there is no indoor seating for students to eat? There might be a few covered, but unwalled areas, but no seating area free from weather (yeah, it doesn't rain much in Southern California but, sheesh) and competition from pigeons. Yes, school plans take years to come to fruition, but the childhood obesity epidemic isn't going to be solved in a couple of years. We need long term planning. We need Facilities Service Division to make adequate access to good food for students one of their priorities.

Also conspicuous by their absence was anyone representing principals and other school administrators. One of the biggest problems for students having adequate access to good food is that they don't have time to eat it. Principals are notorious for limiting meal hours in order to maximize classroom hours. Instead of several lunch periods, administrations will schedule a single lunch period, forcing thousands of students to overrun the cafeteria at once and leaving many hungry at the end of the thirty-minute period. On the other extreme, some schools are scheduling lunch as early as 10am, well before students are hungry for lunch. Frankly, the way some of these schools schedule lunch, if the students were employees the schools would be in violation of state labor standards for adequate breaks.

There were many representatives of community organizations. Matt Sharp of California Food Policy Advocates was there, of course, along with several of his co-workers. Elizabeth Medrano of Occidental College's Urban and Environmental Policy Institute (UEPI) and head of the Healthy School Coalition was also there along with other members of her coalition. I could go on, but lack of time prevents me from continuing.

There were a number of students of Professor William McCarthy, Adjunct Professor of Public Health at UCLA, present as observers (for class credit). Hopefully, many of them will choose to move from observation into action.

The beginning of the meeting was an overview of the lunch program and the financial status of the Food Services Division (dire) for those who were new to the committee. Just a couple of years ago, the School Board determined that part-time employees of the FSD, who usually worked 15 hours a week would work a minimum of 20 hours a week and be entitled to full medical/dental/vision benefits for them and their families at no cost. While this might have benefited the employees, it meant that the money available for student meals dropped from 86 cents a meal to 57 cents. It has since climbed back to 77 cents due to contracting reforms and other efficiencies implemented by FSD, but that is still less than adequate for healthy meals for children.

The most important item on the agenda was the unveiling of a proposed 2011-2012 menu for the schools. It is amazing. Not perfect, by any means, but a revolutionary move forward. Seriously, revolutionary. No longer will pizza, chicken wings and bean/cheese burritos be the mainstay of the diet, but increased fruits and vegetables in a wide variety of culturally relevant preparations. Jambalaya, quinoa salad, black bean soup, black-eyed pea salad, and vegetable manicotti are just a few of the healthy dishes proposed for this new menu. Of course, this is just a proposal, and it will be the mission of the menu planning committee to see to it that the menu is implemented as much as feasibly possible.

The menu planning committee is meeting this coming Friday, Oct. 13th. I'll report more on the new menu then.

See my next post for the recommendations that I made based on the old menu.