Sunday, 2 June 2013

You can become a yogurt proselytizer, too!

I find myself, over the last year or so, having this conversation a lot:

Neighbor/friend: I just love Greek yogurt! We eat a ton of it. I feed it to my kid. But it's so expensive! Other neighbor/friend: It's not too bad at Trader Joe's. We go through tons of it, too. Me (biting my lip trying SO hard not to sound like a cultist): I started making my own, and it's way cheaper and really good, and not hard or time-consuming at all.

Here's the deal. Elsewhere on the web, there are lots of recipes for homemade yogurt. One uses a Crock pot, which sounds easy, but my Crock pot is a newer model that gets too hot, and I didn't like the yogurt I made that way AT ALL. Others use powdered milk as an additive to make the yogurt thicker, and I thought it made the yogurt have a weird texture. Some recipes use the oven light to keep the yogurt warm, but my oven has a short, and it makes lightbulbs explode (I realize I should probably address that).

Anyway, it took some trial and error (lots of error) to find an easy, consistent way to make great yogurt, but now that I've done it, you can take advantage of it. And it's basically no harder than heat, cool, mix, pour, wait.

Ingredients: 1/2 gallon milk (I use organic 2%) 1/2 cup yogurt with live cultures (I use Fage to start*)

You will also need a large saucepan, a thermometer, two quart-sized containers (I use glass jars, but Tupperware or whatever you have works), an insulated bag, and one more unlikely-to-melt container. Plus spoons and junk. A funnel is nice, but not necessary.

First, pour the milk into the saucepan and heat it over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it reaches 180 degrees. Take it off the burner.

Second, wait.** Boil some water while you're waiting. For real.

Third, when it has cooled down to about 110 degrees, pour some of the warm milk into a bowl with the 1/2 yogurt and mix them together. Then pour that mixture into the pan of warm milk. Now, pour all that milk-with-yogurt-mixed-in into your jars or Tupperware and close them up. Put them in the insulated bag.

Fourth, pour the boiling water in the non-melty container, seal it up, and add it to the insulated bag, too.

Fifth, wait some more. Between 7 and 10 hours, I'd say. Overnight is probably fine. The deal is, it's not so sour and yogurt-y at seven hours, but it's thin. At ten hours, it's thick and Greek-y, but it's pretty sour, too. I prefer thick and sour, so I usually let it go ten. You can always check yours and see.

When it's ready, just throw the jars in the fridge. I've seen it recommended that you whisk them rapidly before doing so, but in my experience, it doesn't make a damn bit of difference.

Now here's how it rolls out financially: I spent $3.89 on milk and got two quarts of yogurt. (See the notes below for why I'm not including the price of the Fage.) That's approximately the same as 3 1/2 500 gram containers of Fage, which costs about $5. So that's a steal if you're buying bulk containers of yogurt, and the single-serving yogurts are about the same (18 bucks).

Sure, I put a little work in, but the truth is, even with washing the dishes, my total time contribution was less than ten minutes (pour, stir, mix, pour, put in bag, take out of bag).

Now if you're really into your yogurt being thick, Greek-style yogurt that you can cut into like custard, this is probably not quite it (it's almost it), but you can drain it (in a clean cloth dish towel over a bowl) to make it thicker if you really want.

And now for my serving suggestions! Add some honey, maple syrup, or jam. Add some granola or Kashi cereal. Add cucumber, salt, garlic and dill for tzaziki! Use in place of sour cream on taco night. Throw in fresh or canned fruit. I eat yogurt as my snack almost every single day (two quarts lasts about two weeks for me), and I never get bored, because one day, I'll throw in raspberry jam, and the next it'll be maple syrup and Kashi, the third day I'll put in a diced canned pear, and they'll taste like completely different snacks.

If I've convinced you and you try it, just beware of social gatherings, because you're going to want to spread this news like the clap.

*I use Fage the first time I make a batch, then the next three or four batches, I just use my own leftover yogurt to start the new batch. (That's what you're seeing in the pictures.) Then I'll start with Fage again, just to make sure the cultures are still, you know, live and active.

**If you have limited time and don't want to wait (depending on how hot your house is, it seems like this takes most of an hour), you can speed it up. Stop up the sink with a drain-pluggy-thing. Dump a bunch of ice in. Run the water so it's three or four inches deep. Put the saucepan in the water bath, stir it, and watch the temperature closely, because it has a tendency to drop really fast. When it gets to 110 degrees, proceed with the next step in the recipe.

Edamame and sweet rice with salty seeds

If you've read this blog before (and I know I haven't posted anything in a year -- oops!), you know that if anything, I'm thrifty. With money, obviously, but also with time and effort. I like to make cool stuff, but not for a bunch of money or if it takes a long time or dirties every dish in the house (my husband would argue that everything I make dirties every dish in the house, but he is wrong).

But, you know, then other times you just fall in love with the sound of a recipe and throw caution to the wind. This was one of those times. I saw the words "edamame" and "sweet rice" and "salty seeds" and I was like, "YES. Put that in my face!"

And then I looked at the ingredients and went, "ugh, okay." And the resulting dish was delicious and everything, but you know when someone builds a Rube Goldberg device to remove the stuffing from an Oreo and you're like... cool, but I just scrape it off with the other half of the chocolate cookie? This recipe was like that.

First, let's look at the cost.

It happened that I already had almost half the ingredients, and I substituted some of the others (onion instead of shallot, an actual pickled plum instead of plum vinegar, brown sesame seeds for white), but I still had to purchase...

...cumin, fennel, coriander, chia, sticky rice, brown rice miso, pumpkin seeds, kosher salt (normally I would have this, but I was out), shelled edamame and ginger.

So I thought the smart choice was to go to the co-op, where many of those seeds are available in bulk bins, where they are a few cents each, rather than $4 per jar.  Plus, I know they have miso and chia and some of that other hippie crap.

The seeds were mostly not that much money, but the chia seeds were only available in a big bag which was (drumroll please) $10! Holy ass! I asked an employee for help, because I was like, seriously, what?!

The sticky rice was $5 for a bag that would make one recipe.

The miso was about $7.

The salt was a couple bucks... no big.

I actually went to another store for the edamame and ginger.

In total, I spent over $30, and I started with a fairly well-stocked pantry. The thing is, the dish was delicious. I'd be happy to have it like twice a week. It's just that I'd be in the poorhouse before long if I did.

If I had it to do over again with what I had in my pantry, I'd use the white miso I tend to keep around.

The chia seeds were nice, but if you want a crunchy, nutty little seed, go for poppy. They can be had in bulk, too, and pretty much would not change the nature of the dish.

I'd use table salt instead of kosher.

If I didn't have miso at all, I'd buy a small amount of miso from a bulk bin.

And there's a $25 reduction.

Furthermore, I think this would be lovely with short-grain brown rice instead of the sweet rice. If you are really devoted to the sweet rice thing, go to the Asian food store nearest you.

Finally, I don't know why the hell you'd microwave the rice. I have a rice cooker. It works very well, and I don't have to tend it every two minutes. Also, rice can be cooked in a pan on the stove with little trouble. It can even be baked. Basically, find a method that does not involve you taking something out of the microwave and stirring it every two minutes.

Oh, and if you looked at the recipe and saw "salad" and then were confused about the eating it hot part, so was I. I think you could make this ahead and eat it cold, but we ate it hot and it was very tasty.

So if you want to make that stuff, print the original link and make these changes:

Cross out chia and write poppy
Cross out sticky rice and write short-grain brown rice
Cross out kosher salt and write table salt
Cross out umeboshi plum vinegar (unless you happen to have that)
Cross out brown rice miso and write miso.
Cross out "white" in front of sesame seeds.

Put an asterisk next to #3 in the instructions that means "optional."

For #5 and #6, cross the whole thing out and write "cook the rice." That way, you can do whatever the hell you want.

As Thoreau says, "simplify, simplify, simplify."

This was some bomb-ass rice, and I'm planning to make it again soon (I might as well; I have like 3 pounds of chia seeds left), but sometimes we just need to make our lives easier, you know?

Now go and cook and enjoy.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Chevre if you're Frenchy, goat cheese if you're a hillbilly like me

Guys, I have to share this with you: making goat cheese is SO EASY I have no idea why everyone doesn't do it. I mean, unless they don't like goat cheese or whatever. Here is my goat cheese photo-essay.

Step one: Buy goat milk. (Make sure it doesn't say "ultra-patsteurized.")

Step two: Pour it in a pan and turn it on a low-ish heat setting (I have an electric stove and chose about 3 1/2).  Stir it once in a while, but don't stand over it or anything.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Some advice

I will probably get back to this blog when I have more time in the summer again. I've been making some really interesting canned stuff -- jams and pickles. In the meantime, I was thinking what one thing I'd like to tell my daughter about cooking if, for some reason, I could only tell her one thing. I think it would be this:

Find good recipes and use them exactly until you have such a good handle on the techniques that you don't need them anymore. Then, for god's sake, throw them away and start making up your own! But never forget to check out what the other innovators are doing and see if you can incorporate that into your repertoire, too.  And once in a while, go back and do something old-fashioned and simple to remind yourself how good it can be*. (Incidentally, this advice probably also applies to playing any kind of music, making any kind of art, writing, dancing, and probably the sciences, although I am not as familiar with that oeuvre.)

*For every molten-lava-chocolate-chipotle-salted-brownie out there, there is nothing like a slice of Mom's bundt cake. Or cherry pie. Or oatmeal chocolate chip cookie.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

On canning

Sorry I've been so absent. Busy, as usual. Instead of a recipe today, here are the top five things I like about canning.

1: You have an abundance of something, and you can TOTALLY keep it. Bought a bunch of stonefruit at the farmer's market and then realized you can't eat it all? My nectarine-plum jam from last year was one of the best I've ever made, and it was completely that kind of situation. I saw blackberries for a ridiculously low price at Costco this weekend, and instead of thinking "Aw, I'll never be able to eat all those before they go bad," I thought "Jam!" And then there was jam, and it was good, and we'll be able to have in when no blackberries are in season.

2: You can make stuff the way you like it. I, for instance, really prefer my jams less sweet, more chunky and seedy, and a little rustic, I guess. I have no love at all for Smuckers. I want my fruit to taste like fruit. And when you can your own, you can make it exactly like you want it. If that is sweet and seedless and sticky, have fun!

3: You're free to experiment. Late summer/early fall this year, I bought 40 pounds of plums. I then proceeded to make black-pepper plum jam, thai chile plum jam, much hotter Thai chile plum jam, cinnamon plum jam, ginger plum jam, star anise plum jam, and plain old plum jam. Because why not? I have also tried strawberry vanilla, blackberry honey, and pear ginger. I've made pickles with far more chiles than the recipe called for, because that's how we like them. As long as you know the basics of how much acid you need, it's really no big deal to mess around a little. If you have a pectin that you can use with no-sugar recipes, experiment with Splenda, with Stevia, with honey, with less sugar. I'm going to make a special batch of something for my diabetic aunt this year. 'Cause I totally can.

4: It's cheaper (sometimes). I think I ended up making eight batches of plum jam. I spent $20 on the plums, and I probably spent $20 on the jars (because I am not very good at keeping track of jars, and I give them away and always need new ones). If you figure about five half-pints per batch, that's a dollar per jar. I also save megabucks on pickles. My husband loves pickles, and we had to buy at least a jar every three weeks, and our favorite ones were about $6 a jar. I bought 10 pounds of cucumbers for $5 and made pickles with them, some sugar, some salt, and some cider vinegar. It was easy and very cheap. I also had big jars already, so my only expense was a pack of lids, which runs a couple bucks. There are exceptions, of course. If you're buying blackberries at $3 a pint and you need six pints to make a small batch, you're not saving any money. On the other hand, if you think of the fancy jams from twee little gift shops, you may still be saving compared to those.

5: It's nostalgic for me. Maybe this isn't true for you, but my grandmother was a canner. I'd go over and there would be jars sitting upside down on towels on the counter and her little kitchen would be filled with steam. In the winter, I would crack open a jar of apricot halves, and their smell, their texture, and their sweet syrup would entice me. I sometimes ate a whole jar in a sitting. She also made jams and jellies, and I've rarely if ever had better. Today I posted on Facebook about making apple butter, and my cousin pleaded with me to tell her it wasn't like Grandma's, because her mouth was watering. But it is. It's deep brown and has more cinnamon that most people probably use, and I used a nice tart apple, and it's divine. And it's like childhood came back for a second.

Bonus: Pickled carrots. These combine numbers 2-5. I'm a recent convert to pickled carrots, and I am insane in the membrane for them. But the ones in the store cost a lot more than my homemade version. Plus, they are often softer than I like. Plus, they sometimes come with other stuff I don't want, like onions or cauliflower. Plus, I like them nice and spicy, with lots of jalapenos! Plus, I'm going to try them with garlic next time. I'm not one to say that you can make absolutely anything you've tried and liked, but frankly, if it's something in a jar, I'm willing to bet you can (ouch, pun attack!).

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Try making your own condiments: Sriracha aka Rooster Sauce aka Hot Cock

There's something pretty special about inviting people over and being like "would you like some homemade chipotle catsup for your burger?" Or giving a new neighbor a jar of strawberry marmalade. Or serving up your own relish on hot dog night.

My husband's favorite condiment of all time is Sriracha, which is a vinegary and VERY HOT asian chile sauce. And he's not alone; there are web comics devoted to the stuff, and I've even seen a sriracha tattoo. As last weekend was Fathers Day, I decided to make him some.

Unlike many recipes, which I make a lot of changes to, I followed this one to the letter.

I soaked the vinegar, chiles, and garlic overnight in the fridge in a big jar. The vinegar didn't quite cover everything, so I shook it up once in a while.

Then I threw them in a pot to cook.

I added palm sugar, which was hard to find, because at my Asian market, they apparently don't believe in having all the sugar together.

I cooked it according to the instructions, and the sugar added a dark molasses-y color. I'm not sure the flavor was that much different than brown sugar, but now that I have it, I'll use it next time I make sriracha. Might as well.

Then I pretty much blended it up.

And threw it in a jar.

Sorry for such a super-fast post, but it was easy as pie!

Some notes would be that this is a touch sweeter and significantly less hot than the kind from the store. I personally can only use a few dots of that stuff, but I spread the homemade kind in a thin layer over a piece of toast with hummus. Your mileage may vary, though, as sometimes the peppers you buy are hotter than others.

Good luck and happy cooking!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Get to know a tool: the mandoline. Also, summer squash "noodles."

A confession: most of these treats I make are just that -- treats. I try to be careful about my diet, and just as an example, the day that I knew I was going to eat some of that cake (along with other party nibbles), I ate almost nothing besides fruits, veggies, and scrambled egg whites all day. Today's post is far more fat-conscious than most. Just a heads-up.

I absolutely love eating out, and I have been hearing about a new sandwich place in town. I have shortened days this week, so today I picked up my daughter and we went to lunch. I had a beer-poached fig and goat cheese sandwich, followed by a Thai tea and sweet potato popsicle. So I knew I needed a light dinner.

Now, you can totally make "noodles"* with a vegetable peeler (just keep peeling down the length of the squash until there is no more to peel!), but I like the texture of these very thin, square strips I can make with my mandoline.

Technically, mine is called a "v-slicer," as most mandolines have just one straight blade. I had one of those for years, and it finally got really dull, so I asked my mom to pick this up at Sur la Table (woo-woo!). It has three plates you can slide in. One is just for slices, and it is adjustable from very thin to pretty thick. I used it on the thinnest setting to slice some jicama on Mothers' Day, and it was practically see-through and adhered to the bowl. It's great for things like cucumbers for sunomono or anything that says "shaved." Later this week, I'm thinking of pickling some carrots, so I'll probably use a thicker setting for those.

The other two plates have a bunch of vertical blades, so that you can either create long strips or a fine dice. I used the wider one to cut long strips of veggies for snacking.

And today I used the thin blade attachment. I'll show you what I did!

Zucchini "noodles" with feta and tomatoes

2 zucchini
2 cloves garlic
2 tomatoes
2 tsp capers
1/4 cup crumbled feta
fresh ground pepper, to taste

Get a large pot of well-salted water boiling. Cut the zucchini into super-thin slices, either with a vegetable peeler, a mandoline, or by hand if you're a badass.

Drop the zucchini into the water and let cook for two minutes. Drain.

Chop garlic finely and put into a large serving bowl. Chop tomatoes into about a 1/2 inch dice and add them to the bowl. Add the capers and feta. Then put in the "noodles." Mix well and top with the pepper.


You can make lots of changes, of course. I actually really like olives in a dish like this, I just didn't have any. You could add a little olive oil, leave out the capers, or add something else you like. If you're really into salt, you could add some, but the feta is plenty salty for me. If this isn't filling, you could mix it half and half with real pasta, and it would cut down on the calories, too.

I recommend using a good feta, as I've gotten spoiled and inferior fetas make me sad now.

Not that it matters to me, but it's also gluten-free.

A couple notes on the mandoline/slicer: it's great for all kinds of things, like scalloped potatoes, crudite trays, chips, veggies for sushi... I use it almost as much as I use my food processor or Kitchen-Aid stand mixer, which are some serious staples in my house (I'll probably devote posts to them later). If you're a bit clumsy with a knife and end up with uneven slices, this thing is a lifesaver. But I do have a word of caution: it is SHARP. For serious. Like, I cut my hand on it and barely felt it, but it opened my hand right up. You should always use the guard thing that comes with it, and even then, be careful not to lean the heel of your hand too far back. Keep your hands FAR from the blades of this thing. The flat cutting panel has a safe setting for washing, but the others don't -- because they are not safe! Be careful out there. Oh, and for the record, my model is by Borner. It's made in Germany, so its warnings about using the guard start with ACHTUNG! Also, I just looked it up on Amazon (as always, I'm not getting paid or anything), and all the "related items" are cut-resistant gloves. So there.

*I have been careful to call these "noodles" rather than noodles, as the first time I made them, I called the dish "summer squash fettucini," which made my husband think there were actual pasta noodles involved. He was disappointed.