Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Yogurt: the Links

I've been thinking about yogurt lately and I wanted to document some of my inspiration: 

I went to this thread on Chowhound when I started thinking about thick, protein-laden yogurt. One thing I will say about Chowhound, it has a lot of experienced opinion on it. The threads are always worth reading to the bottom. 

And for people who want to know how to make yogurt completely from scratch, no commercial powders or starters this thread was fascinating. Don't read if you don't want to hear the words 'ant eggs' used in the same sentence as 'yogurt starter.' That's right, I said ANT EGGS. It makes cow stomach almost sound good. 

Last of all, I enjoyed Marisa's post on her experience with starter powders on Backyard Farming. Seeing different ways to do things is always good. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tutorial: Yogurt

Yogurt, never used to like it. Thought it was slimy. And sour. The funny thing is that it doesn't need to be either of those things. Yogurt can be thick (such as 'Greek' yogurt) and sweet (either by the addition of sweeteners like honey or by culturing it a shorter amount of time).

I'm kind of on a quest. Thickened Greek yogurt, kind of like Chobani or Fage. It's thickened with dry milk or buttermilk and contains lots of protein, making you feel fuller longer. A nice dish with fruit and nuts can really last you all afternoon.

Here I have a pot with 4 cups of milk in it. (Despite all the bubbles this is NOT boiling..its only on medium here.)

I added 2 cup of powdered milk to it.

I'm adding 1/2 cup of honey here. I'm still experimenting. After tasting I thought 1/2 cup was too much for for the 3 hour processing time. It was a little too sweet.

Now the most important part, the milk must heat until it is 180 degrees F. We want to kill all the alternative bacteria in the milk and other ingredients so there is lots of space for the good yogurt cultures to work! We don't want to go too far past 180 degrees. The pot can get messy (don't forget to stir once and a while too).

~~Let me just say a few words here for an important tool--the digital thermometer. I am kind of a gadget minimalist but I've really used my digital thermometer. Cheap. Handy. Works for roasted meats, yogurt, chocolate, frying oil, even rising bread. Awesome stuff.~~

Once the milk has reached 180 degrees it needs to cool. The fastest way to do this is put it in a bowl (or sink) of cold water. Without the water it can take up to 40 minutes to cool the milk down to 90-100 degrees F. In cold water it rarely takes more then 5-10 minutes.

Once the milk goes below 100 degrees you can add in 1/2 cup of yogurt culture and whisk, whisk, whisk. This culture comes from a previous batch of yogurt, a powdered culture you can order online, OR (what I do) buy a quart of name brand yogurt, use 1/2 cup, and freeze the remainder for yogurt days. I find that Stoneyfield Farms has the most yogurt strains in their yogurt--5. To me that's worth the extra money (happy intestines), but any other kind should work too. Also, plain might be best but if they only have vanilla--go for it!

Okay, so you got it all whisked in. Much like sourdough the cultures need warmth and time to break down proteins in the milk. People do this in various ways. Crockpots on low, ovens pre-warmed, a drawer with light in it, electric pads, insulated coolers with a hot water bottle. I've tried a few of these but since a friend gave me her dehydrator I use that. It has a setting (115degrees F) for yogurt.

The next question is how long. There are many ideas about this. It is said that shorter times equal sweeter yogurt. I've also heard the opposite. It's kind of like making chicken stock. So many opinions.

I'm still early in my experiments. I would say though that longer than 5 hours seems to have a souring quality to the yogurt. It's incredibly creamy and delicious but it definitely needs outside sweetening. I have also tried 4 hours (excellent, faintly sour, fairly firm) and 3 hours (sweeter, slick, not firm at all). 

I'm not done experimenting. I will say that homemade yogurt has an amazing consistency you don't see in store-bought. Incredibly creamy. You can also control the level of fat and protein. In the future I'll do a report on draining and creating 'Greek' yogurt.


Thursday, September 9, 2010


Just a few short pictures and thoughts to wrap up my August review. 

Community gardens! I've noticed several churches in the area putting together raised four-square boxes. Some raised so that people with disabilities or the elderly can participate. My husband recently stopped at one of these and complimented a woman working there. She was the area coordinator! 

So not only am I happy that so many churches and other organizations are creating places for people to garden (and donating much of this food to the food pantry) but the community has found it important enough to ask a volunteer to coordinate these efforts and help get projects started around the area. Cool!

Summer is filled with festivals. Harvest food is a reason for celebration. 

Here we're at Fort Atkinson's Chicken and Corn feed. Originally it was a part of the town's self-celebration. There was a parade with the high school band, the lions, and the horse club. There was a small fair with merry-go-round and tilt-a-whirl. And there was the Lion's Club Feed. With all-you-can-eat sweet corn from a special patch grown outside of town. 

Even though the founder's day moved, they still kept the Chicken and Corn Feed. We still come down to see family on that day, eat the wonderful sweet corn, and chat over angel food cake at my grandmother's house. 

I tried my hand at ice cream cake for I's birthday. Better then last time. The secret seems to be having a mold to hold it all together, and letting it freeze for an entire day. I covered it with ganache. Very good.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Helping plants out-grow Powdery Mildew

I hilled some squash, cucumber, and zucchini next to the asparagus this year. While too much rain and slugs damaged some of the little plants the yellow zucchini and cucumber did well. 

Plenty of leaves and blossoms everywhere (and several cucumbers and a few zucchini).

Then August comes and with it Powdery Mildew. It's a fungus (a series of fungi actually) that attack plants with a series of white spots over leaves, stems, and buds. The spores spread from leaf to leaf in the wind or rain. 

One of the things you can do is remove leaves, creating more air and space and removing sick leaves. 

And never compost! Leaves must be destroyed.

Things went very well this year and it hasn't been until the last cold, rain-soaked week that the plants started looking tired and done for the season. 

Next I think I'll try spray of water and baking soda to change the ph of the leaves (spraying top, bottom, stems). I hear that makes it hard for the disease to continue growing and releasing spores.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Trying to Find that Perfect Muffin

One of the problems with learning to bake for yourself is that giant gas station muffins and box kits just taste bad. My husband won't even eat a store muffin anymore because he says they taste like Crisco.

Not that there's anything wrong with Crisco. It has its place. 

I'm on a quest. Blueberry muffins. Really good, mostly healthy blueberry muffins. 

I've had a few good non-healthy ones. But if you add enough butter and sugar to anything it will form a mini-cake and that's not what I'm looking for. 

One of my favorite add-ins has been oatmeal or oat bran. The taste is mild and it lends a bit of crunch to the muffins. Another has been applesauce or a banana. They do different things. The banana has a stronger flavor but really helps hold things together (like eggs). Applesauce keeps things moist without overwhelming with flavor. And although I've heard it's a great sub for oil (or butter) I don't like to sub out all of the oil. The flavor changes even if the texture stays the same. 

Don't get caught up in the anti-fat thing. Our bodies need fat. Not the full-pound-of-bacon fat, but fat in our dairy, a little oil in our salad...good stuff. Make good stuff and you'll eat it. Make yourself eat blah stuff and you'll start eying that cake. 

Anyway, I'm baking my way through I've had some pretty good muffins and some okay muffins. If you have any suggestions for a really great, sorta healthy muffin please let me know. And I'll keep you informed with my quest.