Saturday, November 27, 2010

Homemade yogurt in winter

This morning, as I made my son and I a fruit smoothie for breakfast, I felt love toward my mason jar full of creamy fresh yogurt. I felt an ode coming on, and since I have not practiced my odes, thought a blog entry might suffice. Homemade yogurt is so sweet and delicious and easy, yet so many do not make it. My mother buys store yogurt, and the other day I tried some and it was SO sour! That's the way homemade yogurt tastes when it's really old. Which tells you that it can last a loong time!

In the summer, making yogurt is so easy because the house is nice and warm all the time. In the winter, unless you keep your house super warm and heated all the time, making yogurt is a bit trickier. If you just do it on the counter, it will probably take forever to "gel", if it does at all. You can try putting it on a heating pad, but that's usually too warm and makes the bottom part of the yogurt extra "gelled" and the top soft--not uniform. This is where the aquarium heater comes in.

I never thought an aquarium heater would come in so handy in the kitchen! The great thing about an aquarium heater is that it maintains temperatures that yogurt likes, right around 80. Most aquarium heaters maintain heat between 75 and 85, nice comfy temps for fish and plants who live in the tropics. Comfy temps for microbes too... kind of a goldilocks zone. You only need a 25W heater, which are the cheapest ones, but it's nice to have one that allows you to adjust the temperature, although that's not necessary, since the ones without adjusters are usually set at around 78, which is perfect.

The other part of this set-up involves something that won't let that heated water rapidly cool down--an insulated cooler or ice chest. I use something that is like a drink cooler that construction workers use. Fill it about a third of the way with warm water (why wait for the aquarium heater to do its job?) and then submerge your mason jar, or whatever you ferment your yogurt in, into the water. You want the water to completely surround the milk, so it will be very close to the top. Your jar won't float when it is completely full of milk. Then you just put your aquarium heater in the water and in about 12-24 hrs you got the best yogurt ever. While the yogurt is "cooking" I put the mason flat lid on, slightly ajar, don't know why, I just do. Also, I put the top on the drink cooler, but not tightly, and check on it every now and then to allow the oxygen and carbon dioxide to equalize with the air.

If you've never made yogurt before and are wondering about *that* part of the operation, it couldn't be simpler. Bring almost a quart of milk to 180 degrees (if you don't have a thermometer, that's the point just before it's boiling, where you've got tiny bubbles around the edge and a very thin skin). The reason it's *almost* a quart is because you are going to mix in some yogurt to make a quart. Then cool your milk back down to about room temperature, or at least just barely warm. Now get your clean quart jar or clean old yogurt container and pour a little milk into it and add about 3-4 tablespoons of plain yogurt (I have had success with cheap generic brands and organic alike, just try to get some without any additives, like gelatin) and mix it together. Then add the rest of your cooled milk and give it a good stir. Now you are ready to incubate!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Soup Glorious Soup

I have been loving soup lately, much to the chagrin of my family. My husband says that meat should not be in liquid. He thinks it should all be cooked on an open flame. Whatever. We're not charros.

Anyway, good soup requires good broth. Here's how to make broth the easy way... Whenever you cut up an onion, carrot, or celery (or parsnip or turnip for those who eat more veggies than us) save ALL the scraps (papery onion skins and ugly ends included) and put them in a gallon ziploc in the freezer. Also, if parsley or other fresh herbs starts to get wilted, put that in there. Any time you have any chicken scraps, cooked or uncooked, put them in there too; the leftover bones, skins, etc. Especially if you have a roasted chicken put the carcass in there. Also put the gizzards and innards in there (no need to cook). When it gets full, put everything in a big stock pot and cover with about an inch of water. Don't worry if you don't have a lot of celery or parsley or whatever in the mix; it's different each time and it will taste fine. I never waste good new veggies making broth--only scraps. (Save your ziploc and just put it back in the freezer to start filling again.) Put some bay leaves in there. Simmer for about 4 hours. When you see the scum, skim it off. (I don't think it would hurt you, but my intuition says to remove it.) When the broth is nice and brown, let it cool and strain all the stuff out--discard. You can also season at this point with salt, pepper, and herbs, or just leave it and season when you use it. I glean any meat bits for soup. Put the fresh broth in a big bowl and chill overnight. That way you can remove all the congealed oil. (Again, not bad for you, but greasy broth seems less appealing.) Then freeze in quart bags or quart yogurt containers. Now you have delicious homemade (FREE) broth with no msg or thickeners or stabilizers and whatnot. When you make soup with it, usually you can add water to it and still have plenty of flavor.