Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Think Greek yogurt is really good but really expensive?

Join the club!

What? You think I'll actually solve that problem for you? 

Well, I can't do anything about the crazy prices in the store (on sale this week - only $1 for 5 or 6 oz, ugh - our yogurt budget for all of us would be sky-high!), but hopefully I can convince you that making your own at home is pretty doable, very tasty, and cheap as well! Last week there was a sale on milk, so I got 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 quarts of full fat Greek yogurt for $1! (and even non-Greek yogurt is pretty expensive these days) You don't have to do complicated math to see the huge savings!

(ok, here's the part of food blogging that you don't like, Laura. Just skip down to the printable recipe... oops! We don't have that option on our blog! Oh well! ;)

I've been interesting in yogurt making for a long time.  I remember as a kid my mom had a yogurt maker and I would use it to make yogurt sometimes.  It seemed sorta like magic! After becoming a biologist, I decided it was even cooler than magic, really.  But the yogurt itself was... well, not that great.  It was fairly sour and thinner than store bought, and not really great.  Some comic strip characters don't appreciate yogurt, I realize, but it can and should be really good, not sour and thin.

A few years ago I tried making regular yogurt at home again.  And I had some of the same problems.

This summer, mostly due to finding and reading this blog post, I've got the method down and we are loving our (cheap) and very tasty Greek yogurt! 

The overall method is very simple:
1. Heat milk up. (I start with 1/2 gallon of whole milk and heat to 185 deg F on stove)
2. Cool milk down. (to 115-110 deg F)
3. Add a bit (~2 t.) of starter (other yogurt - either saved from your last batch, or purchased plain yogurt - the exact amount doesn't matter)
4. Let sit in a warm place. (for 4-6 hours)
5. Drain out liquid, leaving a thick Greek yogurt. (~1 hour of draining time)
6. Whisk resulting yogurt very well, improving texture!
7. ENJOY!!

I do several things differently from the post I just linked to, here are a few more details than you probably want or need:

First: I make mine out of whole milk.  I just like whole milk yogurt better, and since we don't eat much meat, I figure I have some saturated fat 'credits' to burn! Oh, and kids are supposed to have whole milk yogurt... that's the real reason... uh huh, sure, yes (*nodding vigorously*).  I did try making it out of 2% milk once... it just wasn't as good.  But try whatever fat level you want!

Second: I heat the milk on the stove.  I think the microwave would be too "hands on" for me.  I use a large non-stick stock pan (because the bottom always sticks, so this way it's much easier to clean up). Do I ever become so hands off that I forget out the milk and have it boil over?  Yes, today in fact, but it still made good yogurt, though it wasn't quite as thick as it usually is.

Third:  I heat the milk a little hotter.  The original blogger says 175-180 deg F, I think 185 deg F is better.  Admittedly, my controlled scientific study on this hasn't been done, but the times I heated it up to 185 deg F it seemed to set up a little thicker in the end, which I liked.

Fourth:  There is no need to use Greek yogurt from the store as your original culture. I used Dannon (full fat, though I'm not sure it matters) plain yogurt for my first original batch, and it worked great and is very tasty.  Every other time after that, just use a bit of your last batch to start your next (assuming it isn't too old.)  Make sure the temp of the milk is 110-115 deg F when you add the bit (~1 T) of yogurt culture.

Fifth:  (I did get this idea from somewhere on Salad in a Jar's website) Freeze a bit of your first batch of homemade yogurt.  Preferably in ~1 T size cubes.  I froze ~1/4 c. in one chunk and the couple times I've had to use it I've had to chisel a piece off with a knife - so freeze in small pieces!  Why would you need this? Well, maybe because the old batch was inadvertently eaten before saving a bit or you go out of town and didn't have "new enough" yogurt in the fridge when you returned or something like that. This will save you from having to buy the expensive yogurt again just to start another batch.

Sixth:  Find a good incubation method! This is the tough part, perhaps, and may require some trial and error on your part.  I use a larger soft-sided cooler.  I fill mason jars with my inoculated milk, cover, and then put in the cooler.  And then I put a jar (actually an old glass 1 qt vinegar bottle we used up) with very hot (simmering, almost boiling) water into the cooler too.  After covering the top with towels, it stays nice and toasty in there. (There are a lot more ideas here)

Seventh:  Timing! The website says the yogurt will be done in 6-11 hours.  When I used to do this a couple years ago, I would let it go overnight.  But I think that was one of my problems.  I've found it takes only 4 hours for me, so make sure you check it at three or four hours.  (They say you shouldn't disturb it, so don't check too often before that!)  If you tilt the jar and it pulls away from the edge a bit or doesn't move at all, and looks like one big gelatin chunk, it's probably done.

This picture actually shows the yogurt tilting a bit more than normal (this was my 'overboiled' batch). Usually it doesn't move when I tilt the jar like this.

Eighth:  After the milk has turned into yogurt, you need to drain off some of the liquid to make greek yogurt.  Do this right away, it drains off a lot quicker when it is still warm (one of my problems a few years ago).  You can buy a very expensive strainer (as described here) but I don't mind using cheesecloth in a normal strainer. It can be a bit messy, but I'm cheap and it works fine.  There are a lot more good tips on straining yogurt at that link too, including pictures of what stages might look like (and she's a much better food photographer than I am... not hard, I realize!)

Ninth:  The liquid that drains off the yogurt is called whey and is really good to use instead of milk when making homemade pancakes (I think it makes them extra-fluffy, but I haven't done a controlled experiment of that) or in homemade bread. And probably lots of other ways! Don't throw it away!

Tenth: After straining the yogurt, whisking it is crucial to give it good texture.  See here for some pictures of the transformation! This was also one of my problems a few years ago.

Conclusion:  I realize this post doesn't make it sound easy, but once you do a couple times, it really is easy and the results are so worth it!  It's great with homemade granola on it (either with or without a little honey swirled in as well) or with a bit of strawberry jam stirred in if you like a fruity flavor, or a million other ways. Also fabulous for cutting out excess added sugar in your diet (or saving it for more desserts!) since it's tasty even plain.

Finished product - I get between 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 quarts of thick Greek yogurt when I start with 1/2 gallon of milk (plus ~2 or 3 c. of whey.)

I've been making it twice a week for two months now and my family is completely hooked!

Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Szechuan Noodle Salad

Aunt Jane gave me this recipe - it was one of many good salads she served at the bridal shower she hosted for me many years ago.  Will and I made it often in the first half of our marriage, but then, somehow, forgot about the recipe until just a month or so ago.  Since then we have already made it twice - yum!
I didn't think to take many pictures, but I did think that the chopped veggies in the bowl were really pretty, so here's a picture of the veggies:

Now just imagine adding shredded chicken, cooked oriental noodles, and a sweetish-spicy sauce - with chopped peanuts on top!  Fabulous - try it soon!
Szechuan Noodle Salad (I roughly doubled/tripled the recipe - very roughly, it's forgiving!)

4 oz. uncooked Oriental Noodles (I used Chinese 'egg noodles' style noodles)
3 T. oil
3 T. honey
1 T. Sesame Oil
1 T. rice vinegar
1 T. soy sauce
1 1/2 t. grated gingerroot
1 t. crushed red pepper (I didn't add all of this - the most recent time I made it I used 1 t for a triple dressing recipe was mild, next time I'd add more.)
3 c. shredded cooked chicken
1 c. finely shredded red cabbage
4 green onions, thinly sliced
2 carrots, shredded
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 c. dry-roasted peanuts (I used low-sodium)

Cook noodles as package directs (or until desired tenderness), drain, rinse in cold water.  Combine sauce ingredients. Mix noodles and veggies in a big bowl. Stir in dressing. Top with peanuts (at the table if you expect leftovers - the peanuts aren't very good soggy from the dressing the next day.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Checking in on the natural starter and bread making

Previously (a long time ago!) I wrote about the wild yeast levain I was beginning to make following the instructions in the book 52 Loaves (also available here.) 

Well, I am happy to say that about a year and a half later I am still using this to bake really good bread!

One reason I wanted to make this from wild yeast instead of purchased yeasts is that the author of 52 Loaves claimed that it was more mild than the typical 'sourdough' flavor. I can definitely attest that this is true!

So, long after I meant to put this update, I can finally strongly recommend making your own wild yeast levain (from a local apple, if possible this time of year... otherwise maybe you'll have to wait until summer?) and baking with it!

I try to bake with it or at least feed it every week, though there have definitely been a couple that I've forgotten.  It's not that hard to keep going and it does make good tasting bread - cheaper than using so much store-bought yeast, too!

Here are some of the recipes I've tried with it:
- baguettes
- bagels (these are AMAZING)
- other bread recipe

And here are a couple of pictures of some of the bubbly starter, ready for baking, the formed loaves, ready to go in the oven (onto a pizza stone, and a pizza peel does make this MUCH easier), and the finished loaves below.  Happy baking!!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Grilled Salmon with homemade tomato salsa

Trying not to let this blog completely die away... let me tell you about what we had for dinner tonight: Salmon fillet marinated in lime/garlic/jalapeno (baked, though it was supposed to be grilled, but lots of rain adjusted those plans) topped with homemade tomato salsa!

This is a perfect summer meal!

I'm feeling a little too lazy to get off the couch and give you exact measurements, besides, it's flexible, so here's how to make it:

Take 1-2 jalapenos and 5 cloves of garlic (UNpeeled) and heat in a dry skillet until black and blistered on the sides. Let cool. Peel the garlic, and stem the jalapeno. **Depending on how hot your jalapenos are, you may want to seed them, too. If we get them from the store, we usually leave the seeds in one of them at least, but today's were from the farmer's market and we suspected they would be hotter and so seeded both - it was still plenty hot for our 'medium' salsa-loving tastes.**

Using a blender, pulverize the garlic and jalapenos with 1/3 c. lime juice until completely liquid.

Put your salmon fillet (we used 1.3 lb for two people - the girls don't like it, which gave very generous servings and ~one serving left-over) in a greased glass pan (if you're going to bake it) or an ungreased glass pan if you're not baking it, and pour over some of the pulverized liquid to cover it with just a little. **Make sure you save the rest because it's what makes the salsa awesome!

Set the salmon aside to marinade for just a short time while you make the salsa.

Finely chop ~1/2 a red onion (we actually didn't have this and used a shallot instead this time, but usually make with the red onion) and rinse the onion in a strainer under running water. Let drain and add to salsa bowl. Then cut up as many tomatoes as you want - the more varieties and colors the better! We love it with some yellow cherry tomatoes (Lemon drop!) and some other red varieties. This is a great use for heirloom tomatoes and all sorts of new varieties from the farmer's market or your garden! I don't really know how many tomatoes to tell you... we maybe used ~5 smaller red tomatoes and ~3/4 pint of small yellow cherry tomatoes.

Mix, add salt to taste (takes more than you might guess ~3/4 t??), and chopped cilantro (how much looks good to you!).

Then, add in some of the pulverized garlic/pepper/lime juice mixture that was left over (not from the raw fish pan!!) Start with very little and taste - it can get hot quickly, depending on how hot your peppers were.

Cook the salmon on the grill (best option) or oven until done to your taste.

Serve with the homemade salsa piled on the salmon and with tortilla chips to eat up the rest of the salsa! (Like most fresh tomato salsas this one doesn't last very well beyond this first day, so don't make it ahead of time and be prepared to eat it all - not usually a problem in our house!)

We did try to take a picture, though because of the rain outside the light isn't the greatest. We also had biscuits and salads to round out the meal.

This is one of my favorite summer meals and is adapted from a Rick Bayless recipe from this book:

(side note: Aaron, have you been to his restaurant in Chicago??? I really want to go sometime!)

(another note: not my beer in the picture above! but I heard it was a good pairing - Leinnie's Sunset Wheat)

Friday, March 11, 2011


Sometimes a girl just needs to eat something warm with minimal mess and effort...thank you grilled cheese sandwich. And like any true born and bred American, a large part of my diet revolves around peanut butter, and a large part of my time is spent thinking of new ways to incorporate peanut butter into my diet.
For a while now, I've been wanting to combine two of my favorite things-the warm toasty goodness of grilled cheese, and peanut butter. Although there are endless varieties of peanut butter sandwiches, the native voyage of my grilled peanut butter sandwich had be my classic, my favorite, my go to peanut butter sandwich...peanut butter and strawberry jam. I thought about it a lot in France, most of the key ingredients were available. France is home to delicious and cheap bread, butter that stands on its own (SO good you could eat it plain, not that I ever would...ahem), and jars of strawberry jam sold everywhere from huge supermarket chains to Sunday morning markets and all were amazing. The only thing missing was the peanut butter. Long before moving to France, I was introduced to French "peanut butter" by a David Sedaris story. This "peanut butter" is sold in a CAN, with a fat smiling kid on it, leading one to believe the French think peanut butter is something to be opened and eaten in one sitting. Mr. Sedaris did not fabricate anything. I saw those cans of peanut butter. I always meant to buy one, but I never did. I shouldn't judge something I've never eaten, but I knew that my grilled peanut butter sandwich could not be made using canned peanut butter.
Fast forward to Korea. Skippy PB (creamy or crunchy!) is widely available. However, the Korean butter is not so much creamy goodness, but rather more of an oily spread with an almost neon yellow color and the taste of slightly old dairy. And the bread is simply a flavorless vessel for whatever you want to put on it to get to your mouth. But my grilled peanut butter sandwich idea had waited long enough. So on my last trip to the grocery store, I got my ingredients. The next night, I buttered one side of the bread. I peanut buttered and jammed the other side. I buttered the top bread, and turned my stove down as low as it would go (and given the poor quality of my kitchen appliances, that is not actually low, but I've gotten quite good at balancing the pans mostly off the burner), put the lid on to ensure adequate peanut butter melting, and waited. And even with the less than mediocre Korean bread and butter, YUM! I am anxious to make it with good bread and actual butter. I am also anxious to expand and try a grilled peanut butter and banana, or peanut butter and honey, or peanut butter and pickle (my friend swears these are delicious).
I googled my sandwich, and found scores of recipes. My idea had been done before. I am not the culinary pioneer I thought I was. But that doesn't make me love it any less. I would have taken pictures, but it looked pretty unappetizing...and I'm lazy.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Vegetarian Black Bean Chili


A friend made this for me last winter. I hate myself for what I'm about to type, but seriously: love at first bite. Cast-iron cornbread on the side and everything is right with the world.

The fact that the chili and cornbread go from ingredients to dinner in about half an hour only improves an already exciting weeknight. Obviously, this is chili - so add, subtract, substitute away.

  • 2 oranges
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 c chopped onions
  • 4 cloves garlic, pressed/minced
  • 4 t chili powder
  • 4 t ground cumin
  • 2 t ground cinnamon
  • 3 15.5 oz cans seasoned black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes in juice, not drained
  • Hot sauce, sour cream/yogurt, cilantro
  • Cornbread (Seriously. I don't mean to sound like something bad will happen if you don't have this with cornbread, but do you really want to take that chance?)


Zest the oranges, then juice them.

Heat oil in heavy pan, then add the onions. Saute, don't brown, til soft, about 5 min.

Add spices, stir around to bloom and get the onions coated. Add the garlic, stir till fragrant.

Add the beans, tomatoes, and half the orange juice. Stir to combine.

Bring to a simmer and stir occasionally, for about 15 minutes.

Add additional orange juice, zest, hot sauce, salt, pepper.

Serve, topping with yogurt and cilantro. Cornbread goes on the side.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 sticks softened butter
1 c. white sugar
1 c. brown sugar
1 - 15 oz can pumpkin
2 large eggs
3 c. flour
2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 t. vanilla
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ginger
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. cloves
2 c. milk chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350 and grease pans.
Using mixer, beat butter until smooth. Beat in sugars, then eggs, pumpkin, and vanilla.
In another bowl, mix together dry ingredients. Stir into wet dough in thirds. Stir in chocolate chips. Scoot onto cookie sheets in heaping tablespoons. Bake 18-20 minutes, or until brown around the edges.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Grandma's 14-Day Sweet Pickles

I'll give an update on the wild yeast levain and the breads I've made with it soon but right now I have pickles on the brain, so I thought I'd share.

Raise your hand if you love Grandma's sweet pickles. Raise your hand if you used to eat them plain (while drinking Grandma's iced tea) in the summer time for a snack while visiting the farm. (ok, Laura and I might be the only ones raising our hands on that one.) And finally, raise your hand if you think that store-bought sweet pickles just can't compete.

I'll finally put my hand down now to type, but I love Grandma's Sweet Pickles with a passion and so long ago I asked her for her recipe. It's a photocopy from some magazine - not sure what one, but it's not exactly a family secret recipe or anything, but I still wanted to make sure I had her real recipe, for someday when she stopped making them (She did a few years ago. I guess at 80 she's allowed to 'retire!')

I was intimidated to try them for many years... 14-days! So much work! And I didn't have a "1-gallon" stone crock like the recipe called for - what would I use instead? Finally a good friend in Madison (Hi, Sarah!) who loves sweet pickles as much as I do and is fearless in the sewing room (anyone can make your own wedding dress, that's easy, but she made her husband's suit!) convinced me that I should really try them that they couldn't be that hard.

And she was right, they really aren't that bad. I went to a restaurant supply store in Madison and got a food-grade plastic bucket that works great for making pickles two weeks of the year and for holding Claire's toys the rest of the time. And except for 30-60 minutes the first day to wash the cucumbers and get things ready, an hour on Day 7 to cut the cucumbers, and around 2-3 hours on Day 14 to can them, the daily work is really only 10-15 min (and you don't do anything days 2, 4, and 6!

I had intentions of typing up the whole recipe for here, but looking it over, I realize that would be crazy. There's so much detail in the instructions that I wouldn't want to lose. I'll scan it into a PDF and if anyone wants it, just email me, send me a message on facebook, or leave your email address in the comments to this post.

If you love Grandma's pickles, there is only one way to get them now - make them yourself!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Making a wild yeast levain and a Book Review of 52 Loaves (the author's blog - includes recipes)

I heard about this book on another blog and thought it sounded worth reading. It is! The book is a non-fiction story about the author's attempt to re-create the "perfect" loaf of bread that he ate ~10 years before our story starts. He decides to make at least one loaf of bread a week for a year to try to do this. He bakes bread in various places around the world and learns from bakers... and also grows his own wheat and makes his own clay oven.

Alexander is an entertaining writer, including lots of interesting facts and details about bread, many of which I didn't know even though I've been baking homemade bread for probably almost 20 years. But he never loses sight of the story part of it (part memior) and it is funny at times and generally hooks you into the story!

He convinced me that I needed to bake more with a sourdough starter (a levain). As he says on his website: "Levain, sourdough, it want you want — it is the secret to authentic, yeasty, artisan bread. San Francisco sourdough has, in a sense, given all sourdoughs a bad name, but most wild yeast starters are far milder and (to my palate) more pleasant as well."

This convinced me to try to make a levain with wild yeast. I also think San Francisco sourdough bread is a little too strong for my taste, and when I've made starter before I've always used purchased, commercial yeast, so I'm anxious to see what the wild yeast starter is like.

I've started mine! Alexander recommends using orchard apples (the 'haze' on them is the yeast) so I thought I'd have to wait until fall for apples to be ready. But when we were at the farm last weekend Grandpa asked if we wanted apples! His neighbor or friend had a tree with "sauce apples" that he was trying to get rid of. Mom and Grandpa went and picked some.

I used a lot for making applesauce, but I saved one whole apple cut up into 1" chunks and the peel of a second to put in 1 c. de-chlorinated water. It has been sitting, covered, on my counter for almost the full three days (I've been stirring it at least twice a day) and already it is bubbly and smells like apple cider (and a little like vinegar... hopefully that's okay). I start "feeding" it with flour tomororw, so I'll keep you posted on how that goes and how it is to bake with! If it works and makes tasty bread, I'd be happy to share some starter with you if you want some Brown County wild yeast levain. Or, you can make your own, so far it seems pretty easy!

Alexander really recommends you use a scale when you bake. While, as a scientist, I understand that sentiment, I'm not sure if we'll get one or not. It seems like it's just one more item that may not get used enough to justify taking up precious real estate in my kitchen. If we want to follow any of his recipes though, a scale might be needed. He only posts them in metric weights. (This includes his levain recipe...) A few tips about bread making from the book would likely make any bread recipe better, however. (Soon I will post a recipe for "One Hour Bread" - a non-levain using bread that is great for instant gratification. It's even faster than a bread machine!!)

If you're looking for a good summer reading book, find a copy of 52 Loaves soon! Read while eating homemade bread, for the best experience.

(Legal note: A library copy of this book was read. This is not a popular enough blog that authors and companies send free stuff to so that it will be written about and our vast audiences will rush out and buy book or item. The author of this blog post wishes to state that she has no conflicting interests, and will have no material gain from the sale of this book, the making of levains, or the purchase and use (or not) of a kitchen scale.)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Roasted Red Pepper Chickpea Dip

As I was making this recipe today, I thought it would be a good one to share! This is just a great chickpea dip that's easy to make (less than 10 minutes total) and is good as an appetizer or afternoon snack at work.


2 cans chick peas (garbanzo beans) (15 ounces), drained
  • 1 small jar roasted red peppers (6 ounces), drained well and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 2 cloves garlic, cracked away from peel
  • 4 stems fresh rosemary, leaves stripped from stems
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), eyeball it as you drizzle it into recipe
  • 1 package flat breads, Everything flavor
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, rinsed
  • 1 zucchini, sliced into 1/4-inch disks
  • any other veggies or other dipping items - I like baby carrots and red pepper strips.

  • Combine chick peas, roasted red pepper, lemon juice, garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper in a food processor. Turn the processor on and stream in two tablespoons olive oil. Process until smooth.