Adventures in Yogurt Making

Here I am again, and devastated to report the slot on my Nikon that holds the SD card has decided to commit suicide.  If that’s not bad enough, it selfishly decided to take the 16GB memory card containing ALL of my unpublished (read: unsaved) food photos along with it.  This means the images of all the recipes that I’ve been photographing, but haven’t had time to post, have gone to That Great Mass Storage Device In The Sky.

So, yeah…no photos.  Have I mentioned I’m devastated?

(In a desperate ploy to at least partially appease his devastated – and, possibly, hysterical – wife, Beloved suggested I look at a new camera body so I didn’t have to try and take photographs with my lousy-for-taking-pictures Anroid phone for the 3 weeks it will take my D90 to be repaired.  I am now the proud owner of a Nikon D5300; the D90 will serve as a backup upon its return.)

Fortunately, I had already saved this particular photo and since making yogurt was one of the things I’ve been wanting to talk about, well, there you go.

As I’m sure My Better Half will tell you, I’m often guilty of coming up with Grand Plans that don’t see fruition.  Not from lack of follow-through, but from becoming distracted by other, sometimes more important, things that aren’t part of the Grand Plan – and, as I’m sure he will tell you, I have a bad habit of biting off more than I can chew.

In other words, there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

At any rate, homemade yogurt has been on my list of Grand Plans for quite some time, and I have finally gotten around to giving it a whirl.  As I am wont to do, I began by researching and the first thing I researched was yogurt makers.  Since, like Alton Brown, I don’t like one-use gadgets, after reading that yogurt makers can suddenly lose their temperature control – and successful yogurt depends on pretty precise temperature control – it didn’t take long for me to look into other methods of making yogurt in my own kitchen.  And there are lots of different methods.

– Both David Lebovitz and Bon Appetit suggest just putting your tempered milk/starter mixture in a jar and leaving it in a “slightly warm spot” in your kitchen for 10 to 12 hours.  So much for precise temperature control. (I’m sure this will work, but the yogurt will be thin.)

– If you don’t feel comfortable leaving jars of warm milk sitting on your counter for hours, Aimee at Simple Bites tells you how to culture it with a heating pad and towels.

– The Creative Simple Life shows us how to make yogurt with a slow cooker.

– Don’t have a slow cooker or a heating pad?  Marisa at Food In Jars cultures hers in a small insulated cooler.

– Sarah at Heartland Renaissance started out making yogurt in her slow cooker, but now makes it in the oven.

While doing all of this research and considering all of these different methods for making yogurt, I found one site that suggested in an offhand manner that it’s possible to make yogurt using a Sous Vide Supreme.

Hold the phone.  I have one of those.

And it works.

Fabulously, really.

One of the reasons yogurt makers work so well is that they can (or are supposed to) hold the culturing milk at a steady, correct temperature, usually somewhere between 105 F and 113 F, ensuring that the yogurt doesn’t get too hot or too cold so the happy, beneficial little bacteria have the perfect environment to become fruitful and multiply.  Holding food at a steady temperature for hours is what a sous vide is designed to do, making it the perfect appliance for making yogurt.

Now, if you look at many homemade yogurt recipes, you’re going to find that some use just milk and a starter culture – usually yogurt, either store-bought or from a previous batch – while some include things like powdered milk and/or heavy cream.  The purpose of these additions is to thicken it; yogurt made with just milk tends to be a little on the runny side.  While I don’t have a real big problem with powdered milk per se (there is some concern about the process oxidizing the cholesterol, which is A Bad Thing), I’m not real crazy about the taste, and decided to use a combination of whole, vat-pasteurized, non-homogenized milk from a local dairy that grass feeds their cows, and organic, vat-pasteurized heavy cream.

The results are nothing short of delicious.  While still not as quite as thick as popular commercial yogurts, it is incredibly creamy, fresh and tangy.

A candy thermometer – one of those glass ones that clip to the side of the pan – makes the job much, much easier.

Homemade Yogurt
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons plain yogurt
Instructions
  1. Fill 3 sterilized pint Ball jars 3/4 full with water, and set them in the empty sous vide. Fill the sous vide with water until it reaches the bottom of the necks of the jars. Remove the jars, pour out the water and wipe them dry with a clean cloth.
  2. Plug in the sous vide and set the temperature for 107 F. Cover with the lid.
  3. While the sous vide is coming to temp, combine the milk and cream in a large, heavy saucepan. Over low heat, slowly bring the milk/cream mixture to 180 F; this should take at least 15 to 20 minutes – if heated too quickly, the yogurt may turn out lumpy with a “grainy” texture. Remove from the heat and allow the milk/cream mixture to cool to 110 F.
  4. Whisk in the yogurt and pour the mixture into the jars, dividing it equally between the 3. Cap the jars and place them in the sous vide for 4 to 5 hours, or until the yogurt has thickened.
  5. Allow the yogurt to cool on the counter for 30 minutes to an hour, then refrigerate – it will continue to thicken as it becomes cold.
  6. Eat within a week.
  7. Nutrition (per serving): 162 calories, 14.1g total fat, 50.3mg cholesterol, 54.7mg sodium, 156.5mg potassium, 5.6g carbohydrates, 0g fiber, 5.1g sugar, 3.8g protein

 

Of course, if you don’t have a Sous Vide Supreme, you can choose any of the other methods listed above with good results.

And what can you do with this wonderful, rich, creamy and delicious yogurt?  Just about anything you want, really.  I’ve used it to cook with, eaten it straight out of the jar (something I never did with plain store-bought yogurt – blech) and made this lovely, filling breakfast.  Which would also make a damn fine dessert.

Banana-Berry Yogurt Parfait.  Delicious, healthy and filling, this makes a great quick breakfast or dessert.

Banana-Berry Yogurt Parfait
Serves: 1
[i]Gently heating the honey will help it mix into the cold yogurt completely.[/i]
Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup Homemade Yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon raw honey
  • 1/2 medium banana, sliced
  • 1/2 cup frozen mixed berries, thawed
Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the honey and yogurt. Layer the sweetened yogurt in a tall parfait or dessert dish alternately with the berries and bananas.
  2. Serve immediately.
  3. Nutrition (per serving): 275 calories, 14.4g total fat, 50.3mg cholesterol, 57.8mg sodium, 534.9mg potassium, 34.9g carbohydrates, 3.9g fiber, 23.1g sugar, 4.9g protein

 

Pink Sauerkraut

Hello, there.  I’m working from home today because I have this thing about going outside when it’s -11 F outside, with a windchill of -40 F.

Just sayin’.

Anyhoo, this was part of our (new) traditional New Year’s dinner.  When I moved from Texas to Ohio in 2005, I was a bit perplexed my first New Year to find no displays of bags of black eyed peas alongside heaps of collard greens in the produce section of the grocery stores.  Instead, there were bags and bags of commercial sauerkraut alongside all of the pork in the meat case – it seems that up here, sauerkraut and pork are the traditional foods for the New Years.

Repulsed by commercial sauerkraut, I defiantly sought out the pitiful 1-pound bags of black eyed peas hidden next to the bags and boxes of rice.  I was by golly gonna have my black eye peas and cornbread anyway, thank you very much.

And so it’s gone every year I’ve been here.  Until this year, when I decided, you know, pork and sauerkraut just might be nice with some Hoppin’ John.  And that’s what we had.

(A note about the Hoppin’ John:  if you read the post I’ve linked to, you’ll see that I state black eyed peas do not need to be soaked.  I have completely reversed my stance about this, but we’ll go into this some more later this week.)

At any rate, around Christmas I decided if I wanted sauerkraut with my New Year’s dinner, I better get started and make some.  But rather than a traditional kraut, I thought I’d shake things up a bit and see what would happen if I used a red cabbage, a sweet yellow onion, an apple and whole allspice berries.

What happened was a vibrantly hot pink sauerkraut that is just delicious – crunchy and earthy, with a slight bite from the onion and just the faintest hint of sweetness from the apple and allspice.  It’s a news favorite here at the Sushi Bar.

Pink Sauerkraut. Add a beautiful splash of color to any dish with this vibrant and deliciously different ferment.

Click the image to enlarge

Pink Sauerkraut
Serves: 16
[i]Makes one quart[/i]
Ingredients
  • 1 small red cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium sweet onion, such as Vidalia or Walla Walla, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium apple, peeled and grated
  • 1 tablespoon kosher sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon whole allspice
  • filtered water
Instructions
  1. Have ready a clean, dry, 1 quart glass jar.
  2. Toss the cabbage, onion and apple together in a large bowl until well mixed.
  3. Layer the cabbage mixture into the jar until it is about 1/3 full. Sprinkle some of the salt on top of the cabbage and pound it down with a wooden spoon or pestle until the cabbage begins to give off liquid. Sprinkle in a few of the whole allspice berries.
  4. Repeat layering the cabbage, salt and allspice, pounding in between each layer, until all of the ingredients are in the jar. Add filtered water to cover the cabbage if necessary. There should be about 1 inch between the top of the kraut and the top of the jar.
  5. Top off the sauerkraut with about 1/4 cup of olive or coconut oil to keep the cabbage submerged beneath the liquid, or use a glass weight. Cap loosely and store at room temperature (on a counter out of direct sunlight is fine) for 3 days, or until the kraut begins to bubble. Transfer to the refrigerator.
  6. Nutrition (per serving): 22 calories, <1g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 364mg sodium, 121.9mg potassium, 5.5g carbohydrates, 1.1g fiber, 3.2g sugar, <1g protein

Sprout Kraut

The last batch of sauerkraut I made is but a memory, the dilly beans are long gone and the escabeche is but a few pitiful carrots and jalapeno slices floating around in a jar.

Time for another ferment.

The idea for this came from a recipe for Brussels sprouts, halved and fermented with dill, garlic and chilies I found at Saveur.com.  I was tickled that it was actually fermented; most mainstream recipes I find for pickles (and that’s all a ferment really is) are made with vinegar.  But since Beloved has been asking me to make more ‘kraut – he loves it with the grass-fed beef hot dogs our butcher has begun making – I decided to see just how it would taste using my favorite cruciferous vegetable.

It’s interesting.  I tend to prefer ferments before they get too terribly sour (the exception to that was the dilly beans, which just got better the longer they fermented); not much of a problem because we eat them quickly once they make the transition from the counter to the refrigerator.  This particular ferment, however, is different.

Brussels sprouts have a much stronger flavor than cabbage and even a week after transferring the jar to fridge, the kraut still tasted overwhelmingly of garlic and Brussels sprouts.  The longer it cures, though, the more sour – and the tastier – it becomes; I’ve begun to wish I’d left it on the counter for at least a week before putting it in cold storage, which slows down the fermentation process (but does not stop it).

Again, it’s interesting; I pull the jar out of the fridge every day or two and eat a big forkful to see how it’s coming along.  I’m literally tasting it as it changes character from salty, garlicky Brussels sprouts to a sharp, sour kraut that makes my tastebuds tingle.  It’s going to be marvelous by the time we get to the end of our jar, and I’ll make it again.

I used celery seed in this instead of the fresh dill called for in the original recipe because, for one, I have a large jar of celery seed in my spice cabinet that should be used and because the fresh dill in the dilly beans, while delicious, was a bit of a mess at the end and I didn’t want to have to pick most of it out of the kraut in order to eat it.  It was a good choice; the celery flavor is subtle, but delicious.  You can leave out the red pepper flakes if you like, but they do a lot to tame the strong, cabbagey flavor of the sprouts.  The garlic is a must – don’t skip it.

Sprout Kraut. For a twist on traditional sauerkraut, shredded Brussels sprouts are fermented with celery seed, peppercorns and garlic.

Click  the image to enlarge

Sprout Kraut
Serves: 16
[i]Makes 1 quart[/i]
Ingredients
  • 4 cups shredded Brussels sprouts
  • 2 teaspoons celery seeds
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and slightly crushed
  • 1 tablespoon kosher sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • filtered water
Instructions
  1. Have ready a clean, dry 1 quart glass jar.
  2. Layer the shredded Brussels sprouts into the jar until it is about 1/4 full. Sprinkle some of the salt on top of the cabbage and pound it down with a wooden spoon or pestle until the sprouts begin to give off liquid. Sprinkle in a bit of the celery seed, a few peppercorns, a pinch of the red pepper flakes and a clove of garlic.
  3. Repeat the previous step, pounding the mixture between each layer, until all of the ingredients are in the jar. Add enough filtered water to cover the kraut. There should be about 1 inch between the top of the cabbage and the top of the jar.
  4. Top off the kraut with about 1/4 cup of olive or coconut oil to keep the cabbage submerged, or use a [url href=”http://www.pickl-it.com/products/94/pickl-it-dunk-r-3-pack/” target=”_blank”]glass weight[/url]. Cap loosely and store at room temperature (on a counter out of direct sunlight is fine) for 3 days, or until the kraut begins to bubble.
  5. Transfer to the refrigerator and continue to cure for 3 to 4 weeks before eating.
  6. Nutrition (per serving): 13 calories, <1g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 358.6mg sodium, 99.3mg potassium, 2.7g carbohydrates, 1g fiber, <1g sugar, <1g protein

Jalapenos en Escabeche

Oh, look – another ferment.  What can I say?  I’ve come to love them and tend to have one in the fridge at all times.  Right now, I have three:  the small remains of our last batch of sauerkraut, the rapidly diminishing dilly beans, and now this.

The reason I made this is because in the comments of the dilly bean recipe, Lisa – one of the most stylish style bloggers you will ever find, to say nothing of being an incredibly beautiful,  intelligent and gracious woman – said, “The Mexican restaurants around here do a pickled jalapeno carrot that’s INCREDIBLE. Want to backwards engineer a recipe for me?”

Oh, that all requests should be so easy.

Those jalapeno carrots fall into a broad category of pickled vegetables known as escabeche (which literally translates to “pickle”), a common condiment in many Mexican kitchens and restaurants (meat-based escabeche – usually fish, poached or fried, and marinated in an acidic mixture before serving – is popular in many Mediterranean cuisines, particularly Spanish).  Almost all recipes include jalapenos or other hot chilies, carrots, onions and garlic, and many contain other vegetables; cauliflower is the most common.

The vast majority of commercially available escabeche is preserved in vinegar, making it shelf stable.  Not necessarily a bad route to go – I still have many, many jars of cucumber and watermelon pickles safely tucked away in my basement from last year’s canning frenzy.  However, this method cooks the vegetables, leaving them rather limp and, if you wish to make it at home, is a bit of a production.

Lacto-fermentation results in a tangy, fiery escabeche that is fresh, crisp, delicious and easy – not to mention oh, so good for you.

Note:  I did not seed the jalapenos at all; I simply sliced them.  This is quite spicy (10 jalapenos, after all) and will become more so as it continues to ferment.  If you or members of your family have a tender palate, you may want to halve the chilies lengthwise and scrape out the seeds and veins before adding them to the carrots and onions.  Also, according to most sources I’ve found, this will last many months in cold storage (one account cited it as still being good a year later), but I’d still probably eat this within 3 or 4 months.

Jalapenos en Escabeche. This classic Mexican condiment is naturally fermented and full of probiotic goodness.

Click the image to enlarge

Jalapenos en Escabeche
[i]It’s important that the vegetables be completely submerged beneath the liquid to avoid mold and promote the proliferation of the good bacteria. Pouring olive or coconut oil on top after adding the liquid is helpful, or Pickl-It sells [url href=”http://www.pickl-it.com/products/94/pickl-it-dunk-r-3-pack/” target=”_blank”]handy glass weights[/url] that fit inside the mouth of the jar. Makes one quart[/i]
Ingredients
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled and thinly sliced on the bias
  • 10 jalapeno peppers, sliced
  • 1/2 medium onion, sliced into half rounds and separated
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • filtered water
Instructions
  1. Combine all of the ingredients, except the water, in a large bowl and toss to distribute the salt. Allow to sit for 5 minutes.
  2. Pack the vegetables into a clean, wide-mouth quart jar. Add the water until the jar is filled to 1 inch below the rim.
  3. Cap the jar, not too tightly, and keep at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, for 2 to 3 days or until the liquid in the jar beings to bubble. Transfer to the refrigerator.
  4. Nutrition (per serving): 37 calories, <1g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 886.4mg sodium, 258.9mg potassium, 8.6g carbohydrates, 2.6g fiber, 3.7g sugar, 1g protein

Dilly Beans

Well, hello there.  I mentioned last week that we were flying to Las Vegas to visit Darling Daughter, and that’s exactly where I was between Thursday and yesterday.  It’s kind of hard to get motivated to post recipes and whatnot when you’re in Sin City shopping and watching Cirque du Soliel, so…I didn’t.

(We’re not big gamblers; I think we’ve gambled all of one time – a net loss of $10 on the slot machines – during our first visit many years ago.  Since then, we pretty much avoid casinos unless we’re walking through one to get somewhere else.)

Anyhoo, I’m back now and grateful to be able to sleep in my own bed and cook in my own kitchen.  Like you wouldn’t believe.

Speaking of my own kitchen, I’ve gotten to the point where I’ll ferment just about anything.  And if you told me 20 years ago that I’d fall absolutely in love with pickled green beans, I’d probably have laughed in your face.  But oh, my goodness – are they delicious?  They are.  And ridiculously easy to make, too.

I used one of my delightful Pickl-It jars – I really cannot sing their praises enough – but a regular, wide-mouth mason jar will work just fine, and that is what the recipe calls for.  Like all recipes for lacto-fermented foods, it’s extremely simple – combine the ingredients in the jar, and put them in a cool corner of the kitchen, out of direct sunlight, and wait for 3 to 5 days for the magic to happen.  Once the liquid in the jar begins to bubble, stick it in the fridge – the ferment will only get better as it ages.  IF it gets the chance; the day we opened these after the initial ferment, we ate a good quarter of the jar.

They are just that tasty.  Crispy, spicy and tangy, they are a great addition to a meal – you just need a few – or as a snack.

Unlike fruit chutneys, which contain sugar (the naturally occurring sugars in the fruits themselves along with small amounts of added sugars) and need to be eaten fairly quickly, these green beans will last a bit longer in the refrigerator, but I’d still make sure they’re consumed within 3 months.

Like I said, IF they last that long.

Dilly Beans. These crisp, spicy and tangy naturally pickled green beans make a delicious and nutritious snack.

Click the image to enlarge

Dilly Beans
[i]Makes one quart[/i]
Ingredients
  • 1/2 pound fresh green beans, trimmed and cut in half
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and slightly crushed
  • 1 handful fresh dill sprigs
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fine sea salt
  • 2 cups filtered water
Instructions
  1. Dissolve the salt in the water to make a brine. Set aside.
  2. Place the garlic, peppercorns, red pepper flakes and half the dill in a clean, wide-mouth quart jar. Fill the jar with the green beans, standing them upright, then add the remaining dill. Add the brine until the jar if filled to 1 inch below the rim of the jar.
  3. Cap the jar, not too tightly, and keep at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, for 2 to 3 days or until the liquid in the jar beings to bubble. Transfer to the refrigerator.
  4. Eat within 3 months.
  5. Nutrition (per serving): 8 calories, <1g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 854mg sodium, 43.1mg potassium, 1.8g carbohydrates, <1g fiber, <1g sugar, <1g protein.