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Making Whole Milk, Organic Yogurt

Quite a few people I know have toddlers, so I’ve been meaning to pass on how to make yogurt at home rather than pay ridiculous prices for organic, whole milk yogurt.  It’s shockingly easy (and it’s not just for babies!).  So . . . from the New York Times Curious Cook column:

To make yogurt, first choose your starter yogurt. If no one offers you an heirloom, I recommend one of the ubiquitous global brands, sweeteners and stabilizers included. They tend to have very active bacterial cultures, including EPS producers, and the additives end up diluted to insignificant levels. Delicious specialty yogurts make less predictable starters.

Then choose your milk. I prefer the flavor and consistency of yogurt made from whole milk. Many types of reduced-fat milk replace the fat with milk solids, including acid-producing lactose, and make a harsher tasting yogurt. Soy milk sets into a custardy curd that becomes very thin when stirred.

Heat the fresh milk at 180 to 190 degrees, or to the point that it’s steaming and beginning to form bubbles. The heat alters the milk’s whey proteins and helps create a finer, denser consistency.

Let the milk cool to around 115 to 120 degrees, somewhere between very warm and hot. For each quart of milk, stir in two tablespoons of yogurt, either store-bought or from your last batch, thinning it first with a little of the milk.

Then put the milk in a warm jar or container or an insulated bottle, cover it, and keep the milk still and warm until it sets, usually in about four hours. I simply swaddle my quart jar in several kitchen towels. You can also put the container in an oven with the light bulb on.

Once the yogurt sets, refrigerate it to firm its structure and slow the continuing acid production. To make a thick Greek-style yogurt, spoon it into a fine-mesh strainer or colander lined with cheesecloth, and let the whey and its lactic acid drain into a bowl for several hours. (Don’t discard the whey, whose yellow-green tint comes from riboflavin. It makes a refreshing cool drink, touched up with a little sugar or salt.)

Because Olivia is at the stage where she doesn’t want to be spoonfed but isn’t able to use a spoon yet, my favorite way to give her the yogurt is as a fruit smoothie put in her sippy cup. 

Which brings me to my second great-for-a-toddler’s-mommy discovery: frozen fruit.  I can hardly believe that I hadn’t discovered this before!  During the winter here any fruits other than apples, oranges and bananas are really expensive and often not very good.  Frozen fruit is a great fill-in.  To make a smoothie, I put 1 cup of yogurt, 1 cup of frozen fruit and 1 tsp of sugar in the blender and mix.  I do throw larger fruit like peaches and whole strawberries in the microwave for about 3 seconds before putting them in the blender so they will mix in better. 

For the kid who can spoon-feed himself, throw a handful of frozen fruit into the microwave for 1 minute and then mix it into a bowl of yogurt.  The pieces will be mushy enough that you will be able to break them into whatever size pieces you want while stirring.  You may want to add a teaspoon or so of sugar as well. 

To serve the fruit straight to my daughter, I put it in the microwave for 30-60 seconds.  At the longer range of the microwave time the fruit comes out quite mushy which is perfect for a new eater or kid without many teeth.  At the shorter end of the microwave time the fruit is still slightly frozen which makes is less squishy and messy.  And frozen fruit straight from the freezer is great for teethers.  So there ya go!

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Dinner, Food Riots and You

By now you’ve probably heard about the hardships caused by rising prices on staple food items for poor people around the world. There have been protests and riots in Haiti, Bangladesh, Egypt, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Indonesia and Senegal. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, Sam’s Club and Costco have also placed limits on the amount of bulk rice which can be purchased at one time.

My question is how do we respond to these sorts of problems. President Bush has announced an increase in food aid, which might help NGOs whose work feeding people in danger of starvation continue their work in the face of rising food prices. However, it is hard to see how $200 million is going to fix the problem of people who are working and who had been self-supporting a few months ago, but are now priced out of the food market. Besides, we know from long experience that while food aid may be a necessary band-aid to prevent starvation, it doesn’t provide a long term solution and tends to come with many negative unintended consequences.

My question is if America is willing to actually sacrifice for the good of people a world away? Would you support a moratorium on the import of rice for 60 days (accompanied by tax breaks to help those in the industry who would be negatively affected) to take pressure off the international rice market? Continue reading Dinner, Food Riots and You

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Yankee French Bread

And now for something completely different. . .

I’m going to share my family’s secret recipe for Yankee French Bread.  Actually, I found this recipe in GQ, of all places years ago and have used it ever since.  It’s super easy and gives you a wonderful, dense, slightly sour loaf that keeps well in a grocery store plastic bag.  Mmmmmmm. . .

7 Cups Flour

1 Tablespoon of salt

1 teaspoon of quick rise yeast (I use regular active yeast most of the time and that works fine as well)

2 Cups of water

Cornmeal

You can make this in a food processor, in a mixer (preferably a Kitchen Aid with the dough hook), or if you have really big biceps, by hand.  Whatever the way, the instructions are the same.  Mix the dry ingredients, add water slowly while running the machine, or mixing by hand.  The dough should be kind of sticky.  I often add more water than the recipe calls for.  Once mixed, knead until the dough is smooth and elastic – by hand on a floured surface if using a food processor or mixing by hand.  With the dough hook if using a Kitchen Aid mixer.

Put the dough in a large plastic bowl, cover with plastic wrap (or a plastic grocery bag) and drape with a towel.  Let sit in a room which is at least 68 degrees overnight (or at least 8 hours).

To bake, preheat oven to 450.  Work the dough into 3 loaves on a floured surface.  I find it easiest to pat the dough out into a rectangle, cut three strips and gently stretch each strip to the desired length and width.  Place the loaves on a baking sheet covered with cornmeal.  Don’t place them too close together – they do expand while baking.  Cover the loaves with a towel and let sit for 10 minutes.

Place a pie pan with hot water on the bottom shelf of the oven.  Put baking sheet in the oven.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Rotate baking sheet and bake for another 10 minutes.

That’s it!  Yum.

We have actually put the flour, salt and yeast mixture into bags and given them as gifts with instructions to add water, knead, rest and bake.  We just found nice bags, used a decorative ribbon to tie them, put the instructions on a fancy looking gift tag and no one would know that they cost pennies to make.

Anyhow, enjoy!