Incubation chamber

Incubation chamber

So we had a sturdy Omaha Steak cube just hanging around, but this would work in any cooler. I filled it with warm tap water, and then added an aquarium heater and popped in a thermometer just for curiosity’s sake. It works wonderfully and keeps the water between 85-95 degrees perfectly, and it’s entirely cat proof with books on top.

IMPORTANT FOLLOW UP – THIS WAS A TOTAL DISASTER
So er, water weighs a lot, and the pressure of having a few gallons of water in this cube caused it to crack and then the water seeped through the wood floor into the basement, ruining the ceiling of the basement and rotting some wood molding below. If I were to do this again, I’d use a plastic bin with a foam cooler inside it.

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yogurt drink

So I am pretty addicted to Kefir and drinkable yogurt, but at nearly 2 dollars for 8-10 ounces, I can’t bring myself to buy them. They are a better value at the 32 ounce bottles, but I like the portability of a smaller portion. (Also the smaller portion keeps me from drinking all 32 ounces in one go)

I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to make this at home. I’ve tried making my own kefir, which went badly, though I may try again now that I have a better incubator chamber. And I’ve tried to make my own yogurt, which has been a trial of various methods, but I think I’ve finally hit a method that consistently works. And then how to incorporate the fruit and sweeteners? The first few attempts were pretty good, but had periodic lumps of yogurt and or fruit that were a bit disconcerting.

Making yogurt:

3/4 of a gallon good whole milk (you can use any fat content, but I went with full fat as the latest research suggests it’s a “good” fat)
6 ounces of yogurt. We’ve used both Fage and Hannaford’s version of Chobani. You really don’t need to measure this, it’s mostly dollups.
2 half gallon mason jars (or quarts if that’s all you have)
Immersion blender (you could use a regular blender if that’s all you have, but oh so much easier with immersion blender)
Something that can hold water at about 85-95 degrees for many hours.

  1. Get your water bath to 85-95 degrees
  2. Pour milk into your half gallon jars, leave about 4 inches from the top
  3. Add half the yogurt to one jar, the other half to the other.
  4. Put the immersion blender into the mason jar, blend, add a little more milk (to the shoulders of the jar) and then blend again.
  5. Cover the jars with plastic lids (metal will work, but they’ll rust quickly, I suspect even plastic wrap and rubber bands would work
  6. Put the jars in the water bath. Make sure the water comes up to the shoulders of the bottles.
  7. Wait 6-16 hours. I generally do it at night before bed, and then move them to the fridge when I remember…
  8. Let them cool in the fridge for a few hours, it helps the yogurt gel up a bit.

Making fruit syrup

frozen or fresh fruit – I’ve been using Wyman’s Berries mostly because it comes in 3 lb bags and it’s reasonably priced.
honey or other sweeteners

  1. On the stove put about a pound of fruit into a pot on medium
  2. Add in about 4 ounces of honey, the amount will vary depending how sweet your fruit is and what sweeteners you use
  3. Heat until the fruit starts to break down
  4. Take your ever handy immersion blender and puree the fruit. At this point you could also strain out the seeds if you really wanted to.
  5. Allow to cool enough that it won’t burn you if it splashes (it will splash, consider an apron)

Putting it all together!

A large bowl, preferably with a pour spout like this one
Containers for your yogurt drink, I use pint jars, but have also used the same half gallon jars I made the yogurt in if I know I’ll just be home drinking it.
Canning funnels vastly improve the pouring process

  1. Half fill your batter bowl with yogurt
  2. Pour in 1/4 of the fruit sauce *I generally eyeball this
  3. Immersion blend
  4. Using a canning funnel, pour into smaller jars
  5. Repeat until you are out of yogurt

3/4 of a gallon of milk, 1 lb of fruit, 4 ounces of honey, 6 ounces of yogurt = 160 ounces of yogurt or approximately 8 pint jars and a quart jar (or in this case half of a half gallon since it was already “dirty”

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Approximate nutrients:
in 8 ounces (around 50 cents)
(2 servings per jar)
130 calories
5 g fat
15 g sugar
6 g protein

mini apple pies for breakfast

mini apple pies for breakfast

So this was an interesting experiment, I cooked the apple pie filling before I put it in the crust, so the cooking time in the oven was only 25 minutes to cook the crust. They are a bit messy as I tried to squeeze too much apples in each, and I should have cut the apples smaller, but they are delicious. Cleaning that stoneware pan is going to be a nightmare though…

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Pretty Pickled Eggs and Beets

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This is the second time I’ve made these. The first dozen, a few months ago, came out so well and so prettily that I couldn’t wait to make them again. But since we have the problem of hardboiled fresh eggs being terrible to peel, I had to wait until our next dozen eggs had aged a few weeks first (and even then, these were somewhat challenging to peel).

I based the recipe off of Emeril Lagasse’s but doubled it, reduced the sugar slightly, and added quite a lot more pickling spice than he suggested.

pickledeggs_1

  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 1 large bunch of beets
  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 2 heaping tablespoons pickling spice
  • 1 tablespoon peppercorns
  • 1 onion, sliced thinly
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

Cut off the beet greens (we had them for supper in a sausage bean soup) and scrub the beets clean. Wrap in tin foil and bake at 350º for an hour and a half.

While that is happening, hard-boil the eggs however you like. For me, I start with the eggs in a pot with cool water, then bring them to a boil over medium-high heat, boil for 6 minutes, then put into ice water until cool. Also during this time, put the vinegar, sugar, pickling spices, and peppercorns in a small pot and boil until the sugar is dissolved.

pickedeggs_2

Peel the eggs and put into a large mixing bowl. When the beets are done and cool, peel them as well. Peeling beets is always fun.

pickledeggs_3

Slice the beets and put them in the bowl with the peeled eggs. Add the sliced onions.

pickledeggs_4

Pour the vinegar and spices over everything.

pickledeggs_5

Transfer to a sealable container, with the eggs arranged such that they are all submerged. Store overnight. The next day, gently move things around so any eggs that were pressed against the side of the container get more exposure to the liquid.

pickledeggs_6

The afternoon of that day, they are ready for eating. The longer you keep them in the liquid, the stronger they will taste. I imagine they should be eaten within a week, since the preservative pickling action doesn’t really penetrate to the center of the egg. They look prettiest when sliced thinly and fanned on a plate with a side of beets and onions (which are also quite tasty).

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How I Make Tea Eggs

teaeggs_done

I love tea eggs. They’re a great way to make hard-boiled eggs flavorful and interesting. They’re also very easy to make, though they do take some time. I like to make them when I can be home all day to let them simmer for hours, filling the house with the smell of Chinese 5 Spice. There are tons of slightly different recipes on the web (the most common variants use soy sauce and star anise), but I like this one.

  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 2 black tea bags
  • 2 tablespoons chinese 5 spice powder (cinnamon, star anise, anise seed, ginger, cloves)
  • 2-3 tablespoons salt
  • teaeggs_ingredients

    The first step, if you have farm-fresh eggs, is to set them aside in the back of the fridge for 2-3 weeks. This is because hard-boiled farm-fresh eggs are an absolute nightmare to peel (the membrane between the shell and the white is very tenacious). If you get eggs from the store, they are probably fine to cook right away.

    Then, boil the eggs however you like to make hard-boiled eggs. For me, I cover the eggs with cold water, bring them to a boil over medium heat, and boil for 5 minutes or so.

    teaeggs_boileggs

    Remove eggs with tongs and let them cool in a colander until they are comfortable to touch. Carefully crack them all over as if you were going to peel them, but leave the shell on. Try not to damage the egg underneath with over-exhuberant cracking.

    teaeggs_crackeggs

    Put a couple of inches of fresh water in the pot along with the black tea bags, chinese 5 spice powder, and salt. The powder will float on the surface of the water, so I whisk it in.

    Gently put the eggs back into the water and bring it to a simmer. The water level should be slightly higher than the eggs; add more if necessary. Cover and simmer for 3+ hours, checking every now and then to make sure the water is still high enough.

    Remove the eggs with tongs and let them cool. You can either peel all of them or store them as-is and peel before eating. If you find they are too salty for your liking, a quick rinse under the tap can temper it somewhat.

    They should be stored in the fridge and probably eaten within a week.

    My First Romano Adventure

    romano-finished

    I used the recipe from Ricki Carroll’s Home Cheese Making book with some minor modifications.

    First, I gathered everything I thought I would use, put them into my cheese pot, and boiled them for sterilization. (Inevitably, I forget something. That’s what bleach spray is for.) This is a wooden spoon, wire basket, cheese mold & follower, cheese mat, butter muslin, a 1-cup measure, curd knife, and tongs.

    romano-sterilize

    While this was boiling, I cleaned the counters and put down paper towels to put all the clean stuff on when it came out of the pot.

    Using other tongs, I extracted the sterile tongs. When the sterile tongs were cool, I used them to take out everything else. Then I emptied the nearly-boiling water out of the pot and waited for the pot to cool.

    When it had, I added 2 gallons of good whole milk and stirred in 1/2 tablespoon of calcium chloride diluted in a half a cup of non-chlorinated water.

    I heated the milk to 88º in a water bath, then sprinkled a packet of thermophilic culture on the surface, waited two minutes for it to rehydrate, and stirred it in. I covered and let the milk ‘ripen’ for 20 minutes. Then I added 1/2 tsp. of rennet diluted in 1/4 cup non-chlorinated water and stirred gently, covered and left it alone for 30 minutes. (There are no pictures of these steps because the visuals are really boring.)

    Then, behold the magic of cheese with this clean break:

    romano-cleanbreak

    Here, the instructions said to cut the curds into 1/4″ cubes. This is pretty hard to do. I started with the knife and cut them up further with a silicone whisk (note to self: boil that next time). Here’s a picture with half of the pot cut and the other half whisked (soon to be entirely whisked):

    romano-cutcurds

    Now, the exciting drama of very slow heating. The goal is to heat the curds slowly at first — 1º every two minutes. Eventually you want it to get to 116º at around the 45-minute mark. I tried not to stress about it too much, just set a countdown timer for 45 minutes and got a feel for whether it was heating too quickly or slowly to hit the desired temperature as time went on. The curds changed in appearance as they cooked, pulling apart and showing more whey between them:

    romano-cookcurds

    The recipe didn’t mention stirring, but I stirred slowly most of the time to distribute the heat evenly and discourage clumping. And eventually, ta-da!

    romano-maintaintemp

    I lined my cheese mold with muslin and transferred the curds into it using a wire basket.

    romano-packmold

    With previous cheeses, the curds first go into the muslin to drain for a period of time, then salt is added before they go into the mold. This type of cheese just goes directly into the mold — which means it is very wet and not at all compacted. I ended up packing the curds into the mold over the sink and pressing them in with my hands so they would all fit, while a lot of whey drained out.

    Then I pressed the cheese with an increasing series of weights, eventually doing 40 lbs. overnight:

    romano-press

    The next day, the cheese looked very different:

    romano-pressed

    It was brining time. We already had a brine solution (essentially, non-chlorinated water saturated with cheese salt) so I boiled it to kill off any bacteria, then chilled it back down to fridge temperature before plopping the cheese into it.

    romano-brine

    After 12 hours in the brine, I took the cheese out and patted it dry.

    romano-finished2

    Now it needs to be flipped every day for a few weeks and occasionally after that. In two months, it will get rubbed with olive oil. Then it should age 4 months or more before we try it. I can’t wait!

    Here it is nestled in our tiny cheese fridge with Stephanie’s manchego:

    romano-fridge

    No-Marinade Turkey Jerky

    jerky-closeup

    I decided I wanted to try making turkey jerky for the first time, so I looked up some recipes. A lot of them called for marinating overnight, and I didn’t want to wait that long. Then I found this recipe and decided to give it a shot. The final product was quite good, though it didn’t taste like Thanksgiving to me since I used a few different spices.

    I also couldn’t find whole turkey breasts at the grocery store — they just had tenders and tenderloins. The latter seemed big enough, though not ideal, so I picked out a little over 3 lbs’ worth.

    First, slice the turkey as thinly as possible (for me and my knife skills, anyway) against the grain:

    jerky-cut

    Sprinkle spices on each side. I used Penzey’s Lemon Pepper Seasoning: salt, black pepper, citric acid, lemon peel, garlic, and onion.

    Skewer the pieces with enough spacing such that they will hang off the oven rack like so:

    jerky-inoven

    A little over 3 lbs of turkey tenderloin filled a single oven rack with a little turkey left over that was too small to cut easily (that became tomorrow’s dinner).

    9 hours at 200º with the oven door propped open about 1″ using a special tool:

    jerky-fork

    And they were done!

    jerky-done

    I’m happy with how they came out. The flavors of the spices are not overwhelming, but enough to make it interesting. The texture is quite crunchy, but my guess is they would not last long if they still had enough moisture to be chewy, without preservatives. I would definitely make this again and maybe experiment with different spices.

    TINY EGGPLANT!!!!

    TINY EGGPLANT!!!!

    I hope it gets a little bigger, but eeeee! First eggplant!

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    Apparently it’s too humid today for this project

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    Dusted the mold first with corn starch, Image

     

     

    even still, no luck.Image

     

    So we’ll try again sometime when it’s not super humid out… The cookies are delicious regardless of their shape. 

    Manchego Cheese at 1 week

    Manchego Cheese at 1 week

    it’s beginning to develop a nice rind

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