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Archive for July, 2012

(If you’re wondering What’s for Dinner lately, hell if I know. It’s been stupidly hot & muggy for the past week or two, & none of us have felt much like eating, let alone cooking. I have a pile of odds & ends to use up this week, & then we’ll be back on schedule, promise…)

Making yoghurt (Yes, yoghurt. You can take the girl out of England…) is a totally nostalgic thrill for me. When I was 6, we moved from the shady suburbs to a little 7-acre farm in the country. My folks dove headfirst into self-sufficiency with all the zealousness they could muster; we raised cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, ducks, rabbits, goats, the lot. We have memories both heartbreaking & hilarious of those years, & while we’ve all moved on to other pursuits, some lessons still remain.

Our sole dairy cow was a long-lashed, caramel-flanked beauty named Guinevere, & she blessed us with gallon upon gallon of gorgeous, thick milk. Mum & I tried our hand at butter & cheese a few times, but making yoghurt in our little blue-topped incubator became a weekly ritual. Years later, when I found a set of jars & a warmer for $5 at a local yard sale, it seemed a sign that it was time for me to take up spoon & thermometer again.

You don’t need any special equipment to make good yoghurt, but a few key tools will give you a better chance of success: a stem thermometer (or a glass candy thermometer) & an incubator. Temperature is key when making yoghurt, & these two things will help you get your milk to the right temperature & ensure it stays there long enough to make the transformation. If you are feeling rogueish, you can skip the incubator & jars & use a heavy lidded casserole dish instead – use a pile of old towels to insulate the dish. I’m on the lookout for an old wide-mouthed Thermos, myself…

As for ingredients, you only need two things: milk & starter. Use the best, freshest milk you can get your hands on. This is the time to track down a local dairy & start getting your milk in glass, not cardboard. Yes, you can make perfectly good yoghurt with a national brand, but if you’re going to all this trouble, why not make it special? Whole milk makes a truly luxurious yoghurt; we’re watching our diets, so we use skim with excellent results.

You can buy packets of powdered starter, but I’ve never had much luck with them – my yoghurt would always get watery & broken. Get a small tub of plain, live cultured yoghurt from the grocery store & you should be fine. I’m finding Chobani the best option so far in terms of final texture.

To start, boil a kettle of water & use it to rinse everything you’ll be using: a 2-3 quart saucepan, a wooden spoon, a small cup & fork for mixing the starter, a stem thermometer, & your jars for incubating the yoghurt (including the lids). Let your equipment air dry. Cleanliness is the other important factor when making yoghurt – we want our milk to cultivate the good beasties, not the bad.

Measure out enough milk to nearly fill your jars – the actual amount will vary according to what brand of jars you’re using. Pour the milk into the saucepan & heat it gently over medium/low flame, stirring often, until it reaches about 190F. Keep an eye on it – milk will boil over horribly if left to its own devices. Once it reaches 190F, turn off the heat & move the pan to a trivet. Stir gently & allow the milk to cool to 110F (this can take 10-15 minutes).

Meanwhile, put your jars in the incubator & plug it in to pre-warm.

Once your milk has cooled to 110F, add your starter: for every 2.5 cups/600 ml of milk, use 1 tablespoon of your starter yoghurt. Put the starter in your small cup & add a slosh of cooled milk, whisking it with a fork until very, very smooth. Add this back to the saucepan & stir thoroughly to evenly distribute the starter. Carefully pour your milk into the prepared jars, add lids, & cover the incubator. Do this all fairly quickly so your mixure doesn’t lose too much heat.

Now, the waiting game. I find that my incubator needs a full 8 hours to get my yoghurt to the consistency I like, so I tend to make it in the morning & pull the plug around dinnertime. Check yours after 4-5 hours & see how it’s progressing – look for a nice, solid texture without too much wateriness. When in doubt, let it go a bit longer.

Once it’s ready, transfer your yoghurt to the fridge & let it chill overnight before assessing the final texture. It might take you a few tries to find the right combination of starter & incubation time – just be patient. It’ll be well worth the wait. Promise.

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I love little vegetable pancakes for dinner when it’s hot – they feel a little special, but don’t mean heating up the kitchen for too long. And you can make them out of nearly anything, including leftovers.

I’d made some corny quinoa as a side dish earlier in the week, & as usual, made too much. It was delicious, but I felt like doing something more than just a warm-through with the leftovers. We make zucchini feta pancakes fairly regularly during the summer, & I thought I’d try a similar spin with the quinoa. They were gorgeous, golden brown & lightly crisp at the edges, the quinoa popping gently when you bit into them. The 2-second pepper sauce was pretty inspired, too – we’ve had it with several other meals since.

Quinoa is an exceptionally nutritious grain, packed with complete proteins, iron, calcium & magnesium. It’s gluten-free, too, so try subbing in a G-F flour in the fritter recipe below. The important thing to remember when cooking with quinoa is to rinse the raw grains really well before cooking. Quinoa has a coating of bitter saponin, & failing to rinse that off results in a pot of soapy-tasting nastiness.

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Corny Quinoa Fritters

Makes about 12 3-inch pancakes

2/3 c raw quinoa, rinsed well in cold water

Bring a medium saucepan of water to the boil, salt lightly & add the rinsed quinoa. Lower the heat to a lively simmer & cook until the grains are plump, tender & fully translucent, about 15 minutes at most. Drain & transfer to a large bowl.

1 leek, sliced thinly & rinsed well

2 T olive oil

1 1/2 c corn kernels (fresh, tinned or frozen)

Small handful of fresh basil leaves, finely shredded

Salt & pepper to taste

Saute the leeks in the olive oil, over medium heat, until they start to go golden & crisp at the edges. Add the corn & heat through. Add the cooked quinoa, basil & seasonings & warm gently. You can stop at this point & have a really lovely side dish that serves 2-3.

Transfer the quinoa mixture to a large bowl & allow to cool.

3 T all purpose flour

3 eggs, beaten

Optional: 1/2 c crumbled feta cheese

Toss the flour into the quinoa to evenly coat everything, then fold in the beaten egg & feta to make a rather wet, thick batter.

Heat 2-3 T vegetable oil in a heavy skillet & fry the batter in small pancakes, turning as the top begins to set & cooking until the edges are nice & crisp. Hold the cooked pancakes on a warm plate until the rest have been cooked. Serve plain, with warmed tomato sauce, or Red Pepper Sauce:

2-Second Red Pepper Sauce

Puree one large roasted red pepper with 2-3 T thick Greek yoghurt. Add salt & pepper to taste. Serve room temperature or chilled.

I served our quinoa fritters with sauteed squash, a delightful room-temperature side dish for the summer:

Summer Squash Sauté

Heat 2 T each of unsalted butter & olive oil in a large heavy skillet. When the butter has melted, add 2 quartered & sliced zucchini and/or yellow summer squash & toss the pan gently to coat the vegetables with the butter & oil. Turn up the heat to high & let the squash cook undisturbed for 3-4 minutes. Toss or stir well & continue to cook in 3-4 minute increments until most of the squash has turned golden at the edges & the excess moisture has mostly evaporated. Turn into a heat-proof bowl & finish with fresh thyme (lemon thyme is particularly nice here), salt & pepper. Let cool slightly before serving.

 

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