January 25, 2008

Yogurt and a How-To

Left to Right: Greek-style cow's milk yogurt, Sheep's milk yogurt, Goat's milk yogurt

I have a love for cultured foods, and by cultured I mean fermented, probiotic, or otherwise microorganism enhanced and wonderfully metamorphosed food. Researching cultured foods of the world has become a passion of mine, and I've been working on collecting information for a cookbook on the topic. But enough of that! Today I want to talk yogurt.

Yogurt is probably one of the easiest things in the world to make. There seems to be a lot of mysticism surrounding the process, and lots of gadgets you could buy to make it "foolproof". I think it's relatively foolproof without the gadgets, to be honest, and I'll tell you how I do it. But first, I bought a few interesting types of yogurt to contrast and compare my findings. The yogurt was made from sheep and goat milk. I couldn't resist. I wanted to see what the taste and texture differences were between the two, especially since I've never tasted sheep milk before. I also tried a cow's milk greek-style yogurt as well, so three different types of milk were represented.

The sheep milk yogurt was made by the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company located in Old Chatham, NY, which is less than 125 mi from my location in southern Westchester, so I appreciated the almost-local nature of it. I also really liked that it is made from plain sheep milk and cultures, and that's it, no stabilizers or additives. Texture was nice and smooth. That said, I was very wow'd by the "lamby" taste to the milk. Having never eaten a sheep dairy product before, that lamby taste is something I've only ever associated with lamb meat, so it threw my taste buds into a bit of a connundrum. I can't say that I liked it, but to be fair, I think I'll have to try it again now that I know to expect the lamby taste .

The goat milk yogurt was made by Redwood Hill Farm and Creamery located in Sebastopol, CA. It says on the carton that it was the first goat milk dairy in the US to be designated Humane Raised and Handled, which is very much appreciated. This yogurt does have tapioca and pectin in it, which I wasn't particularly happy to see, but to be fair, I have never made yogurt from fresh goat milk, so I'm not sure if it perhaps sets up very runny and needs a bit of a firming agent. Anyhow, the texture was smooth, and firmer than the sheep yogurt. I really liked the taste. It was tangy and delicious. It wasn't unusual to me as I eat and enjoy fresh goat cheese quite frequently and the taste is along those lines.

The Greek-style yogurt that I tried is the Trader Joe's brand. I very much appreciate that their dairy products are rBST free, and that there were no added ingredients, except for nonfat milk. I really liked the texture, it was creamy and thick, and would work as a delicious sour-cream substitute. Adding nonfat milk powder is a trick you can use to thicken yogurt without adding non-dairy thickeners, which brings me to the how-to portion of todays entry.

How to Make Yogurt

1 qt. milk
Plain yogurt of your favorite brand containing live cultures
dry milk powder, optional

The most important thing in making yogurt is to have clean utensils. This will include your hands. Bring the milk to a boil in a pot that has a lid, and then remove from the heat.

Let the milk cool until you can stick your finger in the milk and count to 10 before it's too hot to stand.

Whisk in 2-3 T. of your plain yogurt into the milk. If you want thicker yogurt, whisk in 1/4-1/2 cup or dry milk powder.

Put the lid on the pot and put in a warm place for about 5 hours. What I use for a warm place is my oven that I turn on the lowest it will go for a minute or two, and then turn off. If your oven isn't gas with a pilot light, wrapping the pot in a towel to keep it cozy might be an idea, or just wrapped in a towel on your counter if your kitchen is very warm . Keep in mind the whole idea is the same as rising bread...warm let's the little cultures grow and turn your milk into yogurt, hot kills them, and cold makes them inactive. Use your best judgement, and if you look after 5 hours and it's still milk, don't go crazy, just re-use the milk and try again.

Remove to a container with a lid for storage in the fridge.

Don't forget to leave a little bit in the container to use for your next batch!

Some variations to think about:

Add lemon zest, juice and a bit of sweetener to the milk, and then add your culture, proceed as above, and voila! lemon yogurt. You can make vanilla and chocolate yogurt in this fashion as well.

A delicious Indian variation is to use condensed milk, which you can boil down yourself if you so choose, and jaggery, which is unrefined sugar. Dissolve it in the hot milk, let it cool to the appropriate 10 second temperature, and then add the culture and proceed as normal.

After the yogurt is done, stir in some of the fruit jam of your choice for flavored fruit yogurt like you could buy in the store.

Like to make homemade butter? Fresh buttermilk makes really tasty yogurt.

I love to eat yogurt plain with some honey drizzled on it. Heavenly!

January 16, 2008

Microwave Bacon Rocks!

I'm a crunchy bacon person, and I'm telling you, there is probably no better way to cook brainlessly easy, perfectly crisp and crunchy bacon, than to cook it in the microwave. I don't consider myself a microwave cook, I don't use the microwave for anything really, other than to reheat food- oh, and melt chocolate. I do use it for that. But I absolutely love it for bacon!
When you use a skillet, there are always places that are softer than others. Baking bacon in an oven is a fairly standard way to make large quantities of bacon, and actually, if you want to keep the bacon grease, I would recommend it. It's super simple, you put your bacon strips on a half-sheet pan, and bake it in the oven until the desired doneness is achieved. However, for breakfast bacon quick, easy and relatively mess free in the morning, the microwave is the way to go.
I use a microwave plate thingie that I don't even know how I ended up with it, but it works beautifully. I've also used a regular plate with satisfactory results, so no specialty equipment is required. So here is a step-by-step to make perfect microwave bacon.

Step 1: Choose your plate

Step 2: Place a paper towel, then bacon on the plate

It doesn't matter if your bacon overlaps a bit, as shown here in the photo. Too much overlapping and they might start to stick together, but this is fine.

Step 3: Fold the edges of the paper towel up and over

The biggest hazard, in my opinion, of cooking bacon in the microwave is the potential for bacon grease dripping all over your turntable. However, folding the edges of the paper towel up and over, as shown, doesn't allow the greasy paper towel to touch the turntable at all, and so voila! No greasy mess.

Step 4: Place a paper towel over the bacon and tuck under the edges

You want the top paper towel to be tucked under the bacon and lower paper towel as the weight will keep it in place, and again, no hanging edges or grease mess.

Step 5: Cook by increments. This is after 2 minutes

If your microwave is über powerful, you might want to cook by 1 minute intervals. Some people like to eat their bacon in this limp, floppy format. However, if this gives you the heebies, press on!

After 4 minutes

After 6 minutes

For me, this is almost perfect. One more minute I think...

After 7 minutes

Ah, crunchy bacon perfection. Let the bacon sit for a minute- it gets crunchier as it sets, and if the paper has stuck to it for any reason, it will come off as it cools. Remove the bacon and throw out the paper towels. That's all there is to it! The best part is, you get bacon quickly, and no messy microwave. Enjoy!

January 11, 2008

Braised Lamb

Browning Lamb Neck Bones

When I was growing up, lamb was considered a special occasion meat. At 2, 3 or even 4 times the cost of beef or more, it wasn't economical. However, with beef prices raised to where they are, I am constantly suprised (happily, that is) by just how affordable lamb has become.

I love braised lamb dishes. I love lamb shanks and using meaty lamb neck bones in a variety of ways. These were once, and heck, still are, considered the more undesireable, and therefore less expensive cuts of the lamb. However, in my oppinion, there are no undesireable parts. Everything depends on how you prepare the meat. I love these cuts, because through the moist cooking process, the meat becomes just meltingly tender and oh, so flavorful. It's lovely.

So, the other day I was in the market, and I came upon lamb shanks AND meaty lamb neck bones and was stunned to see them for approximately $2.50 a pound. Done. Sold. Market happiness. I brought them home and made some delicious braised shanks. There are unlimited variations on how to make this dish. It's a fairly standard methodology, with variations on ingredients. However, I'll share how I made the ones in my, sadly, fuzzy photo. Bad camera.

Braised Lamb Shanks

3 or 4 lamb shanks - 1 per person is common, but that's alot of meat for me, personally
2 med, or 1 large onion
3-4 cloves garlic
3-4 carrots
1/2 c. red wine, or to taste
3-4 T. tomato paste diluted in 1/2 c. water. Feel free to use other types of tomato product, this is just what I had on hand. Canned or fresh tomatoes will produce alot of liquid which would be perfect.
1/2 t. allspice and 1/4 t. nutmeg or to taste
salt and pepper to taste
Throw in some fresh thyme if you have it, or italian parsley

Start browning the lamb shanks in a little butter or olive oil. Really let these things go to a nice, dark golden brown. This usually takes between 15-20 minutes.
Remove the shanks unless you have a lot of room in your pan, and start cooking the onions. When they have softened, add the carrots and then garlic. Deglaze the pan with the red wine, if the onions haven't already, add the tomato product, and the spice. Add the lamb back in, cover, and simmer for 1 to 1&1/2 hours, or until tender. If you want a thicker sauce, let it simmer for 1/2 hour with the lid off. Adjust your seasoning and there you go!
This is great with a starch of some kind, such as boiled potatoes, cooked rice, noodles, or even a nice baguette. You want something nice and neutral that will pair with the sauce. Enjoy! :)

Braised Lamb Shanks

Ooh ooh! Did you notice? I can now add captions to my pics! Hooray for me! I feel so accomplished.

January 4, 2008


Have you ever had Bärenjäger? (spelled Baerenjaeger without the umlauts) If so, you know the love. If not, then you are in for a treat because this is some delicious stuff. It's like liquid honey- with a kick. It comes in a bottle with a cap shaped like a beehive. How great is that? But you know me, I need to know where this stuff comes from, and can you believe it? I found recipes to make your own. Apparently it's pretty common in Germany.

It's an old Prussian drink, in fact, according to some information from Germany, it is the national drink of East Prussia. It's based on an ancient drink called Meschkinnes, which was a honey homebrew that farmers made. In Germany today, it appears to be more oftenly called Bärenfang, which means Bear Bait, however I've seen Meschkinnes too. Maybe it's a regional thing, I'm not sure. Bärenjäger, meaning Bear Hunter, is what this drink is called in the States, and actually appears to be a brand name from the Teucke & König Company. It was created, and I couldn't find out when to my dissapointment, by the Teuke & König company back when they were the Teucke & König Bear Trap Company. Honest! As in made bear traps- to catch bears in. Apparently, they dropped the business of making Bear Traps and just kept up the Bear Hunting Juice. I even found a couple of poems- in German- dedicated to Bärenfang but they really didn't translate well. I also found some testimonials, and recipes for mixed drinks using Bärenjäger which seems to be the most readily available brand for purchase in the States. However, what I really wanted to know was how to make my own Bärenfang. Hehe. This is what I found.

This was found on the Ostpreußen.net website and was translated in an erm..interesting way by google translation.

Meschkinnes ist ein ostpreußischer Seelentröster

250 g Blütenhonig, ½ Liter Wodka, 1 Zimtstange, Schale einer ungespritzten Zitrone

Den Honig in etwas Wodka bei milder Hitze auflösen, dann kalt werden lassen. Den restlichen Wodka, die Zimtstange und die dünn geschälte Zitronenschale dazugeben. Bei Zimmertemperatur etwa eine Woche lang fest verschlossen stehen lassen und dabei täglich gut durchschütteln. Anschließned den Likör in eine Karaffe füllen und verschlossen und dunkel aufheben.

Na dann: Prost!

Meschkinnes is a ostpreußischer Revitalising

250 g honey, ½ liters of vodka, 1 cinnamon stick, a cup lemon ungespritzten

The honey in a little vodka with mild heat dissolve, then cold. The rest of vodka, cinnamon stick and the thinly peeled lemon peel add. At room temperature for about a week are tightly closed and the daily well to churn. Anschließned the liqueur into a carafe and fill locked and dark repeal.

Well then: Cheers!

Now let me try to translate the translation. What this says to me, is that on low heat, you dissolve the honey in a just a little of the vodka. Then let cool. Add the remaining vodka, cinnamon and lemon peel to a sealed container that you agitate everyday for a week. Then strain off the sediments and decant into a clean bottle, seal it, and store in a dark place.

Another version I found comes from the website of the German Embassy in D.C. Yay for diplomacy! http://www.germany.info/relaunch/culture/life/baerenfang.html


2 cups honey
1 pint grain alcohol
2 cups plus 4-1/2 teaspoons Moselle wine

Carefully heat the honey until it has turned to liquid. Remove from heat. Stir in the alcohol, then add the wine (or water). Fill into bottles and let the liqueur stand for several weeks. The longer it stands, the better the taste.

Mmm. Sounds straightforward enough.

Another version was described to a blogger named
Schneelocke. The ingredients were "rape" honey, "lab" alcohol that was 98% pure, distilled water and nothing else. That alcohol sounds serious, since 35% alcohol is 70 proof! Also, I'm not sure what type of honey that is, but here, you can read for yourself. schnee.livejournal.com/592676.html

One more version found here: rezeptzentrum.com/Recipe.asp?code=273304 is entitled East Prussian Bärenfang and is pretty much the same type of recipe. The differences here are along with the honey and vodka, you add a cinnamon stick, a vanilla bean, 4 cloves and 1/2 a lemon peel. This recipe recommends a period of 8-10 days for the infusion, and then decanting.

One interesting way to use the Bärenfang was in a cup of hot tea, or with hot water. Sort of a honey hot toddy, and supposedly good for colds and other winter-time ailments. I'm telling you, that sounds fantastic right now because I've been freezing my butt off for the last two days.

Anyhow, that's about enough on that! I hope you get to enjoy some of this honeylicious liquor sometime soon, and if you've ever swung a stein while singing Ein Prosit then Zicke-zacke, zicke-zacke, Hoi, Hoi, Hoi!

January 1, 2008

Ye Olde Christmas

I love history. I also, as you know, love food. So I’m sure that you don’t find it that outrageous that I love food history and historical recipes. In keeping with the entire Christmas and New Years season, which will officially leave us on January 6th as the Day of the Epiphany or Three King’s Day, I’ve been wanting to post some old fashioned Christmas recipes that perhaps will inspire us next season!

In this vein, I went on a quest for an antique typeface, not really expecting much of a result, but my ideal would be to post some of these old gems in a typeface that would have been used in the 1700’s when some of these recipes were first put into print in English. One of my favorite cookbooks is “The Williamsburg Art of Cookery” compiled by Helen Bullock in 1938 and based on a book that had been printed in Williamsburg, VA in 1742. I started looking at it for information on what period typeface they used, and found out that it is printed in the Caslon typeface, which is, indeed, an eighteenth century typeface.

Enter the very excellent work of Mr. David Manthey, whom I’ve never met, but is my hero of the hour. He created a free for personal-use font, based on Caslon, that can be used on the computer. Not only that, but a button that can be installed in Word to take your typing into the 18th century- or undo it. It’s beautiful! His work can be found at his page entitled 18th Century Ligatures and Fonts. Thank you David!

This recipe first appeared in “Mrs. Bradley’s British Housewife” published in London, England in 1756. Apparently, from the narration, it was an ancient recipe at that time, and sort of old-fashioned. I find this concoction absolutely fascinating- ah, though not enough to actually try it. I think some mincemeat recipes might have originated along these lines. I’ve always imagined mincemeat pie to be a sort of throwback to medieval cookery, considering the spices used. But anyway, please, please, please, if some historical fanatic, er, intrepid soul makes this recipe please let me know! Take pictures! Tell the tale! Onward Mrs. Bradley!

It's come to my attention that not every browser can read the recipe in the Caslon typeface automatically. However, you can add the font to your computer from the html version of David Manthey's 18th Century Ligatures and Fonts page, click here. If you don't want to do that, I've added a scan so you can at least see what it looks like. :)

Plumb Porridge

This is a famous old EngliÈ diÈ, and though at preÇent diÇuÇed in London, yet as there are many Families in the Country who Ìill keep up the CuÌom of HoÇpitality, and admit this among the Entertainments of the SeaÇon, we Èall not leave the Cook at a LoÇs how to make it.

ChuÇe a Äne and ÅeÈy Leg of Beef with the Shin, crack the Bone in Several Places, and put it into a clean Copper with eight Gallons of Water: Let there be a moderate Fire; add nothing to the Meat and Water, but let them boil together till the Meat is ready to fall from the Bones, and the Broth is very Ìrong; then Ìrain it out, preËing the Meat hard to get out the laÌ of the Gravy.

Wipe the Copper, and pour in the Broth.

Cut oÁ the Tops and the Bottoms of Half a Dozen Penny-loaves, Êice them, and put them into a Pot with as much of the Broth out of the Copper as will cover them; let them Ìand half an hour to Çoak, and then Çet them over the Fire to boil.

When the bread is thoroughly Çoft pour the Whole into the Copper to the ReÌ.

Let this boil up a quarter of an Hour.

While this is doing waÈ and pick Äve Pounds of Currants, put them in, and make it boil up again.

While the Currants are boiling in the Broth, Ìone Éx Pounds of RaiÉns, and a Pound and half of Prunes, put theÇe in, and let them boil till they are plumped up and perfeÀly tender.

Then put in ten Blades of Mace, a Dozen and a half of Cloves, and half an Ounce of Nutmegs, all bruiÇed together in a Mortar.

When the Spices have boiled up two or three Times take away the Fire, and let the Whole cool: When it is Ço cool that it can be taÌed put in three Pounds of double-reÄned Sugar powdered, Çome Basket Salt, and a Quart of Sack.

Stir it all about, and then taÌe it. The Salt is the nice Article; take Care that it be neither briny nor inÉpid; when it is rightly ÇeaÇoned put in a Quart of red Port Wine, and Çqueeze in three Lemons.

Stir all up very well together, and taÌe it once again to Çee if it be rightly ÇeaÇoned: The Palate muÌ judge this; if there want more Wine, more Sugar, or more Lemon Juice, add theÇe till it is right; if it be too Èarp a little Sugar takes that oÁ, and if too Çweet the Juice of Lemon is a Remedy for that: When it is thus well Çuited to the Palate, ladle it out into earthen Pans, and Çet it by: A proper Quantity is to be heated occaÉonally, and Çent up to Table.

The French laugh outrageouÊy at this old EngliÈ diÈ, and to be Çure it is an odd Medley: It puts one in Mind of thoÇe famous Medicines of Antiquity, the Mithridate and Venice Treacle, into which the Inventors Ìrove to put every Thing that was good, without conÇulting how the Çeveral Things would agree with one another; there are, however, yet many good old EngliÈ Palates which are well aÁeÀed to the cordial Broth.