Discovery of the day: Another MIM success!

I am pleased to announce that I successfully made a batch of yogurt last weekend that came out (almost) exactly the way I wanted.

All it took was a quart of whole milk, one-third cup of dry milk powder, half a cup of yogurt (the starter), a small cooler, some hot water, and about eight hours. Oh yeah, a pot and a stove, too. And a thermometer.

(Do I need to mention the spatula, small bowl, and tiny whisk? Probably not? OK, then, let's get on with it already!)

I read a bunch of different recommendations for amount of powdered milk and starter, but decided in the end to follow the proportions given here. I'm not a stickler for organic, but I did have some Nancy's organic yogurt that I'd bought because it had, like, six different types of cultures. And more has to be better, right?

(Now that I've written 'six', I am doubting my memory. I feel compelled to double-check the carton tonight.)

I heated the milk in the pan on the stove to 170 deg., stirred in the dry milk, then set the pan in cool water until the temp of the milk hit about 110 deg. I took a cup or so of the milk and whisked it into the starter in a small bowl, then poured that back into the pan.

As for my container, I had a clean, one quart peanut butter jar that I'd run through the dishwasher then filled with boiling water (sanitized for your protection). While the milk was cooling I dumped the water out of the jar and let it air dry for a bit.

I poured the milk into the jar, but a quart plus half a cup equals more than a quart so I had a little left over, which I dumped, reluctantly. The jar was capped and placed in my 9 quart cooler. I poured hot water (120 deg) into the cooler until the water level was an inch or two below the level of the milk in the jar.

Then I let it sit. I worried about whether the temp would drop below 104 deg., so I found a small two-piece indoor/outdoor thermometer I had around, one where the outside component relays the temperature to the inside display. I put the outside component in one of my long plastic bread bags, dropped it in the cooler, draped the open end of the bag over the side and shut the lid on it. Then I carried the readout component around with me for the rest of the day.

Overkill, much?

The temp wasn't 100% accurate since the outdoor component floated on the surface, but it gave me an idea of when the temp had dropped too much. I probably went way overboard pulling out a portion of the water and reheating it, but I wanted to be sure it stayed warm enough.

Apparently it did, because when I pulled it out eight hours later, I had a beautiful, firm clump of yogurt. The only thing that bugs me is that it's a little more tart than I hoped, but I know that's related to the long incubation time.

Next time, I'll find my probe thermometer and track the water temp instead of the air temp. I'll also pull the yogurt out after six hours and see if it's firm enough.

I've been toying with trying to find a yogurt maker but the one I want (Salton YM9) apparently is no longer made, and other makes seem to run about $50. Thanks, but for $50, I'll stick with my homemade rig.

Yay, yogurt! Now that I've got it figured out, I'll be making it regularly.



Discovery of the day: Hitting the fan

If you read my other blog, you know that I've had a couple of familial wildfires pop up in the past week and they've kind of knocked me sideways. I'm guessing my posting here may well be sparse going forward but I'll check in as often as I can come up with something to write about. Like today.

I have a minor victory to share: I found the perfect bread bags. I've been sticking my sliced sandwich loaves in resealable bags, sucking out the air, and storing them in the freezer. But gallon bags don't exactly fit right, and over time the slices end up going every which way and they tend to get bent, etc., which annoys the crap out of me.

Saturday I found the solution at the restaurant supply store. I knew they had an assortment of oddball plastic bags, and sure enough, I found a 5" x 4" x 18" model. I wasn't sure if it would fit, but at $4.00/100, I figured it was worth the gamble.

Got them home and the universe did smile upon me -- my loaf slid in pretty as you please, just like the bags on store-boughten bread. I have this bad habit of saving the plastic clippy-things from bread bags and was pleased as punch to be able to use one to hold the bag closed, although a twist-tie would work just as well.

I later decided to double up the bread bags 'cause the plastic was rather thin.

I had another success last weekend but you'll have to check back for that one.


BYOB: Whole Wheat Buttermilk Sandwich Loaf

Well, I've cranked out enough loaves of our default whole wheat sandwich bread that I now feel I've got it mastered. In my bread machine, anyway. :)

I wasn't at all confident I would be able to produce a loaf that my SO and son would embrace so I was particularly thrilled to have good, repeatable results. We haven't bought sandwich bread in over six weeks!

So here's my recipe, in all its simple glory:
Whole Wheat Buttermilk Sandwich Bread (1.5 lb loaf)
Adapted from The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book, p 439, for the Breadman Ultimate machine.

1¼ cup water (warm for molasses, hot for honey)
2 Tablespoons honey or molasses
2 Tablespoons oil or cold butter
1¼ teaspoons salt

3 cup less 2 Tablespoons whole wheat flour (red or white, not pastry flour, 14.3 oz by weight)
3 Tablespoons buttermilk powder

1½ teaspoons yeast

Pour water into bucket of bread machine, add sweetener and stir to dissolve. Add salt to bucket, stir. If using oil, add it also.

In a bowl, combine flour and buttermilk powder. Whisk to combine, add gently to bucket.

Make a small well on top of the dry ingredients, add yeast.

If using butter, cut into four chunks and drop one in each corner of bucket on top of dry ingredients.

Plug in bread machine.

Bread machine settings:
  • Whole Wheat (not rapid). Display will show 3:27.

  • 1.5 lb loaf

  • Light crust
De-pan bread to a cooling rack as soon as possible after timer goes off. Paint top with melted butter or oil to keep crust soft (optional). Let cool to room temperature on rack before slicing.

I've only had this recipe fail a couple of times, and that was when instead of using the fresh-ground whole wheat flour from the fancy-pants grocery, I opened a bag of whole wheat flour I'd had in the pantry a little past (OK, 6 months past) the 'best by' date. We had three loaves fail before I figured it out. They just didn't rise properly. They might have even risen and collapsed. That was the first time I'd experienced such a visual demonstration of what happens when you use old flour and I won't make that mistake again!

Some random bread tips:
  • I love using the buttermilk powder for baking! I keep the little cardboard canister in the fridge and it's always there when I need it.

  • I keep my yeast in an airtight container in the freezer. I bought a one pound bag over a year ago and it's still going strong. I test it every few months just to be sure it's still active.

  • I've found that the SAF brand yeast seems to make better-tasting bread than the Fleischmann's, but YMMV.

  • I use an electric knife to slice my bread. It's the only way I can even hope to slice it thin enough.

  • As soon as it's sliced, I bag the loaf in a resealable plastic bag, suck out excess air, and freeze it.
Yep, I freeze my sandwich bread. It's the only way I've found to keep homemade bread fresh past a day or two. We just pop out the slices we need and either toast them or nuke in the microwave for 10 seconds or so. If you are opposed to nuking, you could put them in a plastic bag and let them thaw on the counter.

I bought my bread machine at a silent auction and it sat in a closet for two years. I am now in love with it and can't imagine making sandwich bread without it. Heck, if it dies I might actually go pay full price for a new one!



Discovery of the day: Going granular

Made some granola the other day; the first step to making granola bars to replace the ones I buy my son from time to time. I used Mark Bittman's recipe/guidelines, given here. I used rolled oats, ground flaxseeds, pecans, walnuts, almonds, raisins, dried cherries, apricots, and honey. I also used a combo of unsweetened and sweetened coconut since I had both on hand. It came out well. Next time I might look for a rolled seven-grain cereal or something to add to the oats, just for fun.

Then I tried gluing some of the granola together into no-bake bars using the recipe given here and that was, uh, not a total win. I added some puffed brown rice cereal for some of the granola, and I used peanut butter instead of the brown sugar. The puffed rice worked great, but even omitting the brown sugar, they were so sweet that my son wouldn't eat them. If they're too sweet for a nine year old, that's pretty damned sweet! Good thing I only made half a batch.

I'm betting the honey could be cut back some, but honey is so sweet to begin with -- there has to be something else I could use of a similar viscosity that wouldn't be quite so cloying. I finally determined that corn syrup or brown rice syrup might be a good choice. I have good old Karo syrup at home, but that certainly doesn't sound very sexy, so today I paid over $6 for a jar of brown rice syrup.

All I can say is it had better taste absolutely fantastic.

So next time I'll use maybe 1/2 cup brown rice syrup (3/4 if I have to), 1/2 cup peanut butter, maybe a tablespoon (or two) of oil, 2 cups granola and 1 cup of puffed brown rice cereal.

Fingers crossed!



Discovery of the day: Waffle-icious

We found a reasonable replacement waffle iron this weekend, and boy, was that a much larger hassle than I expected. The goal was to find a plain old waffle iron (don't need three kinds of 'plates') that makes regular (not belgian) waffles, is made of decent quality materials (not plastic outside), costs under $80, and could be purchased locally.

It took visits to four stores, but we found precisely one that fit all criteria, and it was on sale for less than $30. Score!

We fired up our new Cuisinart 'Classic' on Sunday to see if we could make waffles to replace my son's beloved Eggos. We used the recipe in the book but cut the oil in half, which turned out to be a mistake. They were edible, but not spectacular. I ended up with four to freeze for the week, and other than having to separate a waffle into quarters to get it to fit in the toaster, it worked out OK. I'm just thrilled that my son will eat them.

Next time I'll try a recipe from Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything Vegetarian that looks particularly promising.

Another staple for the MIM list - yay!

As for the waffle iron itself, I am not in love with it. It feels flimsier than the old one. We'll see how it holds up.



Discovery of the day: You have got to be kidding me!

We took my son to the Seattle Aquarium yesterday and decided to grab lunch at Red Robin. Along with the large, brightly-colored menus was a smaller, rather plain black and white menu-looking thing with no photos. I ignored it at first, but picked it up when I realized it was nutritional information.

Can I just say? Oh My Gah.

I was astonished at the calorie counts, especially of the items I thought would be relatively harmless. I didn't take notes and my memory is crap, but I swear most of the 'salads' came in near or over 1000 calories! The only one that was even worth considering was the Asian Chicken Salad, which I think was under 600 calories.

For my SO, the biggest shocker was the Whiskey River BBQ Wrap which was something like 1700 cals, at least! He had assumed a mere 'chicken wrap' would not be an entire day's worth of calories. I mean, heck, it had lettuce in it; practically a salad, right? Poor disillusioned guy.

I was stunned that even the Garden Burger (veggie/grain patty) clocked in at over 700 cals. The only part of the menu that wasn't terrifying (calorically, at least) was the kids' meals, and I'm sure that was simply due to portion size. I didn't even look at the sodium. If I had, we would have had to leave. Sometimes it's better not to know, you know?

I got the Asian Salad with dressing on the side and my son ate most of the chicken. My SO ended up getting a salmon burger. I can't remember what the calorie count on that was, but at least it was grilled salmon. My son got the mac & cheese and mandarin orange segments, which I ate.

We split my SO's fries between the three of us, but everyone knows that those calories don't stick if you rinse them down with Diet Coke. ;)

So major kudos to Red Robin for putting it out there, but Cheeze Louise, guys!