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Streamlined Yogurt Making

All you need is a microwave oven, a Mason jar and a thermometer that goes to 200°F (93.3C), a quart of whole milk (better if it is antibiotic, hormone and GMO free), and about 1/4 cup Greek yogurt or the same size sample from a batch of previously home made yogurt.  Using the microwave saves you the extra step and clean-up of a pan on the stove. This method is so easy you may never need to purchase the expensive stuff from the store ever again!

Step one: Have your 1/4 cup sample of yogurt ready to “seed” the quart of milk in your pre-sanitized Mason jar (boil half a quart of water in it prior, then cool it by slowly add the milk).  The milk in the mason jar goes into the microwave for approximately 5 minutes or until the thermometer reaches 180° (82.2C).  Stir occasionally to ensure even temperature top to bottom and skim light skin when it appears.

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Just needs another minute…

Step two: Cool the scalded milk back to a temperature you would be comfortable bathing in; about 110°F (43.3C). Add the culture; about a quarter cup of plain yogurt from an earlier batch, or you could use a sample of store-bought plain Greek yogurt; the more organic the better.  Not all commercial yogurts are created equal but FAGE is a brand highly recommended for taste and quality ingredients if you need to go that route for your culture. About half of a single serving tub is sufficient. Stir it in, mix well and screw on the lid.  As long as you make the next quart of yogurt from your own stock you will never have to purchase yogurt from the store again!  The taste and quality of home made is superior to anything mass produced.

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The Cool-down and the Culture

Step three: Set the jar somewhere it won’t be disturbed but will stay warm the whole day; about 10 to 12 hours.  Because it’s summer the temperature outside is perfect for culturing yogurt; about 90°F (32.2C) average.  As long as the temperature stays between 80° and 100° it will be fine. This temperature range is the perfect temperature for the lactic acid producing bacteria to thrive and multiply causing the milk  to thicken but not curdle. Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus are the common strains of bacteria which produce a creamy, thick, gut-health boosting yogurt.  If you start this process at 7:00 a.m., by 7:00 p.m. the bacteria will have done its job. Watch the temperature outside carefully that it stays within the range I mentioned earlier.  In this case the temperature outside was 80°F by 8:00 a.m. when the cooking and cooling was done and that was perfect.  It got to the mid 90°s and by 7:00 p.m. it was 85°;  again, perfect.

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Set it out in the Hot Summer Breeze

Step four: Now put the jar in the refrigerator overnight and by 5:00 a.m. or so the next day you will have a delicious creamy, tangy, treat to eat for breakfast.  If your end product is too thin you can strain the whole jar of its whey in a strainer with cheesecloth or a large coffee filter until it is the consistency you desire.

Bonus: Don’t throw out the whey!  It can be used in soups, mashed potatoes, smoothies, etc…anything you usually add milk and water to will get a boost of protein and added flavor, plus the probiotic benefit.

The Greek yogurt business is in the 1.7 billion range today.  I really get a kick out of taking away at least one customer.  At the store at nearly $2.00 per serving you get 7 oz of a product in a plastic tub with an aluminum lid glued to it and who knows what else added. Give this pure and simple method a try!  You too will keep that money in your own pockets and be so much more satisfied with the taste, and the knowledge of exactly what you are eating from a sterilized glass jar.  Take charge!  I’m having mine with chunks of home-grown tomatoes. YUMMO!100_1718

Froot Loop Tea

Remember the cereal Froot Loops with the super sniffing toucan mascot flying through the forest sniffing out the flavor of fruit where ever he went?  Well he could very well live in my backyard!  I don’t live in a tropical rain forest, just St. Louis, but what grows wild, and I mean wild back there is lemon balm and mint.  At certain times I have raspberries or blackberries (I’m trying a new thornless blackberry plant this year to make life easy)  grows wild too.  When all three plants are producing, I make my famous Froot Loop Tea.

You won’t believe how much this tea can remind you of the cereal of childhood.  You won’t believe how easy it is to grow and make, and you won’t believe how good this tea is for you. As it is brewing you won’t notice much, but wait until you have a hot cup under your nose. You will be taken back to mornings looking for the prize at the bottom of the cereal box while that fruity smell wafts out at you.

If you grow any herbs, the easier ones are mint and lemon balm. The berries are easy to grow too, and all these plants tend to spread year to year. These could all be grown in the yard or in containers if you don’t have yard space. In my yard, I used to dread how much the herbs spread but now I have learned to appreciate and use them more on a daily basis. It’s good now that these grow so abundantly. I like to grow things that go to good use.

100_1662This Earth Day I don’t want to just be a steward of Earth’s ecology but also one who lives on her abundance…and not just for the one day.  When you get to be my age you want to do things that keep you off the blood pressure meds, the heart pills, the arthritis cures and so on.  I can’t claim this tea will make you able to stop taking these medications but the antioxidants in this tea have proven benefits that help keep you looking young (and divalike), boost mind sharpness and memory,  soothe bronchitis, cleanse the liver, help you sleep and help relieve menstrual cramps. That’s just the lemon balm!

Mint is one of the foods highest in antioxidants, it is an antimicrobial and its oils can be an effective pain reliever.  Antioxidants help fight the aging process warding off free radicals.  The antimicrobial properties help fight germs like the ones that give you bad breath.  Maybe you’ve experienced the soothing effects of mint.  Whether you ate something spicy or have a burning insect sting, mint comes to the cooling rescue.

As far a s raspberries, they pack a healthy punch too.  Rich in antioxidants, manganese and vitamin C, these little gems help fight the free radicals, and
even cancer cells.
100_1659To put together this brew of good health, all you do is muddle together and add the ingredients to the basket of your coffee maker and run a carafe of water through.  Soon you will be enjoying your own cup of nourishing, immune boosting, great smelling, tea. 100_1661100_1665

 

Go with Your Gut

These days there is a much concern about healthy gut bacteria.  It’s great when you can defend yourself  against certain food born bacteria and a good defense is eating fermented food to help balance the good and bad bacteria floating around in you.

Even if it’s not bugs of the holidays, with all the over processed food conveniently available our guts don’t stand a chance taking on a chemical warfare of flavor enhancers, anti caking agents, and colorants as well.  Time to hit the reset button!  We need to turn to the things Grandma and Grandpa used to do; that is to say, get back to the basics in our everyday food preparation.100_1493

There are a lot of products available at the supermarket and the drug store to help bolster that healthy gut bacteria; things like yogurt, kefir, kombucha and probiotic pills.  These things are expensive!  Except for the pills, 100_1506these things can be cultured at home but all one really needs to feed their gut the good stuff is a head of cabbage and some salt.

It is  a week long process to culture these healthy bacteria already living on your head of cabbage: Leuconostoc mesenteroides, Lactobacillus brevis, Pediococcus pentosaceus, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus bavaricus.  All of this can be had for about forty cents.  You just have to like sour kraut.  Even if you don’t, you might like the fresh stuff because the taste and texture is far superior to anything store bought.

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First, you’ll need a good knife, a small mouthed quart Mason jar and a standard pickle jar that has been thoroughly cleaned. Next, chop a head of cabbage into thin strips, cutting lengthwise then cutting one half at a time into 1/8th inch shreds.  In a gallon size freezer bag sprinkle two teaspoons non-iodized salt over the shredded cabbage, seal it with as little air as possible and pound it with your fist or a can of soup or a heavy sauce pan..what ever you like to use.  Take out a measure of frustration on this cabbage until you notice it rendering some juice.

100_1515It will take a bit of time to stuff as much cabbage as possible into the mason jar from the bag but do so until you see the level of juice rise.  After releasing your frustration you will have the patience to persevere. Keep stuffing until the juice rises all the way to the top of the cabbage. 100_1518Stuff, stuff, stuff! Take a rest if the juice isn’t there yet.  After a few minutes the salt will help render enough to cover the cabbage.  If it’s not happening after ten minutes or so, a splash of non chlorinated water is all it should take to cover the cabbage.  Almost an entire average head of cabbage will fit in the jar.

Invert the clean pickle jar over the mason jar and you will have created the perfect fermenting vessel.  It will keep out dust and other unwanted air born stuff yet let carbon dioxide gas escape without blowing up on your counter.  That’s it!  All you have to do now is wait about a week, maybe more if you like a mushier product.  You can taste it along the way to check your progress.

100_1523From day two to about day four, if you keep your jar at around 72 °F, you will notice bubbles increasing on the surface each day then diminishing the rest of the week.  Those first four days the fermentation is in high gear.  It continues but the kraut becomes more mellow and a bit softer in the last four days.  You don’t want it to go so far as to get it too mushy or the good bacteria will have languished, thus, the product is less beneficial.

It is important for the cabbage to be covered in liquid and press out all air bubbles.  If air gets to the cabbage it may oxidize and turn brown.  Having a little brown does not mean a total fail.  Just remove the oxidized pieces, place a tight lid on and refrigerate after the 8 days.  It will still be perfectly edible.

Our grandparents and ancestors from all countries did these things to preserve food to survive harsh winters.  Want to be tough like them?  It takes guts!  So take care of yours with your own special recipe for sauerkraut.100_1531

 

 

 

 

Glam the Leftovers

There are usually some leftovers when I cook.  Not the meal very often but its components.  For example, today I have about 4 cups of cubed and cooked potatoes in a tub in the refrigerator left from last week. They are running out of time. This seems like a place to start so I look around for other additions that will turn into a pot of something good.

I always keep carrots, olive oil and spices around.  In my dehydrated stores, mushrooms are a wonderful umami booster to any dish. There has been a leek in the crisper for a while the tops looking a little shabby.   In the fridge also is some milk I must use up and a tub of sour cream with a couple of nice dollops that need to go away before it’s too late.  Not sounding very glamorous is it?

Well, here’s how we’ll put the glam to the pan:

100_1486Clean, slice and sauté  a leek (an onion will also do) in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil until soft and slightly golden on some pieces.  Add the cooked potato cubes and go over them with a potato masher until coarsely but evenly mashed.  Stir in about 5 cups milk (I had whole milk),  add 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.  Also add spices you like.  I used parsley flakes for a hint of greenery and coriander for a hot and lemony hit. A pinch of red pepper flakes adds 100_1490nice heat if you like that.  I do!  

This needs to be simmered until it bubbles a bit and while we wait for that use a carrot peeler and slice a medium carrot with it to make ultra thin slices.  It whiles away the time it takes for the soup to bubble and adds beautiful color to the pot. Those dehydrated mushrooms I mentioned come into play here.  I grab a few slices and crush them in my hand and add the flakes to the pot.  You can’t see them much but you sure will taste the mellow earthy goodness they impart.

100_1482Once everything has a chance to simmer and blend flavors it’s time to add a bit more creaminess. It’s time to close off the flame so the dairy components won’t break and look grainy. Those dollops of sour cream are just the touch.  If you happen to have some regular cream, a shot of that will add more richness.  Just stir it and let it melt right in. As a final touch that adds that Je’ ne sais quoi (that’s how a diva says “I don’t know what”) a tablespoon of Parmesan cheese gives everything a sharper taste.  Don’t add too much or the secret will be revealed.  You want just enough to have people try to guess what that great (or grated) taste is.  Another ingredient that does that in tiny amounts is nutmeg.  Grate some fresh or go to your spice rack an add just a wee pinch.

In the end our leftovers have never looked and tasted better.  The refrigerator is slightly cleaner and the company at the dining room table are enjoying themselves better after raking leaves, working on the car and cleaning and cooking.  I think after all this work we’ll have to dress up for a date night tonight.  And that’s how we glam the leftovers.100_1483

Oven Fried Catfish with Homemade Tartar Sauce

I dread frying anything for two reasons.  One, the calories; even though back in my restaurant employment days the executive chef told me over and over, “Fat equals flavor.”  He wasn’t lying but I found a way around that conundrum in this recipe.

The second reason for my disinclination is the greasy mess to clean up in the end.  Why not contain the mess in a pan rather than wipe down a multitude of surfaces including the range hood.  I can do without all the acrobatics this late in the evening.

100_1468A while ago I found a super deal on catfish nuggets at the store.  It was locally caught and freshly frozen…I could tell, so I jumped on a five pound bag of those babies.  About one and a half pounds were gently thawed in the microwave then placed in a container of milk to soak.  In the food processor I pulsed about a cup of corn bread stuffing mix with a tablespoon of butter and a glug or two of olive oil.  I added another 2/3 cup of crispy panko 100_1469breadcrumbs into a large enough plastic bag where I combined all the crumbs.  The fish was dropped into the bag in batches and shook until well coated then laid out skin-side-down in a baking pan (and a pie plate because there was more than I thought).

With an oven preheated to 450°F, I let the fish bake for about 25 minutes.  Without the fuss of turning and possibly getting burned from popping grease, I removed the fish from the oven and let them cool down slightly.

While they cooled I quickly whipped up a tasty tartar sauce to accompany this crispy delight with the following:

  • 100_14784 round tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp tarragon, freshly chopped
  • 1 tbsp finely minced red onion
  • 1 tbsp sweet pickle relish
  • salt and pepper to taste

As I plated up dishes for the family the fish was very delicate and flaky, not over greasy.  Because of the butter and oil I added to the crumbs, they toasted up nicely and tasted like grandma’s deep south recipe; all the flavor of fried fish.  As a bonus this diva doesn’t have to worry about an extra 120 or so calories.  It’s been a good day.

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If You’re Busy, Try This

Man I have been busy!  I haven’t been able to blog much as over the summer I have been a part of all the Holy Sacraments according to the Catholic Church.  Even though it’s not a sacrament, our summer started with my husband changing jobs.  After the month long transition process my mother was given Last Rites just before passing.  My daughter then decided she wanted to be baptized. My other daughter was married weeks after that. These were a much needed joyous occasions.  We took communion the first Sunday of each month as usual and now the one baptized is preparing for Confirmation.  I love my Catholic roots but find myself in an Evangelical Free church both as worker and worshiper nowadays.  Both family and church family have helped me greatly through the ups and downs of summer .

Summer, as far as cooking, was spent either at the grill or on autopilot going over some of the hundreds of recipes already in this blog.

Now that it’s autumn and Jeff and I celebrated our 14th anniversary I’m ready to leave a crazy season behind and get back into my diva groove.  It’s good to be back even though I’ve got to start with the “quick and easy” recipes.  By Thanksgiving I hope to get more elaborate.

Quick and easy doesn’t mean it won’t be good and tasty!  Complexity doesn’t necessarily have to take all day.  With these ingredients you’ll see why:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 each, red, yellow and green bell pepper sliced in lengthwise strips100_1460
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced from pole to pole
  • 1 Turkey Polska Kielbasa Sausage cut in 1 cm slices on the diagonal
  • 1/2 can chunk pineapple (half the juice too) equaling about 1 cup
  • 2 tablespoons apricot preserves, or hot pepper jelly, or a combination of both
  • 2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
  • a pinch each of garlic powder and crushed red pepper flakes
  • a handful of leaves of escarole lettuce, roughly choped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

100_1456In a large skillet pour in your olive oil and when it’s nice and hot add the onions and peppers.  Stir them around until the edges turn golden brown.  Add in the sausage and keep stirring.  When the vegetables get quite brown, pour in the soy sauce, the pineapple and juice to deglaze.  spoon in the preserves and/or pepper jelly (I used equal amounts of both). Let it melt in, reduce and thicken to an unctuous sweet and savory sauce.  Add the last three ingredients to season and you are ready.  Double the recipe to feed a crowd of 6 to 8.  You can get this dish done in less than 30 minutes so try this when ever you are on the go or get home late or just plain don’t want to be on your feet in the kitchen.  Prop those dogs up and enjoy a movie with the family. 100_1458

I’ll Subscribe to that Paper!

100_1310Cooking “en papillote” has been a fancy way to steam vegetables and light meats and fish for decades.  Even back thousands of years folks were wrapping their fish and veggies in banana leaves and steaming them over hot coals.  It’s great fun to open the paper or leaves for that big reveal. There is such a waft of good food smells when you crack open the package and everything inside is so sumptuous and tender from this gentle yet efficient means of steam heating.  I had never tried this before but found this to be way more fun than regular steaming.
In this version of cooking I used:

  • 1 tbsp butter per package
  • 1/3 cup chopped onion per package
  • 1/2 a small squash or zucchini cut in thin  strips per package
  • 2 small frozen salmon fillets per package
  • Seasonings per package (a pinch of paprika, 1 smashed garlic clove, salt and pepper to taste)
  • 2 10″x 10″ parchment paper sheets.

100_1311To assemble, put the onions all around the bottom of one half of parchment, then place the squash strips on top of them making little support beams for the fish.  Place the two fillets of salmon on the squash, place the butter on top of everything, season well then seal the parchment sheets together by twist folding every half inch of the perimeter of the parchment until it is completely sealed all around.

100_1313You could cook this in the oven but I  put mine on the grill on foil with offset heat sources at either end but not directly under the parchment packs.  after 20 minutes I did move the packets under more direct flame for about 6 minutes until I started to smell the onions cooking.  I shut off the fire once the packs appeared to be inflated by the steam inside.  They stayed that way until I served them at the table.  I wouldn’t want to serve them until the risk of super-heated steam was gone.  About a ten minute rest period took care of that
Opening your own ballooned pack of fish and vegetables is like opening a birthday present!  That puff of steam really enhances the experience when it all comes out at once to your nose.   The onions on the bottom made a caramelized base for every thing else to rest upon,  The squash was still slightly crispy but glazed in the melted onion.  The salmon was tender and flaky, spiced just right and done to perfection throughout.    All of the flavors really infused well with one another and the juices that precipitated from the steam were like a condiment to soak up with the fish.    All of it was nicely spiced and so delicious, we ate our packets up in minutes.  My friends and I really enjoyed experimenting with this method.  It was great how this dinner of intrigue actually turned out…not the prettiest but absolutely delicious!  Bonus; clean-up was mostly throw away and a bit of rinsing.  Now if only my family would try this.  How can you not love salmon?100_1315

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