Me an’ my sprouts

So many health scares surrounding these healthful powerhouses. Don’t be afraid: every vegetable we consume raw always holds a risk of salmonella or E coli. Sprouts have a leg-up on this due to the seeds soaking in water.  I’ve been making my own sprouts on and off for the last ten years, and I can confidently say, the sprouts have never been a source of illness for me. I use organic seeds, filtered water, and I religiously water and drain two or three times a day.  Use your nose: If it doesn’t smell right, throw it away. Another level of safety I’ve adopted is, once the seeds have germinated and grown, I harvest the sprouts and soak them in filtered water for five minutes.  This cleans and eliminates the seed casing which can make the sprout bitter. This last step makes for tastier sprouts too.

Since I started off this entry with the bad let’s move on to the good.  Sprouts are nutritious vegetables packed with B, C, E and A vitamins(up to 15 times the original content).  They are easier to digest and offer natural enzymes we don’t often get with their mature cousins.  Don’t think of them just for salad–they add an extra layer of crunch to hot food as well as cold. Throw them in soups, smoothies, sandwiches or just munch on them.  You don’t need special equipment to grow them; a jar with a muslin or cheesecloth cover will do the trick.  You need need seeds and water and a little dedication-that’s it.  I prefer a sprout starter, and to prove it, I’m on my third one, the Victorio VKP1014 4-Tray Kitchen Seed Sprouter. You water the first tray and the water runs down holes to the outer perimeter of the first tray to all of the trays below. The only caveat is you have to tip the trays a little to remove excess water.  A great idea I read was to tip all of the trays like the leaning tower of pisa. They drain and receive a little air at the same time.  

How pretty are those green sprouts! I did here what I swear never to do; I didn’t space out the growing-time.  I recommend doing a tray every other day or so.  It takes about 5-7 days for the sprouts to get this mature so plan ahead.  If you alternate days for starting seeds, you won’t end up with a large harvest like this.  Good thing the chickens like sprouts.

I’m cleaning the sprouts and separating them from the seed.  Just throw them in the water and swish around a bit.  The casings will stay behind in the water.  Dry the sprouts the best you can before storage and clean the trays with soap and water before starting a new crop. 

I’ve harvested all four trays and now I’m starting over.  I have one tray of chick peas and another of a salad blend. The bigger seeds you will add 2-3 tablespoons and just a teaspoon or so of the small seeds. Don’t crowd the tray with seeds.  I’ve purchased organic seeds from Amazon and another good source is The Sprout House.  I found them just recently, and I was impressed with their sample packs and the quick shipping.

To start the growing process, just add water.  They recommend soaking the seeds for quicker germination, but I skip this step. I add water to the first tray and it leaks down to the rest until the water is deposited in the bottom tray.  The bottom is hole-free and is for collecting of water only–no growing sprouts in this.  Be sure and alternate the position of your trays. The next time I water, I will move the salad blend to the top and the chick peas to the bottom.  The bottom seed tray always seems to retain the most water so it’s important to alternate them.  Water them at least twice a day, and you will have sprouts in 5-7 days.  Pretty easy, wouldn’t you say?  Excuse me while I dig-in to my hefty sprout harvest and throw some on the black bean burger I am having for dinner tonight.

For the love of yogurt

In the 70’s, my very progressive and health conscious mother, made her own yogurt. She would serve it as dessert in little dishes with fresh fruit.  I did not like it. And I was not happy my mother was serving this cooked milk thing and masquerading it as a dessert.  The yogurt we purchased in the stores in the 70’s and beyond was the furthest thing from healthy; from the artificial colors and fruit flavoring and the gelatinous mess the market tried to pass off as yogurt did not endear me to the food anymore than my mother’s creation.  I didn’t eat yogurt for years until the last decade or so.

I’m not sure how I graduated from buying organic yogurt from my co-op to making my own, but thanks to Amazon’s order history, I started making it six years ago. So, since May of 2009, I have made countless batches of delicious, organic yogurt. While it’s tart compared to what Americans are used to, you can counteract that by adding granola, fresh strawberries and sprinkles of dark chocolate. Now it’s tasty enough to make even me a yogurt fan.

Here are a few items you will need to make your own yogurt: milk, yogurt culture, a glass jar and a source for  low heat(95° to 115°).  This is the minimal you will need.  To make my recipe, you will also need organic, powdered milk, vanilla bean(optional), and a thermometer.

Let’s talk about the most important ingredient, milk. I was under the belief raw milk would make the best yogurt. While it does make great tasting yogurt, it’s awfully runny.  I was really baffled when I cultured my first gallon of raw milk, and it turned out to look more like kefir than yogurt.  I did an exhaustive research on the internet and learned raw milk behaves like this; it doesn’t want to solidify without a thickening agent like gelatin. Hello, I’m a vegetarian, any other ideas? I experimented with this and that, and I learned quickly my methods for making yogurt from pasteurized milk worked on the raw milk as well.  Raw milk just yields a thinner consistency. That’s alright, I can get past this: Greek yogurt anybody?  I could not understand why the yogurt was so thin for this full-fat milk.  I learned from the wonderful internet, pasteurization damages the proteins in the milk so the culturing is more effective and produces a thicker yogurt. Before I started getting raw milk, I was using an organic 2% ultra-pasteurized milk.  It worked great for texture, and if you aren’t interested in raw milk, it made a pretty tasty yogurt too albeit tart.

The second necessary item is the culture.  You don’t necessarily have to buy a package of starter for your first batch.  You can always use a half a cup from your favorite yogurt.  I have never done this for fear of the unknown.  A failed batch of yogurt can be a costly affair when you are talking about organic milk and organic powdered milk, so I try to make it as fail-safe as possible. I like Yogourmet Freeze-Dried Yogurt Starter.  I use a new culture packet for every quart of yogurt.  Cultures for Health has several different cultures and one packet will make up to two quarts of yogurt.

Making Yogurt

This photo shows what you need to make your yogurt. Two quarts of milk, yogurt culture, powdered milk, whisk, and a thermometer.

My two yogurt makers: the first has seven-6 oz jars for yogurt and the other makes large batches in a water bath.  Between the two–I loved my Euro-Cuisine YM100 Automatic Yogurt Maker.  I rarely had a bad batch in the Euro-Cuisine, and I loved the pre-measured jars.  I would just throw them in the dishwasher for clean-up. I can tell you this, the small the amount of yogurt the more likely for success. Feel free to start out making a quart with the first couple of batches.

I have heated the milk in the microwave to 110° to 112°.  You do not want it much hotter or cooler.  We want to make it starter friendly. Here I have heated up the milk and now I am adding the powdered milk  Five to six tablespoons for two quarts of milk. This is a quicker method for yogurt because the powdered milk allows me to skip bringing the milk to high heat and then cooling to the 110°. I have not the time nor the patience to deal with that; besides, I do not want to “cook” the raw milk and kill all that is good about it. I whisk the powdered milk until all the lumps are gone, and flick some vanilla bean seeds into it(not shown). Very gently add the starter and stir.
Since I started getting the raw milk, I’ve been making larger quantities of yogurt.  Here I have about 160 ozs.of milk, and I am culturing it in my dehydrator. With it being such a large quantity, I set it at 105 F for 24 hours. If I am using one of my culturing appliances, I set it for twelve hours plus. Directions say you should have yogurt within 4 hours, but I want to make sure my yogurt is set. Whatever you choose for the heat, it needs to be consistent and free from drafts.

Here is the yogurt after culturing undisturbed for 24 hours and then refrigerated for 12 hours. The yogurt must be chilled after it is through culturing.  It is not a complete process until it is thoroughly cooled.  You can consume the yogurt here, or if you want a more solid consistency, continue to the steps below.

Making Greek Yogurt

Remember when I told you the raw milk produced runny yogurt? I combat that with making Greek yogurt. I take the chilled yogurt and scoop it into this container, Cuisipro Donvier Yogurt Cheese Maker, or any container for straining.  You can also use cheesecloth or a very fine sieve. After you find a container to strain it, place it in the fridge for 4-6 more hours.  It really depends on how you like it.  I like my yogurt to contain some whey, so I don’t leave it strain too long.

Pictured here is most of the yogurt I made(minus 12 ounces I’ve already eaten).  The first time I strained the yogurt like this, I was aghast at the waste. You take out the whey and the volume of yogurt is drastically reduced.  Oh, so this is why Greek yogurt costs so much more.  To the right of the yogurt is some of the whey but not even close to all of the whey I collected.  I use it in bread recipes and water my plants and sprouts.  It’s a great source of protein, so I try not to waste it.  To give you an idea of how much yogurt I yielded after culturing 160 ozs. of milk, I had about a total of 72 ozs. of yogurt post straining. Trust me, none of this yogurt will go to waste.

Here is the finished product with granola and dark chocolate chips.

Maybe if my mother had dressed up her yogurt like this, I would have loved yogurt a long time ago.

Smitten with Cookbooks of Old

Beth, a co-worker of mine, is a woman who sees the beauty in the most simplistic items of everyday life. She and her sister frequent estate sales and find those hidden treasures buried in hoarder-like mountains of…stuff. I made some dessert bars for someone’s birthday and as a thank you for another co-worker.  Beth enthusiastically gushed about how good the bars were and how I “do” it.  She started telling me about all of the old cookbooks she has collected, but she only reads them; paralyzed from doing the actual cooking or baking. Beth promised me she would bring in some of her finds.  Good to her word, she brought me a large bag, busting at the seams, of old cookbooks dating back to 1907. I couldn’t wait to dig in and peruse these old treasures. I gently opened each cookbook, and turned the pages so carefully as to not add a tear or a rip. Inside are poems, personal notes, names of individuals I never knew and recipes so short and succinct, I could quickly read through each and every recipe. Some pages are speckled and stained with butter, oil or chocolate, or little notes, “not good-too heavy.”  All of this makes them all the more special(note to self: When I smear my recipe with sticky fingers, it will add personality to the recipe/cookbook).  After perusing the old cookbooks looking for a good recipe I could try, I notice why recipes are such short entries: No baking directions. Gulp, this leaves a large-margin for error. Here is an example from The Daniel Webster Flour Cookbook:

Mock Cherry Pie

One cup of cranberries cut open , half a cup of raisins cut fine, one cup of sugar, small cup of water(?), one tablespoon of Daniel Webster flour, one teaspoon of vanilla. Bits of butter may be added. Bake with two crusts.

Err, where’s the rest of the recipe?  I looked at the page before and after to see if there was a master recipe somewhere. Nope. If you didn’t have a mother who included you in her baking chores, your first couple of pies were epic fails.

I chuckle at some of the titles and notes with my 21st century-bias:  The Settlement Cookbook, Mrs. Simon Kander, second printing 1946, lists on the cover, “The way to a man’s heart.”  Oh, is that why I cook? Another book was titled, Food Preparation Meal Serving and Housewifery, Authorized by Board of School Directors; Milwaukee Public Schools. Housewifery isn’t recognized by spell check–thank goodness.

I especially love the literary references and poems in some of the cookbooks. This poem is from the Book of Recipes, Ladies’ Aid Society of The First English Ev. Lutheran Church of Detroit, MI, 1920. The author, Meredith.

We may live without poetry, music and art;
We may live without conscience , and live without heart;
We may live without friends, and live without books;
But civilized man cannot live without cooks.

He may live without books–what is knowledge but grieving?
He may live without hope–what is hope but deceiving?
He may live without love–what is passion but pining?
But where is the man that can live without dining?

Thank you, Meredith.

This recipe is taken out of The Daniel Webster Flour Cookbook, copyright 1907…sort of. It’s actually a recipe written in  the cookbook by it’s owner, Virginia Louise Schaefer.

Pour boiling water over prunes(10 ozs of prunes)and let sit till plump(2-8 hours). When you drain the prunes, do not forget to collect some of the liquid for the frosting. 

Drain the prunes and chop.

Mix the butter, sugar and prunes

Add the dry ingredients.

This is after the milk addition–crazy moist, and I didn’t think it would ever bake through. I thought by spreading it out in a 8×8 pan would quicken the baking time as well as increasing the temperature to 350 F. Not so much–it still took an hour. 
Looks good. I waited until just a bit of batter showed on my toothpick before I took it out of the oven.

Prune Cake
This prune cake (is)somewhat like a fruitcake in texture; it has a finely blended flavor, and is moist enough to keep well.

Cake Ingredients
1/2 cup shortening(I used a stick of unsalted butter instead)
1 cup sugar
1 cup chopped, cooked prunes(Pour boiling water over prunes and let sit for 2 hours or more)
2 cups sifted, cake flour(I did not sift)
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 1/4 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla

Frosting Ingredients
3 tbls butter(Two tbls)
1/4 cup prune juice(I used the liquid from the plumping prunes)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp lemon extract(a squirt of a lemon)
2 tbls chopped prunes
1/2 cup chopped nuts
4 cups sifted confection sugar(I used two cups)

Cake Instructions
Cream shortening and sugar thoroughly; stir in prunes. Mix and sift dry ingredients and add to previous mixture. Slowly add milk and vanilla. Beat for two minutes.  Pour into shallow loaf pan(I used a 8×8 pan instead), greased and lined with wax paper.  Bake at 325 for 1 1/4 hours(I baked for 60 minutes at 350).

Frosting Instructions
Blend first four ingredients and add the prunes and nuts; slowly add the confection sugar until the frosting is smooth. Spread on cake when cooled.

Ok, this is my first recipe from the old cookbooks, but it will not be my last.  Beth has loaned these old cookbooks to me for as long as I need, and I plan on reviving a recipe or two off the old pages.

Getting to know a Pressure Cooker

My daughter asked me one day if I would help her friend out and tell her what a pressure cooker(PC) is and does.  Apparently she had received a PC as a wedding shower gift, and she was not familiar with it.  And to be honest, other women I have talked to are afraid of using them. Maybe it’s the horrible stories of the pressure cookers exploding and badly burning the poor cook who innocently put it on the burner just minutes ago, or maybe it just looks intimidating.  I just purchased my first PC around 5-6 years ago. I consulted the Test Kitchen’s recommendations, and they recommended a Fagor Duo-8 quart, stainless steel model, and while it may sound large, you definitely want a larger capacity.  You can only fill it 50% full.

So, how does this contraption work?  Let’s use chickpeas as an example: I soak the dried beans for 8-12 hours and then boil them for an hour. With a PC, it’s 9-14 minutes(this does not include bringing the water to boil or natural release).  It shaves an incredible amount of time off your cooking.  When I ate poultry, I would buy turkey breasts, throw them in the pressure cooker with tomato juice for ten minutes, and I had turkey breast lunch-meat for the week.  Simply put, the lid you lock into place with a PC, allows water to reach above the normal boiling point of 212°F and reach 250°F. Food cooked in a PC maintains it’s flavor and moistness. Your food tastes better, and it takes less time to make it, it’s a gotta-have kitchen gadget.

Vegetable Broth made in the PC

Here is the collection of vegetables I’m using for my broth. There’s carrots, red onion, celery, parsnips, potato, and parsley. Five cups of veggies or whatever is ready for broth.  Be sure to clean vegetables thoroughly and then put the vegetables in the PC with a Tbls. of olive oil.  Brown the veggies for 5-6 minutes at medium-high, stirring often.

 Pour in eight cups of filtered water, lock your lid, and turn the heat to high. You have to keep a watchful eye on the PC, watching for the little button, or the technical name, pressure indicator to pop-up.  That means max pressure achieved, so you turn down the heat to a simmer and cook for the recommended time.  In the case of this vegetable broth recipe, we are cooking it for ten minutes. Don’t be afraid of the steam escaping and sounding like a loud whistle, it means it’s cooking.

After the ten minutes of cooking, turn off the heat and let(the steam)release naturally. This may take a bit of time, but it’s my preferred method. Carefully strain the broth over cheese-cloth, squeezing the vegetables with tongs to try to release all of the liquid.

As you can see it yields eight cups of broth.

I let the broth cool completely, and divide the eight cups into four freezer-safe containers.

I gave a little lesson to my daughter’s friend about PC’s, but I thought I was being most helpful, when I gave her a PC cookbook.  My PC bibles are both by, Lorna Sass, Cooking Under Pressure and Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure.

I hope I’ve assuaged any fears you have about this wonderful kitchen addition.  The toughest part of a PC is locking the lid.  Other than that challenge, I love it and use it often.