Sunday, January 24, 2016

Crock Pot Yogurt

Yogurt is nutritionally rich in protein, calcium, riboflavin, vitamins B6 and B12 and its benefits go beyond those of milk, namely because of its probiotics. It’s a food that’s been around for a looooong time.

The oldest writing mentioning yogurt dates back to the year AD 23 by Pliny the Elder, a Roman author, naturalist and philosopher, who remarked that “barbarous nations" knew how to “thicken the milk into a substance with an agreeable acidity”. Variations of cultured milk products can be found all over the globe. From India to South Asia, Sumatra, Nepal, Northern Iran, Russia, Albania, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey, to Greece, Germany, and Egypt. In Western countries we typically see yogurt made from cow’s milk, but around the world it may be goat’s milk or buffalo milk that are used.

According to Wikipedia, yogurt was introduced to the United States in the first decade of the twentieth century and was popularized by John Harvey Kellogg at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, where it was used both orally and in enemas (!), and later by Armenian immigrants Sarkis and Rose Colombosian, who started “Colombo and Sons Creamery” in Massachusetts in 1929. Colombo yogurt was originally delivered around New England in a horse-drawn wagon inscribed with the Armenian word “madzoon” which was later changed to “yogurt”, the Turkish name of the product, as Turkish was the lingua franca between immigrants of the various Near Eastern ethnicities who were the main consumers at that time. Yogurt’s popularity in the US was enhanced in the 1950s and 1960s when it was presented as a health food. By the late 20th Century, yogurt had become a common American food item and Colombo Yogurt was sold in 1993 to General Mills, which discontinued the brand in 2010.

Unfortunately most Western people, when they think of yogurt, think of the kind they can buy in little 6 ounce cups with the foil lid as healthy. Unfortunately, that’s simply not true. 

The food industry has a reputation for taking incredibly healthy stuff and turning it into processed junk food, and this is exactly what’s happened to yogurt. Giant food corporations such as General Mills (Yoplait), Groupe Danone (Dannon), Walmart and PepsiCo are saturating the market with yogurt that is a far cry from what yogurt was intended to be. 

The first thing you should be aware of is that commercial yogurt usually comes from milk produced by cows that are confined and not able to graze on open pasture. This is not just a nice "feel good" feature that milk should have - this actually affects the nutritional quality of the yogurt itself! These cows are usually fed GMO (genetically modified) grains, not grass. As the yogurt ferments, chemical defoamers are sometimes added (you don’t even want to know what that is). And colors, preservatives and gut-harmful carrageenan can be dumped in. 

Commercial yogurt is far too often filled with high-fructose corn syrup, other questionably processed sugars like hydrolyzed liquid GMO sugar beets or sugar cane, pesticides and artificial colors simulating “fruit". The result of this mess is something so devoid of health, something so foreign to the concept that yogurt was supposed to be, that it’s simply not yogurt anymore!

Are there good yogurts on the market? Of course. You want to get plain organic yogurt (either Greek or regular), preferably full-fat (with whole milk) which you sweeten yourself with fruit, raw honey or maple syrup. Don’t buy those that contain thickeners and stabilizers, carrageenan, artificial sweeteners, added sugar, artificial colors and flavors, synthetic nutrients, milk protein concentrate or preservatives.

You can check out this article if you want to compare and find a good one.

I recommend you read labels carefully and buy from your health food store, as there is simply nothing of any value at your regular supermarket. Or better yet, make the stuff yourself - that is, after all, what I’m here for. 

I have this lovely little contraption (photo left) that I’ve been using for years. It’s very convenient and costs less than $20. There are 7 glass jars in there under that dome that can provide you with a week’s worth of yogurt. It’s very handy. But you only get about 42 oz. of yogurt.

I just got a new Crock Pot for Christmas, because the lid on my old one broke. And I wondered if I couldn’t somehow use that to make a bigger batch of homemade yogurt. And guess what? You can! Here’s how.

Crock pot yogurt

Turn crock pot to low and pour in 1/2 gallon milk.  For the creamiest texture and best taste use whole organic milk. Heat on low for 2-1/2 hours.

Turn crock pot off and and unplug. Cool milk in the crock with the lid on for 3 hours.

After 3 hours, remove 1-2 cups of warmed milk and place in a bowl. To that milk, add starter yogurt.  (NOTE: This means a 6 oz. individual, store-bought plain organic yogurt. I used Greek yogurt and it came out great but you don’t have to. Regular yogurt will do.)

Thoroughly combine the milk and starter, mixing very well.

Pour the starter-milk back into the crock pot with the rest of the milk and whisk thoroughly.

Place the cover back on the crock and wrap the entire crock pot in a thick bath towel or two.

Culture overnight (leaving it out on your counter). After the culturing period, store in glass containers in the refrigerator. For optimum texture, refrigerate for at least 6 hours before using.

I tried this recipe and loved it. It is fabulously creamy and satisfying. Use the whole milk - you simply don’t get this with 2% or non-fat milk. Don’t bother with those! Good quality fats are not to be feared. They have a place in a healthy diet as long as they are naturally-derived.

NOTES: This recipe was developed using a 2-quart crock. If you are using a crock pot with a different capacity, adjustment may be required. Always test the temperature of the unit first, using water. Make adjustments as necessary to maintain the temperature required.
If your crock pot reaches temperatures greater than 115 degrees F it will pasteurize raw milk, killing the milk’s ambient bacteria. If your crock pot does not maintain a consistent temperature, results may vary.

This recipe is compliments of Cultures for Health, a great resource for getting starter cultures for just about anything you’d want to culture, such as yogurt, kefir, or to ferment vegetables. They have a tremendous amount of information on their site as well as videos you can watch on how to do all sorts of culturing and fermenting at home. Check them out.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Tools of the Trade: The Oven

I’m in the middle of shopping for the single most important piece of equipment a home chef can purchase for the kitchen: an oven.

I’ve had mine for as long as I’ve been in my house. Mine was chosen for me by the home builder and should have been replaced a long time ago! It’s an inexpensive, low-quality stove and since it has numerous problems now, it’s high time.

Since I’ve never shopped for a stove before, I’m learning a lot about them. Just like with anything else, once you start researching something you discover features you didn’t even know existed!

To start, there are a number of things you will have to ask yourself about what you want.  I think the most important question to ask first is the fuel source. There is gas and there is electric. Gas is the preferred fuel source for chefs in restaurant kitchens and there’s a reason for that: precise control. You will not get as precise with an electric stove.  What your kitchen is currently outfitted with will likely determine the choice for you, although if you own your home you could get a plumber out to change it from gas to electric, or vice versa, for you if you want it badly enough. As with anything else, there are pros and cons to either gas or electric. To make matters even more complicated, there is also something called a “dual fuel” stove, which combines a gas stove top with an electric oven and is supposed to be the best of both worlds, but keep in mind that this option will cost more.

Convection technology
Something else to decide is whether or not you want a convection oven. What is convection? It’s an oven with a fan circulating hot air around food. Conventional ovens which do not have fans rely primarily on radiation from the oven walls and to a lesser extent, on natural convection caused by temperature differences within the oven, to transfer heat to food. Convection ovens distribute heat evenly around the food, removing the blanket of cool air that surrounds food in an oven, allowing food to cook more evenly in less time and at a lower temperature that in a conventional oven. I’m going for this feature, because it also uses less energy.

Will it be free-standing, or a slide in? This is mainly determined by the height of your counter. Here’s a great You Tube video explaining the difference.

Your oven can also be built-in to your existing kitchen cabinets. You could also have the range and the cooktop separated (see photo to left) but for the purposes of this article, let’s assume you are shopping for the kind of oven that simply sits on the floor, which is more than likely the type most of us have.

Then finally we come to the big question: your budget. You might be surprised that I didn’t list this first. I think it’s important to ask yourself what kinds of features you want your stove to have first, because some of the ones you may want may not really cost that much more. So, establish what you are willing to spend. After answering some of the above questions and doing a preliminary search on the internet, you will have an idea for what this thing will cost you.

Color is another consideration: most come in either white, black, or stainless steel. In my opinion, stainless looks the most professional, but it will be more expensive than the other options.

Back or backless: if you have a backsplash (the wall behind your stove) that you don’t want to cover up (maybe you have some lovely tile work you don’t want to hide), you may want to go backless. In that case, your controls will be in the front. Otherwise, pay attention to where the controls are located. If they aren’t where you want them, it may drive you crazy later on.

Self-cleaning: I think this goes without saying – a feature well worth having.

By addressing these questions, you’ve narrowed the field considerably, and can now start delving into some of the finer features, like the accessories. Some of the choices are a warming oven, a griddle plate, a wok adapter, etc.

Extended warranties, delivery, and installation costs as well as what it will take to haul away your old one are all extra, and you should factor them in to your overall cost.

I have narrowed down my choices to 2 or 3 stoves that I am seriously considering and hope that I can soon share photos of my new “baby” with you. Stay tuned. 

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