Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Five small glass jars

You’re the cream in my coffee,
You’re the salt in my stew;
You will always be my necessity--
I’d be lost without you.

B.G. DeSylva / Lew Brown / Ray Henderson

To hear Nat King Cole sing "You're the Cream in My Coffee," click here.

OK, so this is really about yogurt, but I couldn't think of any songs about yogurt off hand. I'm sure someone, maybe even Stephen Sondheim, has written about the sour thick dairy product I put in my morning smoothie, but frankly, if I can't think of a song to fit my topic easily, it probably doesn't exist.

My morning ritual these days, aside from the 3s routine and shooting the dog at 7 am, revolves around two liquids. When I first get up, I head to the kitchen and make myself a bowl of café au lait. Yes, I said bowl, and that's this morning's bowl at the top of the page. When I'm not drinking coffee out of it, the bowl serves well to hold a full can's worth of Campbell's Tomato Soup.

I grind my beans, pour the grounds into the small metal container and then tamp them down. Fill the espresso machine with enough water to make 4 cups of espresso and fill the milk pitcher with a combination of hazelnut creamer and whole milk. Once the milk has been steamed and frothed, and the coffee brewed, I sprinkle some Saigon cinnamon on the top and sit back to slowly sip the broth, covering my mustache with white foam, as I contemplate the day ahead.

Once I've finished my coffee, it's time to shoot the dog. Rocky, our 12 year old male MinPin, is diabetic and has to have insulin shots twice a day. Over time I have learned that if Rocky has a doggie biscuit in his mouth, I can stick a needle in his neck and he doesn't bite me. We've been giving Rocky shots for about eight years now. I don't know why it took me so long to learn this trick.

Ingredients: Culture, Dry Milk, Whole Milk That's ALL!
Taken 6/30/09 in Missoula, Montana

Like many children of the 60s, I have many strange and wonderful kitchen gadgets gathering dust around the house. Fondue pots, salad spinners, and we won't talk about all the different gadgets designed to pop corn. I even have not one, but two yogurt makers. And this week, I finally got tired of seeing one of them sit neglected on top of the kitchen cabinets.

The next part of my morning ritual involves making a berry smoothie. The smoothie is a combination of açai juice, vanilla yogurt, protein whey powder, a banana and a handful or two of frozen raspberries, blueberries and marionberries,which I blend together in my smoothie maker. It seems I'm always running out of one or another of these ingredients, and the mix just isn't the same if you change or omit anything. (I know, consistency IS the bugaboo of small minds.)

Strangely enough, the item that is absolutely essential--and most likely to be missing from my pantry--is yogurt. I'm very particular about the yogurt I buy, and sometimes none of my brands are on the shelf in the supermarket. What's a mother to do? Well, I have these yogurt makers, don'cha know.

I haven't actually made yogurt in a good many years. The one "maker" just sits up on top the kitchen cabinet attracting grease and dust. The other is in storage at my mountain cabin. But it can't be all that difficult, right? I have done it before. So Tuesday evening, June 30th, I searched on line for a way to make yogurt in a Salton yogurt maker--and I found several versions of the same basic recipe. Now the machine they all described didn't seem to match mine at all. For one thing, there is no light on my gadget to tell me that it's actually working. For another, instead of having one large container, mine has five small (6 oz approximately) glass jars. But what the hey.

Five small glass jars with freshly made yogurt
Taken 7/1/09 in Missoula Montana

Now I'm getting ahead of my story by showing the picture above here, because at this point I hadn't even begun the process. The recipe called for one quart milk, one-half cup powdered dry milk, a package of yogurt starter culture (or as an alternative 2 Tbs of plain yogurt) and that's it. If you've never made yogurt (but have baked bread), think of the starter culture as the yeast or the 2 Tbs of yogurt as the sourdough starter. In the past I had used the starter culture, but had none in my fridge. First things first, I jumped in the Saab and drove to our newly built neighborhood Safeway. Hmm, nothing in the "natural foods" section, nothing in the baking supplies. When I asked a sweet young thing in a Safeway apron, she tried to direct me to the yogurt section of the dairy case. When I finally made her understand what I really wanted, she let me know that Safeway no longer carried the culture. OK, that's why we have a Good Foods Store here in Missoula (think of it as a locally owned version of Whole Foods).

Sure enough, the Good Foods Store had the culture, and while I was there I decided to treat myself to Lifeline Dairy's real, organic, non-homogenized (cream rises to the top) whole milk. I love drinking it--it just seems so rich and, well, creamy. It would really make my yogurt special. Of course a half gallon costs almost as much as two gallons of whole milk at Costco, but, hey, I'm worth it.

Back home, the next step was to assemble (and clean) the necessary tools. OK one large Revere Ware saucepan, one candy thermometer, one large spoon, the yogurt maker and the five small glass jars and their lids. The recipe I was using said to sterilize the saucepan, candy thermometer and spoon by boiling water, so while I was waiting for the water to boil, I washed the five small glass jars and their lids. That done, I was ready to proceed.

The recipe is exceedingly simple. Mix the whole milk and the dry milk in the saucepan, heat it to between 185 and 195 degrees, let it cool to between 108 and 110 degrees, add the starter culture, place in yogurt maker and wait 4 - 8 hours. What could be simpler. And indeed it was simply done. I found it took ten minutes for the milk to heat to 190 degrees. It took 50 minutes for it to cool back down to 110, and it took almost no time to mix in the starter culture and pour the liquid into the five small glass jars. Since this was the first time in ages I had actually made my own yogurt, I watched the thermometer very closely--checking on it every ten minutes as the mixture cooled. But that was the only difficult part--and really, how difficult is it to get up off the couch and go look at the thermometer.

Watching the thermometer--a crucial part of the process
Taken 6/30/09 in Missoula Montana

Once I had the mixture in the five small glass jars, there was nothing to do but go to bed and wait. Notice I didn't say "go to bed and sleep." My insomnia kicked in as I lay there contemplating whether I would "wake" to actual yogurt or just some weird mixture of milk and active cultures. Finally around 6 am I went downstairs to check on my babies. And yes, as you can see in the picture above, my five small glass jars were filled with yummy looking, real, home-made yogurt. But the proof of any cooking venture, is, as they say, in the pudding--or in this case in the smoothie. How would it taste?

Devine. Very firm texture, yet smooth and creamy, very tart--remember, just milk and culture, no sweetener, no flavoring agent. I drooled as I emptied the small glass jar's contents in my smoothie maker, adding the açai juice, protein whey powder, banana and berries. And indeed, the smoothie was terrific. Come by some time and I'll make you one.

The finished product--a mixed berry smoothie with home-made yogurt
Taken 7/1/09 in Missoula, Montana

The next step--of course there's a next step--is to experiment with flavoring the yogurt. I have my Mexican vanilla, but I'm open to suggestions. Let me know what you put in your home-made yogurt--and at what point you add it. Let's share. It'll be fun!

1 comment:

snaphappee said...

I gotta say...the thought of homemade yogurt doesn't do much for me. I'm just too accustomed to the processed stuff, I guess. But boy, does that finished smoothie look good! Can you just send a taste down the valley?