Interesting Links, June 8, 2014

Here are links I found interesting on June 8, 2014:

Making Greek Yogurt

It’s easy and it just makes sense.

I eat a lot of yogurt. I like yogurt for breakfast — especially with granola — and yogurt for snacks. I eat salad dressing with yogurt in it, enjoy frozen yogurt, and sometimes even eat flavored yogurt for dessert.

I buy plain, non-fat, Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is basically the same as regular yogurt but with a lot of the excess whey removed. You know what whey is if you’ve bought yogurt or cottage cheese or ricotta in a large container and used only some of it: it’s the liquid that accumulates at the top after you’ve scooped some out.

Greek yogurt is more properly known as strained yogurt and is also called yogurt cheese or labneh. You can read more about it on Wikipedia.

Not All Greek Yogurt is Created Equally

Creamy, delicious Greek yogurt has become wildly popular. Unfortunately, that’s causing a serious environmental problem: an overabundance of whey, the by-product that must be discarded. As this excellent article about the problem in Salon mentions, there’s 2-3 ounces of whey for every ounce of Greek yogurt produced. This video explains the problem and potential solutions:



A quick video explains the problems with mass-produced Greek yogurt and some possible solutions.

The article also suggests that you can help the environment by making your own Greek yogurt (instead of buying it) and using the whey that’s produced in your own kitchen and garden.

What some Greek yogurt makers are doing to circumvent the problem is “faking” Greek yogurt by adding artificial thickeners. The article, “Greek Yogurt: What’s Real & What’s Not,” lists the actual ingredients of many popular plain Greek yogurts. You might be surprised to learn that your favorite creamy yogurt is made that way by the addition of thickeners like corn starch and gelatin. This is covered in articles like “Greek Yogurt Wars: The High-Tech Shortcuts vs. The Purists” on The Kitchn and “High-Tech Shortcut To Greek Yogurt Leaves Purists Fuming” on NPR’s The Salt.

Real yogurt should have just two ingredients: milk and active yogurt cultures such as S. Thermophilus, L. Bulgaricus, L. Acidophilus, Bifidus and L. Casei.

I don’t know about you, but when I buy yogurt, I’m not interested in buying corn starch and gelatin. Take-away lesson: Read the ingredients list and make sure you’re paying for what you really want.

Or make your own.

The Recipe

My wasband wasn’t a big yogurt eater, but he told me, time and time again (as we often do in long-term relationships) that his Armenian grandfather used to make his own yogurt. I was kind of impressed, mostly because I thought it was difficult to do. That’s until I stumbled onto a recipe posted by my friend Tammy on her blog. I tried it and had immediate success. Since then, I make about half the yogurt I eat.

Tammy’s recipe can be found here. It’s got lots of photos with the step-by-step instructions. I find myself searching for the recipe time and time again; for some reason I can’t remember the important temperatures. So I’ve decided to put the short version here, mostly for my own reference. I recommend you stop by Tammy’s site and read it there before you try it. And then leave her a comment telling her about your results. I think she’d like that. (Most bloggers do like comments.)

Tools:

I don’t usually include a Tools section in my recipes, but there are four that you must have (beyond what you might expect in a recipe):

  • Thermometer. I use an instant read meat thermometer. It needs to go up to at least 200°F. Temperature is extremely important in this recipe, so don’t try it if you can’t take an accurate temperature reading.
  • Whisk. I have a plastic whisk, but that’s because I use non-stick cookware. A regular metal wire whisk should be fine.
  • 2 1-quart mason jars with tight-fitting lids. Even if you don’t can your own foods, you really should have a few of these around your kitchen.
  • A small cooler taller than the jars. Make sure it has a tight-fitting lid.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 gallon non-fat milk. I used to make this by the quart, but when I started “Greeking” it (see below), the yield was lower so I started making 2 quarts at a time.
  • 1/4 cup real plain yogurt with active yogurt cultures. Did you know that not all yogurt is just yogurt? I discuss that above, in case you skipped it to get to the recipe. I recommend the following Greek yogurts: Chobani, Dannon Oikos, Trader Joe’s, Athenos, and Stonyfield. If not using Greek yogurt as a starter, check the ingredients list to make sure the only ingredients are milk and yogurt cultures. This quantity, by the way, is more than Tammy uses. Let it get to room temperature.

Instructions:

  1. Heat the milk to 190°F, stirring occasionally. I do this in a microwave. I have a huge glass measuring cup that holds 1/2 gallon. I put it in the microwave and heat it on high. In my current microwave, it takes 20 minutes to get to 190°F. I know this by repeated temperature readings as I heated it. (My old microwave in Arizona had a temperature probe, which was probably its best feature — and definitely the reason I packed it when I moved. I’d put the probe in the milk, tell the microwave I wanted the milk at 190°F, and it would simply stop zapping when the temperature reached 190°. I’m looking forward to installing it in my new kitchen — despite the fact that it’ll be nearly 30 years old by then.) Of course, you can always do this in a pot on the stove.
  2. Remove the milk from the heat source and allow to cool to about 120°F. I do this by letting it just sit on the stovetop.
  3. In a small bowl, mix about 1/4 cup milk with the 1/4 cup yogurt. This smooths out any lumps and makes it easier to blend with the rest of the milk in the next step.
  4. Whisk in yogurt/milk mixture in to the rest of the milk. Mike sure it’s blended well, but try to minimize bubbles.
  5. Pour the milk mixture into the mason jars. Fill them to the very top. Then close them up tight.
  6. Place the mason jars into the cooler and fill the cooler with the hottest tap water you can get out of your sink. My water heater delivers 130°F water in my kitchen, which is just a tiny bit too hot for my hands — but otherwise perfect, in my opinion. Fill to the very top of the jars, almost so they’re floating in it.
  7. Cover the cooler tightly and set aside for 6-8 hours. When I made this in Arizona in the spring and autumn, I used to set it outside on the patio in the shade. In the winter, it stayed inside. The idea is for the water (and milk) to cool slowly.
  8. Remove the jars from the cooler and discard the water.

At this point, the jars should contain yogurt. You can pop them in the fridge to enjoy at your leisure or “Greek” it.

“Greeking” the Yogurt

My only gripe with Tammy’s recipe — or at least the way it usually came out for me — was that the yogurt tended to be very runny. I don’t like runny yogurt.

I started making yogurt right around the time I discovered Greek yogurt. I actually stopped making yogurt because I preferred Greek yogurt and didn’t know how it was made.

Then I did some research and discovered that all I needed was one more step: strain out the extra whey.

Greek Yogurt Maker
You can get this nice Greek yogurt maker for about $22 on Amazon.com.

While you could do this with cheesecloth in a strainer and make a big mess on your countertop or in your fridge, I went online to Amazon.com and bought a gadget: a Euro Cuisine Greek Yogurt Maker.

To “Greek” your homemade yogurt, add these steps to the recipe above.

  1. Refrigerate the yogurt. I suggest overnight to really chill it down and give it as much substance as it can get on its own. Just put the jars in the fridge.
  2. Empty the yogurt into a strainer lined with cheesecloth or a nifty Greek yogurt maker like the one I bought. If using a strainer, you’ll want a bowl beneath it to catch the whey.
  3. Straining Yogurt
    This yogurt has been straining in my refrigerator for about 90 minutes. The yellow liquid is whey.

    Let strain for 2-4 hours, preferably in the refrigerator. The amount of time you allow it to strain will determine how thick the yogurt is. I have, in the past, forgotten about it and let it go overnight. The resulting yogurt was too thick, almost like cheese.

  4. Remove the yogurt from the strainer and place it into a container you can seal. I use (ironically) old yogurt containers.
  5. Give the yogurt a good stirring. This will smooth out any lumps and make it creamier.
  6. Store in the refrigerator. Obviously.

The removal of the whey should cut the total quantity of yogurt in half.

If you’re wondering what to do with the whey, this page has some excellent suggestions. I give it to my chickens and blend it with water for my tomato plants. I also, on occasion, make it into ricotta. As you might imagine, its very high in calcium but supposedly tastes very bad on its own. I’ve been too cowardly to try it.

Cost Considerations

One of the most mind-blowing things about making my own Greek yogurt is the cost savings. Yesterday, I spent $1.69 on half a gallon of skim milk. I already had yogurt for the starter and can use the yogurt I made for the next starter, so there’s no additional cost. This half gallon of milk will yield about a quart of Greek yogurt.

The last time I bought Greek yogurt, it cost $5.89 for a quart. So I’m saving more than $4 every time I make it instead of buy it. With two quarts a week — my average consumption — that’s $416/year saved.

And you know what Ben Franklin said about saving pennies…

Flavoring Yogurt

I have two things to add here.

First, a while back when I posted on Facebook about making yogurt and included a photo, one of my friends commented to ask, “When do you add the flavor?” Well, there’s no reason to add flavor because yogurt already has flavor. It’s yogurt flavor.

However, if you like to add flavor, you can always mix in some honey or a spoonful of your favorite jam or preserve. I like apricot, which I keep around mostly for a condiment on grilled pork.

And that brings up my second point, also from Facebook. A friend posted an image of a bowl of yogurt with fresh strawberries on top of it. Her caption: “This is how you flavor yogurt.”

Yes, fresh fruit is the best way to do it. Don’t add sugar; add more natural ingredients. It’s more healthy for you and it really is quite tasty.

What do you think?

Do you make your own yogurt? Do you think it’s worth the time?

Share your tips, thoughts, and recipes (or links to recipes) in the comments for this post.

Interesting Links, June 6, 2014

Here are links I found interesting on June 6, 2014:

Maria’s Amazing Smoked Ribs

Easy to make, too, if you have a thermostatically controlled smoker, like a Traeger.

I picked up my Traeger the other day. I’d stored it in a friend’s garage while I was in California for two months on a frost contract. I wanted to bring it with me, but I couldn’t figure out how to bring it along without either making a mess inside my RV or disassembling it to fit it into the RV basement.

I was back nearly two weeks before I picked it up. I was busy. But once I had it home, I wasted no time smoking up two racks of baby back ribs. Although I took them with me to a pot luck BBQ down on the river that night, I knew attendance would be low so I gave half a rack to the guy who was doing the earth moving at my place in preparation for building to begin. He’s a nice guy and I figured he and his wife could share them for an appetizer before dinner. The next day, he thanked me, said they were great, and told me his wife wanted to know where I got the ribs.

Fred Meyer, I told him, but they could have just as easily been from Safeway or Costco. The meat isn’t what makes them amazing. It’s the preparation.

I’ve made ribs at least twenty times on the Traeger since I bought it for my birthday last summer. I thought I’d shared the recipe here, but I couldn’t seem to find an entry for it. I figured that today was as good a time as any to get the recipe out there. As you’ll see, it’s extremely easy to make if you have a decent smoker.

There are two parts to this recipe. In the first part, you prepare the ribs by removing the membrane on the back side and rub them with a good rib rub. Do yourself a favor and make your own. There are a lot of recipes out there and any of them that includes salt and brown sugar as main ingredients will do the job nicely. A list of ingredients for my preferred recipe is below, but I can’t take credit for it. It’s from the Amazing Ribs website, which I highly recommend, and is called Meathead’s Memphis Dust. You really ought to read the recipe on that page since it has a lot of interesting details and useful tips that I won’t repeat here.

The second part of the recipe is where you smoke the ribs. On a smoker. For a long time.

If you insist on boiling your ribs first, stop reading here. You’ll be wasting your time and, frankly, you’re not worthy of the results you’ll get if you follow the instructions that follow. Ditto if you think the best way is to roast them in an oven, slathered with barbecue sauce and covered with aluminum foil until they’re a soupy mess. (#YouKnowWhoYouAre) Get your mommy to make you one of her Campbell’s soup casserole recipes and a Cool Whip no-bake pie. You won’t appreciate the results of this recipe.

Still with me? Good! Here’s the recipe and instructions.

Rib Rub

Mix together the following ingredients in a medium bowl:

  • 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar. The recipe calls for dark brown sugar but because I don’t like the taste of molasses I usually have light brown sugar around and that’s what I use.
  • 3/4 cup white sugar. The recipe calls for white sugar but I usually have evaporated cane sugar and that’s what I use.
  • 1/2 cup paprika. If you make rubs often, buy the largest container of paprika you can find because you’ll go right through it.
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt. Although the recipe specifies Morton’s Kosher salt and the amazing ribs website tells you why, I think you can use any coarsely ground salt.
  • 1/4 cup garlic powder. But of course!
  • 2 tablespoons ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons ground ginger powder. The Amazing Ribs website warns you not to omit this ingredient. Personally, I would not omit any of these ingredients.
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons rosemary powder. I was unable to find rosemary powder but I did find some sort of chopped rosemary leaves which I then tried to ground up a little bit to simulate a powder. What you want to avoid is full-sized pieces of rosemary leaves because I don’t think they’ll blend as well.

If you have any of this leftover after rubbing the ribs — and you should because it makes about 3 cups — put it in a jar with a tight lid and stow it with the rest of the spices in your pantry. It usually doesn’t last me more than a month or two.

Prepping the Ribs

You need to prep the ribs before you start the smoker. I don’t think it needs to be done the night before. I’ve done it as little as 30 minutes before placing them in the smoker and they always come out fine.

The kind of ribs you buy depends on your taste. I always buy either baby back or St. Louis style ribs. I used to like baby backs better, but I think St. Louis are usually meatier and juicier. They take a little longer to cook, too, so that might be a deciding factor.

  1. Remove the membrane on the back side of the ribs. This is a sort of skin that will prevent the rub from getting into the meat and possibly leave a stringy, chewy bit that really isn’t that good. The best way I’ve found to remove it is to use a butter knife to get the corner started, then grab it with a paper towel (which will give you a good grip with your fingers) and peel it off.
  2. Rinse and dry the rack of ribs.
  3. Sprinkle 1 to 3 tablespoons of rub evenly on each rack and rub it in. I use a lot because I really like it coated — almost to the point that the finished ribs are crusty. Do both sides and the ends and edges. The Amazing Ribs website recommends oiling the ribs first and then rubbing them, but I forgot the first time and they came out fine so I never do now. Why add fat, especially to the St. Louis ribs, which always seem to be fatty enough?
  4. Set the ribs aside until you’re ready to put them in the smoker. If that’s more than 20-30 minutes, put them in the fridge.

Smoking the Ribs

This is the easy part; your smoker does all the work.

  1. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to get the smoker started and prepped. I always replace the aluminum foil from the drip pan, run the smoker up to a high temperature, and rub down the grill with a wire brush to clean it.
  2. Set the thermostat for around 225°F. You don’t want the temperature below 200°F or above 250°F.
  3. Lay the rack(s) of ribs on the grill surface, bone side down.
  4. Close the smoker cover.
  5. Go do something else. For at least 3 hours.

Amazing RibsThat’s an exaggeration. You might want to check on the grill periodically to make sure the thermostat is keeping it at the right temperature. My Traeger is a Junior and has a small hopper so I usually have to add pellets after a few hours. Don’t let it go out!

And don’t try to rush it by upping the temperature. Ribs need to cook slowly.

As the ribs cook, they’ll form what the Amazing Ribs guys call a “bark.” Yum.

The ribs are done when they pass the “bend test.” That’s when you grasp one half of the ribs with a pair of tongs and use them to lift the other end. The ribs should bend. If the bark cracks, they’re done. Yes, cooking them longer will make the meat fall off the bone, but that isn’t necessarily better. It’s just drier.

Expect 3-4 hours for baby back ribs and 5-6 hours for St. Louis ribs.

This recipe is so good that even though I overcooked the baby backs the other day, every single person who had them said they were “the best ribs” they’d ever had. Everyone. And I screwed up!

The Last Step

If you like barbecue sauce, now is the time to brush it on. Raise the temperature of the smoker or, better yet, thrown them on a direct heat grill. (Yes, it’s true: I don’t currently have a home, but I have two grills. I guess that tells you a bit about my priorities.) Cook on both sides until sizzling, but be careful not to burn them.

And you’re done.

As far as the barbecue sauce goes, you can also make your own. If I get it out of a bottle, it’s usually Jack Daniels original. Otherwise, I really like the honey barbecue sauce I blogged about the other day.

What Do You Think?

If you try these, let me know how they came out. But I warn you now: I won’t listen to any nonsense about boiling before cooking. Seriously: don’t even go there with me.

And if you don’t have a smoker but love ribs, this recipe will give you plenty of reason to go out and buy a smoker. Really.

I do so love my Traeger.

Asian Ginger Salad Dressing

A refreshing break from bottled dressings.

I realized recently that I use too many bottled salad dressings with their mystery ingredients. It was time to start making my own dressing.

Today, I felt like ginger salad dressing, so that’s what I made. Surprisingly, I had all of the ingredients in the mobile mansion’s tiny pantry.

Here’s my version of the recipe; it’s quick and easy to make and tastes great over mixed lettuce (think bagged) with grape tomatoes. It would probably be good over cabbage salads, too, or perhaps a marinade for chicken.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger root
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Instructions:

  1. In a 1-pint jar or dressing cruet, combine the honey and warm water.
  2. Swirl stir, or shake to melt the honey and combine.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients.
  4. Shake well.
  5. Chill at least 30 minutes to cool and combine flavors.
  6. Shake well before using.

Store unused portions in refrigerator.