If you can’t make yogurt with it, is it really milk?

I was delighted to be given a couple of litres of full fat milk last weekend, and planned to turn at least half of the bounty into yoghurt (which I’m still eating, day in and day out, on my morning muesli).  Sadly, it turned into my first ever yoghurt failure.  After culturing, it did not seem to have set up at all.  I popped it in the fridge anyway, as it usually thickens up a bit more as it cools down, and went to bed.

By morning, it was still very, very runny.  I tasted it, and whilst it did taste like yoghurt, it felt horrible in my mouth – slimy and mucus like.  I left it out at room temperature (because I planned to throw it out), and it did thicken up rather over time, but it remained slimy.  I’ve never experienced slimy yoghurt before, ever, so I tried to video its behaviour:

The gloopiness isn’t very evident in this video, but I wish it was in touch-o-vision: this stuff was just weird.

I wondered what I’d done wrong: was the milk still too hot when I added the culture?  Had my frozen yoghurt culture gone ‘wrong’?  Contamination of the containers??  (Pretty darned unlikely) – or could it possibly be the milk itself?

I almost always use organic milk for my yoghurt (and everything else too, for that matter), and I have heard some people say they have difficulty getting good, thick yoghurt from regular milk.  But this was something different: Tesco ‘Pure’, which has supposedly been extra-finely filtered so it will stay fresh for longer (up to seven days!).  And I’m wondering if it is altered in some other way, too – possibly as a side effect of the filtering, possibly some unclaimed additional process – so that it doesn’t behave like ‘regular’ milk any more.  I did notice that the bottle said it was ‘not suitable for home freezing’ – why not??

I am now 100% sure that the problem was not the heat of the milk when I added the culture, nor the culture itself, nor any kind of contamination.  I’m sure of this because I made a second batch of yoghurt using my regular milk – and used part of the failed batch as the starter for the new batch.  The new batch is 100% fine: good texture, tastes as delicious as ever – so the microbes must be OK.  Which, really, only leaves the milk.

The Pizza Test

J and I made pizza for dinner the other night: garlic bread to start, followed by a tomato/mozzarella/capers pizza, and our go-to favourite: Blue and green pizza.  For those who haven’t had pizza at our house, Blue and green includes the following toppings:

  • a schmear of tomato sauce (not too much or the whole thing gets soggy);
  • A layer of sauteed greens (beet tops or spinach beet with onions- make sure to squeeze out excess liquid, or again: sogginess);
  • A scattering of blue cheese chunks (we usually use Roquefort or Gorgonzola; something creamy seems to work best);
  • A handful of walnut pieces, and, optionally
  • An egg cracked in the middle.

If you are lucky enough to have them, six quail eggs can be used instead; one for each slice.  Putting one large chicken’s egg in the middle makes for messy, if enjoyable serving.  For chicken’s eggs, I also recommend separating the egg, so the white goes on at the beginning of the cooking time, and the yolk just shortly before the end – unless you like your yolk cooked hard.  For the record, I am still utterly gobsmacked that J likes this pizza so much; he is a confirmed carnivore, and ‘hates greens’.  Oh well – no complaints from me!

But!  The point of this blog post is not to make you hungry or jealous.  It occurred to me that this meal might be a good baseline for our efforts to eat homegrown as much as possible.  I will try and revisit it yearly, and see how much of it we can call ‘homemade’ – or at least local.

The dough
This is a yeasted dough, made in my breadmaker.  The texture is a good one once cooked, but difficult to handle: loose and light.  We’re working on the skills for that. Ingredients are as follows:

  • Flour is purchased, but from a local company (Glebe Farm).  I don’t think we’ll be growing our own wheat any time soon, though I’d love to give it a try.
  • Olive Oil is purchased, and not even vaguely local.  I do have a small olive tree in a pot, but I think I’ll be retired by the time it yields an appreciable amount of oil.  (Besides: olives!  Yum!!)
  • Salt and Sugar are purchased, and likely to remain so!  Though I suppose honey might be used instead of the sugar, and we can certainly find local honey.
  • The leavening is yeast.  I’d like to work up a good sourdough version, but J is so far resistant to sourdough in all its forms.

The garlic bread

In addition to the dough, this includes:

  • The garlic is from our last year’s harvest.  It’s not at its best any more, but I’m delighted it has lasted this long!
  • We’ve augmented it with garlic scapes from this year’s garlic crop, sauteed very gently in butter.
  • The butter is purchased.  Again, I’d like to make at least some of my own butter, but I don’t see the point (apart from once or twice as a fun experiment) unless it provides a significant sustainability advantage.  This would most likely involve me buying or trading for very local milk, though in the fullness of time (i.e. years away!!) I think I’d like to try keeping goats.
  • Rosemary.  We do have rosemary in the garden, but this was some dried, purchased stuff that needs using up.

Tomato/mozzarella/capers

We score very low on this one, but with great potential to improve:

  • The tomatoes were tinned, and not ours.  It isn’t too big of a stretch to imagines that we might grow enough to make our own tomato sauce in future years, though I made a conscious decision not to grow any ‘matoes this year; we had a huge blight problem last year, so I thought I’d give the land a rest.
  • Mozzarella is purchased and not local; my thoughts on this are very similar to those for the butter, above.
  • Capers are also purchased.  This is something I would very much like to make for ourselves; pickled nasturtium seeds are supposed to be an excellent substitute.  The caper bush itself looks like it might do fairly well against a southern-facing wall or two in our garden – except it is frost sensitive, so maybe not.
  • A scattering of fresh basil leaves once the pizza is out of the oven.  Yes!  These come from our own windowsill.  Finally.

Green and blue

Probably the hardest to improve on, but still potential:

  • Tomatoes – as above
  • Greens and the accompanying onions came from our garden last year.  I sauteed loads of these and froze them in small portions for this very use last year.  I’m glad I did, as neither cabbage nor spinach (available in local groceries/supermarkets) would be the same.  I have no beets or kale in the ground so far this year, though, so I must try for an autumn/winter crop of at least one – or we’ll run out!
  • Blue cheese carries all my previous caveats for dairy products, plus the requirement for a specific culture (and more complex cheesemaking techniques).  I have questions about how sustainable it would truly be for me to make this myself, even if I did have my own milk.
  • Walnuts are purchased.  I’m pretty sure I should be able to gather some locally if I try – possibly even for free.  Must investigate this possibility.
  • Eggs are also purchased, but locally.  At least, usually.  A lot of people in the village put eggs out for sale, and I buy from them when I can.  Longer term, I’d like a few chooks of my own, though.  Or possibly even the aforementioned quail!

Overall score
Out of 18 ingredients, 5 are homegrown and 2 locally purchased.  I think that, with moderate effort, I could raise the score to 9 homegrown ingredients; longer term, I could probably add 4 or 5 more ingredients.  That leaves only a few that I don’t think it is reasonable to provide for myself: salt, olive oil, blue cheese…  What do you think I will score on this scale for next year?

And Kita says…

That all smells dreadful.  Would you like me to dispose of it for you?

Strike two

OK, this has been bugging me.

I have a favourite soup.  It’s Norma’s Carrot, Parsnip and Ginger un-recipe.  (Which is surprising, because parsnips are one of the few things I don’t much like, and carrots aren’t a real winner in my book, either.  But this soup is good.)

Except I made a batch a few months ago, and it was bad.  I mean, BAD.  It was so bad, and so surprising, that I almost felt like I’d been hit in the face. 100% unlike its normal self, it was very bitter and metallic and it left a very strange, almost tingly sensation in my mouth.  I decided that some of the ingredients must have been past their best, chalked it up as a sacrifice to the kitchen gods, and threw the lot out.

And last week, it happened again.  This time, it wasn’t quite so overwhelmingly dreadful, but still bad enough to throw away.  I can barely remember throwing any other food away because it was unpleasant.  But this recipe?  Twice in a row??

So, my questions are these:  Has anyone else had any similar experiences?  Does anyone have any idea why it might have happened?  Do ‘old’ carrot and/or parsnips have a tendency to taste this way?  A google search threw up a page which suggested that onions and parsnips may combine to taste bitter if the onions are undercooked, but I sorta doubt that this was the problem.  EDIT: I add neither Grand Marnier nor orange juice to mine; not my fave flavours in savoury dishes.  So it’s not the orange component that’s a culprit.

Any ideas?  Or will broccoli, blue cheese and potato be my new fave recipe?

91) Too cold for sourdough: December lists, November recap

November started unseasonably warm; what a difference a month makes!

The sourdough loaf I left to rise overnight basically didn’t.  I should have taken the hint when it took twice as long as usual to get bubbly after the second feeding, but I needed bread for lunch today, dammit, so I baked it off anyway. (Besides, it still tastes good).

The squat, dense little loaf I ended up with is a timely reminder that sourdough culture contains living organisms.  My kitchen is much, much colder than usual overnight, and they are going a lot slower.  I think that if I’d let it rise all day, it would have ended up relatively normal.  And let me tell you, it’s not the only living organism around here that’s been moving more slowly than normal over the last few days.

Nevertheless, November has been a strange, hectic blur of a month, but I seem to have achieved quite a lot of things off my list:

  1. Yarnscape: At least two shop updates – No.  None, again.
  2. Yarnscape: Get back to those dye pots! – Yes, but only briefly.  I need to re-organise the studio before I can make any real habits here.
  3. Yarnscape: write some basic accessories patterns – partial.  Cold snap should be published tomorrow, and I’m working on a simple sock pattern.
  4. Yarnscape: Pick hosting, and start work on the new site theatre. – YES!!  (you’re here, aren’t you?!)
  5. Finish the peacock shawlYes! But I really, really need to block it tonight (deadline: Saturday)
  6. Winterise the garden – partially.  I’ve cleared back a lot of the beds, and planted some onions, but I wanted to do a lot more – and now the ground is frozen.
  7. Spin up four more batts – easily surpassed!  I’ve lost count of how many I’ve spun, but I’ve filled three bobbins with singles, and have plied off two skeins.

Three and three halves out of seven – good!  But I notice a pattern.  I want –really want– to be dyeing and selling yarn; dyeing, blending and selling fibre.  But it’s not happening.  Why??

Am I scared I’ll fail?  Am I falling back into my old ‘delayed gratification’ patterns, where I put off all the things I really want to do in favour of other, more mundane occupations?  Or is it as simple as the fact that I’m not making the space – physically or mentally – to do this work in?

So this month, I’m going to be trying something a bit different.  I’m taking shop updates off the list.  Instead, I’m going to address the things that I feel are getting in the way of doing the shop updates and of doing the dyeing.  If a shop update happens to happen – that’s a definite result!  If not, then at least I should be making it easier in the future.  So!

This month:

  1. Yarnscape: Set up the studio so it supports dyeing on a regular basis.
  2. Yarnscape: Get a functional and friendly photography station set up.
  3. Yarnscape: Finish the sock pattern, and start another.
  4. Yarnscape: Get the independent shop designed and (ideally) live.
  5. Weave a scarf for brother  #2, and finish the one for brother #1.
  6. Yarnscape: Continue adding functionality to this here blog (sidebars, search function, locally hosted images).
  7. Finish plying the current singles, and spin up three more batts.

Lots and lots of Yarnscape.  Yes!

36) Sustainability Sundays

Well, we had Sourdough Sundays for quite a while, but I'm not baking every single week right now, and there's a limit to the amount of experimentation I'm doing in my regular loaf.  So, inspired by Leigh, I'm introducing 'sustainability Sundays'.  She's been participating in Sharon Astyk's Independence Days challenge, which is all about freeing people from their dependence on the Agribusiness Empires – and, I think, the tyrrany of supermarkets, processed food and other allied evils.  There are seven areas to report on, weekly, and I've wanted to join in – but, perversely, have been dissuaded by the name of the challenge.  So I'm reframing it as my own Sustainability Sundays log, and will try and keep this one up for more than a few weeks.  So, this week I have:

1. Plant Something –

  • soy beans
  • transplant melons, squash and cucumbers
  • Start mushroom kit

2. Harvest something –

  • salad greens
  • beetroots (overwintered)

3.
Preserve something

  • Excess milk made into yoghurt

4.
Waste Not
(reducing wastage in all areas)

  • Made soup from chicken carcasses and stock from pork ribs
  • Saving kitchen water for the garden/indoor plants
  • Composting kitchen waste

5. Want Not (preparing for shortage situations)

  • can't think of anything here!

6.
Build Community Food Systems

  • Blogging about it
  • Sharing homemade yogurt (and how easy it is!) at work

7. Eat the Food

  • Yoghurt on my breakfast
  • Yoghurt cheesecake (a massive success!)
  • Beet greens in quiche

That's it for now – I want to expound on the topics in more detail, but for now, I just want to get this posted!  Happy Sunday!

31) This one’s for Norma: yoghurt making

Is there any knitter out there who doesn't read Norma's blog?  If there is, there shouldn't be – she can always be relied upon for a great story, a fantastic sense of humour, top-rate photography, and a healthy dose of down-to-earth environmentalism.  So if you don't already read – go check her out! (Also, cute dog pictures).

Anyway, enough of the suck-up blogging.  Yoghurt!  This was my breakfast this morning, and boy was it delicious:

DSC04709

Actually, that was about half my breakfast.  I ate it, then went back for seconds.  That's homemade yoghurt, folks, and as thick, creamy, light and tasty as can be.  And it's all thanks to Norma, and her lavish praises for Custom Probiotics yoghurt starters.

Given that I'm a sucker for pretty much anything that ferments or does other magical, cauldron-y things on the kitchen worktop, I've had numerous flirtations with yoghurt making.  The usual UK approach is to use some supermarket-obtained 'live' yoghurt for a starter, and boy, I've had my share of nasty, pucker-up homemade yoghurt using that method.  The kind where you *know* it must be doing you good, because it sure isn't fun.

Most recently, I bought an Easi-Yo yoghurt maker a couple of years back, which is a very simple incubator system, complete with its own brand of powder-based mixes (just add water!).  The incubator itself is awesome, requiring boiling water to set up, then no further power to run, but I've never been too sure of the powdered mixes.  For a start, they're not much cheaper than the reasonably good, organic yoghurt I can buy in the supermarkets.  Secondly, I bet the food miles are horrendous (Easi-yo is an Aussie company).  Thirdly: can you say processed?  How much energy does it take to sterilise and dehydrate milk, even if nothing weird is added?  (I had a few of the 'mango flavoured drinking yoghurt' packages at one point.  They tasted nice, but …chemical.)  Then there's the packaging – plasticised foil, or foilised plastic, but anyway, about as stubborn as cockroaches and definitely not recyclable.

Oh, yeah – recyclable.  I'm trying my hardest to only buy things that come in recyclable packaging, but it's difficult.  My local council only recycles some kinds of plastic, which, as it happens, includes the kind that milk bottles are made of, but not the kind yoghurt tubs are made of.

So, when Norma started singing the praises of Custom Probiotics, I started thinking seriously about getting hold of some quality culture, and just using the milk we drink every day to make my own.  I have tried, hard, to source some from within the UK, but have failed miserably to find any that I really trust (hmm…).  And, you know, if Norma raves about something – I'm going to trust her.

Boy, I'm glad I did.  I'm so totally smitten.

26) Still in hiding, and success with sourdough

I have no idea where the blog-mojo has been for the last month, I really don't.  It's not as if I'm just hanging out on the sofa with the hounds; stuff is happening left, right and centre, it's just that I'm not getting around to writing about it.

On the other hand, I've finally worked out a recipe and method that allows me to make all-machine white sourdough with minimal effort and zero waste.  In fact, the last time I made it, it was so well-risen that it over-rose the bucket and tried to climb out the top of the machine:

DSC04650

You can see how tall it was.  It bulges outwards where it grew beyond the edges of the bucket, and that flattened spot on the top is where it hit the lid of the machine.

Then again…  this loaf weighed almost 1kg (over 2lb).  I may just scale back the recipe for future use, especially as J still isn't keen on it.

DSC04651

I, on the other hand, adore this bread.  I can eat it by itself when fresh (or nearly so), with butter when less fresh, toasted when past its prime, and soaked in soup when it finally goes rock-solid.

So.  I've written up the recipe and posted it in its own page.  Early experiments show that it doesn't rise so well with wholemeal bread flour (though this flour wasn't particularly fresh), and it does rise, but more slowly, with malthouse flour.  Clearly, I need to experiment more.

24) Sourdough Sunday: flat topped

After the last exploding loaf, I decided to try introducing a
little more consistency into the flour and water quantites, by
following a standard recipe and subtracting my 'feeding' flour and
water from those, rather than just eyeballing the whole thing.  I also
wanted a single-risen loaf instead of my 'thrice-risen' version

DSC04643

Hmm. 

Feeding:

  • Thursday evening: 0.5 cups of flour and 0.5 cups water.
  • Friday morning: 1 cup flour and 1 cup water.
  • Friday evening: 0.5 cups flour and 0.5 cups water.

The recipe:

I made the dough on Saturday morning (not forgetting to keep back my mini-starter; I'm sure I will one day, though!).  The dough was made from:

  • all but 1 tbsp starter;
  • 1.5 cups flour;
  • no additional water;
  • 1.5 tsp salt;
  • 1.5 tsp sugar.

Part way through kneading in the machine, it looked too wet, so I added an extra half cup of flour.  It still seemed wet-ish, but I didn't want to mess too much with my 'approved' recipe so, in the interest of experimentation, I let it be.

I expected it to rise all day, but after only a few hours, it was clear it wouldn't need to.  So I shortened the wait time, and let it bake.  The top, which was nice and rounded, had started to 'drop' a mere 10 minutes after the bake started.  This either means the dough was too wet, or it had over-risen (which can be caused by the dough being too wet, and therefore not sufficiently structural).  As might be expected, the crumb is very open:

DSC04644

This loaf tastes very, very good, though.  It's not notably sour, and it has that delicious crumpet-like flavour going on that I noticed in the exploding loaf.

Next time: a bit more flour?  A second knead??

19) Sourdough Sunday: The day the bread exploded

DSC04593

This is my *least* successful sourdough to date, though I'm still eating it with gusto!

I attempted to adjust my timing from the thrice-risen loaf so that baking could happen after the first 'rise'.  I'm hoping that this might reduce the sour flavour (less fermentation time), which might make the stuff more palatable to J.  I'm also expecting that it will affect the texture, too, though I'm not sure quite what I expect in that department.

This time, though, I messed up:

  • The dough was noticeably wetter than last time.  I added more flour, but I think it was a case of 'too little, too late'.
  • I forgot the sugar.
  • I forgot the salt.
  • I still didn't get the timing right, and had to knock it back before bed.

It was just one of those evenings – I'd intended to make bread the evening before, but I didn't, and then I was rushing around like a headless chicken, so I just went for it, and … well.

I don't really think the bread 'exploded', by the way.  There wasn't enough mess in the bread maker for that.  I *do* think that it over-rose the bucket and started to drip over the sides, which caused the bubble which is the top of the loaf to burst and collapse…  This is what it looked like when it was still in the bucket:

DSC04589

Taste wise, it's a bit dull and flat (surprise!  No salt or sugar!).  The texture is much more open than previous loaves, which is also probably due to the lack of salt and the extra moisture:

DSC04594

It still feels very moist, too.  (Apart from the crispy stuff on the top, which the dogs think I made especially for them!)  And although the bubbles in the crumb are large, the bread between them is dense and somewhat rubbery.  If I had to pick a word to describe this bread, it would be 'clammy'.  Appealing, no?

In mitigation, I have to say it's not bad toasted, though it really needs butter (salted butter!).  Actually, in this form, it really reminds me of crumpets!

Next time:

  • Remember all the ingredients.
  • Measure all the flour for a standard loaf in advance, then use some of that to feed/build the starter.

15) Sourdough Sunday: The Thrice-Risen Loaf

Sourdough Sunday: I think that this could become a tradition. (Yes, it's Monday right now.  I ran out of time yesterday – so sue me!)

DSC04585

This week saw further experimentation with keeping a 'mini starter' and with making the bread completely in the bread machine.

Mini starters

A 'mini starter' is only about 2 tbsp of starter, so it takes up less space in the fridge, and you don't have to deal with all the waste involved in throwing out half your flour and water mixture that so many methods seem to use.  I got the idea from here, and then adapted.  Basically, I'm keeping back a tablespoon or two of the starter whenever I start baking, feeding it, and putting it straight in the fridge.  At this point, it's pretty active, but after feeding and putting in the cold, is happy to sit back and relax until next needed.

In advance of baking, I need to increase the size of the starter rapidly by repeated feedings until I have enough. This week, I took 24 hours to do so, as follows:

  • Thursday morning: fed my mini-starter 0.25 cups of flour and 0.25 cups water.
  • Thursday late afternoon: fed my starter 0.5 cups flour and 0.5 cups water.
  • Thursday late evening: fed my starter 0.5 cups flour and 0.5 cups water.

Clearly, this isn't a method that means you can bake immediately whenever you feel like it.  However, if you bake on a schedule, or too sporadically for the traditional starter management methods to be economical, this seems like a good alternative

The recipe

On Friday morning, I used my now very active starter to make the dough (not forgetting to keep back and feed my mini-starter for next time, of course!).  The dough recipe was:

  • 3 cups starter;
  • 4 cups flour;
  • 0.5 cups water;
  • 1.5 tsp salt;
  • 1.5 tsp sugar, I think.

I put the whole lot into the bread machine (liquids first in mine), started the dough cycle and once it was done, left it to rise all day.

At about 5pm on Friday evening, J rang me at work to say it was almost too well risen for the machine!!  I got him to knock it back using the dough cycle again, and to my surprise, it had fully re-risen again midnight!  I knocked it back a second time, and programmed the bread maker to finish baking our hyperactive loaf so it would be ready for us getting up at 7ish.

DSC04586

The Verdict

This is probably the best textured loaf I have ever made, whether in the machine or by hand; sourdough or yeast.  It was also very, very tasty and tangy, and took serious willpower for me not to eat it all at once.  I managed to hold back long enough to find out that it makes particularly tasty and crispy toast, too.

J didn't particularly like it – he says he prefers bread that doesn't really taste of anything (his words) – though he didn't dislike it, either.

I'll definitely use this method again; it's so easy!  I will try and tweak the timings so that it just gets to rise once and is then baked.  I'd like to see what effect that has on both the texture and the flavour.

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