Thursday, May 3, 2012

Schamelot Water Kefir

I've been brewing water kefir off and on for a little over a year thanks to my good friend, Jess, and Ruth at Just Another Day In Paradise recently hooked me up with some fresh grains after I'd taken a break.  These were grains she'd been tending for several months which I originally gave to her!  Brewing kefir is a great way to keep up a friendship!

So this is how I do it...

I first add one cup of white sugar to a gallon pickle jar.

Then I fill the jar almost all the way with cold filtered water.

Next I add 1/4 cup water kefir grains to the jar.

Water kefir gets its wonderfully refreshing flavor from lemon and ginger. I usually halve a whole organic lemon and peel a chunk of ginger, which I keep already cut up in the freezer. The ginger peels easily from the freezer under warm water. I usually use the lemon and ginger for two batches of kefir. So on the first batch I only halve the lemon and throw in the ginger whole. On the second batch I cut the lemon halves in half again, and cut the ginger in half as well. It's o.k. to add a new lemon and ginger chunk each time, but I just try to save a few cents where I can. You may also need to add half a cleaned egg shell, or a pinch of sea salt, or quarter teaspoon of baking soda to stimulate the growth of your grains. Some people also add unsulphured sultanas, or golden raisins. I've heard of some people adding unsulphured dates. I suggest you do a little internet research on growing healthy kefir grains to find out more.

I add the lemon and ginger to the water and mix it up to dissolve the sugar.

After the kefir brews for about 48 hours (you can tell it's getting done because the water turns cloudy like Fresca Soda and there are bubbles rising and you can even take a little taste to test the sweetness--finished kefir isn't really that sweet because the sugar gets metabolized by the kefir grains) you just strain it all into a storage container.

I use a PUR refrigerator water filter with a tap that I got at Goodwill for $2.99. The kids gulp this down! It's close enough to soda as far as bubbles go to make an acceptable substitute, and it's so refreshing when it's cold! You can flavor it further with fruit juices if you like--just let the juices ferment on the counter another 24 hours before drinking, but my kids like it just fine straight up and don't usually want to wait another day to try something new.
(See all the other jars of yummy homemade dressings and ferments in my unusually tidy refrigerator!  That little jar  underneath with the red and yellow lid contains a happy little family of kefir grains that need to be adopted!  Let me know if you're interested.) 

 From a Living Kitchen!


24 Hour Greek Style Yogurt made with Half-and-Half

I started making 24 hour yogurt about a year ago when I read about how the long fermentation process "denatures" or predigests the offensive components to milk, like lactose, and casein. Additionally, the sugar used in making vanilla yogurt is metabolized by the yogurt bacteria making it gentler on my little guys' systems--we seem to have less problem with impulse control when they're off white sugar, or when the sugar's been metabolized by something else before the kids eat it (as is also the case with kefir and kombucha).

I start by gathering all my 1 quart wide mouth glass canning jars and lids into my pot and setting them on the stove to boil. It's important to have sterile jars, lids and tools while making yogurt so you don't introduce bacteria into the mix that might inhibit the yogurt bacteria from doing its job. 

 Add one and half cups of sugar to your pot.

 I use a gallon and a half of half-and-half, which will make just a little over a gallon and a half of rich, creamy, thick Greek style yogurt. Whatever warm sweet cream I have left over after filling all my jars I give to the little ones for a treat they love!

I pour most of my half-and-half into my pot using a slotted spoon to dissolve the sugar in the crean, and leaving about a cup of cream in the carton for Caeli's morning coffee. I still end up with a little extra warm sweet cream. I guess I could leave closer to two cups of half-and-half and probably not have any cream left over to treat the little ones, but they'd be so sad... 
I use a digital thermometer that has an alert function on it.  So I set my alert temperature to 180 degrees (the well-done temperature of poultry) and just wait for the cream to get got.  I set the stove top on 8 out of 10.  I guess it usually takes about 15 minutes starting with cold-out-of-the-fridge cream.

 While my cream is warming up to 180 degrees F, I wash the dishes!

  I put a clean dishpan in my sink with about 4 cups of ice in it. This is to cool my cream in after it reaches 180 degrees.

 Then I put my pot of hot cream into the ice, adding a little cold water to the dishpan of ice until my cream cools to 120 degrees.

 While my cream is cooling I take my sterilized jars and lids out of the pot and set them on the counter to cool and dry. I save the pot of hot water to continue to sterilize any new tools I use for filling my jars, like my ladle and funnel.

Once my cream cools I add a tablespoon of pure vanilla extract and stir it into the cream with my slotted spoon. 

I add a spoonful of yogurt to each jar as a starter culture. I just use store bought yogurt that says it has live, active cultures in the labeling. You can also use some left-over yogurt from your previous batch, but my kids usually lick the jars clean before I can reserve any for the next batch. I should probably make a little jar of yogurt to hide in the back of the fridge just for this purpose. You can use your own yogurt to start a new batch a few times but eventually you'll have to get some store bought yogurt again because the bacteria loose their vigor--or so I've read--never tried using my own yogurt more than once. 

 Here you can see I've dropped a rounded tablespoon of yogurt into each jar. Make sure your jars have cooled or the heat can weaken and even kill your starter.

 Now it's time to temper your yogurt starter with the warm cream. Just pour a ladleful of warm cream into each jar (I use a funnel to avoid so much mess) and gentle swish the cream and yogurt around in the jars. The idea here is to introduce the two to each other, not blend them together, so be gentle--no need to use a utensil to mix.

 After you've tempered your starter you can ladle or pour the remaining cream into each jar. I usually pour the cream almost all the way to the top, which sometimes leaks during the fermentation process, leaving little yogurt rings on the bottom of my dehydrator. Again, if I reserved closer to two cups of cream at the start I could probably avoid this minor inconvenience.

 But as you can see the little ones don't really mind when there's a surplus of warm sweet cream!

 Six beautiful full jars of warm sweet vanilla cream and yogurt starter ready to eat in about 30 hours. Trust me--it's well worth the wait!

 And the same six beautiful full jars snuggled up nice and cozy in our second-hand Excalibur dehydrator (the Rolls Royce of dehydrators!). You don't have to use a dehydrator to make yogurt. Remember that pot of hot water you saved to sterilize all your tools? Well, you can pack your jars into an cooler chest and then add some cold water to the pot of hot water until you reach about 115 degrees and pour it into the cooler with the jars. Put the lid on tight, maybe wrap the cooler in a blanket or towel and set it in a non-drafty location for 24 hours. I've done it this way many times, but since we have this dehydrator now taking up space in my dining room I figure I might as well use it.

 The Excalibur has a temperature dial that specifies what temperature you should set it at for what kind of food your making. Our sets yogurt at 115 degrees, but I've found that I get a creamier (less grainy) consistency when I set it between 105 and 115.

Now all you have to do is wait--and boy is it hard. The kids are so tantalized by the sound of the dehydrator going for the next 24 hours they can hardly stand it. And some of them would eat it warm right away. But I always insist we chill it first to get the best consistency--so thick and creamy it won't fall of of Dan's spoon while he insists on feeding himself. It's like custard, and would probably actually be good warm--or cold on warm apple pie--but just really gosh darn delicious all by itself!

 I hope your family enjoys this yogurt as much as we do!


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Hibiscus Flowers!

Just today discovered the magical excitement of dried hibiscus flowers (available from Wegman's loose tea department). Made a syrup of 2 cups hibiscus, 4 cups water, bring to boil and steep as long as you have time; strain well and combine with 2 cups sugar; return to stove top and heat until all the sugar is dissolved. It tastes sweet and tart and wonderful!

Now you can make:

hibiscus margaritas
hibiscus spritzers (with ginger ale and club soda)
hibiscus sorbet
hibiscus salad dressing
hibiscus jelly
hibiscus hard candy

and I have a feeling the list will go on...

I'll post recipes as I try them!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Deep-Fried Mac-n-Cheese Bites

After you try my awesome stove top mac and cheese
, making sure to fix enough for there to be left-overs, you've got to try deep fried mac-n-cheese balls. TO DIE FOR! I dare say even the most elegant finger food you ever thought you could make with left-over anything, let alone mac-n-cheese!

Let the mac and cheese cool until you can shape it into meatball-size off-rounds. Let these chill in the fridge overnight. Next day, take them out and dredge them in flour, dip them in egg, roll them in panko or ordinary bread crumbs and deep-fry at 350* until golden.

You can also spread the left-over mac-n-cheese in a dish, chill and cut into cubes--I just like to make things complicated and I've got a thing for chicken croquets, salmon balls, cream puffs and other spherical food.

Try it! You'll never mind having left-over mac-n-cheese again!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Perfect Baked Chicken Breasts

I accidentally discovered the perfect way to bake or roast chicken breasts when we lost power a half hour after I'd put about 8 pounds of marinated chicken breasts in the oven.  As soon as the power went out I solemnly declared to all and sundry, "Don't open the oven door!"  An hour later, after John got home from work and we sat down to eat, the chicken breasts were cooked to perfection:  still nice and hot, tender, juicy, just the slightest hint of pink in the center, juices running clear as crystal--in short, perfect!

I've been making them this way once a week ever since, and I've come up with a mix and match list of ingredients to vary the theme each time.  You can mix and match your own marinades and let me know what your family likes best.

I just start pouring stuff in the blender (except for the flavorful texture items) until I get an aroma I like. I'm not afraid to just start mixing (following some mysterious instinct I guess). It always seems to come out pretty good.

Fats:  For a large family size pack of breasts I use anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 cup fat.

olive oil
sesame oil
tahini (sesame paste)
peanut butter

Acid: Also about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of acid.

citrus juice
tomato juice
pineapple juice
buttermilk (the enzymes in the buttermilk tenderize the meat like any of the other acids)


maple syrup
pomegranate syrup
sugar (brown or white)


soy sauce
Worcestershire sauce
anchovy paste


hot peppers
tomato paste
green onion
liquid smoke

Colorful flavor

crushed red pepper
specialty seasoning


pepper (red, black, green or white)
chili powder

Flavorful texture: to be added to the roasting pan after the marinade has been blended and poured over the breasts

sun dried tomatoes
diced tomatoes
pineapple (rings, chunks or crushed)
mandarin oranges
feta cheese
blue cheese

Mix the marinade ingredients in the blender and pour over chicken, turning pieces to coat. When you're ready, place breasts and marinade in baking pan with any other ingredients you like, cover, and bake at 350* for 30 minutes. Turn off the oven, leaving the door shut for another hour. Should be perfect!

Some of the combinations we've enjoyed are orange, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, and green onion; balsamic, olive oil, pomegranate syrup, garlic and rosemary; and soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, ginger and crushed red pepper. This week I'm going to try lemon, butter, and tarragon with capers. Give it a try and let me know what you come up with!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Bomb Homemade Spaghetti Ohs!

Finally sharing this one after a few tweaks...

32 oz Chicken Broth (I use Progresso b/c it doesn't have loads of crap like some of the other store bought chicken broths)
1 c. water
6 oz Tomato Paste
1 T. dried minced onion
1 T. garlic salt
1 T. sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese
8 oz. (2 cups) Anelleti (spaghetti circles)

Bring the chicken broth to boil.

Drop tomato paste, onion, garlic salt, sugar, butter and parm in the blender pitcher (I know they're outrageously expensive, but I think ever kitchen should have a Vitamix blender. After killing 4 or 5 blenders, some mine, some not, making Pina Coladas and other various and sundry concoctions, John finally bought me a Vitamix BarBoss and it's the greatest! We use it for smoothies, milk shakes, mixed frozen drinks and Spaghetti Ohs just to begin with.)

After the broth comes to a boil add 2 cups to the blender and puree.

Add one cup water to the remaining 2 cups broth and return to a boil.

Add 2 cups Anelleti to boiling broth mixture and cook until pasta is tender and broth is mostly absorbed.

Add tomato sauce mixture to pasta and return to warm burner, mixing to thicken slightly.

Serve immediately with an additional dusting of Parm is you like.

So delicious, and so much better for little growing bodies than the canned garbage.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Salisbury Steak ala Schamelot

Made this one up myself after I couldn't find a recipe on line that already sounded like what I had in mind. I do that a lot...

4 lbs lean ground beef
1/2 cup finely diced onion
1-2 Tbs soy sauct
1-2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce

Mix this up and let the flavors marinate a bit while you make the gravy in a cast iron skillet:

2 Tbs bacon grease, chicken fat from stock, or some other fat
1 large chopped onion
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 large finely diced green bell pepper
1/4 cup corn starch
4 cups chicken stock/broth
2 Tbs Maggi seasoning, or soy or Worchestershire or salt and pepper to taste

Saute the veggies in the fat. Mix the corn starch, Maggi or other seasoning and cold chicken stock. Add to skillet after veggies are soft and have finished yielding their juices. Allow to thicken, adding more corn starch in water if too thin and more stock if too thick. Lower temp just to a bubble.

Meanwhile, form ground beef mixture into oval, hand-sized patties and cook on a griddle, pressing down the patties with a spatula so that the edges of the patties "fray." Brown each side of the patties and then slip them into the skillet of gravy. You can keep them moist and warm in the gravy over a low temp for some time until you're ready to eat. Serve over mashed, skin-on red potatoes and be very generous with the gravy!

My family loved this way more than any meatloaf I've ever made, and said it was a great gluten-free alternative to our usual Wednesday night favorite--hamburgers.