Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Yogurt Review & Update

I have been meaning to post about my yogurt adventures for weeks now. I apologize!

Cultures For Health
was so kind as to send my two yogurt samples, a Viili and a Matsoni. I was so excited to make raw milk yogurt that would be thick! The instructions tell you to start by making a "pure" starter, which requires pasteurizing some milk. This is required so that you do not have the naturally occurring, healthy bacteria in the milk competing with the culture for the yogurt.

So, I brought a cup of milk to 160 degrees

Then let it cool to room temp and separated it into two jars, labeled of course.

Then I mixed in the cultures and topped the jars with a paper towel (my cheesecloth was being used elsewhere).

Then I placed them in the oven with my oven light left on. They are far apart to avoid cross-contamination (though truly, I don't know if this is still too close since it is an enclosed space). I also traded their positions about half way through so that they would get the same heat (the top left being closest to the light).

After a day or so (I think it was 18 hours), they looked nice and thick with nothing running up the sides when turned. Oh I was excited.

Then, as per instructed, I let the cultures finish culturing with lids in the refrigerator for 6 more hours. Then I added the prescribed amount of starter to plain old cold raw milk from the refrigerator, and covered the jars in the same way, and placed them in the oven in the same way as the starter cultures with the oven light on. After 12 hours or so (it was left overnight), I had jars that looked like this:

Notice the separation at the bottom of the jar? I wasn't sure if this was okay. I used some cheesecloth to drain it a bit, and hoped for the best, but it was not thick like I had hoped. It sufficed for soaking oats for porridge.

I presumed that the oven light made it too hot for the cultures. So I used the rest of my starters to try again. This time leaving the oven light off.

(Now, I should mention, the instructions say that you can leave these on the counter in a warm room. However, there really are no warm rooms in my house if the weather is cold, as similarly, there are no cool rooms in my house if the weather is warm. Further, the kitchen is actually the draftiest place in our house. So, that is why I keep using my oven as an insulated space. Perhaps your house is warmer and you can just put them on top of your refrigerator.)

Well, this time I left the jars for 18 hours, and even closer to 24, and it looked like nothing happened at all. Just milk. Not a hint of thickness nor of separation. Ug. It happened over a couple cold days here, and perhaps it was just too cold to grow the cultures?

I really do believe making yogurt at home is simple and easy. I used to do it in our old house (though not raw). This house seems against me. I have trouble with my sourdough here as well. I do have high hopes that the summer will make things easier on me. Further, I am in the middle of attempt three at counter top yogurt. Wish me luck! I will update you as soon as I can.

If you have any tips, or if you have taken any of the dairy challenges this month, please share!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day and The No GMO Challenge

"We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children."
~Native American Proverb


I am taking the Earth Day "Just Say No to GMO's" challenge this month. More truly, I am taking this challenge for the rest of my life, and have already been living it for quite some time. However, it is nearly impossible to avoid if you eat out, or ever need a convenience food. So, for the next month, I will even be ruling out those exceptions.

Think that GMO's are no big deal, since the FDA approves of them, right? Cheeseslave and Food Renegade have already posted great info today on GMO's, so rather than repeat them, I suppose I will share this old quote from Accidental Hedonist instead:

"Once upon a time, in order for the FDA to determine if Monsanto's growth hormones were safe or not, Monsanto was required to submit a scientific report on that topic. Margaret Miller, one of Monsanto's researchers put the report together. Shortly before the report submission, Miller left Monsanto and was hired by the FDA. Her first job for the FDA was to determine whether or not to approve the report she wrote for Monsanto. Assisting Miller was another former Monsanto researcher, Susan Sechen.

The result? Monsanto approved its own report.

Doesn't that fill you with [feelings of] safety and joy?"

Here is what Monsanto claims on their website about their own ethical standards:
“Challenges that arise in the course of our business can be resolved consistent with all applicable laws and regulations, and with our high ethical standards, and still allow us to meet our business objectives if issues are identified early, addressed cooperatively, and solved thoughtfully.”
- Monsanto's Code of Business Conduct

Interesting that the only specific foundation they have for ethics in business is that they comply with laws and regulations. This is interesting since their own lobbying dollars and other forms of bribery are what influence may of those laws and regulations - and then they use the same staff in a revolving door with the FDA. How is this objective!?

Here is an interesting history I recently found on the company, and here is what wikipedia offers.

I cannot find it at the moment, but Dr. Mercola also had an article a while back about a new "mystery" disease that caused blue, white, and some other color long plastic threads that would come out of (and tear through) your body. The only good explanation for this condition is GMO's as they disrupt and modify cellular function (that is, after all, the objective of their use in the food supply).

GMO's are awful for the environment and dangerous for you. Take this challenge with me! The best way to know what you are eating is to make it from scratch, however, you can still avoid GMO's by purchasing organic prepared foods. Start reading labels. Know what you are eating.....after all, your body can only be built by what you put into it.

This post is part of the Real Food Wednesday blog carnival hosted by Cheeseslave. For other stories, anecdotes, recipes, and posts relating to Real Food, go check it out!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Giveaway Winner Announcement!

Thank you to all who participated in Prepare To Eat's first giveaway and thanks most especially to Cultures for Health for the prize package.

I am excited to announce that Terri is our winner.

For everyone else, Cultures for Health will be offering 10% off all products (except the already very low price of their Excalibur dehydrators) for Prepare To Eat readers for the next week. Please use the coupon code P2E during checkout. The coupon will expire on April 23rd.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Cultures For Health Give-Away for Prepare To Eat Readers!

Right now I am in the middle of preparing my yogurt starters for making raw milk yogurt, complements of Cultures For Health, and I am looking forward to giving you a full review as soon as the yogurts are done.

While you wait, I am pleased to announce that Cultures for Health is offering a special giveaway for Prepare To Eat’s readers this month in honor of the "Culture Your Own Dairy" challenge! The winner will receive a buttermilk culture, any yogurt starter of his/her choice, AND any sourdough starter of his/her choice mailed directly to you. This is a $39 value!

What does sourdough have to do with culturing your own dairy you ask? Nothing really, but it is a good preparation for next month's challenge, which will be to make your own bread.

Cultures For Health

If you are interested in culturing your own foods (kefir, sourdough breads, yogurt, buttermilk, kombucha) Cultures For Health makes locating a quality starter culture simple. Their cultures and starters are priced fairly, and they even ship internationally (aside from Kombucha). They offer 5 different yogurt starters, 17 different sourdough starters, as well as water kefir grains, kombucha mothers, buttermilk starter, dairy kefir grains and other supplies. If we were all neighbors, it would be easy to pass these treasures along as once you establish your culture it will keep for years (with good care) and you will be able to share. Though better than getting them from a neighbor, Cultures For Health includes comprehensive instructions for using your starters.

The Prize

* Buttermilk Culture
* Yogurt Starter of Your Choice
* Sourdough Starter of Your Choice

How to Enter

Anyone can enter, including international readers. You have up to 5 chances to enter, so please up your odds and enter multiple times!

First, visit Cultures for Health and sign up for the giveaway there, look around, then let me know which yogurt starter you would love to win and which sourdough starter makes you excited for next month's challenge.

For more chances to win,

* Blog about this giveaway with a link to this post and send me the link.
* Post about this giveaway on a message board or forum and send me the link.
* Mention this giveaway on Facebook and let me know
* Stumble this giveaway and let me know
* Tweet this giveaway and let me know

This should provide you with 6 possible entries!

The Announcement

The winner will be selected randomly by Cultures for Health next Friday afternoon (the 17th) and I will announce that winner shortly thereafter. Your prize package will be shipped by Cultures for Health directly!

Good Luck!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Our First Whole Cow!

Monday evening we picked up our first entire cow's worth of beef. We had bought an 1/8 of a pastured cow a year and half ago, and simply showed up and took our box of beef. It lasted us 3 months.

When the farm where we purchase our pastured eggs and raw milk mentioned that they had a cow left a few months ago, I jumped and told her we'd take the whole thing (planning, of course, to split it up with some other families). My hope is that 1/2 a cow will provide us with beef for the year.

In case you've ever wondered just how much meat you'd get from one pastured Angus, I thought I would post the breakdown here, along with costs.

To begin, typically you agree with a farmer on a price per hanging weight of the cow. As it hangs and ages (typically over 10 days or so) the meat shrinks. I think this is because the fat dries out, so the less fatty the cow, the less weight lost (but we all love beef fat and think it is good for us, so I was not looking for a lean cow).

Our cow had a hanging weight of 527 pounds and we had agreed to a price of $2.50 per pound hanging weight. The butcher said that our cow only lost about 25% of his weight (which was on the smaller side of weight loss?). That brought our grand total to $1,317.50 for the entire cow, which figures to about $3.33 per pound on average (though it also depends on your actual packages, some of my groupings have averaged under $3 a pound). Mind you this is for local, natural (not technically organic due to a some of the feed they get during winter), mainly-pastured beef. The equivalent in the grocery store would likely range from $5-$25 a pound depending on the cut. I am also unsure if the weight even includes all the items listed below under "other" as many people would not request those items.

What does that include, you ask?

Here's a photo of our upright freezer. I actually had already taken out a 1/8 portion + a little extra before the photo was taken, but you can see that it was full! I would say that 1 full cow just barely fits into a standard upright freezer.

This was our full inventory:

Tenderloin 3
Short Ribs 5
Stew Meat 6
Ground Beef 121 (1lb packages)

Roasts (3-4 pounds each)
Rump 3
Sirloin Tip 4
Cross Rib 4
Heel of Rump 4
Beef of Bone 6
Chuck 12

Packaged Steaks (1.5" thick, 2 to a package)
Tri-Tip Steak 2
Flank 2
Sirloin Tip 6
Rib 8
T-Bone 8
Sirloin 9
Round 17
Tenderized Round 17

Liver 6
Heart 1
Tongue 1
Oxtail 1
Soup Bones 9 packages
Dog Bones 4 large bags (these would not have fit in the freezer, but gratefully, they were not for us)

We found out that a few of the other organ meats (sweetbreads, and perhaps something else) have to be requested before the animal is killed. I think they have to be harvested immediately, and it also depends on the age of the animal. So, for this time, we were unable to get them.

I requested our steaks 1.5" thick. Theoretically, we might have had "more" individually cut steaks had I requested them 1" thick, but I find it easier to prepare juicy rare steak if it is 1.5" thick, and then, hopefully, you might have leftovers to slice and add into other dishes (like a steak-strip Caesar salad). The lovely thing about coordinating buying an entire cow, is that I got to make those decisions! I also had to attempt to fairly divide the portions up (into 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, and two 1/16 portions) and hope that our friends are all happy with their spoils.

I may have also found a contact for doing something similar with lamb (though our food budget will be quite tight for a while after stocking up!). In the past, I have also been part of bulk, direct-from farm, organic, pastured chicken buying. If you can find groups doing this, or take on the challenge of finding a good farm and other interested real foodies, it will certainly save you money and provide higher-quality meat in the long run. Spring is a great time to do this, as many people have a tax return to work with (however, the coordination work must take place earlier - during winter), but there are certainly animals being butchered all year round, so don't think you've missed out.

For contacts in your area, see the side bar of resources, or perhaps better yet, contact your local chapter leader of the Weston A Price Foundation.

This post is part of the Real Food Wednesday blog carnival hosted by Cheeseslave. For other stories, anecdotes, recipes, and posts relating to Real Food, go check it out!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

How-To: Creme Fraiche

This is Creme Fraiche the very easy way:

Start with a pint of the best quality cream you can find (NO ultra-pasteurized cream). If you have it raw, all the better, but it is spring and the cream content of our milk is going down as the cows are now on pasture, so I cannot part with the cream from my milk.

Then, you are free to add 1 tbsp of either good quality commercial creme fraiche (as seen above), creme fraiche from a previous batch (so save some from this batch you are making), good quality commercial buttermilk, or your own homecultured buttermilk.

Mix it well, and cover it tightly.

Place it somewhere consistently warm for 20-24 hours, then chill (I have mine covered and labeled with a small paper bag on top of my refrigerator to help trap the heat as our kitchen is drafty).

The finished thick creme.

See, truly thick (I let mine go a few hours over 24 as well, so it's a bit extra thick).

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Challenge: Culture Your Own Dairy

This month's challenge is to culture some of your own dairy products.

Here are some examples of what I have in mind:
Creme Fraiche
Cream cheese

One of the things I love most about doing traditional food preparations myself is that it allows my little inner scientist some laboratory space. One of my girl friends mentioned how much she enjoyed stopping by my house because the kitchen was always filled with so many random "science projects". This is micro-biology at it's best.

For example, a recent picture of the top of my refrigerator (a warm spot in my house) holds lacto-fermenting beet kvass, Kombucha brewing in a large jar under the paper bag, a sourdough mother, oats soaking for the next morning, and I believe a buttermilk flour mixture soaking for another bread recipe.

But this month is about dairy. While there is a lot of good quality dairy available (at least here on the west coast), it is often quite pricey considering how inexpensive and easy it is to do at home.

Challenge Level One:
Just do some small "science project" and report back. Here are some recommendations on the easy scale:

Cream Cheese and Whey:
Line a strainer with a tea towel or a couple layers of cheese cloth and place over a bowl. Then dump in a quart a good quality yogurt and let the whey slowly drip out into the bowl for a few hours. Then get a wooden spoon and tie up the ends of the cloth around the spoon and let it hang and drip further. When the dripping stops (perhaps another hour or two), you are done. There is deliciously sour cream cheese in the cloth, and a supply of whey in the bowl. You can use the whey to soak your oats (since you're all soaking grains for breakfast now right =)) or for something more adventurous like lacto-fermenting some fruits or vegetables or making beet kvass.

Homemade Creme Fraiche
1 quart good quality cream (raw is best, but pasteurized will do - never buy ultra-pasteurized)
1 tbsp commercial buttermilk, or homemade whole milk buttermilk, or commercial creme fraiche, or creme fraiche from a previous batch (see how many options you have!)
Place cream in a clean glass container and add the buttermilk or creme fraiche. Stir well, cover tightly and place in a warm spot for 20-24 hours, then chill.
This is so simple and SO much cheaper than purchasing creme fraiche at the store.

Creme fraiche is a delicious topping for soups, "Mexican" food, and anything else you might ordinarily use sour cream to top. It is also a lovely base for quiche and several cakes (again, where the recipe might call for sour cream).

Challenge Level Two:
Make your own yogurt, and perhaps forgo buying yogurt from the store ever again (this is my own plan starting this month).

There are varying degrees of challenge to yogurt making, mainly depending on whether you are trying to make raw yogurt or not. I have failed and succeeded several times, and hope to thus be able to give good pointers.

The concept is rather simple, especially for non-raw yogurt.
Heat 1qt milk to 180 degrees, let cool to 110, then stir in 1/2 cup good quality yogurt (from store, or from previous batch), place in a glass, enamel, or stainless steel container and let sit in a warm oven overnight (warm = 150 degrees, or an oven left with the pilot light on). In the morning it should have "set up" and be thick, you can transfer to cold storage. For thicker yogurt you can soak up the extra whey, or tie it briefly in cheese cloth at the end to remove the whey.

I have had a harder time with raw milk yogurt. That is because you only heat it to 110 degrees (enzymes begin to die at a wet heat of 117 degrees - "coincidentally" the same degree point at which the nerves on the end of your finger will tell you a liquid is hot to the touch). Then you do a little yogurt starter dance by removing 2tbs of the warm milk and adding 1 tbs of of the yogurt. You stir well and place this in a wide mouth mason jar. Then you add 2 tbs + 2 tsp yogurt to the jar and stir well. Then you place this in a consistently warm place (95 degrees, like a dehydrator) for 8 hours and transfer.

The difficulty with raw milk yogurt is that the milk cultures war with the yogurt cultures, and sometimes the milk wins. Thus you have some kind of cultured milk, but nothing resembling the thick, creamy yogurt to which we are accustomed. Also, sometimes I have attempted to create too warm an "dehydrator" (by filling mason jars with boiling water and placing in a cooler with the jar of cultured milk) resulting in a weird separation of curds and whey (but not the desired "curds and whey" of nursery rhymes). This was because I have also had too cold a "dehydrator" resulting in it not setting up at all after 8 hours. Alas, raw yogurt has eluded me. I actually have had some success with a compromise of heating the raw milk to 130-135 and then letting it cool to 110 and then adding a dried yogurt culture and letting it sit 8-12 hours in an oven with the light kept on, but I have not kept this up to see if the culture remains intact batch after batch with this method.

To my glee, for "Culture Your Own Dairy" month, my new affiliate, Cultures For Health, has send me two dry yogurt cultures along with wonderfully comprehensive instructions for making it raw. Armed with these new cultures I can start fresh as well as provide you with a review of their product. I will be providing a photo how-to, as well as a review complete with a tasting panel that includes more judges than live in my house.

In case you are wondering what an affiliate means for this little blog, it means that if you were to decide to order something through Cultures For Health, and you did so by clicking on the little button on my side bar, I will actually get a percentage of the sale. Fun for me, but also, it is a company making cultures with traditional methods and without added "stabilizers" so I am happy to promote them.

I hope you'll have fun with this month's challenge. I also have planned an interview with cheese maker extraordinaire Scott Catino, who will hopefully give us novice home-dairy-culturers some tips on making our own cheeses at home. I think cheese making would count as taking the challenge to a third level.

Further! Stay tuned as my affiliate, Cultures For Health, is also generously providing Prepare To Eat with a free culture for one lucky reader. I will have info on the contest/giveaway later this month.


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