Monday, February 15, 2010

Homemade Gingerale

Homemade Ginger Ale
from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon

3/4 cup ginger, peeled and finely chopped or grated
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/4-1/2 cup unrefined sugar
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/4 cup whey (Not sure how to get whey? See the Homemade Yogurt recipe)
2 quarts filtered water

Place all ingredients in a 2 quart jug. Stir well and cover tightly. Leave at room temperature for 2-3 days before transferring to the refrigerator. (I only let mine sit for 2 hours and it was plenty strong!) This will keep several months well chilled.
What you have at this point is concentrated ginger ale. Before refrigerating, strain through a dish towel-lined or muslin-lined strainer into a bowl or pitcher. To serve, mix 1 part concentrated ginger ale with 1 part carbonated water and pour over ice.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Homemade Yogurt

I love yogurt. And there's not a better known or more trusted brand for all your yogurt needs than Yoplait.

mmm. And fat free, so it MUST be healthy!

But let's turn that yogurt cup around and see what the back says. Are we going to read the Nutrition Facts? Nope, we're going to read the ingredients, which in my opinion, are way more important.

In case you can't quite make them out off the cup:
Cultured pasteurized grade A nonfat milk, high fructose corn syrup, modified corn starch, nonfat milk, kosher gelatin, lime juice concentrate, citric acid, tricalcium phosphate, aspartame, potassium sorbate added to maintain freshness, natural flavor, yellow #5, vitamin A acetate, blue #1, vitamin D3.

What?? I thought yogurt was just milk! Let's break these ingredients down a little. On any food label, ingredients are listed in order of greatest quantity to least quantity. So it's at least good that there's more milk than anything else in this yogurt! Let's move on to High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). There are two "HI's" to always stay away from, and HFCS is one of them (the other is hydrogenated oil). HFCS is the primary sweetener used in almost all commercially processed and boxed foods. It is linked with increased risk of diabetes and obesity, and is generally a controversial ingredient. So why use it? Because it is CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP! Apparently the tariff on imported sugar (which is regulated by the government) is outrageous, and the government gives $40 billion in subsidies to corn farmers, making HFCS very affordable for U.S. food manufacturers. Have you seen those commercials marketing HFCS as "natural"? Guess who pays for them... the Corn Refiners Association. I encourage you to read the entire article on HFCS from, and decide for yourself.
Onto modified corn starch. MCS is a food additive usually used as a thickener. The problem with HFCS and MCS is that they are not foods in their original state. They have been undergone enzymatic or genetic alteration, making them inorganic substances, instead of food in it's natural state as it was intended to be eaten. Here's an article on Modified Starch.

Tricalcium phosphate can occur naturally in cow's milk, or it can be added as a raising agent.
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener.
Potassium Sorbate is a preservative.
Yellow #5 and Blue #1 are artificial food colorings.

It seems that there could be more harm than good in this little cup... which is why I say "no way" to Yoplait. But then where should we get our yogurt? There a few natural and organic brands to be found at your local grocery store. I can usually get a cup of natural yogurt for 50 cents on sale, which is about the same price as Yoplait or any other commercial brand.

Recently, however, I tried making my own yogurt! It took me three tries, but I finally mastered the recipe and I'm excited to share it. There are many benefits to making your own yogurt, the main ones being that it's cheaper (the cost of a half gallon of milk for a whole batch), it doesn't have anything in it except milk and "starter," and the taste and texture are FAR superior to store bought!

Here's the recipe:

Homemade Plain Yogurt
8 Cups (1/2 gallon) Pasteurized Milk (not ultra-pasteurized!)
1 Cup live/active culture plain natural or organic yogurt (this is your starter; I used Greek yogurt because it's thicker)
3 Qt or larger Crock-Pot
Large thick beach towel

The milk will not culture if you use ultra-pasteurized milk because too much of the "good bacteria" is killed off in the process of ultra-pasteurization or homogenization.

1) Turn crock pot on low.
2) Add milk; cover & cook on low for 3 hours.
3) Unplug crock-pot. Keep lid on, and completely wrap crock-pot in large, thick beach towel, for insulation, and let sit for 4 hours.
4) At the end of 4 hours, in a small bowl, whisk 1c active culture plain yogurt (to use as your yogurt starter) with 1-2c of the milk from the crock-pot. Return it to the crock-pot, stirring gently to mix.
5) Keeping crock pot unplugged, completely re-wrap in heavy beach towel.
6) Allow to sit for 12 hours.
7) Yogurt will have thickened. Don't be alarmed when you see a watery looking glob in your crock pot. You're not done yet! You need to separate the watery whey from the actual yogurt. Line a strainer with a thin dish towel or piece of muslin. Place the strainer over a bowl and slowly pour the yogurt into the strainer. Let sit for 1-3 hours, depending on how thick you want your yogurt. The whey will drain into the bowl, leaving delicious yogurt in your strainer!
8) When they whey stops dripping through, I gathered the dish towel by the ends and gently squeezed out the rest of the whey. My yogurt turned out very thick after doing this, a little softer than cream cheese. This is an optional step.
9)Then run the drained yogurt through the blender to make it creamier.
10) Serve with favorite fresh or dried fruits, honey, or jam/preserves, adding unrefined sugar if you choose.
11) In a non-reactive container (non-metal), set aside 1c as your starter for your next batch.
11) Store in covered container and refrigerate. Will stay fresh for 7-10 days.

Yields: About 4 Cups yogurt, depending on how much whey you allow to drain out.

Delicious, fresh, no nonsense yogurt! I added apples, cinnamon, and a little brown sugar to this batch, but the possibilities are endless!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Italian Wedding Soup

When I was in college I worked for a catering company for a few months. I loved catering. Catered events were intersting because it was one big display of a person's large sum of money, and I always thought it was so neat to see how people chose to spend that money. Blue or purple, glass or silver, beef or chicken, the possibilities were endless. I also liked to watch the evening progress, as we went from all the plates and linens set neatly on the tables, to mingling guests, laughing and eating, to cleared tables, with only water glasses remaining. But my favorite part of the night was when the event was over and all the servers gathered in the back around the uneaten food from the buffet. What would I be taking home for dinner? Funny to think that was my favorite part, but usually by the end of an event my feet were killing me and I was starving, so the thought of digging into a prepared gourmet meal was pretty enticing!
One of my favorite things to take home was the Italian Wedding Soup. SO yum! I had never had it before my catering gig, and hadn't had it since... until tonight! After remembering earlier this week how much I love Italian Wedding Soup, I decided to find a recipe and put it on the meal planner. Below is the recipe I used, which is a little altered from this recipe I found from Emeril. Hope you enjoy this soup as much as I do!

Italian Wedding Soup
7 Cups chicken broth
1/2 lb frisee or escarole
1/2 lb ground turkey
2 cloves minced garlic
2-3 minced shallots
1 Tbsp minced parsley
1 egg yolk
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Cup cooked pastine (tiny pasta - stars, orzo, whatever), tossed in oil to prevent sticking
2 eggs, beaten, plus the leftover egg white from the egg yolk

Bring the broth to a boil. Add the escarole, and simmer while you prepare the meatballs. In a small bowl, combine the turkey, garlic, shallots, parsley, and the egg yolk. Season with salt and pepper. Form into 3/4-inch meat balls (they are so tiny and cute!). Drop the meat balls into the broth and simmer until they are cooked, about 5-8 minutes. Drop in the pastine, and taste to adjust the seasonings. Turn off the heat. Begin to stir the soup in a clockwise motion and slowly drizzle in the beaten eggs, so it will form strands.

Yield: about 4 portions
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