TDB Homemade: Yogurt

I have, for the better part of my entire existence, loved eating yogurt. That love affair only grew deeper when I had my first taste of thick, Greek style yogurt. That stuff I had been eating seemed like a tasteless, watery goo by comparison. For quite a few years now, I have been satisfied with buying my yogurt at the grocery store. Of course there are a few different brands of Greek style yogurt on the market today, but I still the think the best offering in this country is the FAGE brand. Pouring some raw honey, or scooping a spoon of fruit preserves atop a bowl of yogurt is quite a divine breakfast or mid-afternoon snack.

A few weeks ago, the other TDB asked me if I had ever made yogurt at home. I sadly had to answer, “no, I hadn’t.” I was then inspired to begin my quest for a good homemade yogurt recipe. My first batch, in which I combined 1/3 goat milk with 2/3 cow milk, came out alright, but I wasn’t entirely happy with the consistency. It was a bit too runny, but after I allowed it to drain overnight in a cheesecloth, it did thicken up enough to my liking. I decided to try another method with a slightly different recipe I found in one of my Greek cookbooks. Instead of allowing the yogurt culture to do its work with the milk inside a pot, placed in a turned-off oven, this recipe called for the milk mixture to stand in a thermos for about 8-10 hours. I decided to give it a whirl, and I was much happier with the results the second time around.

Yogurt can be refrigerated for about three weeks once it’s been made. Thicken it to make tzatziki, a yogurt cucumber salad, or combine with fruit and honey for a frozen pop your children will love (check back soon — recipes will follow). Yogurt is extremely healthy and makes a wonderful dairy alternative for those who don’t enjoy consuming milk.

(This recipe was adapted from The Periyali Cookbook¹)

Yield: about 2 scant cups

2 c.  whole milk
3 Tbl. dry milk (can use non-fat if you prefer)
2 Tbl. whole-milk yogurt, preferably FAGE brand

Rinse a 2-quart saucepan with water, which will prevent the milk from sticking to the bottom and side of the pan. Add the milk to the pan and whisk in the dry milk.  Over medium-low heat, cook just until milk begins to slightly boil. When a thermometer is inserted, it should read about 215°F. (There’s no need, unless you already own one, to use a candy thermometer. Simply use a meat thermometer to check the temperature.) Remove the milk from the heat and allow it to cool to about 110°F. Meanwhile, fill a wide-mouth thermos, which can accommodate 2 cups worth of liquid, with hot water, cap, and set aside.

Once your milk has cooled to 110-115°F, spoon about 1/2 cup of the milk into a liquid measuring cup and add the yogurt starter. Combine well and pour into the pot of milk. Stir the milk and yogurt starter together, being careful not to scrape up any of the brown crust that may have formed on the bottom of the pan while you heated the milk. Pour out the hot water from the thermos and add the milk mixture. Cap the thermos, set aside in a warm place, such as on your stove top if you have a gas stove. Do not disturb the milk mixture for about 8-10 hours. Just allow the yogurt culture to work its magic. After about 8 hours, uncap the thermos and check it to make sure the milk has turned into yogurt. If it’s ready, pour it into a container and place in the refrigerator. If you would like it to be thicker, place the yogurt into a sieve lined with a cheesecloth and allow it to drain into a bowl overnight, or for about 10 hours.

**Alternatively, you can omit the thermos altogether, and simply pour the milk and yogurt culture into a glass or plastic bowl with a lid, cover it, and wrap it with a towel. Allow the culture to work for about 20 hours. It is perfectly fine to make the yogurt in the morning, allowing it to sit all day, and then placing it in the fridge late that night or the following morning.

¹ Garrison, Holly, Nicola Kotsoni, and Steve Tzolis. The Periyali Cookbook. New York: Villard Books, 1992. p 10

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Soy, the “healthy” enemy

Soy — you may or may not consciously know that you’re consuming it. And there’s a good reason why the food industry has been pushing it as a healthy alternative to dairy and numerous other meatless products. It makes money. And with all the surplus of government-subsidized crops of soy just laying around this country, why not come up with a brilliant scheme to fool the public into thinking it’s healthy for you, and add it secretly to almost every processed food found on grocery stores’ shelves today. If you don’t believe me, pick up a box of cereal, a bag of corn chips, or a pint of ice cream, and read the label. You might just find yeast extract, soy lecithin, soy flour, or soy protein, listed as an ingredient. These are all ingredients derived from soy. And since soy is one of the most prominently grown GMO crops in the U.S., you’re also consuming a GE product, perhaps without even knowing it.

As a mother, the statistics regarding soy-based infant formula are truly horrifying to me. We all want to give the very best to our children, never imagining that we might be pumping our babes full of phytoestrogen, which is a plant compound similar to human estrogen. That means that a baby who is fed soy-based formula is digesting the equivalent of five birth control pills’ worth of estrogen on a daily basis. That’s 20,000 times the amount of estrogen put into a baby fed other types of formula! Phytoestrogen also blocks the production of the body’s natural estrogen and disrupts endocrine function, which is believed to promote breast cancer and infertility. It only takes drinking two glasses a day of soy milk for one month to disrupt your menstrual cycle. (Awhile back we wrote a piece about milk, which you might like to read, or re-read, in case you are on the hunt for optimal sources of dairy for you or your family.)

The difference between the majority of the soy sold in the U.S. and Asian countries, such as Japan, is that the U.S. soy is typically unfermented. When left to ferment for long periods of time, the phytic acids contained in the soy are diminished greatly, and the healthy vitamins, such as K2, which protect against osteoporosis, dementia, and cardiovascular disease, become readily available for absorption in the body. For those of you, like me, who don’t know why phytic acids are bad, here’s the answer: phytates bind to metal ions, which block your body from absorbing minerals, such as calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc, which are vitally important to maintaining our health.

Soy is one of the top eight allergens in the world today, causing severe, even fatal responses in the human body. Thyroid disorders, infant abnormalities, kidney stones, and impairments of the immune system have all been linked to soy consumption.  It blows my mind that the U.S. soy industry has so successfully duped the American public into believing that soy is actually healthy for you. And I will admit to believing that myself, once upon a time. Tempeh, natto, miso, and even soy sauce can be good sources of fermented soy in your diet should you choose so.  Just make sure that the soy products you consume are non-GMO or organic, since 91% of all soy grown in the U.S. is genetically-modified, and, thus, there are potentially harmful effects associated with its consumption.  Since soy is one of the top allergens, it’s usually easy to determine whether or not it is contained in a food without having to scour the ingredients, as the label is required to say something along the lines of “Contains Soy”.

I’ll close this post with an interesting quote by Mannie Barling and Ashley F. Brooks-Simon, from the Blogger News Network:

“To make soy more appetizing, the manufacturers added sugar, synthetic sweeteners, genetically modified high fructose corn sugar, refined salt, artificial flavorings, colors and MSG. So the soy isn’t really soy. It is a Frankenfood created for the sole purpose of making a profit from health conscious people trying to live a healthier life.”

Mi Favorito Arroz Con Leche

If you do not yet have a recipe for arroz con leche, this is the one to save.  Arroz con leche is a delicious dessert that is ubiquitous in the Spanish-speaking world, and there are as many occasions and traditions associated with this dish as there are ways to make it.  Take a few heavenly bites, and you will never look at plain pudding the same way again.  Like so many things, this recipe is an amalgamation of many that I have tried, resulting in sweet and creamy (yet flavorful and slightly chewy) spoonfuls of pure goodness.

Ingredients:

3/4 cup arborio rice

1 1/2 cups water

3-4 pieces of lemon peel, about 1″ in length each

1 cinnamon stick

4 cups whole milk

1 14-ounce can coconut milk

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)

Place the rice, water, lemon peel, and cinnamon stick in a 5-quart dutch oven.  Cover and bring to a low simmer for about 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, combine the coconut milk, milk, salt, and sugar in a separate pot and heat to just under a boil.  Slowly add the milk mixture to the rice and maintain the slow simmer at the lowest heat.  Stir the mixture often, making sure to scrape the bottom to avoid any scalding.  If you have a whole vanilla bean, make a cut down the length of the bean, scrape out the seeds, and stir them into the rice.  Before the milk gets too thick, remove the lemon peels and cinnamon stick and discard them.  At this point add the vanilla extract if you did not use a whole bean.  Continue to cook, uncovered, while stirring frequently until most of the milk is absorbed.  Total cooking time is about 30-45 minutes.  As an option, after ten minutes of cooling, the texture may be smoothed with a wand blender.  I like to smooth it partially, leaving small lumps, but this is up to your discretion.

To me, a small dish of arroz con leche is a wholesome indulgence.  It can be garnished with raisins or a sprinkling of cinnamon.  Some people also like to add a small spoonful of sweetened condensed milk to the top.  It can be eaten warm or cold — a Colombian friend explains that she likes to eat it warm, like soup.  Another friend says that in Panama, they traditionally serve arroz con leche when a baby sprouts a first tooth.  The pudding is served in small containers to family and friends to mark the milestone!  In fact, it is often served around the holidays and for celebrations, but a special reason is not necessary for this delicious treat.  This makes at least 8-10 servings, so enjoy it and invite over your loved ones to share!

MILK

In my home, milk is a pretty popular commodity. Both my children are capable of drinking copious amounts on a daily basis. And it ain’t cheap either! My husband will be the first one to tell you my milk-spending habit is on the ridiculous side. But I am always quick to point out that if it’s ok for the average adult to spend $15 for a bottle of wine, why not $8 for a half-gallon of goat milk?

Wait a minute you say?….goat milk? Who drinks goat milk? Well, I’m sorry to tell you, but throughout much of the world, goat milk-not cow milk- is the numero uno choice for consumption. It makes sense that goat milk would be more attractive to the world’s population. Goats are smaller animals than cows, obviously, and require much less space and food. One goat can produce enough milk for a family of four on a daily basis, which makes it a superior choice, at least in my opinion, to having an enormous cow meandering around your suburban backyard!

I admit that goat milk has a slightly different taste than cow milk, but most likely I notice the difference since I was raised drinking cow milk. My children, on the other hand, would definitely prefer a glass of goat milk over cow milk any day. My family spends the summer in Greece, and it is there that my son had his first encounter with fresh-from-the-pasture goat milk. We have a friend who runs a goat farm and offers milk to us on a weekly basis. Of course, when he gives us the milk, it is raw. Now I admit there are those who are in favor of raw milk and those who are against it, purely from a perspective of hygiene. But I will get back to the “raw” issue in a bit. Honestly, I have never tasted anything so rich, creamy, and delicious in all of my life. The pasteurized (and in some cases, ultra-pasteurized), homogenized liquid they bottle as milk these days does not even come close!

When I returned home to New York, I looked for goat milk at the grocery store. There were a few brands, such as Coach Farms and Meyenberg. Unfortunately, my local grocery store discontinued selling the Coach Farms brand, probably because it wasn’t selling well enough. And the Meyenberg brand milk was ultra-pasteurized, which I try to avoid. Where’s a girl to find goat milk??? I sort of put my goat milk search on hold while I went through my second pregnancy, opting for un-homogenized, organic milk from my local farmer’s market. But when it came time for my daughter to start weaning into dairy milk, I started searching online for a goat milk supplier.

If I may, I am going to take the time here to explain why I chose to start my daughter on goat milk versus cow milk. Goat milk is similar to human milk, containing the same bioactive components, which suppress the growth of harmful organisms. It is also easier to digest than cow milk because its protein molecules are smaller and its fat proteins have thinner membranes, allowing the lactose to pass through the intestines more rapidly. Goat milk also contains about 7% less lactose than cow milk. Even many adults, who consider themselves to be lactose intolerant, find they can tolerate goat milk. It is very soothing on the digestive tract and is a well-known treatment for ulcers. Goat milk has an alkaline pH, so it doesn’t produce acid in the blood or intestinal system as cow milk does. It also contains more medium chain fatty acids, more Vitamin A, is a rich source of the trace mineral, selenium, and 3% more calcium than cow milk. Additionally, goat milk contains a more highly-evolved cholesterol than cow milk, making it more available for absorption to the brain and body.  Goat milk does not form mucous and is therefore better tolerated by asthmatics and those with allergies. It has been observed that children who drink goat milk sleep better through the night and are more satisfied between meals than those children drinking cow milk.

And the list, which goes on and on, fully supports goat milk’s superiority over cow milk for digestion in humans. There’s another point I would like to make now regarding goat milk. Because goat milk does not contain agglutinin, it does not need to be homogenized. (Basically that simply means the fat globules do not cluster together like they do in cow milk.) The homogenization process allows an enzyme, xanthin oxidase, to be more heavily present than in un-homogenized milk. While the dairy industry will deny this theory, xanthin oxidase is thought by many scientists to initiate the harmful formation of plaque in the arterial walls. Hmmmm….maybe this could be a realistic contributing factor to why there are so many people suffering from coronary artery disease since the 1930’s when milk began to be homogenized??? Food for thought!

Ok, you say. So where am I supposed to find un-homogenized milk? The first place to look is your local farmers’ market. There is a good chance that even if none of the farmers are selling it, they will probably know someone who does. Second stop: the internet. You might be surprised, but there are national and even international directories online, connecting consumers with farmers and their products. In fact, on my quest for goat milk, I stumbled upon the Real Milk website ( http://realmilk.com/where.html ). Realmilk has an international directory, where you can look for suppliers/co-ops selling raw milk in your state. To my “udder” surprise, I came across a co-op in New Jersey, which delivers to Manhattan once a week, called Udder Milk, which not only sells delicious raw cow and goat milk, but other products like cheese, eggs, meats, and homemade soap, just to name a few.

I, too, had my reservations regarding raw milk consumption, most likely due to hearing my whole life that raw milk is unsafe. But the only reason why raw milk could be unsafe is if the farmers producing the milk raise their cows in unhealthy environments, such as the huge factory farms constituting a majority of American farms today. If you purchase raw milk from a farmer who raises grass-fed cows, goats, or sheep, with clean, healthy, organic standards, you should not have a problem. If you still have reservations, just heat your milk until bubbles begin to surface (but not boiling), then store in glass containers in your fridge.

Hopefully after reading this you might consider trying goat milk, un-homogenized milk, or maybe even raw milk. But even if you don’t, perhaps you might think about that next jug of milk you pick up at the store. Cheers!