Sunday, April 29, 2012

Greek Yogurt With Fruit

I've wanted to make homemade yogurt for a long time, I've just been... busy. Yeah, busy. Not scared of a silly little thing like yogurt. Nope, not scared at all. When one of my favorite cooking blogs posted the recipe and method for making yogurt I knew I had to conquer my fear clear out my schedule and tackle this one head on. I had success from the very first time I made this, although I have had to work out the straining process, but I think I have it now. There are two ways I've made this, on the stove and in the crockpot. I prefer the crockpot as it frees up my oven and I don't have to worry about scalding the milk.

Another thing I should note is that I looked at a lot of other recipes and one thing that I noticed is that the amount of yogurt (for the starter) varies from 2 teaspoons to 1 cup. Basically, if you add yogurt with live cultures, you'll be fine. So if you want to dump an entire 6 oz. container in your heated milk, go for it. Or you can be like me and add 2 or 3 good sized spoonfuls and then eat the rest. I should also mention the first time I made this I used key lime yogurt and it turned out fine, so if you can't find (or forget to buy) plain yogurt, use whatever you have.

The stovetop method is the recipe I found at Annie's Eats. She has great step by step pictures, and is also the source of the fruit mix-in recipe. The crockpot method I found at Our Life Simplified. The ingredients are the same, it's the method that's different.

1/2 gallon milk [I use whole or 2%]
2 tsp. to 1 cup plain yogurt with active cultures [I use a couple good sized spoonfuls]
1/4 to 1/2 cup instand dry milk powder [this is optional and I don't use it]
1 tbsp vanilla extract, optional [I usually don't use it]

Stovetop Directions: Add milk to a saucepan and head over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Heat until the temperature reaches 180 degrees F. Remove from the heat.

Set aside and let cool, stirring occasionally, until the temperature has dropped to between 110-120 degrees F.

Poor milk into ceramic or glass bowl and stir in plain yogurt. If you are using instant dry milk, whisk it in at this time.

Preheat the oven (to any temperature, I do mine to 500 degs F), shutting the oven off after 1 minute. Turn the oven light on (I don't have a light, so I don't do it.). Cover the dish and wrap the covered bowl in a couple of thick towels. I use a Pyrex bowl with a plate for a lid. Close the oven and let the mixture incubate in the warm oven for 8-12 hours.

Crockpot Directions: Pour milk into crockpot. Cover, turn on high and let the milk heat to 180 degrees F. I use a thermometer to be safe, but it does take 2 hours.

Turn the crockpot off. Take the lid off and let cool back down to 110-120 degrees F. This varies from 20-35 minutes depending on how warm my house is. Stir frequently to prevent the milk from forning a skin.

Stir in plain yogurt and instant dry milk (if using). Put the lid back on the crockpot. Wrap the entire crockpot with a thick towel and set aside for 8-12 hours.

Straining Directions for both methods: After your milk has incubated, it should look like yogurt with really yellow liquid. This liquid is whey, and can be strained off. Or if you want runny yogurt, don't strain it. I do strain mine. I tried using a fine mesh sieve to strain, but my sieve is really small so I was having to do it in batches. I really don't have that kind of time. But I do have a large plastic pasta colander... and it works great! I line it with paper towels, set the colander over a large Pyrex bowl, and put the whole thing in the fridge for a few hours. The longer it drains the thicker the yogurt will be. Usually I let mine drain over night.

Place the strained yogurt in a storage container and whisk in vanilla extract. Store in the refrigerator for a week. I like to divide mine up into ready to go containers. Sometimes I add a fruit mix-in [shown], the kids like honey, jelly or fruit cocktail with theirs.

For the fruit mix-in:
2 cups blueberries, raspberries, or chopped peaches (fresh or frozen)
1/4 cup sugar
1-1/2 tsp. cornstarch
1 tbsp cold water
2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice [I use the stuff that comes in the lemon shaped squeeze bottle, works fine]

In a medium sauce pan, combine the fruit and sugar. Heat until the fruit begins to release its juices. Mix the cornstarch with the cold water and lemon juice until lump free, then stir the slurry into the saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 1 minute until thickened. Remove from heat. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Cooking For Two

Cooking for Two: 120 Recipes for Every Day and Those Special NightsCooking for Two: 120 Recipes for Every Day and Those Special Nights by Bruce Weinstein
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I picked up this cookbook hoping for a little bit of inspiration, and I was completely distracted from page 1. What I liked about this book is that from the very start the purpose of the book is clear: two servings, no leftovers. Meaning the measurements in this book are so miniscule, that when it comes to eggs, the recipes call for quail eggs or egg beaters. This truly is a book dedicated to cooking for two. Personally I like leftovers, so I'm off to find a book about cooking for four.

This book had a huge variety of recipe types, which would make it perfect for the cook who wants to try a new flavor without having to make a huge batch. There were a lot of ethnic ingredients, but the book conveniently includes an online source for many ingredients, as well as cooking/baking supplies. The book also includes helpful substitutions and helpful to do and what not to do tips. Probably one of the best displays of "personal cooking" recipes I've ever seen, meaning that I felt like someone had really taken the time to make the recipe and wrote it the way that people really cook.

Overall I only gave this book two stars because there wasn't really anything (other than the desserts) that I would really give a try to make in such small portions. Most of the recipes were just too weird for my midwestern palate, and when I did find something I wanted to try, it required an unusual ingredient that I'm not willing to purchase online. (I LIKE food that I can buy from my own grocery store, it's a convenience thing.) I will probably make a few of the desserts at some point in the future, as the idea of baking in small quantities suits my sweet snacking needs better than making a big batch.

Synopsis: Tea for two. That's what it's all about, right? So how come every recipe you pick up says "serves 4 to 6"? Or more! What do you do when you want macaroni and cheese, but don't want to be reheating it for three nights? Or a couple of cookies, but don't want to be tempted by two dozen sitting on the counter all week?

Creative cookbook authors and cooks Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough have all the answers in Cooking for Two.

Brimming with 120 smaller-serving, big-taste recipes,Cooking for Two offers cooks familiar favorites such as PastaBolognese, Chicken Pot Pie, and Mushroom Barley Soup, as well as new dishes for today's tastes like Pork Satay Salad and Snapper Fillets Sautéed with Orange and Pecans.
Simply cutting down larger recipes leads to wasted ingredients. But Bruce and Mark have developed each recipe so you buy only what you need, and use all of what you buy. Instead of opening a can of vegetable stock only to use three tablespoons, use the liquid the dried mushrooms have soaked in. If an onion is too large for a recipe, chop a shallot instead.

The dessert chapters are filled with cookies, puddings, and cakes, all designed for two servings. Small-batch baking requires strict attention to detail. A regular egg can be too big for a small batch of six cookies, so they suggest quail eggs or the easy-to-find pasteurized egg substitutes, which you can measure out in tablespoons.

Truly a cookbook for everyday use, each recipe is labeled as quick (ready in minutes with minimal cooking), moderate (requires a bit more preparation or cooking), or leisurely (perfect for quiet celebrations or weekend meals) to help you decide which dish best fits into your day.

With ingredient and equipment guides, as well as tips on how to stock your pantry to avoid those there's-nothing-in-the-house-so-let's-go-out moments, Cooking for Two will surely become the cookbook you reach for every night of the week.

It's just two perfect.

The Paris Wife

The Paris WifeThe Paris Wife by Paula McLain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I knew nothing about Ernest Hemingway, other than he was a writer in the early 1900's, before I picked up this book. Which may have been in my favor as I had no idea what was going to happen. The author did a great job with re-creating actual lives and personalities. This was an easy story to fall into and very well written. In some places it was like reading poetry itself. This book satisfied all aspects of an enjoyable read for me, there were great characters, an enjoyable plot, consistent POV, even the story resolution was fantastically done.

Synopsis: A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.

Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway and her life changes forever. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group—the fabled “Lost Generation”—that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill prepared for the hard-drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, which hardly values traditional notions of family and monogamy. Surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos, Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history, pouring all the richness and intensity of his life with Hadley and their circle of friends into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises. Hadley, meanwhile, strives to hold on to her sense of self as the demands of life with Ernest grow costly and her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Despite their extraordinary bond, they eventually find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage—a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.

A heartbreaking portrayal of love and torn loyalty, The Paris Wife is all the more poignant because we know that, in the end, Hemingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley.

Recommended Reading:
State of Wonder by Anne Patchett
Minding Frankie by Maeve Binchy
The Three Weissmans of Westport by Cathleen Schine
The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Playing Catchup

I have at least two book reviews to post. I've fallen behind on posting as I've been trying to catchup with, well, life. Hopefully I'll get to them today, but that depends on if I finish the third book or not.

The month of Nook Books is going very well, but I'm ready to move on to the next month. I may not have the attention span to have all of my books selected for the entire month/year. [Noted for next year's challenge.] I just haven't decided what I'm going to focus on for May: quality or quantity. I have three Kresley Cole books to read - and when it comes to trashy romance bodice rippers, KC is at the top of my must-read list - so by getting those three read I know I'd be reading quality trash. On the other hand, my numbers are down this year and have a bunch of Harlequin Flipsides on my shelf that would be quick reads and I could probably knock out six of those in a month. Decisions, decisions...

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Peach Keeper

The Peach KeeperThe Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was impossible to put down! It was a great story - although a bit see through - with a little bit of fantasy, two romance stories and great writing. The character development was strong and consistent throughout. Highly recommend this book if you're looking for a quick and entertaining read.

Synopsis: It’s the dubious distinction of thirty-year-old Willa Jackson to hail from a fine old Southern family of means that met with financial ruin generations ago. The Blue Ridge Madam—built by Willa’s great-great-grandfather and once the finest home in Walls of Water, North Carolina—has stood for years as a monument to misfortune and scandal. Willa has lately learned that an old classmate—socialite Paxton Osgood—has restored the house to its former glory, with plans to turn it into a top-flight inn. But when a skeleton is found buried beneath the property’s lone peach tree, long-kept secrets come to light, accompanied by a spate of strange occurrences throughout the town. Thrust together in an unlikely friendship, united by a full-blooded mystery, Willa and Paxton must confront the passions and betrayals that once bound their families—and uncover the truths that have transcended time to touch the hearts of the living.

Recommended Reading:
Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran
Night Road by Kristin Hannah
Four of a Kind by Valerie Frankel
The Four Ms. Bradwells by Meg Waite Clayton
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
One Moment, One Morning by Sarah Rayner
Tuesday Night Miracles by Kris Radish

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. There was humor and drama in this book. Some of (or most) of the writing is formal, but not impossible to read. I really enjoyed this book.

Synopsis:  'It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.' Thus memorably begins Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, one of the world's most popular novels. Pride and Prejudice—Austen's own 'darling child'—tells the story of fiercely independent Elizabeth Bennet, one of five sisters who must marry rich, as she confounds the arrogant, wealthy Mr. Darcy. What ensues is one of the most delightful and engrossingly readable courtships known to literature, written by a precocious Austen when she was just twenty-one years old.

Humorous and profound, and filled with highly entertaining dialogue, this witty comedy of manners dips and turns through drawing-rooms and plots to reach an immensely satisfying finale.

Friday, April 6, 2012

I Just Flew in From Vegas...

... and boy are my arms tired!

Heh. Snort. My inner nerd couldn't resist that one.

But really, I did just get back from vacation. I'm exhausted. But SO.HAPPY. My vacation didn't go completely as planned. I did get about 1 to 1-1/2 hours to myself every morning, but the hotel pool was closed at that hour. 'Cuz you know I was getting up at the ungodly hour of 6:30am. But still, I had time to drink a [insert big coffee chain name here] Caffe Latte every morning and do a bit of gambling before heading to my room to read.

I didn't read as much as I expected, mostly because Pride and Prejudice turned out to be longer than I thought. I finished it! Review coming tomorrow. I started about, oh, five words of The Peach Keeper by Sarah-with-two-last-names [darnit. I hate when I can't remember author's names!] before I fell asleep on the plane. I picked it up tonight and I had to force myself to put it down, so it should go fairly quickly. Then I'll probably take a break from the Nook to read the book club book.

Hopefully April is the month I get back on track with reading.