Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

We welcomed a special guest a few weeks ago for a long weekend of fun and tasty food. I took advantage of the company to make some french toast topped with freshly canned plum jam.

I don’t follow a recipe for my french toast, so i won’t bore you with my notes. Needless to say that local milk, eggs and bread all come together for some fabulous eating!

Do you have brunch plans for this weekend?

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Heat. Cool. Incubate.

Those are the three steps it takes to make yogurt at home. That’s it! You don’t need a fancy yogurt maker, a dehydrator or mail order starter cultures. All you need is a pint of REAL yogurt, a gallon of milk and some jars. And a heating pad or oven or crock pot. I use a heating pad and will give directions using that tool, but you can use whatever method you like to incubate your yogurt. More about that later. To start with, wouldn’t you like to eat THIS for breakfast, knowing that you made the yogurt and picked the berries yourself?

We’re lucky here in the Willamette Valley to have such good quality, and inexpensive yogurt available at the grocery store. Nancy’s yogurt is “real” yogurt, with no added sugar or thickening agent, and plenty of probiotic critters. The same cannot be said for most yogurt found in the grocery store. If you’ve read a yogurt label recently, you’ll know what i mean. I recently purchased some Tillamook yogurt, thinking that they’re a great, localish dairy and make wonderful cheese so their yogurt MUST be good, right? No. Upon reading the label (after i got home, woops) i found gelatin and other odd ingredients that have NOTHing to do with yogurt. Disappointing. Don’t even get me started on the other name brand yogurts in all manner of wasteful one-time-use packaging. Shudder. Eating and feeding our loved ones ‘real’ food, full of nourishment and lacking unhealthful ingredients is important, and making/serving homemade yogurt is a great way to do just that. And it’s really easy. And frugal. And waste reducing. Here’s how to do it!

To start with, here are the tools you will need:

  1. A large pot. Your soup pot will do just fine. It must be large enough to hold a gallon of milk with at least an inch of headspace.
  2. A meat thermometer.
  3. A heating pad (or crock pot, or oven, or dehydrator, or yogurt maker. I prefer a heating pad.)
  4. Some clean towels.
  5. Clean jars, pints or quarts.
  6. A canning funnel.
  7. A ladle is helpful.
  8. An immersion blender is a luxury.

Other than those basic tools, you will need 1 pint of starter yogurt and 1 gallon of milk. My starter was a pint of Nancy’s plain non-fat yogurt, and my milk is local Junction City dairy, Lochmead Dairy’s 1% milk. A fuller fat yogurt starter will make for a thicker, creamier homemade batch. Use your favorite.

Homemade Yogurt

  1. Pour the milk in the pot and slowly heat to about 180 degrees. Keep the burner at medium high or below. (I’m still playing with this high number to get the best yogurt, but this has been my starting point since i started making yogurt. Try heating to a lower temp, but never allow the milk to actually boil. Different high temps will make slightly different yogurt. Experiment!) You can tell it’s at about the right temperature because the milk will get ‘foamy’ on the top.
  2. Cool the milk back down to 110 degrees. I like to immerse the pot in the sink with ice and water.
  3. Once cooled, add the pint of yogurt and stir really well. This is where that immersion blender would come in handy.
  4. Pour the inoculated milk into your jars. I usually start with the ladle and then pour right from the pot. Stir occasionally and top off each jar with the ‘dregs’ from the pot to evenly mix the starter.
  5. Place the jars on a towel on a heating pad set to medium, unlidded and wrap snuggy with several towels.
  6. After 1 hour, turn heating pad down to low and go about your day.
  7. After 7-9 hours, unwrap the jars and behold the magic: YOGURT! Lid and stick in the fridge to enjoy for the next several weeks.

I’ve been making my own yogurt for years, though took quite a break since i moved from Austin to Oregon. I’m finally back on my yogurt making schedule, and make a new batch every 2-3 weeks depending how ravenously we’ve been consuming it. To see some more pretty pictures of my yogurt, and follow my other adventures, head on over to Pocket Pause.

Do you make your own yogurt? When did you start?

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“Mom” is Mei, my mother-in-law. After literally decades of resisting to teach me how to cook like the old country (China), she up and calls me so she can come over and show me how to make lo bak gao, Chinese turnip cakes. Who knows how her mind works.

I picked her up and brought her home, where she was aMAZED to find out that we have rice flour. Yes, Mom, Chinese people live here, of course we have rice flour.

You have to understand that my mother-in-law is VERY old country. She does not hold with new-fangled inventions like vegetable peelers to peel the lo bak (daikons or Korean radish). “Take off too much! Scrape with knife! Is better!” She also wouldn’t let me use my grater, instead insisting that I chop the lo bak with a knife because “too much cleaning up.” Of course, then she criticized the size of the pieces– too big! Yes, Mom, if you let me use a grater to, um, grate the vegetables then they get, how can I put this…,um, grated.

My mother-in-law does not let anyone in very often. It is very difficult to get her to talk about the old country, where she lived through two wars, may have been a bartered bride (we’re a little unclear on this), and spent many years as a refugee. But every now and then she decides I need to learn something, and we get to sit and work together. The stories come out, and she answers questions about China and her childhood.

Sadly, her lo bak gao is not very good. I now know why. She wouldn’t let me salt the water (but then complained that the finished product needed salt). She wouldn’t let me grate the vegetables. She used hot water to create the batter (this makes it sticky). She let the batter sit too long (ditto). Here is the modified recipe:

Toisanese Lo Bak Gao (Turnip cakes)

1 large Lo Bak, Daikon, or Korean Radish
1 Chinese sausage (This is a very fatty, sweet, pork sausage. Get these in Chinatown. The ones from the specialty market are not the same)
1/2 c. pork, any cut, cubed
1/2 c. each rice and corn flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups cold water
Salt to taste

Peel and grate the lo bok. Boil until soft in a large pot of SALTED water. Drain and set aside. (I may do a test to see if I use this water for the batter, if that helps the texture of the finished product– someone experiment with this for me!) Cube the pork and sausage, and saute in a large pan in a tablespoon of vegetable oil. Add the lo bak and saute until very soft (pictured is the cubed lo bak–this is not cut small enough). The lo bak should be well coated with the oil and drippings from the pork and sausage.

Oil or spray a square or round baking dish, and fill to halfway with the lo bak mixture. Set aside. Mix the flours, salt and cold water to form a thin batter; pour over the lo bak until just covered.

Steam until firm, about 15 minutes. I use a vegetable steamer from the Chinese market; you can also steam them in a wok with a steamer insert, or just rig a large pot or frying pan.

Allow to cool. Cut into slices or slabs and eat as is, or you can brown it a little by frying it lightly in oil for a minute or two.

We had left-over lo-bak mixture and used it the next day over rice with a little soy sauce. Delicious.

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Pizza night

In my next life, when I get to be Barbara Kingsolver, pizza night will be family togetherness night, when we make pizza from scratch using our own hand-milled flour and homemade sausage (from our own pigs) and then put on plays that our 9 year old wrote herself, using the great old clothes we found in Grandpa’s trunk in the attic. Probably homemade sarsparilla too, cuz, y’know pizza night is fun night!

Or maybe not.

For me pizza night is I do not have to lift a finger night. I don’t understand easy (fun?) food night that involves waiting for dough to rise. This does not meet my criteria for “easy meal.” On pizza night around here, I won’t even make the phone call. Pizza night is Mom’s Night Off. Someone else make the call, pull out the credit card and answer the door cuz mom’s watchin’ old “Road” movies on Netflix and nothin’ gonna pry her off that couch.

Incredibly, since I’m a pretty courageous cook, I had never made pizza from scratch. Until this week. I had a jar of tomato/eggplant sauce that I made for some noodles, and just decided, what the hell. Let’s try pizza. I had some mozzarella, and a nice big portobello, and that sauce.

So, scary baking stuff, first place I look is Martha. Forgetting that Martha only cooks for 40. Her pizza dough recipe yielded “eight 12 inch or fourteen 10 inch pizzas.” So, maybe not. Found a simple one on SimplyRecipes.com. They’re a content mill, but have pretty good basic recipes. Except it gave you the ingredients, instructions, descriptions, and then said “bake according to recipe instructions.” Um, I thought this WAS the recipe.

Back to the internets! SimplyRecipes did in fact have a decent complete recipe, too, which I then forgot to read, and just, as usual, made it up.

Bit of an eyeroll over the “prep time 2 hours 30 minutes.” Yup– that’s a great fun night right there.

Made two lovely 10″ pizzas. (Forgot to take a picture, so you’ll have to take my word for it.) Barbara Kingsolver would be proud.

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Mr Chiots is a HUGE ice cream fan. We have a local dairy that makes ice cream from their own pastured cows. It’s not made from raw milk, but they lightly pasteurize their milk and it’s non-homogenized. When he wants some ice cream that’s our go-to spot. They make good ice cream to be sure, but it doesn’t even come close to homemade, especially when we make it with raw milk from the local farm and local pastured eggs. We love using the old hand crank ice cream maker that’s been in my family for years, it even made it to my Friday Favorites at Chiot’s Run.

My recipe is whipped up on the spot and includes, raw eggs yolks, vanilla beans, maple syrup, cream, whole milk, and a dash of salt. Sometimes I add cocoa, sometimes fruit juice. If you’re not into being quite that creative I’d highly recommend looking into Dave Lebovitz’s book The Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments.  Last week we made vanilla cinnamon ice cream and topped it with homemade maple caramel and walnuts.  Mr Chiots was in heaven!  If you’ve never made homemade ice cream I’d highly recommend it.  Not only is it way better than anything you can get in a store or ice cream shop, it’s much cheaper!   I also love that there’s no wood pulp or weirdness in this ice cream, just REAL ingredients!

What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream? Have you ever made ice cream at home?

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Saint Patrick’s Day is over, but that’s no reason not to cook up this delicious and uber-nutritious “green soup.” This is not The Splendid Table’s recipe, but like Lynne’s, it does require an immersion blender to get the right consistency. Feel free to add more veggies to your liking!

Miranda’s Green Soup from Pocket Pause

  • 1/2 head cauliflower
  • 1 leek
  • 1 potato or turnip
  • Pinch dried or fresh rosemary
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • salt/pepper
  • 1 dried cayenne pepper
  • 1 pint condensed chicken stock + 3 pints water or 1 quart regular strength stock
  • 1 bunch kale (or chard)
  • splash lemon juice

Coursely chop all the veggies. Saute the leek with a bit of butter until dark green and softening, then add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil then cover and simmer until all veggies are soft (20 minutes to an hour). You can’t overcook it. Blend with your immersion blender to smooth out the soup and get that nice creamy consistency without the cream!

Serve in a nice large bowl with a dollup of yogurt and maybe some shredded mozz. Seen with some sausage added to the top, because i was feeling sausagey for some reason this night.

Really warms the soul and is a great dose of leafy green veggies when it’s too chilly outside for salad!

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“Vegetarian” is always a great theme to cook with: you’re pretty much guaranteed all your guests can eat it, vegetarian dishes are generally pretty healthy (other than those pasta and cheese options), cooking with all vegetables (especially seasonal) is generally the most sustainable way to cook, and cooking vegetarian is easy: no worrying about bringing meat up to safe temps!


Wahoo! I FINALLY cooked an entirely SOLE meal, and was up to the veggie challenge. I have been slacking off, more or less, during this entire challenge, but i finally did it. On a week that most of the other recappers are busy! Oh, well.

For my vegetarian dish, i made a fresh salad and a fritatta of sorts. The fritatta was more veg than egg, and i DID use balsamic on the salad but ALL other ingredients were from either right down the road (literally), or a neighboring state (Californian olive oil).

This “fritatta” turned out way more veg than egg, but was still pretty yummy. I followed my normal fritatta guidelines: potato crust, veggies, egg mixture poured over the top and baked at 400/425 for 20 minutes or until firm throughout. For this meal i used the following ingredients:

  • 5 eggs from a neighbor’s hens
  • half bunch kale (from Gathering Together Farm (GTF), an organic farm 1 mile from my house)
  • 3 cloves garlic (from GTF)
  • 1 purple potato (GTF)
  • 1 crown broccoli (GTF)
  • 1/3 leek (the white part) (GTF)
  • 1 smoked serrano pepper (from my step-mom in Eugene)
  • pinch dried basil (stored from my Austin garden)
  • Salt/Pepper
  • Splash milk from Lochmead Dairy (about 40 minutes away, no hormones added)

For the salad, i tossed GTF’s salad mix with a shredded beet (from Denison Farms, also local/organic), chopped walnuts (that i picked locally this past Fall), more salt and pepper and a drizzle of California olive oil and who-knows-where Balsamic. Local, fresh, seasonal, healthy, SOLE and vegetarian! I finally did it!

PS, in exciting personal-blogging news: i’ve launched a brand new website: Pocket Pause. I will post a full on introduction for my next Friday post on March 9th, but feel free to check it out now!


Do you enjoy cooking vegetarian dishes, or do you find them limiting?

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