Saturday, July 28, 2012

Simple Granola

I've written about our family's increased use of yogurt.  Along with yogurt, the kids are eating more granola.  They've always loved granola mixed with other cereals, yogurt, or ice cream.  I found that I just couldn't get to the grocery store enough to keep up with demand.

Solution:  make my own.  Again, like granola, this was something that I used to do about 20 years ago when the older kids were little.  I went to my faithful More-with-Less Cookbook and an old recipe I used to use.  It's one of the simplest recipes you'll ever find.

Basic Granola
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

7 cups dry ingredients (at least 3 - 4 cups oatmeal)
1 cup liquid ingredients.

Mix the dry ingredients and spread them in a jelly roll pan or large roasting pan.  Mix the liquid ingredients and pour over the dry ingredients.  Mix with a spoon or a pastry blender.  The pastry blender will result with a finer granola, as opposed to a chunkier granola.

Bake for 60 minutes, stirring the the granola every 15 minutes with either a spoon or a pastry blender.  Let the granola cool before storing in a container.

About the ingredients:
Dry ingredients can include:  quick oats, old-fashioned oats, white flour, whole wheat flour, cornmeal, bran, wheat germ, dry milk, sugars, oat bran, sunflower seeds, coconut, chopped almonds, raisins, cranberries, mixed dry fruits, cinnamon

Liquid ingredients:  Milk, water, oil, melted butter, juice, honey, vanilla, maple syrup, peanut butter, (note:  I try to use at least 1/3 c. of oil/butter)

Making Yogurt

With my old yogurt makers out of storage and dusted off, I've rediscovered a simple love for making and eating fresh yogurt not doctored with sugars, gelatins, and other misc. ingredients.  With a yogurt maker, the process is really pretty simple.  I've found a few websites (here, here, and here) that were especially helpful. Some people have alternate ways to incubate the yogurt using a crockpot, the oven, or a cooler with a heating pad.  I'm glad I have my yogurt maker because it takes some of the guess-work out of the process.

Here's my process:
1.  Heat 1 quart of milk to at least 185 degrees.  (In the old days of unpasteurized milk, they suggested bringing the milk to a boil.  I did this once and had burned milk on the bottom of the pan.  If you want more information about the "whys" of milk temperature, follow this link.)

2.  Cool the milk to 110 degrees.  My yogurt maker has a scoop with a built-in thermometer that is marked with a range of 100 - 110 degrees.  At this point I add the starter with my scoop, which is about 2 tablespoons.

3.  Put the yogurt in the small 6 oz. cups and place in the yogurt maker.  When the yogurt maker is plugged in, it keeps the yogurt at a constant temperature.  I've never measured mine, but the pros say the temperature should stay between 85 and 100 degrees.

4.  Incubate for 10 hours, according to the directions for my 2 makers.

5.  Refrigerate for a couple hours before eating.  This further allows the yogurt to set.

6.  I strain about half of my batch to make a Greek-like yogurt.  Homemade yogurt is a little runnier than commercial yogurt because it doesn't have gelatin or pectin.  I use a paper coffee filter and a mesh colander to strain out the whey.  I like the result of this over using  multiple layers of cheese cloth or even a cotton tea towel.  The resulting whey has NO milk in it, which by the way makes it impossible to use for making ricotta cheese.  Sometimes I let the yogurt strain for 20 minutes and sometimes for 2 hours.  I like to scrape the sides and bottom of the filter; this seems to help the straining process.

Lots of websites give more detailed information and may answer specific technical questions.  I'm more of an experimental cook who likes to view directions/recipes as suggestions as opposed to commands.

Next up:  making ricotta cheese!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Loving Yogurt.

This summer, with kids eating breakfasts and lunches at all hours of the day, yogurt has become a hot item with my family.  (I say that figuratively since they had been reaching into fridge for their little cups of Yoplait, Gaymont, or Old Home yogurt.)

I started inspecting the ingredient lists on the packages at the grocery store.  So many of them had sugar and high fructose corn syrup high on the list.  In fact, in the Yoplait yogurt, 63% of its calories are from sugar.  Even the trendy Greek yogurts have a high sugar content.  I decided that it was time to crawl into the depths of my kitchen cupboard to find the yogurt makers that I used when the kids were little.

Years ago I'd gotten 2 yogurt makers at garage sales.  They were both Salton 5-cup yogurt makers with simple instructions, and I used them quite a bit at that stage of my life.  Thankfully, I saved the manual/ instruction booklet.  In simplest terms, you heat the milk, cool the milk, add the starter and incubate it.

The result is a most beautifully smooth and creamy yogurt.  I've been straining it using a mesh colander and a paper coffee filter. The whey drains out, leaving Greek-syle yogurt.  When I have pictures, I'll post them along with directions.