Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Easy Way to Make Yogurt

Making Yogurt

  I've been making yogurt for a couple years now. I started making it when I realized how many extra ingredients there are in store bought yogurt. The super sweet fruit and yogurt were too sweet for my taste and even with coupons it's still more expensive than making your own.

  I started looking online for recipes and methods. I found a crock-pot method that wasn't bad. I tried a lot of different recipes with mostly good results. I tried one where a woman put the milk in canning jars, then put them in a pan with water and heated it that way. I did that for several weeks until one of the jars broke in the pan and I lost 1/4 of my yogurt.  I only had one batch I couldn't eat and that's because I burned it. I've had batches turn out really thick, almost cheese like, I overcooked that batch. It was still yummy and we ate it as a soft cheese spread and I still put it in my smoothies. 

  After much trial and error, I have it perfected. If you follow this recipe, you will be eating yogurt. What changes your results is when you change the amounts of milk or yogurt. That's when your batches may not turn out. Figuring out why is what will make you an expert yogurt maker. When I first started I got creative and learned a lot!

 What I do now is a culmination of those recipes and have found what works for me, with the size of pan I use to make it.

   I make a half-gallon or so every week. I consume most of it myself, in my smoothies that I drink every morning. I have Stella hooked on smoothies so one day a week she helps me eat some.
I thought I'd do a quick tutorial that might help some of you get started.

What You'll Need

Whole milk (2 quarts or a half gallon) (I've made it with 2% and it still works fine)
Cup of Plain Yogurt (at least 5.3 oz)
Sauce Pan (large enough to have a couple inches of room at the top for stirring)
Candy Thermometer
Wooden spoon
Containers to store finished yogurt

 First I start with whole milk, a half gallon, and pour it in a 3 qt, stainless steel pan. You'll need a good candy thermometer. With the pan on the stove top, and thermometer clipped on the pan, use medium - medium-high heat.

 Keep an eye on the thermometer while stirring gently. Make sure you have a clean, empty sink and run about 4" of water in it, (depending on the height of your pan). Have some ice or blue ice (for coolers) on hand. 

  When the milk has reached 185 degrees turn off heat. Carefully carry to the sink and set the pan of milk into the water. The thermometer usually slides around during the transfer so you may want to set it to the side for the moment or if you're able to, grab it with a finger during the transfer. The last option is the one I use because I don't want to wait for the temp to go back up on it.

 Now you have the pan in the sink. Check the level of water compared to the level of the milk. It needs to be even or as close as possible. This is when you add the blue ice or ice to the water. Be careful not to splash water into the milk.You can add the lid for a few moments if you're worried. It won't ruin the batch if you get a little there, but a lot could ruin the batch. Stir the milk while watching the thermometer. When it comes down to 110 degrees carefully remove it from the water and set it on the counter. You're done with the thermometer; you can leave it in the sink.

  This is when you add the starter yogurt. You can use some from a previous batch, saved and frozen right after it's made. I've done this but I have better luck when I buy a cup of yogurt from the store. Choose one with no gelatin as it makes it syrupy. Make sure it has both of the active cultures in it. I've been getting Oikos and I just read the label and it simply says "active cultures”. I have used it though and it works great. I get the Greek yogurt and for a size, it says 5.3 oz. 

  So now you need to put the yogurt in the pan of milk, (after scraping the cup to get all of it), stir with a whisk. Stir until you see no more lumps, little ones are okay.

Now put the lid on your pan. You'll need 2 bath towels to wrap it in. It needs to keep the heat for several hours so wrap it good. Lay the first towel on the counter and wrap it up around the pan. 

Then take the second towel, which is still folded in half, and lay it over the top of the pan and tuck it in the best you can.

 It needs to sit undisturbed for 6 hrs so choose a spot that is out of the way, where it won't get bumped.

 Set your timer for 6 hours and walk away! No need to do anything to it for 6 hrs. If you check it, you'll release the precious heat and it won't work as well.

There you are 6 hours later. Beautiful yogurt that I can use in so many ways. I could strain it and make a soft cheese. I can use it in place of sour cream in many recipes.

I'll let it cool a bit, then cover and store it in the back of the frig, on the lowest shelf. It thickens as it cools.
It lasts a couple weeks but never makes it that long at our house.

Monday, April 29, 2013

New Peas Trellis

  I made a new trellis for the peas. I used a longer raised bed for them this year. After growing them last year, we decided we need more peas! This is our new trellis made with bamboo and plant nets and zip ties.

 This is a 14 ft raised bed. I bought a package of 25, 6 ft bamboo posts. It took 17 to complete this. I also bought 2 plant nets that are 5 ft x 15 ft. It was a foot too long so I just twisted it along the end posts. I didn't like buying matierials for a trellis, since I've been making them out of apple branches for years. 
  Unfortunately my supply of branches has 
diminished and I don't have enough for this

 To build it I first pushed the bamboo poles into the ground about 6" at he right angle for the two pieces on the end to cross in the middle at the top. After securing the frame I attached the net on each side. I zipped both sides of the net at the same time to save zip ties,(at the top). The net loops around the bamboo at the top to hold it while I secured it. I did this mostly by myself so it can be done with one person.
It took a lot of zip ties.

There are 3 poles across the top and 3 on each side. They overlap so I secured them with zip ties.

The plants are doing nicely in the little greenhouse. I was able to bring them out to the greenhouse for a few days to get some sun. It's supposed to get cold again tonight, with snow tomorrow, so I'll probably bring them in. I've left a lamp in the bottom of the greenhouse at night to provide some heat. They would probably be okay left in there but I don't want to take any chances. Sometimes it gets colder than they predict.  I've worked too hard to have them frozen now.

   Last year I grew catnip and started it in the greenhouse. Zelda  our younger kitty would climb up in the greenhouse and eat it as fast as it came up. I haven't gotten any planted for them this year yet, shame on me. She keeps checking the greenhouse every day and almost ate spinach yesterday, which I wouldn't mind. As long as she's healthy. I'm getting seeds today for the kitties!!

I started some flowers that are also coming up! I'm really excited about that. Lots of herbs as well, I'm looking forward to some pesto!

This story can also be viewed at this great website! My story is # 166

Making the Best Chicken Broth

I made a big batch of broth and wanted to show you what it looks like after cooking for 3 days.

In this picture I have removed the bones and any big parts by scooping them out with a large slotted spoon. I let it boil for a couple hours more to reduce the liquid and concentrate the chicken broth.
The original post about making this wonderful broth is the post before this one titled,  Had to Bring the Plants Inside

I then strained the broth.

 This is an 8 qt pot and it's nearly full. Notice the nice dark color.  I've had other batches turn out darker because I used more bones. The more bones you use, the darker the broth.
These containers hold 3 cups each. So as you can see I got 27 cups of broth. I've already used the cubes to make soup for Stella, my grand daughter.
I also used one of the containers for some quick soup for Bob and I. I use these weekly. We love it for gravy. It makes the most flavorful gravy!!
The cubes are handy for doing a saute on a couple chicken breasts. It adds a great deal of flavor. Have you noticed the new flavor cubes that they are selling in the market? You can make your own!
Start saving those bones!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Had to Bring the Plants Inside


 We have gotten several big snowstorms. The yard has about 18" of snow and the temps have dropped below freezing several nights. If you click on the picture, you can see an orange 5-gallon bucket, that's almost buried!

 When it started getting cold we still had the plants in the greenhouse. Then I added a 60-watt bulb in a lamp at the bottom of the greenhouse. It was keeping it about 10 degrees warmer than the outside air with no harm to the plants.

Then we got the snow and it got much colder. I had to bring the plants inside till it warms up a bit.
 The plants are coming up nicely.

 Here are some cucumbers and on the right tomatillos.

Here are some tomatoes, (the pic to the right).
I planted mostly Roma's with some beefsteak and cherry tomatoes.

 Here is the spinach, very cute, curly leaves. I'm hoping to keep this alive all summer, cutting only the outside leaves for eating.

 Here is my corn. Yes, I know corn is usually sewn outside but I see it in the nurseries so why can't I do it? I'll get a longer growing season that way. That doesn't mean that much for corn, it has no trouble reproducing within our growing season. It's more important for watermelons and celery, crops that take longer to produce usable food. When you live in an area that limits your growing time, it's good to start veggies early to insure you'll actually get a crop. I like to plant everything I can in trays, including carrots, which are usually sewn outdoors. I break the rules sometimes, when it comes to planting. If I can make it work, why not? Pushing the boundaries, that what we gardeners do.

They were all planted the same day, April 5.
Unfortunately these got dry and the cucumbers in the back are wilted. These in the front need to be transplanted.

 These are purple carrots and red carrots. I thought some multicolored carrots would be fun this year.
The celery is in this tray, next to the cucumber, and is starting to come up.

 These are the cucumbers that were in the tray above, all transplanted. Some of the holes had two plants so I ended up with 16 healthy little plants. Back under the lights with you! I wish I had a light stand to give them all some light. The natural light from outside will take over once it warms up and I can put them back out.

 I've got a huge pot of chicken stock boiling on the stove. Perfect activity for a snowy few days, besides baking of course. 
I save chicken bones and parts like the back that we don't cook. I throw them in a big zip type bag and freeze them until I have 3 or 4 chicken’s worth of parts. I cook it 3 days and end up with broth that looks like beef broth it's so rich. The recipes that I make with this broth have so much flavor that it inspires me to do it this way again. It's so worth the work!

The pot on the left is the pot I started with. It usually takes this plus my big crock-pot to do this much broth. This time I thought I'd just use this big canner and finally have enough room for enough water.
So let me first say that many people say that you only need a couple of hours to make broth. I have made broth in a couple hours and it's fine, but that's it, just fine. Not nearly as flavorful as this method, which I read somewhere and can't remember where.
You can do this with as many chickens worth of bones as you have, one is easy.

 Put all the frozen chicken parts and bones into your pot and cover with water. You need a couple of inches at the top for boiling so don't fill it too full, like the smaller pot above. Add veggies next, I used about 6 carrots, 3 onions, 3 stalks of celery, a head and a half of garlic, 4 mushrooms, a couple bay leaves and salt and seasoned pepper.

Bring it to a full boil then turn it down 1 or 2 notches so as to keep the boil active. Now walk away and do your other chores. When you walk through the kitchen and notice the water level has gone down a couple inches, then add water to your original line. It's not something that needs to be timed. It can boil down a great deal; just add water when you notice. (Please don't leave the house with this cooking unless you put it in a crock pot.) At night I turn off the heat and let it set on the stove or set it in the garage with the lid, because it's cold in there right now, then just turn on the heat when I get up. What makes this better than most is the boiling down and adding of water. Each time it does that, it makes the broth richer, with more flavors. It really works! What I like to do after the 3 days, is to strain all the bones and stuff out of it and cook it down even more, concentrating the flavor even more. You can skip this step but if you do your broth won't taste as good.
I usually freeze my broth in plastic bowls. I like to put some in ice cube trays, pop them out and keep in a bag in the freezer, for the times you only need a couple tablespoons of broth. This is the fastest soup maker ever. Throw the block of broth in a pan and while it's heating up you can cut up your favorite veggies, noodles, rice, tofu or whatever, throw them in and you have soup that tastes like it cooked all day. It's a great way to clean out the frig; just throw in your leftovers with some broth!  It's a wonderful thing to have on hand. My granddaughter loves soup so I can make her some, very easily, in just a few minutes (3 ice cube broths, tofu, peas and some noodles and she's a happy camper).

So my 3 days has begun. I'll show you how it turns out with an update.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Mini Greenhouse Update!

 This spring will be the third spring that I've used this little greenhouse. I'm happy to report that I get a 6-week head start by using this little rolling greenhouse, with no added heat. The sun alone heats this little wonder.

  When I built it, I built a rack inside that holds 8 trays of plants. That's enough to start my vegetables, herbs and some flowers. The windows actually still open, for extra ventilation. I haven't had to use them much as it's easier to prop open the door when it gets too hot. I keep a thermometer in there to keep it at a nice temp for the baby plants. For this unit, 85 degrees is the hottest I let it get. Any hotter than that, the babies will wilt.
 I still have the plastic over each end at the roof. I opted to keep that in order to give more light to the plants on the top shelf. I did make a small slit in the plastic for hot air to escape. 

I replaced the plastic this year, curious squirrels got in there over the winter. I pulled everything out of it today and washed it down, inside and out, with soapy vinegar water. After that I hosed it down and wiped the windows and now it’s propped open to dry out.


Now to grab my seeds, which I’ve spread out over the table to admire and plan, on many occasions. 
 Some seeds I’ll sow directly into the garden such as: peas (sugar pod and regular), green beans (pole), both squashes (zucchini and yellow straight neck), both kinds of potato (russet and sweet potato) and garlic (The garlic should have gone in last fall.)


 I plant my veggies first to make sure I have enough trays. Now to empty all the soil out of the trays and give them a wash with the hose. Let them dry a bit, then fill with new soil, get the soil wet and then plant those seeds! Water them in very gently, for tiny seeds use a spray bottle set on mist. Put the tops on the trays and pop them into the greenhouse! In 6 weeks we’ll have plants ready to transplant into the garden. It only cost me the price of seeds and some care.

  I bought my seeds from Victory Seeds this year. They are dedicated to saving heirloom seeds and I admire them for that. I have some left over from previous yrs as well as some that were given to me. First I’ll use my partially used packages from last year. Most of the new ones will get used. I also got some free seeds from my friend Melodee. A friend of hers gave her a bunch and Mel  passed it along, nice, thanks Mel!

  I’m thinking about growing some veggies in the front yard this year. Some gourds and pumpkin would cover the front yard nicely. You see our front yard looks much like the back yard did before I changed it. It’s barren with a couple of big pine trees, a couple of stumps and lots of bind weed. 

 Oh, I could do a whole page on bindweed. Let me just say that there was so much of it in the back yard that I pulled a 5 gallon bucket full every day for 6 wks and still never got rid of it all. Seems like a lot? I thought so too! I ended up with trigger thumb and finger from it, which has not healed yet.  It comes back, with a vengeance so there’s no way to actually get rid of it (I won’t use poisons, especially near the garden). What I did held it at bay for the summer. I cleared it, then layered a thick layer of overlapping newspaper over it, then covered it with about 4” of wood chips. This year we’re going to do something different. I’ve done this in the past so I know it works. We pulled some old carpet out of the basement but instead of throwing it away, I’ll rake back the wood chips, put the carpet down and cover with wood chips. It makes for a bouncy path, until it settles in, but it really works.

Free Wood Chips

   If you want free wood chips like we got, contact your local tree service businesses and see if they do this free service and if they do, give them your phone number. I went to craigslist and entered free wood chips in the search box. There were 3 businesses advertising a free delivery of wood chips. They’ll drop off a load when they are in the area. They don’t know when that will be so you have to be ready to work when the truckload of wood chips comes. I got a call one day and Charley is looking for our house! He’s on his way, ready or not! That’s what you sign up for when you give them your number. It’s a whole truckload too, that’s the thing that’s held me back from doing this in the past. This year I decided I needed more wood chips, crazy woman, so I just emailed the same company again. I’ll be ready this time!

  We got a load last spring and the pile was big, but looked do-able. We couldn’t get to it for a few days, which ended up being a bad thing. The leaves in it started to heat up and mold. If we had taken care of it the first few days after it came it would have been fine, the leaves would have dried out in the pathways, but we had no choice. It took several days for the 2 of us to move that truckload to the back yard. It took over a hundred wheelbarrows full.  Bob ended up breaking out in a full body rash because he’s really allergic to mold. I’m also allergic but not nearly to the degree he is. So I finished it up and have beautiful garden paths because of it. The leaves in it slowly dried up and turned to dust. All that’s left is the wood chips. Bags of wood chips would have been easier but would have cost much more than free! The man that emailed me, from the tree service, said they have wood chips at their “yard”. So if you have a truck, going and picking some up yourself may be a better way for you if you don’t need so much. A good source if you’re doing some work in your yard.

  At our last house the greenhouse was sitting outside, tucked under the eaves in the winter. The snow took its toll on the roof windows. They didn’t drain well. It didn’t do any permanent damage but it has made me rethink the roof. I have plans to put a couple of plexiglass panels on a wood frame, up there to serve as the new roof.  The snow would slide right off.  It’s not such a problem here at our new house. It sits on a covered patio with greenhouse material roof; so filtered light still gets in. The weather has been gentle to it the last 2 winters. I could put plastic over the roof windows. It would hardly be noticeable and would serve the purpose and still keep the windows for the roof.

 It gets most of the light it needs from between the garage and the patio. The greenhouse sits on the south side of the patio. I turn the greenhouse at least once a day to get all the plants covered. You wouldn’t think there would be enough light there because in addition there is a tree there. Fortunately at this time of year it hasn’t gotten its leaves yet so there is still enough light. By the time the leaves are actually causing shade, my veggies will be in the garden. So you people out there using light, or a lack of light, as an excuse not to grow something let me tell you, you can grow more than you think! Just start with something easy like lettuce or spinach in a pot on your porch. The important thing is to start!

  It’s nice to have it just outside the back door. It makes it easy to check it. The wheels are great!! If I made another one I’d put bigger wheels on it, but these work really well. The have a locking position so I can put it where I want it and lock the wheels. This is handy if you have an uneven patio. At the last house we had a shady patio, but the sun would peek in at certain times of day. I wheeled it around a lot at that house, following the sun. Still got my 6 weeks, even with that little bit of extra work, so worth it!!
These just need to be soaked, then planted.
  When I made this greenhouse I worried that it would be hard to move. When we moved we hired movers, and 2 guys were able to carry it from the back yard to the sidewalk in the front yard, then it just rolled into the truck. Then they carried it into the new back yard.

 So, today I plant my seeds!! Like every gardener, I’ve been waiting all winter for this! This year my new veggie to grow is celery. Should be fun. They have a long growing season so I need to get busy planting!

Here’s a list of veggies and herbs that we’ll be growing this year:


Green Beans
Peas  2 kinds
Potatoes  2 kinds
Squash  2 kinds
Tomatoes  3 kinds

  I also bought some flower seeds but there usually isn’t room for more than a tray of flowers in the greenhouse. They usually end up in one of the many pots we have. I collect seeds every year so I have plenty of free flower seeds that I plant everywhere. Lots of marigolds, sunflowers, hollyhocks and daisy's to name a few. The marigolds keep bad bugs away and they bring the bees I can’t stress enough how important it is to have flowers in the garden to draw the bees. Without bees we have no food.
 I save flower seeds everywhere I go. I carry extra Kleenex, which makes a nice bundle for a handful of seeds that I collect on a walk. I have to write on it what kind of flower it is when I get home, or at least what it looks like, and a height helps later as well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve forgotten that bundle in my pocket only to find it weeks later, leaving me to wonder what kind of seeds they are. So as you might guess I have some seeds I’m not sure about. That’s okay, I plant a few every year, so they’re not just gathering dust. I only save seed from flowers I like so I'm safe to just plant them in a pot till I see what I have, then find a spot for it or leave it in the pot to move around for color and bees.

 As much as I love flowers and realize the value they have as well, growing food is still more important. We grow as much as we can in the space we have. We just found out we’ll be on water restriction this summer. Good thing I have raised beds, it really saves on water.

My granddaughter, Stella is almost 2 and loves gardening with Grandma Jody.
The green bean tee pee will be even more fun this year. I’m looking forward to sharing my garden with my family this year. They love watching it grow and are very excited when they get their weekly bag of goodies. If we lived closer to my kids in CA, they would get to enjoy it too. They grew up gardening and as a result my daughter, Heather, grows her own veggies. I love passing that passion for gardening on to another generation. It’s part of who I am, and teaching others about it ensures a piece of me will live on forever. I kind of love that.

This blog can also be viewed at The Homestead Barn Hop My story is # 117
Check out this site, she has a lot of good info!