Monday, 27 February 2012

Home Cooked Kitchen

In our wee apartment, the kitchen is most definitely the heart of our home, which is one reason why you'll find lots of heart-themed items in it - like that sweet bread board! I really do enjoy cooking - yes, I LOVE cooking. Truely I do. I love trying out new recipes, and I love seeing my family and friends enjoy what I have created. And it's important to me that my family experiences that love, every time they step into the kitchen. I want it to be a warm, nurturing place, peaceful and welcoming. And this week it certainly has been! I've turned our kitchen into a real production line! I've been busy home making as many different staples as I can. From scratch this week already I've made ...

Cream cheese
Baking mix

I'm not sure that it is necessarily cheaper to make any of these things from scratch, although it certainly isn't more expensive than buying them ready made. My main motivation in making them myself, apart from the enjoyment in doing it and the satisfaction when you see the results of your hard work (I was so thrilled with the yogurt, my very first attempt, that the cubs wondered what on earth was going on as I skipped about the kitchen in delight! I was so happy to see that it had set!), is that you know exactly what is in it - and that tends to be, only wholesome, good-for-you ingredients. And that has to be worth the effort! I'm not at all into cranky specialist diets, but on the other hand, if I can make something myself (and perhaps save a little money in doing so) then I know exactly what my family are eating, and that the nutrition they are receiving is as good as it can be, without having to invest in expensive supplements and special foodstuffs.

The yogurt, as I say, was such a successful enterprise that I think I'll make it this way for always from now on! In fact once you've invested in the small bit of kit you need to make your own yogurt, I'd say it is cheaper to do it yourself than to buy it ready made. During Lent, we tend not to eat fancy desserts, so yogurt makes a simple alternative, during these weeks.

All you need to make your own yogurt, is a reasonably large bowl, a candy thermometer, a saucepan and something to wrap the bowl in while the yogurt sets. You will probably also need to some containers to keep the yogurt in once it's ready to go into the refrigerator. You'll also need about 2 pints (roughly one quart, or, as I measured it, 4 cups) of milk, and a small pot of live yogurt (this is important - check that it is proper, live yogurt, as this is the "starter" that you'll use for this first batch of yogurt).

Start off by making sure all the equipment you're going to use is scrupulously clean - I sterilised mine with some anti-bac spray and then rinsed it well in hot water.
Next measure out a quart of milk into a saucepan. Put your candy thermometer in the pan, and then heat the milk to "sterilise" - about 160 F. You'll know when it is scalded because it will be just coming to the boil - remove it just as it begins to bubble.
Add to it immediately 1/2 cup dried skimmed milk (apparently this isn't strictly necessary, but it does add body to the yogurt. I have only made it once so far, so I don't know how it would work without the dried milk).
Now pour it into a large bowl (not metal), stir well to dissolve the dried milk and allow it to cool to 110 F. This will take a while - for me, about 30 minutes. Keep checking so you know exactly when it hits 110.
Next add the live yogurt "starter" - about 1/4 cup. Some recipes suggest more than this but as I say, this is my first attempt, so I can't say how it will turn out if you alter the amount. Stir well.
Cover the bowl tightly with cling film, or a large plate.
Now wrap firmly in a heavy blanket or other insulating material. I used bubblewrap! We always have lots of bubblewrap - Papa Bear brings it home from work for us! It has a million uses - one being that it is great for keeping hot things hot and cold things cold, so it is really useful for transporting food to picnics, potlucks etc. I then covered the bowl over with a light blanket.
Now place your bowl somewhere in your home which is warm and draught free - either your airing cupboard, on top of your fridge, even in the oven (pre-warmed, but switched off. I didn't use the oven because the yogurt needs about 12 - 24 hours to set, during which time I would have had to use the oven to cook meals in, which would have meant having to remove the yogurt). I put the yogurt in our airing cupboard.
Now leave it to set - you can check after 12 hours, but I left ours for 24. I wanted it to be really set and sour, as that is how we prefer the taste of yogurt (I tend to use it as a condiment or for a sauce, or to add to baked items).
When it is done, it needs to be decanted into suitable containers, and kept in the fridge. Reserve another 1/4 cupful, for your next batch of yogurt - which will be truely home made!

If you want to make some cream cheese with your yogurt, all you need to do is strain some through a fine, clean cloth (I used a muslin square which came with some face wash I was given for Christmas). Simply secure the cloth over a bowl using an elastic band, then put some of the yogurt you've made on the cloth. Cover with a piece of cling film to avoid it taking on flavours from other foods in your fridge. Leave it to drain through the cloth for about 12 hours. What is left in the bowl is whey - which apparently you can use to soak grains in, or make into a drink. Papa Bear did not like the look of that, so I'm afraid to say I discarded it. The yogurt on the cloth, I took and whipped with a little double cream to loosen it. Then I added some dried herbs and a tiny dash of garlic powder, to make cream cheese! It should be kept in a sealed container in the fridge. Ours didn't stay IN the fridge long enough for me to take a photograph of it!

The bread I baked in my breadmaker, which means very little effort was involved. My family have sometimes been rather unenthusiastic about home baked bread, partly because it often has rather a "heavy" texture compared to bought bread - this is especially so whenever we've tried sourdough, which Papa Bear and the cubs really are not keen on. But this time I tried a different flour - a malted grain with rye, barley and wheat in it, to which I added about 1/3 cup of mixed seed (not donated by the birds, I hasten to add!). It came out wonderful! A nice light loaf, with lots of crunch and a pleasant, very slightly sweet taste. Everyone declared it was the best I've ever baked, so I am happy to take on baking loaves again all the time now. It isn't cheaper than buying them ready made (we get through about 4 loaves a week, and rolls also) but they are fresher (I get all the bread at the supermarket, to last all week, which means by Thursday, the loaves that are left aren't all that fresh. We don't have room to keep bread in our freezer). I decided for these reasons that I should try baking our own bread again and I'll persevere with different techniques and recipes until I can find one that's perfect. I have some more to try over the next few weeks - so hopefully we'll all have a favourite loaf soon! For the bread pictured above, I simply followed the basic white bread recipe that came with the breadmaker, and it is the flour, rather than the recipe that made this come out so well (the gap in the loaf you can see there, is the hole that the paddle from the bread pan left - the crumb is actually quite dense).

I've been making my own granola for years. Everyone loves it and I vary the ingredients a little each time I do it, so that no one ever gets bored.

A simple granola base consists of ...

1. 10 cups oats (not quick cooking).
2. 1 cup oil (I use Crisp'n'Dry).
3. 1 cup honey, apple or orange concentrate or maple syrup (I usually use honey. If you choose maple syrup, it seems to dry out faster in the slow cooker than the others do, so if you use this keep an eye on it, because it can take on a bitter taste if overcooked - it may only need 5 hours or so on low before it is ready, compared with 7 for the others).
4. 1/2 cup flaked almonds.
5. 1/2 cup shredded coconut.
6. 3 teaspoons vanilla essence.
7. 3 teaspoons almond essence (optional, but especially nice if you use honey).
8. About 4 teaspoons cinnamon (I use more than this as we all love cinnamon!).
9. 1/4 cup sesame seed (optional).

Get your slow cooker and switch it onto high to warm up.
Measure out the ingredients in the order I've given them - the oil will make it easier to pour out the honey, concentrate or syrup if you measure the oil first.

Stir everything well, then turn the slow cooker to low (if you have only one setting on your slow cooker, don't worry - just keep checking the granola every hour or so until it is cooked).

Cover but leave the lid slightly askew so that it is not sealed (if you cover completely, then you will fetch up with sticky porridge, not granola, because the atmosphere in the slow cooker will be too damp for it to dry out properly). I use a wooden spoon propped across the side of the slow cooker, at the edge, so that the lid doesn't quite fit.

On low it will take about 7 hours to cook. It won't be crisp at this stage, but will be a darker colour.

After it has got dark and the house smells beautiful (like Christmas!) your granola is ready to dry out.

Take a tray or large baking sheet and a large sheet of greaseproof paper or foil. Spread across the tray or baking sheet, and then turn the granola out onto this and spread it out to allow it to crisp up. It will do this as it cools.
Once it is cool, you can add embellishments to it such as dried fruit, nuts, seeds, chocolate chips etc. Don't add any of these to it before it has cooled or they will overcook and spoil. Our favourites are - mixed dried cherries and berries with honey, dried apple, chopped hazelnuts and sultanas with apple concentrate, dark chocolate covered orange pieces, dried cranberries and chocolate chips with orange concentrate (nice at holiday time) and chopped pecans and sultanas with sesame seed and maple syrup.
Now place in a suitable container and it is ready to eat!

Finally, butter! I've already talked about how you can make simple butter with your children by putting some cream into a glass jar and shaking it. This of course isn't quite how real butter is made though. It's butter, but it will be very dilute as all the buttermilk and water has not been extracted. To make real butter suitable for regular eating and cooking, you need to add a couple of extra stages into the recipe which take care of this. It's actually not as labour intensive as the simple method though, because no shaking is involved, so don't be afraid to try it - it really didn't take long at all and this is one home made item that, if you buy the better quality butters, will save you money - the big pot of cream I bought cost £1.64, and would make about 300g butter, whereas that amount of the brand we usually buy (which isn't one of the cheaper ones, I'll admit) costs quite a few pennies than this.

You'll need -

Double cream (I used about 400 mls, to finish with about 200 g butter). It needs to be at room temperature before you start, so remove from the fridge well beforehand.
Salt (to add as flavour afterwards, optional).

Place the cream in a large bowl and whisk it (I really wouldn't do this by hand or you'd fetch up with a very tired arm!). If you have a food processor with a balloon whisk attachment, use this. Keep whisking and you will go past the whipped cream stage. It will turn colour to pale yellow, become fluffy, then pop-corn like, and small blobs of butter will start to form. Carry on until the blobs get bigger, and it looks as if you are creaming it to make a cake. By now there will be buttermilk left - drain this off and use for cooking.

Now rinse the butter. This stage is important because there must be no moisture left in the butter or it will go rancid very fast. You may need to rinse it many times over - you must keep going until the water runs clear. Add about 1/2 cup very cold water each time, whisk a little, and then drain. Repeat as required. I found this took less time than I expected - I rinsed about 6 times.

Next comes squeezing and shaping the butter. Back in the day wooden paddles were used to shape the butter (my mams still has some, but I didn't borrow them for this!). I used a wire seive and a spoon. I squished the butter against the sieve until no more water came out. If you want, you can salt it a little for flavour as you go (about 1/2 teaspoon). When the butter is completely dry, shape it into a roll or pat, and refrigerate it.
If you want to, you can freeze home made butter, but if so don't add the salt until you are ready to eat it. Freezing intensifies its saltiness, apparently. I wrapped mine in greaseproof paper, then foil, and put it in the fridge.

Now all I need to be a true Dairy Queen, is my own cow!