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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Freeing the Family from Factory Food

Well, we still don't have the dairy cattle or the sheep, but we're doing the best we can.

Since we get about 15-20 eggs a day, we come up with lots of uses for them. 15-18 eggs make scrambled eggs for our family, but since we don't eat that every single day, we do end up with a glut sometimes. Here are some ideas for using up eggs, or storing them. You can scramble each egg individually, and freeze them in ice cube trays to use in cooking later. Pop them out and put them in a plastic sack or one of those vacuum bags. I do this with the dead coffee from the pot, too, to add to chocolate milk or iced coffee drinks so the coffee doesn't go to waste and drinks aren't watered down.

Anyway. Other than freezing the eggs for cooking purposes, I think the best way to store eggs is in pound cakes. I use a modified recipe from Fine Cooking, which I really like, but whatever recipe you like will work. Make up a whole bunch, wrap them tightly, and freeze, and you can pull them out whenever you need a quick dessert or brunch addition. We eat lots of egg based meals: savory custards, frittatas, souffles, quiches, egg puff casseroles, eggs in purgatory, egg burritos, etc. We also eat eggs for breakfast quite a bit, either fried, scrambled or steamed (this is a better way to cook eggs that are fresh and still have the shells peel off easily, it also takes less time, I put the eggs in the steamer with a little water in the bottom, put the lid on and cook on high for 12 minutes), those hard cooked eggs are nice sliced in salads, sandwiches or made into egg salad or deviled eggs (which I don't like, but the family does), too. We make those breakfast stratas and french toast, or fry them in the cut out part of toast. Eggs are also great for custards for ice cream, citrus curds and sauces. We especially like, aioli, Hollandaise and mayonnaise.

I don't think I've posted the method I use for making mayonnaise here before. It is quick and easy, and you'll never want to go back to store mayo again. Yours won't have gums, cheap oils, extra sugars, or any of that junk in it, and it will taste far better. Even with store eggs. Use fresh, if you can get them, though. It does require a stick blender, so if you don't have that, you'll have to invest $15-25 in one of those (unless you can find one at a garage sale or thrift store or have a family member or friend who doesn't want hers). Things that matter: Use a glass jar. I've always been successful with a glass jar, I've had failures with plastic ones. The egg needs to be room temperature. We use a recently gathered egg. You can put your egg on the counter in the morning and make this in the afternoon, or put the egg in a hot cup of water while you get everything else ready. Then switch the water out with fresh hot water and wait a little more. It needs to be room temperature. The lemon juice (or lime juice) must be fresh. Use a light oil, preferably cold pressed, so the flavor isn't too strong. You may like olive oil mayo, but if you don't, a light oil will provide a more "American" flavor.

In a glass jar (I use a peanut butter jar) that is wide enough for the blender to fit through put, in this order:

1 egg, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon. dry mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon. salt
3/4 cup light oil

Put stick blender down to the bottom of the jar without turning it on. Then start it and, rocking side to side, slowly pull it up to the top. This will take you about 7-10 seconds. Literally. You will not want to go back to store mayonnaise again. Your family will no longer be tied to supermarket prices for mayo, you won't get all sorts of additives and cheap ingredients and now you can teach your children something about emulsion, also.

Now for the dairy. I've mentioned how I make our yogurt here. We don't have those dairy cows, so we are still reliant on local farmers and organic milk from the store. You would be surprised, though, at the prices compared to the "regular" stuff. Our local store carries organic, from pasture raised cattle, milk for $4.99 a gallon. The standard milk with the hormones and antibiotics runs $3.48 a gallon. We print coupons from the brand website which take a dollar off the price, making the organic milk about $0.50 more. If we buy the unhomogenized, organic milk (same company, which pasture raises the cattle), it costs us nearly $8.00 a gallon. However, we have recently found a local, commercial farm which will sell us pasture raised, hormone and antibiotic free, organic, unhomogenized, raw milk from one specific cow (she does not mix the milk from different cows), for $5.50 a gallon. The organic, hormone and antibiotic free, plain yogurt we prefer to buy costs about $2.00-2.99 a quart (it depends if there's a sale), the non-organic costs about $2.00-2.50 again depending on sales. The little flavored yogurt cups run from $0.40-0.80 for 4-6 ounces, which is at the lowest price $2.13 per quart and at the highest $6.40 a quart. We sometimes see 8 ounce cups for as low as $0.50 each, and up to $0.80, which works out to $2.00-3.20 a quart. That is not a quarter of the price of a gallon of milk, unless you get a sale price on the yogurt and compare it to the unhomogenized milk in the store. Even buying the raw milk, a quart of milk runs about $1.38. If we use the pasteurized milk from the store, that is about a dollar a quart. If you use the regular store milk, don't care about the benefit of organic, or about the hormones or antibiotics, you're looking at $0.87 a quart. You can see the financial benefit to making your own. We flavor ours with our homemade preserves if we want fruity yogurt.

There is another benefit, though. If you read the ingredients of commercial yogurts, even the nice ones, even the organic ones, you will find gums, gelatin, stabilizers and starches. This keeps it thick even through the processing and the time in the store. You are paying for that when you buy your $2.00-6.40 a quart yogurt. It is also not necessary to the yogurt, and you don't need to eat extra starches and gums. For the price of a quarter of your gallon of milk, you can have fresh, tasty, inexpensive, additive free yogurt. This takes longer than the mayo. I like to make it in either quart jars or one of our mixing and pouring bowls which has a lid.

Many recipes say to heat the milk up to 125 degrees F and then reduce the temperature from there. I find that this necessitates the use of powdered milk to thicken the yogurt, which defeats my purpose of lowest additives required and least processing necessary. You can drain the thinner yogurt through cheesecloth to thicken it up, if you don't want to add anything to it, but that adds an extra step, an extra bowl and extra time. I'm not interested in that. This is one of the few things I use my microwave for (the other major uses being melting chocolate and extracting juice from fruit for making jellies and cooking the pulp for making butters), though you can use a pot on the stove .

Heat 8 cups of milk (you can use 4 cups, but we have a large family, and everyone likes yogurt) in a microwave safe bowl for 15-20 minutes, or until the temperature measures at least 185 degrees F (use a clip on candy thermometer to check the temperature - outside of the microwave! you don't want any explosions from the metal clip). Let it cool to 110 degrees F. This takes quite a bit of time, at least two to three hours. You can speed it up by putting the bowl in an ice bath and stirring, but it can go down too fast doing that, so I prefer just to do this in the morning while I am doing other things and can leave it alone.

Meanwhile, set up a warm place where the yogurt can be left undisturbed for 10-12 hours. If you have a gas oven, leaving the pilot light on is often enough. If you have an electric oven that allows you to set the temperature at 100 degrees F, you can use that. I don't have either. The lowest temperature setting on my oven is 170 degrees. So, I put a warmed towel in a warm spot, fold it so it is doubled, and put the jars with the lids on (sterilize these first, if you are using them), or the bowl with the lid on top of the folded towel and then wrap the whole thing up with a couple more towels to insulate it.

Innoculate the milk with 1/2 cup of yogurt with live cultures, use plain yogurt - from the store or your last batch of homemade yogurt. Whisk it in until it is completely mixed in. Either leave it in the bowl and cover as I described, or pour it into your clean jars and seal the lids, then put in a warm spot and leave undisturbed for 10-12 hours (see above). You don't want to jiggle it at all, as that disturbs the curd and you'll end up with yogurt bits in a whole lot of liquid.

After enough time has passed, very carefully move it to the refrigerator to cool down and firm up. This will take another 8-12 hours. This is the other reason I like to start yogurt in the morning. I make it one day, and it is ready for the next morning if we want it for breakfast.

This is a long process, but most of it requires nothing from you at all in terms of work. It is tasty, fresh, and you never have to buy yogurt again, unless you let it run out completely or eat it so rarely that the cultures all die. I imagine if you save yogurt containers, you could put your yogurt in those to incubate, but we use those containers to send food home with people or freeze leftover soup.

Our next project is going to be making cheese. We have recipes for cream cheese, cottage cheese, mozzarella and ricotta which all claim to be fairly simple cheesemaking.

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Hi, I am really enjoying your farming and food friendly blogs. Although I admit I am skim reading due to a lack of time! We also want to get away from factory food. We finally have a little and I do mean little green space, but we are hoping with careful planning and the use of our deck as well we can make just about anything we want. We will still be tied organic priced flour and a few other staples, but we are also hoping to become a lot less dependant on the store. I am really excited about the mayo recipe I have wanted to switch for a long time but was told with out a good food processor it would not work. Also this is great as I can use it all year around as vinegar is forbidden during the week of Pesach. I will try it out soon and let you know how it goes.
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