Archive for September, 2010


29 September 2010

Making yogurt without a machine is very easy if you accept a slight degree of unpredictability, as yogurt cultures can be temperamental. The tricky part is keeping the yogurt at the right temperature while it sets, and this is where a yogurt maker helps, but it’s by no means indispensable (I don’t own one and I have been making yogurt for years).

Like many people interested in making yogurt at home, I knew it was easy – theoretically. But it wasn’t until I witnessed it that I realized how ridiculously simple it really is. The main steps are very straightforward: heat milk – let cool – stir in a spoonful yogurt  – let set; but of course, the devil is in details.

Step 1: Scald milk

In a saucepan, heat milk until bubbles begin to form. Remove from heat.

Step 2: Let milk cool to just above body temperature

Yogurt cultures are most active just above body temperature, at 110°F (43°C). A good way to gauge the temperature without a thermometer (I don’t own one, either) is to place your little finger in the milk and count to 10. It should feel warm but not burn. If the milk is too hot it will kill the yogurt cultures. If it is too cold the yogurt will take forever to set or not set at all.

Step 3: Stir in 1 tablespoon “starter” yogurt per quart (liter) milk

Any commercial plain yogurt works, as long as it contains live cultures (specified in the ingredients).

Using more “starter” yogurt will not help, on the contrary. Think of it as overcrowding; too many live cultures make the yogurt thinner and more sour.

Stir well so the starter yogurt dissolves into the milk.

Step 4: Pour milk into container(s)

Any container will do, large or small, jar, bowl, storage container, etc.

Preheat container(s) with hot water to maintain as much heat as possible. Cover with lid, cloth, or parchment paper (this makes a difference; left uncovered the yogurt doesn’t set as well).

Step 5: Let set in a warm place

The temperature should stay as close as possible to 110°F (43°C). This is the tricky part, the one for which the yogurt maker was invented, but there are a number of other ways to maintain heat. I have tried the following methods, they all work, it’s a question of choosing the one most practical for you:

  • Place containers in a cooler bag (space permitting, add a bottle of hot water to maintain heat)
  • Wrap a towel around the containers and place in the warmest place in the house
  • Preheat oven to 200°F (90°C), turn off oven (very important!), and place yogurt containers in the preheated oven. (Don’t forget the yogurt and accidentally turn the oven on for another use. I must admit it has happened to me. More than once…)

Do not disturb the yogurt until it is set – anywhere from 3 to 12 hours. (It happens that the yogurt doesn’t set, in that case the same milk can be reheated to repeat the process.)

Yogurt keeps in the refrigerator for weeks.

Orange thyme pancakes

26 September 2010

It’s the first day of fall. Officially fall arrived earlier this week, but until yesterday the temperatures still hovered close to 30°C (mid-80°s F) and it felt like midsummer. It’s much cooler today, it’s Sunday, and I woke up thinking of pancakes. A few years ago Thomas started a tradition of making pancakes on Sunday morning, and my sons have grown to depend upon it. (It would barely be an exaggeration to say that they bring out the “pancake cookbook,” as Joy of Cooking is referred to in our house, before we even come down for breakfast.) But with the summer – the heat, the traveling, the days at the beach – we had not made pancakes in months.

Today was a good day to reinstate Sunday pancakes, though I didn’t pull out Joy of Cooking. We happened to have orange juice in the fridge (which does not happen very often as we are a grapefruit-juice family), and every time there is orange juice, I think of orange thyme pancakes. We ate them in a bed and breakfast in Wyoming ten years ago on a skiing vacation.


Makes 12 four-inch (10 cm) pancakes

1/4 cup (55 g) butter

2 cups (250 g) flour

1 tsp salt

2 tsp baking powder

2 Tbsp sugar

1/2 tsp ground thyme (fresh or dried)

2 eggs

1 3/4 cup (450 ml) orange juice

Coconut oil to grease griddle (or non-stick skillet)


Melt butter over low heat and let cool.

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, beat eggs well with a fork, then add orange juice and melted butter. Add egg/juice mixture to the dry ingredients carefully, mixing just enough to combine until the flour disappears. **Lumps are fine; the important thing is not to beat too much or the pancakes won’t be fluffy.** If batter seems stiff, add a little orange juice.

Grease griddle (non-stick skillet) and place over high heat. (I use coconut oil to cook pancakes. It works perfectly because it doesn’t burn.) Once the griddle is hot, pour little puddles of batter (the size is entirely up to you), reduce heat to medium, and stay close, checking constantly until you start noticing bubbles popping up. Turn over the pancakes with a wide spatula and, within barely a minute, the pancake is ready. To make more pancakes, repeat process, adding a little oil every time to make sure they don’t stick.

The pancakes can be kept in a covered pan in a 250°F (120°C) oven for a little while if you want to make all the pancakes first and serve them at once.

Baby food | Beet and sheep’s yogurt

24 September 2010

I have always home made baby food, for my sons a few years ago, and now for my daughter. I puréed squash, yams, peas – even fennel. It remained fairly basic. The other day I blended beef and carrots. It was edible. But when I accidentally realized how truly delicious, mouth-watering, adult-tastebud-pleasing, baby food could be, I decided to try pairings inspired at least as much by taste as nutritional imperative.

I was thinking about beet salad with goat cheese. I mixed red and golden beets because golden beets soften the intense flavor of red beets. The yogurt also brings it down a notch. Not quite the revelation of zucchini and flounder mousse, but very satisfying nonetheless.


6-7 medium-sized red and golden beets

Sheep’s yogurt


Preheat oven to 350°F (170°C)

Trim the greens and root from the beets.

In a cast-iron pot with lid,* drizzle a little olive oil, place the beets cut side down, close lid and cook in the oven for 1 hour. Remove from oven and let cool until OK to peel the beets.

Peel beets, blend, put in jars and freeze if desired. Add a teaspoon of yogurt just before serving.

*Alternatively, use an oven pan sealed with aluminum foil.

Spaghetti with cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil

22 September 2010

This dish is inspired by the spaghetti alla chitarra from Malatesta Trattoria in the West Village. Its terrace was our summer haunt some years ago when we lived just around the corner. It’s a good quick dinner, especially if all you happen to have in your kitchen are cherry tomatoes, and mozzarella in the fridge.


For 4

1 pint* cherry tomatoes

4 garlic cloves

2 mozzarella di bufala

400g spaghetti

Basil leaves

Best olive oil for seasoning


Place a large pot of salted water over high heat and bring to a boil. Be generous with the salt (coarse sea salt works well for this) – pasta water should be as salty as sea water.

Cut the cherry tomatoes in half. Very thinly slice the garlic cloves and throw into a hot skillet with olive oil for about 30 seconds, taking very good care that it does not become brown. Add the cherry tomatoes and fry them in the oil for a few minutes, until they start to become soft. **The skillet should be large enough so the tomato halves don’t overlap too much.** Meanwhile throw the pasta into the boiling water.

Check the pasta regularly after about 8 minutes and drain as soon as it is just al dente (or to desired consistency).

At the last minute, break up the mozzarella, add it to the tomatoes, and cook over medium heat until everything melts into a bubbling sauce. Immediately bowl the pasta, add the sauce, a few coarsely chopped basil leaves, and a thin drizzle of very good olive oil (no need to add olive oil unless it is exceptionally good and adds a kick to the dish). Serve very quickly or the melted mozzarella will begin to harden.

*Cherry tomatoes and berries are sold by the pint in the US. A dry pint is the equivalent of a generous bowl.


Related posts

Braised chicken legs with cherry tomatoes

Avocado, cucumber, and cherry tomato with red pepper and parsley


Follow @nettleandquince on twitter

Baby food | Zucchini and flounder

20 September 2010

By accident the other day I made unexpectedly good food for my 6-month-old daughter. I was preparing dinner for my two older sons, a fairly common summer menu of zucchini and fish – flounder in this case. The ingredients seemed appropriate for a young new eater, so I just blended them for her. It became something quite new and incredibly good, so much so in fact that I plan to serve it as a mousse appetizer for an (adult) dinner very soon.


The portions are adapted to make 4 or 5 jars that can be frozen for a few weeks

1/2 medium onion

Olive oil

2 medium zucchini

3 in (8 cm)-slice flounder fillet


Preheat oven to 375°F (200°C)

Thinly slice and gently brown the onion in a little olive oil in a small saucepan. Add the sliced zucchini. Cover and let steam, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is soft, about 10 minutes.

Bake the flounder in a small oven dish, drizzled with a little olive oil, for about 7 minutes.

Blend the zucchini and flounder in a food processor to the consistency of a soft mousse. Serve immediately or freeze for a few weeks.

%d bloggers like this: