Dairy, Gluten-free, Main dishes, Recipes

Buttermilk Pancakes

Until I started making buttermilk pancakes and sourdough pancakes from scratch, I really wasn’t all that fond of pancakes.  I’m sure I enjoyed them as a kid, because what kid doesn’t like pancakes?  But when my husband would make them for our kids, from pancake mix, they were always just so heavy and doughy, I didn’t really enjoy them.  I had to start making them from scratch to fall in love with pancakes again.

I love sourdough pancakes.  I like to make them on holidays when I’ve activated my sourdough starter to make sourdough rolls. But I don’t always have my sourdough batter activated and ready to go every time I want to make pancakes.  You either have to keep your sourdough always growing on the countertop (which I don’t), or you have to plan ahead and activate your refrigerated starter the night before so you can make pancakes the next morning (which I don’t).  And that’s why I love buttermilk pancakes, made with real buttermilk.  They are light and airy and tender, like sourdough pancakes, and they have a similar flavor.  And believe me, the flavor and texture of real buttermilk pancakes is nothing like the flavor and texture of a buttermilk pancake mix.

I make my own buttermilk now, so I always have it in the fridge. I usually only make 2 cups at a time, so I can use it up and keep making it fresh.  (Click the link to see how easy it is to make your own buttermilk.)  Also, my fridge is kind of small, so it helps with the space issue to keep just a pint jar going, and that’s enough for a big batch of pancakes, or a small batch of pancakes and a batch of biscuits.  (Yeah, real buttermilk biscuits are the bomb, too.) Because I always have buttermilk on hand, I don’t have to plan ahead to make delicious pancakes.

I have also used milk kefir in place of buttermilk with the same results.  I tried this because I had some kefir go a little alcoholic in the fridge when I was ill with the flu and unable to eat dairy.  I didn’t care to drink it when I got better, but I didn’t want to waste it.  The kefir made wonderful, light, fluffy pancakes, just like buttermilk, with no adjustments to the recipe.

I often make pancakes on the weekends.  I use a gluten-free, bean-based flour, and Dennis loves them.  He usually pours maple syrup on his.



I like to change it up.  Sometimes I like maple syrup, but I often will open a jar of my blackberry syrup or another fruit syrup I’ve made, or I’ll spread my pancakes with my old-fashioned, low-sugar, strawberry jam made with whole berries. (You can tell this picture was taken recently during the kitchen renovation, because of the paper plate and plastic fork!)



Or maybe I’ll pile them with apple butter or pumpkin butter and then drizzle them with maple syrup. Here’s a pic of one spread with apple butter and then rolled up like a blintz.  Then I coated it with maple syrup.





I like them in the summer with sliced fresh strawberries, or fresh raspberries or blueberries, or fresh peaches or nectarines, and whipped cream.  And if you add an extra egg and thin the batter out a bit with more buttermilk, you can use this batter for crepes as well.  Then you can fill them with sweetened cream cheese and fruit for blintzes.  Oh, my.  If you omit the sugar, you can use the crepes for a savory dish.  I’ll have to dig out my old recipe for chicken or turkey main dish crepes!

Here’s my gluten-free buttermilk pancake recipe for two (double the recipe for a family), and after that, I’ll share an old buttermilk pancake recipe that uses wheat flour.

Gluten-free Buttermilk Pancakes

Wet ingredients:

1 large egg

2 tablespoons melted butter or vegetable oil (I use grapeseed, olive, or avocado oil)

1 cup buttermilk or milk kefir (Regular milk can be used, but the flavor will be different. Omit baking soda if using milk, and increase baking powder to ¾ teaspoon.)

½ tsp. vanilla extract

Dry ingredients:

1 cup gluten-free baking flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill from bulk bins at Winco.)

1 Tbs. sugar (any kind, or can be omitted; I use coconut palm sugar)

½ tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. baking soda

¼ + pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum (can be omitted; I’ve forgotten it, and the pancakes still held together)

Mix dry ingredients.  Mix wet ingredients in separate bowl; mix wet ingredients into dry. Let batter rest and get bubbly for a few minutes before baking on a hot, greased griddle or skillet.



I spread the batter out a little bit with the spoon to get a neater circle and a thinner pancake, although obviously they are not always the same size!



I cook at just hotter than medium in a little butter (and I really do mean a little) so they brown nicely and don’t have to be buttered after cooking, which can make pancakes soggy.   Allow bubbles to form and break before trying to flip, and make sure the pancakes are fully set and browned on the bottom before you flip them.  Don’t crowd the pan or griddle like I always try to do at least once.

You can make about a dozen small pancakes or 6-8 medium sized ones from this amount of batter.  We usually have a couple left over that I save and reheat for a weekday breakfast.

Buttermilk Pancakes (with wheat flour)

Wet ingredients:

1 egg

1 ¼ cups buttermilk or soured milk* (or milk kefir)

2 tablespoons melted butter or vegetable oil

Dry ingredients:

1 ¼ cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

Beat egg.  Beat in buttermilk and melted butter.  Combine dry ingredients and beat into wet ingredients until batter is smooth.  Bake on hot, buttered griddle or skillet.  Flip when bubbles have formed but before they break.

*If you don’t have buttermilk or milk kefir, you can approximate the flavor and acidic action of these by souring milk.  To one cup of sweet milk, add 1 tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice.  Stir and let stand a few minutes to curdle.

Notice a few differences in techniques between these two recipes.  With gluten-free flours, you almost always mix the wet ingredients into the dry.  The gluten-free pancakes also need to cook a little longer before you flip them.  With wheat flour, it’s nearly always a case of mixing dry ingredients into wet.

If you’ve been eating pancakes made from a commercial mix, I hope you’ll try making buttermilk pancakes from scratch.  It really takes only a couple of minutes more to measure out the extra dry ingredients, and the taste and texture of the real thing is worth the tiny bit of extra time.


Dairy, Desserts, Gluten-free

Blackberry Sour Cream Custard Pie

I owe the inspiration for this pie to two people: my friend, Wes Reid, who brought me an Apple Sour Cream Custard Pie one day many years ago (his partner, Lori Farias, had baked it), and my friend, Tara Johnson, who mentioned in a Facebook post that she was making a blackberry cream pie. Lori’s apple pie recipe evolved into my Rhubarb Sour Cream Custard Pie last summer. Tara’s blackberry cream pie turned out to be a riff on the Pioneer Woman’s blackberry cheesecake squares. But Tara’s choice of words got me thinking. I had Loganberries (a thornless blackberry) still ripening. Hmmm . . . would a sour cream custard work with blackberries? How would the cinnamon streusel topping go with the blackberries? I had to give it a try.

For some reason, I had a brain freeze when I got out my 10” pie plate and rolled out my gluten-free pie dough. Duh . . . the recipe is for a 9” pie! So my pie turned out a bit thinner than it should have. You’ll see that in these pictures.





In a 9 inch crust, the custard layer would be thicker.  It is typical for the fruit (both rhubarb and blackberries) to float to the top of the custard as it bakes.  I made a few adjustments to the sour cream custard filling because although rhubarb is quite sour and releases a lot of water when it cooks, I’ve seen the juice that cooked blackberries release, and I had a feeling that they might water the custard down too much. Other than the goof with the pie crust size, the pie turned out perfectly! So here is the adjusted recipe, and I sure hope you still have some blackberries so you can try it. If not, you can use frozen blackberries, but thaw them and drain the juice off first. (Save it to drink—yummy—or make a syrup out of it to pour over some vanilla ice cream on top of the pie later!)

Blackberry Sour Cream Custard Pie

One 9-inch, uncooked pastry crust. See my gluten-free version if you like; I used some *homemade vanilla sugar in the crust for this pie.


1 ½-2 cups blackberries (if you rinse them, drain them really well before adding to pie crust)

3 Tablespoons flour* (see notes)

1 cup sugar + ¼ cup sugar (keep separate)

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 large or extra-large eggs (I used my chickens’ eggs, which are a bit small, so I used 3 eggs)

1 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Streusel topping (recipe below)

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Roll out pastry crust and place in 9 inch pie plate. Crimp edges as you prefer. Sprinkle blackberries on crust. Sprinkle 3-4 tablespoons of reserved ¼ cup of sugar over blackberries. (How much sugar you use depends on how sweet or tart your blackberries are. Taste them, so you can decide how much sugar you want to use.)

For custard filling: Mix the flour, 1 cup of sugar, and salt together. Beat eggs, add to sugar mixture along with sour cream and vanilla extract, and mix well. Pour over blackberries in crust.



Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 and bake an additional 30-35 minutes, or until custard is set in the center. While the pie is baking, prepare the topping.

Streusel Topping:

¼ cup softened butter (not melted)

1/3 cup flour* (see notes)

1/3 cup sugar* (see notes)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Optional: scrapings from 1 vanilla bean* (see notes)

Mix topping ingredients together to make a streusel, set aside.

When custard is set, remove pie from oven and increase temperature to 425 degrees. Gently sprinkle topping evenly over the pie.



Bake at 425 degrees for 8-10 minutes, or until topping is bubbly.



Remove pie from oven and cool thoroughly on a rack. You can eat this pie cooled, but it is best chilled with a dollop of fresh whipped cream on top. Store in fridge, covered.


*I bumped up the vanilla in this recipe in several ways: more vanilla extract than usual in the custard (and I used my homemade vanilla extract), vanilla sugar (scraped vanilla beans buried in a jar of white sugar) in the pie crust, and vanilla bean seeds in the topping. Why? Vanilla and blackberries go very well together! Vanilla adds the illusion of sweetness to a tart berry without adding more sugar.

*For the streusel topping, I used brown sugar this time, and I liked it with the blackberries. I have used white sugar and coconut palm sugar in previous versions of this pie (apple and rhubarb), and they all work quite well.

*I also used brown rice flour instead of all-purpose flour to keep it gluten-free.  I’ve discovered that brown rice flour is a perfectly acceptable substitute in all applications in this recipe (and many others).

I wish I’d been inspired to make this pie earlier in the summer, when blackberries were more plentiful. If you still have blackberries or can find them at a market, I hope you’ll give this pie a try.  My wild berries have been gone for a month, and the Loganberries are nearly done now, too. However, the sour cream custard idea is still inspiring me. Who knows where I’ll go with it next? I did can a whole lot of blueberries this summer . . . .



condiment, Dairy, Fermenting, Recipes, Side dishes

Homemade Buttermilk Ranch-Style Salad Dressing

My husband is addicted to ranch salad dressing. I like it too, but I don’t like all the extra junk they put in the stuff sold in stores: soybean oil, for instance. I stay away from soybeans because they are treated with glyphosate herbicides. So I’ve been working on a buttermilk ranch-style salad dressing that is made with the freshest, healthiest possible ingredients. These include homemade buttermilk, cultured at home and full of good probiotic organisims (make it from organic milk for best health), homemade mayonnaise (also made with healthier, higher grade oils than the commercially-produced mayos), and home-grown and dried herbs. Now, you can make this dressing with store-bought buttermilk, store-bought mayo, and store-bought herbs, and it’s still going to taste better and be better for you than any ranch dressing you buy in a store. I hope you’ll give this a try.

Homemade Buttermilk Ranch-Style Salad Dressing

3/4 cup homemade mayo *

¾ cup homemade buttermilk **

1 tablespoon homemade apple scrap vinegar ***

1 tablespoon dried tomato skin powder ****(optional—I’m always looking for new ways to use this)

¼ teaspoon hot smoked paprika (regular paprika may be used)

1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes

1-2 tablespoons dehydrated onion bits (ground in clean coffee grinder or spice grinder) or onion powder

1 teaspoon dried tarragon

½ teaspoon dried hyssop (I like this herb, it adds a sharper greenness than parsley, but it isn’t common, and can be omitted)

Pinch (or more) of dried thyme

¼-1/2 teaspoon sea salt (I used pink Himalayan salt)

¼-1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (I like freshly ground)

Start with the lesser amount of seasonings. Mix well in jar with tight lid. (You can see I used an old ranch salad dressing jar to make it easier for my husband to find it in the fridge. He’s a bit challenged when it comes to seeing what he’s looking for!)


Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. You may substitute other herbs, or use fresh herbs, but fresh herbs will lessen the storage life of your dressing. I use dried in the winter when we eat fewer salads, and fresh in the spring and summer when my herbs have greened up and my own lettuces are producing, and we go through the dressing in a week or two.  Fresh chives are delicious in this dressing when you have them.


Store in fridge. Keeps about 2 weeks in fridge, or longer, depending on the freshness of your buttermilk and mayonnaise. I’ve had it last over a month. It might separate, but you just shake it back together. Discard if the dressing becomes moldy.  That’s when you know the dressing has exceeded its shelf life!

Notes: *If you have not yet tried the easiest homemade mayo ever, please click here for the recipe. It is so good, and it also contains some probiotics if you use active culture yogurt and raw vinegar in it. If you use store-bought mayo, the dressing will still taste great.

**Making your own buttermilk is so easy. I love making it at home because I can make it the amounts I am likely to use. I used to buy it a quart at a time, and half of it would always go bad before I used it up. I hate wasting anything and discovered that I could freeze leftover buttermilk to use as a chicken marinade or in baking, but if it’s been frozen very long, the active cultures in it die, and then it can’t be used to make sour cream or more buttermilk, although I believe it’s still good for baking. (When you use buttermilk in baking, you need to add baking soda, which reacts with the acids in the buttermilk to make light, fluffy, baked goods).

So now I make my own buttermilk, about a cup at a time, which is perfect for making a batch of gluten-free buttermilk pancakes (recipe coming soon—so good!) or a jar of buttermilk ranch salad dressing, or cakes, biscuits, and other baked goods. To see how to make your own cultured, probiotic buttermilk as you need it, please click here.

***Those of you who follow this blog know that I make my own apple scrap vinegar. It is probiotic and tasty. If you’d like to try it yourself, click here.  You can make it on a small scale, in a half-gallon jar, which is how I started out. Now I have enough organic apple scraps from my apples to make it in 5 gallon buckets! But you can buy Bragg’s vinegar raw, or you can use any apple cider vinegar in this recipe.

****Also if you follow this blog, you’ve seen me write about saving my tomato skins when I make charred salsa, tomato-apple chutney, and Italian Red Sauce. I’ve found various ways to use them; please click on the links if you’re interested in new ways to use your dried tomato skins: pulled pork rub, braised and barbecued pork ribs. The tomato skins can be omitted from the ranch dressing recipe if you choose, but I like it.

I hope you enjoy this ranch dressing recipe enough to ditch the store-bought dressings with all the added ingredients that nobody needs to be ingesting. The bonus with this recipe is that you get some probiotics to boot! You really can’t beat that deal.


Beverages, condiment, Dairy, Desserts, Recipes, Side dishes

Making Buttermilk

Now, some of you might be asking, why would you want to do that? Well, buttermilk is probiotic. It’s a culture/ferment that uses lactobacilli to alter the chemistry of milk. I must confess, I do not drink the stuff, although my father loved it. One of his favorite snacks was a big glass of buttermilk poured over a bowl of cold, crumbled cornbread, with a couple of fresh green onions from the garden on the side. I never developed a taste for that dish, but I have learned that buttermilk in baked goods lends a lightness only rivaled by sourdough. And it is excellent in salad dressings, and as a marinade for chicken, so I’ve been told, though I’ve never done it. I’ve come to love the stuff, and I keep a small jar of it in my fridge at all times. I enjoy knowing I have something freshly probiotic to mix into a salad dressing, for instance. I’ll be sharing a couple of my favorite buttermilk recipes with you in future posts.

Making your own buttermilk is ridiculously easy. All you have to do is mix 1/3rd cup of cultured buttermilk from the store with 1 cup of fresh milk. Shake it up in jar with a good lid, let it sit at room temperature for 24 hours, and you’ll have buttermilk. On the left is the old jar, with what’s left of the buttermilk I made a couple of days ago, and on the right is the fresh batch that will be ready in 24 hours.


You’ll know it’s ready when you tilt the jar and the buttermilk pulls away from the side of the jar. It will be thick and viscous.


At this point, it will keep in the fridge for up to a month.

I’ve learned through experimentation that the more often you culture buttermilk, the tangier and thicker your buttermilk will become. Also, you can make buttermilk from milk of any fat content, but the more fat, the thicker the buttermilk tends to be. Buttermilk mixed into half and half or heavy cream will produce sour cream that is similar to crème fraiche. For that recipe, click here.  You can use this cultured cream just as you would any sour cream or crème fraiche, in dips, in baking, as a topping for baked potatoes or cheesecake!

Always save 1/3 cup of cultured buttermilk to mix with 1 cup of fresh milk for a new batch. Of course, you can double or triple these amounts, keeping the same proportions, if you wish to make a larger volume of buttermilk.

Check back with me in a few days for a recipe using fresh, homemade buttermilk.

Dairy, Desserts, Garden and Greenhouse, Gluten-free

Rhubarb Sour Cream Custard Pie

A recipe for Rhubarb Cream Pie was floating around Facebook a few weeks ago, and I shared it to my timeline. It reminded me of the Sour Cream Apple Pie recipe I was given years ago by my good friend, Wes Reid. Sour Cream Apple Pie has been a family favorite for many years, and if I were to forego making it for every holiday get-together, I would be in serious trouble.

A couple of weeks ago, I had rhubarb in the garden ready to pick, so I decided to try to adapt the Sour Cream ApplePie recipe, subbing in rhubarb and sour cream and a streusel topping, and see what happened. Oh, my goodness gracious, it might be even better than the Sour Cream Apple Pie. Dennis and I only got to eat one piece each before we had to catch the red-eye flight out to Denver, so my friend and neighbor, Yolanda, took it home with her when she came to water my plants. She said it was really good, too. With all that rhubarb in the garden, I thought I’d be making the pie again before I posted the recipe, so I didn’t take a picture of it.  But trust me, if you like rhubarb, and even if you think you don’t, you’ll want to try this recipe.

So here it is, and you’ll only find the recipe here, my friends: Rhubarb Sour Cream Custard Pie.  It can be made with gluten-free flours and lower-glycemic sweeteners as well.  You’ll need an unbaked pie crust to put it in. My recipe for gluten-free pie crust is linked at the end of the post.  Or use your favorite pastry crust recipe, or really streamline your pie baking and buy a crust.  I did it myself during the busy  years!

Custard Filling:
1 1/2 cups fresh rhubarb, diced
2 tablespoons flour*1/8 teaspoon salt
2 eggs (beaten)
1 cup sugar
1 cup sour cream**

In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients except rhubarb. Put rhubarb in unbaked 9” pie shell and pour mixture over the rhubarb. Bake in 400 degree oven for 15 min., then reduce heat to 350 and bake for additional 30 min.

While custard is baking, mix the topping:

Streusel Topping:

1/3 cup sugar***

1/3 cup flour*

1 tsp. cinnamon

¼ cup softened butter

Mix well and sprinkle over pie at end of first cooking period. Return to oven at 400-425 degrees and bake for ten minutes to form streusel crust on top of custard. Cool completely before cutting. Store in fridge.


*I used brown rice flour in the custard filling and in the topping. It worked just fine to thicken up the custard and to crisp the streusel topping. If you are gluten-free, brown rice flour is a pretty good substitute for wheat flour for all kinds of applications. (Maybe I need to write a post about that!)

**I used homemade sour cream when I made this pie. Follow the link for the directions for making homemade sour cream.

***I also used coconut palm sugar this time instead of white sugar in the streusel topping because I wanted to see how it would taste and work in that application. It was fine. I did not use coconut palm sugar in the custard filling because rhubarb is so tart, I was afraid the coconut palm sugar would not be sweet enough. When I get home and can experiment some more, I’ll try it in the custard filling also, just to see. Sugar is sugar, whether you use more or less, but if I can use organic and less, I will, and I got a smoking deal on organic coconut palm sugar at Grocery Outlet not too long ago, so I have plenty with which to experiment.

The Sour Cream Apple Pie recipe is on my Thanksgiving post, so I’ll link it for you here in case you want to try that pie as well. Also linked is my gluten-free pie crust recipe, made with gluten-free flour from WinCo’s bulk foods section, which I have recently learned is probably from Bob’s Red Mill. I have been using bagged Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free baking flour here in Denver, and it is identical to what I buy in bulk at WinCo. although twice the price.  Buy bulk if you can.

Happy pie baking! Use that rhubarb while it’s fresh. It’s good for you.

7/28/15:  I finally remembered to get a picture of this pie for this post, but before I could, a piece was already gone!  Yeah, it’s that good.



Dairy, Fermenting, Recipes, Side dishes

Coleslaw Dressing with Yogurt

As some of you know, I’m away from my garden for a few weeks because of a family emergency. I have had to entrust the garden and greenhouse to the care of family members and neighbors at a critical time, but I appreciate their efforts to keep everything alive for me. I have no idea what I’ll find when I get back home at the end of the month, but I’ll be grateful for whatever survives. In the meantime, I thought I’d share a recipe with you.

In a recent post about making homemade yogurt, I alluded to a recipe for coleslaw dressing that has become a family favorite. I made coleslaw for a picnic in the park yesterday here in Denver and received many compliments, even though I wasn’t able to make the dressing with my homemade yogurt, which I think makes it even better.

The ingredients for the dressing can be mixed up days in advance, but I like to mix the dressing into the shredded cabbage shortly before serving, so it doesn’t get too watery.  I will say, however, that this dressing won’t make your cabbage go limp if you mix it up the day before. I had to do that for this picnic, and while the dressing did pull some water out of the cabbage, it was still crisp and the coleslaw was tasty.

Very few people shred their own cabbage these days when packaged coleslaw mix is so readily available at the store. I rarely shred a whole cabbage any more, either (although I did for the picnic on Saturday), unless I have one fresh from the garden. The food processor makes this less of a chore, but slicing can also be done with a sharp knife. The key is to get the cabbage into thin shreds. You always want to slice (both with the knife and the processor), not chop. Chopping bruises the cabbage and will cause it to release more water, thus making your coleslaw more at risk for decreased flavor and limp texture.

This recipe makes enough to dress about half a medium-sized, shredded cabbage and about 3 medium carrots, also shredded, or one large bag of pre-shredded coleslaw mix from the store. I always add 2-4 tablespoons of minced white or red onion to the cabbage and carrot mix before dressing. Too much onion will overpower the slaw, so be careful with it, but it’s a necessary addition to colelsaw in my opinion.

Coleslaw Dressing

(makes about 1 cup)

½ cup mayonnaise

½ cup plain yogurt*

2-3 tablespoons of sugar**

2-3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (I use my homemade apple vinegar for more probiotics)

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper


Mix thoroughly, until dressing is creamy and smooth. It should taste a little sweet but tangy. Toss with shredded cabbage, carrots, and minced onion until well mixed. Serve immediately or within 24 hrs. (It will get watery the longer it sits, but leftovers are good!)


*I think homemade yogurt really is best, and my son agrees with me, but any good quality plain yogurt will do. Greek yogurt will make a thicker dressing because the whey has been strained out of it. Why is homemade yogurt better? It’s tangier, and it contains more probiotics, which incidentally, aid in the digestion of the cabbage.

**You can substitute a different sweetener if you like. Honey or agave syrup would be fine. I have used both powdered and liquid Stevia and Splenda. Start with small amounts and taste as you go. For liquid Stevia, I recommend starting with about ¼ teaspoon and adding drop by drop to reach desired sweetness.

I don’t have my camera with me, so I wasn’t able to take a picture of the coleslaw I made on Friday night, but hey, you know what coleslaw looks like. You also know how a good, traditional coleslaw should taste: tangy, a little sweet, a little bite from the onion, and some good crunch from the cabbage and carrots. It’s a favorite salad with our family (my son says he’d be in heaven if he had a lifetime supply of the stuff always in his fridge). I especially like it as a side dish with oven-fried chicken, barbecued spareribs, or pulled pork. Follow the links for my recipes for those dishes in the archives.

Dairy, Fermenting

Homemade Yogurt

This is another installment in the “Fun with Dairy” series.  I’ve made yogurt at home for years.   Homemade yogurt is so much better than its store-bought counterpart, it’s astonishing. You can find any number of directions on the internet for making yogurt at home, and because of that, I’ve resisted blogging about making yogurt. But because so many people ask me how I do it, and because not all methods of making homemade yogurt are good ones, and because I’ve found a method that works without fail for me, I’ve decided to share it.

First, here’s what you need to make homemade yogurt:

Two pots, one large enough to hold the other, and the top one, the one you’ll cook the milk in, should be non-reactive (stainless steel, glass, enamel or porcelain-coated)

A candy thermometer (not strictly necessary but helpful)

A stainless steel spoon (don’t use wooden or silver spoons)

1-2 quarts of milk

1-2 tablespoons of plain, active-culture yogurt

Making yogurt isn’t difficult, but there are some important things to know. I’ve only had one failure in years of making it at home, and that one time was because my stove hood was dirty; the steam from the water jacket condensed on it, and a drop of dirty water fell into the milk.  That batch never thickened, and that little lesson taught me just how fragile lacto bacilli actually are. They do not like competition from other bacteria! (It also taught me to clean my stove hood before a yogurt-making session.) I’ve read about making yogurt in a crock pot.  I cook meat in my crock pot—and remember, lacto bacilli do not like competition from other bacteria.  It would be difficult and much more time consuming to sterilize the crock pot vessel than to use two separate pots.   I once tried making it on the stove without the water jacket, and the milk had a tendency to scorch before it got hot enough unless it was stirred constantly. So here’s the water jacket method I use, and it’s actually pretty easy. You can walk away from it and do other things while the milk is heating, and it will never scorch.

I fill my 13 quart stockpot 3/4 full with hot water, and start it heating on high. I invert my 6 quart stainless steel soup pot over that, stick my stainless steel spoon and candy thermometer into the boiling water, and let it boil for 10 minutes to sterilize the inverted pan and utensils.


Then I turn the top pan, draining the condensed steam out of it, and put it into the bottom pan, so I have a big double boiler. The thermometer and spoon go in the top pan along with 1 or 2 quarts of milk, depending on how big a batch of yogurt you want to make.  Milk of any fat content can be used, although more fat produces a thicker, creamier yogurt. I usually use 1% milk.

Then, with the large pot underneath boiling, the milk heats in the top pan. Stir and skim off the milk skin occasionally, until the milk reaches a temperature of 170-185 degrees. I live at altitude, so the best I can ever do is 180 in a water jacket set-up. This heating kills off any bacteria left in the milk that would interfere with the lactobacillus reproduction. I think this is less important with store-bought pasteurized milk, but I always do it anyway. (If you don’t have a candy thermometer, and have no plans to buy one, you want to heat the milk until it is very frothy.)

Then, the milk has to cool down to 110 degrees. It’s very important that the milk be cool enough when the yogurt culture is added, or the l. bacilli will die. It is also important that the milk be warm enough to wake up the yogurt culture. It’s kind of like Baby Bear’s porridge: it has to be just right. You can place the pan containing the milk into a bowl of cold water to hasten the cooling process if you’re in a hurry, but keep monitoring it, or it will cool too much and have to be reheated. I put mine on the cold marble slab in my kitchen and keep scooting the pan around on the slab to find another cool spot after 5 minutes or so. (Usually, I’m loading or unloading the dishwasher while I’m waiting for the milk to cool, so no time wasted there.) I’ve made yogurt without a thermometer, and I learned that the right temperature is just a little warmer than blood heat. If you’ve ever seen or heard of testing a baby’s bottled milk on your wrist to see if it’s the right temperature, this is the same thing. Just dribble a little of the milk on your wrist. For babies, the milk should feel neither cold or hot—that’s blood heat, about 98 degrees. For yogurt, the milk should feel warm, but not hot on your wrist. That should be about 110 degrees.

For the starter, use only plain, active-culture yogurt. It can’t have sugar or pectin or anything in it except milk or cream, and active l.bacillus cultures, but again, any level or percentage of fat in the starter yogurt is fine. I often use non-fat yogurt as my starter when I need a new culture.   Use 1 tablespoon yogurt as starter to each quart of milk.

Gently stir the yogurt into the heated and cooled milk, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and put the pan in a warm, cozy place to culture for 8-24 hours. Don’t move it or stir it while it is culturing. 8 hours will create a yogurt that firms up when cooled in the fridge, but a 24 hr. culturing period eliminates virtually all of the lactose in the milk because those beneficial critters eat it all up.

Some attention to the various ways to keep yogurt warm enough while it is culturing is in order here. A temperature of about 80 degrees is ideal. Some people put their yogurt in a warmed oven which is then turned off, but the light is left on.  Some folks with gas ovens say the pilot keeps the oven warm enough.  Others use heating pads (you have to have an old-fashioned one that doesn’t have an auto shut-off for this to work, and let’s face it, they’re a fire hazard), and still others are able to use the top of the fridge, which is usually warm. If the house is warm enough, the yogurt may be fine on the countertop.

My house tends to be cool, so I’ve worked out a couple of different methods that work for me at different times of the year. In the winter, when the heating stove is on, I park the pan, covered with its tight-fitting lid, on the slate hearth. In the summer, when the cooler is running, I put the pan in my laundry room (which doesn’t get any cool air from the swamp cooler) and stash it on top of or next to the big freezer, which pumps out a lot of heat. In the spring and fall when the laundry room is too cold or the heating stove is not yet in use, I use a drinks cooler. This is an easy method that can be used all year round. A portable cooler will keep heat or cold in, as required. In this case, we want to keep in heat. I fill the empty milk carton with the hot water from the big pan (the water jacket), stash it in the cooler next to the covered pan of yogurt and close the lid.  24 hours later: yogurt. No muss, no fuss.

When the yogurt has finished culturing  (it should be fairly solid, other than a bit of whey on top, when you tilt the pan), whisk the finished yogurt to smooth it out, then pour or dip it into clean containers, and chill in the fridge. Don’t worry if the yogurt seems thin after whisking. It thickens again as it cools. For Greek-style yogurt, you can drain it right away through a cheesecloth-lined colander if you wish, or cool it and drain it later. If you drain it long enough, you’ll end up with a yogurt cheese, a soft, spreadable cheese reminiscent of goat cheese, which can be served on crackers plain or flavored with herbs and other additions.

As the yogurt sits in the containers, whey rises to the top. This should just be stirred back into the yogurt unless the whey is desired for a different fermenting project. Always save a couple of tablespoons of yogurt for the next batch. The yogurt shouldn’t be more than a month old before it’s used for a new batch, or the lacto bacilli might die. If a batch of yogurt is too thin after chilling, it’s time to buy a new container of plain, active-culture yogurt at the store for a new starter. I do this about every 3-6 months. I guess the critters just get tired.

I am never without homemade yogurt in my fridge. We’re hearing a lot about probiotics these days and the health benefits of a strong immune system that’s boosted by probiotics. Homemade yogurt is probiotic, but more than that, it’s delicious.

I eat a small bowl of homemade yogurt every night. I usually mix a spoonful of one of my low-sugar jams (raspberry, peach, apricot, strawberry, nectarine, and various other combinations) into my yogurt, but my favorite thing to mix into it is homemade lemon curd. Tart, slightly sweet, creamy, lemony goodness. It’s dessert that’s good for you.


But I also do a lot of other things with my homemade yogurt. I use it in my coleslaw dressing, in my sourdough starter, as a replacement for sour cream if I’m out, in clafoutis (a wonderful French country dessert), in dips or as a spreadable cheese, and in many other dishes. At some point, I’ll pass along those recipes, but for now, I hope this post has given you the impetus to try making something really good for you at home. And just so you know, if the yogurt fails to culture for some reason, you can still make ricotta out of the milk, so nothing is wasted.




Making Ricotta Cheese

This is another installment in my Fun with Dairy series, and it was sparked by my friend, Gretchen, who wanted to learn to make ricotta.  This past week, Gretchen came over to help Dennis and me prune our fruit trees, and we spent 20 minutes in the kitchen, making cheese out of some sour milk I had in the fridge, before going out to work on our poor little trees which have never had any real pruning done to them. They were in sorry shape. Gretchen just shook her head and said, “Oh, my,” each time we moved on to a different tree.


As we started on the cheese, Gretchen confessed to me that friends of hers were dismayed by the fact we were going to use sour milk. I used to throw sour milk away too, if I couldn’t use it all for pancakes or biscuits before it got chunky and nasty. Then I learned to make ricotta. I call this ricotta, but technically, it’s not, since true ricotta is made from whey leftover from hard cheese-making; thus, its name in Italian means “re-cooked.” The milk for this cheese is only cooked once, although I have been known to cook it twice if for some reason I thought not enough of the curds had separated from the whey first time around. This mainly happens when I use full fat milk and add heavy cream or half and half to it, which I do when they go sour on me!

You can use milk of any fat content, although I don’t recommend using fat-free milk. You don’t get much out of it. The higher the fat content, the more cheese you’re going to get. Since we usually use 1% milk in the house, that’s what my ricotta is usually made of, although sometimes I will buy milk with a higher fat percentage for various reasons and end up using it to make cheese. I always mark the fat content of the cheese on the container when I stash it in fridge or freezer, so I know which dishes I want to use it in. I like to use the lower fat cheese in my lasagna, because there is also mozzarella in it, another source of fat.

The milk/half & half/cream does not have to be sour. You can make the cheese with fresh milk. But surprisingly, after the cheese is made from sour milk, it doesn’t taste sour. I think Gretchen might have been a little skeptical about this, but I proved it to her when we tasted our final product. Perhaps it is the addition of the acid which changes the flavor, or perhaps it is the separation of fat and protein from the whey. I don’t know, but I know it works! Here’s how to do it.

First, you need a large, heavy-bottomed pot or pan, a colander or strainer that will sit up over a bowl large enough to hold two quarts of liquid, and some cheesecloth or other clean fabric that will allow liquids to pass through but will hold onto solids. (I use an old, fine-cotton pillowcase that I have dedicated only for straining cheese and yogurt.) You’ll also need a container to keep the cheese in, and a container for the whey, if you wish to save it for baking. The whey can be added to breads, quick breads, cakes, etc. in place of water, or added to smoothies. It still contains some protein.

Before you begin to cook the milk, rinse the cheesecloth in hot water and squeeze it out. Then line the colander or strainer with the cloth and place it over the large bowl. Squeeze 1 or 2 lemons, enough to make 3 tablespoons of juice, and strain out any seeds. (White wine vinegar or rice vinegar, unflavored, can be substituted for the lemon juice if lemons are not in season.) I recommend doing this prep work before you start heating the milk, so you don’t get distracted and let the milk scorch.

Place the milk (with any cream-type additions you want to make) in the pan or pot. To two quarts of milk, add 1 teaspoon kosher salt. (Cut down the amount of salt and lemon juice or vinegar proportionately if you have less milk). Turn the burner on medium to medium-high, and stir the milk with a wooden spoon. Stir frequently to prevent the milk from sticking and scorching on the bottom. It’s best to babysit the milk fairly closely. A bit of sticking isn’t a problem, but if the milk scorches (that is, if you start scraping black fragments up from the bottom of the pan), it will ruin the cheese. I am a champion multi-tasker in the kitchen, but this is one preparation that can go south on you pretty quickly if you step away while it’s cooking. Yes, I learned this the hard way!

Bring the milk to a full, rolling boil, stirring continuously once it really starts to heat up. Drizzle in the lemon juice or vinegar, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the white curds separate from the yellowish whey. The lower the fat content of your milk, the smaller the curds will be, and the higher the fat content, the larger the curds. It may not look like you have much cheese until you strain it, and then you’ll be surprised.

You only need to cook the mixture until you can clearly see the separation of curds and whey, and this usually only takes 3-5 minutes after the addition of the acid, whether lemon juice or vinegar, or a combination of the two. I combine lemon juice and vinegar frequently when I have not quite enough juice from one lemon and don’t want to cut another just for a teaspoon or so of juice. In this case, I’ll add a teaspoon of rice vinegar or white wine vinegar to make up the difference. I have even added a teaspoon of bottled lemon juice.

At this point, I will add a caution. You can use bottled, reconstituted lemon juice for this instead of fresh lemon juice, but you may find, as I have, that it takes more bottled juice to separate the curds from the whey. I think this is because when you squeeze a fresh lemon, you’re getting some of the oils from the peel into the juice, and this bumps up the acidity level. I have tried my homemade apple scrap vinegar as well, and it was not acidic enough. I had to add rice vinegar that time to get the curds to separate.

When the curds have separated from the whey (and the whey will look yellowish but still a little milky), carefully pour off the mixture into the cloth-lined colander or strainer. If your bowl isn’t big enough, you may have to pour off some of the whey that drains through right away. Be careful and watch out for tipping and spillage. (You can tell by my cautions what kinds of accidents I’ve had, right?)

It only takes a few minutes for the whey to drain away from the curds if you have the right cloth in your strainer. The longer you leave the cheese to drain, the harder and more solid it will become. I have gone on to other things and left my cheese to drain several hours, and it becomes a brick! 10-20 minutes is about right to get a nice, soft, spreadable cheese, if you wish to flavor it with herbs, lemon zest, and garlic and spread it on crackers or crostini. If you let the cheese drain too long and it gets too hard and dry, you can always mix a bit of whey back into it to get it to the consistency you want. Let it cool to room temperature, and then put it in an airtight container. It can then be stashed in the fridge for immediate eating (it’ll keep a week) or in the freezer for future use. The whey also can be refrigerated for a week or longer (throw it out if it gets moldy) or frozen. Some people also dehydrate whey for protein powders, but I have not tried this. Remember that this whey is acidic and contains some salt, so that take that into account if you decide to bake with it or use it in smoothies.

I mostly use my homemade ricotta for making my Roasted Eggplant Lasagna, which is my all-time favorite Italian comfort food. In this recipe, the ricotta is mixed with eggs and parmesan cheese to create that creamy, thick layer in the lasagna, so I often let my ricotta drain past the spreadable stage, so there is less moisture in the lasagna.  However you use your ricotta, I promise you, you’ll enjoy it. Just ask Gretchen. She’s the one holding the cheese in the picture below.

Thanks to Gretchen, our fruit trees look a whole lot better now too!  I am hopeful that those poor, neglected trees down in the back will take heart and begin to be more productive as they get healthier.  As for the little pie apple tree in the garden, while it might not bear quite as many apples this year, I’m betting the apples will be larger and the tree will maybe even start to straighten up now that it’s been pruned.  I’m looking forward once again to apple pies, applesauce, and apple butter in the fall.  And it hasn’t even bloomed yet!


condiment, Dairy, Fermenting, Main dishes

Fun with Dairy: Homemade Sour Cream

This is the first part of a series I’m calling “Fun with Dairy.”  Part I:  Sour Cream.  I’ve discovered how to make sour cream, and I’m so enchanted with it, I have to share it with you.  In addition, I’ve made yogurt and ricotta cheese at home for years, and while I’ve resisted blogging about it thus far because there are plenty of instructions for making these things already on the internet, I’ve come to realize that not all of them are good instructions.  Sometimes those recipes are poorly written, and sometimes, there’s just a better way to do it, and sometimes, a combination of methods works better.  So, in future posts, I’ll deal with making yogurt, the foolproof way I’ve been making it for years, and ricotta cheese, which I make for my roasted eggplant lasagna.  There will be other “Fun with Dairy” posts in the future, but first, sour cream.  And as a bonus, at the end of this post is a recipe you can make with your delicious homemade sour cream.

I love sour cream, smooth and tangy.  I like to make veggie dips with it, and chip dips, and you cannot make stroganoff (see recipe below) without it.  And surprisingly, sour cream is ridiculously easy to make.

You only need three things to make sour cream at home:  a clean jar with a lid, some heavy (whipping) cream or half and half, and some buttermilk (cultured).  Oh, and a place on the counter to let the cream culture for a day or so.  Here’s how you do it.

Measure 1 cup of heavy whipping cream (or for lighter sour cream, less fat, 1 cup of half & half) into your clean jar.  Add ¼ cup of cultured buttermilk.  Put on the lid and tighten it.  Shake vigorously to incorporate the buttermilk into the cream or half & half.  Set the jar on your kitchen counter in plain sight where you won’t forget about it.  Wait 18-24 hours.  Open lid on jar.  The cream should have thickened enough to sit up on a spoon.  Taste it.  If it isn’t sour enough, you can leave it a few more hours, no more than 36 hours altogether.  Store in fridge.

Leftover buttermilk, which typically comes in quarts, can be portioned into smaller containers and frozen You can also make buttermilk salad dressing, the original ranch, which will probably be the subject of another post.  And if you add some cultured buttermilk to regular milk, you’ll get more buttermilk.  You’ll never have to buy buttermilk again.  More about that in another post.

After cooling in the fridge, the sour cream will thicken enough to actually mound on a spoon.  The lighter version made with half & half is as thick, and actually tastes more like commercial sour cream, as that made with heavy cream, which is richer-tasting.  Either version is good to use for a dip or anything else you’d use sour cream for (as a topping on burritos, nachos, or enchiladas, for example, or cheesecake).  In the pictures below, the photo on the left is of sour cream made with heavy whipping cream (you can see that it is yellower in the jar) and the photos in middle and on right are of light sour cream made with half & half and previously frozen buttermilk.


Recently, I used my homemade sour cream in some stroganoff.  Stroganoff is typically made with beef, but I used . . . yeah, you guessed it, bear.  If you haven’t made stroganoff in a while, or if you’ve never made it, it’s time to give this old standard another look.  But don’t make the imitation stuff with canned mushroom soup, please.  I have no doubt homemade sour cream would improve the taste, but do use fresh mushrooms.  This homemade sour cream (the heavy cream version) gave the sauce a rich, tangy flavor that the Mighty Bear Hunter and I really enjoyed.

Here’s an easy recipe made with an economy cut of beef:  round steak.  You can also use stew meat, you just have to cook it a little longer to get it tender.  Can you use other red meats besides beef?  If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know the answer is yes!  You can use venison, antelope, lamb, bison, elk, and, I imagine, moose (although that’s one meat I have yet to try.)


Beef Stroganoff

1 ½ lbs. round steak or stew meat, cut against the grain into 1/8 inch slices

3 tablespoons olive oil or butter

1 ½ cups beef or roasted vegetable stock

2 tablespoons ketchup (or 2 tablespoons ground dried tomato skins)

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon salt

8 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced (any small variety will do)

3 tablespoons flour (if you’re gluten-free like me, you can use brown rice flour)

1 cup sour cream

Heat oil or butter (or combination thereof) in 10 skillet over medium-high heat.  Saute mushrooms and onions for about 5 minutes.  Remove from pan, reserve.  Add another tablespoon of oil or butter if needed, brown meat strips, add garlic, cook for about 30 seconds.  Don’t let the garlic burn!  Add 1 cup stock, stirring to get the browned bits off the bottom of the pan, add the mushrooms and onions and their liquid, and the ketchup or dried tomato skin powder,and  heat to boiling.  Reduce heat, cover with tight-fitting lid, and simmer until meat is tender, 1-1 ½ hours.

When meat is tender, shake reserved stock with flour in a lidded jar until well-mixed, stir gradually into simmering meat mixture.  Bring to boil, cook for one minute, then stir in sour cream, heat through but do not let it boil!  Take off heat, serve over cooked, hot egg noodles (3-4 cups).  Traditionally, hot egg noodles are tossed with a tablespoon of butter and sprinkled with 1 teaspoon poppy seeds (try chia seeds for more Omega-3 fatty acids) before serving.  Makes about 6 servings.