Soy Yogurt

I’ve been on a journey for a while now, and it’s really not over yet.  Ever since I got married (32 years ago today!) and we decided to become vegetarian for our health’s sake, I’ve been reading books and learning everything I can about health.  With the internet, things got easier to find.  I love learning new things and I marvel at how well the Creator made us, giving us just the right food to help us live well.

Recently, I’ve been learning about how probiotics and cultured foods benefit us.  I won’t bore you with the details here.  Instead, I’d encourage you to dig into the research for yourself!  There are a lot of kinds of cultured foods out there, from sauerkraut to pickles (not the vinegar ones on the grocery shelves) to kimchee!  It’s easy to choose a favorite one to eat often.

I bought and tried cultured pickles.  They are STRONG.  I can eat them occasionally, but they aren’t something that I’m going to enjoy eating every day.  (And your best bet for getting a healthier flora in your gut is to partake of cultured foods at least daily.)

If you don’t make your own cultured foods at home, then they are pretty pricey in the markets.  I looked into making sauerkraut with wonderful jars that keep the smell from permeating your kitchen.  It looked like a really good way to make fermented foods myself, however, my favorite way of eating sauerkraut involves heating it…and that destroys the good bacteria.  Rats.  I still might make some of my own, but it won’t be my source of the healthy “bugs.”

If the sauerkraut was out, and the pickles weren’t favorites enough to eat daily (and my family wouldn’t even touch them, btw), then I needed to figure something else out.  As I googled “cultured foods” I found the answer.  Yogurt.  I love the stuff…at least most of the non-dairy ones I’ve had.  Unfortunately, it, too, is fairly expensive to buy ready made ~ and full of all kinds of stuff.  Carageenan (which I’ve recently learned isn’t that good for us), tons of sugar, and other tidbits that our bodies really don’t need.  So, back to the computer I went to see about making it myself.

I found tons of recipes, but most of them called for yogurt making machines, which I didn’t want to sink money into until I knew if this process was even going to work!  Then I found the best site yet ~ that I can’t find now to share with you, sorry! ~ one that told many different ways to ferment yogurt without the expensive investment.  This is the second best site that gave different ways to try, but doesn’t actually include the one I’m going to share with you here.

One of the challenges of making your own yogurt is beginning one with the proper culture.  Some recipes call for using probiotic capsules opened into it, but that didn’t feel very authentic to me.  Others said you needed specific starter kits from a health food store, but that they don’t work to re-use your own yogurt to make your next batch.  Instead, you’d need to buy a starter kit again!  What?  Not sustainable?  Next!  I chose the option of buying a non-dairy yogurt at the store and using it to culture my soy milk.  I chose a coconut yogurt that had 6 different bacteria listed on the label.  I figure if I’m going to repopulate my insides, I want the best amount I can get.  My first attempts were actually pretty poor, because I hadn’t found the best way to incubate it ~ I either didn’t keep it warm enough, or killed it with too warm of a spot, so I had to buy more packaged yogurt.  I again started with the 6-bacteria coconut version.  This time it worked!  Yay!  The next time, I used half of a tablespoon of my successful yogurt (with the 6 bacteria) AND half of a tablespoon from Almond Dream yogurt that contains 7 bacteria ~ a couple of which were different from the ones in my coconut yogurt!  I get the best bunch of probiotics going with so many different kinds.  And the more batches that I’ve made, the thicker the yogurt has gotten.

When you make yogurt like this, you must be patient.  (Not my strong suit.)  There are things that you must do to make it work correctly.  Believe me, because I tried the shortcuts that I thought would work.  Nope.  Stick to the “rules.”  For instance, the milk must be heated to 180° even though you have to cool it back down to 110°.  Why?  Because it changes the way the proteins line up with each other so that the bacteria can thicken it.  Otherwise, you get cultured milk….sorta.  (It was very disappointing, but I didn’t waste it.  We had it in our smoothies.)

Okay, here is the recipe.  If you have any questions about “why” something needs to be done, ask me.  I won’t bore everyone else with the details here.  :)

Soy Yogurt

Equipment you will need:Soy yogurt equipment

  • a thermos that will hold at least 4 1/2 cups.  (I wish mine was large-mouthed to make clean up easier.  If yours is small-mouthed, get a bottle brush with which to wash it out.)
  • an instant-read digital thermometer, or one that can latch onto a small saucepan so that you get a constant reading.
  • a small 1-qt. saucepan (mine has a cute little spout on each side to make pouring into the thermos a snap!)

Ingredients:

  • 4 c. unsweetened soy milk with nothing other than soybeans and water (the other kinds sort of work, but this type thickens much better.  Trader Joe’s has it in an aseptic package, as does Eden, I believe.)
  • 1 T. evaporated cane juice crystals or sugar (I’ve read that maple syrup doesn’t work, but haven’t personally tried it, and honey is antibacterial, so it will kill off the bacteria you are trying to feed.  I don’t know about agave.)
  • 1 T. room temperature packaged non-dairy yogurt, or some from your last batch.  Even if you forget to save a little before you eat it all, you can scrape out the dregs from the serving/storage bowl and use those.  It doesn’t take too much, actually!

Take your yogurt culture out of the frig to allow it to come to room temperature while you continue with the recipe.  Heat the milk in the small saucepan to 180°.  If you have used unsweetened milk with no thickeners, you won’t need to stir it, even on high heat.  (I have a ceramic stove top that doesn’t get as hot as gas or some electric stoves, though.)  If you bought a soy milk with other things in it, you’ll need to keep the heat on medium so that it doesn’t stick, and you’ll need to stir it.  At first, you can walk away for a while and just check on the milk occasionally, but once it reaches about 145-150°, you’ll want to stay right there, because it rapidly gets to the target temp.  Remove from heat once it has reached 180°, stir in the sugar, and cool in the pan until it is between 105-110°.  (If you are in a hurry, you can set the pan on a wet towel, or in a sink with cold water in it.)  Once it’s cooled, stir a little of the milk into your yogurt starter until smooth, and then stir a little more to it.  Pour the starter culture mixture into the pan of milk and stir it well.  Pour it into the thermos and screw the lid on tight.  Set it aside for several hours.

When you think of it as you walk through the kitchen, uncap the thermos to allow any built-up pressure from the bacteria growing to escape.  (Sometimes I forget, though.  Then it does whoosh a bit when I open it at the end!)  Just don’t jiggle it around a lot as it’s fermenting, as it seems to dislike that.  After about 6 hours, check to see if it is thickening by opening it and gently tilting the thermos.  If it is thick, you are ready!  The longer you leave it, the stronger the flavor becomes ~ and to a certain extent, the thicker it gets.

Pour it into a glass storage container and cover.  If it isn’t as thick as you’d like, leave it to cool on the counter for an hour or two before refrigerating.  Once it is cold, it will thicken a little more.  Now you can stir in extra sweetener, mashed fruit, jam, or whatever you’d like to flavor it.  It works great as is in smoothies!

Creamy Sweet Rice Salad (formerly known as Rosa Marina Salad)

I promised a short series on breakfasts several months ago…and then I dropped off the face of the planet again.  Sorry.  Life has changed once again and I should be posting more often now.

Preparing fun breakfasts has kinda dropped off around here, too.  I loved eating them, perhaps too much, because I gained weight!  Eating great breakfasts was supposed to help balance the rest of the day and help me eat less, but, apparently, I just love food so much that it didn’t work that way for me.  So, I’ve gone back to a nutrient-packed green smoothie most mornings and save the special breakfasts for special treats.

Rosa MarinaThis salad certainly works for a breakfast treat, or for a healthy dessert!  My preparation of it has changed over the years.  When I first made it, we were vegetarian, but not necessarily healthy ones ~ and it contained eggs, Cool Whip, white sugar, maraschino cherries….obviously, things were going to have to change in the salad when we became vegan and also gave up so many chemicals in our foods!  I finally nailed a tasty version of the salad without maraschino cherries (one of my childhood favorites.)  It still did contain the very small pasta called rosa marina or orzo, which helped the dressing to firm up into a nice, thick creamy dream.

Then…dun, dun, dun…enter gluten issues for me.  This salad was just one of the many casualties of my new way of eating.  It broke my heart (all of the situation, not just losing this salad.)  I tried and tried to come up with suitable replacements, but everything I replaced just failed.  Quinoa was too chewy; long-grained rice’s texture was off; the creamy dressing never set up.  It was very disappointing.  And my family was starting to make disparaging comments about the versions I created, because nothing was as good to them as the orzo!  (Never mind that white flour pasta isn’t good for you and nobody seems to make whole grain orzo.)

This time, I succeeded.  I adjusted the dressing to have less liquid.  I used short grain brown rice to give a better texture and since it is somewhat sticky, it allowed the creamy dressing to thicken properly.  Granted, my family still is a little on the fence about it, because they remember the pasta version and textures are a big deal to them.  Personally, I love it and am so happy to have it back in my life that I fix it despite their opinions.

I’ve been known to add sliced strawberries, fresh or frozen cherries, or blueberries to change things up a bit ~ although they can really change the color of the cream.  (I can guarantee the whole salad to myself this way, because of my fussy eaters, so adding it to individual bowls may work better.)  I have also been toying with the idea of using fresh pineapple, but I’m wondering if that would curdle the cream.  Let me know what adaptations you come up with to try!

Creamy Sweet Rice Salad

  • 1 c. short brown rice
  • 3/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 3/4 c. water (or according to rice package)
  • 2 20-oz cans unsweetened pineapple tidbits, drained (reserve 1 c. of the juice!)
  • 3 11-oz. cans of mandarin orange segments, drained (do NOT reserve the liquid)
  • 1 12-oz pkg. Morinu extra-firm tofu
  • 3/4 c. raw cashews (soak these for 4 hours or so if you don’t have a strong blender)
  • 1 c. reserved pineapple juice
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/3 c. evaporated cane juice crystals OR 1/4 tsp.+ pure stevia OR other equivalent dry sweetener

Cook rice according to package directions, but make sure it is quite well done so that it isn’t too chewy.  Meanwhile, place fruit into a large mixing bowl.  Blend the last 6 ingredients until very smooth and pour over the fruit.  When the rice is ready, mix it into the fruit and cream.  Refrigerate until cold and the cream sets up nicely.

February 14 (aka: Valentine’s Day or Single Awareness Day)

So, have you been to the store to find a chocolatey treat for your Valentine yet?  Have you dared to look at the ingredients lists on those beautiful heart-shaped boxes that appeal so much to a woman’s heart for some reason?  (Image courtesy of pamsclipart.com.)  Um-hmmm…depressing, isn’t it?  I have yet to discover one that I can eat (dairy and corn syrup allergies.)  Sure, the health food store might have something passable, but it’s not in one of those cute little boxes, now is it?  And if I can’t have the box, don’t bother with only passable candy.  I want the good stuff!

Aaaaaannnd, how do I get the good stuff then?  Well, of course, I have to make it myself.  Not as romantic as a heart-shaped box, but, hey, it still is good chocolate.  ;)  If you don’t happen to have a Valentine, or are clear across the country from him/her, you get to eat it all yourself.  (My now-single eldest son says Valentine’s Day is actually Single Awareness Day – S.A.D.)

This year I am clear across the country from my adorable and adoring hubby.  How did this happen, you ask?  Well, I came to visit my oldest son and take care of my precious granddaughter while she’s with her dad this month.  I figure it is my “job” to make their Valentine’s Day special since we’re all on our own tomorrow.  The best thing I know to give my loved ones (since I can’t get any of those blasted unhealthy heart-shaped boxes!) is Chocolate FudgeChocolate (Nut) Fudge.  Now, I’ve posted this recipe before, but I learned something new making it in my son’s kitchen.  (I’ve posted about trying to cook in his kitchen before here.)  You do not need a double boiler (or a facsimile thereof.)  It is now easier than ever to whip up a batch of fudge.

So, grab your measuring cups and get busy making a wonderful gift for your favorite person!

Traditional and Radical Breakfast Ideas

To really give a kick my breakfast series, I thought I’d list some links to previous posts that are breakfast worthy.  Some are traditional items, but some are a little outside that box.  Remember, the point is to eat at least as healthfully as your box of cereal has allowed you to do.  Hopefully, a better goal is to eat more healthfully and to actually look forward to breakfast when you wake up!

Berries, Grapes, and CantaloupeSome of these recipes are gluten-free and some are not.  I am in process of recreating some of my old wheat-filled stand-bys into gluten-free versions.  I’ll post them as I have success.  I’ve marked (gf) beside the recipes that you might wonder about, but left it off of things like smoothies, which are a little more obvious that they already are gluten-free.

Meanwhile, dig in to some great breakfasts!

Continue reading

Cocoa-Banana Breakfast Cake (or Muffins)

Breakfast.  It can be so boring ~ so unhealthy ~ and so expensive.  Are you stuck in a rut?  Are you tired of paying an arm and a leg for boxed cereal that has little staying power and often little true nutrition?  I am going to start a series on make-ahead breakfast recipes to take the ho-hum out of mornings.  You’ll find yourself looking forward to breakfast!  You might even want to take a look at some of your current recipes and rethink the possibility of using them for a morning meal.  Of course, I always add some fresh fruit to the meal to round it out nutritionally.

Cocoa-Banana Breakfast Cake (or Muffins) 001Whether you have to eat gluten-free, or not, this breakfast cake will please you!  It was so exciting to put the first forkful into my mouth and taste how delicious it was.  The texture is moist and heavy like some decadent muffin that you might buy.  Mmmm.  In fact, Continue reading

Fiesta Quinoa

Fiesta QuinoaAh, the plans I make and the menus I create….only to be dashed to pieces the first night!  Grocery day can be crazy in our household, with stops at several stores, since no single one of them carries everything with which I cook.  Today (actually, several months ago, since I found this post hiding in my draft folder) was no different ~ except a couple of extra errands were tossed in for good measure.  This meant I didn’t have the needed time to make the do-ahead items on my menu for the week.  Which also meant that when I got home late, there was no instant supper to put on the table. Continue reading

Coconut Cream Topping

Pumpkin Pie with Coconut Cream 005If you are not happy with the vegan options for a whipped-type topping (cashew creme, tofu-based items, etc.) because they add a funny taste or texture, then this is the recipe for you!  As long as you like coconut flavor, that is.  :)  I find it accompanies just about any dessert well, with the mild coconut flavor melding seamlessly.

These days I couldn’t be happier about eating coconut in any way possible with all the health benefits of coconut being touted.  My two favorite coconutty things to consume are Continue reading

Ginger Lemon Tea

My sons were “kind” enough to share their cold bug with me.  One of them hates taking any remedies of any sort and the other one doesn’t mind them, but rarely remembers to take what I tell him he should.  I, on the other hand, start dosing wildly right and left with all manner of healthy things trying to knock the stuffing out of the virus!  Vitamin C in massive doses, oregano oil, echinacea…and now this tea.  I’m not sure which thing did the trick, but I’m almost well with far fewer symptoms than either of the boys who got sick days before me. Continue reading

Why I Choose to Use Honey and Still Call Myself a “Vegan”

This topic can be a hotly debated ~ something which I will not engage in on this blog.  This post is just to explain why I, personally, choose honey while calling myself a vegan.  Any comments that are confrontational will not be approved.  Sorry.  My blog, my rules.  :)

I gave up animal products gradually for health and, eventually, allergy reasons.  I didn’t do it to save the planet, or save the animals (both of which I love very much.) Therefore, my decision to use honey tends toward the health benefits it gives, as has my departure from animal products.

Labels that we give ourselves can get sticky over the years as the parameters morph with people’s opinions of what those labels mean.  I do not eat meat, dairy, or eggs.  I do, however, wear leather shoes (again, for health reasons, since it allows for the feet to breathe and plastics do not) and eat honey.  You see, many years ago, when “vegan” first became a term, I understood that it meant not eating meat, dairy, and eggs.  No one put an absolute definition in the dictionary.  So, I “became a vegan.”  Then more people jumped on the bandwagon.  The parameters began to change somehow.  (I really don’t understand how that happens.)  People became angry if you called yourself a vegan and still ate honey, or wore leather, but nobody created a new word to cover what vegan used to cover!  I suppose I could say I’m a plant-based eater, but that is a mouthful.  It’s easier to just say vegan and not bother to explain details.  Most people really don’t care anyway.

Now – the health benefits.  These I have seen for myself.  I know it kills bacteria, because in my younger days I stirred some into a large container of plain yogurt to sweeten it.  It was great the first day, but when I came back the next, it was a runny liquid mess.  It had killed all of the bacteria in the yogurt!  So I know the anti-bacterial effects.  Next, raw honey has been used on a gum infection in my family with a great healing effect when nothing else was working, not even prescription washes.  When people say it’s anti-bacterial, I believe it.

Here are a couple of links that speak to honey’s benefits:

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF02033065?LI=true

http://www.aces.edu/urban/metronews/vol8no2/HealthHoney.html

There.  I hope that clears up why I use it in my blog.  Feel free to substitute something that meets your personal ethics, or join me in using it.

Gluten-free Pie Crust

I have been very lazy where pie crusts are concerned.  In the past, I have resorted to press-in types, because I didn’t like fussing with rolling them out.  For health’s sake, I also tried whole wheat versions with oil rather than shortening.  No one gave rave reviews over those.  Then during the low-fat craze, my crusts became even less tasty and harder to get out of the pie plate.  Rarely were there pies coming out of my kitchen.  Then I had to give up wheat and figured that completed the demise of pies for me.

Gluten-free Pie Crust 005If any of this sounds familiar, I want to jump up and down and shout that it doesn’t have to end this way for you!  I have found the solutions to my problems.

First of all, let me just say that organic virgin coconut oil is the biggest answer to all of your crust problems, whether wheat or gluten-free.  This stuff is amazing and has many health benefits.  Even though you start with solid coconut oil, as you work the crust you do not have to worry about the warming from your hands melting it and causing it to destroy the crust.  It actually makes it easier to work with the crust!

The second answer to crust problems for those with gluten-free needs is a product called Orgran gluten substitute.  This is made in Australia, but is available through Amazon I am told.  A friend shared a box with me and I was hooked.  PLEASE note, that you do not have to use this in this recipe, as I’ve given another option, but it is the easiest to make when you do.  It is primarily starch-based with some “-oses” and guar gum.  If you do not like to use those things, I’ll tell you how to skip it.

When I used the Orgran product, I both pressed in a crust and rolled out a crust.  (Pictured above are both – the press-in in the foreground with no edging and the rolled out in the background with a crinkled edge.)  The crust was so pliable and workable, that rolling it out was easy!  If I tore the crust, it easily patched with a little pressing and rolling.  Warming the ball of dough and kneading it a bit allowed for the best workability.  When baked into a pumpkin pie, it was flaky, tender, and the best crust I had tasted in a long time!  Everyone liked it.  Success!  And it popped out of the pie plate without sticking, making for a pretty piece of pie on each plate.

The next time I did not use the Orgran and substituted more oat flour.  The crust still worked, but it was not as pliable and tended to want to stick to my rolling pin.  With some Pumpkin Pie Crust viewpatience and extra warmth/kneading, it still worked well.  When baked into a pumpkin pie, it came out of the pan easily and was tasty, but it wasn’t as flaky and tender.  It had a tendency to crumb a little more.  The crust in this picture of pie is using the extra oat flour, as is the whole pie pictured below.  You can see that it doesn’t fall apart.  I think it is a viable option, and definitely a cheaper one.  I am wondering as I write this if I used melted coconut oil whisked with the water if that wouldn’t help even more with the texture of the finished product and the pliability of the dough.  I will have to continue experimenting.

Another great thing about this crust is that if you want a fancy edge, it will handle the extra grief needed to produce one.  On the other hand, if you want to just bring the crust up even to the edge of your pie plate and hack it off there, smoothing the edge, it works, too!  How can you not love such a versatile crust?  :)

I have only worked this into a single crust pie.  I do not know how the more fragile no-Orgran crust will behave in a top-crust situation, but the one with the Orgran should be fine.

This makes 3, 9″ deep-dish single crusts with a little left over when you trim the crusts.  (If you saw my pumpkin pie recipe, you know that I have 3 pie plates to accommodate that recipe.  Thus the strange number of crusts.)  You can decrease the recipe to make a smaller amount if you have smaller pans or want fewer pies.

Pumpkin Pie-Whole

Gluten-free Pie Crust

  • 1 c. almond meal
  • 1 c. brown rice flour
  • 1/4 c. arrowroot
  • 1/4 c. tapioca flour
  • 1/2 c. Orgran gluten substitute or oat flour
  • 1 c. oat flour
  • 1 1/2 – 2 tsp. salt (with a sweet pie the 2 tsp. seemed a little too much)
  • 1 c. solid coconut oil (measure and refrigerate if necessary during the summer heat)
  • 10 T. cold water

Mix dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Cut in the coconut oil until it is well mixed into the flour.  There should be smaller-than-pea-sized pieces formed when you are done.  Quickly stir in the cold water and knead/squeeze until the dough becomes well formed.  Divide into 3 equal balls of dough.  Onto waxed paper, roll out each circle of dough*.  If using the oat-flour-only option and it sticks to the rolling pin, use a lighter touch and be patient.  Transfer the crust to each pie pan by inverting the waxed paper over the pan.  Carefully peel off the waxed paper and fit the crust into the pan.  If there are splits or tears, just press the crust together.  Trim the top edge, finishing it as you would like.  Fill and bake according to pie’s directions.

*Another option would be to press the dough into each pan evenly and proceed with filling.