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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Health Trivia.

The other day Rebekah and I were out for a walk when she mentioned seeing A.J. Jacobs newest book Drop Dead Healthy for sale at Wal-Mart and wondering if it was at the library.  “Ok” I said “I’ll go check.”

It was there, I got it and now she has been reading it for the past three days almost non stop.  She’ll be done before noon.

For those past three days about every hour or so I’ve been subjected to a piece of Health Trivia.  I now know that, according to Jacobs; people should chew each bite 15-20 times, we should all eat less, we sit too much and reading in dim light won’t permanently damage your eyes.

Last night will be remembered with particular clarity.  While we were getting ready for bed, I was sitting on the edge of the tub brushing my teeth, Bek casually remarked, “You should get your testosterone levels checked.”


Apparently, low testosterone levels in men can be linked to and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Who knew?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Project Cheese: Mozzarella!

We have been making Yogurt for some time now (at first I was doing it but now Rebekah has taken over the responsibility…yes!) so figure this qualifies us to try out some more difficult cheeses.  Today we decided to make mozzarella.  We are making AMERICAN mozzarella using the recipe found in a packet of Junket rennet tablets.
Apparently, making American mozza is easier than other kinds (of mozza), hmm. 

So anyway;

The first step was to mix the milk, just like with yogurt we used powdered milk (cow-pow) mixed 2 to 1 (that is 4 cups water, use de-chlorinated water for this, and 2 cups milk powder).  This is slightly stronger than recommended on the bag but it gives us a nice thick milk.

Dissolve ¾ of a teaspoon citric acid powder in ¼ of a cup water, add this to the milk (which should be around 30°C) and stir well.
 Dissolve ½ a Junket Rennet tablet (or about a ½ tsp of any powdered rennet) in another ¼ cup water and add this to the milk mixture.
Stir thoroughly (some sources recommend a minute) then set the whole thing aside for about 2 hours, or until a clean break forms.  While you’re waiting you could; do the dishes, have a nap, or even read the rest of our blog!

Eventually, you will get a clean break.  When this happens cut the curd into ½ inch cubes.  

A clean break.
Cutting the Curd.

Let the curds “rest” for about 15 minutes.  Then warm them over low heat to 42°C and hold them there for 35 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Collect the curds by pouring them and the whey through a clean cloth.  Let drain for another 15 minutes.  
We save the whey in the fridge and use it for baking.

Put the curd into a microwave safe container and microwave for about 45 seconds.  Drain of the excess whey and kneed the curd to distribute heat evenly.
 Roll the finished mozza into a ball and drop into a jar of cool brine to set, place in the fridge overnight.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Dulce de Leche

Dulce de Leche,  literally translated, it means "candy of milk" or "candy [made] of milk”. 

There’s no explanation as to why I made this other than I wanted to. Fortunately I, in my limited abilities, have the ability to stir a pot and I happened to have the ingredients on hand. 

The Cast of Characters: Milk (from powdered skim), Sugar, Vanilla and not pictured Baking Soda.
This recipe is from Alton Brown and can be found at The Food NetworkAs long as you have the necessary indigents and some time on your hands this recipe is dead simple.

Start by combining 4 cups of Milk with 1½ cups of Sugar and ½ teaspoon of Vanilla in a fairly large pot. I chose to use my large 8 Qt dutch oven and I’m so glad I did!

Over medium heat bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring frequently, until the sugar is fully dissolved. At this point add your ½ teaspoon of baking soda and be prepared to stir quickly. 

The mixture starts to foam instantly and it’s very important that that the baking soda is fully incorporated. Once you have incorporated the baking soda skim off the foam and reduce the heat to low keeping the mixture at a bare simmer.  At this point you leave the mixture alone, for the most part, for about 2 ½ hours or until it reaches a dark golden brown colour.

I found it helpful to have a book and a nice counter to sit on. 

You will however have to skim the mixture occasionally during the cooking time and you should stir it once in a while being careful not the stir the foam into the mixture.

After 2 ½ hours your should have Dulce de Leche! I poured mine into a mason jar and it is now in the fridge awaiting the completion of our latest batch of yogurt.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Cider: The Moment of Truth.

The finished cider in re-used wine bottles and the next batch of juice; ready and waiting!
Today we finally tasted and bottled the hard cider.  It’s not bad, for a first try, watery tasting with hardly a hint of apple, but very alcoholic!  We decided to mix it in the bottles with some Apple Juice for flavor.

To transfer the cider from the 2L jug into 3 wine bottles (leaving a little space at the top of each for the AJ) we used a siphon.  

A siphon is a way of getting gravity to do the work of transferring a liquid through a tube for you.  It works because water will flow up a tube as long as the “intake” end  is higher than the “outlet” end and there are no other holes.

The simplest way to make a siphon is on your kitchen counter with a jug of water and a plastic tube.

1.  Fill the jug with water and place it on the counter next to the sink.

2.  Now insert the tube so the “intake” is resting on the bottom of the water jug and the “outlet” is in the sink.3.  With the “outlet” still lower than the “intake” suck on the tube to draw water up and over the top of the jug.

4.  When you get a mouthful of water quickly spit out the tube into the bottom of the sink. Stand back and watch the water from the jug drain UP through the tube and down into the sink!

You have just created a siphon. It will work until either air enters the tube or the outlet becomes higher than the intake (or you stop it by plugging the outlet with your thumb).

A better (more sterile) way to start the siphon is to fill the tube with water before inserting it.  Then with your thumb over the outlet, as always lower than the intake, insert the tube into the jug. When you take your thumb of off the outlet the escaping water will draw the water in the jug into the tube and the siphon will start on its own!

So, the recepie was: 2L Organic Apple Cider, 1 packet Lavin brewing yeast.  Add the yeast to the cider, pop an airlock in the top and wait...about a month, a sludge will  form on the bottom.  Transfer the brew to a secondary fermenter, careful not to transfer any of the sludge.  Wait another 2 weeks.  Bottle.  Add a bit of  AJ from concentrate to sweeten.  Pop it in the fridge (otherwise the leftover yeast will ferment the sugars you just added and you might end up with BOTTLE BOMBS!  Drink.  Reflect that while it may not be the best cider you've ever had it isn't the worst and only about $10 for almost 3 liters!

So that's it, Project Fermentation is winding down, but Project Cheese is just beginning!
Check back soon!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Apartment Aquaponics: Revisited.

 This is my new aquaponics system, without a pump! Basically a Wickeing Bed with fish in it.

A Wicking Bed eliminates the need for daily watering through the magic of capillary action (I think).  
A basin is filled with water and a planting pot, taller than the basin, is put in it, and filled with soil.  The water enters little holes in the bottom of the pot and “wicks up” as needed to keep the soil at a constant moisture level.  Moisture loving plants can be planted the pot and watered very infrequently without fear of their drying out.

But the bottom part of the Wicking Bed, the basin, looks a lot like a fish tank, an Aquaponics Tank.  So why not put fish in it and see what happens?  

So that’s what I did.  

True the water in Wicking Bed gets a little brown (from the suspended organic matter) but no more so than in a natural pond and fish live in those.

Expenses so far: about $5.
I’ll keep you posted.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Project Cheese:Yogurt!

Making yogurt is easy, requires no special ingredients and almost no special equipment.  As one who has never really liked store bought yogurt, and still doesn’t, I’d ever had much incentive to make my own.  Yogurt was yogurt and I just didn’t like yogurt, right?  Wrong!

While interning and living with Ayse and Jens on Marvellous Edibles Farm I was introduced to REAL yogurt, Ayse makes it, and it is heavenly!  I could eat the stuff plain!  Could’ve eaten it by the bucket!  It was so good!

So naturally, when I moved in with Bekah later that year, I couldn’t wait to make my own!  But Ayse used whole, unpasteurized milk which she got cheep from a friend, and that stuffs hard to find (and expensive) when your living in city.  I had to put my yogurt making aspirations on hold.  Until … I found this recipe for making yogurt from cow-pow (powdered milk)!

Now we make and eat yogurt all the time!  We put it into smoothies, eat it with chilli, on stew, with berries, or plain and straight from the jar while standing in a dark kitchen at midnight (don’t be like us). Making yogurt is easy, it takes only three ingredients and a little bit of patience.  Anyone can do it!  Here’s how:

  1. Half fill a medium sized pot or saucepan with water and put it to heat on the stove.
  2. In a smaller pot (that will fit inside the previous one) thoroughly mix 2 cups cow-pow with 4 cups water.
  3. Place the smaller pot inside the larger one (creating a crude “double boiler”).

  1. Heat the milk to 180°F (about 80°C) stirring occasionally (use a thermometer for this, one with a little clip that attaches to the pot.  I use a “candy thermometer,” it costs about $4).

  1. Once the milk has reached 180 rapidly cool it to about 115°F (I do this by placing the pot containing the milk in a cold water bath in the sink).

  1. Add a small quantity (2-4 Tbsp at least but more is better) of plain yogurt (store bought works fine, look for the organic stuff containing “active bacteria cultures”) and stir to dissolve the yogurt.  At this point I divulge from the standard method by pouring the warm milk into 2 500ml glass jars in which I have already placed the yogurt “starter,” sealing the jars and shaking them violently mixes the yogurt and milk!

  1. Keep the mixture warm for about 8 hours while it “incubates” (I wrap my 2 jars of mix in a large blanket with an extra jar of hot water)
  2. After incubation the yogurt is technically ready, you can eat it at this point and it tastes fine, but refrigerating it for a few hours to a day really improves the taste and texture.

That’s all folks! This method is totally customizable and forgiving; we’re even going to try adding flavourings like vanilla in the future.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Apartment Aquaponics Continued...

Change is sometimes so slow we don't realize its happening at the time, only in hindsight, but in hindsight a lot has happened a lot has changed it just took a while!

This is the case with the aquaponics project.  Since last mention (Aquaponics 102) sadly one fish has died (I suspect he was sick or injured at the pet store) so now there are only two fish.  The first plants added where some Duckweed (like tiny lily pads) just floating on the waters surface.  At about the same time I planted some Evergreen Sweet-pea seeds in the grow bed and in a pot on the window sill, the ones in the pot have sprouted but the ones in the grow bed never did.  So a few days ago I bought a stick of bamboo with some leaves on it ($2), cut it in half and planted each piece in the grow-bed.  Our window is very cold, I'm worried too cold for a semi tropical plant like bamboo.  It's the only place in the apartment which gets any light though, everywhere else is plenty warm but gets very little light, the window sill gets some light but is possibly too cold!  A real catch 22.

Expenses so far: $23.

The biggest drawback to this system I see is the pump.  It requires outside energy (in this case electricity) and must run for a good chunk of the day (12/24 hours to be safe).  If aguaponics is to be sustainable we need to eliminate this artificial "crutch" from the system.

I have an idea to do this and will post as soon as its up and running.  Check back soon!