Friday, July 31, 2015

Cooking with Kristin - Homemade Yogurt

Guys, making yogurt is so much easier than I remember from the two times I tried to make it my first year out of college. You should definitely try it if yogurt is a thing you like and you have a cooking thermometer!

I made mine with extra whole milk that was leftover from making sausage and biscuits for a recent brunch potluck. (Why did I think I needed a gallon of milk for a recipe that called for 5 cups?) It turned out creamy and smooth and delicious. If I had maple syrup left in my house, I would flavor it with that, but as it is, I've been eating it with ripe cherries or a bit of agave syrup. Delicious!

Also, note that this was the yield from a half gallon of milk, and plan accordingly. It keeps for about 2 weeks in the fridge, but this is still a lot more yogurt than we would normally consume in 2 weeks.

Homemade Yogurt (adapted from The Kitchn, go there for more detailed instructions)
  • 1/2 gallon of whole milk
  • 1 single-serve container of plain yogurt with active cultures (I used Chobani)
Pour the milk into a pot over medium to medium-high heat. Warm the milk to right below boiling, about 200°F. Stir the milk gently as it heats to make sure the bottom doesn't scorch and the milk doesn't boil over.

After it hits 200°F, take it off the burner immediately and let the milk cool to 112°F to 115°F. You can either wait patiently or use an ice bath to bring it down. Either way, stir the milk gently to cool it off and keep a skin from forming.

When the milk has cooled, scoop out about a cup with a large measuring cup and add the yogurt. Whisk until smooth and the yogurt is dissolved in the milk. Then, whisk the thinned yogurt into the large pot of milk.

Cover your pot with a lid and wrap it in a towel before putting it in a turned-off oven. You want to keep the yogurt at around 110°F, and wrapping it in a towel in the oven did the trick for me. You can also use a dehydrator or a yogurt maker.

Let it set for at least four hours, or overnight. I did overnight and in the morning, it was pretty well set, with the texture of Brown Cow cream top (after you've stirred in the cream top). When you've reached the consistency you like, go ahead and give it a stir (or drain off the whey, if you'd rather), and transfer the yogurt into containers before storing them in the fridge.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Cooking with Kristin - Blueberry Muffins

Anything with blueberries invariably reminds me of our summer vacation camping in Maine, one of my favorite of all our trips. Since 99% of wild blueberries in the country are grown in Maine, it makes sense, and we had all sorts of delicious blueberry treats while we were there, from blueberry beers to blueberry pancakes.

So, imagine my joy when I realized that we happened to have everything we needed to make blueberry muffins without even a single trip to the store, as if we were real adults who keep baking supplies on hand. Maybe you have everything you need, too? If so, I'd highly recommend making these right away. They're quick as a snap to whip up and delicious for breakfast or as an anytime treat.

Blueberry Muffins (Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman)

  • 3 tablespoons melted butter 
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal 
  • 1/2 cup sugar, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder 
  • 1 egg 
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
Heat the oven to 375°F and grease a 12-cup muffin tin.

Mix together the dry ingredients in a bowl. Beat together the egg, milk, and melted butter or oil in another bowl. (I know it sounds arduous to have to use two bowls, but since I was already adulting, I tried it and it actually worked out quite nicely.) Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into it. Using a large spoon or rubber spatula, combine the ingredients quickly, stirring and folding rather than beating and stopping as soon as all the dry ingredients are moistened. The batter should be lumpy, not smooth, and thick but quite moist; add a little more milk if necessary.

Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, filling them about two-thirds full and handling the batter as little as possible. Bake for about 20 minutes or until nicely browned and a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes before taking them out of the tin. Serve warm, and store any leftovers in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Crafting with Kristin - How to Reupholster a Wooden Chair

So, R. and I finished this project in a day last summer, and then I never actually posted about it. It was super easy. (So easy, in fact, that it allowed time for us to get into a fight about which fabrics we wanted to use AND a separate fight about using nails versus going to buy an industrial stapler, and still finish two chairs in a single day.) It's a great way to make an heirloom or just older piece of furniture look new again.

We used two chairs that my grandmother had in her house, which I actually remember her reupholstering from the dark green oil cloth they (originally?) had to a rose-print canvas that was more her style. The rose-print was pretty faded by the time the chairs made their way to our apartment, so we decided to cover them in wax fabric and Yinka things up a little between the new wax fabric and the old-fashioned style of the chairs.

If you'd like to do it yourself on a wooden chair of your own, here are some basic directions. (For more detail, you could check out this link, although honestly, if we could figure it out on our own, so can you.)

Carefully unscrew the seat from the rest of the chair.

Then, carefully remove the fabric from the cushion. (Or don't. My grandmother went right over that 1960s green oil cloth and it worked out just fine for another 25 years.) Ours was attached with nails previously, so we used a hammer to get them out, but for staples, you can use a flat head screwdriver instead.

Now's your chance to really clean up that chair. If you're planning to re-stain it or paint it, gently sand off the current finish and then go at it, making sure you leave ample time for it to dry. If you're relatively happy with the current state, you can give it a good cleaning with Pledge or use Old English Scratch Cover, a miracle item that has made a ton of our hand-me-down furniture look really good.

Hopefully you've already got fabric in mind. Using the old fabric as a stencil, cut out the right size for your stool. You'll also likely want to replace the padding that was in there before. (Or don't. As I said, my grandmother went right over the previous fabric. We were worried about it getting a little pungent, though, so we opted to replace the padding that was there with new quilting filler from my previous summer craft project.)

Staple it on as tightly as you can. You really want it to be taught, top and bottom, so it's especially helpful to have two sets of hands here. And, you also really want to staple it with an industrial stapler. I tried just to nail the old nails in, and it was faster to go to Home Depot, buy the stapler, come back, and use it than it would have been to keep trying with those dumb nails. Plus, it was only $10 and after this, you'll be a pro and want to reupholster everything you own!

Et voila! The chairs turned out beautifully and really brighten up our home, especially when we use them to seat extra guests.

Have you done any little home improvement projects lately?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

How Not to Be Elizabeth Gilbert by Jessa Crispin

The secret to [Freya Stark's] success was listening to the people she visited and letting them tell the story.

This shouldn’t be any secret. It should be what every travel writer does. But, as many have observed, the purpose of travel writing has changed as travel itself has changed and become more accessible. Listening is less important when readers no longer rely on written accounts to transport them vicariously to places they would never have the opportunity to see for themselves. Today’s writing is more aspirational. The travel writer sells not only lovely prose and insights into a new land but also the lifestyle of the rootless and adventurous. Yet, when you establish your life and yourself as goals to aspire to, you take yourself out of the world. Every interaction is sculpted for its eventual presentation, and the aim of every presentation is to show how wonderful your life is. Since we seem these days to judge the best life not as one marked by compassion and connection but as a sensual experience of exotic foods, insider knowledge, and Instagram-able landscapes, everything that doesn’t incite the envy of the writer’s followers gets cut out. If your life is an aspiration, you are a beacon, not a human, and you talk rather than listen.

From a really good piece on travel writing and gender, "How Not to Be Elizabeth Gilbert," by Jessa Crispin in The Boston Review.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Weekday Wanderings - Coney Island Picnic

On Monday, we took a spontaneous after-work trip to Coney Island for a picnic. R. grabbed my bathing suit, our picnic blanket, and some leftovers for dinner, and we met up at the subway by the beach.

It turned out to be a little less idyllic than I was hoping—packed with people, noisy, strewn about with trash, cooler than expected on what had been a very hot day—so we likely won't try it again, at least in the summer. Maybe the Rockaways would be a little more peaceful. Hopefully Rhode Island, where we're going in August, will be.

But, I'm glad we did it. It's rare to do something so spontaneous on a weeknight for us, and it's just a small and easy way to add a little adventure into our lives. Last night, we went to a Mexican restaurant we'd never been to before, about a mile south of our apartment. Here's to trying new things!