What happens when a novel experience turns into a regular routine? You get to eat creamy homemade yogurt as part of your regular diet. For me, making the homemade yogurt phenomenon started as a curious experiment that quickly turned into something bigger than I could imagine. Not only did I learn about fermentation and a new cooking technique, I realized that the act of making yogurt at home, has additional valuable contributions besides enjoying a delicious and nutritious snack.
It all started when I was reading about Middle Eastern cuisine and in particular, Lebanese cuisine. While reviewing Maureen Abood’s cookbook, Rose Water and Orange Blossoms, it became evident that yogurt was a central ingredient in Lebanese food. In many of her recipes homemade yogurt or labneh, cheese made from yogurt, was the central ingredient. As a result, I believed if I really wanted to understand this cuisine, then I must learn how to make its most central ingredient, yogurt.
Unfortunately, the very first batch of yogurt I made did not set properly. I reached out to Maureen Abood and she explained, sometimes the yogurt just does not set up. It happens. Discouraged, but not daunted I tried again with a different yogurt starter and had great success. What a triumph. It was like the first time I made a loaf of bread, something I thought was impossible was now possible.
My initial taste of the inaugural homemade yogurt was a revelation. This is one of those foods where you can taste the difference between homemade and store-bought. Homemade yogurt has the distinctive acidic tang, but it is a lot creamier in texture. I used to not like plain yogurt without any sweetener, but homemade yogurt has a je ne sais quoi taste about it. It is fresh, creamy, mild and tangy all at the same time. Can you taste fresh? Yes. It is the difference between eating an egg just plucked from the chicken coop to eating one bought from the store and is 4 weeks old. There is a presence that is hard to describe but you know it is there.
However, to change the habit and forgo the convenience of buying yogurt, it takes more than a curiosity to turn a novel experience into a weekly routine. After making yogurt a few times, I came to realize three benefits that will add up to significant changes for the better. First, I could support the local Hudson River Valley dairy industry, which consists mostly of family-run dairy farms that practice sustainable farming. Second, I could save money by not buying individual yogurt containers. Third, I will reduce my carbon footprint by buying locally sourced food and not buy all those plastic containers. This triple reinforcement, plus the desire to reduce the amount of sugar in our diet, sealed the deal and I started my weekly homemade yogurt routine.
Hudson River Valley Milk
Fortunately, my local grocery store carries several brands of milk that come from dairy farms in the Hudson River Valley. Most of the dairies source their milk from a cooperative of dairy farms that meet their standards of quality, sustainability, and humane treatment of animals. These brands are not USDA organic milk, but I know they are operating under the best practice policies to produce quality milk, maybe even better than the USDA standards. Another bonus is this milk is not ultra-pasteurized, which is crucial for making yogurt or any type of cheese. Even though it is not labeled USDA Organic, it is as organic as it can be.
Most of the USDA organic milk you find in the major grocery stores, is ultra-pasteurized. This is done so the milk has a longer shelf life. It is the one thing the industrial organic dairy farms must do in order for grocery stores to stock their product. This is because organic milk is more expensive and thus takes longer to sell. Unfortunately, ultra-pasteurization kills off good bacteria as well as the bad bacteria in the milk. It is the live cultures, the good bacteria, that help create yogurt and cheese, plus pasteurized milk has more nutritional value thank ultra-pasteurized.
Hudson River Valley Dairies
Listed below are dairies whose products are available in my area.
This post is not a sponsored post. I am just passing along my experience and research about local farming and how a person can make a difference to slow down climate change. I am sure there are other dairies out there that produce top quality milk and practice sustainable farming, even in my area. The dairies listed are just the ones available to me at this time.
Lower Your Carbon Footprint
I am lucky to live in an area that has a long history of family-run farms and agriculture, but it is only recently that they became available. Before I could buy local milk, I found a brand of organic milk that was not ultra-pasteurized in my local health-food store, Natural by Nature. This company is a family run business in Pennsylvania, so it is not too far away so I still consider it local. Fortunately, I did not have to look all over the county looking for it either. You might have to widen your circle, but hopefully, you can find an affordable source of organic pasteurized milk near you without too much trouble.
Over the years I have come to understand that any agricultural industry involving cattle has enormous environmental concerns from the methane gas released into the atmosphere, to the pollution from the runoff into our groundwater, and the health and safety of the cows. In my opinion, supporting local farmers who maintain environmentally friendly farming practices, and creates a healthy and humane environment for the cows, has a multiplier effect. There is less pollution compared to its industrial counterpart, creates food that is not stripped of nutrition because the cows eat an appropriate diet without growth hormones and antibiotics, and it helps local economies.
Helpful Tips for Making Homemade Yogurt
At its most basic, yogurt is milk with added live cultures, Streptococcus thermophilus, and Lactobacillus delbrueckii bulgaricus, that ferment in a warm environment until thick. It is the live cultures and warm incubating temperature that are essential to transforming milk into yogurt.
Yogurt is relatively simple to make but it does take some time for it to ferment and thicken. I found starting the process at night after dinner was the easiest way to work making yogurt into a weekly routine. This way the yogurt could incubate in the oven overnight and as soon as I woke up I placed the yogurt in the refrigerator for the second resting period. Later that afternoon or early evening, I strained out the whey for 3 hours.
The standard formula is: for every half-gallon (2 l) of milk, you need 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of yogurt starter. It is a one to one ratio: 1-quart milk to 1 TB yogurt starter. Using this ratio, the recipe easily scales up if you want to make more. Don’t be tempted to add more starter. One, you don’t need it and two, it will make the yogurt grainy.
The temperatures listed in the recipe are important for successful fermenting. Therefore, you need to pay attention and make sure the milk does not come to a boil and later, drop below 115°F when it’s time to add the starter. Also, a warm environment is essential for the cultures to do their thing. I have read, the incubation temperature is ideally at 100°F (38°C). If you have to keep it on the counter, wrap it up in a blanket and place under your kitchen cabinets or near a heating vent. If your cabinets have undermounted lights, turn them on. Room temperature is not ideal, but it might take longer for the yogurt to ferment.
I find the most reliable place to incubate the yogurt is in my oven with the oven light on. It is out-of-the-way in the oven and the yogurt stays warm from the heat of the light bulb. Because I have a tendency when something is out of sight, it is also out of mind, I place a sign on the oven door with big lettering Y O G U R T and a note of the time. Without that sign, I would completely forget about the yogurt and turn on the oven.
Not all commercial-brand yogurt are equal. Read the label and only use real yogurt with live active yogurt cultures. Stay away from brands with thickeners and stabilizers. I use Fage or Dannon, whole milk or low-fat plain yogurt with consistent results. Any good quality and real yogurt should work.
Yogurt for the Family
Would I make this if my kids were young and still living at home? Would they eat it? Maybe. Though, I would definitely need to sweeten the yogurt to get them to eat it. I found a small amount, about 1 teaspoon, of real maple syrup or honey, to a half a cup of yogurt gives a subtle sweetness and reduces the tang. Cinnamon also adds a sweet impression without the extra sugar. You can also sweeten yogurt with fresh fruit, real fruit purées or jams, and fruit compote. Even though you are adding some sugar, it is significantly less sugar than the store-bought variety. It is certainly worth a try.
An easy blueberry compote is roast 2 cups (500 ml) of fresh blueberries tossed with 2 TB of sugar in a 350°F (175°C) oven for 18 minutes. Tip the blueberries and their juices in a bowl and add 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice and a 1/2 cup of fresh blueberries. Stir and allow to cool. This recipe comes from Yogurt Culture (linked below). It is super easy and incredibly delicious. When mixed with yogurt, it makes the best blueberry yogurt I have ever had. I am positive my children would have gobbled it right up.
Recipe Inspiration for your Homemade Yogurt
Like buttermilk, yogurt mixed with other herbs and spices is a great marinade for chicken and lamb.
My Inspiration and References
Here is a list of the three references I used over the past two years to learn about making yogurt and its history. If you want to really learn all about fermentation, the book The Art of Fermentation has everything you need to know about making all types of fermented food.
It may look daunting to make your own yogurt, but it is relatively simple. In the beginning, you need to keep an eye on the temperature, but mostly you just have to wait and give the cultures time to ferment. Other than the yogurt culture, the most important ingredients are time and temperature. You need 8-10 hours to incubate the yogurt in a warm draft-free environment, and an additional 8 hours in the refrigerator to finish. Once these steps are complete, you can eat it right away or strain out some of the whey for Greek-style yogurt.
Because there are only two ingredients in yogurt, use the best quality milk and yogurt you can buy. For best results, the yogurt used as your culture must contain real live cultures and no fillers, gums, or artificial ingredients. I use Fage and Dannon yogurt whenever I start with a new yogurt culture.
Seek out organic milk that is not ultra-pasteurized as this process kills off important and healthy bacteria needed for making yogurt.
You can use your homemade yogurt as a culture for up to 3-4 generations. After that, start over with a new batch of yogurt bought at the grocery.
This recipe scales up to 1 gallon of milk with ¼ cup (65 ml) fresh yogurt culture.
Yield: Makes about 7 cups (1 L 750 ml) yogurt before straining out the whey.
Serving size is a half a cup (125 ml)
- Heavy bottom stock pot or Dutch oven with lid
- Instant read thermometer
- Small bowl for tempering the starter
- Stainless steel mixing spoon or rubber spatula
- Large bowl partially filled with ice optional
- A warm and dry place like an oven for incubating the yogurt
- Triple layer cheesecloth or thin flour sack towel
- Storage container
- ½ gallon of milk whole or 2%, preferably organic and not ultra-pasteurized
- 2 TB yogurt with live active cultures like Dannon or Fage
Prepping your utensils
Make sure all your utensils, pots and bowls are clean. Clean them with hot water and soap and drip dry on a clean kitchen towel. I do not sterilize my utensils or pots when I make yogurt, but some people do. If you wish to sterilize your utensils and pot, run them through a complete cycle in your dishwasher. You can sterilize your instant-read thermometer by placing the probe in a mug of boiling water and drip dry on a clean kitchen towel.
Heat the milk
Rub an ice cube over the bottom and partially up the sides of your stock pot. This helps the milk from sticking to the bottom of the pot. If you do not have ice cubes, run the bottom of the pot under cold water and empty any water that collects in the pot.
Pour your milk in the stock pot and set the burner between medium / medium-high.
Take your starter, 2 tablespoons of yogurt out of the refrigerator and add it to a small bowl like a cereal bowl. Set it aside so it will come to room temperature while you heat and later cool the milk.
Slowly, heat the milk until it reaches 185°F / 85.5°C without stirring. Any temperature at or slightly above 180°F (82°C) but below 195°F (90.5°C). You do not want the milk to boil or be too hot and kill off the important yogurt-making bacteria.
When you reach 185°F / 85.5°C, lower the heat and maintain that temperature for 5 minutes.
It is hard to maintain a constant temperature, at least on my stove, just keep it in the 180°F - 186°F /82°C- 85.5°C range. If you go below 180°F (82°C) stop stirring and turn up the heat until you get back at that temperature.
Cool the milk
Turn off the heat and remove the pot from the stove. Let the milk rest until it cools down to 115°F (46°C). I allow my milk to cool on the counter and stir it every now and then to help release the steam. I set the timer to keep track of the time and check the temperature frequently. This process can take around 35 minutes, give or take.
A faster method of cooling the milk is to fill a large bowl partway with ice and cold water. The bowl needs to be large enough to accommodate your stock pot with ice water surrounding the bottom and partway up the sides of your pot. A sink will work as well. Stir the milk in a back and forth manner every now and then until it is cool. Remove the pot from the ice bath when it reaches around 118° – 120°F (48° - 49°C). Place on the counter and keep the instant-read thermometer in the milk so you do not cool the milk below 115°F (46°). If the milk does fall below 115°, place the pot back on the burner and heat it up 115°F (46°C).
Add the Yogurt Starter
Add one ladleful of the 115°F (46° C) milk in the bowl with your starter yogurt. Whisk the yogurt mixture until well incorporated then pour the yogurt culture in the pot with the milk. Stir then cover. Place the inoculated milk inside a draft-free and warm space.
Incubate the yogurt culture
Place your yogurt culture in a warm draft-free place. In my house, my oven is the best spot. Keep the oven warm by keeping the oven light on. I found it does not always work if I let the yogurt incubate on the counter. According to Cheryl Sternman Rule in her book Yogurt culture, the ideal temperature for incubating yogurt around 100°F (38°C).
Allow the cultured milk to incubate for 6 – 10 hours. Sometimes, it takes longer, up to 12 hours, but the consistent incubation time is around 8-10 hours. The yogurt is done when it looks thick and solid with some liquid, the whey, sloshing about when you jiggle the pot. It will look like plain yogurt.
One final step before eating your yogurt is to chill it in the refrigerator for several hours. Tip the yogurt in a bowl and tightly cover with plastic wrap or a tight-fitting lid. Add the yogurt to the refrigerator and chill for 6-8 hours or overnight. This extra step develops more flavor and a creamier consistency.
Voiá, you just made yogurt!
Before you use up your yogurt, measure out 2 tablespoons (30 ml) to ¼ cup (60 ml) of yogurt and place in a bowl with a tight fitting lid. Label and date the yogurt. You will use this yogurt for your next batch of yogurt. Store in the refrigerator for up to 7 days. Taste before using to make sure it is not starting to turn. You can get 3-4 generations of yogurt when using starter from homemade yogurt. After that, start fresh with a new batch of yogurt from the grocery store.
Greek Style Yogurt
Normally, I strain my yogurt for about 2-3 hours to thicken it up and produce Greek Style yogurt.
To strain the yogurt, line the bowl of a fine mesh strainer or colander with a moistened triple layer of cheesecloth or a damp tea towel. The length of the towel or cheesecloth should drape over the sides of the strainer. Place the strainer or colander over a large bowl to catch the whey.
Scrape the yogurt into the lined strainer. Draw up the four corners of your cheesecloth or towel and bring them together. Tighten them close to the yogurt and tie with a string or twisty. Place the bowl with the colander in the refrigerator and drain the yogurt until it reaches the consistency you desire. The longer it strains the thicker it gets. I like the consistency after straining for 3 hours.
When done, place the yogurt in a glass container with a tight-fitting lid and store in the refrigerator. The yogurt will keep for a week.
If your yogurt is thicker than you like, add some of the whey back in to loosen it up.
Reserve your whey and store in a covered container in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.
Yogurt dries out inconsistently throughout the incubating and straining process. This creates some lumpy spots in your yogurt. This is normal. If you want smooth yogurt, spoon out the amount you want then whisk it right before using. Whisking the yogurt will make the yogurt looser, but it gets out the lumps.
Don’t throw out the whey. It is great in many recipes and for marinades. Use whey in any recipe calling for traditional yogurt, not Greek yogurt, or milk like in baked goods, pancakes, and bread. Whey is acidic, so it will activate the baking soda. Use in smoothies. Use as a tenderizer for meats and in marinades. Whey will last in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Lets talk. What I have here is something that will turn your homemade food from good to spectacular, Mojo de Ajo, [MOH-hoh day AH-hoh]. Some people call this sauce “liquid gold” because of its’ gold color from the minced garlic and priceless flavor. The name essentially translates to garlic sauce, but some people believe it is more of a condiment than a sauce. While the garlic simmers in olive oil, the raw brashness mellows to a sweet roasted garlic flavor that permeates the olive oil. Mojo de Ajo is worth making and transforms any food it touches.
Liquid Gold is different from garlic infused olive oil you can buy at the store. There is a prominent roasted garlic flavor with a subtle citrus note. Fresh squeezed orange juice sweetens the olive oil and cuts down on any heaviness associated with oil based sauces.
This recipe is from Alex Stupak’s cookbook, Tacos, and is different from other mojo de ajo recipes I’ve seen. His recipe has extra flavor from minced tomatoes. They add a nice texture and makes it more of a condiment, like a salsa. The tomatoes compliment the garlic infusion like the orange juice, and the toasted spices adds just the right amount of heat.
Read my review of Tacos here.
Special Ingredients for Mojo de Ajo
Most of the ingredients in Mojo de Ajo are readily available at any grocery store, but there are two ingredients that need some tracking down, Arbol chilies and Mexican oregano. You can get both of these ingredients at Latin Markets, well stocked spice stores, and some grocery stores. Arbol chili is usually sold dried whole, retaining its shape and red color. It adds a subtle heat to the Mojo de ajo and worth sourcing.
Mexican oregano is different from Italian oregano, in fact they are two different plant families. I do not believe they are interchangeable, because they taste and smell so different. Italian oregano has a mintier flavor and I think is more bitter. Mexican oregano is grassier with a slight citrus flavor. When I toast Mexican oregano, it smells like you just walked into a Grateful Dead concert, so you might not want to make this the same day you have your in-laws over for dinner. Despite the distinctive smell, it does not taste like pot but has an herby flavor that compliments many Mexican meals. If you like to make Mexican cuisine it is a worthwhile herb to have in your spice drawer. I promise you it is not marijuana and I use it in all my Mexican food recipes.
Best Uses for Mojo de Ajo
- Mojo de Ajo is trans-formative and adds great depth of flavor to any dish it’s paired with.
- Drizzle it over grilled meats, chicken, fish or vegetables.
- Braise baby artichokes in Mojo de Ajo instead of the anchovy caper sauce.
- Use the oil to marinate steaks, then drizzle the garlic and tomatoes over the sliced meat.
- Roast Shrimp smothered in Mojo de Ajo, and switch up the cocktail sauce with some of the garlic sauce.
- Add to hummus for extra garlic flavor.
- Spoon into soups especially ones made with winter squash.
- Drizzle over grilled tofu.
- Smear it over toasted bread.
- Marinate goat cheese in the Mojo de Ajo for a special cheese course.
- Mix into ground turkey for a turkey burger or meatloaf.
- Mix into an aioli or mayonnaise for a great sandwich spread or dip.
The possibilities are endless.
Liquid Gold: Mojo de Ajo
An amazing condiment made with olive oil, minced garlic, and orange juice. This recipe is from Alex Stupak's book, Taco's. His version includes diced tomatoes with the minced garlic which adds a lovely texture and subtle tomato flavor. Mojo de Ajo is delicious drizzled over grilled meats or vegetables, stirred into grains, or smeared over toasted crusty bread.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups (375 ml).
- 2 arbol chilies
- 1/2 tsp Mexican oregano
- 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 cup (250 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- 20 cloves garlic, minced
- Juice from 1 orange
- 1 plum tomato, diced
Make the spice blend
Slice the arbol chilies in half lengthwise and shake out the seeds. Discard the seeds.
Heat a small heavy skillet over high heat for 5 minutes. Add the arbol chilies, Mexican oregano, and black peppercorns and toast the spices. Shake the pan back and forth so the spiced do not burn. Toast for about 15 seconds and quickly pour the spices onto a plate to cool.
Pour the spices into a spice grinder and grind them into a fine powder. Set aside. If you do not have a spice grinder, pour the toasted spices onto a cutting board, and mince with a sharp knife to as fine a texture you can get.
Make the Mojo de Ajo
In a two quart sauce pan on medium heat, add the olive oil and minced garlic. Simmer the garlic until is just begins to get a golden brown, about 8 minutes or longer. Be careful that the garlic does not get too brown or burn.
Add the orange juice, diced tomatoes and ground spice powder and simmer for a couple of minutes or until the tomatoes are soft n thoroughly cooked.
Turn off the heat and let the mojo de ajo cool. Pour the whole lot into a glass container with a tight fitting lid.
Store in the refrigerator. The sauce will keep for one month as long as the garlic and tomatoes are thoroughly cooked through. Before using, bring the Mojo de Ajo up to room temperature.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
There are times when buying extra condiments for your meal(s) makes a lot of sense. Like ketchup, I have never made ketchup but what I have read, the effort for making homemade ketchup does not equal to the ketchup flavor and many believe store brands taste better. However other items, like pickles, require little effort and taste better and fresher than store-bought pickles. The easiest pickles to make are pickled red onions. It takes about 10 minutes to put the whole thing together and after a few hours of steeping you get red onions with a sweet and slightly spicy pickled onion that is crisp and ready for serving.
This is a small batch, quick pickled red onion recipe that fills one pint glass jar with room to spare. As much as I want to preserve the season, this recipe is not intended for long term storage in your pantry. No canning required, although it is a good idea to sterilize your jars.
Because you won’t have to worry about canning and sealing the jars, making this recipe is so easy, it is a great way to introduce yourself to making homemade pickles. It is worth tying at least once to see how easy it is. Once you start, I am sure you will convert to making pickled red onions whenever you want some. When I make these pickled onions I never feel it is a huge undertaking and gets in the way of me doing other things. I can make them the morning before I need them and after steeping in the brine a few hours they are good to go.
Pickled Red Onions
As I have mentioned before, raw onions do not agree with me, so I cook them or macerate them to remove the bitter juices. If you are like me, having the choice of a pickled red onion will give you that great onion flavor without that nasty raw onion after bite. The acid in the pickling liquid steeps into the onions and is a great flavor enhancer. It just brightens any food its combined with. Try pickled red onions on any type of burger instead of raw onions and your burger will taste meatier and your secret sauce will brighten and stand out. All together it makes a crave-worthy sandwich.
I love adding caramelized onions to my turkey or beef burger, yet during the summer I do not want to spend a lot of time watching onions slowly caramelize on the stove. Pickled red onions are a great substitute for the times you do not want to slave over the stove but want a sweetened onion flavor.
Plus, who can resist this incredible vivid pink color?
What to Serve with Pickled Red Onions
Serve pickled red onions with just about anything you would add raw onions too.
They are delicious with burgers whether they are beef, turkey, lamb or a veggie/vegan variety.
Mix them into a Grilled Chicken Sandwich from my post on Easy Picnic Foods for the Summer.
Use pickled red onions as a garnish for White Chicken Chili
Add to any tossed green salad, especially ones with goat cheese. and cured black olives.
Pickled red onions are perfect with smoked or cured fish, especially lox and cream cheese on a bagel, or try some with smoked trout.
Pickled Red Onions
Learning how to make pickles is easy with this recipe for pickled red onions. It takes but a few minutes to prepare with the remaining time is unattended while the onions steep in its brine. These are slightly sweet tasting with a subtle spicy hint. Homemade pickled red onions are a delicious addition to any type of burger, tacos, smoked fish, and salads.
Keeps in the refrigerator for about one month in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid.
Makes just over 2 ½ cups (670 ml) of pickled red onions.
- 1 red onion about 10 oz / 300 g
- 2 cups (500 ml) apple cider vinegar
- 1 TB (10 g) Kosher salt
- 1 TB (14 g) granulated sugar
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 5 cloves
- ½ tsp mustard seeds
Slice the red onion into thin slices about 3/8 inches thick. Add the red onion slices into a large mixing bowl.
Pour the apple cider vinegar into a 3 quart (non-reactive) sauce pan and turn the heat to high. Add the sugar and salt and the remaining spices and bring to just a boil. Turn off the heat and pour the brining liquid over the onions in the bowl. Allow to cool then carefully add the onion slices and brining liquid into a pint size, sterile, glass mason jar with tight fitting lid. Screw the lid on the jar, then steep the onions for 4 hours before you use them. Keep the pickled onions in the refrigerator. Will keep for one month in the refrigerator. (See link in post for how to sterilize jars).
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
It is October and that means I need to trim my herb garden and use up all the annual herbs before the temperature drops below 50°. It would break my heart if they went to waste, especially my basil. I have four basil plants and after a rough start they grew, continuously producing new stems and leaves for my pleasure. I was not so fortunate last year. What a difference having an herb garden makes. I can select the amount of herbs I need, and pick them when I want them. Nonetheless, it is time to use it or lose it. Fortunately, the best way I know how to use up a bunch of fresh basil is make basil pesto.
There is nothing like a fresh herb pesto to add bright herbaceous pizzaz to pasta, vegetables, and fish or chicken. Usually, I also add in an extra leafy green vegetable or herb, like arugula or spinach, when I make basil pesto. The additional greens add extra body and texture to the pesto. Spinach leaves really softens the basil flavor and smooths the pesto. Arugula’s peppery bite brightens the basil flavor. Both versions taste delicious. For my recipe if you want to omit the arugula, go ahead. This is a classic basil pesto recipe, if you omit the lemon zest and arugula there is no need to add in more basil leaves to supplement it.
Pesto has three essential ingredients: basil, olive oil and freshly grated cheese. The quality of these ingredients influences to the flavor of the pesto. I always recommend buying the best quality food or product you can afford. This is especially true for the olive oil. For pesto, an all-purpose extra virgin olive oil is fine to use. There is no need to buy top shelf extra virgin olive oil, save that for salads. I use California Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil for my every day use and I am very happy with the flavor. Unfortunately, the labels on olive oil are misleading and not regulated. 100% olive oil is often not 100% olive oil. For more information about buying olive oil, here is an article about how to find real olive oil at the grocery store. Also, here from Business Insider.
Other than the fresh herb in pesto, the freshness of the grated cheese impacts the flavor. The traditional cheeses in pesto are Parmesan or Romano and sometimes both. I use Romano cheese for its sharper flavor, and it’s less expensive than Parmesan. Whichever cheese you use, only use freshly grated cheese. If possible, buy a chunk and grate the cheese at home. Parmesan and Romano cheese are expensive, but they last a long time. If you need to buy grated cheese, buy the cheese that is grated at the store. It is a lot fresher than buying factory grated cheese with preservatives in it.
Want more herb sauce recipes? Check out my recipe for Rolled Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce
Every Italian cookbook author, says never to cook Basil pesto. In general I follow this rule, unless I am grilling salmon with pesto (without cheese). Any level of heat will darken the color of the basil, dull its flavor, and diminish the scent. For best results, serve pesto at room temperature, stirred into warm pasta. When I make it, I make a batch and freeze it before adding the cheese. That way if I need it for pasta or to garnish a soup, I can use the pesto either with or without the cheese. Stir in the cheese a little before adding the pesto to your pasta dish. This will allow the ingredients to meld and the cheese to absorb the oil and basil.
My Favorite Basil Pesto
- 2 cups lightly packed (38 g) basil leaves cleaned, dried, and stems removed
- 3/4 cup (20 g) arugula cleaned , dried and stems removed
- 1 clove garlic chopped
- 1/4 cup (27 g) pine nuts lightly toasted
- Zest of half a lemon
- 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup (40 g) freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese, or a blend of both
- Little squeeze of fresh lemon juice if needed to brighten the pesto*
Place the basil leaves in a food processor and process until the leaves are slightly chopped. Add the arugula and process with the basil to combine.
Add the garlic, lemon zest, Kosher salt, and pinenuts and pulse until an even consistency is achieved.
Add half of the olive oil and process until smooth. Using a rubber spatula scrape down the sides of your food processor and stir it around. Add more olive oil until you reach the consistency you want. Taste and correct seasoning. Before you add more salt, remember the cheese is not added yet and is salty.
If using soon, pour the pesto into a small bowl and stir in the grated cheese. Start by adding half the cheese, stir and taste. Add more cheese as you wish. Regrigerate the pesto without the cheese until needed. Add the cheese to the pesto before using.
Stir the specified amount of pesto into your favorite pasta and serve immediately.
Pesto is best used immediately or the day it is made. It will last for a week in the refrigerator, or freeze, without the cheese, for 3 months.
Never heat up pesto. Heat causes the pesto to change color and the flavor lose its intensity.
*Adding an acid like lemon juice could change the color of leafy greens and other vegetables. If you feel the pesto needs to get brighter, add a little squeeze of lemon juice just before using.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
As is often the case with specialty ingredients, a recipe requires a small amount, but you must purchase a much larger portion then needed. This is often true for ingredients like fresh ginger root or fresh turmeric. Unless you cook recipes that use fresh ginger every day, using up a knob of ginger takes a conscious effort. What to make with all that ginger? One solution is make candied ginger.
This week I found myself in this exact predicament of having more fresh ginger than I could use. I bought more ginger than usual because a couple of farmers at the market sold baby ginger. I love how baby ginger looks (also known as young ginger), and wanted to photograph it. With its’ creamy pale-pink coloring and smooth skin, it is hard to believe it is ginger. I had about a half of a pound of young ginger and needed to figure out something to make with it. It dawned on me there was no candied ginger in the house. This was a missing pantry item over the whole summer, so it was time to make it.
I happen to like ginger and often cook with it. When I have candied ginger in my pantry, I enjoy it with my breakfast sprinkled over yogurt, in granola, oatmeal, cookies, pies, crumbles, cakes and muffins, or for an afternoon pick-me-up. I found eating a date stuffed with a slice of candied ginger and a walnut, squelches any sugar cravings and afternoon munchies.
People swear by fresh ginger’s ability to soothe an upset stomach and morning sickness, and is good for digestion. I used to drink an elixir of ginger, turmeric, lemon juice and honey to reduce inflammation. With all these great health benefits, I like to always have some form of ginger available.
Some people have a philosophy, that they won’t make a specialty food if they can easily buy it from a quality and reliable source. Not me. I am open to make just about anything. So why make candied ginger when you can easily buy it? For me, it is all about knowing what I put in my body and reducing my carbon footprint. If I make candied ginger, I can buy organic ginger at the store, or locally grown baby ginger at a farmer’s market. I also don’t use any preservatives.
You also get two by-products when you make candied ginger, ginger simple syrup and ginger sugar. Both taste great in hot or cold tea, coffee, homemade soda or drinks, or in baked goods. I particularly like using the ginger syrup in a ginger martini.
There are a couple of obstacles that intimidate people and prevent them from making candied ginger. You need a candy thermometer, or one that reads temperatures above 250°F (121°C), like a Thermapen instant read thermometer. Thermometers are our friends. They tell us important and accurate information about our food, especially when cooking with meats. This information lets us know our food is properly cooked, or not. There are visual clues to read, but the internal temperature of a piece of meat does not lie and indicates exactly how far along your meat has cooked. If you don’t own a thermometer, you should get one. I rely on mine all the time. You don’t need an expensive one, just one that is reliable and easy to read.
Thermometer brands I like are Thermoworks, and CDN. The Thermapen by Thermoworks is the highest rated instant read thermometer. It is also expensive. Thermoworks makes other instant read thermometers, like pocket thermometers that are less expensive. (This is not a sponsored post)
Also, making candied ginger does take some time to make. Fortunately, while the ginger simmers, cools and dries, you can work on other projects. The time between the cooling and drying, and coating the ginger with sugar is a couple of hours. Later, the sugar-coated ginger needs to air dry some more. Fortunately, this is something you can set up and forget about until later. I believe the positive reasons for making candied ginger outweigh the negatives.
This recipe is slightly adapted from David Lebovitz recipe . I have been making this for a few years and really like it. It produces a lot of the ginger syrup too. I scaled his recipe down and only use a half pound of ginger. The original recipe specifies, one pound of ginger and 4 cups each of sugar and water. It is an easy recipe to scale up or down because the ingredients are easily divided by or multiplied by 2. Plus, the water and sugar ratio is one to one.
Recipes to use with your candied ginger:
Fall is here and along with the changing leaves, back to school, and colder temperatures, the holidays are around the corner. Hopefully, that means there is a lot of festivities and parties to attend. I believe a jar of homemade candied ginger is a perfect host/hostess gift. What a thoughtful thank you. Who does not like a delicious homemade treat? Attach a recipe that uses candied ginger, and your host or hostess will be more appreciative.
- 1/2 lb fresh ginger root
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- small pinch of salt
- 3-4 quart saucepan
- Candy thermometer
- Lightly greased cooling rack or parchment paper
- Sheet pan large enough for the cooling rack to fit in
- Air tight container to store the candied ginger
Peel the ginger using the side of a spoon and scrape off the thin skin. Slice the ginger into 1/8-inch (3 mm) pieces with a thin and sharp paring knife or mandoline slicer.
Add the ginger slices to a saucepan then add enough water to cover the ginger slices by one inch (2.5 cm). Bring the water to a boil and simmer for twenty minutes or until the ginger slices are tender and easily pierced with a fork*.
Pour out the tender ginger slices into a fine mesh strainer resting over a bowl to catch the water. Measure the water and add more to equal 2 cups for a half pound of ginger.
Add the water and 2 cups of sugar, pinch of kosher salt to the saucepan and add the ginger slices. (if you are concerned with the ginger syrup crystallizing add 1- 2 TB of corn syrup). Stir to help the sugar dissolve.
Bring the sugar water to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium-high and cook the ginger until the sugar water reaches 225°F (107°C).
Turn off heat and set the saucepan aside.
If you want to keep the candied ginger in the syrup, let it steep in the syrup for at least one hour, up to overnight. Keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about one year.
If you want to dry the ginger and add a sugar coating, immediately pour the ginger into a fine mesh strainer resting over a bowl large enough to hold the ginger syrup. The ginger syrup is delicious and can be used in many different recipes.
Spread the candied ginger over a cooling rack, resting on a sheet pan to catch any drips. Make sure the ginger slices are not stuck together. Let them air dry for 2 hours. You are ready to coat the ginger when it is sticky but not too wet or dry.
Pour about 1/2 cup (125 ml) of granulated sugar on a plate and toss the ginger slices in the sugar to coat. Return the ginger to a clean cooling rack resting over a clean sheet pan and let it dry for 2 hours.
Store in an air tight container, in a cool, dry place. The candied ginger will last for about one month.
*The time spent simmering the ginger depends on the age of your ginger root. The younger the ginger is the more tender it is. Older ginger can get a very fibrous texture. Simmer the ginger slices until it is just tender.
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