It is tart week in my household with both sweet and savory tart recipes for yours and my pleasure. Because it is fig season, I am compelled to make something at least once using figs. I love figs. They are a beautiful fruit with its simple pear shape, deep purple color, and a seductive subtle but jammy interior. That rich eggplant purple is one of my favorite colors and I find anything with that color totally irresistible.
Fig and Almond Tart
Several years ago, I discovered this tart recipe on Food Network by Giada De Laurentiis but I thought it was very rich and sweet. Because I wanted to make a fig and almond tart, I decided to give this tart recipe another try with some minor changes. I adapted the tart recipe by reducing the amount of sweetener in the filling, so the sweet flavor does not dominate the fig and almond flavors.
The original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of sugar in the pie crust, and one tablespoon of sugar plus 2 tablespoons of honey in the mascarpone cheese and almond paste filling. In my opinion, it was too rich, so I reduced the sweetener to only 1 tablespoon of honey in the filling. For me, this minor adjustment made all the difference.
I do like the sweetened pie crust and did not change the amount of sugar in that recipe. However, feel free to adjust the amount of sugar in the crust from 1 to 2 tablespoons (15 – 30 ml). The original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of sugar and I believe the sweetness in the crust blends the crust with the filling. Otherwise, the strong flour flavor in the crust will compete with the figs and almonds.
My experience baking with almond paste is limited, but what I have learned so far is each brand tastes slightly different for both almond flavor and sweetness. Depending on your brand of almond paste could determine how much sugar you need to add to the filling. Before you begin mixing the filling, taste the almond paste to determine how sweet it is. Then mix it together with the mascarpone cheese and other filling ingredients, then taste again. Add more honey or sugar if you wish. I like the amount of sweetener I have in this fig and almond tart recipe, but if your almond paste is on the less sweet side, you may need more.
For another tart recipe using almond paste, make Almond Cherry and Peach Galette.
Another trick to get more almond flavor without adding extra almond paste is, add a few drops of pure almond extract. Be careful adding the almond extract because it is strong and only use pure almond extract. Imitation almond extract tastes like chemicals and not the real deal, just like imitation vanilla extract.
The most common almond paste brands available are Solo and Odense almond paste. Solo comes in a box or can, and Odense comes in a tube. You want to make sure it is pure or real almond paste. I have used both brands with good results. You will find almond paste in the baking aisle.
Almond paste and marzipan are two different ingredients and not interchangeable. Marzipan is made with almond paste and extra sugar and more egg whites. It is the almond paste that gives marzipan its characteristic almond flavor.
If you are feeling adventurous, you can make your own almond paste.
You want to use figs that are just starting to ripen and getting soft. I used black mission figs, but any type of fig will work in this tart recipe. Stay away from figs that are too soft and mushy. They are over-ripe and do not taste as fresh. I recommend inspecting the figs before you buy them because they often have moldy figs mixed in with the ripe figs. Figs are very perishable and quickly become over-ripe so use them as soon as possible after you buy them.
To store figs, remove them from the plastic container and place them on a paper towel-lined plate in one layer with space between each fig so they can breathe. Cover the figs in plastic wrap. You can keep the figs on the counter for a couple of days, but they will last longer in the refrigerator.
More recipes using figs:
Mascarpone vs Cream Cheese
What is mascarpone cheese? Mascarpone cheese comes from Italy and is similar to cream cheese, but it has a higher milk fat content because it is made with cream. Cream cheese is made in America and by law must have at least 33% milk fat and 55% moisture. Cream cheese also has additives, like gums to give the cheese a thicker appearance. They are not equally interchangeable in a recipe because of the differences in consistency, texture, milk fat percentages, and additives in cream cheese. You will find mascarpone cheese in the cheese department or deli department near the crème fraîche. If possible do not substitute cream cheese for the mascarpone cheese in this tart recipe.
Fig and Almond Tart
- 1 ½ cup 213 g all-purpose flour
- 1 -2 TB (12 - 24 g) sugar
- Zest from one lemon
- 10 TB ( g) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into half-inch (1 cm) pieces
- 3 TB ice water
- 3 ½ oz (101 g) almond paste, room temperature and cut into ½ inch ( 1 cm) pieces
- 1/3 cup (76 g) mascarpone cheese, room temperature
- 1 TB honey
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- Pure almond extract to taste (if needed) a couple of drops
- 12 figs, stems removed and sliced into fourths lengthwise
- 2 tsp of Minced sprigs of Rosemary or Lemon Thyme optional
Make the pie dough
Food Processor Method
Add the flour, sugar, lemon zest, and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is evenly combined. Add the chilled butter cubes and pulse until the mixture looks like large course sand with uneven clumps. Turn on the machine and add the water in a steady stream until large clumps form being careful not to overwork the dough. Tip the mixture onto a clean and lightly floured surface and pat into a disk. Wrap the pie dough with plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour, or up to 2 days.
If making by hand, add the flour sugar, lemon zest, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Whisk together until the ingredients are evenly combined. Add the cubed butter and toss them with your clean hands until coated with flour. Smash the butter with your fingers to mix into the flour until the mixture looks like coarse meal with uneven sizes. Add the ice water and stir with your hands briefly until the dough comes together. Tip the dough onto a clean and lightly floured surface and shape into a flat disk. Wrap the disk with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.
Mix the almond filling
In a clean bowl of a food processor, add the almond paste, mascarpone cheese, honey, and vanilla. Process until a smooth paste is formed. Scrape down the side of the bowl to blend and process again. Make sure there are no clumps of almond paste in the mix. Taste and add a couple of drops of almond extract if you want the filling to have more almond flavor. Go very light with the almond extract because it is very strong.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C) with the oven rack in the middle position. Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside.
Assemble the Tart
Remove the pie dough from the refrigerator and if it is too hard, let it rest at room temperature for a couple of minutes. Remove the plastic wrap and place the dough on a lightly floured and clean work surface. Whack the dough with your rolling pin across the dough to soften it up and start forming a circle. Rotate the dough 180° and whack it again 4 times across the dough. Turn the dough over and repeat.
Roll out the dough with your rolling pin starting at the center of your dough and roll it in one direction away from you. Move the rolling pin around the dough circle and roll out in one direction. Turn the dough over and continue to roll and shape the dough until you have a circle with a 12-inch diameter and is ¼ inch (.5) thick.
Transfer the dough onto your prepared baking sheet by draping the dough over your rolling pin then easing the dough into place.
Spread the almond filling over the dough in an even layer leaving a 2-inch (5 cm) border. Layer the fig slices in concentric circles over the almond filling beginning at the outer rim and working inwards.
Heat the jam for 15 seconds to loosen it up and spread the jam over the figs. You might not use all of the jam, but you want an even layer that is not too thick.
Fold the dough border over the toppings to create an edge. Pleat the border to maintain the circle shape. You can bake the tart right away, but if it took you a while to arrange the tart filling over the dough and you are concerned about the tart expanding and opening up when baking, refrigerate the tart, loosely covered with plastic wrap for 30 minutes or freeze for 15 minutes.
Bake for 40 minutes or until the crust is a golden brown color. Transfer the tart on the sheet pan to a cooling rack and cool for 10 minutes. Loosen the bottom of the tart with a metal spatula or offset spatula and slide the tart off the parchment paper onto your serving platter. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Best eaten the day it is made.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
It is time to take advantage of the remaining warm summer nights and enjoy an evening with friends, sparkling wine, and charcuterie. Entertaining does not get any easier than this. There is no cooking unless you want to make the pâté or a spread. Just assemble and relax. What you place on your charcuterie platter is up to you, but you want to keep in mind how many people you are entertaining, variety in texture and flavor, plus add your personal stamp to the meal. A charcuterie platter is a perfect meal for hot summer nights when it is too hot to cook, or just enjoying a sunset from your deck with friends.
But what is a charcuterie platter? By definition, charcuterie is a French name for a deli, or market, that sells cured meats, especially pork. Charcuterie also means the products that are sold in a charcuterie. With that understanding, a charcuterie platter is a platter or tray layered with smoked and cured meats and other specialty food items, like cheese and pickles.
Traditionally, a charcuterie platter is very meat focused and consists of a variety of cured meats like prosciutto, soppressata, and pâtés, with add-ins like pickles, spicy mustard, bread, or crackers. However, for my platter, and because I believe it is still in the realm of the definition of a charcuterie platter, I added cheeses, fruits, and vegetables.
How to Build a Charcuterie Platter
How does one put together all those different foods so that it looks appealing and covers all the bases of complementary tastes and contrasting textures? First, organize all your ingredients in groups, then arrange all of the ingredients in a decorative yet easy to reach manner.
Start with the meats. A good rule to follow is 2 oz of meat per person. Charcuterie platters contain very rich foods, so you do not want to overdo it. Pick three types of cured meat with different flavors and textures. The meats pictured on my charcuterie platter are soppressata, prosciutto, and bresaola. These three types of cured meats offer a variety in texture and flavor, although a subtle one. A common rule is, have meat that you slice like the soppressata, one meat that comes sliced, like prosciutto, and meat that you spread like pâté.
Other meats you buy sliced are Guanciale or Mortadella.
Meats for spreading are smooth or chunky pâtés or terrines.
What is missing on my charcuterie board is pâté because my family does not care for it. Smoked fish or gravlax is also a nice alternative and an option for people who do not like pork or beef. Keep in mind you want to make something that you know you and your guests will enjoy.
Similar to the cured meats, it is nice to have 3 different types of cheese on your charcuterie board as well. Although, if you want this to be charcuterie platter that is more meat-focused, one selection of cheese is fine.
Like the meats, your cheeses should have different textures and flavors. I usually follow this rule for building a cheese board, one soft rind triple cream cheese, one hard or sharp-tasting cheese, and one blue cheese. The possibilities are endless. If you do not like blue cheese swap in a soft goat cheese.
Other cheese selections are:
This is where you can get creative and add your personal spin to a charcuterie platter. Yet, keep in mind the additional accoutrements have a purpose other than tasting great and looking pretty. The add-ins provide a break from the rich meats and cheeses, provide textural contrast, and clear the palate.
Fill your platter with a wide selection of any of these foods.
Fruits like figs, grapes, berries or dried fruits like apricots or figs are nice selections.
Pickles like cornichons are a must, but you can use other pickled vegetables like carrots, fennel, and chilies.
Briny olives like Kalamata or good green olives.
Fresh vegetables like fennel, cucumber, radishes, or carrots add an important textural contrast with their crisp crunch and are very refreshing.
Mustard is also an important ingredient to a charcuterie platter as they complement the cured meat wonderfully.
Spreads like hummus and tapenade taste great with charcuterie.
Nuts. Any nut like walnuts, almonds or pistachios you can’t go wrong. Just make sure there are no nut allergies before you add them to your platter.
The list is long, but choose a selection of three fruits and/or vegetables, with a couple of specialty items. Don’t be redundant. If you have olive tapenade, do not put out olives. If you have fig jam don’t put out fresh figs, pick another fruit instead. Although, when in season fresh figs are delicious with charcuterie.
Just remember one thing, do not forget the mustard, sweet or spicy or both, it doesn’t matter. In France, it is sacrilegious to serve charcuterie without mustard.
It is nice to arrange everything on one platter and serve with bread or crispy crackers. You can also arrange your charcuterie selection on more than one platter. This is especially important if some of your guests eat a plant-based diet. They might not want their selections mixed in with the meats or cheeses. By the middle of the evening, the charcuterie platter will get messy, so it is thoughtful of you to keep the foods separate. Serving the charcuterie selections on multiple platters works well for larger parties when you will have more meats to arrange on your board.
Toasted French baguette makes a more substantial selection and looks nice when sliced thin on the diagonal. I especially like to serve charcuterie with bread when I want my charcuterie platter to be a meal. Thin crispy plain crackers work well with the cheese and meats too. Also, I found people really enjoy breadsticks as well.
Serve your charcuterie platter at room temperature. You will need to slice the meats and cheeses when they are cold, but everything tastes better when they are at room temperature.
Chilled sparkling wines like a Spanish Cava or an Italian Prosecco, Lambrusco, or a dry rosé are perfect for this type of meal, especially on hot summer nights. Some dry reds that are not too heavy pair nicely as well. Dry sparkling wines help cut the richness of the cheese and meats and clear the palate so you can keep on sampling.
Beer is another good beverage of choice, but I would not do anything too rich. I really enjoyed the pairing of a red ale with my Irish Cheese Platter, so I imagine it works with charcuterie as well.
My son Andrew recommends Saisons because they are dry and spicy, or a good Pilsner. These types of beer will help clear the palate. He also loves Lambic, a Belgium Sour, with charcuterie. Low alcohol beers work nicely because they do not fill you up and you can easily snack on your charcuterie.
For a non-alcohol beverage, seltzer is perfect. Mixed in with lime, or lemon and/or cucumber is very refreshing and helps clear the palate. Anything bubbly that is not sweet. Stay away from soda. You won’t taste the charcuterie if you are drinking a coke.
I hope you enjoy the remains of summer and the ease of the season with charcuterie and friends.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Creamy tomato and mozzarella salad is a nice alternative to the more traditional Caprese Salad. Both have their place as an exceptional first course or appetizer and both feature ripe tomatoes and fresh mozzarella nicely as the star ingredients. Yet creamy tomato and mozzarella salad have an element of surprise with heat from the jalapeño chilies, a slight brininess from the capers, and a bright lemony creaminess from the dressing.
To make this mozzarella salad sing like the opening act of an all-star concert, be very particular about the ingredients you use.
First and foremost, only use perfectly ripe tomatoes and locally grown tomatoes if you can get them. This mozzarella salad is at its best when the tomatoes are in season and bursting with sweet sun-ripened flavor. Out of season tomatoes just won’t do the salad justice. The juices from ripe tomatoes will blend into the dressing creating a sauce perfect for soaking up with good crusty bread. If you must make this salad before or after tomato season, use cherry or grape tomatoes as you can get a good tasting and ripe, hydroponically grown grape tomatoes during the year.
Also, use any variety of tomato, as long as the tomatoes are ripe. If you like to mix things up, use a variety of tomatoes with different shapes, sizes, and color. Yellow tomatoes are especially nice in this mozzarella salad as they have less acid than the red variety.
Second, use only fresh mozzarella. The vacuum sealed mozzarella you find in the dairy section of the store is no substitute. Even the brand that looks like it is fresh mozzarella. If it is vacuumed sealed it is not fresh. Don’t even think about it. That cheese works nicely on a pizza but not in a salad. Fortunately, several markets make their own mozzarella, so it is not hard to come by. Often the mozzarella is kept in water, or just freshly wrapped in plastic wrap and sold the day it is made. Buffalo mozzarella is another alternative if you can find it.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Third, use the best tasting extra virgin olive oil you can afford. Don’t use the generic extra virgin olive oil that is really a blend of oils, but real extra virgin olive oil with a fruity and peppery note and body. You do not need to buy the most expensive one, just a good one that you like.
More tomato recipes
By using the best quality ingredients, this mozzarella salad is hard to resist. It is immensely satisfying as only food made with fresh quality ingredients is. Both tomatoes and fresh mozzarella taste best when they are at room temperature, so serve the mozzarella salad at room temperature. Though, it is easier to slice mozzarella when it is cold and right out of the refrigerator. I recommend making the salad no more than an hour before you want to serve it. Unfortunately, mozzarella salad is not a make-ahead meal.
Additionally, I recommend slicing the mozzarella and tomatoes into reasonable size slices. My yellow tomato was very large, so I cut each slice into quarters. It was a lot more manageable that way. Also, I cut each mozzarella slice in half, especially the middle slices.
If you wish, you can rip large bite-size pieces of the mozzarella and scatter the pieces over the tomatoes instead of layering each slice. This looks especially nice when you have different varieties of tomatoes in your salad and you arrange the tomatoes and mozzarella in a random pattern.
Mozzarella Salad makes a delicious first course or an appetizer with slices of grilled crusty bread like a baguette. You are going to want something to soak up the delicious juices from the tomatoes and dressing. Either way, this tomato and mozzarella salad is a fine addition to your salad repertoire.
August and September are the best months to enjoy ripe tomatoes so go get some before they are gone.
This recipe is adapted from Marinated Mozzarella with Crème Fraîche and Lemon and Marjoram by Jamie Oliver’s cookbook, Happy Days with the Naked Chef, and Lemon Cream from Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden.
My Creamy Tomato and Mozzarella Salad recipe is part of a social media collaborative project featuring tomatoes. Below the recipe is a list of all the talented Instagramers and food bloggers who are participating in the #wesaytomatoes collaboration. Please check out their tomato recipes for more tomato inspiration
Creamy Tomato and Mozzarella Salad
Creamy tomato and mozzarella salad is a wonderful change from the traditional Caprese Salad. Like a Caprese salad, creamy tomato and mozzarella salad showcase both the tomatoes and mozzarella as the stars of the meal. Yet in this salad, the fresh mozzarella and sun-ripened tomatoes get a subtle yet complimentary embellishment from the lemon cream, minced jalapeño chilis, and fresh herbs. The layer of heat from the chili pairs nicely with the fresh cheese and creamy dressing and adds a crisp bite within this yielding salad. I like adding a subtle but briny tang to the salad, so I added capers for some extra lift.
This is one of those salads that you don't really need to follow the recipe ingredients amounts exactly. Use this recipe as a guideline and adjust the ingredients to suit your taste. The food pairings are lovely, but how much jalapeño, fresh herbs, capers, and dressing is best determined by your taste. If you use the best quality ingredients, this mozzarella salad is a winner no matter how much jalapeño you add. When adjusting the ingredients to your taste, remember to start with less as you can always add more. It is much harder to take away.
If you can find fresh marjoram substitute it for the oregano. This dish benefits from the flavor of fresh herbs, so do not use dried herbs. If you are not a fan of oregano, substitute it with fresh thyme, lemon thyme or rosemary.
This recipe is adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Marinated Mozzarella in Crème Fraiche with Lemon and Marjoram from his book, Happy Days. The Creamy dressing is adapted from Joshua McFadden’s Lemon Cream, in his book, Six Seasons
Best eaten at room temperature and the day it is made.
- 2 lbs (1 kg) ripe tomatoes any variety or color
- 1 lb (500 g) fresh mozzarella or buffalo mozzarella
- Kosher Salt and Fresh Black pepper to taste
- Lemon Dressing
- 1 lemon
- ½ - 1 jalapeño chili
- 1 TB capers
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Fresh oregano or marjoram to taste about 2 teaspoons or more
- ¼ cup (60 ml) heavy cream
- 2 cloves garlic peeled and smashed remove green germ
- Pinch Kosher Salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
- ½ tsp of lemon zest
- 1 TB (15 ml) fresh lemon juice
- 1 TB (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil
Make the lemon dressing
In a small bowl add the garlic and heavy cream and allow to infuse for a couple of hours in the refrigerator. This gives you a nice garlic flavor without the bracing bite from garlic.
After 2 hours, fish out the garlic cloves from the heavy cream and add the Kosher salt and several rounds of freshly ground black pepper, and lemon zest.
Using a wire whisk, whisk the cream by hand until the cream just starts to thicken. Add the lemon juice and olive oil and whisk until airy but pourable. This won’t get thick like fully whipped cream. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking. Cover the bowl and keep in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Best if used the same day it is made.
Assemble the Salad
Slice the tomatoes a shy 1/2 inch (1 cm) thick and spread out in a single layer on a tray or cutting board. Lightly sprinkle the slices with flaky sea salt and fresh black pepper. Slice the mozzarella in ¼ inch (.5cm) slices.
Arrange the tomatoes and mozzarella slices around a platter by alternating slices of tomatoes with slices of mozzarella.
Slice the jalapeño pepper in half and remove the stem, white pith and seeds. The white pith and seeds carry most of the heat in the chili so if you want it a little spicier, leave some of the white pith intact. However, make sure you remove all of the seeds as they would look unappealing in this dish. Mince the jalapeño chili and sprinkle it over the tomatoes and mozzarella. You may only need about half of the jalapeño chili, but use as much as you want.
Sprinkle some of the fresh oregano, and capers over the salad. Pretend like you are Jackson Pollock and paint the tomatoes and mozzarella arrangement with the lemon cream. Depending on how thick the lemon cream is, I find it works best if you wave a spoon back and forth, filled with the dressing above the salad. You will get a random pattern of the creamy dressing but not a heavy and gloppy looking one. You will not use all the dressing. Serve extra dressing on the side for those who want more.
Add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil over the salad and extra herbs, capers and minced jalapeño, flaky sea salt and fresh ground black pepper.
Serve room temperature as a salad or first course. Or serve as an appetizer with crusty bread or grilled bread.
This is best eaten the day it is made. If you have some leftovers, store in the refrigerator and eat up the next day.
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© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
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.