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.
Check Out What The #WESAYTOMAOTES Participants Made
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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.
Finally, I have an apricot dessert recipe to share. It has taken awhile, but from my research and inspiration, I found an apricot dessert that is not a galette, not that there is anything wrong with galettes, but I do like to have a variety. With some help from a recipe by Nigella Lawson, I developed a recipe for apricot streusel cake.
Apricots are my favorite fruit and when I find a perfectly ripe fresh apricot, it is hard for me to resist eating the whole basket. Until recently, getting a good and ripe apricot in New York is as rare as finding a four-leaf clover. You know they exist, but finding one takes a few years of constant searching. My fondness for apricots comes from a vivid childhood taste memory and growing up in Northern California. As a result, all apricots compare to that distinct and memorable flavor.
My parents had an apricot tree, along with a plum tree, a couple of apple trees and a cherry tree growing in their yard. I realize this collection of fruit trees gives the impression I lived on an orchard, or an expansive property, though that is not the case. These fruit trees are my dad’s romantic plantings for our suburban hillside home. Because I was not born when Dad planted these trees, I can only imagine his intent. In reality, once the trees were planted, they were left alone to fend for themselves. Rarely did I see Dad harvest the fruit from his trees, let alone prune a branch.
The fruit trees were my playground and fortresses, with a favored attachment to the apricot tree. I would climb up the tree and look for apricots that weren’t half eaten by the birds or bugs. The rejects were used as ammunition when I played war with two of my brothers. Perched up in my apricot tree I would attack the intruders with rotten apricots for the win. Chris and Andy would scramble about while picking up the fallen ammunition for their defense. It was all in good fun, but I was happy to have the apricot tree on my side.
Memorable Apricot Flavor
I considered the apricot tree as my turf and its’ fruit, mine. I did share with my younger brother as he was quite adventurous and never resisted the urge to climb anything that was taller than him. Together we secured our position either standing or straddling on a strong branch, then pluck off any ripe apricots within reach. If we got lucky and found apricots before the birds did, we brought inside a shirt-full of apricots for mom.
If the California sun has a flavor, it is apricot. The juicy saturated tang is lively and speaks of hours spent ripening in the dry heat, then cooled down from the evening fog. When I bite into an apricot, I can feel the heat of those summer days spent building forts and climbing trees. On those dry windless days, only something with strong flavor could tame down the arid heat. The bitter-sweet tang of ripe apricots did the job, almost as good as an orange Popsicle.
For me, all apricots compare to the ones I picked in my childhood backyard. It is not a fair comparison to the unsuspecting apricots that traveled 3000 miles to reach New York. It’s not their fault they traveled so far only to get bruised and battered along the way.
Fortunately, apricots are grown in the NY Hudson Valley and with the popularity of farmers markets, are now more available. I am so happy for this because since moving to NY and having many a disappointing and mealy apricot, I stopped buying them. It is just in the past couple of years I decided to give local apricots a try.
So now, my big adventure is seeking out reliable markets to get NY apricots that are ripe and full of flavor. I bought these apricots at a local farm stand in Yorktown, but the apricots are grown north of me and on the other side of the Hudson River in Marlborough NY. I have never been to Marlborough, but now that I know there is a winery and fruit farms there, I just might have to plan a visit.
Inspiration for Apricot Streusel Cake
A couple of weeks ago, I discovered a recipe for Strawberry Sour Cream Streusel Cake by Nigella Lawson. One night I needed to make a second dessert after my first dessert was an epic fail. I knew Nigella’s baking recipes are reliable, and her strawberry streusel cake recipe looked easy to make. Although it was my first time making her cake, I made some substitutions because I was pressed for time and could not go to the store. Because my jar of vanilla was almost empty, I used almond extract instead. Almond extract is strong, so I used less than the amount for the vanilla. As long as I kept the almond flavor within reason, I believed it would pair nicely with the cake and strawberries.
Additionally, I switched crème fraîche for the sour cream because that was all I had available. The result was a tender cake with a balanced flavor of strawberries and almonds. The almond flavor was especially a big hit, and it gave the cake an unexpected and memorable flavor.
Sour Cream vs Crème Fraîche
I don’t know what it is about crème fraîche, but when I use it in baking or in pancakes, the outcome is a remarkably tender cake. Ironically, despite the fact there is more fat in crème fraîche than sour cream, the cake tastes lighter. The results are magical. Crème fraîche is considered a specialty item and therefore is more expensive than sour cream. You find it in the specialty cheese section of your store. It has more fat than sour cream, but it does not have any additives and is less tangy. I made this streusel cake with both sour cream and crème fraîche and liked both results. Some stores do not carry crème fraîche, but please do not go driving all over town looking for it. It is just not that important, plus you can spend your time more wisely, like looking for good apricots.
Apricot Streusel Cake
Recently I bought a pound of fresh apricots and it occurred to me the recipe for strawberry streusel cake would work with apricots. Apricots are not as watery as strawberries, but I thought the fruit purée would still have the right consistency for the cake. It is not often you see an apricot cake, so it is a pleasant surprise.
Apricot streusel cake has many personalities as it is like a coffee cake but is equally at home as a dessert after a roast chicken dinner. It is similar to a peach cake but has a lot more butter and jammy flavor. Because there is so much butter in the cake batter a familiar aroma of an all-butter pie crust wafts out of the oven as it bakes.
It may smell like pie, but this is definitely a cake. A cake that is tender, moist and easily transportable. Serve it for breakfast or dessert as it is right at home for either course. It is a perfect cake to bring along for a summer weekend getaway, picnic, or brunch with friends. It also tastes great the second day. However, my real assurance came from Joe when after he took one bite said, “This is awesome.”
More Apricot Love
Substitute the peaches with apricots in Peaches and Berries with Bourbon Sabayon
Apricot Streusel Cake
Almond extract or bourbon are great complimentary flavors with apricots. I like to use either one with this cake or a combination of both instead of vanilla.
This recipe is adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Strawberry Sour Cream Streusel Cake.
- 7 oz (200 g) fresh apricots about 5-6 small apricots
- 3 TB (72 g) apricot jam
- 1 ½ tsp (4 g) minced fresh ginger a small piece just over an inch long and a half-inch wide
- 1 ½ tsp (7.5 ml) fresh squeezed lemon juice *see notes
- ½ tsp (2 g) almond extract *see notes
- 2 tsp (6 g) cornstarch
- Smidgen pinch of Kosher salt if needed
- 2 cups (309 g) all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup (164 g) granulated sugar
- 1 tsp (4 g) baking powder
- ½ tsp (2 g) baking soda
- 12 TB (188 g) cold butter 1 ½ sticks cut into ½ inch pieces
- 1 cup (8 oz / 225 g) crème fraîche or sour cream
- 1 large egg
- 1 ½ tsp (8 g / 7.5 ml) almond extract or 1 TB (15 ml) Bourbon
- 2 tsp (13 g) Demerara sugar
- 8 g sliced almonds (small handful)
- 2 fresh small apricots
Preheat the oven to 375°F / 190°C / Gas Mark 5 with the rack in the middle position. Oil or butter a 9-inch (23 cm) springform pan. Reserve until later.
Make the apricot purée
Peel and cut up the apricots then place in the blender or container for an immersion blender. Add the apricot jam. Zest the lemon peel and grate the ginger over your container or blender to catch any of the lemon oils and juices from the ginger.
Make a slurry with the almond extract, lemon juice, and cornstarch then add to the blender or your container. Purée until smooth. Taste the purée and if it seems too bitter, add a smidgen pinch of Kosher salt. Taste again then set aside. The flavors will balance out when added to the cake.
Make the cake
In a large bowl add the flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda. Use a small whisk and stir the mixture until evenly incorporated. Add the butter and use your fingers to smoosh the butter and mix in with the flour mixture. Do this until your flour looks like coarse sand, just like making a pie crust by hand. Measure a ½ cup (125 ml) of the flour mixture and add to a small bowl. Reserve for the streusel topping.
Add the crème fraîche or sour cream, egg, and almond extract (or bourbon) to the large bowl with the flour mixture and mix until thoroughly combined. This batter looks thick, but it should be smooth.
Add just over half the batter to the prepared pan and spread over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. You want to create a flat bottom well for the purée to rest. Try to get the batter about an inch up the sides. Do not worry about making the bottom level even. The batter is sticky, and I found wet hands helps move the cake batter into position.
Add the apricot purée in an even layer across the bottom and nestled inside the well. Make sure the rim of cake batter is taller than the height of the purée. Spoon the remaining cake batter on top and cover the purée being careful not to push the apricot purée up and over the rim.
Make the streusel topping
Add the sugar and almond slices to the small bowl with the reserved butter-flour mixture. Toss with a fork or your fingers until it is evenly combined. Sprinkle the streusel topping over the top of the cake.
Slice each apricot in half then each half into five wedges. Arrange the sliced apricots over the top of the cake in a haphazard pattern. Sprinkle with a few more sliced almonds.
Bake the cake until it is light golden brown, about 45 minutes. Insert a toothpick in the center of the cake to make sure it is cooked through. You will see some crumbs on the toothpick, but nothing should look wet or raw.
Completely cool the cake on a wire rack before you remove the springform pan and serve.
In the original recipe, Nigella added 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract to the fruit purée. I divided the liquid between the almond extract and lemon juice. Almond extract is strong, so I do not recommend using 2 teaspoons in the recipe. However, I have used anywhere from 1/2 tsp up to 1 tsp with good results. Feel free to divide the lemon juice and almond extract equally, or only use lemon juice. However, keep the total liquid at 2 teaspoons.
I peeled off the skin of my apricots, but I will leave that decision to your discretion. Apricot skins do not have that fuzzy offensive texture of peach skin, so I do not believe it is necessary to peel them. The apricots peels will purée thoroughly in a blender or with an immersion blender.
If you cannot get fresh apricots, use canned apricots packaged in their own juices as a substitute. Dry off the can juices from the apricots then weigh or guesstimate by size pairing the halves to make 5 apricots for the purée. There is no need to peel canned apricots.
Minced candied ginger is a nice addition to the streusel topping. Don’t go overboard with the candied ginger as the apricot is the star of the cake. Nutmeg is another spice that pairs well with this cake. Add about a half teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg in the cake batter to complement the apricots and almond flavor.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.