The Glob, Part II

For those who are wondering how in the world one would get a glob from making yogurt….

The process of making yogurt produces a product that is comprised of both curds and whey after the milk (with a starter of some form) has incubated for several hours at 100 degrees F. The longer the incubation time, the more sour the yogurt becomes. Greek yogurts tend to be on the more sour side of the spectrum. Our yogurt incubates for 10 hours, a little longer that what would be needed for whole milk as we are using 1% milk. Regular yogurt is rather soft (depending upon the amount of fat in the milk, the more fat content the thicker the yogurt). Often, yogurt purchased from the store has had a thickener of  some sort added to bring it to the consistency that we normally associate with yogurt.

The last couple of years has seen an explosion of Greek style yogurts hitting the market place. They’ve always been around, but recently they have become one of the most favored forms of yogurt. So what’s the difference between regular and Greek style yogurt? There are several differences, but the most significant factor in relationship to the glob is that Greek yogurts tend to be thicker (without additional thickeners) which creates a higher protein content due to the milk proteins being more concentrated. This is accomplished by removing some of the whey from the curds.

The whey is strained from the curds using a fine meshed material letting the force of gravity do the work. After sitting for 2-3 hours the yogurt has become the consistency of what is known as Greek yogurt. But a glob, it is not. So how does it become a glob? Well, when one gets a batch started incubating at noon it is not fully ready for straining until 10pm. Waiting until midnight or 1am for it to become the correct consistency is not a welcome thought. Instead, into the refrigerator it goes to continue straining until the next morning. And, what do you have the next morning? A round glob of Greek yogurt that looks like and is the consistency of a cheese ball. The whey by that point is mostly in the collecting dish located below the strainer. To get the yogurt back to the desired thickness, just mix whey back into the glob.

Thus, the story behind the story, of the glob.

Bag of Water?

Sugar1The question of the month for me is this: “If you take all the carbon out of sugar, what do you have left?”

Those who actually know biochemistry tell me it depends, but that basically one would be left with nothing but a collection of H and O atoms in some configuration. I say, “Water” because I don’t really know what I’m talking about.

What spawns such a silly question is an even sillier label on this bag of sugar I bought last week.

Sugar2

I know what is meant, but context is everything, and this being a bag of sugar, a CARBOhydrate par excellence, I could not help but be amused.

I wonder if Dr. Atkins would approve?

Gluten Free (and Full) Pancakes

A friend who has moved near to us cannot digest gluten. I’ve tried several times to make for her some gluten-free pizza crust, but that has not turned out so well. So, I decided to turn my sights to something a bit less challenging: pancakes.

Years ago we discovered what we think is the best pancake recipe, since perfected with home ground, whole wheat flour, but perfectly good with regular flour. I’ll share that here in a moment.

When I went to the internet looking for a gluten-free alternative, the best rated (at my go-to site) all had particularly weird ingredients (translation: not in my pantry) and an over dependence upon xanthan gum. So I decided to experiment with my preferred recipe, replacing the wheat flour with whatever else I could drum up without a trip to the store.

The result received high marks from members of our church community group. So… if any of you need some gluten free pancakes, I’d love to know what you think of this alternative.

[Note: Since I’m a huge fan of the kitchen scale, I list the ingredients here in grams first to encourage you to make the leap. But in deference to those who have not yet done so, I’ll convert them to more standard measures. The conversions are approximate. Please – go buy yourself a scale!]

Pancakes

(Based on a recipe from The Book of Bread by Judith and Evan Jones)

Flour 135g (1 rounded cup)
Baking Soda 7g (1 tsp)
Sugar 29g (2 TBS)
Salt 2g (1/4 tsp)
Egg 1
Oil (or butter) 28g (2 TBS)
Buttermilk 240g (1 cup – adjust for desired thickness)

Mix liquid ingredients in one container and dry in another. Then, mix the dry into the liquid. Do not over mix.

The original recipe called for melted butter, but we have found that vegetable oil is so much easier than melting the butter. This recipe will make about 8 medium sized pancakes.

For the gluten free alternative, I replaced the flour with the following:

Rice flour 60g (3/8 cup)
Corn flour 60g (1/2 cup)
Corn starch 15g (2 TBS)

I tell you – this is so much easier with a scale.

Let me know what you think!

Two Front Teeth, and a Couple Other Things: An Instant Read Thermometer

While I’m in a kitchen kind of mood, I would like to recommend one more critical piece of kitchen equipment for this Christmas season.

Though I like cooking and baking, my repertoire of kitchen creations is rather limited. More often than not I will be grilling something or baking rolls. And before I discovered the wonders of the Thermapen instant read thermometer, my burgers would be burnt, my chicken pink, and my rolls fallen. All was not good. But the Thermapen has rescued me from all that.Thermapen

This gadget is a slick piece of design which can measure the internal temperature of meat, breads, and even, because we’ve tried, swimming pools. It is accurate and very, very fast. Within seconds, you can have an accurate read on your food’s internal temperature and know whether to shove it back in the oven or get it off the grill.

The usefulness of this thermometer is pretty obvious when it comes to meats. The ability to measure the internal temperature of a piece of chicken quickly on a hot grill keeps me from over and under cooking chicken, which I did frequently before. An undercooked turkey can be a frustration on Thanksgiving or Christmas, as some may have recently discovered.

But the real value of the Thermapen for me has been in baking. Breads are not necessarily done when the outside is brown. The rapidity of browning varies based upon the moisture content of the bread and the proximity of the heating elements. Bread is only done when its internal temperature is in the 180-210°F range, depending upon the bread. The ability to test this quickly without losing oven heat is so, so helpful to impatient types like me. A tray of rolls whose center temperature is only 160°F may look fine in the oven. But when pulled out and allowed to cool, the center will sag and underneath the beautiful brown crust will be a gooey mess of undercooked dough. Ugh.

The Thermapen is pricey. It can be purchased from the manufacturer’s web site for $89.00. I suppose one would want to rescue a whole lot of rolls for that price. And I have. We’ve used ours for a few years now and should this one break, which it shouldn’t, I’d buy a replacement without hesitation.

So would, apparently, a host of reviewers more celebrated than I, including, according to the Thermapen web site, Alton Brown. But, hey, why trust anecdotal preferences when you can turn to the guys over at Cooking for Engineers dot com (yes, that is a real site) to run a series of tests on it? The Thermapen won the day there, and has persuaded me here. Perhaps there are less expensive options out there, but I can’t see trusting my rolls to another.

Two Front Teeth, and a Couple Other Things: A Kitchen Scale

Black Friday had come and gone, and so perhaps many of you already have your Christmas shopping complete. For those of you who don’t, let me recommend an item for those who love to hang out in the kitchen. In my thinking, right up there with ‘oven’ and ‘refrigerator’ in the pantheon of indispensable kitchen things is the digital kitchen scale.

Why?

First, accuracy. It is notoriously difficult to measure flour with consistent accuracy. Various methods are used, but only one is consistent: weighing the flour. One cup of flour weighs 120 grams. If you try to scoop the flour, you compress it. If the flour has been sifted, it is fluffy and full of air. One cup of compressed flour does not equal one cup of fluffy flour. But 120 grams is always 120 grams. With a scale, there is no guesswork.

Secondly, it is so much easier and cleaner to measure ingredients by weight. We make our own sloppy joes. The sauce is composed of a cup of this and three tablespoons of that. When done, the counter is littered with a variety of measuring tools all of which need to be cleaned. With the scale, I put a bowl on the scale, and proceed to add the ketchup, the mustard, the vinegar, the sugar, and so on, by weight to the single bowl. I need not dirty a single measuring tool. When all the ingredients are added, I mix them in the bowl and add them to the fried hamburger. Simple and made so much simpler by the scale.

Third, for the borderline OCD like myself, I love knowing that ALL my hamburger patties are within a fraction of a precise 5 ounces. It’s a beautiful thing.

And finally, conversion. I have my own pancake recipe which the family is fond of. I mix the dry ingredients ahead of time and store them so that when we want pancakes, all I need to do is to mix the liquid ingredients, drop in the right amount of dry ingredients, mix, and fry. One day I was preparing to make a batch of the dry mix only to discover that instead of the necessary 960 grams of flour (i.e. 8 cups) I only had 690 grams. That is, I only had 72% of what I needed.

Now, if one was measuring in cups and tablespoons, how quickly could you calculate and then measure 72% of the necessary 6 teaspoons of baking soda? With a scale, all it takes is a calculator. 35 grams instead of 48 grams. Piece of (pan)cake.

We’ve had a couple scales over the years, but the one which has served us well is the Escali. Accurate, easy to use, durable, and cheap. And the pink one made my daughter-in-law especially happy.

So, I’m happy here to pass your way a very good and very special pancake recipe. But, alas, as you will see, there is a catch.

Enjoy!

Flour – 135g
Baking Soda – 7g
Sugar – 29g
Salt – 2g
Egg 1
Oil (or butter) – 28g
Buttermilk – 240g

Makes about 8 decent sized pancakes.

Nearly Complete Lewis Library for Sale

Few know that C. S. Lewis was an accomplished baker who wrote a number of books probing the remote corners of the baker’s art. These books are rare, and treasured in the Christian baking community.

I have been privileged to come in contact with a man who has a nearly complete collection of Lewis’ baking works which I have been authorized to offer for sale. Before posting this to Craig’s List, I thought I’d give readers of Happy and Bright the first crack.

All works in this set are in good condition, with some underlining in pencil. All are paperbacks, but the glue is tight and the spines uncracked.

This set includes:

The Four Loaves

Surprised by Soy

A Yeast Observed

The Problem of Grain

Till We Have Biscuits

The Sourdough Letters

Sourdough Proposes Toast

The Abolition of Manna

Also here, for the children:

The Lion, the Witch, and the Whole-Wheat Waffle

The Voyage of the Dawn Donut

The Last Bagel

and, a rare find, his classic defense of Christian baking:

Mere Crustianity

Bidding will start with the first serious offer.

Bacon

I am known in my family and to a few close friends as the guy who was sick one day, and bored, and in order to pass the time took his temperature every hour and charted its variations in Excel.

So, to those, the following will come as no surprise.

Bacon, you might notice, is much smaller when it is cooked than when you pull it from the package. But how much smaller?

To find out, I cooked 8 ounces (227 grams) of Publix regular bacon on a hanging rack in the microwave, which does not leave the bacon in its own grease as it cooks. I weighed the entire apparatus when it went into the microwave (408 grams) and the whole when it was done cooking (296 grams). I assumed that the difference between those two weights would be accounted for by water in the bacon that had turned to steam and dissipated (112 grams). I then weighed the bacon itself after cooking (47 grams).

Yes, one starts with 227 grams of bacon, but only 47 grams of it ever gets eaten.

Putting it all together, we are left with these facts. Out of every pound of bacon you buy at the store:

* 49% will evaporate
* 30% will stay in the pan
* 21% will make it to your plate.

More graphically, if the package of bacon is ten inches long, you can mentally chop off eight inches and toss it away. You only eat two inches.

Hmmm. I think I’ll be buying less bacon.

[Of course, every “scientific endeavor” is subject to peer review. Though this is hardly scientific, and though I don’t imagine there is anyone out there as obsessive about these things as I, I would be interested to hear if there are!]

The Buzz

How does a business (or a church, for that matter) generate ‘buzz’, that positive reverberating acknowledgment of its existence in a community? Can’t say that I know. But for the past couple of weeks from sources I cannot now all recall I’ve heard tell of a new coffee shop in town, and I’ve been told that it was top notch.

I was there today. Nearly all day. The advance billing was not out of line.

Over the past five years I’ve watched all but a couple independent coffee shops in Bradenton bow to economic pressure and go out of business. Those who have survived have done so by radically abandoning in some way their commitment to being a coffee shop. I’m not a Starbucks hater. I like Starbucks. But I’m also a huge fan of the distinctive character of independent shops. I’m sad to see them come and go.

A while back I watched as a ‘Barnies’ coffee shop opened, existed for a few months, and then shut down. It never looked appealing, I was never drawn in, and by the time I finally determined to visit, it was out of business.

Out of the ashes, in the same location, has arisen ‘Lov A Da Coffee‘. I don’t know if it will last, but everything about this place indicates the owners have done things with the intention of making it work.


I was at Lov A Da working (I work a lot in coffee shops) between an early morning hospital visit and a noon lunch nearby. In between I needed to take my car to a mechanic which was also in the area. After my lunch appointment, the car was not done, so I moved a 4:00 o’clock appointment to Lov A Da and simply spent the rest of the day there, consuming in the process three cups of coffee, one caramel cappuccino, and one Café Americana (I think that is what it was called). I had plenty of time to evaluate the place.

What can I say? The only fault to me is the odd and difficult-to-say name.

The space is large, divided into two rooms. One room has a traditional coffee shop feel, lots of tables, a service counter, and sounds of grinding beans and steaming milk. The other has the feel of a large family room, carpeted, with a dozen or more stuffed chairs and coffee tables. It has as well a well appointed stage for live music. This room is already filling a niche for a comfortable meeting space. I sat there with my 4:00 o’clock appointment, and with nearly 20 others in small groups doing the same, he and I spoke as comfortably as if we were alone. It was wonderful.

As one who lives on his laptop, the first thing I do when entering a new place is scout out the outlets for my power adaptor. This place is loaded with outlets, most discreetly hidden on the bottom sides of the tables, a clever, handy, and aesthetically pleasing solution. For those without laptops, there are a selection of computers scattered around the space, both PC and Mac. (I’m told that the owner is a Mac guy. Of course he is.)

The background music was alternative rock when I first got there, but it soon changed to real (not ‘smooth’!) jazz. It fit.

Every cup of coffee is freshly ground and brewed to order. My cups were excellent as was the service. After my first cup, I asked the barista, “Are refills free?” Very pleasantly he replied, “This one can be.”

I understand that a coffee shop, where a guy may sit for four hours or more, can’t have a free refill policy. I’m okay with that. So, I insisted on paying for my second cup. Later, he brought me a third cup, free. A cheap way to buy a customer’s favor!

The business here was brisk. Very brisk for a store that has only been open for six weeks and has yet to have a sign installed at the road.

Someone there told me that this coffee shop used to exist as ‘Java Moon’ further down the road. The contrast between what that was and what this is could not be more striking. I tried to visit that shop a couple of times, but felt like a CEO in a tattoo shop. It just wasn’t comfortable. Whatever muse led the owner to relocate and redesign, it was a good one.

This, then, is the secret of ‘buzz’: replant, relocate, rename, remake yourself, and do it with a deep commitment to quality. Of course, what is ‘buzz’ other than friends inviting friends. That drives coffee shops as well as churches.

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