Pickles, Pickles, Pickles

I didn’t always love pickles.

I do now.  But I didn’t always. And the first pickles I made were horrible.  The cucumbers got mushy in the processing.  I tried dills, garlic and bread-n-butters, but they all tasted terrible because the consistency was awful.  I will never forget opening the first jar of pickles that I made and biting into one.  It was the worst thing I ever put in my mouth.  And I was a little kid once.  A little kid who was a younger sister, who actually took a bite of the mud pies my sister made.  Trust me, the mud pie was better than the pickle.

I gave up on pickles for a long time, until I got married, actually, and received the Winch Family Pickle Recipe.  It’s a secret, so I can’t share that one.  However, I have figured out all kinds of pickles since my first successes with the Family Recipe.

I think the most intimidating thing about making pickles is batch size.  We tend to think in larger batches because it is such a pain in the neck to pull out all of the canning equipment. Who wants to do that for two quarts of pickles, right?  Well, you don’t need canning equipment for these pickles.  And they aren’t those refrigerator dills, either.  These are garlic pickles, like from the big barrel in the deli. My husband, a native Minnesotan, was dubious about a pickle that had no dill in the brine.  But he is a convert to the strange and mysterious ways of the east: lacto-fermentation (Probiotic Preservation) and a ton of garlic!

Garlic Pickles

  • a clean wide mouth canning jar with lid
  • enough cucumbers to fill the jar
  • horseradish or grape leaf (optional)
  • 1 small head of garlic peeled
  • 1 t peppercorns
  • 2 T salt dissolved in 2 C filtered water (or 1 T salt, 1/4 C whey, and 1 3/4 C filtered water)
  1. Push the horseradish or grape leaf into the bottom of the jar (this helps the cucumbers retain their crispness, but it is not necessary).
  2. Pierce the garlic cloves and add them to the jar.  Drop in the peppercorns.
  3. Push the cucumbers into the jar tightly, but try not to bruise them as they go in.  If they are too long for the jar, cut them to fit.
  4. Cover with the salt water (or salt-whey water), leaving about 1 inch of space at the top.  Be sure the cucumbers are completely under the solution.
  5. Put the lid on the jar and let is sit on a counter for 2 or 3 days, until you see bubbles forming.  You should also notice that the color of the cucumber skin has changed.
  6. Move the cukes to cold storage.  They are ready to eat at any time, but the longer they sit around, the more garlicky and sour they become. The consistency will change over time.  hey may get a little soft.  They are still ok to eat.

Really Easy Homemade Bread

Notice the title doesn’t read Home-Baked Bread.  If you buy bread dough in the frozen food section of the supermarket, go home and pop it in the oven, that bread is home-baked.  Just like all of those restaurants that advertise “Baked on premises,” any industrially produced food that is put in the oven and cooked is baked in that oven.  Where a product is baked does not change the number of preservatives and additives that it contains.

There is no great mystery to bread baking.  Oh, there are bakers out there who would have you believe that baking bread is some tricky, difficult task.  Look at it this way, people have been baking bread for a thousand years.  How difficult can it be?  So, if you haven’t used your mixer in a while, dust it off!  Here is my recipe and method:

  • 1/2 C fat (I use melted lard*)
  • 1/2 C molasses** (or half honey and half molasses)
  • 2 C Warm water
  • 2 T milk
  • 2 t salt
  • 2 C AP flour
  • 4 C Whole Wheat flour
  • 2T + 2t yeast* (4 packets)
  1. Put the hook attachment on the mixer.
  2. Put all of the ingredients in the bowl of the mixer in the order listed.  By measuring the fat first, you grease the measuring cup and the molasses will slide right out of it.  By following with the water, you get the rest of the molasses off of the sides.
  3. Put down the hook and mix on “2” (the second slowest setting) for 8 minutes.
  4. Grease a bowl.
  5. After 8 minutes, turn the dough out and knead it a couple of times and form it into a ball.  The dough should be a little sticky.
  6. Put the dough in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.  Do not let it over-proof.
  7. Grease two loaf pans.
  8. Punch the dough and deflate it.  Mush it into a ball and cut the ball in half.
  9. Roll the 1/2 ball into a “snake” about 12″ long.
  10. Using a rolling pin, roll out the snake into a rectangle.
  11. Roll up the rectangle and then pinch the seams together.  For the sides, stretch the side to form a seam on what will be the bottom of the loaf.
  12. Place it in the loaf pan SEAM SIDE DOWN! Cover with plastic wrap.
  13. Repeat 9-12 for the other half.
  14. Let rise until double (about 45 minutes).
  15. Bake in a 350 F oven for 35 minutes.
  16. Take the loaves out of the pan ASAP.  Let cool completely before storing.

*We use all pastured meats (that means the animals we eat were raised in pastures, out in the sunshine), and render our own lard.  I do not reccommend lard from the store, that has been sitting on a shelf for who knows how long. You can use butter, or even olive oil, although both impart a different flavor to the bread.

**YES, I use sweeteners!  Bread won’t rise unless the yeast has something to “eat.”  I choose molasses because in addition to being yeast food, it adds vitamins and minerals, including iron, so it isn’t just empty calories.


Making Your Own Greek-Style Yogurt

We love yogurt.  We especially love the thick, creamy Greek-style yogurt that has become so popular lately.  And just like everything else we have learned to do, making yogurt was a trial and error process.  The recipe that follows is more of a guideline than a hard and fast recipe.  The conditions in your kitchen will not be the same as the conditions in my kitchen.  Because we do not have air-conditioning at our house, the conditions in my kitchen vary drastically throughout the year, and therefore, so does my yogurt making.  I have one blanket for summer yogurt incubation and another for winter!

I have stopped using reserved yogurt as my starter.  I have found much more consistent results from using the whey that was strained from the last week’s yogurt.  However, you cannot strain commercial yogurt and use that whey as a starter.  That series of experiments was an epic fail!

Homemade Greek-Style Yogurt

3 ½ Cups of whole milk (see note below)

½ C plain yogurt (either commercial with LIVE cultures, or reserved from your last batch) OR 1/2 C whey from your last batch  of yogurt

candy thermometer

Heat the milk on the stove slowly.  If you are using pasteurized milk, heat to 180° F, and let cool to 110° F.  If you are using raw milk, heat to 110° F.   Whisk in the ½ C yogurt or whey.  Transfer to a quart size mason jar and place the jar and a heating pad inside a little cooler.  Turn the heating pad onto Medium.   Incubate for 4-8 hours, depending on how tart you like your yogurt.  After the yogurt has incubated, put it in the refrigerator until it is completely cooled (I usually leave it overnight).   The next morning, place a flour sack towel inside a sieve and place the sieve on a bowl.  If you have used raw milk, scrape the “cream” from the top and reserve in a small bowl.  Put the rest of the yogurt in the sieve.  Add the cream back on the top. Put it back in the fridge and let is strain for two or three hours.  Reserve the whey for lacto-fermenting (it will keep in a jar in the fridge for a couple of months).  Invert the sieve into the bowl and peel the towel off the yogurt and enjoy!  My children LOVE this yogurt salted for dipping vegetables.

NOTE:  I feel that grass-fed raw milk gives the best, most consistent results.  If you cannot get raw milk, try to find grass-fed milk that is not homogenized.  If you can’t find that, then settle for organic milk that has not been ultra-pasteurized.

Taking the First Steps

Once upon a time, my husband and I ate a lot of take-out.  We both work.  Our house isn’t air-conditioned.  So you can imagine a hot day in June (or September), when we both got home from work, not wanting to turn on the oven or even light a grill.  It is so easy to pick up a phone and call someone else to deliver a meal to our door.  The thing is, if you can motivate yourself, there are some meals that are easy meals — easy to make, easy to eat and easy to clean up after!

Ask yourself this question, “Why do I eat so many pre-made and fast foods?”

Many times the answer to that question is something along the lines of either not having time to cook, or not knowing how to cook.

When budget time rolled around, we noticed how much we were spending on take-out food.  And then we considered how much food we were wasting each week because while we shopped with intention to cook, we didn’t cook.  So we paid double for this laziness. And we came to this conclusion: we ate a lot of fast food because we didn’t feel like cooking.

How did we overcome this?  Slowly.

One positive change we made was by “double cooking” on the weekend.  On Saturday and Sunday, we would make extra dinner and put it in the fridge.  That way, at least two days during the week, we would be able to have a homemade meal with no muss or fuss.

But Natalie, I don’t cook at all.  So maybe that is where you begin.  By cooking one meal a week at home.  And start simple, based upon the equipment you have and your kitchen skills.  If you are a novice, don’t begin with some technically complicated that requires special tools.

Here’s an easy do-it-yourself meal:

1 2 lb. pkg boneless chicken thighs

1 pepper

1 medium onion

1 clove of garlic

Olive oil to sautee

Salt and pepper
1/2 C red wine (optional)

How to handle the food:

Work with the vegetables first to reduce the chance of cross-contamination.

(WHAT IS THAT? Cross-contamination refers to germs and bacteria that may be on uncooked meat that could be transferred to the vegetables via the cutting board).
1. Cut the top and bottom off of the pepper. Remove the seeds and core. Cut the “tube” that is left in half, and then cut it into 1/8″ strips.
2. Cut the onion in half. Cut the “stem” and “roots” off. Remove the yellow papery skin. Slice both halves in 1/8″ slices.
3. Slice the clove of garlic.
4. Put the vegetables aside and wipe the cutting board.
5. Cut the chicken thighs in bite-sized pieces, put them in a bowl, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss the chicken to mix in the seasoning.
7. In a medium skillet, heat up the oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds.
8. Add the onion. Stir about every minute or so, for about 5 minutes, until the onions change from white to transparent.
9. If you are using the wine, add it now, and stir until all of the liquid has evaporated.
10. Push the onions to the outside of the pan and put the chicken in the middle. Let it cook for a few minutes before stirring it around. I usually flip it over and then separate it.
11. When the chicken is cooked (10 minutes or so — they are small pieces), add the peppers. Stir everything together. You can add a little more wine here and scrape up all the yummy caramelized bits from the bottom of the pan.
12. Put it on a plate and enjoy.

No. It isn’t as easy as calling for take-out. Yes, there will be dishes to clean up. But it puts you in control of the food you eat. Is this my best recipe? No. Not even close. But it is one of the easier ones.

So be bold! Be daring! Cook it yourself!