Showing posts with label Dairy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dairy. Show all posts

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Blackstrap Molasses Milk Steamer {Naturally-Sweetened, Kid-Approved}

On the first nippy fall day every year, my children begin clamoring for hot cocoa. And once the snow falls in earnest, they come in, icy cold from their romps, with snow-whipped rosy cheeks, peel off their wet, frozen clothes, and plonk down at the kitchen table to wait for a hot beverage.

And I can't help but think, as I heat up the milk, how much my Palestinian grandmother would approve.  

You see, Arabs are serious about their hot milk.  Yes, they love traditional coffee, and they serve up glasses and glasses of hot mint tea to their guests.  But in the privacy of their homes, at the kitchen table or in the drafty glassed-in verandas of the West Bank, you will find the mamas and the aunties drinking steaming mugs of milk, scalded in saucepans on the stove top and then poured into heavy mugs.  My grandmother always had one of these mugs nearby.  In the morning, my mother added a spoonful of Nescafe instant coffee (why instant coffee is all of the rage in the Middle East is beyond me, but it is).  In the afternoon and evening, she switched to plain milk, or a little Ovaltine before bed.  But milk, always hot milk.

In fact, nothing made my Palestinian grandmother, my Teta, cringe more than when she saw my sister and I drinking glasses of cold milk for breakfast in the winter (well, venturing outside with damp hair or without an undershirt provoked a great deal of dismay). My mother had tried to convert us and served us hot milk for breakfast, but we simply refused.  Perhaps, if she had offered us this beverage we would have warmed up to the drink (wink, wink).

Now that snow is falling and my little ones are asking for hot cocoa, my thoughts have turned back home, to the nourishing power of a mug of warm milk.  I am still not overly fond of plain hot milk, but I love a warm mug of creamy milk, as long as it has a little bit of flavoring.  I make homemade chocolate syrup (not my recipe, but find the link here) for this purpose, which we enjoy.  Still, I wanted something easier, faster, and even more nourishing for my family, so  I experimented in the kitchen to see if I could create another flavored hot milk drink.  I dug through my cupboard and found a jar of blackstrap molasses, and this new favorite drink was born.  It has all the warm creamy sweetness of a mug of hot chocolate, but with the warm spicy flavors of your favorite molasses cookie.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

All about Milk Kefir + A Step-by-Step Tutorial on How to Make Milk Kefir at Home

Milk what?

Milk kefir (keh-feer) is a fermented milk drink, similar to a drinkable yogurt.  Thick, creamy, tangy, with a slight effervescence, some describe it as the "champagne" of dairy because of the lovely light fizz in this creamy drink.  When homemade, its flavor changes with the seasons, becoming thicker and milder in the summer, and yeastier in the winter. A living food, kefir is cultured with wild yeasts and bacteria, and depending on the milk, fermenting practices, and strains of microorganisms, its taste ranges from mild or pungent, tangy or sour.

What is Old is New Again

Kefir originates from the ancient the Caucasus region, where it was lauded as a gift from the gods, a traditional elixir for health and longevity.  Traditional kefir was made from fresh raw animal milk, and hung from skin bags near the doorways, so that the family's movements in and out would agitate the grains and the milk.  Today, you can find kefir just about anywhere in the world, but it remains popular in eastern and northern Europe. I remember sampling it when we traveled through Europe, and loved it immediately. I also remember seeing it on the shelves of the Jewish supermarkets in Jerusalem, which is why I had the impression for a long time that it was an Israeli drink. Arabs also drink it (my mother tells me that families in her childhood neighborhood in Nazareth brewed it) and it is often strained into a thick cheese, very similar to yogurt cheese, or labaneh. It is also rising in popularity in the United States, and you can find it in pasteurized forms in most natural food stores or in larger markets.

Milk is transformed into kefir when it is mixed with "kefir grains," usually left at room temperature, and left to ferment until it has thickened. "Kefir grains" are live active cultures, forming a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY).  These small, gelatinous particles develop into complex cauliflower-like structures. My toddler, who likes to help me make the kefir, describes the grains as "wet popcorn," which is a very apt description.

While this all sounds exotic, obscure, and (perhaps a little terrifying?) making kefir is very simple. All you need is a couple of grains, add them to milk, and leave them on your counter to ferment until thickened. If you are lucky, you can inherit some from a kind friend, or join a free culture-sharing Facebook page, where people mail them off or give them away freely. Otherwise, purchase them online.

Drink to Your Health

I am in love with this drink.  Have you ever tried something for the first time and you were instantly hooked? This tangy, fizzy, creamy, thick drink, just won me over at first swig. But it wasn't just the taste that drew me in.  It made me feel good.  Happy.  Relaxed.  And I thought that this was strange until I read that the word "kefir" is thought to derive from the Turkish word "keif" which means "good feeling." It turns out that kefir is rich in tryptophan, that amino acid that raises your feel-happy seratonin levels in your brain. After just a cup, I do notice that I feel slightly calmer and more relaxed.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Spotlight on: Palestinian White Cheese, or Jibneh Baida

If you are a cheese lover, I'd love to introduce you to one of my most beloved cheeses, a simple, nourishing white cheese, made in kitchens across the Middle East from antiquity until today.


Jibneh baida is a firm white cheese, with a high melting point, a pungent flavor of goat and sheep milk, and a salty tang that will leave you reaching for bread.  Fried and served with eggs, or as part of a mezze, this cheese is hearty enough that it can be served as a side dish. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Pistachio Ice Cream with Pomegranate Syrup

Move over, neon green ice cream. 

How about a honey-sweet ice cream, mixed with fresh, chopped pistachios?  And for a more sophisticated twist, why not top it with some sweet-tart pomegranate syrup?

This is a flexible recipe.  If you don't have pistachios, add in another kind of nut, or leave it out all together for some lovely honey ice cream.  Guests to impress?  Layer pistachio ice cream with the syrup and then scoop it out to reveal pretty ribbons of pomegranate running through the pistachio ice cream.  Don't feel like fussing?  Just pour the pomegranate syrup on top, for a sundae effect.  Or skip it altogether, and serve your pistachio ice cream plain, maybe with just another sprinkle of pistachios.  You won't regret it. 

There are no rules here, friends. Just lots of ice cream!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Grilled Lamb Shawarma with Cucumber Mint Yogurt Salad

Just in time for Father's Day, here is an easy but festive meal that is great on the grill and will warm any father's (and mother's!) heart.  Well-seasoned leg of lamb, grilled and sliced, folded into fresh warm bread, topped with a cool minted cucumber yogurt sauce - now that's enough to entice me to dust off our grill and sweep off our patio. 

My mother still tells the story of her first encounter with lamb in America.  As a young bride, she spent several months in her mother-in-law's house, and learned to eat American food for the first time.  For some special occasion, my American grandmother served her lamb with mint jelly.  My mother said that she tasted the lamb and it was good, but she couldn't figure out what the green gel on the side of her plate was.  She tasted it and found it very unpleasant, and so bizarrely sweet; for Arabs love lamb, and love mint, and even lamb with mint, but never sweet with savory.

This meal is a nod to that mint-and-lamb combination.  Both the lamb and the yogurt salad are traditional Palestinian recipes, but Palestinians would serve the yogurt salad on the side and use this tahini-lemon sauce on the shawarma. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Lamb in Yogurt Sauce, or Mansaf for Beginners

Palestinian mansaf is not humble food, served just to your family, like mujjadara and fasoulia and shorabat addas.  This is celebratory food, kill-the-fatted-lamb food, the centerpiece of a feast, and often served at weddings, graduations, or prepared for an honored guest.

And this meal is as ancient as the land.  It tells a story of the land and how people used to eat long ago, how they preserved and cared for their foods.

Mansaf is boiled lamb, served in a rich sauce made of yogurt.  Today, it is served over a bed of rice, but since rice is a relative newcomer to the Middle East, it was probably originally served with bread.  It is often eaten by hand, served from a communal dish.  What makes this dish distinctive is the sauce in which the lamb is simmered, a sauce made from a traditionally prepared hardened yogurt. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

"Banana Swirl" - A Two-Ingredient Cultured Ice Cream

I have to credit my daughter for this one. 

She enjoys the PBS Kids show Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, and last week, a recipe for blended frozen banana puree was featured on the website.  She was so excited about it that she had to write it down.  (Maybe we have a little foodie-in-training?)

But on our first attempt at Banana Swirl, we didn't follow the recipe exactly, so a new recipe was born. First, I left the bananas in the freezer overnight instead of twenty minutes.  That meant that the bananas were so frozen that we could not blend them by themselves, as the original recipe called for. Usually, I would add milk or yogurt or cream in a situation like this, but this time, I reached for my jar of cultured cream.  I added a few large spoonfuls, until I could process the bananas.  To our delight, the result was:  ice cream!  Creamy, rich, gently sweet, without any added sweeteners - and full of the goodness of cultured cream - a perfectly nourishing treat!

Can you tell that I'm a little bit excited? 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Cultured Cream, or My Approximated Shemenet

One of the first foods that I fell in love with, when I was three years old, was fromage blanc.  Fromage blanc is a French white cheese. It's a soft, spoonable cheese, a little like sour cream, a little like cream cheese.   I remember it as creamy and decadent, and that I couldn't stop eating it.  This was exciting for my mother, because I was a poor eater, one of those children who just can't be bothered to eat.  But this, I ate. 

Then we moved to Egypt, and I wept for my fromage blanc.

Later on, we moved to Jerusalem, and there my mother found another dairy product that was similar to  fromage blanc.  Rich, creamy and slightly tart, we bought this yogurt-like cultured cream from the Jewish side, and it was sold in small plastic cups, right next to the yogurt.  It was called shemenet.   It was so thick that when we inserted a spoon into the cup, the spoon could stand straight up.  Shement came in several varieties, with higher fat versions (30 percent or higher), and lower fat versions, (I think 18%).  My mother used it as a substitue for sour cream and stirred it into sauces and spread it on top of her cheesecakes.  While we did sometimes eat it straight, it was so rich that we usually only had a few tablespoons at a time, and would spoon it over fruit, or mix it up with a little jam for a special treat. 

And now that I no longer live in Jerusalem, I miss my shemenet.

Last summer, while in the midst of one of my shemenet laments, my mother said to me, you know, you can make shemenet.  Just turn cream into yogurt.  So, I tried it. I simply cultured some cream with a little yogurt.   And it is so, so good.  If I had known how easy this was to make, I would have started making this years and years ago. 

Is this shemenet?  I am not sure.  I can't seem to find any information on what shemenet actually is.  But it tastes similar to shemenet, creamy and full bodied, just a little less tangy, possibly due to the difference in the yogurt culture.  Still, I'll take it. 


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

How to Make Yogurt Cheese, or Labani

In the fridge, at the breakfast, lunch or dinner table, in any home in Palestine and you will find a bowl of this tangy spread made from two simple ingredients:  yogurt and salt. We always had bread and labani in the house.  Stores closed because of a political strike?  Bread and labani.  No time to cook?  Bread and labani for dinner.  In a hurry for breakfast?  Bread and labani and a cucumber.   

Simple as it is, it is delicious and nourishing.  This spread holds all of the goodness of yogurt, high in protein and probiotics, but it is even more concentrated and more portable. 

Labani (also labaneh, labneh, labane) is from the Arabic word laban, which means yogurt.  I have seen it described in English as "yogurt cheese."  Technically not a cheese, this is similar to Greek yogurt, but with the consistency of cream cheese. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How to Make Yogurt, or Laban

Tangy, cool, and poured from a one liter jug.  Or sometimes from a bucket.  That was the laban, or yogurt that I grew up with. 

When we ran out of our store-bought jug of yogurt, my mother would often make yogurt.  I always knew when she had a batch of yogurt going because I would come home to a find a blanket-swaddled mass in my parent's bedroom (the warmest room in the house?).  Do NOT touch those blankets, girls, my mother instructed us.  So, we dutifully stayed away until she was ready to peel back the warm layers of flannel quilts and open up the pot to reveal the miracle:  milk into yogurt.  We always had to taste spoonfuls of warm tart warm yogurt, even though it would be better after a few hours in the refrigerator. 

In Palestine, where I grew up, yogurt is savory, never sweet.  Spooned next to spiced rice and ground lamb, or stirred with cucumber and garlic or mint.  Yogurt is how you eat rice, really.  Rice and lentils with yogurt.  Rice and meat stuffed vegetables with yogurt.  At almost every dinner table, we had a bowl of yogurt on the table.  My American father sometimes sprinkled sugar on his yogurt and my mother allowed us to stir home-made strawberry jam into our yogurt for an occasional treat, but other than that, we ate it like Arabs:  plain.