In between International Dinners, we make some yoghurt at home

Saturday, 27th October 2012

We’ve had a busy couple of weekends with birthday parties for Ryan and myself, so haven’t had time to do our next International Dinner yet, Papua New Guinea is on it’s way – but in the meantime I decided to show the boys how easy it is to turn milk into natural healthy yoghurt, without all that added sugar and stabilisers etc.

Ryan is a bit of a yoghurt connoisseur – I say connoisseur, but really I just mean particularly picky. He has one favourite yoghurt brand and only likes the vanilla bean flavour of that particular brand, one week the supermarket was totally out of this particular brand so we bought another thinking it wouldn’t be an issue… he never saw the carton, but after about two bites he asked if it was the purple (packaging color) yoghurt. “I don’t like it” And that was the end of that.

So here I am vainly hoping that if I show them the magic of turning milk into yoghurt in little over 5-6 hours, that’ll be enough for him to give it a chance…

Making yoghurt is easy…

Here’s the ingredient list…

• 1L (1 quart) full cream milk
• 2Tbsp plain unsweetened store bought yoghurt with live cultures
• Sterilised jar with airtight lid
• Sterilised spoon (straight from a just finished dishwasher cycle is  sufficient, or just boil them in water for a minute or so)
• Some sort of thermometer (I used the one we have for the kids when they get sick as it doesn’t require direct contact with the liquid, but a cooking/candy thermometer would be better, and the temperature range of the kid’s thermometer is not large)

You only need the store bought yoghurt as a starter the first time, after that you can simply use 2Tbsp of the yoghurt you’ve made again and again.


Bring your two tablespoons of starter yoghurt out to warm up to room temperature while you heat the milk.

Take your full cream milk and heat it in a saucepan on a low heat until tiny froth bubbles start to cover the surface, just until it is starting to boil. Heating the milk has two purposes, it kills any undesirable bacteria already present in the milk and also chemically changes the milk enabling it create stronger bonds and therefore a thicker yoghurt. Once the milk is heated fully remove from the heat and  pour into your sterilised jar and allow to cool until 45˚C (110˚F).

At that temperature you can safely stir in the starter yoghurt (2Tbsp) without killing the live bacteria. Make sure it’s mixed thoroughly into the warm milk.

That’s pretty much it for the preparation. Now you need to incubate your yoghurt at between 35˚C and 45˚C (90˚F – 110˚F) for 5-6 hours. There’s a few ways to do this.

The method I used was to preheat the oven to 45˚C (110˚F) and using a baking dish create a water bath at temperature from the kitchen hot tap.
Then each hour I just checked the temperature inside the oven, in a good well sealed oven the temperature only dropped to about 39˚C (102˚F) over the hour, then I just turned the oven on for about 30-45 seconds to bring it back to heat and closed it  again for an hour.

You can also leave it in the sun on a warm summer’s day – just keep your eye on the temperature. The previously mentioned temperature range is optimal for “culturing” the good yoghurt bacteria, any higher and you’ll kill the bacteria, any lower and undesirable bacteria will likely take over.

Heating mats and simple insulating-yoghurtmakers are also good. And I might try the warming cycle on the rice cooker, but as a cost exercise minimal use of electricity was the aim.

Once your yoghurt has a custard like thick texture it’s up to you how long you leave it incubating, the longer, the stronger the yoghurt “tang” will be.

Once you’ve got a good yoghurt texture simply remove from heat and place in refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight – then you’re ready to enjoy your fresh, homemade unsweetened yoghurt.

Now, back to the boys – given that Ryan only likes his special vanilla yoghurt, i showed him that we could make it simply by adding some honey for sweetness and some vanilla extract (vanilla been juice – as I called it to help by reinforcing the idea that this was just like his normal vanilla bean yoghurt).
He was not keen to even taste it as first, but after Sam had a bowl he didn’t want to be left out so had a taste, decide he liked it and ordered a bowl as well… success… he did get me to add a little extra honey as well to it… He left a couple of spoonfuls behind, which I tried, that was a little too sweet for me… but all good… maybe we can wean him off his “purple yoghurt” (making it at home is 1/3 the cost of buying it!)

Next up Papua New Guinea… Ryan’s had friend’s birthday party’s this weekend so we haven’t really had a chance to go grocery shopping yet…

Just a final note on the yoghurt, when you first open it up just give it a sniff, if it’s really repugnant then something has gone wrong in the process (like bad bacteria sneaking in) and you’ll definitely be able to smell it a mile away…! Otherwise it should mildly yoghurty-smelling… 😀


International Dinner #32 Eating Moa and Ryan makes a discovery…

Saturday, 15 September 2012

For a boy that says he’s not that keen on coconut, Ryan sure does choose a lot of tropical countries – I’m not quite sure he’s made the link yet…
French Polynesia consists of a large grouping of islands, the most well known being containing Tahiti, Bora Bora and the Marquesas Islands, rather than doing them all as separate countries – they do have a combined flag (above), I researched and the cuisine seems to be pretty similar throughout the region with the same recipes popping up for these different islands.

Coconut milk or cream features in pretty much each course this week. And dessert is pretty much all banana with just a little something to hold it together.

The weekend started with making the shopping list from the meals we’d chosen, quite a short list actually, we’re obviously well stocked on tropical type ingredients, although unfortunately I did have to go and buy a bottle of rum as we were all out – and the entree called it, must be the French influence in that one!

Like Madagascar, Tahiti is known  for it’s quality vanilla, we couldn’t find any specifically Tahitian vanilla in the shops but we still had some Madagascan vanilla and beggars can’t be choosers.

Crevettes à la Vanille et Coco ( Shrimps in Vanilla Coconut)
served on rice

Now, Sam professes to liking shrimps, and when we were shopping Ryan was keen to get them from the fishery area. But when it comes down to it… they like the idea of the weird looking shrimps, they are however, as it turns out – not to keen on the texture. This one was very tasty and simple to make. A vanilla pod and rum reduction, which coconut milk  and cream is added to then thicken, brown some shrimps and add them to the mixture and serve on rice.

I thought the fancy presentation might have coaxed Ryan into trying one, but he just was not even interested in trying a single shrimp. Sam on the other hand did have a few, but after that they both just finished the rice, with my wife, mother-in-law and myself, relieving the boys of their shrimps, as Ryan wouldn’t touch the rice until all the shrimps had been removed… There was however a bright side to this entree – we did find something new that Ryan loves! The recipe I had said it could be served with sautéed spinach (some varieties of taro are known as polynesian spinach, but I just couldn’t source any taro leaves for tonight), but since the main dish was heavy on the spinach I just garnished this one with a couple of spinach leaves.

Ryan: Is this a real leaf?
Me: Yes
Ryan: Can we eat this?
Me: Yes, Ryan
Ryan: Is it real?
Me: Yes you can eat it Ryan…
Ryan: (pause, small taste – then all in, and the other one) I love it – can I have more?!
Me: Sure Ry, I’ll give you a whole lot more for the main course…

So there is a breakthrough, we used to have to keep on the boys to eat their lettuce salads, but now this summer we’ll be making them spinach salads! Yay! A new food for Ryan and Sam!

Ryan’s Rating: 4/4

Moa Fafa ( literally Chicken Taro)
served on rice
Tahitian Coconut Bread (might be called Pani popo same as Samoan)

The kids liked the name of this one – when I told them we were eating Moa tonight! Moa is the tahitian, samoan, hawaiian and tongan (I believe) name for chicken, over here in New Zealand, I don’t know what happened, either the Maori didn’t bring any chickens across with them when they landed in Aotearoa (New Zealand), or they were having a little joke at our expense, because we have (a now extinct) giant bird called a Moa – maybe it just tasted like chicken to the Maori, as it was hunted to extinction as a food source.

Anyway, the kids liked the thought of eating Moa.

The leafy plate decorations is solely because Ryan liked the spinach soo much that he said he wanted “lots and lots”! And believe me he did!

While Ryan was keen on the raw spinach the cooked spinach in the Moa Fafa he was not so keen on, but the chicken and uncooked spinach all disappeared as did the coconut bread. But, and here’s a new one, this was the first bread that Sam was not at all keen on. So the main meal was pretty successful, with everyone clearing their plates, albeit the boys leaving the cooked spinach on theirs – but they ate the rest. Mmhhmm Moa was good, I can see why it went extinct! 😉

Ryan’s Rating: Infinity/Infinity

Ryan’s Rating: Infinity/Infinity

Po’e (A gluten free Banana almost baked custard type dish)
served with coconut cream topping

This dessert is all about the banana, 8 bananas in all, pureéd up and mixed with brown sugar, corn starch (corn flour) and vanilla, then cooked until it has dried out a bit and then cooled and put in the fridge. Served cold with coconut milk or cream on top. This is a pretty fancy dessert by island standard, and I can tell you i loved it, the texture was a little like a solid custard, and the dessert tasted a lot like the filling to an old candy bar we have in New Zealand called “Perky nana” (‘nana being short for banana – not your grandmother!) So I’d have to say that chocolate bar got the banana taste spot on -‘cos as far as I know there’s no banana in the bar at all!

It was different, but I liked it, the boys tentatively had a few bites, Ryan liked his, Sam was not so keen, so I’ve got dessert lined up for the rest of the week, and a reasonably healthy dessert at that!

Ryan’s Rating: 10/10

So all in all a good pretty successful dinner, and we’ll be planting some spinach in the garden this season… Ryan’s volunteered to help with that.

My mother-in-law enjoyed her first international dinner, so looks like she may be making the trip upcountry for a few more!

Next up our special guest country chooser!

Štanglice: A Serbian appetizer (recipe)

Štanglice (Salt sticks)

Well it seems this weekend just gone that we were just too busy to have our Serbian dinner, so we have had to delay it until this weekend, which is fine because it gives our vanilla sugar time to mature in flavor.

On Saturday when we thought we were going to have enough time to have the dinner, Sam and I made a Serbian appetizer call Štanglice (literally “sticks”). I wasn’t too sure how these were going to turn out looking at the recipe – which was quite simple and straight forward, I thought these would be rather heavy.

Nevertheless Sam helped me measure out all the ingredients, and we mixed them through then Sam handed the kneading of the dough over to me (not his cup of tea) and I kneaded away then left it to rise. Let’s just say it didn’t rise all that much, but enough that we could continue.

So we rolled out the dough until it was about 10mm thick (just over 1/3 of an inch) and sliced it up into finger width pieces, then we brushed them with a whisked egg and oil mixture and liberally sprinkled cumin seeds over them.

Then off into the oven they went until cooked, nicely golden and crisp.

While the recipe looked simple and unimpressive, I can honestly say I’ve been munching on these snacks all week – just as well the recipe makes quite a few!

Sam took some to school in his lunch, and showed them to the Serbian boy in his class.

Might just be making these again – not sure how impressed my doctor would be with the salt though… my tastebuds were impressed though!

Štanglice Recipe

350g flour
2-3 tsp salt
100g butter
130ml milk
3/4 tsp sugar
3 tsp yeast
1 egg for coating
1 Tbsp oil
Cumin seeds

Warm the milk, add yeast mixing through, add the sugar and 1 Tablespoon of the flour. Let it stand in a warm place.

Meanwhile mix the salt (2-3 tsp) through the rest of the flour, and rub in the slightly softened butter by hand until thoroughly mixed. Once the yeast mixture is a little frothy mix that slowly into the flower until a dough forms. Then knead thoroughly to remove all air bubbles and the dough is a nice consistent smooth texture.

Now put the dough in a light oiled bowl, cover with a wet tea towel or plastic wrap and leave somewhere warm to rise (give it 30 minutes to an hour).

Knock it back, and split it into two parts. Roll one part out, flat. Now fold it into thirds, and roll it out again, then fold it into thirds the other way and roll out into a circle again until about 10mm (just over 1/3 inch thick). Now slice up into finger width sticks about 100mm (3 inches) long. Repear with the other half of the dough.

Lay them on baking paper on an over tray, and brush with the egg/oil mixture that’s been whisked together.

Sprinkle liberally with cumin seeds and put into a preheated over at 170˚C (340˚F) for about 25-30 minutes. You may need to turn the tray to avoid the sticks at the back getting overly dark.

At about 25 minutes take one stick out let it cool a little, and snap it, what you’re looking for in a nice firm snap, so that they are rather dry inside.

Enjoy! I know we did!