Free Range on Food: DIY yogurt, canning and more

Aug 06, 2014

Every Wednesday at noon, Food section staff members and guests answer your burning culinary questions.
Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings, all, and welcome to today's chat! We're in preservation mode these days, between Tim's tale of making his own yogurt and Cathy "Mrs. Wheel-" Barrow's latest Canning Class on blueberry jam. (Lemon verbena? Check.) Hope you also enjoyed Jane Black's take on the new mushroom-beef-blending trend that's been taking hold around the country. And more!

We have special guests to help handle the questions today: Sandor Ellix Katz, author of "The Art of Fermentation" and "Wild Fermentation" and, really, just an amazing resource of knowledge about this incredibly interesting way of preserving foods. He helped Tim with his yogurt experiments, and he'll help answer any question you have on yogurt, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, all those great fermented foods that are getting (justifiably) popular.

And we'll have Cathy Barrow, queen of the Mason jar and everything that might possibly go in it. Plus Carrie "Spirits" Allan, who can tackle any and all booze queries. And us regulars, of course!

We'll have giveaway books, of course, for our favorite chatters today: "The Banh Mi Handbook," by Andrea Nguyen (source of this week's Weeknight Vegetarian) and another one that will be a surprise until later in the chat. So make those questions good!

Let's do this thing.

Hi, I have tried to get an answer from Ball with no success. Maybe Cathy could help me? I want to make Ball's low-sugar blueberry freezer jam, but I'd prefer to can it in a water bath for shelf storage. I made the peach low-sugar freezer jam last year and it came out great. Is there a reason that I should not try to can a freezer jam? Thanks so much!

On the surface, the recipe seems like a recipe for canned jam, but it's quite different. Notice that the fruit is barely cooked, meaning it retains most of its water content. Water content in preserved food is what will make it mold or ferment. 

That said, the seal is tight and the jam probably tastes great now. I do not believe it will hold for a year and may discolor, ferment, or the seals may loosen.

In any case, the jam will not make you sick, it is not harboring botulism, and nothing more than fermentation or mold will occur, so treat this like a mad scientific experiment and please let me know what happens!

Intriguing article - I never thought that such a high percentage of mushrooms in a meat dish could go undetected! Did food allergies come up during your research? Are chefs "sneaking" in the mushrooms and simply basking in the glory of their better tasting burger? Or are they being up front and listing the mixture? Does listing it upfront change people's perceptions or produce a lower rate of people ordering the dish? Thanks!

Jane Black says:

They definitely are up front about it. No one is trying to hide anything. At Cheesecake Factory and Seasons 52, they are clearly labeled (I think as a Portobello Burger and a Mushroom Duxelles Burger, though those may not be the exact names.) The chains wouldn't be open about specific sales but said they were doing well so. I think the goal is to sell it this way; the hope is consumers don't find a sacrifice in taste.

Mushroom-Blended Graffiti Burgers

My garden is full and I need to preserve some. I am a freezer not a canner. I know there are recipes for freezer pickles (know any good ones?) but could I peel some, throw in the Vitamix and then freeze ? I could see using the juice in smoothies or making cucumber soup.

I have had no luck freezing cucumbers. They have a very high water content and once frozen, then defrosted, there's not much there there. 

Hoping Mrs. Wheelbarrow is with you today. I've been doing a lot of water bath canning - cucumber pickles, pickled hot peppers, blackberry and strawberry jam, salsa, tomato sauce, etc. While most recipes say the products are shelf-stable at room temperature for up to a year, I'm not sure how long they are good in the refrigerator once opened. Are there any guidelines - days, weeks, months? Thanks!

Great question. Other than tomato products, most pickles and jams will last weeks, even months, in the refrigerator. Tomato products should be used within a week.

If I substitute almond milk for dairy milk in cooking, say a white sauce, will the outcome be similar? The website for the almond mik manufacturer says it can be used exactly the same way but can it really?

You can make yogurt out of so called "alternative milks," such as almond or coconut. But they often need thickeners like pectin to help them set.


Here are some tips from Cultures for Health on how to make yogurt.

I've been making red cabbage Kim Chee for a couple of years, and I love it. Two questions. I ferment in tall narrow quart jars, with a cabbage-leaf seal pressed down by an artichoke heart lid followed by a shot glass, held down by the pickle jar lid. It ferments fine and then after I removed the shot glass and seal I get a purple layer at the top where some arobic bacteria is changing the PH of the cabbage, which I've been assuming is pathogenic. Is there anything I can do to prevent this? I scrape off it and another half inch but sometimes even then it comes back. Second question. Last batch came out of the ferment phase fine, and I'd get a serving or two out of it with the liquid being liquidy, and then it would go slimy and I had to through the rest of the batch away. This happened for three of the four jars in the batch. What on earth would cause that effect? The only thing I'm aware of doing differently was that I didn't use a whey starter like I had been (on Mr Katz's advice, I'll have you know). I know this isn't relevant to yogurt, so I'll give my email and hope that Mr Katz has the time to shoot me an email.

the purple growth on top is probably white mold dyed purple by the red cabbage. it is benign but can be annoying and can change pH and affect flavor and texture. also, once it develops it will generally keep coming back. so either ferment in a vessel designed to exclude air, or in a cooler spot or with more salt to slow down the mold, and move to the fridge after you remove mold. as for slimy brine, it is usually due to "dextran chains," in other words partially metabolized sugars. keep fermenting and it will generally go away.

Hello Rangers, I have a ton of smaller roma/grape tomatoes and was wondering what you suggest to use them all before they spoil? I thought about making sauce, or canning whole, but b/c they are smaller,peeling them seems like a huge pain... any suggestions is appreciated. Thank you!

Pastry chef Alex Levin at Osteria Morini gave us a really wonderful idea for those grape tomatoes . . . I hope Becky can add here. Re the Romas, I love a good, versatile confit. So here you go.

Here it is.


3 cups sugar

20 cherry tomatoes


Chiffonade of 2 basil leaves

Fleur de Sel

1. Take toothpicks and puncture each cherry tomato at the tip so that the toothpick is firmly in place. You should be able to pick up the cherry tomato with the toothpick.

2. In a small sauce pot, place the sugar and add water to make wet sand. Wash the sides of the pot so that no sugar crystals are hiding.

3. On high heat, cook the sugar until it starts to turn a very light golden color. Remove from heat.

4. Carefully, dip each cherry tomato into the cooked sugar/caramel and place onto a piece of parchment paper. Quickly place a small piece of cut basil on top and a couple of crystals of fleur de sel.

5. Repeat until all the tomatoes are coated and garnished.

6. If caramel thickens, warm gently over heat until loose.

7. When finished, pour out the caramel onto an old newspaper or piece of parchment paper until cool. Then discard.

Keep the tomatoes in a dry place and serve as an amuse or appetizer.

Is it possible to make yogurt using a non-dairy milk such as almond milk or soy milk?

I've had excellent results making yogurt from soy milk.

Adding 1/3 cup or so of dry milk also helps to thicken homemade yogurt.

Yes, I've read that. I didn't try it. I wanted to rely on the basic ingredients: milk and starter.

I've done that -- it does work. But like Tim, I ended up preferring to use as few ingredients as possible.

Do the material of the utensil used affect the outcome of the product you're making? For instance, a wire vs. plastic whisk, metal vs. plastic bowl.

You want to avoid prolonged contact with metal for any salty and/or acidic ferment. Even household quality stainless steel can corrode. But for brief contact, I have not observed any problems.

I tried the Cream of Corn Soup over the weekend and was very happy with the results -- but it's almost too sweet. Can you suggest a way to turn this soup away from "dessert" and back in the direction of savory when the corn is so sweet? I often finish soups with some red wine or balsamic vinegar, but color problems aside (maybe I should try white balsamic?), somehow the idea of vinegar and corn doesn't seem right. Also, since the red pepper sauce is added to individual servings, I thought it might be nice to offer guests several options in addition to the red pepper sauce. Do you think basil or cilantro pesto (sans the nuts) would be good? What else might make a nice add-in? I will probably do some experimenting on my own, but would love to hear other ideas. Thanks for yet another deliicious and inspiring recipe.

If you find the soup too sweet, then, yes, add a little vinegar! Apple cider vinegar goes beautifully with corn. Or, of course, lime juice. As for other additions, sure thing, pesto would be a natural. You could also roast some more corn kernels, maybe with smoked paprika, and serve those as a topping. Or scallions!

As a huge fan of ginger, I'm excited to try Joe's tofu sliders. At the risk of sounding like a company spokesman, I wanted to mention the ginger juice I found at my local natural food store. It's a quick substitute for the grated ginger Joe's recipe calls for. It's also great for homemade seltzers and cocktails (hi Carrie!) for those of us who prefer savory to sweet flavors. It's Ginger Juice produced by Ginger People -- and again, I have no affiliation, but it's become a standby in my pantry.

Yep, we've mentioned this before, and I've used it. It's good stuff! But I tend to always have ginger around, and my nifty little Japanese ginger grater makes it super easy to "juice."

If using raw m ilk to make yogurt, should the milk still be heated to 180F and let cool? Or does the heat kill the good milk bacteria?

Once you heat milk to 180F it is no longer raw. You can make raw milk yogurt by heating milk to 110-115F, adding culture, and incubating in that range. But it will never get quite as solid as if you heat the milk higher first, because the heating denatures proteins, allowing them to be restructured by bacteria. Trade-offs....

I am so excited to try the blueberry jam, especially because I LOVED the strawberry jam from Mrs. Wheelbarrow and made about 5 batches of it. I know it was not recommended to double a batch of the strawberry... is the blueberry jam the same, or could you double the recipe with great results? Thanks!

I'm so glad you liked the strawberry jam! It's best to make small batches of this jam, too, or the fruit ends up overcooked and rubbery. 

Just Right Strawberry Preserves

I recently came across a feature on a national food magazine's website with recipes for ice cream and gelato. All of the gelato recipes call for making a custard, chilling it and then processing it in an ice cream maker. So doesn't that mean that these are all ice cream recipes? I thought gelato was denser than ice cream, and would therefore require special equipment to make. Is that not true?

Gelato traditionally has a less rich base than French-style ice cream, meaning it usually includes more milk and less cream and sometimes no eggs. And yes, it's churned less or at a slower speed to build in less air, making it denser than ice cream, yes.

I would love to jar some fruit but all that you have to do with the jars and lids are a bit much. Is there another way to boil and then just put in the jars and be done with it.

It may seem like a lot, but I think it takes me longer to type the directions than to plop the jars in the boiling water bath!

But, yes, I suppose you could just put the recipe in the jars, and then put the jars in the refrigerator, but the contents will be good for only about one month.

Questions about the "SMART TIP" recipe in last Sunday's magazine: Should we worry about possible pesticides on the pineapple skin? Should we seek out organic pineapples? (I confess that when I saw this recipe, I first thought it was a recipe for creating a lotion to slather on my skin!) Thank you!

I don't know the recipe but YES use organic pineapples!

You're talking about the tip with the Plate Lab for the pineapple soup, which is just a fantastic recipe! We said to wash the pineapple skin, but to make absolutely sure to avoid pesticides, organic, yes.

Howdy, I have a pepper plant that is producing a ton of nice hot cayenne peppers. Any thoughts on how best to use or preserve them? I've never canned before....

Lucky you! With sweet or not quite so incendiary peppers, I might suggest pickling, but the cayenne is so delightfully HOT, I would absolutely make hot sauce. Here's a method for hot sauce that I use for any really good hot pepper.

If you don't want to can, you can dry (in a dehydrator or a very low oven) the peppers and then grind them up for your own homemade cayenne pepper. Save and dry the seeds separately for crushed hot peppers to top your pizza. 

So funny to read your article about meat and mushrooms. After my daughter stopped eating red meat, I tried making meatballs with ground turkey. The results were pretty awful - - very dry. Then I happened upon a turkey meatball recipe that suggested using mushrooms to counter some of the dryness I chopped the mushrooms very finely and combined the (uncooked) mushrooms with all the other ingredients - - turkey, eggs, bread crumbs and spices. The resulting meatballs were quite tasty and very moist. The moisture from mushroom did wonders for the ground turkey and made the meatball consistency more like ground red meat meatballs. Thanks for the article!

I can testify about the moisture! In testing the recipes a few times, I held the Graffiti burger mixture in the fridge overnight (in patty form and in a bowl) and the mushrooms exuded so much liquid that it had to be drained. In the case of the burgers, one batch was too wet to cook properly. So heed the recipe about the time limit (hours) for refrigerating uncooked, or if you use it to make a meatloaf, I'd hold it in a pan that can drain.

I have had it in restaurants and liked it but I have no idea how to cook okra at home. Any suggestions?

Lots of ways, but my favorite is to cut them in half lengthwise and roast at high heat, cut side up, with olive oil and salt. Gets rid of some of the slime factor.

After many trials with different methods, the one I settled on, after finding a recipe I like using a good store bought Greek yogurt with plenty of active cultures as a starter, is the insulated cooler method. I already had two on hand and have usually avoided single use items in my small kitchen, and could incubate the yogurt elsewhere, where there is more room. I also love simple, inventive and low cost solutions/methods. I preheat the cooler by placing a folded towel in the bottom with a heating pad tucked inside of it while I make the yogurt. I also use mason jars, and once filled, place them inside the warm cooler and leaving the heating pad on, let it do its thing. It's easy and foolproof as long as I follow the recipe, which was also very easy. It's magical but at the same time elegantly simple. I've also used fresh goat milk and used some of the finished yogurt to make a delicious soft cream cheese.

You sound like the Macgyver of yogurt makers! Love this approach. Have you ever tested the temperature inside the cooler to see where it hovers?

I thought that tomatoes do not ripen any more after being picked, so I try to buy ripe tomatoes at the farmers market, but then they might start to go bad before I get to them all. Can I buy slightly under-ripe tomatoes, and if so, is there a way to make sure they will ripen and taste the way they should?

Tomatoes do continue to ripen after being picked, so one thing I do when buying at the market is look for tomatoes at a variety of stages, so that I can use them as they ripen one by one (or that's the fantasy, anyway). Store them on the  countertop, stem ends down.

Tomatoes emit ethylene as they ripen, so one way to hasten that ripening is to put them in a perforated bag or box, with other tomatoes. Whatever you do, don't put them in a closed-up plastic bag -- that speeds things up too much -- and by all means, DON'T REFRIGERATE them. That makes them mushy.

If your oven has a pilot light, there's a good chance you can put the starter and milk combo in an oven-safe container like Pyrex, stick it in the oven, and let the heat of the pilot light substitute for an electric yogurt-maker. This worked for me when I had a gas stove, but different stoves likely have different-strength pilot lights.

Yes, this is a common method mentioned in cookbooks and online. I didn't try it because I have an old stove, not suited to the task!

Put a thermometer inside your oven to test temp with door closed; you might need to prop it open with a spoon, oven mitt, jar lid, etc. to achieve the target temperature. Also, just the illuminating light in an oven generates some heat and is often sufficient for yogurt incubation.

This is a Ms. Wheelbarrow question. For several years, I've made a peach "salsa" thats halfway between a salsa and chutney. I found the recipe/inspiration online (not the USDA), but figured I was safe tweaking it slightly and processing in a water bath because it's pretty much just peaches + hot peppers + vinegar + sugar. It's DELICIOUS and I'm going to make it again as soon as I can get my hands on cheap peaches. However, am I taking my life into my hands with such a recipe? I generally process for 20 + minutes, because that was the recommended time for the peach + tomato salsa recipe I found and I know there's higher acid in what I'm making. Also, for what it's worth, I usually use the Food in Jar's yogurt making method ( -- in large part because I have a cooler and don't have room for another single-use appliance (since that place of honor is taken by my rice maker). I agree that more culture does not always = better yogurty results.

If I understand your question, you've taken a peach and tomato salsa and converted it to a peach only salsa? Without knowing the precise ratios for vinegar and sugar to peaches, I can't confirm it as safe or not-safe, but if the source was a peach/tomato mixture, the pH is lower with all peaches, so the acidity is not going to be an issue. I cannot speak to the timing as I don't know the size of the jar.

I get that the chief lobbyist for the mushroom industry would love the increased use of mushrooms. I don't get that chefs go overboard for the fungi. I've had to learn all the names of fungi to avoid life threatening reactions. I've learned to avoid ground meat of any sort in a restaurant. I avoid so much that my friends ask what I eat and do I feel deprived. It's meant few dinner parties at friend's houses (how do you ask what's in the food?). It's meant the same order at nearly every restaurant. Why do you have to give mushrooms so much editorial space?

Allergies are serious, and sorry to hear that you have this one, but I'm afraid that doesn't negate so many of the other benefits of mushrooms, including the ones outlined in the article. Plenty of us love mushrooms who don't have anything to do with the mushroom council, of course.

I have TONS lemon balm, not Lemon verbena. Are the two at all interchangeable (for the jam)? If not, what should I use the lemon balm for?

Lemon balm is much stronger than verbena and not quite as citrusy. Use about half the amount for the jam. I make tea from lemon balm and add it to sachets. It's a good moth deterrent.

Foods I've kept too long, like pineapple chunks, start to seem fizzy when they're no longer fresh. Does this fizziness mean they're fermenting? If it does, are they still good to eat? Thanks!

Yes the fizziness is a sign of fermentation. Your fizzy pineapple chunks (or other fruits) are absolutely safe to eat.

Michel Richard's method for making mushroom jus would be a bonus, when making duxelles to mix with ground beef. Grind up the 'shrooms (white button or crimini), cook them until they start to release liquid and then dump them into a muslin towel and wring out as much liquid as you can into a container. The jus has amazing flavor and umami to add to sauces, braises or soups, and you've got the ground up solids to use in bolognese or whatever recipe your minced meat-mind has planned.

Oui! Many recipes I checked out started with some form of duxelles. Umami City.

I had a great dessert at Restaurant R'evolution in New Orleans that I would like to replicate but I'm not sure how. It was a square of bread pudding with creme brulee, along with the crisp sugar, on top. I can't imagine that you could cook both together but it was so neat that I didn't think they made each separately and then put the creme brulee on top, though I guess if you neatly cut each it might work. Any ideas?

We can try to call and find out, but my guess is that they baked the bread pudding, chilled it, then finished with the creme brulee.

Hello! Posting early because I just love yogurt. I think I am inspired to make my own now. I can't wait to see all of the good ideas. I really enjoy Greek yogurt, but I think it might be harder to make at home? There is no greater feeling than a mouthful of creamy, salty, tanginess. Are there certain things I could add to "regular" yogurt to duplicate that sensation that might be a bit easier for me to do myself? Thank you!

What is being marketed now as "Greek Yogurt" is simply strained yogurt, enjoyed throughout the yogurt-loving regions of the world. All you do is line a colander with muslin, tightly woven cheesecloth, or just a clean cotton fabric, pour yogurt into it, gently pick up by the joined corners of the cloth, and hang over a bowl. Whey will drip out of the yogurt and the yogurt will thicken. Longer hanging will result in a thicker yogurt cheese. Add salt and herbs and enjoy!

I take the peppers and tie them on a long string. I then tie the string to the top of a south facing curtain rod in the kitchen window and dry them that way. This works well for jalepeno peppers and cayenee.

It's getting increasingly difficult to find my former go-to yogurt-making device: and oven with a pilot light. It kept the yogurt at the perfect temperature for an overnight fermentation. Now I turn the oven on BRIEFLY, then off again, so it's a little warm but not hot; the insulation keeps it warmish for a while. It works better than the counter-top since I keep my house pretty cool. In my experience you're using far too much yogurt as a starter. My "teacher" said although it's tempting to use more, less is better and a couple of teaspoons per quart is plenty. Heat milk and let cool until a little warmer than a baby bottle; scoop out about a cup of milk and mix in a couple teaspoons of plain live yogurt, pour it back in to the rest of the milk and stir gently. Place in the oven four hours to overnight; you'll know when it's ready.

Yes, Sandor was the one who told me to use less starter. I dropped it to one tablespoon per quart, but I think you can even use less and have good results.

I have a lot of lemongrass in the garden. Would this go well in the blueberry jam, in place of the optional ingredients?

I've never tried it but I think it sounds great! Don't add too much. Less is more in the case of jam.

Hi! I'm heading to Scandinavia for a week tomorrow (Copenhagen, Oslo, and a small city in Sweden) but I know little of their culinary specialties - any foodstuffs or beverages I should try there and/or bring back to the US with me?

I returned from Copenhagen earlier this year and wrote about a number of places where you can eat, including the home of a local family (which I highly recommend). But don't forget the smørrebrød, or little open-faced sandwiches. They're everywhere on Copenhagen. The place to go is Schonnemann's, but it's hard to get a reservation. I'd advise you start trying now!

Eggplant is so pretty and abundant right now, I am trying to like it. What's your favorite way to make it?

Roast it whole until it collapses, then puree the flesh with tahini, garlic, lemon. Boom: Baba ghanouj! Add some walnuts, za'atar, smoked paprika, vinegar, honey in varying degrees to play with the thickness/spice of the dip.

Certainly grilled and roasted. Cut it into 1/2-inch slices, brush with oil, sprinkle with salt and spices, grill or roast until browned and tender.

Or, here might be a surprise: Steamed! I just love it this way. You cut it into much thicker rounds, like an inch or so, and steam for 20-30 minutes. The skin helps it hold its shape, but the flesh becomes beautifully custardy. Good w/various sauces on it, other toppings. Now that you mention it, I need to do this for a WV recipe, don't I? OK, on it!

Just a thanks--I love that you said a yogurt maker is a worthy purchase, I just bought one at a garage sale to much derision from certain family members. I haven't tried it yet, so your suggestions are so helpful. One annoyance is they no longer have yogurt containers with reusable tops so I have to figure out a good way to get the yogurt into my kid's lunch this year. But, making homemade yogurt is on my list for school lunch this year so I will figure it out. Any suggestions? I am hoping this is really as doable as you claim...:)

If I understand your question, you have a used yogurt maker but none of the jars that come with it? I think you could buy something like these small, four-ounce jars, which would likely fit in your yogurt maker and still tuck into your child's lunch bag.

For the blueberry jam recipe, I noticed you don't mention using a thermometer. Is it unnecessary?

It's not necessary to use a thermometer for this recipe. 

You can not avoid pesticides by purchasing organic. You can avoid synthetic pesticides by purchasing organic, but that produce may still contain traces of non synthetic pesticides. It is a shame so many people been hoodwinked into thinking organic equal pesticide free.

You're right, but it's also helpful to know that pineapple, particularly, is actually on the Environmental Working Group's Clean Fifteen, the list of produce that contains the least pesticide residues.

I've made half-sours with garlic, salt and dill for years. This year I had a major fail, though I used the same size cukes, jars and amount of salt as in past years. After fermenting for three days in an unairconditioned room, the went into the refrigerator, and after only a couple of weeks, I opened the jar to find a thick layer of white mold and mushy, slimy pickles. Wha' happened?

Here are my best guesses!

Did you use water from the tap? It could be that your water has more chlorine or other minerals now that weren't there last year. Always use bottled or boiled water for pickling. Did you remove the blossom end from the cucumbers? The blossom end harbors an enzyme that promotes mold and mushy pickles. If you don't know which is the blossom end, cut a little bit off both ends. 

This is only vaguely on-topic but ... We used to hear about peasants in some region of the Soviet bloc,maybe even Bulgaria, who had an average life expectancy of something amazing like 130 years old, and it was rumored that this was because of the yogurt they ate. (I remember jokes about this life expectancy explaining why Soviet emissaries to "youth" meetings tended to be over 40 years old.) So ... any idea what sort of yogurt this was, and whether it deserved the credit for such extra-long life-spans, if those extra-long life spans were real?

I read something similar myself during research. I wish I understood it better myself, but there's something about good bacteria, or probiotics, that benefit us. One theory that others have put out there: The overuse of antibiotics has killed off a lot of bacteria in our bodies, both good and bad.

The probiotic concept--the idea that ingesting live bacteria is beneficial--dates to pioneering microbiologist Elie Metchnikoff and his 1907 book The Prolongation of Life. The yogurt he was studying was Bulgarian. My perspective is that yogurt is not unique in this regard and that kefir, sauerkraut and many live-culture foods and beverages are probiotic and actually embody far greater biodiversity than most probiotic capsules.

Thanks, Tim, for the article. You can also make yogurt, even really rich yogurt, when camping or otherwise without electricity: Just plop powdered starter or maybe 2 T of commercial yogurt in a clean glass jar, add reconstituted powdered milk, cover, and set in the sun or in a sunny window for a few hours. For really rich yogurt, we used to about double the amount of powdered milk called for on the box, although of course this doubles the calories, too.

Yes, I also want to try no-cook yogurts, which rely on mesophilic cultures to set the milk. Seems like a candidate for a future No Cook issue, eh?

I'm turning 30 this month and will celebrate with some close friends and a bottle of Dom Perignon. Can you suggest any (vegan) cocktail type snacks to serve?

Grilled Spiced Olives

Grilled Spiced Olives

Lots o' nuts

Spicy Cashews

Carrot Hummus (has honey, but can use agave if honey is not permissible)

Carrot Hummus

I want to make stuffed cabbage without a meat filling. Would mushrooms with farro work? Any other ideas?

That sounds delicious. I make vegetarian stuffed cabbage with rice, but the farro sounds great. I like to  dice up some tomatoes for the filling, and add lots of herbs. 

The beef/mushroom and canning links on Joe's opening remarks are crossed FWIW.

Thanks! Will fix!

I have a bumper crop of petite fairy tale eggplants. Any suggestions for how to highlight them? It seems a shame to cook them into oblivion like their giant cousins.

I made this recipe with fairy tale eggplant last week. We ate a ridiculous amount of eggplant. I'm making it again tonight. (PS I omitted the pork.)

I'm surprised to read the criticisms of using mushrooms in 'burgers -- except of course, those allergic to 'shrooms want to avoid them, d'oh! For my part, I am thrilled to encounter luscious 'shrooms in or substituting for beef. And many mushrooms cost substantially more per pound than ground beef, so it's really a win, no? Healthier, too.


Place in boiling water for a few minutes until the skins crack or just before. Transfer to a collander to coil slightly and then just squeeze the meat of the tomato out of the skin. Very quick.

Hi there. Any suggestions on how to use some leftover sweet chili sauce? Bought a lot for one recipe, but now it's just sitting in my fridge. Thanks!

How bout as a marinade for meat or tofu? Or do what I do with the dregs of salsas and the like: combine with vinegar and oil to taste, plus maybe some mustard and/or honey, to make a salad dressing!

Thank you so much for your DIY yogurt piece, it was great and I am really excited to get started. However, I live with a vegan. So, while I do plan to try the cow's milk yogurt--I would like to also experiment with cultured coconut milk, I know it's possible since I have seen it at Whole Foods & Trader Joe's! :) Any ideas for me? I assume it works somewhat differently.

Thank you! I owe a huge debt to Sandor, who guided me through the process, both over the phone and via his book, "The Art of Fermentation," which I would highly recommend.


I answered the same question up higher. Check it out.

Today's New York Times (sorry) has a great article on eggplants, I love the idea of cutting them in half, grilling, and then brushing off with miso. Mmm

Miso and eggplant are a great match. That steamed eggplant I mentioned earlier? In my latest book I combine it with a miso-tomato sauce and eat over noodles.

Good morning! Today's Bulgarian yogurt recipe states, "don't use alternative milks, such as soy or almond, which require a different technique." Please tell us the technique! Blagodaria (that's Bulgarian for Thank you, several internet sites claim )

I answered this one a little earlier. Alternative milks often require a thickener. Just out the previous answer.

Loved the article about your yogurt making experiences. Seemingly overnight, I became lactose intolerant; that meant no more cow/goat/sheep based yogurt. And I have to avoid soy and hated the taste of coconut milk yogurt. So, out of desparation, I started making my own yogurt, using lactose free milk. After several tries and some errors (heating pad/oven/Hail Mary), I found one that works consistently: Crock pot. I heat the milk in a heavy ceramic type crock pot until the temperature reaches around 180. Let cool to around 100. Mix some of the warm milk with the starter, then add both back into the crock pot. Stir gently. Wrap the crock pot with two large towels (beach towels or blankets). Don't move/giggle the crock pot. Sometimes I turn on the crock pot on low setting about an hour later for five minutes to maintain the temperature at more/less 100. I prefer to incubate the yogurt for six to eight hours, any more than that and the yogurt is a bit tart. But that is a purely personal preference. This method works almost every time. I found the temperature of the milk must be around 100 to 110, any warmer and you get essentially warm milk (hot chocolate anyone). As an aside, my nutritionist said I could use regular milk to make yogurt, but to make sure all the lactose is gone, I would have to incubate the yogurt for 24 hours.

Funny, I was just going to mention that during my research,  I read that yogurt can help with lactose intolerance. I don't put that out there as gospel, but I wonder if your doctor has said as much?

I use them in a turkey meatloaf recipe that I love, but chopping the mushrooms takes FOREVER. Way longer than the onions. Sometimes I start with already sliced mushrooms, which helps a bit, but I'm thinking there must be something about the geometry of mushrooms that I haven't figured out yet. I looked for tools at BB&B and a few other places but nothing caught my eye.

I'm pretty sure that I would eat only whole mushrooms if I did not have a food processor. It's the perfect tool to grind mushrooms up into a fine mince. Otherwise, it's all about zen and your knife skills. Start with a razor sharp knife. Remove the stems and set aside. Slice the cap horizontally once or twice, stack and then slice in one direction, then the other, to make tiny cubes. Play some soothing music, this is going to take awhile. I keep the stems in the freezer and use them with onion and carrot peels, tomato cores and ends of celery stalks for vegetable stock or gather three or four cups  to make a rich mushroom stock.

I make my own yogurt for my toddler - it was hard (and expensive) to find whole milk, plain yogurt, and he eats it daily, so it just makes sense. I use a yogurt maker with 7 small jars. However, after the 6-7 hour incubation period, I find that, in 4-6 jars, a lot of whey has separated from the yogurt in the jars. It's definitely whey, as I don't get the layers indicative of spoilage - any thoughts on why this happens and how I can prevent it?

If you are finding a lot of whey in your yogurt it suggests that you are incubating for too long. Try 4 hours, or even less (if the incubator keeps the temp higher than 110F) for  yogurt without all the whey.

Hello! A few friends are putting together a "dinners club" and it will be a potluck type affair. So I need to come up with a main dish that will feed about 8 to 12 people, but also not too fussy in the prep/cook arena. I'd like to be able to enjoy the guests as they arrive. I'm thinking anything that can be baked would be ideal. Any suggestions? You guys are rockstars!

What's the most pretentious food comment you've ever heard? Was reflecting on a time when spouse and I were at an Indian place and heard someone say: "I never order an Indian dish with tomatoes in it-- it's not authentic, because it's a new world food." We still like to talk about tomatoes as a "new world" food.

I guess they'll never order pizzas topped with San Marzano tomato sauce in Naples, either.

Wow, I thought I was onto something new. Every time we get mushrooms in our CSA, I covertly hide them in our ground meat (burgers, chili, tomato sauce). My mushroom-hating husband has never complained. And until today, he probably hasn't suspected anything either.

This just in: Our second giveaway book will be a SIGNED copy of "The Art of Fermentation" by Sandor himself. An incentive to keep the fermentation questions coming!

I loved the yogurt article today! Originally from Turkey, having seen yogurt made at home at least once a week the first 20 years of my life the story brought back so many memories!! I tried the same methods we used at home (boil the milk - mostly bought from the "milkman" - for about 15 minutes, cool off until you can keep your finger in it comfortably, mix the previous week's yogurt and the warm milk in a separate bowl, pour in the milk pot, mix, and cover the pot, wrap up in blankets, and throw in grandma's wool vest on top, leave it alone for about 3 hours) with the store-bought milk and ended up with very liquid yogurts, afterwards I tried adding powdered milk which helped. It probably would work better with unpasteurized milk, too, which I haven't had a chance to try, but the article made me think about it again. Nothing like opening the "pack" to get that fresh fermented milk/whey smell. Thanks for the inspiration!

Thank you. And thanks for the image of wrapping a pot of cultured milk in blankets and grandma's wool vest! Love it.

I love those thick wide starchy ribbons of delicousness that are the noodles used in drunken noodles. I'd love the option to cook them at home but have been unable to find them anywhere. Is there somewhere in DC, or nearby and metro accessible, where I can find the wide noodles? I've really only found fettuccine width thus far.

You need to look for wide rice noodles, like these sold from Taste of Thai. I see this brand at Whole Foods sometimes, but for the best selection, go to an Asian market like Super H, which I realize doesn't help your nearby question. Or mail order!

Someone else asked about making homemade yogurt thicker. Yogurt made with half and half instead of milk comes out as thick as Greek yogurt. And if you drain out the whey, add a little something to sweeten, then add a little vodka to prevent it being rock hard, it makes great frozen yogurt.

Sounds like this would be worth investigating, since fro-yo demand still seems high, even years after the initial craze.

Any idea why using grape leaves or horseradish leaves in some cases can make a batch of pickles crispy? What about true halophytes like the old barrilla? Are they just additional sodium contributors (the element Sodium was named after Salsola soda derived barrilla)? What not just use some calcium chloride? Does the addition of tannin containing black tea, oak leaves or grape leaves work because of the tannin? Could you add a few tablespoons of plain Kombucha? What I've found in the last few years is that just throwing live ferment pickles straight in the fridge or in a very cold place helps a lot.

It's the tannins in grape leaves and other leaves that can help keep pickles crunchy. I've heard of people using tea bags with good results. Keeping them cool is the single most important factor in maintaining crispiness.

Reading the chat today, I was reminded of a delicious dish I made over the weekend from the current Bon Appetit magazine as it uses both yogurt and eggplant. From the fab duo, Yotam and Sami:

I was born in Greece and I abhor the Greek yogurt sold here. The yogurts most similar to the Greek yogurts are the plain WHOLE milk "Brown Cow" or "Trader Joe's" which I strain and drink the whey. The best yogurt I ever made was with Half and Half. Did you also test Trader Joe's? Could you explain more about the heirloom cultures, were they made with sheep's milk, and where can one buy sheep's milk (fresh or frozen) in this area. Thank you Barbara

I don't know much more about the heirloom cultures than what we published. They're a bit mysterious in their bacteria composition. A representative from Cultures for Health told me that they contain bacterial strains other than the two main ones required by law. How many more? They don't know. It's apparently hard to test for the strains unless you know what to look for.


As to where to buy sheep's milk, I'm stumped. Chatters, any ideas?

Heirloom cultures are passed down through the generations and generally undefined. The bias of microbiology towards these cultures has been to analyze them in order to identify the critical functional bacteria and get rid of the rest. That's how Elie Metchnikoff came to isolate S. thermophilus and L. bulgaricus 100+ years ago. The problem is that while these isolated bacteria ca make great yogurt, they cannot maintain themselves as a stable microbial community over repeated generations, as an evolved bacterial community, such as the heirloom starters (of which there are many), can.

When I see photos of dishes from recipes that call for corn kernels cut off the cob they always look so perfect. Then when I do, I end up with all these choppy half kernels. Is there a trick to doing this? I'm always afraid I'll cut into the cob.

My favorite tip is to cut the cobs in half crosswise first. That way they are easier to handle and the kernels don't have as far to fall/splay, and you don't have as far to cut. Just use a good sharp knife, start from the top, and slide down. Don't worry about trying to get TOO close to the cob -- you can use the cobs to make corn broth or corn soup!

Sigh. I tried a food processor once and it made more of a paste that didn't work well with this recipe - possibly because you cook the mushrooms and onions before adding it to the turkey. I guess I'm OK as long as the amount of time it takes doesn't mean I am completely inept. I try to time my meatloaf prep time to coincide with "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me."

I do the same thing! Or "Fresh Air." If I can't coordinate it, of course, there are always the podcast version!

The Harold McGee article Tim links to mentions making yogurt with soy milk. I'd like to try almond or almond-coconut milk. Usually I use the unsweetened kind, which is 30-45 calories per 8 oz (30 for almond, 45 for almond-coconut). Do you think that's too thin to work? Thanks, I see lots of wonderful breakfasts in my near future!

I've gotten the thickest non-dairy yogurt from soymilk, but I've had some great coconut milk yogurts, and I would certainly encourage you to experiment with an almost-coconut milk blend. 

Funny comment about tomatoes and Indian food. I feel like food authenticity is such a nebulous concept, especially when you consider that most cuisines are derived in part through inspiration and ingredients from other cultures and are constantly changing. True that there can be issues with passing on something as "authentic" in connection with a culture or place that may not be true (like trying to say fajitas are part of an "authentic" Mexican menu when they are better described as Tex-Mex), but when it comes to something like the tomato, which has been passed around the world, it's a ridiculous concept.


How does one dry out ancho peppers?

Anchos are the dried version of ripe poblano peppers. With a needle and coarse thread, string the peppers through the stems and leave them in a cool, dark spot to dry naturally. They are ready when you can hear the seeds shake around on the inside.

If you end up with some when making yogurt, don't just drain and toss. It is good for baking, but also pour over your dog's chow or on plants.

Hi, I got a Sodastream second-hand and it includes an empty but refillable CO2 canister. Do you know where I can get it refilled? Most places sell replaceable canisters now. Numerous posters say WalMart used to refill but no longer does. I'm in DC without a car but will cadge a ride if necessary. Thank you, Rangers!

Sodastream has info on finding a retailer for this exchange here.

I have a "corn zipper" ridiculous? yes. Unnecessary? Of course... but it is so easy to use and you get whole kernels every time. It also seems to keep them closer to one place instead of flying off of my counter.

Yep, I've used this -- it does work! I seem to be using fewer and fewer one-off gadgets as the years go by, but this does work.

Sandor, nice to have you here. I recently started brewing kombucha and now trying to perfect the process of getting it more carbonated. I decant into smaller bottles and refrigerate. Can I add flavorings at that point too? Other tips, ways to use more of the stuff in recipes?

Yes, add additional flavors and a little more "priming" sugar when you bottle. Leave them out overnight to carbonate before refrigerating. But be careful, actively fermenting bottles that still contain a good proportion of fermentable sugars can explode. I like to bottle them in  plastic soda bottles so I can gauge how carbonated they are and move them to the fridge before they become dangerous. 

Strohschneiders in Silver Spring

Google shows a lot of results for this one.

I learned to cook Indian food from 2 college friends - a Gujarati woman raised in Africa and a Tamil man raised in the southern US. Amazing how different their food was from each other! . I also find it amazing how Indian-tasting Kenyan food is, as there is a large Indian population there.

No way, Tim - those ball jars are glass! Not sure how old the child is, but usually glass will not be welcomed at school. We solved this exact problem with a visit to Container Store. All food storage there is BPA free and we find it's holding up really well. If you can't get there, Rubbermaid has some new stuff that might work, but I don't know much about (except that it's available everywhere, so that's a plus)

Well, can you tell I don't have children? :)

Sheep milk yogurt from Hudson Valley Creamery is available at Whole Foods. It's wicked expensive but very delicious. I've never heard of an available source of liquid sheep milk. The few farmers who raise sheep and milk them, are generally cheesemakers who use all that their sheep produce. Goat milk, on the other hand...

Just wanted to say thanks to Sandor Katz for all the times I've used his site as a reference. I don't make too much in the way of fermented foods, mostly dill pickles (using dill flowers and cucumbers from my yard), though I have tried saurkraut (need to do that again soon - sliced it way too wide last time) and curtido. One of these days I'll have to get adventurous and try some other veggies (beets?) and yogurt!

You can freeze cucumber water ... great to drink or for chilled soups. Just peel, whiz in the blender and strain in a fine-mesh strainer.

For yogurt-making.

It kills off any bad bacteria in the milk and helps thicken the yogurt by denaturing the proteins.

I am so happy for the chatter turning 30! I myself joined the vegan club a few years ago and have always enjoyed my vegan birthdays. I did want to remind the chatter to make sure the champage is extra dry, since vegans can not drink Brut. Happy Birthday!

Me again, still lactose intolerant. I believe what you may have read is: many people who are lactose intolerant can eat regular cow/sheep/goat yogurt with little or no side effects. I'm not one of them, alas. There are many types of commercial yogurts out there--look for one with no added milk or whey solids. Chobani is one of the ones recommended as being lactose intolerant friendly. Eating regular yogurt in and of itself doesn't help you become more lactose tolerant (if that makes sense). BTW: Green Valley Organics makes a lactose free low fat yogurt, I've found it (only) at Whole Foods. A six ounce container costs around $1.69. A 1/2 gallon (eight cups) of lactose free milk costs between $4.00 (Giant brand) to $4.49 (Horizon organic). You do the math.

What is the best kind of container to use for making sauerkraut? The last time I tried making it, I used a glazed ceramic crock with a weighted plate on top, and ended up with a pot full of moldy cabbage.

Sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables are the work of anaerobic lactic acid bacteria. Getting them submerged under a brine is a strategy for protecting them from molds, yeasts, and other forms of aerobic growth. The surface is the most vulnerable place, where in most vessels the protected kraut meets the air. Salt will slow mold growth, as will cool temperatures, and many of the spices commonly used in fermenting veggies (garlic, dill, caraway, chili peppers, ginger, juniper). If the veggies are well-submerged, aerobic growth will be limited to the surface, and if it's weighted down, often just the edges. The white molds commonly found on fermenting vegetables are regarded as benign and it is safe to just scrape them away. A cooler environment and/or more salt and/or spices can slow down the molds. You can get specially designed crocks and jars that have built in air-locks, so carbon dioxide produced by the process can be released while preventing fresh air and oxygen from getting in. I generally do not use these vessels because I like to look, smell, and taste as the fermentation proceeds and every time i open it I defeat the purpose of the air-lock designs. So I just scrape mold away as necessary. My preferred crocks are ceramic ones with a cylindrical or pot-belly shape. I also use wide-mouth jars and an oak barrel for an annual 50 gallon batch. Each vessel has advantages and drawbacks.

Well, you've let us sit undisturbed, for up to 12 hours, so you now what that means -- we're cultured! I mean, done!

Thanks for all the great q's today, and thanks so much to Sandor and Cathy for their help with all the fermenting and canning questions!

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who asked about favorite ways with eggplant will get "The Banh Mi Handbook" by Andrea Nguyen. And the one who asked about fizzy pineapple will get a SIGNED copy of "The Art of Fermentation" by Sandor Katz. Send your mailing info to, and we'll get you your books!

Until next time, happy cooking, fermenting, canning, eating and reading!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is editor of the Food section; joining us today are deputy editor Bonnie S. Benwick, staff writer Tim Carman, editorial aide Becky Krystal and Spirits columnist Carrie Allan. Guests: Canning Class columnist Cathy Barrow; Sandor Ellix Katz, author of "The Art of Fermentation."
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