Tuesday

Beware of Recipes You Find on the Web

Like everyone else, I sometimes look for recipes on the Web. The other day I was looking for something to make with the buttermilk I had leftover from making cultured butter.

I found oodles of recipes; eventually, I settled for "Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Strawberry Coulis". It was from what I thought was a trusted source, The Canadian Living Test Kitchen. I live in Canada, and I know Canadian Living magazine from seeing it in doctors' offices. They even have a TV show on the CBC, no less.

It's important to trust the source because most of the recipes out there have never been tested! You'd think a test kitchen would be there to test recipes -- but apparently not.

Here's the recipe; let's see if you can detect the errors:

This recipe makes 6 servings.
Ingredients:
1 tbsp (15 mL) unflavoured gelatin
1 cup (250 mL) whipping cream
1/3 cup (75 mL) sugar
2 tsp (10 mL) vanilla
1 cup (250 mL) buttermilk

Strawberry Coulis: 1 pkg frozen strawberries in syrup, thawed

Preparation:
In small saucepan, sprinkle gelatin over 2 tablespoons (25 mL) of the cream; let stand for 5 minutes. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring often, until dissolved.

In a separate saucepan, heat together remaining cream, sugar and vanilla over medium heat until steaming; remove from heat. Stir in gelatin mixture and buttermilk. Pour into six 5-ounce (175 mL) ramekins. Cover and refrigerate until set, about 4 hours.

Strawberry Coulis:
In food processor, crush strawberries until smooth; press through fine strainer into bowl. Run knife around edge of each ramekin; turn out onto dessert plate. Drizzle coulis attractively onto plate.


HOW MANY ERRORS DID YOU FIND?

1. The first thing that bothered me was "1 pkg frozen strawberries in syrup". What size package? What if I have fresh strawberries? Frozen strawberries without syrup?

The worst thing is that they had a recipe for strawberry coulis from scratch elsewhere on their own site; the least they could have done was to link to that recipe.

2. "Sprinkle gelatin over 2 tablespoons of the cream." I was skeptical, but I don't have that much experience with dissolving gelatin in anything but a clear liquid like water, so I followed the instructions.

It did NOT work and I could tell right away. The gelatin could not possibly dissolve in such a small amount of a thick liquid. Eventually, I added all the buttermilk and the gelatin dissolved beautifully. (Had they read the instructions on the package of gelatin, they would have seen that you're supposed to dissolve that amount of gelatin in at least 1/4 cup of water.)

A novice cook might not know better and would have ended up with a lumpy mess.

3. "Pour into six 5-oz ramekins." Something wrong with the math here: six x 5 = 30 ounces, right? But the recipes contains only two cups of ingredients, and last time I looked, 1 cup = 8 ounces, so 2 cups = 16 ounces. Where did the extra 14 ounces come from? Nowhere.

Therefore, the yield of this recipe is either two 8-oz portions, or three 5.3-oz portions, or four 4-oz  portions but definitely NOT six 5-ounce portions! (I settled for the four 4-oz portions.)

4. The serving directions are buried inside the strawberry coulis recipe. They should have a paragraph of their own.

THE FINAL VERDICT

Hey, this is a pretty good recipe, and I would do it again. But I'm a professional cook and I know how to correct recipes.

In fact, it makes a decent fake Crème Brûlée and next time I would make a plain sugar caramel, pour it on a buttered cookie sheet, let it cool, then break it into slabs which I would serve inserted into the cream.

CONCLUSION

Like I said, beware of recipes you find on the web.

Sunday

How To Avoid Slimy Yogurt

If you google "slimy yogurt" or "why is my yogurt slimy", you will find plenty of people complaining about this, yet I've been making yogurt on and off for more years than I care to remember and never had that problem until I moved to New Brunswick. Must be the way they process the milk here, or the way they feed the cows, or something.

I don't eat a lot of yogurt these days, but I have to make it regularly because I need it to culture the cream that I use to make my own butter, and around here you can't buy plain yogurt.

Then I get to eat the leftover yogurt. My favourite way is with a bit of maple syrup or honey, for dessert. Sometimes I drain it and make yogurt cheese, which I like every bit as much as cream cheese.

So I googled "why is my yogurt slimy", and eventually found the solution: you bring the milk temperature to 185 degrees (Fahrenheit) and hold it there for a while (some say 20 minutes, some say 30 minutes), which does something to the protein structure of the milk. The result is thick, creamy, non-slimy yogurt even if you use just regular milk (3.5% butterfat) and no extra skim milk powder (to give it body).

I tested every electrical appliance I had: the small coffee heater that I use to incubate the yogurt at 110 degrees, (didn't rise above 150 degrees) my crock pot, (reached 185 degrees on "high" but I had to keep playing with the lid to keep the temperature constant) and one of the burners of my stove. Eventually, it was the latter that gave consistent results with no temperature variation at all.

As you can see in the picture, I used a remote thermometer for all my tests. I ran all the tests over several hours, checking every half hour or so to ensure there were no wild variations. I did all the tests with a lid on because it's more hygienic.

So, if you have a problem with slimy yogurt, try heating it to 185 degrees and holding it at that temperature for half an hour or so. After that, you cool it to 110 degrees, add the culture and proceed with your usual method.