Friday, February 22, 2008

Making Yogurt, sort of

I used a combination of recipe/ advice in making yogurt. I took the basic method from Simply in Season, but used the more comprehensive discussion from Super Baby Food to inform what I did.
The S in S recipe suggests using a 2 quart (64 ounce) Thermos to keep the yogurt warm while it is incubating. So make sure you have one of those handy. Mine happens to be 3/4 the size recommended in the recipe, so I adjusted amounts accordingly. You, of course, can do the same. You will also need a candy themometer -- a themometer that can clip onto the side of a pot.

Step One:
Heat a big pot of water to boiling to sterilize the spoon, pot and thermometer you will use. Keep it at a low boil to use in a later step.
Step Two:
Pour out eight cups of milk. I chose to use raw milk despite Angela's warnings. I knew I would be trying to grow bacteria, which I hoped might have more of a chance in raw milk. I also knew I would be heating it, which supposedly kills off harmful bacteria. You could find all sorts of Web pages proclaiming the benefits and/or detriments of raw milk and/ or raw milk yogurt. I just wanted to give it a try. My raw milk comes from Frank White in Monogahela.

Step Three:
Heat milk in a saucepan to 185 degrees. Stir constantly and use low heat. The milk should not boil. Scald the milk, which means let tiny bubbles form on the outer rim of the milk where it touches the sides of the saucepan. I used a candy themometer to help me estimate the correct temperature.
The book suggested pouring the milk into another container after it reaches 185 degrees. I skipped that and just turned off the heat and left the themometer in until the themometer and the milk reached about 112 degrees.

Step Four
Pour boiling water into the Thermos and close the lid.

Step Five
Measure four tablespoons, i.e. 1/4 cup, of yogurt "starter" so that it can rise to room temperature. Yogurt starter is yogurt with live, active yogurt cultures. The books suggested using store bought yogurt for your "starter."
Also, according to the suggestion, I froze one tablespoon portions of fresh, store-bought yogurt in an ice cube tray. After they were frozen, I then emptied the yogurt cubes and put them in a freezer-safe plastic zipper bag and put them back in the freezer to use later.

Step Six
When the milk has cooled to 112 degrees, add the "starter" to it and stir.

Step Seven
Pour the water out of the Thermos and pour in the milk and yogurt combination. Close it up tight and put it someplace warm. Maybe wrap it in a blanket or heating pad or something and then don't move it for four to six hours.
It was tricky for me to keep the yogurt warm. It is supposed to incubate at 110-115 degrees for hours. In truth, I have no idea what the temperature was. I did not want to open the Thermos and let out any heat. Our house has plenty of cold spots and very few warm ones, so I put the Thermos in front of the warmest spot in our house.

Step Eight
After carefully maintaining a temperature of 110-115 degrees for 4 to 6 hours check on the yogurt. When you feel it is thick enough, it is done. If you leave it for longer, it can get more sour and you should add additional sweetener. In my case, I had to go to do kid stuff and just stopped the process at 4 1/2 hours. The result was less than ideal.

The yogurt seemed runny to me. Probably because 1) raw milk does that and 2) I don't think I let it incubate long enough and 3) it may not have been at a warm enough temperature.

At this point, you can add honey and fruit or whatever, but stir it gently. Good luck. It's not hard to get a taste and smell like real yogurt, but in my brief experience, it is more difficult to get the right consistency.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


So the other day I had a wisdom tooth extracted. And as you may know, when you have that done, for the first day you have to eat only cold, very soft foods. So, my husband brought home several pints of Dave and Andy's ice cream. But, I did feel a little bad about only eating ice cream for 24 hours. Since I don't really like many of the oral surgeon's other healthier recommended suggestions (like cottage cheese and yogurt), I thought I'd try to make a smoothie.

To make my post-surgery-palatable treat, I used Seven Stars yogurt purchased from the East End Coop. It comes from Eastern PA. Certainly not within in the 100 mile radius, but I'll get back to that. I added frozen blueberries, strawberries (both picked last Summer), 1 tablespoon of honey, and the juice from 1/2 an orange. The oranges are local because they were delivered to our doorstep by our cousin (thanks, Karen). Wow. That smoothie was delicious. I had been wondering what to do with all of my frozen peaches and cherries, also and now I have the answer. If anyone has a good recipe for a smoothie involving sweet cherries, please send it along. Otherwise, I'll probably just combine things haphazadly. That is something one can definitely do with a smoothie. One of my next experiments will be to try to give them to the picky, picky children.

The bigger experiment, however, will be to try to make my own yogurt so that it will be more local and cheaper. I have seen raw milk out and about (at the East End Co-op, McGinnis Sisters and now at the East Liberty Farmer's Cooperative) and I think that would be very useful for this project. I have a recipe from Simply in Season and one from Super Baby Food. According to Ruth Yaron, the author of Super Baby Food, homemade yogurt does not have that tart flavor of store bought until after several days. Which would really appeal to me. . .

If you have any tips or advice about making yogurt at home, please feel free to comment.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Farmer's Market Cooperative of East Liberty

It really is a wonderful thing to have a farmer's market that is open year round. Even in February, one can find some locally-produced produce. The East Liberty Farmer's Market Co-op ( is open year round on Saturdays from 5:00AM to 12:00 PM. It is sort of behind Home Depot near Highland Avenue and Penn Circle.

Here's what I found today that was local and will be around next week as well. I get the feeling that most of the products at the market are sold by "middle men" for the Amish. Most of the fruit and veg stands also have lots of produce from away.

J.L. Kennedy Stand Meats
They always have local (from farmers in Armstrong, Butler and Westmoreland counties) beef and chicken from Eastern PA. They often have local pork and sometimes have local lamb (its next appearance will be 3/15) and local veal (3/22). They can be very, very busy and by the time I saw them at 9:00 they were mostly sold out. They told me around 7:00 AM is when their line starts to get really long. Usually bacon and chicken breast and boneless chicken breast are the first to go. They said they almost never take home any ground beef. It looked to me like they wouldn't be taking home anything today. The prices are amazingly reasonable. You can try calling ahead to place your order: 724-898-2316 in advance or 412-661-1875 day of (Saturdays).

Best known for their eggs. They are all local, free range and come in a variety of sizes. The price is crazily low. I bought a dozen large eggs for $2.00 today. They have extra jumbo ($4), jumbo($3.50), extra large ($3.25), large ($3) and "pullets" I got mine for less because I used some discarded packaging. So, bring your own egg crates.

Greenawalt's also has dried pasta (flavored with garlic, chives, thyme, chicken, beef, oregano, etc.), many kinds of jellies, apple and banana bread, sauerkraut, American cheese, pickles, relish, honey and milk from Schneider's along with raw milk.

B & G Enterprises
Has a big bucket of garlic. They did not look so pretty, but I bought several heads/ bulbs for .50 each a few weeks ago and put them in the refrigerator. The cloves themselves are as white and clean as fresh garlic-colored snow and taste great. The trick is to squeeze the garlic bulb (ever so gently or you will expel the cloves across the room) to make sure the cloves are firm before purchasing them.
Some small cabbages, Butternut, Carnival, Acorn, and Sweet Potato squash provide him with the most variety of locally grown produce. He also has some potatoes -- red, yukon gold and white -- which are looking a little worse for wear at this point. All of these vegetables have been harvested long ago and have been in storage.

My favorite apple growers. Still have red and golden delicious, rome, empire, ida red and McIntosh apples (all of which were picked in the fall and have been in storage). They also have apple cider (which all in our family Luh uh uh ove), honey and maple syrup.

Mushrooms for Life
These folks used to be at the Farmers@ Firehouse market in the Strip District. They currently have White Button ($4/LB) Crimini ($5/LB), Oyster ($9/LB), Shitake ($14/LB) and Maitake, also known as Sheeps' Head ($6 for 1/4 LB) mushrooms.

Zang's Greenhouse
Has cabbage, mushrooms (Portabello and Button), Carrots (which are enormous but very tasty) and white potatoes grown locally.

Califonte Foods
These folks sell prepared pastas and sauces, mostly frozen. There were too many varieties for me to list. Many of the frozen fresh pastas had sold out when I got there. Here's a sampling of what was left in the freezer case: manicotti, ravioli, cheese stuffed rigatoni, spinach, sweet potato, plain and whole wheat gnocchi, jalapeno cheddar ravioli, and cheese and spinach and cheese stuffed shells. They also sell eight varieties of dried pastas in addition to flour to make pasta at home (durum, semolina and whole wheat). Sauces were available canned and frozen.

Another visitor from the Strip District. They sell their own hummus, baba ghanoush, pita, and other prepared middle eastern foods and baked goods.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Laptop Butchershop and other Announcements

Just in case you're not on all the same e-mail lists I am, I just wanted to share some information in case you need it.

First of all, Laptop Butchershop. If you don't know what this is, and you are fond of your laptop, the name might frighten you a bit. No worries about the computers. It is the animals that are butchered. However, they are local animals that are raised in sustainable ways. No CAFOs here.

Instead, you may order from individual, local producers and pick up your orders at a church in Highland Park. Here is the e-mail including some updated dates.

Slow Food Pittsburgh Offers Laptop Butcher Shop/Winter Market March 8

CELEBRATE: Slow Food Pittsburgh's fifth year of the popular Laptop Butcher Shop--connecting Pittsburgh with organic and/or carefully-raised local meats and poultry. The animals are pastured, meaning they are raised outdoors on grass, the way nature intended. Some animals are fed grains, also carefully raised. The meat is exceptionally delicious and heart-healthy, rich in correctly balanced CLA’s/nutrients. These products contain no additives (except nitrites in smoked bacon/ham), no prophylactic antibiotics and no hormones. Many vendors allow you to pick the cuts and quantity you want—just like a real butcher shop. Please understand: our producers work on a very small scale—this is why we love them! But, they must sell the whole animal, not just steaks, loins and chops so try roasts, stew meat, ground meat.

WHAT: Place your e-mail meat and fish pre-orders now. See individual vendor order cutoff dates below.

PICK-UP: Pay when you pick up on Saturday, March 8 from 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. Bring your coolers.WHERE: St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church Parish Hall, 5801 Hampton St, Highland Park (directions at end).Also available at Winter Market on 3/8 from Farmers@Firehouse vendors: Pam Bryan’s hand-spun, hand-dyed yarns; Najat’s Cuisine—small-batch Lebanese prepared foods; J&B Apiary Polish Hill honey, soaps and lip balm; Colonial Classics aged cheddar cheese. Terry Seltzer’s yarns/fibers, felt items, comfrey salve, goat milk soap, vinegar.

Laptop Suppliers: (Rose Ridge, Misera Farm, West Liberty Farm—sold out, will return later in season)
WIL-DEN FAMILY FARM, Mercer County – Denise and Bill Brownlee, ownersSlow Food Pittsburgh and friends have become addicted to this lean, flavor-fabulous pastured pork. Due to changes in processors, Wil-Den is offering three ordering options this year:
1. NEW, economical “Pig in Bulk”—whole, half or quarter pigs. This option includes bacon and ham (smoked products are not otherwise available at this time). Call Denise to discuss the processing of wholes and halves. Quarters include chops, bacon, shoulder roast, ribs, half ham, 2 ham slices, ground pork, breakfast sausage. Vacuum-sealing is not available; meat will be wrapped in butcher paper. ORDER CUTOFF: Sat., 2/16.
Note: smoked products contain nitrates but no MSG.
2. Sausage Sampler with option to buy from “a la carte” – products will be vacuum-sealed as always. ORDER CUTOFF: Sat., 2/23
3. 10-lb minimum order from “a la carte” list – products will be vacuum-sealed as always. ORDER CUTOFF: Sat., 2/23. NOTE: “A la carte” list includes no smoked products at this time. Try “fresh side”—natural, nitrate-free bacon--generously salt and pepper both sides, bake at 350 degrees until crisp.

PUCKER BRUSH FARM, Indiana County – Pam Bryan, owner
Pam’s succulent, pastured lamb has been a hit at many SFP events. Limited ground lamb and very limited racks. First come, first served.

SONSHINE FARM, Mercer County – Terry Seltzer, ownerTerry is a new producer to Laptop and is offering our first goat and veal—humanely raised, plus lamb, skinless poultry and eggs, all raised on her organically managed farm. If the weather cooperates she’ll have goose, duck and chicken eggs. Limited quantities of all--first come, first served.

WILD ALASKAN SALMON COMPANY – Sara Pozonsky and Trish Kopp, ownersAlaskan native Sara Pozonsky has been bringing her family’s premium wild-caught seafood to Farmers@Firehouse market for several seasons now. Sara will be flying in all pre-ordered fish especially for Laptop Butcher Shop and she’s waiving the normal shipping charges—what a bonus for us!

To Order:
--Wil-Den Pork – complete and return the attached Wil-Den spreadsheet via e-mail to Denise Brownlee at . Call or e-mail Denise with any questions, especially regarding your “Pig in Bulk” choice. “PIG IN BULK” ORDER CUTOFF: Saturday, 2/16. “A LA CARTE” and SAUSAGE SAMPLER ORDER CUTOFF – Saturday, 2/23.

--Pucker Brush Lamb – e-mail your order to Susan Barclay at
NOTE: Pam has extremely limited racks @$12/lb and ground meat @ $7.25/lb. First come, first served. ORDER CUTOFF: Saturday, 3/1.

--Sonshine Farm – see attached Word doc for product/price list. Send your order in an e-mail to Terry Seltzer at Limited quantities. First come, first served. Eggs may be plentiful or limited due to weather. ORDER CUTOFF: Saturday, 3/1.

--Wild Alaskan Salmon Co. -- check for current prices and product availability. Shipping charges will be waived. For best selection, email your order to Sara Pozonsky at by 3/1. She will be flying the pre-ordered fish from Alaska for the 3/8 Market pickup. She will accept orders from 3/1 - 7 but cannot guarantee availability after 3/1.
ORDER CUTOFF: Saturday, 3/1.

Complete orders as follows: Quantity – indicate number of items Contact Info – name, address, phone, e-mail in case the producers need to contact you.
Send your orders to the appropriate addresses by the specified cut-off dates.
Wait for CONFIRMATION email – this is your way to know a producer has received your order. If you don’t receive an email in 2-3 days, please email again or call. If you have questions, you may call or email the producers directly, call Susan Barclay at 412-247-4853 or e-mail her at .

--Pay for your orders when you pick up on Saturday, March, 8, 10 a.m. - 1 p.m., at St. Andrew’s.

--Payment methods: cash or checks directly to vendors at pick-up.

St. Andrew’s Directions: 5801 Hampton Street, between North Highland and North Negley Avenues, one block south of Bryant Street, four blocks south of Highland Park.

The attachments aren't attached, but you may e-mail the individual vendors for more information or Susan Barclay at We ordered from Wil Den farm in the fall and I have to say that their pork is fantastic! We have loved the boneless cutlets, tenderloin, ground pork, sweet italian sausage, breakfast sausage, ham slices and sausage links. I still have a loin in the freezer I'm saving for when I figure out what to do with it (it is BIG). I would highly recommend their products.

Also, I have some more information on a cow share available. Here is an e-mail I received from Steve Hasley (

I have not forgotten about this project, in fact have a potential cow lined up. Still trying to get the details on how much of what cuts, and how much a share would cost, but I think we can bring this in for around $3 a pound. A dressed cow should be almost 800 lb, so a 1/20 share would probably be close to 40 lb, or around $120. We have 20 people who have contacted me to express interest.

Obviously if we cut up the whole cow -- with bones -- we would have more weight but less meat. If we made all hamburger, we would have much less weight, as the bones would be disgarded. (speaking of which -- let me know if you want bones for stock/soup/your dog, etc). So I hope to be back with you soon as to the details.

I assumed we could distribute the shares on a saturday morning (or Friday evening) at the EEFC parking lot. I also thought that there may be some trading of cuts between members, in that I thought from my end I would have 20 fairly evenly divided boxes, and everyone could trade amongst themselves if they wanted more this or less that.

My last thought is, lets try this once and see how it works. If it is a rousing success, then perhaps we should have a steering committee As for now, I'm happy to have feedback.

Please let me know if you are still interested.

I would e-mail him if this sounds interesting to you. I have not worked with him or his cow parts before, but I may be giving him/ them a try.

Last, someone I have worked with before and would highly recommend: Harvest Valley Farms. They are taking sign ups for their summer CSA. Here is the e-mail I received:

I hope that this fine winter day finds you all in good health and in a warm place. I want to thank all of you for being part of our CSA "family" this past year. It was a good year for us as the weather was mostly cooperative. I am just bursting at the seams with enthusiasm in anticipation of the upcoming season!

CSA 2008
After considerable discussion we have decided that we will maintain the Pittsburgh CSA at current the level for this year. The situation is this: We use a pickup truck with a high cap to make the CSA deliveries. The truck holds about 150 crates. The only other larger truck we have is in use at the Market Square Farmers Market that day. If we wanted to expand, the only other alternative would be to add another pickup day. We decided against this idea because of gas prices. We decided instead to increase our CSA at home where members come to the farm to pick up and our Cranberry CSA, because that truck is not full.

We have not had an increase in 7 years of doing CSA, so we are long overdue. The main reason we have a need for an increase is labor. The government mandate of a 34% increase in the minimum wage was quite a blow for us. Even though most of our help makes more than minimum wage, it still affected us accordingly. Also, our fertilizer costs have increased 30% in the last two years, and I don't need to mention the fuel increases. So, after careful consideration, we have decided to increase CSA membership by 17%. It works out to 480.00 for a regular membership (20.00 per week), and 540.00 for an advanced membership (22.50 per week). We have held the monthly payment amounts the same to make it easier.

What's up in the winter?
I can't tell you how many people ask me, "So what do you do in the winter"? It might be snowy and cold outside, but I am busy as a bee inside these days. Placing orders for supplies, repairing equipment, shopping for new equipment, and then there are those taxes. :( Just the USDA Census of Agriculture took me 5 hours the other day. It was 24 pages long! Of course we are constantly trying to improve our farming methods and sharing what ideas we have put in place too. Kathy and I were in Great Lakes, Michigan in December for a conference and then to Hershey, PA two weeks ago, then Dover, Delaware last week for more conferences. These conferences help us do a better job of growing fruits and vegetables and managing our farm to be successful. I will be speaking at the “Farm to Table” conference here in Pittsburgh and also at a Penn State conference in Beaver County next month.

Next month will be my annual pilgrimage to State College to speak to the Ag Ethics class there. David and I also taught the Environmental Science class one day last month at our local Mars High School.

Let us know
We would like to know that you will be returning for 2008. We will hold your spot until March 15th. After that, we will start signing members from our waiting list. If you will not be returning, please send us an email now, so that someone else can know if they can become a member. We do anticipate about 15 spots to be available through normal attrition. I have attached more information that you can print out if you like. You may send your deposit as soon as possible, or you may also pay online from our website (but I prefer a check, as it costs us 3.8% less).

Please know that you are all in our thoughts and we are looking forward to providing you and your family with healthy food again this coming season.

Here is their e-mail: That's all for now.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Beet Cupcakes

In honor of Valentine's Day, I made some chocolate cupcakes this afternoon. Most of the ingredients, I regret to say, were not local. The eggs and butter were. One other was. The beets. Beets in chocolate cupcakes? you ask. Good question. Since this Summer I have seen a number of recipes for chocolate cake using beets as a secret ingredient. With some beets from Kretschmann's Farm, I decided to try Jessica Seinfeld's recipe from Deceptively Delicious. Thanks, Patti, for the book!

For those of you who have not heard of this cookbook, it is based on the premise (that many people have used for years, including my mother-in-law with her zucchini chocolate chip cookies and green tomato pie) that if kids can't see or taste the healthy food and they actually eat it, we are all better off for it. The cook of the family makes vegetable purees from vegetables like squash, spinach, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. and either uses them right away or stores them in the freezer. Then the cook adds anywhere from 1/4 cup to 1 cup of this puree into a food one would not normally find this vegetable. And no one is the wiser. Some people have said to me that they do not believe in deceiving their children in this way. I, personally, have no problem with it. Anyone who knows how unbelievably picky my daughter is might understand.

Despite my whole-hearted support of deceiving children into eating healthily, a lot of Mrs. Seinfeld's book is useless to me. My son who will eat regular foods will eat vegetables in plain sight. My daughter and other son will not eat many of the foods you can hide things in (some examples of recipes are: french toast, spaghetti and meatballs, oatmeal, hamburgers, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, beef stew, and chicken salad). All my family will, however, eat chocolate cake.

I was looking for a way to use my beets anyway.

First I scrubbed them clean, wrapped them in aluminum foil, and roasted them in an oven at 400 degrees for an hour (all directions found in the cookbook). I then peeled them with a knife and pureed them. Three beets of varying sizes made about 2 1/2 cups of puree.

Chocolate Cake


1 cup firmly packed light or brown sugar
1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil or trans-fat free soft tub margarine spread (I used Minerva Farms' butter)
1 large egg
2 large egg whites (I just used three eggs)
3 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate melted and cooled (I accidentally used unsweetened)
1/2 cup beet puree
1/2 cup lowfat (1%) buttermilk (I used lowfat plain yogurt)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Cream Cheese Frosting (I did not make)

1 8 ounce package reduced-fat cream cheese
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9 inch baking pan with cooking spray. (I made 17 cupcakes instead).
2. In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the brown sugar with the oil or margarine until creamy. Add the whole egg and egg whites one at a time beating well after each addition. Beat in the melted chocolate, beet puree, buttermilk and vanilla.

3. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt, and beat until smooth.

4. Pour the batter into the pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center, 35 to 40 minutes (the cupcakes took 26 minutes). Let the cake cool in the pan for five minutes before turning it out on a rack to cool completely.

5. Meanwhile, make the frosting. Beat the cream cheese with the confectioners' sugar, cocoa powder, and vanilla until smooth. Slice the cake in half horizontally. Spread the frosting over the top and in between the layers of the cooled cake. Refrigerate in an airtight contained for up to 4 days.

Despite all the changes (or maybe because of them?), the cupcakes came out wonderfully. They are really delicious and there is no trace of the beets. I know that 1/2 cup of beets is not a lot for 17 cupcakes (that's only about 1 1/2 teaspoons per cupcake), but it's better than nothing and we were all planning to eat sweets today anyway. . .