Scottish (Oat) Shortbread

Scottish shortbread is famous for its buttery goodness, but being little more than butter, sugar and white flour it doesn’t have any redeeming health benefits.  Of course, that doesn’t stop it from being sold in multiple booths at any Scottish festival.  A few weeks ago I went to the Mid-Maryland Celtic Festival and brought home gluten-free shortbread cookies for a friend.  They were flavorless and gooed into my molars in a disgusting fashion.

I got to thinking about the Outlander books, where the Scottish love of oats is frequently described.  It turns out, white flour wasn’t available to the common people in Scotland until long after shortbread was established.  I bet the first shortbread recipes were butter and oats, because they had oats and they had cows, and the baked mixture would last a long time in a pocket.  Later, sugar became available but costly, so only a little was used.

So… I looked for and found a whole-grain oat flour shortbread recipe, and made half a batch (added a little more sugar):

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Cream one stick butter with 1/3 cup sugar.  Add a pinch of salt.

Mash 6 oz of whole grain oat flour in with a spoon until it’s a homogenous paste.

Press into a meatloaf pan.

Bake for about 40 minutes or until it just starts turning brown at the edges.

Cut into bars while warm.  Let cool thoroughly.

Admittedly, it doesn’t look great, but it’s addictive.  My son and husband were both impressed, and this small batch didn’t last long.  Try it!  Take a bite and chew longer than you usually might.  The flavors develop as you chew, and are very satisfying.  Okay, it’s still not health-food, but oats are good for you!  And this recipe is a gluten-free wonder.


Making Fresh Cheese from Yogurt

Fresh cheese is easy to make from yogurt, and delicious.  Depending on how much moisture is in the yogurt, the cheese yield will be about 1/3 of the yogurt used.

Put the yogurt in several layers of cheese cloth, or a fine mesh sack, and hang over night (this will save you from looking at it all day long in distress that nothing is happening).  If by morning it still isn’t thick enough inside the sack, whack the bottom with the blunt side of a knife a few times, and go take a shower and read the news.  The whacking will break up the drier outside portion and let the inside drain.

The filter shown is a fine nylon mesh sack I bought to strain honey.  It’s too fine me to use for honey filtering since I don’t heat my honey, but works better than cheese cloth for cheese making or other similar straining jobs because it’s shaped like a sack, it’s one layer, and very durable.  Throw it in the wash and it comes out clean, over and over again.


Notice how green the whey is.  That lovely grass-green color gives me confidence that indeed there is still nature involved in making plain, store-bought milk.  It doesn’t have much flavor.  I keep thinking I should drink it, but usually it gets sent out to the chickens (they don’t seem very eager for it, so I have to question the supposed health benefits of whey).

What do you hang this from?  I’ve tried all kinds of things, none of which worked very well, many of which made a mess; however, my camera tripod does a great job.

The first photo, below, is how the finished product should look.  It is quite bland; don’t despair.  I split this in half and made fresh cheese with one, and tried for aged cheese with the other.  Fresh cheese recipe:  add some salt and whatever you like.  I mixed in:  2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon Penzeys Greek seasoning (has salt in it), some black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon toasted onion powder and 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder.  One caution, if you use fresh seasonings, they have water in them.  This will dilute the cheese, and making it prone to separation and early aging.  Fresh cheese should always be stored in the refrigerator.


It’s still a bit bland for me, so I intend to finely chop garlic, microwave it in a some olive oil and pour over the top before serving it tonight with some Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. bread.  Deli olives would be great, if I had any, but black olives on the side will have to do.

Experiment!  Enjoy!

(more on the aged cheese experiment, later)

Making Yogurt is Easy and Cheap!

Making yogurt is ridiculously simple, easy to do and pretty bomb-proof.  Almost-boil some milk.  Cool it to 115 F.  Add some plain yogurt with active microbes (almost all yogurt in the store is active), mix and wait 6-8 hours keeping it at 115 F.

Why would you want to?

Well, it your yogurt mix doesn’t become yogurt, the yogurt you’re buying at the store is useless.  The yogurt you make is fresh, and so as biologically active as it possibly can be, and it saves money.  I bought 6 ounces of FAGE greek yogurt for $1.50 and turned it into a gallon of yogurt for the cost of a gallon of whole milk.  This stuff sells for $7.50 a quart.

So, how exactly to do it?  In the past I’ve extolled the wonders of the Instant Pot, and I’m going to do it again.  My kitchen is small and if I can combine equipment, I do.  The Instant Pot is a pressure cooker, slow cooker and yogurt maker all in one.

Using the Instant Pot:  start in the morning (this takes a long time, but very little of your time)

  • Pour gallon of milk into pot.
  • Shut with escape valve open (this is only shut for pressure cooking), push the yogurt button.  Push the adjust button.  It will show you:  BOIL.
  • Some time later when this is done, pull out the pot and cover it — it will cool faster outside the Instant Pot.  If you cover it with a pie plate and put ice cubes in the pie plate (hot milk rises, cool from cubes drops) it will cool even faster.
  • When the milk mixture is between 110 and 115 F (though don’t worry if it is cooler) mix in 6 ounces of FAGE Greek yogurt.  Do this by putting the yogurt into a bowl, add about an equal amount of warm milk and whisk.  Then, whisk as you pour this thick mixture into the warm milk in the pot.
  • Put the pot back into the Intant Pot and push the Yogurt button.  You will see 8 Hours.  This will give you a tart yogurt; I like it better after 6 hours when it is quite mild but holds it’s shape nicely.  This is what it will look like after 6 hours:

Many other store bought yogurts can be used to make yogurt.  Those I’ve tried include Dannon and Annie’s.  The more yogurt you use, the faster it will turn.  The faster it turns, the less sour it will be.  By using premium store bought yogurt, you are using the bacterial mix companies have spent time and money developing!

The yogurt you make can, of course, be perpetuated, but each time the microbial mix will change a little — be aware of that and if a batch isn’t quite as good as the original, then go back to the source:  store bought yogurt.  (I have found yogurt starters to be a waste of money.)

Furthermore, yogurt can easily be turned into fresh cheese — an even better return on that gallon of milk.  More on that later.


Cold Shocking Cloudy Home Brew

There are a variety of ways to clarify mead or home-made wine, including bentonite clay and egg whites (not used together).  However, these methods also strip out some of the flavor.  Since I was experimenting with a boutique yeast designed to keep the fruity flavors in, I didn’t want to use them.  Time will usually get it done, but the mead had been sitting for a month, and the hard cider for two months, with no fermentation and no clarification at all via natural sedimentation.  I’m not a patient person at the best of times and felt enough time had gone by with no results when I read about “cold shocking.”

Cold shocking is simply chilling the brew.  Some articles said it killed the lingering yeast, others that it caused clumping.  None of them described freezing the brew…


1st day outside

The mead had been sitting for a month, and the hard cider for two months, with no fermentation and no clarification at all via natural sedimentation.

I had plenty of cold outside, mostly in the forties.  I put both carboys outside and there no clarification over several days.  Then the temperature dropped for 48 hours with the nights down to 10 degrees F; both the cider and mead turned slushy.  When I brought them inside and they thawed, the cider was totally clear.

Both carboys were racked (liquid transferred into a clean carboy, leaving most of the sediment behind) since it’s impossible to fill clear bottles with a heavy sediment layer in the carboy.  In a few days, the mead was also crystal clear.


Bacon-Onion Dip

If you go to festivals in the Pittsburgh area, often there will be a booth selling little packets of herbs for dip making.  They’ll have numerous dips set out in front of the booth, with little pretzels so you can taste them.  Recently, I bought three packets, one of which was Bacon-Onion dip:  Joe’s the favorite at the taste testing.  It was just as good at home, but there was some consternation when I pointed out there was no bacon in it.  The brown bits were flavored soy protein.  In any case, I was inspired to try my hand at a home recipe, and first time out of the gate the recipe below was judged to be superior to the festival packet.

You’ll note there is Bragg’s Amino Acids in it, because of the rich umami flavors.  This can be found at Kroger, and probably most other grocery stores.  But, of course, you can always rely on Amazon:

Bragg’s Amino Acids


1 cup light sour cream

1 cup mayonnaise

3 rounded Tablespoons Hormel “Real Crumbled Bacon” (I always have a Sam’s sack of these in the refrigerator)

3 Tablespoons dried diced onion

1 Tablespoon Bragg Liquid Aminos

Mix and refrigerate for an hour.


Apple Jack Success!

Apple jack is traditionally freeze distilled apple wine or hard cider.  I had some home-made apple wine made from concentrated apple juice that wasn’t very good, it was already in a plastic Southern Comfort bottle, and last night it was 10 degrees F outside.  As shown on this website, that means that any liquid at 10 F should be about 25% alcohol.  How cold it is directly impacts (and limits) the percentage of alcohol in the final product.  So, I drank a bit out of the bottle to allow for expansion, and set it outside.  Aging had, if anything, made the apple wine taste worse.  Just horrible.  Before bed, after three hours or so,  I was pretty disappointed as I saw no ice forming; however, looking at this picture more closely I think I do see some very small ice crystals throughout the wine.

Come morning it looked like solid slush in the bottle.  I smashed it up a bit with an iced tea spoon, and poured it onto a fine mesh cloth in a strainer over a bowl.  Then, like Julia Roberts taught me how to squeeze water out of spinach, I squeezed out the liquid.  Since the ice crystals aren’t squishy like spinach pulp, it was a much faster process, which was good because it was still 10 degrees out and cold on my bare hands!

I started with 7 cups of apple wine and wound up with 3 cups of apple jack.  The ice was very light colored after it was squeezed.



Assuming the 3 cups of apple jack is 25% alcohol, then the starting liquid was about 11%; however, my highly calibrated ethanol meter (my tongue) measured 3-4% alcohol in the watery leavings.  The chickens may have gotten some 4th day of Christmas joy out of it!

Not surprisingly, it wasn’t only the alcohol that was concentrated by the freeze distillation, but also every unpleasant flavor in the stuff — and any residual sweetness was destroyed.  I’m fairly grim when it comes to consuming culinary mistakes.  Me and Ben:  waste not want not.  But this may have been over the line.  I added 3 tablespoons of sugar (one for each cup) and threw in a cinnamon stick.  After just a few hours it was much improved because cinnamon tastes good.  I’ll leave that stick in there at least a few days longer then, with Ben nodding approvingly, do what must be done.

12/18/15 Update:  The sugar and cinnamon stick did the trick.  The doctored apple jack is wonderful stuff!



Perfected Pumpkin (or Kubocha Squash) Pie


I have accumulated several pumpkin pie recipes over the years, and none of them were just right and so I’d adapt as I went, sometimes with good results and sometimes not.  This year I decided to take a more methodical approach, and so bought what I thought were sugar pumpkins.  They were not.  Then I tried again, and was again disappointed with the pumpkin.  Maybe if you grow your own, good baking pumpkin can be had, but I’m done with trying because Kubocha squash (“Japanese pumpkin”) makes a wonderful pie, as shown in the picture above.  While none of the experiments were rejected by the family, each effort was closer to my ideal, and below is the only pumpkin pie recipe now in my book.  I use Pillsbury pie crusts, bought eight at time from Sam’s, stored in the freezer.

As a side note, canned pumpkin is not pumpkin either, as other winter squash from the same family have better texture, color and flavor:

Canned Pumpkin Ingredients


Two 10″ Pumpkin (or Kubocha) Pies

Preheat oven at 450 F.  Put all of the following into a blender, and then blend.

  • 4 cups pumpkin or 29 oz canned pumpkin puree
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon flour (I use oat)
  • 1.5 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon molasses
  • 1 rounded teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ginger & cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon orange extract
  • Pinch salt
  • ½ c Cream
  • 1 c milk

Once oven is to temperature spread crusts out in pie pan (I use oven-safe glass), and pour filling into each.  You may want to pour in the last few cups once the pies are in the oven to avoid sloshing onto the exposed part of the crust.

Bake at 15 minutes 450 F, and then 30-40 minutes 350 F.  Check with a toothpick in the center to ensure the pies are done.

Best if allowed to cool to room temperature.

Excellent 2016 Cyser Melomel Recipe

Melomel is a fruit-mead combination, and in Cyser the fruit is specifically apples:  an Apple-Honey Fermented Beverage.  I used honey from my own hives and apples from my trees.  The apples had been pressed to make cider, but the left-over pulp seemed to have a lot of apple umph left, so I added water to it and pressed it again.  I used VR21 yeast from an ongoing active cider fermentation process (turning cider into hard cider).  This yeast is supposed to conserve more of a fruit’s flavor, and so far I’ve been happy with the results.  I started this batch of Cyser on 9/11/16, and bottled it on 11/6/16, ending up with 17 bottles.


Apple Part:

  • 8.5 quarts second pressing from cider pulp (added 12 quarts water to 30# of pulp – this was too much)
  • Added 2 cups of active cider ferment (yeast V21)

Honey Part:

  • 1 quart dark honey (not quite right)
  • 4 quarts water
  • 1 rounded teaspoon Irish moss
  • Boiled and skimmed off foam.  Let cool overnight.

Combined Apple Part and Honey Part, 1 quart water, 2 cups lemonade and 1 table spoon Penszy’s apple pie seasoning.

9/26 – bubbling had stopped but the mixture was cloudy.  Added 1 t pectic enzyme and mixed up (pectic enzyme breaks down cell walls, and I hoped it would do that in the floating particulates so they could be eaten by the yeast and then settle, which seemed to happen).

10/23 – Cleared and settled.

Pleasant mild taste (no distinct apple pie or lemon flavor); didn’t seem to have a high alcohol content.  No need to age in spite of the honey which was a wonderful and unexpected result.


Growing and Cooking Parsnips

two-fat-ladiesI loved watching the Two Fat Ladies, and if you like cooking and have not watched their shows, give them a go.  The show ended when Jennifer Paterson died of lung cancer (she smokes quite a lot on the show), but while she lived, hers was a colorful and joyous existence.  One of the things they cooked on their show was parsnips.  I had heard the word, but had never taken a bite of one.  I bought some, tried Jennifer’s recipe, and it was good.  I have tried cooking them other ways, and not so much.

The recipe from Cooking with the Two Fat Ladies, snapped from my book, is at the bottom of this post.  Yes, there is a lot of cream and butter (they are fat, duh).

This is the second year I grew parsnips, and they seem to be easy to grow.  Make a groove in the dirt, put the seeds in it, cover it up and up they sprout.  Thin them after a few weeks to about six inches per plant, and then just wait for fall to pull them up.  I had a single ten-foot row of parsnips and harvested 5.5 pounds of parsnips.  Parsnips cost $2.68/pound at Wallmart so I saved $15.  Whooo hooo!  But the flavor is better out of the garden, and they are very easy to grow so I’ll keep planting them.  If you want to grow them, the soil should be loose, and well draining.  The rotted wood chips I use in my raised bed garden held too much water (especially problematic this year) and some roots had started to rot a little.  Also, to improve their flavor, they’re supposed to be harvested after a frost or two.  I harvested early this year because I saw new and vigorous mole activity in the garden, and they tasted great anyway.

Whether bought in the store or pulled from the ground, they will have to be washed, skinned and cooked so the effort isn’t very different.  I did these chores for all of my parsnips at once, and then froze them in chunks in freezer bags:  2.5 cups per bag.  The parsnips coming out of the garden certainly had more interesting shapes than those out of the store, which are usually shaped like fat, poorly proportioned carrots.  Sometimes out of the store they are woody — this has never happened out of my garden.  When I buy parsnips I avoid the very fattest ones since they’re the ones most likely to be woody.

dscn1104 dscn1106 dscn1108

The recipe I use is very similar to the Jennifer Paterson’s:

  • Toast a slice of bread (doing this first allows the toast to dry out).
  • Pre-heat oven to 350 F.
  • Put 2 tablespoons of butter into an oven-proof cup and add 3-5 garlic cloves or ramp bulbs (to taste) and microwave until soft.  Coarsely chop the vegetables first.
  • Put the following into a food processor and blend until uniform:
    • Butter and vegetable mix
    • 2.5 cups cooked, cubed parsnips
    • 1/3 cup cream and 1/3 cup milk
    • pinch fresh nutmeg
    • salt & season to taste
  • Taste blended mixture and season as needed.  Add 2 oz chopped ham (small pieces).  Put in a small casserole dish and spread out flat.
  • Break toast up into pieces and turn to crumbs using a small food processor or blender.  I sometimes add pecans and blend them with the toast.  Add salt and seasoning as desired and a drizzle of olive oil.  Blend briefly and spread the crumbs evenly over the top of parsnip puree and gently press down.
  • Bake for about 45 minutes; check in 1/2 hour.  Pull out when nicely browned.


Below is Jennifer Paterson’s recipe: