Thursday, July 24, 2014

Making Clarified Butter

Every year, a little before Thanksgiving, butter would go on sale at the local grocery store.  Every time it did, I picked up several one-pound boxes to freeze and use for holiday baking.  It was a great system, and I always had plenty of extra butter after the holidays were over.

Now that I can't eat regular butter without feeling like a nauseated bloated cow, I have a LOT of butter in my freezer looking for a reason to live.  (Note: allow frozen butter to come to room temp before clarifying.)

Enter: clarified butter. 

The process is easy enough: just heat the butter on the stove, skim off the white whey foam, and leave the casein in the bottom of the pan.  Knowing that those proteins give me problems, but still wanting to use butter for cooking, I thought to myself, 'Self, clarified butter may be an option!'  After doing a little internet research, I felt confident to try making it myself.

I set to work clarifying the butter:
I melted four sticks (2 cups/16 ounces) by cutting it into pieces and turning the burner on low while I did a few other kitchen tasks.  Butter melts quickly, so it didn't take long for the pieces to melt and the whey to float to the top.

Look at all of that whey!

I skimmed out most of it, and I learned that you'll always scoop a small amount of butter out along with the whey, no matter how careful you are.  Sad, but true.  You also have to be careful not to stir the butter and mix together everything that you've just separated.
Anyway, it's not important to skim all of the whey off, we'll get it in a minute.

Line mesh strainers with at least four layers of cheesecloth.  More layers will catch more impurities, so it's best to not be stingy here.  Set the strainers over a large bowl with a pour spout and pour the butter through the strainer.


As you can see, the first strain still left some whey. 
I also couldn't see any casein in the bottom of the pan before I poured it, so I poured it all through.  It was only after I had it in the clear glass bowl that I could see a thin layer of a more solid substance at the bottom that was the casein. 
You can see the brighter color of solids at the bottom--I circled it in the photo below.

I lined another mesh strainer with eight layers of cheesecloth this time, and poured the contents through the second strainer, holding back once I saw the layer of casein at the bottom.  Only a very small amount made it into the second strain, and no whey made it through.

After the second strain, it looked good.  You can strain it as many times as you'd like, but remember, the more you strain, the less the amount of pure butterfat that you'll have in the end.  After straining twice, I had a little over a cup of butter, or a little more than half of what I started with.  Since this was my first attempt, I'm hoping I will get better at it the more I do it, and have more left after the straining process.
But the real test came when I made dinner--I fried chunks of chicken in the butter, made buttered noodles, and boiled up some buttered peas.  It might seem like butter overkill, but if I couldn't handle that, I'd have known quickly.  You can see that the butter melted clear, which was a great sign of lack of impurities.  
The chicken cooked up beautifully, with that perfect brown color, and the butter didn't smoke and burn like it normally does with the impurities. 
The taste was the familiar butter flavor that I love.  And I'm happy to report that I didn't feel bad that night, and still felt well the following morning.  I think this is going to work!  My frozen butter now has a reason to live again.
I've yet to try baking with clarified butter, but it'll be in my to-do list in the next few weeks.  I'll pass along results and any good recipes.

One thing to note: storing the clarified butter in a jar like this is not the easiest method for getting butter out.  I've purchased these molds on Etsy from Cannaware.  You can see that not only do they make sticks of butter like you can buy at the store, but they also have tablespoon measurements on the side to make life easier.  After I clarify my butter, I can make them into sticks for easier storage, access, and measuring.  Win!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Dairy Free By Necessity

I love you, milk.  I love you, ice cream.  I love you, cheese.  I love you, butter.  But it turns out that you guys do not love me anymore.

It's not you, guys, it's me.  I'm sorry, but it seems as though my intestines have decided it's time to break up.  I have no say in the matter.  If it was up to me, we'd continue our dysfunctional love affair.

After thousands of dollars in doctor visits, medical procedures, and test results that yielded no answers, I've come to the conclusion through the process of elimination that I believe I'm dairy intolerant, and that it has been a main cause of of my stomach and digestive problems for over a year now (although, I believe that there's still more going on).  However, I don't believe that I'm lactose intolerant.  I believe that it may be more than that, and that one or both of the proteins found in dairy products may be to blame--casein and whey. 

Why do I believe this?  Well, there are a few reasons.  First, my lactose breath test came back normal.  Second, I can't drink lactose-free milk without problems.  Third, yogurt (which I don't like anyway) and cheese still make me feel ill, and in theory, they shouldn't if I had just a simple lactose intolerance.  Even butter in large quantities, like using it to saute food, causes me problems and discomfort, and butter has almost no lactose.  All of these products, though, still have milk proteins in them.  So, by process of elimination, it seems more likely and logical that the intolerance would be a result of an inability to tolerate the proteins as opposed to the lactose.

I've noticed that eliminating these foods have made me feel better (although still not completely normal), and that makes me sad.  Who wants to voluntarily give up pizza?  Because, let me tell you, pizza with no cheese is not pizza.  Not to me, anyway.
Image from the Internet.
While this type of intolerance is lesser-known than its brother lactose intolerance, it's becoming more known and talked about.  Thankfully, we live in a day and age where so many special recipes can be found online, or adapted to include non-dairy alternatives for their dairy counterparts.  Because of this, I'm starting a page here for recipes that are dairy-free.  This does not include egg-free; that's usually in a category of its own.  It is also important to note that this is not a milk allergy--food allergies are much more serious and can result in a hospital visit.  People with milk allergies cannot have any milk products.

It's fairly common to become lactose intolerant as we age, but other than a mild intolerance to milk for my husband, I know very few people who have this problem.  This is a huge lifestyle change, and I'll admit, it's been a struggle.  Removing dairy has frustrated me in ways I can't even describe, not only in cooking at home, but also in grocery shopping and eating out or at the homes of others.  Plus, it's been very difficult to give up foods that I love cold-turkey, like ice cream and cheese.  I can only sit by and drool longingly as my husband eats his Talenti gelato or cheesy pizza, knowing that for as long as I live, I won't be able to eat some of the things I loved anymore.  But not all is lost--I've discovered some ways around my intolerance.  Below is a small list of things I've discovered.

Some good alternatives to using butter in baking and cooking:
  • Lard (if you can find it)
  • Olive oil (plain or infused)
  • Coconut oil (solid up to 78 degrees) 
  • Clarified butter or ghee (often sold at health food stores) or you can make your own (coming soon!!)
  • Earth Balance spreads (made of various vegetable oils--they do offer a soy-free flavor)
  • Cooking sprays, like Pam
  • Almond, rice, oat, or coconut milk (I use unsweetened coconut milk for most baking recipes, sweet breads, pancakes, etc.)

Foods that I like:
  • A decent dairy-free ice cream I've found: So Delicious brand Peanut Butter Zig Zag, but this is a soy-based ice cream, and some people are adamantly opposed to soy products.  It's been the best substitute for real ice cream that I've found.  Coconut and almond-based ice creams tend to have a coconut or almond flavor to them, regardless of the overall flavor of the product.  It's a bit pricey for what you get, though.  I can usually find this at Kroger.
  • I've tried some imitation cheeses, and am sad to report that they are just not good, especially the Daiya brand.  Don't waste your money.
  • Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips and mega chunks--these are great!  I think they have better flavor than the regular chips.  The only drawback is the price, around $4.50 a bag.  However, they are easily found in most large chain grocery stores--Meijer carries them in their gluten-free section in my town.  I just pick up a bag whenever I go grocery shopping to try and stock up slowly.
I've scoured Pinterest for recipes and ideas for dairy-free living, and have had some success.  I haven't tried many of the recipes on there, but I have tried some.  Feel free to visit my Dairy Free Pinterest page for substitutions, ideas and recipes that I've found so far.  Another great website for all things dairy free is the Go Dairy Free site.  They have a wealth of dairy free information, including recipes, substitutions, and Q&A forums.

Here's a helpful printable with some great non-dairy conversion suggestions (I have not tried these yet, but I do keep this in my kitchen):

And just a little picture of a puppy to make your day a little more fun:

Friday, July 11, 2014

Johnston Farm and Indian Agency--Piqua, Ohio

There's a place a little over an hour south of us in a little town called Piqua, Ohio.  It began as a fort back in the 1790s and slowly grew from there, but settlers were somewhat wary of settling near the several Indian tribes that also occupied the area.  In the early 1800s, a man named John Johnston, a colonel in the American army, began operating a government agency in the area to help with communications between the native Indians and Americans, and the Johnston Farm and Indian Agency was established.  Shortly after his move there, the Miami-Erie Canal came through the area, helping to increase the population of the town. 

This, of course, is a very simplified version of how the Johnston Farm and Indian Agency came to be.  Should you be interested in reading a full historical account, please visit the Farm's website: Johnston Farm and Indian Agency.

Since I first discovered this living history farm, I've wanted to visit.  We finally had the opportunity over the weekend, and I really enjoyed this well-preserved piece of history.  One of my great loves and passions is historic architecture, especially historic homes and farms, and if I could have a historic home for my own, it would be a dream come true.  I love to think about the way that our ancestors lived before the instant gratifications of today: cell phones, internet, television programs that can be watched anytime and anywhere... however, fewer and fewer of these architectural gems exist, being torn down to make way for new highways, Wal-Marts, gas stations, etc.  But this is another topic for another day.  Because they are few and far between, I pounce on the opportunity to visit any historic place that is open to the public.  Some places are well-preserved and cared for, others are less than perfect--the Johnston Farm is the former.

The park offers tours of a restored c. 1815 brick farm home, several outbuildings, and a ride up and down a remaining part of the Miami-Erie Canal, which was a real treat. 
Neither my husband nor I knew that river canals still existed, but as we learned on the boat ride, there are still small stretches across the state that people can view if they know where to find them.  The boat trip, which lasted about 45 minutes, took us up to the nearest remains of a lock and back. 
Along the way, we listened to the boat's narrator describe what life was like during the heyday of the canals (1820s-1850s) while viewing the scenery.  We even saw a giant snapping turtle sunning himself on a fallen tree!

This sweet mule towed the boat up the canal and back for us.

Her friend and co-tower, Montana Whiskey, was in the barn on this day, because he had lost a horse shoe and seemed to be favoring that hoof, but  he kept us company as we strolled out to the Indian mound found on the property. 

As you can see, he had quite the personality!

He also allowed us to take a look at his large, hand-hewn beam double pen barn that predated the house by about five years. 
It was wonderful to see the construction of this old barn--many of the beams still had bark on some of the sides, and the joints and floor boards were secured with wooden pegs instead of iron nails.

There were also a few of these giant, hollowed-out stumps that were made into storage bins:
What a great idea for using stumps!
The inside of the bin, with my flash on.  It looks like they might have burned the inside...?

While waiting for a tour of the home, we also toured the other outbuildings on the property.  This is the apple shed/cider house:


This is the outdoor courtyard with a cooking hearth and bake oven:

This is the outdoor fruit-drying kiln:
This is the garden shed:

And this is the springhouse, which also predates the house by about five years:
The springhouse is an impressively cool (temperature-wise) building that houses a large loom and a few spinning wheels.  They believe that the upper floor was dedicated to textile production.
The lower level has spring water running in and through it, providing the family with a cool place to store goods such as milk and butter as well as providing fresh drinking water, and also has another room with a fireplace for possibly making candles and soap, and would have provided a cooler place to work at a fire.

This was Col. Johnston's home. 
The original log home, the first dwelling built on the property, no longer stands, but this grand brick home, built in two phases and styles, has been restored to its former beauty and grandeur, and the main two floors and the basement are open for tours.  The part of the house beginning at the Federal style door and to the left, is believed to be the older part of the house, or at least the first part of the home's construction.  On the inside, this parlor and the room above it of the same size would have easily been a one-over-one room house that the family could have lived in while the rest of the house was under construction.


A portrait of Colonel Johnston.

The right side of the house, built in the second phase, contained a formal dining room and bedchamber. 
The table set for a family feast.
The only access to the kitchen is down the stairs on the left of the fireplace.  Watch your head!  Another interesting design element is the off-centered mantle and mirror above the fireplace.  By the way, I love the mustard color paint.
I love these corner cupboards.  This contains several family artifacts.  The color is so great!
A secondary staircase just outside of the dining room leads directly into the girls' upstairs bedroom.

The second floor contained three bedrooms, one over the parlor of equal size, and two over the dining room and bedchamber that were connected. The sons' bedroom was over the parlor, and had three beds, each sleeping at least two boys.

The second bedroom was the grandmother's room, and had two beds.

The girls' room, with three beds and a trundle, was connected to the grandmother's room.
This mannequin properly displays the undergarments worn under dresses every day.
 
The interior of this house is typical of the Federal time period: partial wainscoting and chair rails, fireplaces in each room to battle the cold Ohio winters, varying width plank floors, six-over-six windows, deep window sills due to the thickness of the brick walls (they vary from three to five bricks thick), a Federal style main entrance,
main hall with doors at each end, windows on opposite walls to encourage cross-ventilation during the hot summer days, a deep covered porch...one surprise is that there was no kitchen on the main floors.  The only kitchen was in the basement, which is typically considered a summer kitchen.  In this house, however, this was the main kitchen all year.

These stairs lead up to the dining room.
The house itself is a great example of a blending of Federal interior and Dutch Colonial exterior architecture, with a gambrel roof, L-shaped layout, and balanced facade.  This farm house was stripped to the bare walls and completely restored, at a cost of $1.5 million in 1960!  That's the equivalent of over $11 million today.  Taking it back to the walls was necessary due to the state of the building at the time of the society's acquisition, but was money well spent, in my opinion.  The house is a must-see for anyone who has a love of American history and historic architecture.  Please check it out if you're ever in the area!

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