Making Quark Cream Cheese, aka Yo-Cheese

I made a batch of yoghurt a couple of days ago that came out a bit runny. I’m not really sure why. The kids had been asking for yoghurt with flavours other than those I’ve figured out how to make from scratch, so I used 4 tbsp of the boysenberry Easiyo sachet, which I’ve found in the past is plenty, and for good measure I put in the last tbsp of a tub of Jalna yoghurt that was in the fridge as well. So I was surprised to open up the Easiyo thermos the next morning and find that the yoghurt hadn’t set very well – it was not very thick and kind of stretchy.

It had been about 12 hours and the water was more or less cold, so I carefully removed the yoghurt container and refilled the thermos with hot water (not fully boiling though) and left it for another five or six hours. By then the yoghurt was set better but still not as thick as usual, so I decided it would be a good candidate for “draining” to thicken it up. I wasn’t planning on actually making quark, I was just going to drain it for a couple of hours. I’ve had extra thick yoghurt at my mum’s house before where she had done that and it was pretty yum.

Well, 36 hours later it was still in the fridge, so… quark it is!

a 'pat' of quark, tipped out of the cheese cloth onto a blue plate

Only, I’ve never really liked sweetened cheeses, and although this wasn’t very sweet it wasn’t that cheese-like to me either. So we just ate it like regular yoghurt, by the bowl full. I’m not really sure what else you would do with it, although if it were a little less thick I could imagine having it instead of cream or ice cream with a bowl full of berries or a slice of chocolate mud cake. Actually, we could still have done it even with it being this thick if we had any berries or chocolate cake! Then again, we do that with regular yoghurt too.

We got through more about half in one sitting:

half eaten quark cream cheese

In other news, there are people on my roof installing solar panels as I type. One whole side of the roof (facing ENE) will be covered. Unfortunately ACTPLA can’t get here to approve it until August! So we still won’t actually have solar power for another month, meaning the whole process from when we started getting quotes will have taken about seven or eight months. That’s what extra good government incentives “ending soon” will do for an industry I guess. (And they have ended now, or at least reduced dramatically, but we got in with our deposit ages ago, so we’re okay!)

Quark, birthday parties, bread and broken arms. Oh, and burned chicken stock!

What I have been doing lately, while I haven’t been updating this blog…

Making birthday party invitations and party bags with my big five-year-old daughter Mikaela:

Making bread rolls with slightly old yeast and no where near enough time for them to rise (they were still yummy, but a bit dense!):

Making quark (this is an experiment that is not yet complete – it’s been draining for about 4 hours at this point, and I’ve just opened it up to take the photo):

yoghurt draining through cheese cloth into a bowl

Waiting for hours in hospital for various people to look at, X-ray and operate on that same daughter’s arm, only then she was still four. She broke it and needed pins put in. Ouch. But the cast is awesome, and waterproof!!

Hot pink cast from wrist to shoulder (almost)

Oh and making my house smell vile for days on end, despite leaving many windows wide open everytime we left the house (it was too cold to have them open when we were here), by leaving chicken stock on the stove overnight (not even on low) an burning it to a cinder. Oops. I didn’t take a photo of that one!

This is all well and good, but what I am doing tomorrow, is finally getting solar panels put on my roof! Very exciting.

Vegetarian Dishes: Liam’s Incan Bean Stew

A tortilla in a bowl filled with a pumpkin, tomato and nave bean stewLast week Liam* and I went hunting for some haricot beans to cook a bean stew recipe from a book on the Incas that my mother gave him for Christmas. It took us a while, but eventually we discovered that haricot beans are what we call navy beans, which are also the beans in baked beans.

Anyway, we made the stew and Liam made himself a bowl inside his bowl out of a tortilla, and heaped the stew inside. And, he declared the whole meal delicious. He’s not always terribly keen on new food, but whether it was having chosen itnd cooked it himself out of his own book, or the novelty of serving it in a tortilla bowl, he loved this meal. Or, you know, maybe it just was delicious! Because actually, everyone except my four-year-old daughter enjoyed it. And she didn’t actually try it!

Of course, the recipe as written was a little too spicey so we modified it to suit our tastes. This is how we made it:

250g dried haricot (navy) beans
4 tomatoes
500g pumpkin (after removing skin and seeds)
2 tsp Paprika (the original recipe called for 2tbs, which seemed to spicy for us, but play with it to get the level you like)
mixed herbs
black pepper
100g sweetcorn

1. Wash the beans thoroughly in cold water, then put them in a large bowl and cover them with more cold water. Leave them to soak 3-4 hours.

2. Drain the beans and place them in a large saucepan. Cover with yet more cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for two hours or until tender.

3. Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes finely, peel the pumpkin and chop it into 2cm cubes.

4. Heat 100ml of water in a medium saucepan. Stir in the paprika and bring to the boil. Add the tomatoes along with a good sprinkling of mixed herbs, plus salt and pepper to taste. You may need to add a little more of these later when you have added everything else, just do a taste test to see. Simmer for 15 minutes or until thick and well blended.

5. Drain the beans then return them to the large saucepan. Add the pumpkin and the tomato mixture and stir well. Simmer for another 15 minutes.

6. Add the sweet corn and simmer for another 5 minutes, or until the pumpkin has almost distintegrated and the stew is quite thick.

7. Do a taste test – see if you need to add more salt or pepper. Sun gods and sacrifices, the lost world of the Aztecs, Incas and Mayans

8. Serve in bowls. We served it with rice and tortillas. The book also suggested corn bread as an accompaniment.

Simple but delicious.

The book is called Sun gods and sacrifices, the lost world of the Aztecs, Incas and Mayans by Fiona McDonald & Philip Steele. It also has other craft activities, from making feather fans to mozaic masks to a full size felt Inca tunic! Liam hasn’t actually done any of the other craft activities (most probably need some level of parent involvement), but he has been enjoying reading the book. The next thing he wants to do is try the recipe for making our own tortillas.
*Have I been cagey about the kid’s names? I just can’t do it anymore – Liam is my nine year old.

This post is linked to Delectable Tuesday and Meatless (Vegan) Mondays and Real Food Wednesday .

Super Easy Tomato Basil Soup

The other night I served a winner for dinner- at least as far as Master Eight & Mr Sustainable Suburbia were concerned. Ms Just-Turned-One didn’t like it and Ms Four wouldn’t try it, but hey, three out of five (I include myself) is about the best I can hope for – and it’s especially gratifying that everyone who did eat it had seconds.

So, here’s the recipe. Now, I just made this up as I went along out of ingredients I had on hand, and I didn’t measure anything, but it’s pretty straight forward.


1 medium sweet potato, peeled
1 medium carrot, peeled
1 parsnip, peeled
3 bunches baby bok choy, washed thoroughly (I used the leaves and stems)
About a cup of chopped fresh basil, loosely packed
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 can puréed tomatoes
1 375ml jar summer tomato & basil pasta sauce (the brand was Bertolli’s Five Brothers)
2 tbsp tomato paste
About 1-1.5 litres of water
About 0.5-0.75 tsp salt
About 1.5 tsp sugar

Chop the veggies – you’re going to purée them, so how small you chop them will depend on how long you have to cook them. I put them on at about 2pm and puréed them about 5.30, so Iwas able to cut them fairly big.

Chuck them in a large saucepan (at least five litres) with the water and canned and jarred goods. Add the tomato purée and the roughly chopped basil.

Simmer until everything is soft, ideally at least an hour to give the flavours time to mix. Two is probably better. Blend (I used a stick blender) until relatively smooth (or until you get the texture you want really), then add salt and sugar (which removes some of the tartness of the tomato) to taste.

Cook for a bit longer, then serve with grated cheese and your favourite bread. We had Turkish bread with it, which was yum. Even those who turned their noses up at the soup enjoyed the bread!

Update on making yoghurt from scratch in an Easiyo

I mentioned that when I made the yoghurt with regular milk in the Easiyo I heated it and then cooled it to cold (not 40 degrees as is usually recommended). This is because with the Easiyo, which is designed for use with the Easiyo sachet and cold water, you fill it with boiling water, to warm the milk and keep it at growing temperature. Whereas usually when you’re making yoghurt from scratch you just put it in a thermos or something to keep it warm. So, I read that you need to use cold milk when making yoghurt in the Easiyo, so that the boiling water doesn’t overheat it and kill the starter culture.

Anyway, this is all working up to say that my mum has bought an Easiyo, and she made yoghurt in it from scratch but only cooled the milk to 40 degrees and it worked fine.

What all this (combined with my last post) leads me to think, is that it really is very easy to make yoghurt and you really don’t have to be all that precise to make it work. But, don’t use xylitol in it!

Edited to add: I have now put together all my making yoghurt experience into one article on the main Sustainable Suburbia site: How to Make Yoghurt From Scratch in an Easiyo Yogurt Maker.

Making yoghurt with Xylitol – or not!

I had my first failure in my making yoghurt from scratch experiments. I thought I’d try a coffee flavoured yoghurt, and at the last minute I decided to sweeten it with Xylitol instead of sugar or honey.

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol derived from birch bark, strawberries and corn cobs among other things. It has a very low GI (of around 7), can replace sugar virtually spoon for spoon, for somewhere around 1/2-3/4 the calories and, most importantly, inhibits the bacteria that causes tooth decay. For that reason many dentists are now recommending using it, for instance by sucking on a couple of Xylitol mints after a meal, or in tooth paste.

However, when I used Xylitol in my yoghurt, guess what happened? Nothing. Nothing happened. I opened my litre of supposed yoghurt 10 hours later, and it was still just slightly yoghurty flavoured coffee milk. My guess is that Xylitol not only inhibits the bacteria that causes tooth decay, but also the bacterias that cause yoghurt. Which is kind of interesting, given those bacterias (bactieri?) are also important for a healthy gut. So that’s something I’ll be looking into a bit more.

In the mean time, I made a lovely lemon yoghurt yesterday with 1 tsp lemon essence, 2 tbsp sugar, 1 & 1/4 cups milk powder* (I think I used a cup of full cream milk powder and 1/4 cup skim, but I mix up the ratio depending on the day) and enough milk to make it up to a litre. Oh, and a tsp of Easiyo natural yoghurt powder, because I’d run out of the previous batch of yoghurt. It’s delicious, but tomorrow I’m going to try coffee again, only this time, without the Xylitol!


* I don’t think I’ve mentioned that I’m using milk powder now in my yoghurt mostly, which avoids the step of heating and cooling the milk, since the drying process has the same effect on the milk protein as the heating does (buying UHT milk does this too, which is what my Mum does – she’s just started making it from scratch too, and in fact just bought herself an Easiyo from the supermarket). It’s heaps quicker and saves me having to buy milk even more often – we already go through 2-3 litres a day in this family! I got this idea from another blogger, but I will have to figure out who it was and link later, because right now Ms 11 months is getting very crotchety!

edited to add: Apparently my mother doesn’t use UHT milk, she uses Aldi’s Organic milk which is “ultra pasturised”. She has used it both heated and straight out of the fridge and it worked both ways. I have read that you can use UHT milk without heating it though.

Yoghurt, Custard… it’s all dairy here!

Two nights ago I made my second batch of made from scratch yoghurt. The first batch worked perfectly, but getting my son (Kid Number One) to eat natural yoghurt is, well, nigh impossible. When I sweetened it with honey and pureed fruit he still didn’t like it.

So, next I made a batch sweetened with xylitol (a sugar alcohol with a low GI and which inhibits tooth decay – I use it haphazardly and could as well have used sugar) and with vanilla essence added. I forgot to add the milk powder, so it wasn’t as thick as the previous batch  but it was pronounced delicious by the childers. Second helpings were had. No higher praise and all that. I stupidly didn’t measure the additions, so will have to try to reproduce and then write them down. I can say the milk tasted awfully sweet to me before I added the starter, but once it was yoghurt it was perfect   not as sweet as store bought, but sweet enough to satisfy the family!

The family are all out right now (except me and Babe Number Three), so tonight I am making Tunisian Vegetable Couscous and Inner Pickle’s friend Estelle’s mother’s custard. Except I’m using skim milk powder instead of full cream because that’s all I had (and we’re out of milk altogether, honestly the amount of milk this family goes through in a day is ridiculous!), so I’ve added an extra half a cup of it. Will report back on the results.

The family is about to arrive home, so better get on with it…

Edited to add photos and reports:

Bowl of custardClearly I am not a food photographer, but here is a bowl of the custard. I have to say, I wasn’t sold on it. I liked it, I ate my bowl full, but the powdered milk flavour was strong. Kid Number One declared it as good as anything I usually make, but then changed his mind after two spoonfuls and didn’t finish it. Kid Number Two said she didn’t like it. To put that in perspective #1 only eats straight custard power custard. He doesn’t like egg custard at all. Kid #2 does though.

And the couscous – well, I loved it. The husband liked it but didn’t have seconds. Not a high recommendation then, but he did point out that he was very tired. Kid#1 tried it but said he didn’t really like the taste. Kid#2 said she didn’t like it without dishing any into her bowl, much less trying it. Sigh. They both ate the very basic salad (two colours of capsicum plus cucumber) and drank milk.

Also, the recipe made enough to feed an army (or at least eight – and that’s eight people who eat too, my kids not included), so there’s masses left over. Not sure how couscous goes on reheat, but I think it will be okay to eat cold tomorrow. Wouldn’t be surprised if kid#2 decides to try it that way if I have it for lunch. Anyway, I can always hope.

Bowl of Tunisian vegetable couscous

Making yoghurt tonight!

Well, it turns out all I needed to do in my quest to find out how to make yoghurt from scratch using an easiyo maker was to follow the first link in my last post – namely to the Easiyo on Amazon – and look at the comments. The very first one has the instructions.

So now I will

  1. Heat 1 litre of light, organic milk almost (but not quite) to boiling.
  2. Cool it in the fridge until completely cold
  3. Mix it with a tbsp of yoghurt and 1/2 cup powered milk by shaking it up in the Easiyo container the same way you do with the sachets (ie half fill with milk, add yoghurt and powered milk, shake, fill with the rest of the milk, shake again).
  4. Fill the Easiyo maker with boiling water as per it’s usual instructions
  5. Pop the container of milk and yoghurt in there and leave for about 10 hours.
  6. Take it out and see if it’s set, if so put in fridge, if not, try, try again!

And now I must rush off, because soon the milk will get to the right temperature, and if I’m not there to take it off the heat it will boil, which I guess means it doesn’t work?

Will report back tomorrow. Wish me luck!

(PS for more detailed instructions just follow the link above and read the first comment, by “New in Florida”)

Updated to add: This worked like a charm. Notes:

  • I did not use a thermometer, just heated the milk until it was not quite boiling (starting to get frothy on top, but not yet frothing up properly), and I let the milk cool in the fridge overnight.
  • When I shook it in the Easiyo it frothed up so much there was barely room for the other 500ml milk. To settle I gently tapped the container on the bench, but I also had to scoop out a lot of froth! The second go around I didn’t shake so much and it was okay.

Edited again to add: I have now put together all my making yoghurt experience into one article on the main Sustainable Suburbia site: How to Make Yoghurt From Scratch in an Easiyo Yogurt Maker.

Making Yoghurt from Scratch in an Easiyo (without the packet mixes)

A few weeks ago a friend lent me her Easiyo yoghurt maker. It’s something I’ve been thinking of trying out for about five years, but each time I consider it I end up deciding that:

a) we really don’t need another kitchen tool cluttering up our space
b) it’s not clear to me that it’s all that much better than buying yoghurt in tubs, since you still have to buy packets every time (though I’m sure that’s a little better), nor much cheaper, and
c) it’s surely not that hard to make yoghurt properly from scratch and I should probably do that instead.

However, now that we have it I’ve been using it, and I must say, I do like it quite a bit. It is at least a little better than buying disposable plastic tubs by the dozen, it’s great to be able to keep the sachets in the cupboard and make the yoghurt overnight, you can vary how tangy the yoghurt is by how long you leave it for (so far ten hours is the most popular, but I’m going to try nine next for comparison), and you don’t even need to have milk in the fridge. That part was a surprise to me, and very convenient.

On the other hand, I still think it shouldn’t be all that hard to make yoghurt from scratch, and then I’d have real control over what I put in it. Though admittedly then we would up our daily milk use even more, and we already go through  two to three litres a day in this house!

So, while the kettle was heating up to make tonight’s batch of yoghurt, I did a quick google, and here’s what I found:

Fellow Australian Inner Pickle is making yoghurt from scratch in a Breville yoghurt maker, which I think just holds it at the right temperature (it’s electric). Following her link I went off for a look at Soul Mama who makes it from scratch and doesn’t use any fancy yoghurt maker, but does use a heating pad on her bench. Now, both these techniques sound fine, but they don’t really help with my plans to reduce our household energy use. But if the Easiyo holds the packet mix stuff at temperature, it should also be fine for real from-scratch yoghurt surely?

A bit more Googling turned up this forum post at Green Living Australia, in which people seem to be saying they’ve used the Easiyo to keep from-scatch yoghurt at the right temperature, and the second post gives instructions for making yoghurt using a thermos but also says yoghurt makers can be used this way. And it has another recipe, and, it describes doing it without the mention of precise tempertures or milk thermometers! Since that’s something I’ve never managed to acquire, this is the recipe I am going to try first.

I’ll report back when I have a result. 🙂

Edited to add: linking to report and instructions on how to make yoghurt from scratch using an Easiyo.

Edited some more to add: I have now put together all my making yoghurt experience into one article on the main Sustainable Suburbia site: How to Make Yoghurt From Scratch in an Easiyo Yogurt Maker.

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