making yogurt from powdered milk

The Damsel hopes you will forgive her if she confesses she has tried to make yogurt many times. It worked occasionally, but most of the time, it turned out pretty runny.

She tried to convince the husband it was “drinking yogurt” like he had when he lived in Denmark but he had a crush on Miss Yoplait. Besides, it was super complicated, involving thermometers and doing things at precise moments. Even when she hovered over the project like a vulture, sometimes it didn’t set. She was left to second-guess whether she was quite precise ENOUGH, and just got frustrated with the whole thing. Even when it did work, the sprog didn’t lap it up willingly, and the husband had his nose in the air.

She gave up years ago and completely forgot she ever used to cry over runny yogurt. Then last week she bumped into a different method on the internets, and she wondered if perhaps her wounds had healed enough to try again. It didn’t involve thermometers or turning three times under the light of the waning moon, so she said, well, okay.

Preheat your oven to 275 F. Mix 6 cups cold water and 4 cups non-instant powdered milk. It has been a long time, because the Damsel forgot that mixing it this way doesn’t work.  Ha ha! This way equals lumpy disaster. Use the blender, please.

Add three tablespoons of yogurt. It doesn’t have to be the mistress Yoplait. Any kind with active cultures. You can put it right into the blender. Pour into an ovenproof container/bowl/thingy.

Loosely cover the container in whatever way seemeth you best. Put in the oven and then turn the oven off. Walk away. Don’t come back for 8-12 hours.

The Damsel was exceedingly skeptical but felt she wasn’t risking much. Just some powdered milk, and she hates powdered milk, although she uses a ton of it in baking. Still, she hoped.

In the morning the blasted stuff was perfectly liquidy. Not even KIND OF set up. She noticed the instructions she was using said if the product was “a little soupy” to repeat the process by heating the oven to 275 F again and putting the container back in for a few more hours. The Damsel had no expectations.

But…there was a glimmer of hope. Because the Damsel has a convection oven, she routinely sets her temperatures 50 F less than the recipe calls for, according to the manufacturer’s direction. But she suspected perhaps that wasn’t hot enough for this purpose. So she set the oven, put the stuff back in and went about her business.

Four hours later the stuff was set. The Damsel was shocked, to say the least. It was set even more than she wanted it to be. Very, very firm. Success at last!

The Damsel feels her yogurt demons have now been vanquished. Thanks for coming along.

Oh, and don’t forget to save a little back for the next batch’s starter.

term research project–buttermilk and other cultured thingies

When the Damsel ponders things Grandma used to make from scratch, a few dairy items come to mind.

The sour cream we made, for example. There’s yogurt. There are also a few soft/farmer style cheeses we could learn. But in order to do that, there’s a couple of things to be clear on.

Some of these things require buttermilk, and apparently there’s two kinds of buttermilk. There’s “old-fashioned,” which is the liquid left over after making butter, and there’s “cultured,” which is something completely different. The Damsel is annoyed they named the cultured kind “buttermilk” because she is easily confused.

Okay, “buttermilk” sounds nicer than “milk left out on the counter until it’s thick and sour” but it’s still confusing.

The Damsel will go as far as to say if a recipe calls for buttermilk, they mean cultured buttermilk. But to make it more confusing, unless there is going to be microbial stuff going on, it doesn’t matter. So if you’re making something that will be baked or cooked, thereby killing said microbes, you could use either type–like in bread or chocolate cake.

But if you are trying to make anything that requires little organisms to grow, like the sour cream thing, it’s gotta be cultured buttermilk. And yes, you can make your own, but it takes some to make some, unless you have access to an unpasteurized milk-beast.

1. Put one part cultured buttermilk in a container, like a quart jar with a lid.

2. Add three parts fresh milk. It can be store bought, pastuerized, right out of the jug. It has no microbes yet, because the pasteurization killed them all, but you’re adding them by mixing in the cultured buttermilk. Bwahaha!

3. Shake or stir.

4. Countertop it. Wait 24 hours or so, but not longer than 36. If it isn’t thick like cream by 36 hours, your bugs were dead. Start over.

5. Refrigerate. It’ll keep well. But don’t use it all…save some back to start the next batch. You can create a never-ending supply of buttermilk throughout the years to come. Just knowing that makes you feel cozy inside, doesn’t it?

Fluffy pancakes will not be denied you.

making sour cream

When the Damsel said she had a post that needed to ripen, maybe you thought she was being metaphorical.

Nope. For real. She was making sour cream, and she is totally excited about how easy it is.

IMG_3108This is all you need. Heavy cream and cultured buttermilk.

The Damsel looked for brands that didn’t have a bunch of additives, because sometimes those can fool with the results of projects like this. Plus natural is nice. This cream had nothing but “heavy cream” on the label. The buttermilk choices at the Damsel’s neighborhood shop were few, so she closed her eyes and hoped for the best.

The Damsel has learned there is a difference between “cultured” buttermilk and the liquid that is remaining when you make butter. That will be another Old School lesson, but for now, buy some that has the word “cultured” on the label.

IMG_3109Pour a cup of cream into a container. It can be anything, even a bowl. The Damsel used a pint jar. A pint equals two cups, so she filled the jar half full.

IMG_3110Measure two tablespoons of buttermilk into the container. When the Damsel was researching this, she found recipes that called for anything between 1 and 4 tablespoons, so she walked the line.

IMG_3112Mix well. Or shake to mix, if you’ve used a jar. Then all you do is set it somewhere warm-ish. The Damsel just put it on the kitchen counter. Just leave it. Walk away. And believe in the sour cream that is to come. It will take about 24-36 hours.

The Damsel hates waiting. But she was pleasantly surprised that this, unlike some other things she’s experimented with for the Old School, worked perfectly.


Smooth, creamy, tangy sour cream. A little softer in consistency than store-bought, but not much. One source said the longer you let it sit, the thicker it will get. The Damsel assumes it will also get sourer. She put hers in the fridge after 30 or so hours because she liked the taste at that point.

This isn’t cheaper than buying sour cream. It cost perhaps $1.50 to make. But isn’t it nice to know that if there’s a disaster and you can’t go to the market, you can still have sour cream? All you need is a cow. No problem!

making mayonnaise with a stick blender

The Damsel’s mother has long sung the praise of homemade mayonnaise. Making her own is an especially useful skill while on a mission to Spain. Apparently a person can’t easily buy it there.

It’s nice to know that when Armeggedon comes and the grocery stores are emptied, we can still have mayo. Whew!

Provided we have the following:

1 egg, 1 tsp. lemon juice, 1 tsp vinegar, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp dry mustard, 1 1/4 cups oil. Electricity would also be handy, although not required. There are dozens of methods for making mayo…this is how to do it with a stick blender.

First about the egg. Set it out of the refrigerator for an hour or so, allowing it to come to room temperature. This recipe does contain raw egg, so if you’re worried about salmonella, you could heat the egg, vinegar, and lemon juice in a double boiler, until it comes to 150 degrees, taking about one minute. Let cool.  Or use a pasteurized egg.

What the heck is a pasteurized egg?

No, never mind. The Damsel doesn’t want to know.


Crack the egg into the cup that came with the stick blender, or any tall, narrow vessel the stick blender will fit inside.


Add the vinegar (it can be any type…just keep in mind that the flavor of the vinegar will influence the flavor of the mayo)


and the lemon juice (forgive the ReaLemon felony. Actual lemon juice from an actual lemon would be great)


…the salt…(everything but the oil can be added in any order) …and the dry mustard. By the way, you can use prepared dijon mustard instead. Curiously, although the Damsel is okay with fake lemon juice today, she doesn’t want to hear about anyone using hotdog mustard.


Put in the stick blender and whirl stuff around a bit. Turn it off and leave the stick in place, but the Damsel sadly and sincerely warns you to be careful not to knock it over.


Pour the oil in on top of everything.


Turn the stick back on and hold it at the bottom for about 12 seconds. You will see mayo forming at the bottom of the cup.

Slowly raise the stick while still blending, mayo forming magically as you go. Slosh it up and down a few more times. That’s it!


Beautiful, smooth, creamy mayo. Now just taste it and adjust it to your liking. The Damsel added a few more shakes of salt. Some people add sugar or more lemon.

IMG_3071Add less oil next time if you’d like a less-thick result. This recipe produces a Best Foods type consistency. Eat! and eat it fast. Since it has no nasty preservatives (and a raw egg) it’s best to use it within a few days.

Stay tuned for more things to do with mayo besides spreading on bread. (Or as the Damsel’s youngest sprog would do–add ketchup for a “fry sauce sandwich.” Ew!)

Sunday afternoon stew

Come along, class, while the Damsel shows you how to make beef stew the Old School way. Easy!

Beef stew is one method Grandma used to make a little meat go a long way. Cheaper, better for you…and yummy.

Now then. We’re going to skip right over the part where you raise a beef cow, have it slaughtered, aged, packed, etc. The Damsel is going to get right to it.


The Damsel bought that package of stew meat they have at Costco and used about a third of it. This is going to make a BIG pot of stew, so it’s a pretty cheap dealio. If there are pieces that seem too big, cut them with kitchen shears. Heat a little oil in a large, heavy pot and then brown the meat pieces.


When it’s all nice and brown, add about a quart of water. But this isn’t one of those recipes where measuring is important.

Put the lid on and let it simmer for a couple of hours. Just like that, just the meat and water. Looks kind of yucky, but press forward.

Poke a piece of meat with a fork. When it’s tender, it’s time to start adding stuff. Oh, and if there’s scummy floaties, you can skim those off at this point.

IMG_2968Peel and chunk up some potatoes. The Damsel used 9 medium small ones. Throw ’em in.

IMG_2969Carrots too. This is the perfect place to use up carrots that are getting past their prime. Not ancient, mind you, but middle-aged is okay. Using regular carrots instead of baby-cut is cheaper. The Damsel is concerned that people will forget, and start thinking  that carrots atually grow like little thumb shaped things.

IMG_2970Throw in some onion. The Damsel’s sprog don’t like giant pieces, so she got dicey. About a cup but whatever.

Put in a bay leaf, and salt and pepper. Don’t be shy. Let this cook till the veggies are tender. It can hold quite a while at this stage if the heat’s pretty low.

IMG_2971Dump in some corn and peas. The Damsel used a cup or so each of the frozen type. Canned is also fine. If you use canned, dump the liquid in too. There’s flavor in them there cans. As a matter of fact, Grandma often saved veggie cooking liquid or liquid drained from cans of veggies for just such a pot of stew, in a slush bucket in the back of the fridge.


You could stop right there, and get out the bowls and spoons. The veggies take like one minute to warm through, so start ringing the dinner bell. If you want, you could scoop out a bunch of broth, pour it into a saucepan, and thicken it like gravy with a flour-and-cold-water mixture, and then return it to the stew pot. It’s up to you and how many ankle-biters you have clamoring for dinner by now.

making butter

When the Damsel thought about old skills that no one seems to use anymore, one of the first things she thought about was making butter.

Since it’s so easy, today’s Old School class will teach that skill. Because today, well, we need Easy. It’s one of those days.

Why would you want to make butter? It is a little cheaper than buying it, but not that much. Storebought butter doesn’t taste nasty. So why, Damsel? Why?

The Damsel thinks this is one of those things that is good to know. Maybe someday you’ll need this skill. Maybe you’ll have no butter and there will be this lonely piece of bread…and well, it’s too awful to even think about.

But honestly, it’s so easy with an electric mixer, and it’s actually pretty fun. Kids love it.

You need only one ingredient. Heavy cream. Or whipping cream. For these purposes, it’s pretty much the same thing.

Pour the cream into your mixer bowl that’s been armed with whisks. Someone told the Damsel it’s best if the cream is 60-65 degrees, but she didn’t get that fancy. She took it out of the refrigerator and called it good. She used a quart but you can use whatever amount you want.


Turn it on, nice and whisky. The Damsel cranked it as high as her mixer would go because she hates waiting.


The cream will start thickening, as in turning into “whipped cream” but you can’t stop now and start spooning it on strawberries. Not if you want butter.

IMG_2834After several minutes, depending on the phase of the moon and whether you have a lucky four-leaf clover, the whipped cream will get really stiff. Then it will change consistency, sort of mealy looking…and then watch out because suddenly…

IMG_2835…the whipped cream turns into butter globs, with a bunch of liquidy stuff in the bottom. Why the “watch out?” Because you were hovering over the mixer, watching the magic, and when it turned to butter you got splattered in the face by the liquidy stuff. Now, class. Guess what the liquidy stuff is? Yesssss! Buttermilk! That’s really what buttermilk is. Cool, eh?

You could stop right now and eat it as is. But, to make it last longer without going rancid, it’s best to wash as much of the buttermilk out of the butter as possible.

IMG_2836The Damsel switched to her bread hooks for the washing process, because the butter is hard to get out of the whisks.

Now squish the butter to one side, trying to get it into one piece as much as possible.

IMG_2837Pour the buttermilk off into a container to save it. It’s great for any recipe calling for buttermilk. The Damsel has heard there are people who like to drink it but she is working on not being judgemental and won’t say more about that.

IMG_2838Pour in some ice water..maybe a half cup or so, and turn the mixer back on for a few seconds. The water will become milky as it washes additional buttermilk out of the butter. Pour that off (you could save this or throw it out since it’s mostly water now). Repeat a time or two until the water is mostly clear.

Some folks rinse the butter under running water, squeeze it in a clean cloth, or other ways of getting more of the buttermilk out. But the Damsel just does it this way because the butter’s already in the mixer and it’s easy.


Dry it with paper towels and ta da, you have butter. Unsalted butter. If you’d like salted butter you can add salt, roughly 1/4 tsp per cup of cream, at pretty much any point in the process, even after it’s done. Just work it in.

You’ll get roughly half the volume in butter that you had in cream.

Here’s an idea for a kids’ activity. Pour cream into a pint jar with a very tight lid. You could even use a ziplock bag. Have the kids take turns shaking the jar as vigorously as they can. One scenario would be to do this while the kids are sitting listening to a story (a pioneer story, perhaps?) or some such, because it will take A. While. But they love it when butter magically appears. Fun!

split pea soup

If you ‘ve ever bought one of those spiral-sliced hams, you know how easy and good they are. The slices come off so nicely—well, up to a point. Then the thing starts looking pitiful.


There’s a lot of meat left on there, you’re thinking. But how do you use it?

What would Grandma do? She’d make soup out of it. Fer Sure. And what goes with ham? Beans!

Now, when the Damsel has talked to people about using and rotating their food storage, she has noticed there is a Great Fear of Beans out there. Bean Fear stalks the land. Dry beans don’t look, smell, or taste like food. They don’t even sound like food. And the usual methods for turning those hard little lumps into something edible are time-consuming. She has seen grown women tremble at the thought of having to live on dry beans.

So we’ll take a baby step toward conquering our Bean Fear. The answer: Split Pea Soup. Split peas are great, because you can eat them the same day that you take them out of your cupboard. You can be eating them only 2-3 hours later.

Split peas and ham are like Raggedy Ann and Andy. They go together. And if you have tried split pea soup in the past and thought it was nasty green paste and no thank you, try it again made with a meaty hambone.

Grandma knew that making soup out of bones was not only a way to use what she had and not be wasteful, but that it would make her soup taste a quantum leap better than soup made without a bone.

Okay so maybe she wouldn’t have thought “quantum leap.” But you get the idea.

Split peas are a humble little food. They store well (like forever) and they’re cheap. So if you’re afraid of beans, come along. The Damsel will hold your hand.


The Damsel measured these, just to find out how many cups of split peas are in a pound. This is two pounds of peas, measuring just over 4 cups. So Grandma’s saying holds true in this case:

“A pint’s a pound, the world around.” Repeat three times or until it’s burned into your memory.

If you recall that a pint = 2 cups, you’ll know there are 4 cups of peas in a 2 lb. bag without having to measure. Or convert another recipe that calls for pounds instead of cups. Or the other way around.

Useful little saying. It doesn’t work for everything but it’s a great rule of thumb.


Here’s what we’ll use. Just this, plus the raggedy ham bone. Pull off all the bits of ham you can and set aside. If there are any big bits, chop them until you have roughly bite size pieces of ham. Don’t worry if you leave some behind. It will add flavor to the soup.

Chop the onions and carrots into bite size pieces too. Rinse the split peas and pick out any stray bits of gravel or weird stuff you might see.


Put 4 quarts of water in a large pot. (You can decrease the water a cup or two for a thicker consistency)

Now here’s the beautiful part. Don’t you love it when the recipe says “combine all ingredients?” Put the hambone in, and then dump in the ham pieces, split peas, onions, and carrots.

You’re thinking this looks weird. But this will turn into food! Have faith!
Put in some salt. Don’t be shy. The ham will add saltiness but yes, salt.


Put the lid on and let this simmer about two hours. This is a very low maintenance soup.

Over the two hours, the split peas absorb water and everything gets really friendly in the pot. When the carrots and onions are soft and the peas have no bite left to them, it’s done. Just take the weird hambone out and save for your favorite canine.


Note: Carrots are optional in this soup. The Damsel’s mom always put them in to add color and nutrition, and often scooped them out when they were done, blended them up, and poured them back in. You could do that. Or you can just leave them. It’s good either way.

Some people, especially the sprog type, will be afraid of this soup at first–maybe because of the color. If you can get past that, it’s really delicious. Especially with lots of pepper. Yes. Pepper. Yessssss.


While eating this you’ll feel smart, thrifty, and healthy. How many foods have so much to give?