How to Make Yogurt

How to Make Yogurt | Kitchen in the Hills

Last week, I was seriously stuck on inspiration for a blog post. I wanted to make something, and I wanted to blog about it. But I was running low on a lot of ingredients and didn’t have the time (or energy!) to make a run to the store. I looked into my fridge, and there I found my answer– a too-full carton of milk and a nearly-empty container of Greek yogurt. 

Could I culture yogurt myself? Could I do it in a way that was simple and stress free? And could I teach other people to do it, too? 

(The answers to the first two questions turned out to be “Yes!” The answer to the last one is for you to determine.)

How to Make Yogurt | Kitchen in the Hills

I know it seems like a lot could go wrong with yogurt– failed cultures, bad bacteria, sour milk. I’ve had a couple of yogurt fails myself, when I tried to culture yogurt in coconut milk, and then again when I tried it with nut milk. Did not work. 

But there’s a very simple method for yogurt-making that, when followed, yields beautiful and consistent results.

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Weekend Things

Succulents in a North Berkeley garden

{I caught a glimpse of these succulents next to the sidewalk on an early morning walk.}

There are some weeks when I have the time to cook a new recipe every night, or photograph a couple of posts in one long afternoon. This hasn’t been one of those weeks. I’ve been trying to eat simpler, healthier foods. Usually something I can make a batch of and stash in my fridge to grab-and-go later. But often something as simple as a protein bar or an egg and cheese sandwich on an english muffin. Which is to say, stuff that isn’t quite blog-worthy. 

In lieu of a recipe this week, here’s what I’ve been reading on the internet and dreaming of cooking up in my kitchen. 

This round up is going to be a long one, so links are after the jump!

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Strawberry Thyme Quick Jam

Strawberry Thyme Quick Jam | Kitchen in the Hills

If there’s one food item to look forward to in the summer, it’s the baskets of farm-fresh, ultra-ripe, extra sweet fruit at the farmers’ market. I’ve waiting for strawberries all season, and finally picked up a gorgeous basketful at the North Berkeley Farmers’ Market. I like using strawberries to fill and decorate cakes, or cooking them into pies of all kinds.

But there’s an even simpler preparation that yields great rewards. Jam.

Strawberry Thyme Quick Jam | Kitchen in the Hills

This method works with strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, stone fruits… Just about any summer fruit works here. But I like strawberries the best, for their fresh flavor and texture. 

The simplest and easiest quick jams are just fruit and a little sugar, simmered together until done. You always can fancy-up your jams with all kinds of juices, spices, and flavorings. I chose to add lemon and thyme to my strawberry jam. (Strawberries + thyme are an unexpected flavor combo, but they’re total winners to me!)

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Challah

Challah | Kitchen in the Hills

Challah has long been one of my favorite breads. I first tried it after baking a loaf with a good friend several years ago. It was soft, springy, eggy, tender, and sweet. 

Challah | Kitchen in the Hills

This loaf is from Kamren Siddiqui’s Hand Made Baking. It’s a little less sweet, and a little more sturdy than your typical loaf of challah. It’s wonderful served plain with butter, but you can also toast it up and top it with an avocado or fried egg.

My current favorite topping is nutella. Can we talk about how freakin’ adorable these mini nutella cups are? 

Also, can we talk about how delightful Kamren’s writing is? I read his book cover-to-cover for the recipe descriptions and stories alone. Kamren effortlessly links food to memories, stories and emotions. You can read some of his writing on his blog, Sophisticated Gourmet. He’s a skilled baker, but he also has a knack for compelling storytelling. Go check it out.

On to the challah!

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Quinoa Tabbouleh

Quinoa Tabbouleh | Kitchen in the Hills

I’m always looking for interesting ways to add whole grains to my diet, and for filling dishes that feature raw vegetables. I love make-ahead meals for their ease and simplicity. And light lunches I can eat straight out of my fridge are the absolute best. I’ve been cooking big batches of grains lately, adding them to different meals throughout the week. When I finally realized that I could make tabbouleh with quinoa, I knew it would make it into my regular lunch rotation.

Quinoa Tabbouleh | Kitchen in the Hills

Tabbouleh is a Middle Eastern herb salad, traditionally made with parsley, mint, tomatoes, onions, and cooked bulgur wheat, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. This version goes a little lighter on the herbs, skips the mint, adds in cucumber, and replaces bulgur with quinoa. Perhaps inauthentic, but delicious nonetheless. It’s still a parsley-heavy grain salad, and makes for a light summertime meal. 

Quinoa Tabbouleh | Kitchen in the Hills

It’s hard for me to say “no” to any meal that involves fresh, bright summer vegetables. 

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How to Cook Quinoa

Cooking quinoa should be pretty simple, right? Well, it is.

Quinoa is simple to prepare if you know how. It’s cooked like most other whole grains, in a pot of lightly salted water, with a 1:2 ratio of grain to water. 

But it took me a surprisingly long time to figure out how to make quinoa at home. The first few times, I skipped the rinsing step, thinking I was saving time. Turns out, quinoa is really bitter if it isn’t rinsed. You can also end up with bits of gravel or rock in your pot if you don’t rinse thoroughly. It’s also important to use just the right amount of water, and avoid under- or over-cooking.

After I figured those things out, I could make a pot of quinoa pretty easily, without even thinking about it. 

This post is a how-to for those of you who maybe haven’t made quinoa at home yet, and would like to avoid the mistakes I made. Here’s a primer on how to cook quinoa the right way. 

There will also be a recipe later this week featuring quinoa, so now is a good time to learn to cook it!

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Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies | Kitchen in the Hills

So. I promised you a blog post on Sunday, and here it is five days later. Not the greatest. I go through ups and downs with this blog, and while I love posting regularly, there are definitely more weeks than I like where it seems I’m just too busy or too stressed to make a post. This last week wasn’t bad, but I definitely didn’t put in the hours to make, photograph, write and edit a full recipe post.

This isn’t a full blog post, really. It’s more of an update, with recipe attached. A recipe that was too good not to share. I was reading smitten kitchen last week, and Deb mentioned a chocolate chip cookie that she made and liked. Specifically, this salted chocolate chunk cookie from Ashley Rodriguez’s Date Night In cookbook. 

Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies | Kitchen in the Hills

The book, which features a bunch of simple, make-it-in-an-evening meals for two, had been on my cookbook wishlist for weeks. (You’ve got to check out Ashley’s website, Not Without Salt. Amazing.) I knew when I saw the cookie recipe that I had to make it. I made a batch for a dinner with friends. 

These cookies far exceeded my expectations. They were better than good. There are a lot of good cookie recipes out there, but this one made for big, crispy-edged, soft-centered packages of goodness. Not too sweet, but not too salty, either. These cookies were the first salted chocolate chip cookies that I actually liked— not bland, not too heavily salted, and definitely chocolate-forward. These are probably my second favorite chocolate chip cookies of all time, with ATK’s cookies taking first place. 

You should totally make these cookies this weekend. They are so good. 

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Weekend Things

 Why is it so hard to leave the house sometimes? I miss long morning walks and hikes on the weekends. Recently I’ve felt more busy than not, and it’s gotten easier and easier to skip walks and hikes and the hours I used to spend wandering downtown. I think I’ve convinced myself that leisure time is unproductive, or worse, unimportant… When really, it’s the happiest I am all week.

This Saturday I finally made it down to Claremont for a steep stairway walk through the hills, behind the beautiful Claremont Hotel & Spa. There were gorgeous views, blue skies and sunshine. And roses. So, so many roses. 

 
Here are my favorite links this weekend.
 
The Real Secret to Productivity: It’s all about routines and systems. Are we even surprised?
 
How Do Some People Always Stay Upbeat? An old question, an old answer, but worth remembering.
 
Should we really Stop Vilifying Almonds? Almonds are one of the biggest water-consuming crops in California, and they’ve exploded in popularity in the last few years. That’s a big problem right now, as the state goes through a major drought. Almonds are currently using 10% of the state’s agricultural water supply. But almonds are part of a much larger problem of water use and agriculture in California. Either way, I’ll probably stop buying almond milk (for now). 
 
I love this illustrated recipe journal. It’s beautiful.
 
I ate these dumplings at a fancy Italian restaurant in North Berkeley, and it was one of the best things I ever ate. Who knew you could make them at home? Trying this when I work up the courage + confidence.
 
 
Matcha Mint Iced Tea is something I want to stock my fridge with.
 
I’m in love with ALL THE DONUTS! There may be a donut recipe coming up later this week.
 
Bananas + cream are a classic dessert combo, and I feel like they’re making a comeback right now. Making this easy banana pudding.
 
Have you ever wondered why every single recipe seems to be baked at 350F? I know I have. Some answers from The Kitchn. 
 
Hillary Clinton is running for president in 2016! How do we feel about this?
 
Currently reading: This nearly 800-page novel for a contemporary fiction class that I love. 
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One-Pot Spring Pasta with Asparagus, Fava Beans & Peas

One-Pot Spring Pasta with Asparagus, Fava Beans, and Peas

I’m currently contemplating a big blog change, because fonts and colors and layouts are important. I’m also doing a project on instagram that involves launching an online handmade store in 100 days. I’m trying to make things and read things and figure out what all of my little projects and hobbies add up to. And all the while, I’m reading 800-page novels and writing papers and taking exams for classes that will be over in a month.

Sure, I constantly have stuff to do, but I’m loving every minute of it. I’m learning so much. I’m learning about the brain and the body, about our strange culture, about the ways that we speak to each other now. I’m learning how to write well and clearly. Most of all, I’m learning that it takes guts and time to make things, and put them out there in the world.

Nothing you ever write or paint or photograph is 100% perfect. Sometimes you have to let it go, say “this is it,” and release your work. Sometimes people will criticize you, or they won’t like what you’re doing. And sometimes you won’t hear a response at all, because nobody will see the thing that you spent hours making. But sometimes, your work will resonate with someone. They will love what you’ve created.

And that feels like winning the lottery. I honestly think that moment of connection is why anyone doing any kind of creative work keeps going. I know it’s why I do.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies

Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies

Last summer, I learned to love rhubarb. Always unsure of what to do with the celery-like stalk, I had passed it by at the grocery store for weeks. But when I finally tried it— in pie, in jam, in lemonade— it was delicious. Rhubarb has a special sweet-tart flavor that’s like nothing else for me. At the end of the season, I made some rhubarb jam and tucked it away in my fridge for the winter.

I’m happy to say that I just polished off my last can of jam about a month ago, and I’m already seeing rhubarb in the markets again. I picked some up to make strawberry rhubarb pie. 

Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies

But can I tell you a secret? For a person who so loves to bake, I don’t actually own a lot of baking equipment. A few pans, spoons, spatulas, measuring cups, whisks and mixing bowls. That’s about it. I recently upgraded from one simple metal baking sheet to two. Not a single pie dish in sight. This kind of minimalism is necessary when you’re living in a small apartment, but it does limit your options. 

I usually grab a disposable pie tin when I have an important pie to bake. (See this recipe.) But this time I didn’t want to grab a flimsy foil tin. I also wanted something that would look just as gorgeous as the traditional slice of lattice-top pie, with half the effort and mess. And bonus points if I could take it to-go. 

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