Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Milking the Soy Cow to Make Cheese - A Tutorial

Recently, I've been on a "Do it Healthier, Do it Cheaper, Do it Yourself" kick. I've begun making my own toiletries, my own cleaning products, my own bath soap (I totally recommend the bath soap, but I warn you, making soap can be addictive). I've always loved making things from scratch, but ease is sometimes... too easy.

However, I've really begun to desire health - lasting, God-honoring health - and so I've taken a step back from ease and gotten a good look at the chemicals that my family slathers on or ingests on a daily basis. I looked them up, every ingredient. (My children sometimes think the internet is a curse. As in, "Don't click it, we don't want to know what that's made of and how bad it is for us! Oh, no, now we've got to give that up, too.")

Of course, there is also the fact that the price of everything is going up. (Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that the prices of healthier, whole foods rise the fastest, and the most often?) The non-GMO, organic soy milk I bought last week is a dollar more this week. I can no longer find inexpensive, no additive whole wheat bread in my local grocery store, so I have to drive 40 miles and buy the tiny loaf with the huge price tag. That sort of thing.

Actually, I've been making my own bread for years (it tastes better, and I can make English muffins, pizza crust, pita pockets, bagels, and loaves all out of the same batch - how's that for economy?) However, the soy milk and the tofu - well, I've made them before - but there's that ease thing again. Then, as I mentioned, the prices started going up (and up) at about the same rate my teens' food intake started going up (and up, and... well, you get the picture).

We are strict vegetarians (vegans) in our family, and tofu is a genuine staple around here. We put it in sandwiches, in pasta, in "cheeses", in "mayonnaise", etc. Thus it became expedient that I make my own. And my lovely sister suggested that I share with you a tutorial on how it's done. (I think she wants to try it herself and figured out a way to convince me to "show" her how, even though she lives thousands of miles away.)

So, after that long introduction:

How To Make Tofu:

Step One:
Soak the soybeans overnight in plenty of fresh, cool water. I used one pound of soybeans for this batch. Usually I don't bother measuring but I wanted to know how much I was saving by making it myself.

Step Two:
Drain and rinse the soybeans. Place one cup of soaked soybeans in a blender with 4 cups of cold water and blend until smooth. I don't recommend doing this while your husband watches the news. For some reason mine wanted to hear what he was watching. Oops.

Step Three:
Pour the soybean/water mixture through a thin cotton towel and into a large, deep kettle. My set up includes a thin cotton cloth placed in a steamer basket (or colander) inside the kettle. Then I can just keep pouring and draining without moving anything. (Please ignore the very old, well-used, thin cotton towel. Pretend it is pristine and new, if you'd like.)

Step Four:
Continue with steps two and three until all of the soybeans are used up, maintaining the 1:4 ratio. Keep an eye on what's going on under the towel. You wouldn't want it to overflow. Liquefied soybean waterfalls can be sticky.

Step Five:
This is the part where you build your upper body strength. Tie up the corners of the towel with string to keep from spilling everything over the top as you squeeze it. (We will not discuss the incredulous looks I get when I ask if there is any string in the house. Three of us knit/crochet. Teenagers will laugh at you every chance they get.) I also like to take advantage of the perfect height of my cabinet handles to help hold the weight so I can really squeeze all the "milk" out of those beans.

Step Six:
Squeeze. Don't worry about the sticky. Just squeeze until you get sick of it, then squeeze a bit more.

A note: Don't throw away the soybean pulp. You can add it to bread, cookies, sauces, soups, patties, etc. to up the fiber content/nutritional value. Just don't use too much (it can be overpowering) and cook it thoroughly. It also freezes well for later use. Or, if that isn't appealing, at least compost it.

Okara - soybean pulp

A second note: Don't try to skip the squeezing and make the tofu with the whole bean. You'll end up with crumbles instead of tofu. Ask me how I know.

Step Seven:
Place the pot over medium high heat on the stove and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer, stirring frequently to avoid a skin forming, for 5 minutes.

What NOT to do:
Don't walk away and leave the pot unattended, especially right before it comes to a boil. It will boil over fast and messy. Like this:

Step Eight:
Turn off the heat. Mix together 1/2 cup water with your coagulant of choice. I have used three different kinds with great success. (Not all together. Pick one.)

Your choice: 2 Tbsp Citric Acid OR 2 Tbsp Epsom Salt OR 1/4 cup lemon juice

The citric acid and Epsom salt both make a firm tofu with no funny aftertaste. The lemon juice will make a slightly softer tofu with a hint of lemon flavor. For authentic Asian tofu, you could purchase and use Nigari, a seaweed derivative. I find it prohibitively expensive. I suppose you could also experiment with vinegar, but we only use it for cleaning - we don't eat it.

Update: The citric acid will make a tofu with a sharper (though not unpleasant) taste than the much blander Epsom salts. 

Continuing: Carefully stir your coagulant of choice into the pot with your soy milk. Don't over stir, just get it thoroughly incorporated. You should begin to immediately see little white chunks in the liquid.

Step Nine: 
Walk away for a couple of minutes to let the coagulant do it's thing. When you come back you should see a yellowish liquid on top and a bunch of white curds sunk down to the bottom.

While you are waiting, set up a drain system similar to the one you strained your soy milk into. I swapped out the steamer basket for a colander. You could use a fancy tofu press, but I don't have one. I do have all the supplies to make one, maybe that will be my next tutorial.

Step Ten:
Carefully (it's still hot!) pour the contents of the pot into your strainer of choice. 

Allow it to drain for a few minutes, then fold the cloth (or twist it, if you don't mind a dip in the tofu) over the top and pile a bunch of stuff on top to weigh it down. You will notice that my "tofu press" is very high tech.

Press the tofu for an hour or so (the longer it's pressed, the firmer it is). Remove from the cloth and store in water in the refrigerator. Note that my block has already been partially used to make mayonnaise. If you are interested, I'll share that recipe, too.

Be prepared to make tofu often, it goes quickly. Especially around here. 

Bon appetit!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Of Illness and I-cord

Above you will notice a picture of where I have spent much of the past few weeks. Yes, that is my couch. No, there is not normally a neatly placed throw pillow there. Usually throw pillows end up on the floor at my house. However, yarn can usually be found there, and not only mine. But I digress.

I found out much about myself during my illness (it started as strep throat, became the flu, and ended at last. I'm much better now, thanks for asking.). First, when I am sick I apparently have the attention span of a two year old, only with less ability to understand anything being said to me. Thankfully my family members are old enough to take care of themselves. Theoretically.

Which is where i-cord comes in. I purchased (years ago) a nifty little machine that was supposed to crank out i-cord by the mile quickly and effortlessly. It was intended to make the long, braided handle of my Noro purse a dream. In reality, Noro Silk Garden is much too loosely spun for the machine and kept breaking apart. Thus I spent many a long road trip cranking out miles (ok, maybe not miles, but it was for miles) of i-cord by hand. Good discipline, though for what I don't know. (Oops, sorry, I am the Queen if Digression (and parentheses). Maybe we should just accept that and go on.)

Anyway, back to my nifty little machine. I've included a picture of it (gratuitous spring pictures of my flowerbed are completely free). Recently my sister was lamenting that she had miles of i-cord (ok, ok, fifty feet - to the hand knitter it's all relative) to make for a hat. I mentioned my little machine (which had not been used since said Noro mishap) and we brokered a trade. I got a box (!) of sock yarn, and she got (or will get) 54-ish feet of brain-pink i-cord.

Normally, I would have collapsed from boredom somewhere around 10 feet (especially since one of the little hook things somehow got slightly damaged and must be manually worked every fourth stitch) except for my inability to think (and knit, and read, etc.) when I have the flu. Hence, I was saved from death by boredom (I am not a couch potato unless I have knitting or a good book, and often not even then) by i-cord. Elizabeth Zimmerman may have loved that. Except for the intimation that i-cord is boring, she may not have liked that part.

Well, now I'm healthy (praise the Lord, I was sick for six weeks and beginning to think I really would die, and not from boredom). And thus the problem rears its true and ugly head. For in that picture above (with the lovely daffodils, I'm shameless) you see... 27 feet of i-cord. Yep, I ran out of yarn and now wait for another skein (sadly, this time it will not include sock yarn) so I can finish the deal. Only I have to do this skein with my full (ha!) wits about me. True discipline, I tell you.

Especially since it's spring (baby tomatoes!) and I want to spend every waking moment outside. Sigh. Such is love and the power of a promise.

And speaking of promises, I found this one:
"I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh upon me: thou art my help and my deliverer..."
Psalm 40:17
(His flower garden is as pretty as mine, isn't it? Tiny wild violets)

Happy Spring!

P.S. There's new yarn in the shop! Some of which is perfect for spring. Colorways are limited though, just so you know. Thanks for peeking!