Monday, March 31, 2014

The Newest Addition to Our Little Family!

I'm so happy to announce our newest addition: Ms. Soyajoy Soy Milk Maker!

And here she is with her big sister, Ms. Vitamix.

And hopefully later this year we'll be able to give them a big brother (a super duper bread maker I have my heart set on, which I'll also use to make pasta dough, pizza dough, lentil & veggie loaf, seitan, risotto, vegan dog food, etc.).

Ms. Soyajoy is going to help us make soy milk easily at home, which we will use to make tofu and soy yogurt.

I can imagine that some people might think "why buy a soy milk maker when you have a VITAMIX?! (the mother of all blenders)". I thought the same thing, and didn't want to buy this at first. I've tried to make soy milk 3 times with my Vitamix (which we've owned for almost a year and a half). The experiences have ranged from slightly miserable to very miserable. It's mostly to do with having to boil the soy milk on the stove. It just boils over so quickly, and I felt like I couldn't do anything else. I had to babysit it. The soy milk maker blends and cooks the soy milk all at once. All I have to do is push a button.

Also, another way I look at it is that this is my job. I'm a housewife. Our way of eating is very important to us. We like to eat fresh and organic foods as much as possible (and as inexpensively as possible), so I make a lot of things from scratch. I grind grains/seeds into flours, I make nut butters, I make sauces, I make tempeh, I make seitan, etc. I'd like to add "I make tofu" to that list, since we do eat our fair share of tofu. This soy milk maker helps me do that. I can be doing other things while it's making the soy milk. This is something that helps me do my job quicker and much less miserably, so I think it's a good investment.

I've made tofu twice so far (in the 5 days we've had it) and it is soooooo easy! With my first batch of tofu, I prepped some ingredients for okara burgers while the soy milk maker was doing its thing. Once the machine was done, I started to get the soy milk to curdle to make into tofu. That has to curdle for about 20 minutes before molding it, so during that time I added the okara to the rest of the burger ingredients and baked them in the oven. It was super easy to make both of those (tofu and okara burgers) at the same time.

With the second batch of tofu, I used the okara to make a ricotta-style "cheese" for Steve's lasagna that he takes into work. I used to use store-bought tofu for it. But this way, I get to use a tofu by-product instead of making a block of tofu just to blend it up.

I still need to experiment with it to figure out the best tofu recipe for us (how much soy beans per batch of milk, how many batches of milk per block of tofu, how much Epsom salt per block of tofu, how long to press the tofu, etc.). So many recipes for tofu I've found say to use nigari or gypsum as a coagulant. I can't get those locally, and they're about $8-$12 /lb online. I can get Epsom salt from Big Lots (a 5 minute walk from my house) for about $2.50 for 4 lbs. I really want to figure out the best way to use Epsom salt since it's so cheap. I see a lot of experimenting and tofu-making in my future.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Homemade Soy Yogurt in My Incubator

Soy yogurt was a success!

I tried making soy yogurt in my crock pot a while ago. It was a disaster! I forgot to check on it, and it boiled over and crusted everywhere. Not fun to clean up.

Making it with my incubator was much easier! I used Fat Free Vegan's soy yogurt recipe as my general guidelines. Instead of pouring boiling water over everything to sterilize, I just washed everything in my dishwasher and used it as soon as it was done.

It took way longer than 4 minutes to get my soymilk to boiling in my microwave. Next time I'm just going to heat it on the stove.

My ingredients:

I live in a not-too-small town, one hour away from a major city. But no stores near me even sell raw cashews, tempeh, or (until recently) vegan yogurt. I lucked out and found Almond Dream yogurt at my grocery store recently! I used that as my starter. Next time I order tempeh starter from Cultures For Health, I'm going to order their powered vegan yogurt starter. I don't want to rely on my (ever finicky with stocking vegan and organic items) grocery store to be in the mood to carry vegan yogurt when I need it.

I couldn't find plain yogurt, so I got vanilla flavored. It gave my yogurt a very slight, but nice, vanilla flavor.

Here's the yogurt culturing in my incubator! I used half-pint sized (8oz) canning jars.

I cultured it for about 12 hours. I didn't realize at first that my incubator wasn't actually hot enough. When I did my trials, I had the thermometer on a wire rack (about half way up). I don't need the rack for yogurt, so I took it out and put the yogurt at the bottom. It didn't occur to me that there might be a bit of temperature difference within the incubator (hot air rises). So the bottom was not at hot as it should be. I just closed the door and bit more.

I tasted it during the culturing process for that desired "tang", but it never quite tasted "tangy" enough for me. Tasting warm yogurt is a bit weird, so maybe I just couldn't tell. The final product wasn't as tangy as store bought though, but still decent. Next time I'll try to get this process started earlier in the day so I can let it culture for a longer time. I didn't want to leave it overnight, since I don't know what over-culturing will do.

I got 6 jars out of this batch. I didn't measure them, but I estimate it at being about 6oz of yogurt in each jar.

My favorite ways to eat yogurt: with granola

and with organic fruit. (I added frozen fruit to the yogurt and put it back in the fridge. The fruit was thawed in the yogurt within a day.)

I'm saving one jar to use as my starter for my next batch, which I expect to do sometime next week. I've read that it's possible to use yogurt from a previous batch up to 6 consecutive times before needing to start over with a fresh starter.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Testing My Incubator

I did a trial of making tempeh in homemade incubator. I ordered my tempeh starter from Cultures for Health. I'm very happy with the results and I highly recommend them. I followed their tempeh recipe.

For my first tempeh trial I used a 40W bulb in my incubator with the door slightly open (to keep it from getting too hot and killing the spores). It was in the incubator for about 3 or 4 hours, then I transferred it to my oven with the light on overnight. I didn't see any growth on the soybeans at that time. I didn't want to leave my incubator turned on overnight unattended as I have a crazy cat that likes to run around the house during the night.

I checked on the tempeh in the morning, and I still couldn't see much growth. I got a little bummed out, thinking that my incubator was too hot and killed the spores. I left it in the oven though, since I knew that has worked for me before. Sure enough, later in the day I could see the white mycelium forming on it. Except for one spot.

The non-white spot on the left bag was directly under the light in my incubator. I assume that the light made it too hot and killed the fungus. But I guess I transferred it to the oven before more was killed.

I got a little too excited, and I should have done more temperature tests before making tempeh. So this means....

Science time! (Yay!!!)

I want to use this incubator, so I need to do some trials and figure out how to use it. As I mentioned in my previous post, there are 3 ways to control the temperature of my incubator:
  1. using a different wattage light bulb
  2. opening the door to let some of the heat out
  3. turning the light on and off
The first one is the easiest. A 40W bulb might be too hot for tempeh, so I purchased a 25W light bulb. I did trials with both of these light bulbs. Ideally, I don't want to be turning the light on and off to control the temperature. I'd rather just set it up, then check on it every now and then to make sure it's ok. These trials were done with only changing the bulbs and adjusting the opening of the door.

I also decided to re-position the light for when I make tempeh. I measured the light bulb (when attached near the top of the door) being about 3 inches from the tempeh. This was probably too close, especially with a light that may have been too hot. Also, maybe the temperature is too hot that close to the heat source, but is fine in the rest of the incubator. I decided to move the light bulb to the bottom of the door. I measured this light as being 4 inches away from where the tempeh would be. Not much of a difference, but using a lower wattage too will hopefully help.

I think that when I culture yogurt I should be able to put the light at the top of the door. The yogurt will be in glass jars and can sit directly in the incubator. I do not need the wire rack for it and can take it out.


The following 5 tables show data using the 25W light bulb.

Trial with 25W Temp. Tempeh
85°F - 91°F
108°F - 112°F
Door open 0.25 inch for 1 hour100°FNo (too hot)No (too cool)
Door open 0.25 inch for 2 hours105°FNo (too hot)No (too cool)
Door open 0.25 inch for 3 hours110°FNo (too hot)Yes (perfect)
Door open 0.25 inch for 4 hours115°FNo (too hot)No (too hot)

Trial with 25W Temp. Tempeh
85°F - 91°F
108°F - 112°F
Door open 1 inch for 1 hour92°FNo (too hot)No (too cool)
Door open 1 inch for 2 hours92°FNo (too hot)No (too cool)
Door open 1 inch for 3 hours93°FNo (too hot)No (too cool)

Trial with 25W Temp. Tempeh
85°F - 91°F
108°F - 112°F
Door open 1.5 inches for 1 hour90°FYesNo (too cool)
Door open 1.5 inches for 2 hours90°FYesNo (too cool)
Door open 1.5 inches for 3 hours90°FYesNo (too cool)

Trial with 25W Temp. Tempeh
85°F - 91°F
108°F - 112°F
Door open 1.75 inches for 1 hour88°FYes (perfect)No (too cool)
Door open 1.75 inches for 2 hours88°FYes (perfect)No (too cool)
Door open 1.75 inches for 3 hours88°FYes (perfect)No (too cool)

Trial with 25W Temp. Tempeh
85°F - 91°F
108°F - 112°F
Door open 2 inches for 1 hour85°FYesNo (too cool)
Door open 2 inches for 2 hours85°FYesNo (too cool)
Door open 2 inches for 3 hours85°FYesNo (too cool)

The following 3 tables show data using a 40W light bulb.

Trial with 40W Temp. Tempeh
85°F - 91°F
108°F - 112°F
Door open 0.25 inch for 1 hour115°FNo (too hot)No (too hot)
Door open 0.25 inch for 2 hours130°FNo (too hot)No (too hot)

Trial with 40W Temp. Tempeh
85°F - 91°F
108°F - 112°F
Door open 0.75 inch for 1 hour105°FNo (too hot)No (too cool)
Door open 0.75 inch for 2 hours108°FNo (too hot)Yes
Door open 0.75 inch for 3 hours110°FNo (too hot)Yes (perfect)
Door open 0.75 inch for 4 hours110°FNo (too hot)Yes (perfect)

Trial with 40W Temp. Tempeh
85°F - 91°F
108°F - 112°F
Door open 1 inch for 1 hour100°FNo (too hot)No (too cool)
Door open 1 inch for 2 hours105°FNo (too hot)No (too cool)
Door open 1 inch for 3 hours105°FNo (too hot)No (too cool)
Door open 1 inch for 4 hours105°FNo (too hot)No (too cool)


I checked the temperature after the stated time using a candy thermometer. It can read as low as 75°F. If the temperature started to remain constant, or got too hot, I ended the testing.

The ideal ambient temperature for fermenting tempeh is 88°F (with a range of 85°F - 91°F). The ideal ambient temperature for culturing yogurt is 110°F (with a range of 108°F - 112°F). If the temperature is too low, the fungus/bacteria won't grow. If the temperature is too high, the fungus/bacteria is killed. 

The ambient temperature of our house (outside of the incubator) is currently 68°F. I feel like this should be taken into account as the incubator is never fully sealed, and the greater the temperature difference, the more heat that will be lost inside the incubator. If I perform these trials over the summer (when our house is about 80°F), I will probably get different results. It may not be a huge difference, but I will need to test it before I use it to make tempeh or yogurt in the summer. The temperature range for making these foods is pretty small, so I want to make sure my incubator is still in the correct range.

Results Analysis:

The temperature of the incubator rose too quickly while the door was open 0.25 inch (just enough for the light cord) with both light bulbs. The temperature became too hot for tempeh or yogurt, so I will not be using those results in my analysis.

I've determined that it is best to use the 25W light bulb for fermenting tempeh, and to use the 40W light bulb for culturing yogurt.

The following is a graph of the results with the 25W light bulb. The light grey area on the graph is the ideal temperature range for fermenting tempeh.

I will start out with the door open 1.75 inches. Once the tempeh starts to generate its own heat (after about 12 hours) I will open the door to about 2 inches to help keep the temperature from getting too hot.

The following is a graph of the results with the 40W light bulb. The light grey area on the graph is the ideal temperature range for culturing soy yogurt.

The temperature of the incubator took a little while to level off. I will probably turn the incubator on while I'm preparing the yogurt to start to get it heated. Keeping the door open at 0.75 inch, it leveled off directly in the middle of the ideal temperature range - 110°F.

Further Modifications to the Incubator

I've determined the best wattage and door opening for making tempeh and yogurt. Since I don't want to deal with checking to make sure the door is open to the correct spot, or have the door accidentally be knocked closed, I made little spacers. I already had a bag of these little wood rectangles (I used some to make mini tables for my husband's D&D group). I didn't even have to cut them - they were already at some of the sizes I needed - 0.75 in, 1.5 in, 2 in. I glued them together using Elmer's and hot glue.

There was no rectangle that had a size of 1.75 inches on a side (which I would need for tempeh). Instead of cutting a rectangle to that size, I decided to made an add-on spacer. I glued three rectangles together, which is 0.25 inch wide. I then glued a piece of string around it so I can tie it to a spacer. I plan to use this to make small adjustments to my spacers, rather than make new spacers if I need a new size.

Here is the add-on spacer show by itself and tied to the 1.5 inch spacer (to give it a width of 1.75 inches).

And here is what a spacer looks like in the fridge:

This will prevent the door from being accidentally closed while I'm using it.

I feel like a super nerd for doing all these tests (and graphing them) and making little spacers for it. But it was fun! I plan to try making yogurt soon. I'll let you know how it goes!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Homemade Tempeh Incubator from an Old Mini-Fridge

I really like making tempeh at home, but I hate that it puts my oven out of commission for 1-2 days. I would place the tempeh in my oven with the light turned on to ferment it. That doesn't bother me too much in the summer, but I use my oven a lot during winter.

I wanted to make a stand-alone incubator. I've seen designs online for making one from a Styrofoam cooler, but I wanted something more sturdy. Luckily, Steve's parents had an old mini-fridge that they don't use anymore (and not even sure it worked) so they gave it to us. I don't care if the refrigeration part of it works; I just want it as an insulated box.

Here's the fridge.

I think it sat outside for a long time; it was very dirty. We cleaned it up. It doesn't have a shelf, but luckily a cooling tray of mine fits in it perfectly. Tempeh needs to incubate on a wire shelf so air can flow all around it.

This is the lighting we bought from Lowe's: Portfolio Candelabra Base Switch Cord. We also got a 40W incandescent light bulb for it. It must be incandescent - it needs to generate heat to get the fermentation started. The light fit snugly in the bar of the top shelf.

This is what the fridge looks like with the light. I have an oven thermometer, but the lowest it reads is 100°F. I need to keep it around 88°F for tempeh, so I put a candy thermometer in there to check it.

The wire for the light is fed in the seal of the door. So this can't create a perfect seal. I don't think this is too much of a problem. I can't dim the light, so the only ways to adjust the amount of heat in the incubator is to change lightbulbs (to a higher or lower wattage), turn the light on or off, or open the door slightly to let some of the heat out. Just doing a quick test, trying to close the door as much as I can (with a 40W bulb) made the incubator a bit too hot for tempeh. I'd need to keep the door open a bit to have the right temperature anyway.

I'm hoping to be able to use this for more than tempeh. I'd like to try making soy milk yogurt in it, using the light to generate heat to culture the beneficial bacteria. I'd like to start eating more fermented and cultured foods, as I've read about all their health benefits. I hope to find more foods that I can make using this incubator.

I also hope to incubate cold process soap in there. That doesn't need a heat source, just an insulated box to go through the saponification process. I can take out the light for that to make the door seal properly. I don't expect to have any issues with that. I've used my oven and microwave (both turned off) to incubate soap before.

I'll make another post after I've tried all this to say how it went. Wish me luck!