Heloise's Bitchy Cousin
by Peter Zelchenko April 17, 2009

The anti-corporate Louise Bowles Illich, great-grandniece of the original household Heloise, gave us a pleasant surprise by sauntering into the Gapers Block boiler room this week. Wearing her signature home-resoled Chuck Taylor All-Stars, the gadfly known affectionately as "Hell-Louise" and "La Bitch Incarnate" (presumably a play on her initials) told us she'd just bopped in from teaching high-altitude guerrilla food preparation to tree-sitters in New Zealand and Australia. Born in -- jeez, really? -- Texas, but conceived in Pennsylvania, Hell-Louise says she is the lovechild of an environmental critic and defrocked Catholic priest named Ivan Illich. She generously waded through our inbox and debunked a few of our devoted fans' home economics myths about milk products in the wake of the recent price roller-coaster in the dairy market.

Myth: Yogurt is very tricky to make; but, because Groupe Danone charges almost half the world more than 10 cents an ounce for it, we are getting our money's worth and more, since they make so little profit. (GalaxyDave, Little Village, via Twitter)

LBI: Bullllsh*t, Dave. When Dannon buys the milk for about half a cent an ounce, and since the bacillus is pretty much free after they've made the first batch, why do you think the company does so well that it can go on to sell water like Evian and Volvic? Honestly, they're in the business of pimping plastic containers. Why not make yogurt yourself by the quart? It takes, what, 10 minutes? Bring milk close to the boil (how much doesn't matter much) and then let cool. This pasteurizes it. When cooled just enough that your (clean) finger says "really warm, but not hot" (100-110 degrees; takes about a minute in a cold-water bath), mix well in a (clean) quart jar with three or four tablespoons from a cup of evil store-bought yogurt or from the last batch you made. Roll snugly into a polar-fleece blanket and let it be in a quiet corner of the house at least four hours. Gently unwrap it; when the yogurt tips with the jar, it's basically done (sometimes it won't when the culture is weak). This way is okay to leave for an extra hour or three if you forget to unwrap, because it uses its own natural heat and the temperature gradually falls on its own, slowing growth.

Myth: Since buttermilk is made from butter and milk, and sour cream from sour and cream, they are not interchangeable in recipes like some people suggest. (GalaxyDave, Little Village)

LBI: Oh, my, god. Okay, Dave. Buttermilk is no longer made from butter! Not for decades! They culture it, like sour cream, in zillion-gallon vats. Buttermilk used to be the liquid remaining after pounding on milk for a while would separate the butterfat, just like when you whip cream for too long, which I imagine you've done. Oh, and butterfat and milkfat are the same thing. If you substitute, just remember to equalize the moisture called for in the recipe by adding a tiny bit more liquid or absorbent solid per cup.

Myth: The secret to making extra-creamy yogurt is to gently lay a dollop of sour cream on top of the liquid before letting it coagulate. That's how our grandmothers made it and why it always had that lovely creamy texture on top in the olden days. (GalaxyDave, Little Village)

LBI: Oh, bulllllllllllsh*t! Look, fat is lighter than water. It rises. Sour cream, sour half-and-half, yogurt, and modern cultured buttermilk are nearly identical products, their only difference being that they contain decreasing amounts of fat, respectively heavy cream (~36 percent milk-o-butterfat), light cream (~18 percent), milk (~2-4 percent), and skim milk (~1 percent). Before homogenization techniques emulsified the fats into the milk better, the fat would rise before the yogurt set. You'd effectively have very fatty yogurt (aka sour cream) near the top, and less fatty yogurt (aka buttermilk) at the bottom. Oh my god.

Myth: You're best off getting your roast beef from the professionals at Dominick's, properly sliced. I don't want to heat up the whole house with my huge Viking professional oven, for a little hunk of meat. (PebblesRothstein, Lincoln Park, via Twitter)

LBI: What is this doing in the milk folder? Isn't that treyf, Pebbles? I just called this local clip-joint you call Dominick's. Their deli roast beef is something like $11 a pound! Oy, go get yourself a slab of cow muscle from there instead (they told me round roast is on sale for $1.89 a pound until Sunday, so like run). Why would you use a big oven on a little thing like a roast? Cut off a slab big enough to fit in a bread pan and have some room left over. Add some salt, pepper, and chunks of onion, potatoes, carrot, celery, oregano, whatever. Cover with some foil, punch a couple of holes, and bake at around 300 for 30 minutes per pound, or until a thermometer reads about 160. Let set 15 minutes or so before devouring. It will make its own juice. You could do the same thing with a dutch oven on the stovetop over very low heat. Don't know why I'm encouraging people to eat our own cousins, but better cheap than expensive.

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