Natto 2: Fermentation Boogaloo

For the second edition of making natto, I traded my homemade incubator (Styrofoam cooler with a light bulb) for a slow cooker. You can read about that in the post How to Ferment Natto. This one didn’t go so well.

Natto needs a stable temperature between 100-113 F for optimal fermentation. Slow cookers, even on the warm setting, will get too hot with the lid closed. So I placed a dish towel over the slow cooker and set the control to WARM.

At first it was losing too much heat, so I added a second dish towel. This seemed to be working. It was keeping a perfect temperature of 106 F for the first 8 hours. Then I went to sleep. When I woke up and checked on the natto, the temperature had jumped to 131 F. I was able to get the temperature back down to a safe range for the last few hours, but the damage was done.

Natto that exceeds the optimal temperature range doesn’t have the slimy gooey texture that makes it natto. It tastes rather bland and boring. I’m thinking that the high temperatures either killed or greatly damaged the natto culture.


You can see that the natto started at 106 F and then spiked to 131 F. Not sure if the humidity plays a role in natto fermentation, but you can see it got to 99% under the dish towels. Not sure why it spiked. I’m guessing that the water bath evaporated and this made the inside of the slow cooker hotter. This is an old slow cooker I got at a yard sale for $5.

I suppose at this point, I could pimp out my slow cooker by adding some electronics to get an optimal temperature, but I have zero skills in electronics. Plus I already have that working incubator method. But I do like the elegance of using the slow cooker.

UPDATE May 2016: This recipe was sent to me and I felt it was worth sharing.

Elana’s Natto Recipe

I’ve been making natto successfully for a year now, given the ease of using the Instant Pot pressure cooker/yogurt maker to do it with. Here’s the process:

Soak 350 grams beans Thursday morning in lots of water, just drain them from soaker to mesh steamer insert Friday, and pressure steam for 45 minutes with 1.5 cups of water below, with a 20 minute cooldown after completion before releasing steam. The start to finish on that is about 75 minutes but it’s all unattended.

Then Friday sometime:

  1. boil for 5 minutes spoons or a paddle to stir the natto in, and a plate to act as a spoon rest.
  2. Pull the insert, and dump all but a few tablespoons of the liquid out of the pot.
  3. I dump (lazy here) full package of store bought natto into pot, use paddle to stir and mix well with steamed beans
  4. …and set the instant pot to yogurt setting for 24 hours to 36 hours, finishing at a convenient time for you.

That takes about 20 minutes. Finally Saturday or worst case Sunday morning, boil a couple spoons and paddles a small plate to use as a spoon rest, and the first glass storage tray. Every 5 minutes remove the current tray to cool, drop the next tray in to boil, and load the cooled tray with 1/4 of the beans. Total time elapsed about 30 minutes but with lots of time for chores along the way. I haven’t been boiling the plastic lids, but have had no problems as they’re not touching the beans.

The output has been fine, four glass trays of four servings each. Let them rest in the refrigerator for two days, then freeze all but the next to be eaten.

I’m not sure I’d bother without the pressure steamer/yogurt maker though. Having it all be one pot with minimal fuss is what beats the local market in Japantown San Francisco at three packages for USD 2.00.


Making Dairy Kefir is Super Easy

I started making dairy kefir again in December and I’m loving it. Not only do I like the taste, but I’m no longer buying containers of yogurt, which means I’m saving money. And unlike the crap kefir products sold at Whole Fools and other grocery stores, I don’t use low-fat milk. Full fat dairy for me! Just be sure NOT to buy ultra-pasteurized. Regular pasteurized or raw is what the kefir grains want.

Once you’ve acquired some kefir grains, you’ll need a jar and a non-metal strainer. Unlike yogurt which requires a temperature range of 105°F to 112°F, kefir ferments just fine at room temperature.

Making dairy kefir is super easy if you have good grains. Here are the basic instructions on how it is done.

#1 Add Grains To Empty Jar

I don’t measure anything. I’ve used between 50 grams and 100 grams. It all works.


#2 Add Milk, Cover and Wait

Fill jar with milk. Don’t use ultra-pasteurized. Cover with lid, but not too tight and then wait 1-3 days. The ferment is finished when the kefir is as thick is you like. Ferments will go faster in a warm kitchen and slower when it is cold. If your kitchen is too cold, then sitting the jar on a heating pad set on low might jump start the ferment.


#3 Filter and Jar

Once the kefir is ready, grab your non-metal filter and separate. Jar the kefir and place in the refrigerator. As for the grains, start your next ferment. If you don’t need to start the next ferment, place the grains in a jar with a small amount of milk, cover and place in the frig.



#4 Drink

I like drinking kefir plain or as a smoothie with blended blueberries.

Troubleshooting and Sourcing

If you are having trouble with your kefir, check out this FAQ. The basic rule I use for ferments that are slow is to increase the temperature. A heating pad can kick start ferments in cold kitchens.

As for sourcing, I got my most recent grains locally. These grains are growing about 10% in size with every ferment, which means I’ve been able to give grains away to friends here in Seattle. If you aren’t a Seattle friend, have no fear, it looks like Amazon is selling grains. The link below is a from Lifetime Kefir, which has good reviews

Kefir Grains – Living Probiotic Enriched


Making Ghee in a Slow Cooker

For my latest batch of ghee or clarified butter, depending upon where you draw the line, I put away the saucepan and plugged in the slow cooker. I loaded up the slow cooker with 2 pounds of unsalted butter and put it on low with the lid off.



Once the milk solids separate and it develops a dark yellow color, filter and jar.

I used cheese cloth, which didn’t remove all the milk solids. I also tried a coffee filter, but that didn’t allow the ghee through at all. I also experimented with a gold mesh tea filter, which did a fine job. On other websites, you will see times for making ghee in a slow cooker range from 2 to 8 hours. Mine was closer to 8 hours.



Two pounds of butter made 2 pint jars full of ghee.


DIY Standing Desk – The $22 IKEA Solution

Back in April, I built my own standing desk using boxes. It was a cheap hack, but it didn’t work for long, because the boxes began to warp after a week. Although I am still not convinced that a standing desk is superior to a sitting one, I was inspired by a link in the most recent Wired magazine. They highlighted a tutorial that explained how to build your own standing desk for just $22 using items found at IKEA.

I followed the instructions and now I have a standing desk. I’m pretty sure this one isn’t going to warp like my box solution. The only piece of information missing from the tutorial was the size of the wood screws. I made a lucky guess and selected #10 x 1-3/4. They fit perfectly. Below is a photo of the desk now. I may lower the keyboard stand.

TUTORIAL: A standing desk for $22


Standing Desk version 2.0


Making Paneer

When I first read the recipe for paneer, my initial thought was “it can’t be that easy”. So I checked a few other recipes and confirmed that it was really a ridiculously easy thing to make. QFC had a gallon of full fat milk marked down to 99 cents. Perfect price for practice!




Here is my first attempt at paneer. I might need a little more practice with the presentation, but it tastes good. My next batch will use the spice recommendations in this video. But for now, I need to acquire some spinach to make Palak Paneer.