Friday, May 21, 2010

The Yogurt Experiments

One thing I’ve learned is that there are usually many ways to accomplish the same thing whether it’s knitting, sewing, gardening, cooking or most anything else. There have been many bloggers lately that have posted about making yogurt – each of them slightly differently and each of them says that their method works. I believe them. But being me, I just had to tinker some more with the method or “recipe” for making yogurt until I had a method that worked best for me. You might find that my method works for you too. If you just want the “recipe” and not all my wordiness – scroll down for it.

I started my home made yogurt quest for two reasons: I was concerned about all the little unrecyclable yogurt containers that I was throwing away (in our area we can’t recycle #5 plastic – your area might be different) and since I’m doing things like washing my clothes with homemade laundry soap and hanging them to dry even in the winter it just seemed wrong to be throwing away all those little yogurt containers. My digestive system really appreciates yogurt if you know what I mean and so I eat a lot of it and that means a lot of yogurt containers.

Secondly, I’m always on the lookout to be more frugal and it really does save money to make your own yogurt. And as a bonus the yogurt you get is fabulous! Way better for you and it tastes scrumptious too. I made yogurt years ago with one of those Salton yogurt makers and really that stuff was pretty bad. If that’s what you think homemade yogurt is like then think again. This stuff is wonderful. Anyway, the Compadre did some seat of the pants figuring and with our prices for milk and dry milk here in Minnesota (about $2.39 for the whole milk and 75¢ for the dry milk needed) a gallon of yogurt costs us $3.10. Add your own jam if you want and some sugar if you’re me and you might raise the cost to a little under $5.00. For a GALLON! of good yogurt with no high fructose corn syrup, gelatin, cornstarch or preservatives. A bargain at half the price! Yoplait yogurt was 49¢ for 6 oz. in the food ad this week – that’s a sale price. That works out to about $10.45/gallon and all those foreign ingredients were what I just read on the label. Yikes.

The basics of making yogurt are to heat up the milk/dry milk mixture to a high enough temp to kill any bad bugs and then to cool it off to the right temp to incubate the good bugs, add the starter yogurt, and incubate at the optimal temp for the right length of time. There are many ways to accomplish this. My old Salton yogurt maker would have worked fine for me if I had known what I know now about the amount of dry milk and had access to better starter yogurt. All that yogurt maker did was hold the milk mixture at the right temp – I kind of wish I hadn’t gotten rid of it, but as the Compadre would remind me – you can’t keep everything and it’s very rare that I regret getting rid of something. (Don’t hold me to that Compadre!)

After reading many posts and articles (even scientific ones!) about making yogurt I tried several ways of doing it. Many of the instructions said to use no more than 1/3 cup of dry milk to ½ gallon of milk but I wanted my yogurt to be thick and not like the thin runny stuff I got years ago. I found one article that recommended as much as 2/3 cup per half gallon of milk and so I went with that. I tried two ways to heat the milk. I first tried the crock pot method and found that it took forever in my slow cooker and the milk scorched on the bottom. I have the kind of slow cooker that is like a plate with a pot on top of it so all of the heat comes from the bottom. So even though I kept the temp low it still scorched. I then went to the double boiler method. My double boiler doesn’t hold the whole half gallon of milk though and I had to stand over the stove and stir so this method, while it works well and takes much less time wasn’t as good as it could have been. But I made yogurt by this method for a while. Then I went to visit my daughter in Maryland because my grandson Elliott was born. While there I showed them how to make yogurt and they didn’t have a double boiler so I used their crock pot – the kind with the crock in it that heats more evenly. Now that worked great! I was able to heat the milk on high and it took about 2 hours to heat – your mileage may vary depending on your crock pot. When I got home I went to Target and bought a cheap crock pot for $12.99 and have been using it ever since. I figure that I recouped the cost after only a few batches of yogurt.

There are also many ways of incubating the yogurt. I incubate my yogurt in the oven. Some people cover the yogurt with insulating layers of towels or something and leave it on the counter. Some people invest in expensive equipment to keep the yogurt the right temp. And some people didn’t get rid of their Salton Yogurt makers! I started by putting the whole crock, pan, bowl, or whatever of yogurt with the culture into the oven to culture it. My oven lets me see what temperature it is inside it as it rises and the optimal temperature for incubating is about 110 to 115 degrees. I usually incubate for about 6 hours, again there are differing opinions about this. Some incubate longer and some shorter. The longer you incubate the more tart your yogurt will be. You can adjust the time for your own needs. I turn my oven on every once in a while to check the temperature and to try to keep it at the best temperature. Some people just put it in the warm oven and just leave it until morning – I haven’t tried that yet. My method requires me to be home for the day and the overnight method would be wonderful if you work. I’ll have to try it.

When you incubate your yogurt in a large quantity like the crock or a bowl and then scoop out what you need the yogurt separates and you’ll notice liquid whey in the place where you took out the scoop of yogurt after a while. You can stir it back in but I don’t like to do that because I like thick yogurt. You can strain it out and I did that for a while. I used a coffee filter in a funnel and let it sit for a long time. You can buy expensive equipment for this is you want. The result is a very thick yogurt that some call Greek yogurt – it’s good. The whey can be used to make the very best pancakes you’ve ever had. The Compadre thinks that he substituted the whey for the liquid in the pancake recipe and added a little dry milk powder. We’ll have to try it again and document what we do. They were light and fluffy and tasted wonderful. But the Compadre always makes good pancakes! As it happens, I am bugged by my yogurt separating and having to deal with the whey. So I put my thinking cap on and thought about how we used to buy our yogurt in small containers in the grocery store. Hmmm, why couldn’t I incubate it in small containers and then eat it all at once – the whey wouldn’t have a chance to separate then. So what I did and still do is use 8 ounce canning jars to incubate the yogurt. I have a collection of caps that I’ve saved from other bottles that I use to cover them. When we need yogurt we just grab a jar and either eat it straight out of the jar or scoop it into a bowl. How neat and tidy and it works great! When I incubate then this way I don’t screw the caps on tight until after the incubation time is over and I put them in the fridge. I don’t know if this is necessary but I just think that a little air is good while the yogurt is incubating.

A few words of caution. I’ve taken microbiology and had many classes in food safety and it really worries me to be keeping food for so long at the danger zone. So please make sure that all your equipment is clean, clean, clean. I prefer to take my jars, crock, spoons, etc. straight out of the dishwasher and use them. That’s not always possible but I always make sure that I’m using clean stuff. And it goes without saying that you should wash your hands! One of the online instructions even went to far as to say that you should use store bought starter every so many times. I have been using my own yogurt for starter for several months now but if it ever starts to look funny or smell “off” I’ll toss it and start over with store bought. By the way I use Stonyfield Farms yogurt because it was recommended as having the most beneficial bugs of the commercial yogurts out there. I usually look for plain but I’ve also used vanilla with success.

So, here’s the “recipe” that I use for making yogurt.

You'll need 1/2 gallon of whole milk, 2/3 cup of powdered milk and 1/2 cup of Stonyfield Farms commercial yogurt or 1/2 cup of your previous batch of yogurt.

Put ½ gallon of whole milk and 2/3 cup of dry milk powder in the ceramic crock for your crockpot. Whisk it until it’s mixed well and set the crockpot to high. Using an instant read thermometer monitor the temperature and whisk it occasionally until it reaches somewhere between 180 and 200 degrees F.

Remove the crock from the crockpot and let the milk cool down to 110 to 115 degrees F. Whisk it occasionally – this seems to hasten the cooling process (at least it makes me feel like it does). The milk will develop a skin on top and you can just stir this in or you can remove it.

When the milk is getting close to the right temperature turn on the oven and heat it to about 115 degrees. (I always forget and let it get too hot and then have to open the oven door a couple of times to cool it off – sheesh). Take at least ½ cup of your starter (either Stonyfield Farms yogurt or some you’ve saved from your last batch) and put it in a bowl or the pitcher and add a cup or two of the warm milk to it. Whisk it well and then pour the starter mixture back into the rest of the warm milk. (This is to make sure that the starter is well distributed in the milk). Pour the milk/starter mixture into 8 oz. jars or leave it in the crock if you want. Cover loosely and put in the oven for about 6 hours. Make sure to monitor the oven temp occasionally and heat it up again if needed – don’t let it get too hot when heating so that you don’t kill the yogurt bugs. I usually stand and watch it heat because I know myself – see above!

When the 6 hours is up take out a jar and tip it slightly to see if it is thick enough. If not let it incubate a little longer. When it’s done to your liking cover tightly and put in the fridge.

I always add something to my yogurt – I’m not a purist. I’ve added jam, vanilla, favored syrups, homemade rhubarb sauce (yum), and canned fruit. The Compadre likes to eat his plain. Both of us can’t eat store bought yogurt any more – it just doesn’t taste right!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Questions, questions

I've been asked to do an interview for the newsletter of the shop where I teach. The idea is that potential students will be able to learn a little about the teacher of the class that they are considering taking and realize that we are real people and will be approachable. Anyway, I thought to myself, self, I don’t want to do that I like to be anonymous. I’m just a shy person. But then, it occurred to me that I could use these questions as blog fodder and maybe come up with some ideas for this blog that has been rather neglected lately.

So, lets start off with the first question. What’s your background? What should I tell you here? Let’s see, almost lifelong Twin Citian, grew up in a northern suburb of St. Paul. I do like living in Minnesota but the winters do get long. I’m very active in my church and have a deep Christian faith. I have a degree in Dietetics and am retired from a career in food service management – I was a lunch lady and proud of it. I’ve always been interested in things “domestic” as one of my school girl friends accused me of. That was an insult – I grew up when it wasn’t cool to be interested in those things – one needed a career. Hmmph. I had a career and I stayed home for 14 years when my kids were growing up. The lunch lady career dovetailed nicely with being home when my kids were off of school in the summer and all those other days off in the school year. Anyway, I love to do crafty, fibery, homemaking kinds of things and I’ve tried many of them. One could call me a jack of all things domestic and master of only a few – to paraphrase a cliché. I’m mostly self taught but have taken some classes over the years. I’ve taken china painting classes for about 6 years but I’m still a rookie at that – some things are fun just to do even if you’re not that good at them! My grandmother and aunts on both sides of the family were interested in knitting, sewing, crafty things but my Mom not so much, although she did sew a little. So my interest in fibery things could be considered genetic!

And because every blog post needs pictures – here are some grandbaby pictures.

First up - Abigail with her new little brother, her "baby".

Next up, Jordan is 6 weeks old and smiling! I got to play with him when Anita came over yesterday. Oh, the joy of having a grandchild nearby!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Our Family is Growing

We welcome another new addition to our family! Elliott Joshua was born yesterday and joins his big sister Abigail! Everyone is doing very well and this Grandma is very jealous of their other Grandma who is with them right now. I really can't believe that I now have 3 grandchildren. I'm too young for that!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Living Green and Frugal

I’ve been working toward living a more frugal life. Not including craft supplies and yarn! Wouldn’t want to give the Compadre any ideas! As a result – we’re living a more “green” life too. Some of the things I/we have been doing for a long time and some we’ve started more recently. We try not to waste food, we drive small cars, we wear our clothes until they wear out, we grow some of our food (sometimes successfully, sometimes not!). And now that I’m retired and we don’t have kids at home I have more time to do some things that I just couldn’t have done when the kids were all home and I was working. I’ve been washing our clothes with homemade laundry soap and for more than a year now we’ve been hanging them to dry – outside in the summer and inside on a wooden drying rack in the winter. The Compadre isn’t fully on board on this – he’s been known to dry the clothes in the dryer when he does the laundry and isn’t fully supervised. But I can’t complain – I’ve got a husband that does laundry!!

This Christmas I tried something new in the frugal department. I wrapped many of our gifts with fabric squares in the furoshiki method. Basically if you know how to do a square knot you can wrap gifts in fabric squares. There are several good websites that show how to do it. I made my fabric squares by using my serger and doing a rolled hem edge on all four sides. I found that the most useful sizes were 28 and 22 inches. I made one that was 37 inches for a bigger gift and a few that were 18 inches using fat quarters. The advantage of using 22 inch squares (if they fit the package) is that you can get two pieces from the width of standard fabric. Of course this method is more expensive in the short run but over time I expect that we’ll reuse the fabric many times and it will be free from now on. I told the giftees that they could give me the wrap so I could reuse it myself or they could reuse it themselves. That of course makes it part of the gift! I stocked up on Christmas fabric after in the after Christmas sales – 75% off!! So I’m all ready for next year. One hint about the sizes of fabric needed. If you’re making the squares as you’re wrapping the gifts – check to see what size you need before cutting it. It’s surprising that I didn’t need many large pieces. Oh, and here’s a tutorial for you if you don’t have a means to make rolled hems. A little more time consuming but it works too. I think that wrapping gifts in fabric is easier too – I never was much good with square corners and tape and all. By the way, we really noticed that the Christmas garbage was much less – I’m sure the garbage man was happy with our house!

Of course there are many more things that we could do and I’m sure I’ve got my blind spots about some ways we live life, but I’ve got some more ideas for things that I could do to live greener and more frugally. First up is composting kitchen scraps. Let’s see if I can get the Compadre on board!

I'll leave you with a cute picture of newborn baby Jordan in his car seat.