As someone who tries to stick to a monthly budget, all this talk about rising food prices because of the drought has me worried. On paper, it seems like my monthly grocery budget should be more than enough to feed two and a half people. But every week I manage to go over. And it’s not like we’re eating New York strips every night. On my menu this week – pot roast, tacos, chicken breasts.
What’s a girl to do?
For starters, I have found myself looking for ways to make common household staples myself. As you know, this summer I began canning and made my own jam, my own pickles, and my own diced tomatoes. I have started buying dried beans instead of canned. It’s not as convenient as whipping out the can opener, but they taste just the same and so much cheaper.
My latest “make your own” adventure was homemade yogurt. Yes, yogurt. When I mention it to most people, they look a little stricken and say, “You made what?”
Honestly, the first time I heard it was possible to make your own yogurt at home I thought, “Oh noooo. That sounds like a recipe for food poisoning.”
Then I purchased this book by Alana Chernila. Turns out, when she set out her first batch of yogurt starter to culture, she had the exact same thought. I was relieved to read that her entire family lived to tell the tale with no adverse side effects. That got me thinking that maybe I could do this.
All you need is a small container of store bought yogurt and warm milk to make your starter. Have you ever noticed the label on a container of yogurt that reads, “Contains live active cultures?” Those cultures act like yeast in bread making – they are little microorganisms that turn a few simple ingredients into something yummy.
If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you really need one before you try this. The recipe instructs you to scald your milk to 180 degree and then let it cool to 110 degrees. This is very important because if your milk is too hot, you could kill your cultures. That means all you will end up with is some lukewarm milk with dissolved yogurt.
If you have ever heated milk in a saucepan, then you have likely ended up with scorched milk stuck to the bottom. Alana gives a great tip for preventing this – before you do anything, swirl an ice cube around the bottom of the pan you plan to use. Don’t pour out the water left behind, just add your ingredients and start heating the milk. It worked! I was able to heat my milk and no goopy crust was leftover for me to clean up afterwards.
Some seasoned yogurt makers suggest letting your yogurt ferment in a crock pot or in a warm (not hot!) oven. I simply wrapped my yogurt starter in a dish towel and then placed it inside an insulated lunch bag. When I checked it after five house, I was pretty disappointed because my mason jar of warm milk still looked like . . .milk. So I wrapped it back up and checked on it two hours later and EUREKA! The feeling is exactly like the first time you make bread and your dough rises.
I did it right! I did it right!
Alana’s original recipe calls for whole milk and plain full fat Greek yogurt. I made my starter with vanilla flavored low-fat Greek yogurt because that was all I could find. It still worked out fine. Next time I will try using reduced fat milk just to cut some of the calories. I added some vanilla extract and homemade jam for sweetness. It is a little runnier than store bought yogurt, but I read that a lot of store bought yogurt actually has other ingredients added to it (imagine that) to prevent it from separating while it sits on the shelf. So you’re not actually getting yogurt in its natural state. If you want some suggestions on how to make your yogurt a little thicker, I found this page, this page, and this page to be particularly helpful.
I admit, I tried the homemade yogurt out on myself first before feeding any of it to Little Tot. I didn’t spend the rest of the night hugging the toilet, I didn’t turn green or grow warts, and my head didn’t spin 360 degrees. The taste was creamy and amazingly fresh. As easy as this was, I don’t see my self buying yogurt that often anymore.
By the way, I was in no way coerced by Alana Chernila or the publishers of her book to write this post. I bought her book with my own money because I wanted it – plain and simple. My opinions are completely my own. However, should you click on the link above and order Alana’s cookbook, I do get a small commission from Amazon. Just letting you know.
For more “make your own” ideas, check out my pinboard.
- 4 cups whole milk (not ultra-pasteurized milk)
- ½ cup plain yogurt
- 2½ teaspoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ⅓ cup fruit jam
- Before you begin, place an ice cube in the bottom of the pan you plan to use to heat the milk. Swirl the ice cube around so that it touches every inch of the bottom of the pan. Once it has melted, do not wipe out the remaining water.
- Add the milk to the pan. Heat over medium heat until a candy themometer reads 180 degrees. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon. For thicker yogurt, allow the milk to maintain a temp of 180-200 degrees for about 20 minutes. Remove pan from heat and allow to cool to 110 degrees.
- Pour 1 cup of warm milk into a small glass bowl. Add the yogurt and stir until dissolved. Pour the mixture back into the pan. Whisk until it becomes slightly foamy.
- Pour starter into a clean 1 quart mason jar. Wrap in a dish towel and place in an insulated cooler for 5-7 hours, or until starter consistency becomes thick and creamy.
- Add yogurt, vanilla, and jam. Stir until thoroughly combined.
- Store jar in refrigerator. Yogurt will thicken slightly