Friday, February 5, 2010

yogurt - you can make it yourself!

While I try to buy healthy and unprocessed food, I've found that some of it tends to be more expensive than fatty garbage premade food.  This is a serious problem with our food system and I won't go into it here, but it's made me look for ways to get super-healthy things to eat without spending a fortune on simple natural/organic choices.  The idea is to avoid prepackaged 'health' food (very cleverly marketed to, and priced for, extremely busy health nuts with plenty of money) and make it yourself.  There are tons of things I've found out that I can make myself, with the ingredients being as healthy as I like.  Without all the extra preservatives/sodium/MSG/fat/sugar/high fructose corn syrup.  It takes extra time to make things from scratch, and I do have that kind of time right now, but I know lots of others don't, and some do, and I probably won't forever so I'm doing the learning part now so it will be just part of life later on. :)

Just to get you inspired, here are some things I've made instead of bought...
food: bread, granola, veggie/chicken broth, croutons, salad dressing/teriyaki sauce, pitas, green leafy mixes (instead of getting them in the bag), cream cheese, pesto,
other: shampoo, conditioner, all of my face washing stuff, body scrub, air freshener/shower spray, household cleaning products, shaving 'gel' (hint: it's only one ingredient...with the initials E.V.O.O.)

Stuff I plan to try sometime...
hand lotion, ricotta cheese, red wine vinegar, laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, bagels, flour and butter, infused olive oils, sprouts, hummus

Yogurt is another thing I've tried and you can make yourself.  (By the way, I'm no expert...try googling yogurt-making for more ideas and tricks.)  The benefits of making your own yogurt are: it's tastier, it's healthier, and it's cheaper.  Drawbacks: it takes time, and it may need tweaking to get your 'recipe' right.

You'll have to make this when you'll be home for quite awhile, as it needs to stay in the warm oven for up to 12 hours, plus the hour or more preparation time.

You'll need:

  • about 1/2 gallon of milk (any kind is fine, including soy)
  • 1/2 to 1 cup of plain 'starter' yogurt with active cultures (make sure it says 'live and active cultures' on the container)
  • Candy thermometer, the kind that clips to the pot
  • Vaguely oven-safe bowl with lid (this will make sense later)
  • Ice cubes and an empty sink

You might want:

  • Flavorings: vanilla, honey, cinnamon, fruit, or whatever you like your yogurt to taste like
  • Sweetener (sugar, honey etc)
  • Fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth

Heat the milk to 180 degrees.
Simmer the milk on the stove over medium or low heat.  I used about 1/2 need to be precise.  Put the thermometer in the milk (not touching the bottom) and heat on low/medium til the milk hits 180 degrees, stirring occasionally.  This is the point at which the milk starts to get frothy, and any existing bacteria will die a painful death.

Put milk in cooling bath. 
Meanwhile, fill one side of your sink partway with cold water (I included ice cubes), because you'll put the hot pot in the water as soon as your thermometer reads 180 degrees.  I hear that this cold water bath isn't completely necessary but supposedly it's best to cool the milk quickly rather than slowly. Obviously, make sure the water isn't high enough that it'll spill into the pot.

Add the starter and cool to 110 degrees.
As soon as the pot's in the water, stir in your active yogurt, along with whatever flavorings/sweeteners you want.  (Use at least 1/2 cup starter for 1/2 gallon of milk, and adjust accordingly.) Leave the thermometer in and cool to 110 degrees.  This took about 30 minutes.

Prepare a warm place to keep the milk.
I used our oven because it has a low setting.  Other ideas: a crockpot, oven with pilot light, or electric warming blanket.  While the milk's cooling in the sink, preheat the oven to 110 degrees.

OK, time out.  My oven has a WARM setting, but it doesn't say what the temperature is, so I had to fiddle around to find out where 110 degrees was.  I put a little glass bowl of water in the oven, with the thermometer in the water so I could see how warm it was.  It took a couple of hours of checking every once in a while to see if it was too warm or cool, but eventually I figured out where it needed to be (just at the end of the W in WARM on my oven dial).

Put the milk in that warm place.
So let's back up to where we were.  Pour your milk from the pot into an "oven safe" bowl with a lid.  I used a glass Pyrex bowl, and I don't know if it's oven safe, and it has a plastic lid.  But really, it's all OK since the oven will just be warm.  Put it in the oven, next to your already-heating little bowl of water.  Then transfer your thermometer to the water.  Do this little process quickly because you want the milk to stay about the same temperature.

Let the nice bacteria do its job!
The milk simply needs to stay at 110-115 for 6 to 12 hours for the bacteria in the starter yogurt to do what it does.  The longer you leave it, the thicker and tangier it will become.  I liked using a glass bowl because I could reach in and jiggle it and see how thick it was getting.  There will be yellowish/greenish liquid that forms on the top, and don't be grossed out, because this is a GOOD thing!  (That's the whey. Don't throw it away.) I left my yogurt in the warm oven overnight and took it out in the morning.  It tasted perfect, but it still hadn't thickened very well, and I think it's because I didn't use enough starter yogurt.  I'll use more next time.  I put it in the fridge all day before using it, which helped thicken it up a bit more.

Strain if it's too runny for you.
I don't like runny yogurt personally, so I set a fine mesh strainer over a bowl (you can also use a cheesecloth), and put the thin yogurt in the strainer for maybe an hour.  The yellowish liquid (the whey) separated and drained into the bowl. (Keep the whey - you can use it for lots of things such as ricotta cheese, which I plan to try next time.)  What was left in the strainer was nothing less than the yummiest, fluffiest, best-tasting yogurt I've had!  I added some honey and homemade granola, and enjoyed a big bowl right then (picture below)

Important: Keep some to use for your next batch!
Now that all your yogurt contains bacteria, keep out a cup or two for use in your next batch.  This way you won't have to buy any more yogurt to make yogurt. :) You can also freeze your starter, as you may have enough yogurt to last you awhile.
And because you read this far, here's a photo of my yogurt along with my homemade granola, and a bit of honey.  It was SO good.

I also squeezed all the whey out of part of my yogurt, which resulted in a very nice cream-cheese-style creation.  Just another way to use it all up!

So here's to making wonderfully tasty and healthy food without hopping on the pricey-health-food-products bandwagon. :)


  1. Nikki - Very cool, I'm going to have to remember this one for after I graduate and actually have more time to cook :).

    Also, if you're looking for blogs, I think you'll appreciate Margie Haack's, it seems like both of you are kinda on the same wavelength in terms of blogging habits. Here's the link:

  2. Jake - thanks for the comment and the blog! I just checked it out and it looks wonderful. Sorry I didn't see your comment before...turned out, I didn't have comment notification turned on (?!) and so all this time I'm thinking, nobody every comments on my blog. But then I found lots of comments! So thank you. :)