Thursday, November 22, 2012

Making Yogurt

There's not much in the way of an ingredient list or cooking times when it comes to making yogurt this way, but I still need some sort of reference post to go to when I forget the numbers or ranges involved in the process. Here's my yogurt tale.

My kids love yogurt, and before I realized we could make it at home, it was only a once in a long time treat. Those little 1 qt tubs for $3 that are gone in one meal after everyone got one serving each, just weren't all that affordable. And besides... they were always runny. Sloupy. Not to mention, the flavored ones were more like candy (with all the sugar and food coloring you have no control over) and the flavor options were limited.

One evening when were were at Chasm's house way back in May, Chasm's Lady offered me some yogurt that she'd made. It was plain yogurt - I usually avoided plain yogurt because it always seemed bitter to me. But I tried her yogurt, and it was good! Really good, even though it was plain. I could perfectly picture sweetening it just a tiny bit with honey and having an absolutely delicious desert. I asked about how she'd made it and got a few vague approximate values. She'd followed some advice/recipe online using a crockpot, but it wasn't a picky process, so she didn't have exact information for me, but she did send me home with a small tub of it.

So, I looked online and found as many recipes/instruction methods using a crock pot as I could, and compared the likenesses and differences and tried it myself. My first try turned out perfectly, and that was the end of store-bought yogurt for us.

Anyway, as long as I made a batch of yogurt every week, the information was fresh enough in my mind that I didn't have to go looking up details, but toward the end of September we went on a trip and when we got home the last of the leftover yogurt in the fridge had spoiled which meant I didn't have a starter to work with. By the time I got around to finding some, I couldn't remember all the particulars in my process. So I had to start over finding all the online information to compare and after that I decided to write down my own version for reference. Finally I got around to taking some pictures during the process to go with my post.

Crock Pot Yogurt

The tools and ingredients.

  • Milk - Any kind is supposed to work, but the closer to whole milk makes for the best results. So far I've only tried whole milk, so I don't know what kind of changes would need to be made for other types yet.
  • Yogurt with live/active cultures for a starter. I've only used plain yogurt for a starter. I don't know if you can use a flavored yogurt or how it would turn out if you did. The ratio of yogurt to milk is 1 cup to a gallon.
  • A Thermometer. It has to be able to register as low as 110° and as high as 180° F. I have a digital meat thermometer and a dial candy thermometer, and I still can't decide which I like best.
  • A Crock Pot. It just needs to have a 'low' setting and must be big enough to hold the amount of milk you're turning into yogurt.
  • Thick bath towel. For extra insulation.
  • Small mixing bowl, Whisk, Stirring spoon & Mesh colander or fine seive.

    The Directions: (more or less)

    1. The first step is just putting the milk in the crock pot, making sure the lid in on and setting it to 'low'. I stir and check the temperature every hour or so and usually coming straight from the fridge, it takes my crock pot approximately 3 or 4 hours to reach 180° which is what you need it to reach before going on to the next step.

    2. Once the milk has reached 180°, turn the crock pot off, stir the milk, and leave the lid off. Now the milk has to cool to 110° so that you can add the starter. Again, I stir and check the temperature every so often. This is when you take the 'starter' yogurt out of the fridge to start coming to room temperature. If it's too cold, it will cool the milk down too much and the yogurt turns out sloupy. Hm, I think I like that word.

    3. When the milk has cooled down to the 110°-115° range (for me this takes another hour or two depending on how often I stir it), scoop out twice the amount of starter you will use into the mixing bowl and add the starter to it. For example, if you're making a gallon of yogurt, you'll be using a cup of starter, so you're going to take out 2 cups of warm milk to mix the starter into.

    4. This step is probably still part of the last one, but I'm going to separate it, to emphasize my point. Make sure to mix the 'starter' and warm milk well. Then once you add it back into the crock pot of milk, make sure to mix it well there too. But once it's mixed into the warm milk, DO NOT MIX IT ANY MORE. This is when the yogurt cultures need to 'incubate' and do their work. Stirring it disturbs the process and alters the final outcome. You want to do this step quickly, because the more you stir, and the longer you take, the faster you'll lose your target temperature of 110°.

    5. As soon as your starter mix is stirred into the crock pot, put the lid back on, check your temperature and then completely wrap the crock pot (which is still OFF at this point) with the bath towel. The idea here is to try to keep the temperature at 110° for 7 to 8 HOURS. I check the temperature every couple of hours (unless it's sitting overnight).

    If the temperature drops too quickly, I'll turn the crock pot back on for 10 minutes, but REMEMBER TO TURN IT OFF AGAIN!!! I completely cooked my last batch of yogurt because we got sidetracked doing a puzzle before the kids had to go to bed and by the time I remembered my yogurt it was back up to 165°. Anything over 120° will kill the yogurt culture and I haven't figured out what to do with a ruined gallon of milk/yogurt stuff. It has to be usable some how, but it'll need some experimentation.

    After 8 hours, the yogurt starter/culture will have done it's trick, and you'll be almost done. This is when you can stir it up, and stick the whole batch in the refrigerator to stop the process completely. The longer you leave the yogurt un-stirred and not chilled, the tangier the plain yogurt will be. So the amount of disturbance you choose, is up to you. I usually just give it a quick stir, and put it in the fridge for a few hours at least because there's one more step I like to go through to avoid sloupiness.

    6. Finally, I drain the yogurt. Some people put the whole batch in a cheesecloth and let it drain from 2 or 3 hours to overnight, but I like to drain it in smaller amounts. One reason is that I don't usually have cheesecloth floating around, and the other reason, is that I need to get my giant crock pot out of the refrigerator since it takes up way more space than is really practical. Plastic containers with flat lids stack so much nicer than a 5 qt crock pot with a dome lid on it. I fill my little strainer and place it over a container on the counter to catch the whey. After 45 min to an hour, I dump the drained yogurt into an empty container, put it in the fridge and then repeat the process until the whole batch is drained. If I use more than one strainer, the time to drain the whole batch is even less. I make sure to stir each strainer-worth into the rest of the drained yogurt when I add it, and the result is a thick, creamy, delicious yogurt.

    You can eat it plain, or add almost anything to it. We've tried mint jelly, orange marmalade, cinnamon, vanilla, chopped peaches and blueberries among a handful of other ideas. It's the breakfast AND snack of choice around here - especially with a spoonful of homemade strawberry jam or a swirl or two of honey stirred in. The only drawback is that a batch never lasts more than a week even when I ration it out. Apparantly, you can store it in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks, but I haven't had a chance to test that since ours is always gone long before that estimate.

    Just make sure to take enough out to save for your next batch's starter. Also, the starter yogurt can be frozen! This is especially nice if you're not going to get to making another batch right away. Or when you accidently let someone eat the last of the yogurt before you remembered to take some out for a starter. Or when you cook your yogurt to death like my last batch.

  • Wednesday, November 14, 2012

    When Ricka Came

    Another of my Draft Posts. I think it was just waiting for me to pick some cute pictures of Ricka and re-size them. But if this post is going up before the next baby comes, I should get on with it!

    July 28th, 2011....

    We just didn't know that Ricka was going to come a whole week early.

    It's funny how when you think you have everything under control nothing goes according to plan. I was NOT ready for Ricka to come when she did. I had the whole last week before she was due completely booked. We did not have a baby name chosen, I did not have my hospital bag packed. After Grandma C. got hurt we alternated between going up to the hospital to see her and having Grandpa C. and Dee over for dinner and hockey.

    Thursday (June 9th), we'd gone up to see Grandma and the next evening Grace and her kids joined us for dinner too. I was almost one week away from my due date. It's kind of interesting that just as Grace was leaving that evening she said, "Thanks again for dinner, and I hope you have that baby soon!" I laughed and agreed as I closed the door behind her and then started to tidy up since everyone had gone and Sir was finishing the screen door project he'd been working on for a couple days.

    A couple hours later after discovering I still hadn't finished packing a hospital bag, Sir insisted I do that before I went to bed that night. "I don't care if you just have one pair of underwear in the bag. I just want to have a bag somewhere that I can grab!". Of course he knew I'd never settle for just partially packing my bag. After all, that was why it wasn't even packed. I had piles of stuff all over the place that I'd been collecting for my bag, but I just hadn't put it all together yet. So, at 11 pm, I finally dug out a duffle bag and put all my piles of collected stuff into it, and with that I had a hospital bag packed. Then we started talking about more baby name options sometime around midnight and when we'd finally settled on something, it was time to call it a night.

    I woke up at 4:30 because my water had broken. That had never happened on its own before so at first there was quite a bit of confusion as we realized it was actually labor. Then we had to figure out who to wake up at 5am and ask if they could come watch the older kids while we headed to the hospital. The PLAN was, for my mom to come up from CA on the 13th (a whole 6 days before my due date), and we'd have someone already here when the baby finally decided to arrive. Ricka had her own plans, and thankfully, Chasm's Lady graciously took on this task in all it's short-notice and arrived in good time. I felt terrible asking her to come over when my contractions during the first half hour - 45 minutes weren't even worthy of being called contractions, but they were steadily increasing in intensity, so by the time we left our house to make the 5 minute drive to the hospital I was very glad the ride wasn't any longer.

    At first I kept thinking, 'We can't go into labor now! The mattress guys are supposed to call between 7 and 8am to schedule a delivery time for later in the day and we have to be home.' We had decided that since my mom was going to be staying with us for a couple weeks after the baby came, we'd finally upgrade our double bed to a queen which would also give us a decent guest bed. I'd figured I'd have a whole week before the baby came, to set up a guest room for my mom once we got our new mattress.

    Anyway, we finally called Chasm's Lady and she got to our house around 5:30. I felt terrible interrupting her day so early - especially when my contractions weren't that strong by the time she arrived, but it was a bit frightening to see how quickly and consistenly they were intensifying. By the time we got to the hospital less than 10 minutes later, I had to stop and really work through a contraction every 2 minutes.

    We got checked in, settled into a delivery room and resigned ourselves to this being the 'real thing'. And then there was the hour that seems to take forever. I remember looking at the clock at 7:15 and thinking, 'If this was Butler, he'd be born already!'. To me, it seemed like my most dificult labour, but I was exhausted before it even started. All I wanted was a little break, so I could rest before we got down to the business of having a baby, but Ricka was on her way whether I was ready or not. Just a note: Do not go into labour after less than 4 hours of sleep!

    And so, Ricka was born on Saturday, June 11th at 7:43 - just over 3 hours after I had woken up. She came out screaming mad and healthy as a horse! She took center stage size-wise compared to her other siblings weighing in at 8lbs, 13 oz and 21 inches long.

    And that, is the story of when Ricka came.

    Saturday, November 10, 2012

    Savors of Summertime

    The Ingredients

    Here's my most recent, past, draft post. Sometimes there's nothing quite like a current post either. :) Oh well, if I don't dig through my drafts once in a while, I won't be able to appreciate the more timely-posted posts. Besides, I want to have this recipe where I can find it easily, so old or not, it's going up now.

    July 14th...

    There's nothing like fresh salsa. And there's nothing to describe how a mama feels when her little people fall in love with it!
    Yesterday I made a batch of salsa thinking that we'd have a little last night, and I'd take the rest with us for lunch on Sunday. But I felt like having some for a snack/lunch today and served up a cereal bowl full. Then PC walked by. "What's that?" he asked (probably because he was hungry as a result of me not serving lunch yet) "It's salsa, but you might not like it... 'cause it might be spicy." I told him. He wanted to try it, and was hooked. He needed his own bowl. It wasn't long before Butler wandered in. I offered him some, but added a dab of sour cream. He was sold too. Before I knew it, both boys were feeding salsa by the chipful to Ricka. She wanted nothing to do with the chips....

    Grandpa Dan's Salsa Makes 1 gallon!
    • 1qt canned Tomato Juice
    • 5 Anaheim peppers
    • 7 - 10 Roma tomatoes (any kind will work though)
    • 2 Onions
    • 2 Green Bell peppers
    • 1 bunch Cilantro
    • 1-2 Jalapeno peppers (minced)
    • 5-7 cloves Garlic (crushed)
    • Salt to taste (1-2 Tbs)
    • Pepper to taste (½ - 1tsp)
    • Lemon Juice (2-3 splashes)
      Dice vegetables, add seasonings and tomato juice. Stir well, and enjoy! It's best the next day once all the flavors have melded together. Just don't over do it on the jalapinos - they don't seem so hot in the just-made batch, but can really pack some heat the next day!

    I think what I was leading up to (four months ago), was Dolly discovery of the salsa. When she saw Butler's doctored salsa, she made her own version of it (where she crushed her corn chips and mixed them into her bowl of salsa and sour cream), and then wrote down her own recipe so she could duplicate it later. I should post her little culinary treasure, but I'm falling asleep just sitting here right now, so perhaps another day. Perhaps.