Homemade Yogurt, Dependably Good, Lower Environmental Impact, and Incredibly Frugal

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On average a gallon of organic whole milk costs six dollars.  One plain cup of unflavored yogurt costs around one dollar.  This is all you need to make yogurt.  For seven dollars you can easily make a gallon of organic, rich, pure yogurt; that works out to about $1.75 per quart.  I have access to a local farmer’s milk, which I get directly into my own glass gallon jugs, which makes it even cheaper!  For starter yogurt I love to buy Fiddle Creek Dairy yogurt which comes in glass jars.  They treat their Jersey cows right; they are 100% grass-fed and, I know from visiting their verdant farm, are very happy and loved.

Being such an economical source of protein and calcium, I use it for breakfast, for smoothies, in sauces, in place of sour cream, and served plain alongside spicy curries.  It is easy to make, even without special equipment.

In yogurt-making, there is one thing to be finicky about:  cleanliness.  Thoroughly wash, in hot soapy water, everything that you will use; pot, spoon, ladle, jars, etc.  Some recipes call for sterilizing everything with boiling water, but I’ve never found that necessary as long as everything has just been washed well.

What you don’t have to be finicky about:  measuring.  I pour whatever amount of milk I have into a pot, and for the starter yogurt I scoop out about a cup’s worth, no matter the quantity of milk.

So, without further ado….

  1.  Heat whole milk over medium-low heat until it reaches 180 degrees.  Remove from heat and let it cool to 115 (you can ice bath it if you want to hurry up the cooling).
  2. Dump in your starter yogurt.  Do not whisk it, do not harass it at all!  You want to keep the integrity to the yogurt.  (This was the best advice I’ve received in all my years of making yogurt; it truly makes a difference in the final texture).  If you are going to be pouring the yogurt into several containers, just make sure each one gets some of the yogurt blob.
  3. Pour into large glass jar(s).  Situate them, without lids, in a cooler or bucket of hot water, making sure it comes up as far on the jars as it can without floating them.  Cover with heavy towels or blankets and let them incubate for at least six hours, even overnight is fine as long as the heat is maintained.
  4. Refrigerate and enjoy!!!

Some folks use their homemade yogurt as their starter for the next batch, but I don’t.  I find more success with starting with a fresh culture, and I love the quality of Fiddle Creek Dairy’s yogurt.  Their glass jars are also handy around the house or are readily recyclable!

So there you have it…less packaging waste, saved money, and a tasty, easy, healthy food!

 

And From the Kitchen…

Oh, how I love a plate of good food.  The catch is that, the better you become at cooking, the less fun going out to eat at most places is.  I thought of this as I proceeded to “fix” the bland guacamole at one restaurant, even going so far as to ask the waiter for some fresh lemon wedges.  A bit of salt, lemon juice, and hot pepper sauce later, there was a decent guacamole before me, but still not so near as good as homemade.  Not.  Near.

Make some:

Mash avocados.  Douse with fresh lemon juice (don’t even think of the plastic lemon full of bitter juice, just don’t), maybe one lemon for every three avocados.  Mince white onion, mix a spoonful of sugar into it and squeeze the mass with your hands (extracts the excess sulfur).  Pour hot water over the onions and let it sit for a bit.  Rinse thoroughly with cold water, pat dry, and add to the bowl (this is a latin american trick I learned living in Chile and it really lets the onions showcase their taste without overwhelming other flavors).  Mince 1 jalapeño and 1 tomato for every avocado used and add those too.  Mince cilantro, at least a 1/4 c. per avocado and add that.  Mix all that deliciousness together.  Now the salt…don’t skimp on the salt, you want to bring those flavors out into full bloom.  Test with a tortilla chip, to take it’s own salty quotient into the equation.  Taste, eyes rolling back and an involuntary groan of pleasure escaping.

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Now going to authentic ethnic restaurants is rarely disappointing and most usually my reactions to what is set before me are downright comical.  I simply cannot stop sighing and exclaiming and groaning with delight.  I am Bob from “What About Bob?”.  I can’t help it.  When a tikka masala is creamy and spicy and exquisitely complex, when the jasmine rice is al dente and fragrant, when the naan is hot from the oven, and when the cucumber sauce on the gyro dribbles it’s dilly goodness down my throat, I am undone.  Can’t.  Contain.  The.  Joy.

But I am no thorough food snob.  McDonald’s french fries, when they’re piping hot and salty, are heavenly.  And there is something about spicy nacho Doritos inserted inside a turkey sandwich on a hot summer’s day that is just rockin’.  Don’t get me started the simple pleasure of Dr. Pepper in a glass with ice alongside pizza.  Or Butterfingers.  Mercy.

And now I give you my favorite salad, which is painless to make and is made nearly daily in our home to add zing to the meal:

Cut up some lettuce and/or spinach, cabbage, avocados, tomatoes, shredded carrots, julienned celery, whatever you have on hand, and throw it all in a bowl.  Chop up some green onions or garlic chives and add to the bowl.  Mince some parsley or cilantro or both and sprinkle that in.  Juice a lemon into a separate bowl and stir an equal quantity of a mild oil to the juice (safflower, sunflower, or light olive work great).  Stir about a 1/4 tsp salt in and get it emulsified with a mini whisk or fork.  Pour over the salad.  Test for saltiness; add more if the flavors aren’t zinging, or more lemon.  This zingy salad pairs so well with creamy, heavy, or cheesy dishes, awakening your palate every few bites with it’s zest and freshness.  My children fight over the seconds.  This pleases me much.  I’m so addicted to these flavors that I will order salads at restaurants with a side of lemon wedges so that I can make this (more or less) with the oil and salt at the table.

The downside to all this culinary happiness and productivity is that my children cannot be tempted by the offer of Hey kids, how about cereal for dinner? or Why don’t we just have some ice cream instead of making a big meal?  No, they will give me a withering look and ask plainly for real food.  So here’s the desperate quick fixes for those tired evenings when the palate is still annoyingly expectant:

Parmesan Pleasure-  Boil pasta just to al dente; nothing worse than a floppy noodle mushing about in your mouth (shudder).  Top with grated fresh parmesan, chopped tomatoes, salt, and a splash of greek dressing.  Comfort food for sure.

Pizza-tilla-  Spread pizza sauce on tortillas or english muffin halves, or crackers, top with cheese and whatever toppings you have on hand.  Bake until crispy and bubbly.  A bit of minced onion, diced ham, and pineapple on top amps the flavor Caribbean-style.

Tabla Supper-  Cut up leftover meats, chicken, cheese, sausages, and serve alongside chopped chunks of cheese, pickles, and crackers.  Mix honey and mustard together, get out some horseradish and honey and jams and lay out everything on a big wooden board and taste the night away.

Burrito Rapido-  Mix a can of refried beans together with a can of chopped chilies and get it heating in a skillet.  Stir in shredded cheddar and some canned salsa.  Slap that savory filling into tortillas and serve with sour cream galore and more salsa.  Yum.

And so, here’s a glimpse from my kitchen, from my life as a groaning gourmand.  May your day be tasty.

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Black Toothpaste, I Kid You Not

I can’t stop licking my teeth.  They’re so smooth, so clean.  Charcoal toothpaste.  Move aside Crest and Colgate and even Tom’s of Maine.  You’ve never made me so fresh-from-the-dentist clean before.  Why charcoal?

It’s not from our barbecue grill, I assure you, not the same stuff.  It’s activated charcoal which is a handy (and potentially life-saving) thing to have around.  It’s kept in ambulances to deal with poisonings, anaphylactic reactions to allergens, and snake bites.  Think of it as a toxin magnet; it busily goes through your system adhering the bad stuff to itself and sweeping it on out.  Oh, and it’ll take your worms out too, as a side job.  And it whitens the teeth.  Go ahead, order some online, I’ll wait.

I looked at several recipes for the perfect paste on natural living blogs and took some of their ideas and tweaked them a bit.  Here’s my version, which is tasty, slightly sweet, and minty:

Charcoal Toothpaste

1/4 c. baking soda

1 tsp. salt (I like unrefined salts for their minerals and texture)

1 tsp. activated charcoal (you can find this loose or in capsules)

2 generous T. of coconut oil (or enough to make a paste of your preferred consistency)

6 drops of spearmint or peppermint essential oil

packet of pure stevia (optional, though if you have kids or prefer a bit of sweetness, this will be an easier sell…not that pitch black toothpaste is unappealing…ha!)

-Mix the dry ingredients together, then add the rest, rubbing together with the back of a spoon or with a pestle.  Plop it into an old baby food jar and prepare to dazzle your family. Only a pea-sized amount is needed, so just dip the tip of your toothbrush in.  You may want to teach them all to spit into the trashcan if cleaning up black spittle isn’t your cup of tea.

The best part for me?  No more gagging on foam.  Yes, one of my top pregnancy side effects is gagging while brushing because the foam tickles the back of my throat.  Oh, and the slick clean teeth and lingering minty freshness.

I also made deodorant and eyeliner today.  Because I can.  Happy Thursday to you!