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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Healthy Green Eggs : no artificial food dyes

My kids love when I make them green eggs and ham, but I am really diligently trying to remove food dyes from our diet. This morning I was scouring our pantry for options and my eyes fell on our large container of organic spinach. I put the eggs in the blender (1 per person) and then added 1-2 cups of fresh leaf spinach and blended. I cooked it in a skillet normally and sprinkled on a bit of cheddar cheese. If you are wondering about taste, it really didn't change the taste much at all. The color kind of weirded me out, but I just tried not to stare at it!!!! The kids thought it was like a monster smoothie and asked for 2nds and 3rds. In the end, The kids loved it and I felt great about serving it to them!

Almond yogurt: FAIL

Well I promised to be honest even if I (sniff, sniff) fail. The almond milk yogurt I tried did fail. I did it exactly as the cow milk yogurt and it never set up during the incubation phase. I poured off a ton of water and continued to incubate it and it got slightly better. I blended it to make it less clumpy, then refrigerated it overnight. It looked MUCH better in the morning, tasted ok, but my dairy free daughter said it tasted funny so I threw it out not to take any chances. Let me know if any of you have any luck and I will keep on trying!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

How to make Homemade Yogurt

I have to admit I thought about this one for at least 2 years.  I checked into the fancy yogurt makers and kits, but everytime I got ready to buy one I got cold feet.  I really didn't want to make a huge investment into more kitchen equipment I don't have time, money or space for.  Greek yogurt is a staple in this house.  We run out of it every 4 to 5 days and I buy it by the dozen single serve fruit flavor packs and by the quart in the plain or vanilla variety.  Recently I decided to look at creating it from home again, but this time I took the plunge.  I spent a few weeks researching the hows and ways and landed on the easiest and cheapest.  If you follow the directions it is a NO FAIL way to make yogurt without ANY investment into new stuff for your kitchen. 
The best way I could describe the taste is fresh yogurt vs. commercial brands is like fresh bread from the oven vs. store bought.  The cost breakdown is $.29 per oz. for store bought vs. $.05 homemade per oz.   If I haven't convinced you yet, it is only 2 ingredients: milk (ANY KIND!!!!) and a starter yogurt with live/active bacteria cultures.  That is it!  No crazy chemicals or preservatives, just milk and yogurt. 
Here is the how to:

• 1/2 gallon milk - whole or 2% are best, but any milk will work (i.e. coconut, almond, soy, or skim)
• 1/2 cup commercial yogurt - be sure that the yogurt contains active cultures

1. Heat the Milk - In your saucepan or dutch oven, heat the milk to right below boiling, 200°F. Stir the milk gently as it heats to make sure the bottom doesn't scorch and the milk doesn't boil over. According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, this heating step is necessary to change the protein structure in the milk so it sets as a solid instead of separating.  You are also killing off the bad bacteria so that only to good bacteria grows during the incubation period.

2. Cool the Milk - Let the milk cool until it is just hot to the touch, 112°F - 115°F. This goes faster if you set the pan over an ice bath in the kitchen sink and gently stir the milk.

3. Inoculate the Milk - Pour about a cup of the warm milk into a small bowl and whisk it with the yogurt. Once it's smooth, whisk this back into the pan of milk. ( I didn't do it like this, I just whisked it into the pan all at once and mine turned out just fine.)

4. Incubate the Yogurt - Now comes the long wait period where the milk actually transforms into yogurt. The trick is keeping the milk around 110°F until it has set, usually 4-6 hours. Commercial incubating equipment is handy for maintaining a consistent temperature, but not necessary.  First, warm the oven to about 115° (an oven thermometer helps to know when the oven is heated). Put the lid on the dutch oven or saucepan with your inoculated milk and wrap the whole pot in a few layers of towels. These will insulate the pot and keep it warm. Set this bundle in the warmed (but turned off!) oven and set the timer. It's important not to jostle the milk too much as it's incubating so that it sets properly - the temptation to peek is so hard to resist!  (I did peak and even removed it warmed it, rewrapped it and put it back and it worked just fine.)

The longer the yogurt sits, the thicker and more tangy it will become. Check it around the 4-hour mark and give it a taste. The texture should be creamy, like a barely-set custard, and the flavor will be tart yet milky. If you like it, pull it out. If you'd like it tangier, leave it for another hour or two. It would be good to make yogurt overnight, putting it in the oven around midnight and taking it out when you get up in the morning should be about right.  It really is easier than you think to maintain the temperature without a fancy yogurt machine.  There are many different ways to do it (like in a crock pot or with a heating pad) so, I suggest you do your own research before you begin. 

5. Cool the Yogurt - If you cool the yogurt in the same container you incubated it in, you should end up with a smoother end result. Once it's completely chilled, transfer it to air tight containers for easier storage. Sometimes there will be a film of watery whey on top of the yogurt. You can strain or pour this off or just stir it back into the yogurt. Yogurt lasts about two weeks in the refrigerator.

I used pint mason jars and it was perfect, and nothing to transfer!  Then, I can add different flavors with fruit preserves or leave it plain for cooking without disturbing the other jars. 

Homemade yogurt taunted me with the fear of opening the jar and seeing (and smelling) something that would resemble a 2 week old sippy cup found under the couch with what looked like the cheese touch from Diary of a Wimpy Kid!!!  What helped me decide to finally do it was reading a comment from a blogger that said "If you wouldn't try it, just throw it out and start over."  I thought, well if a little milk and a starter yogurt are all I am wasting, I am willing to try it!

Most of all have fun trying it. I really did feel accomplished by finally conquering this recipe! There are so many blogs and how to's out there, check them out!

(This is the blog I followed for my first try: