Life's Little Details: Knitting, Sewing, Green Living, Frugal Living and Cooking In A Little Corner of Southern French Countryside.

Monday, March 26, 2007

A Little Pick-Me-Up

It has been pointed out to me that I appeared a little down in that last post. I guess I was, actually, but it has since passed. It's a hazard of the job. Being a stay-at-home mommy can get me down sometimes. I'm pretty much a people-person, at heart, and I need conversation (particularly with adults) from time to time to be my happiest. Last week was a bit difficult in that regard, because Lambchop #2 was sick, and we stayed in most of the week. I was going a little stir-crazy by Friday, when that post was written. I've since gotten out to see the world and the people who inhabit it, and all is good now.

Plus, last night I baked, and how could things not improve with fresh brownies and scones in the house? The recipes both come from a couple of those culinary mystery novels (never heard of that? - it does exist). For me, they actually came from a newspaper clipping my aunt gave me several years ago. It's the first time I've tried either recipe, and they're both good. Why I never made them before is beyond me. The scones have lavender in them. Yum. Very exotic and very Southern. Well, the South of France, anyway. They made a tasty breakfast with my morning green tea. And, the brownies are chewy and moist, and just looking at that picture makes me want to dive in and devour the entire 9"X13" dish of them - with a glass of milk.

I also made fresh yogurt last night. Before this week, I had made my own yogurt only twice in the past. It never set as well as I had wanted, so it didn't become a habit. This week, I made yogurt twice. It was that good. In fact, it was so good that I made two batches the second time around. Lambchop #1 could eat her weight in this stuff and begs for more and more and more. Oh, and did I mention that is without adding any sugar or flavoring to it? A five-year-old begging for more plain yogurt. Now, that's good yogurt. My mother called while I was preparing it, and she sounded very intrigued, or perhaps confused. It made me realize that many people don't know what it would mean to make your own yogurt. It's actually quite simple and not extremely time-consuming. You can mix up a batch before bed and slip it in the fridge upon waking. Aside from washing the yogurt containers, it's pretty hassle free.

Here are some instructions for you to follow, in case you might want to try it on your own:

-1 store-bought plain yogurt (make it something good with active cultures: an all-organic Stonyfield Farms or Brown Cow or something - the better the store-bought yogurt, the better the homemade one)
-1 liter milk - about 4 cups (I have tried non-fat, whole and lowfat - whole sets up the best, tastes the best and is creamier, and organic sure is nice)
-enough jelly jars (or other glass recipient with lid) to hold yogurt, sterilized
-a couple of larger jars to hold hot water
-2 towels
-1 camping cooler

Start by boiling the milk in a pot large enough to allow it to boil without foaming all over the kitchen (if you're using non-fat milk, you'll want to add some powdered milk so the yogurt will thick, not runny - this is why I prefer whole milk). Bring it to a boil and allow it to foam and boil a couple of minutes. While it's boiling, wash the little jars and pour boiling water over them and their lids. You can let them cool in the sink while you boil the milk (I don't boil my jars and lids to sterilize them, because they just end up white with our hard water - this method appears to do the trick well enough).

After the jars are washed and milk is boiled, go type a blog post or something while they cool. Allow the milk to cool down till it's at about 80F. Our cheese thermometer is still in the old house, so I just tested the temperature on my skin. You can do like you would with a baby bottle and drip some on the sensitive skin of the inside of your wrist (keeping in mind that body temperature is 98.6F). [edited to add: I just took a look at Liz's tutorial and saw that she likes it at 116F when she adds the starter - surely she has a good reason for this. I wasn't using any sort of recipe when I did this, which is probably where she got her temp from, but it did work at some temp slightly cooler than 98.6F.] When it's cooled enough, add the store-bought yogurt (Liz also put in 2 tbsps - I'm sort of an inexact cook, in general, so...). I just used the whole cup of it (not a measuring cup - but the cup it comes in, which was 125 g or 4.4 ounces), but with some American sizes for yogurt cups, you could probably go with half or less. Stir the yogurt into your milk with a wire whisk. Then, pour the milk into each little jar you have prepared. Seal them with their lids, and place them in a cooler you have put a towel in (just folded in the bottom of the cooler is fine).

Then, pour some boiling water into the larger jars and seal them. Place them in the cooler with the yogurt jars, lay a second towel over the top and close the lid. Slide your cooler out of the way, so no one trips on it. Go to bed, get your 7-8 hours of beauty sleep, and wake up bright and early to slip them in the fridge. It takes them about 7 hours to set up nicely, so sleeping is a wonderful activity for the waiting period. It keeps you from getting curious and opening the lid to check them. This causes the cooler to lose heat, which isn't so great, since it's needed to make them set up.

Next time you make your own yogurt, you can use some of your last batch as the starter. When you notice your yogurts getting a funky taste (maybe a little more sour than usual), you'll want to buy a store-bought one to start your next batch.

Note: I have to thank Liz for her idea of putting the towels in with the jars full of boiling water. The other method I had previously used (and read online somewhere) was to submerge them in hot water that you've poured into the cooler. This did not maintain heat nearly as well and was messier (I had to open the cooler from time to time to add more warm water). Liz's method was very hassle free, and with my electric kettle, it's all very quick.

Now that you've seen how it's done, you're probably wondering why on earth one would go through the trouble. Well, for starters, this yogurt is delicious. Plus, you know exactly what you put in it. Can you say that about every store-bought brand? You can also vary the flavors to your liking. Put a little of your favorite sugar-free jelly in the bottom, if you want. That way, you can get the sugar-free yogurt you want without the bizarre chemical sugar substitutes you don't want. I'm planning on cooking some banana to mix in on the next batch (I've only ever tasted banana yogurt with YoBaby, and it's delicious but a little too sugary for my taste). For that, I'll start by trying it with one cooked and puréed banana per liter of milk and mix it in with the store-bought yogurt. We'll see how that goes and adjust the amount from there, but we usually just drop a teaspoon of jelly or honey on top and stir.

Now, let's talk money. I've thought this through, and it's quite a money saver to make your own yogurt if you eat it frequently. We do. The kids love it, and we're always running out. We've always got milk on hand, though, because they sell it in that long-life packaging that doesn't need refrigerating here. So, in a way, it's even more convenient. But, what about price? Is it really worth the time it takes to make it?

Here, it costs about 2.00 euros (or even higher) to buy four cups of organic yogurt. Eight of them equals a liter (it's hard to get it in large containers - they mostly sell the single serving cups). To buy a liter of organic milk, it costs about 1 euro or so (but can be as high as 1.20 euros). After that first batch, when you're using your own yogurt to make new batches, you're only counting the price of the milk (it'll be a little more for your first batch). So, purchasing a liter's worth of organic yogurt is about 4.00 euros, whereas a liter of organic milk is about a quarter of the price. Per liter, you're saving about 3 euros. It takes maybe 20 minutes in terms of working time to make a batch of homemade yogurt. So, if you made three batches on three different days, you'd have worked an hour, but you would have saved 9 euros.

If you eat a lot of yogurt, like we do, it's in your best interest to make 2 batches at a time. It probably adds 5-10 extra minutes onto your total prep time to do so. So, making it twice, you've spent a maximum of 1 hour to make 4 liters (about a gallon) of yogurt. So, you spent about 4 euros for the milk instead of the 16 euros you would have shelled out to buy those four liters of yogurt. So, there you're saving 12 euros an hour or more. I've worked many a job where I made less money per hour doing something less interesting with my time. So, for me, it's well-worth the effort for such a tasty end result.

I can't find any pricing information on non-organic yogurts, but experience tells me that you could easily make the organic yogurt yourself for the price of plain, non-organic yogurt at the store - probably even a little cheaper. So, you're upping the quality and lowering the price or at least keeping it the same. Seems like a good deal to me.

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