Getting Cultured – Making Yogurt

Cultured – an adjective meaning:

  • enlightened; refined
  • nurtured or grown
  • cultivated; tilled

I stare at the directions wondering if this is a huge waste of time.  Maybe I should just go to bed.  Everyone else is already asleep.  I look down at the milk that’s beginning to steam in my favorite saucepan.  There is no turning back now.

Slowly heat the milk to 180 degrees F.  Then bring the temp down to 110 F using a water bath.  Now stir in the yogurt.

The yogurt plops in and I begin to stir.  I quickly realize the thick Greek yogurt I am using should have been thinned a bit with the warm milk before adding it to the whole pot.  It would have blended in much better if it was a thinner consistency.  I will remember that for next time.

Pour into sterilized glass jars and incubate at 110 degrees for 8-12 hours…

I had to think about this one for a while beforehand.  I did some research online and discovered several different methods for making yogurt.  All of them agree on two key concepts.

  1. you must keep the yogurt warm for the whole incubation time and
  2. don’t move, jostle or look in its direction until its done or bad things happen.

I don’t have a heating pad, my oven wont maintain a temp that low (110F) and I would rather not have to fiddle with the yogurt in the middle of the night so no crock pot either.  I figure I am going to have to jerry-rig something else.

This is what I came up with.

I preheat the oven to 200 degrees (the lowest temp for my oven) and pour the yogurt into a sterilized quart Bell Jar.  This I placed in the center of my big stockpot.  I have a bunch of those rice/flax-seed muscle packs you heat in the microwave, so I tossed two of my big ones in the microwave.  When they were hot I packed them around the jar in the pot.  Then I covered the rice packs with a towel to trap the heat around the jar, leaving the jar mouth uncovered in the center.  The lid went on the stock pot and I put it in my oven with the oven turned off, but still preheated.  I finally went to bed and left the yogurt to culture all night.

The next morning.

I went straight to the kitchen and opened the oven.  Off came the lid.  I expected a ripe sour milk odor, but got only a slight whiff of sweet milk overpowered by the smell of hot rice.  The yogurt looked, well, like yogurt.  I lifted the jar and walked over to the window.  With better light I could see a tiny layer of whey on the top with a thicker solid mass below.  I shook the jar lightly.  Yup, that’s a solid mass.  I tried to push away all the rules I was taught as a kid about drinking milk that had been left out longer then four hours.  “You can get sick!” I was warned.

I assured myself that I pasteurized the milk and the jars, so it should be fine and plunged a spoon into the jar.  The solid mass wasn’t so solid.  It was actually… creamy and slightly lumpy.  I stirred the yogurt well and brought the spoon to eye level.

Well, here we go.  I licked the spoon.  Wow, less tart than I expected.  Actually not really that tart at all.  I pour some out into a bowl and take a larger bite.  It’s really good.  Far better than I expected.  Thinner then most yogurt and could be thickened by draining for a few hours in cheesecloth.  Actually, if I drain some overnight I could have yogurt cheese in the morning!  I love yogurt cheese!  I pull out the last of my cheesecloth and begin preparing for tomorrow’s yogurt cheese.

Yogurt

Makes 1 quart of yogurt.

  • 1 quart (4 cups) of milk, whole or 2% fat.  Try not to use ultra-pasteurized milk.  It doesn’t usually come out right.
  • 1/4 cup Greek yogurt, use high quality because you are only buying it once and you want to make high quality yogurt.
  • thermometer, not required, but extremely stress reducing.
  • cold water bath with ice

1.  Clip a cooking thermometer to a medium-sized saucepan. Slowly warm 1 quart of milk on med-low heat,  stirring occasionally.

2.  While the milk is warming, measure 1/4 cup of high quality greek yogurt into a small bowl.  Set aside.

3.  When the milk reaches 180 degrees F, which should take 20-30 minutes depending on your elevation, remove from the heat and set the saucepan in the cold water bath.  Be careful not to get any water in the milk.  Bring the temp down to 110 degrees F.  Remove from the cold bath and set aside.  Stir a few tablespoons of warm milk into the bowl of yogurt to thin it.  Then pour the yogurt into the pot of milk and stir well.

4.  Pour milk/yogurt mixture into a clean quart sized jar.  There are several ways to incubate the yogurt.  I have had success with the above oven method and with the thermos method (I used a small ice chest).  I leave my lids off when I use the oven method to reduce condensation in the jars, but when I use hot water in my ice chest I like to put the lids on to reduce possible contamination from the water.  Both ways work fine.

5.  Store in the refrigerator and use within 1-2 weeks.  When you have about 1/4 cup of yogurt left make more yogurt!  Use your remaining yogurt as your starter. 

Yogurt Cheese

  • yogurt
  • cheesecloth
  • small bowl
  • seasonings

Line a bowl with 4 layers of cheesecloth.  Pour half a quart of yogurt into the cheesecloth and gather the corners at the top.  Tie closed with some string and hang over a bowl in the fridge.  I usually tie the string to something on the fridge shelf, like a support, and place a bowl underneath to collect the whey.

After 24 hours untie the cheesecloth and remove the cheese.  Place into a bowl and add a little salt.  Other flavorings can be added at this time including roasted bell peppers or garlic, herbs, or just a little pepper.  Serve with flat bread or chips.  Use within the week.

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*** For those of you who are lactose intolerant, I have read that although most commercially made yogurt contains some lactose, making your own yogurt will give you virtually lactose free product.  This has to do with the longer fermentation time in home yogurt making.  The longer you ferment the less lactose you will have.  Try fermenting for 24 hours.  It’s worth a try if you miss eating yogurt.

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Deep Chocolate Brownies for Big Boys

Deep Chocolate Brownies

It is almost dinner time and I am chopping carrots for stir fry when Tom walks though the garage door chattering away on his bluetooth.  He waves and blows me a kiss as he heads into the backyard with a falcon.  Another work phone call.  Or so I thought.  A few minutes later he is back through the door.

“D- is coming to visit on his way back to Oregon.  He should be here Friday afternoon.”

He is trying to keep his voice steady, but his bright eyes and flushed cheeks betray him.  As much as he tries to control it I can feel the joy radiating from him.  D- is Tom’s best friend and has spent most of the last 6 years fighting with the 82nd Airborne in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He has faced death far too many times for a young man and come through it miraculously alive, although not untouched physically, mentally and spiritually.  His service term has finished and with many battle scars he is finally home for good.

When I hear Tom’s words painful memories of my own best friend John, killed in Iraq on St. Patrick’s day 2007, are brought to the surface.  I can still see his smiling face as he runs down the grassy field at our high school.  Suddenly he springs into one back-handspring after the next without stopping until he reached the fence line where he always landed on his feet eyes wild with adrenaline.

“Really, that’s great!  It will be nice to see him.” I move in for a hug.  His arms encircle me and for a moment I feel myself try to soak him in closer to me.  My mind fantasizing that perhaps if I imagined hard enough I could squeeze him into myself and never let him go.  That is, until a sour acrid odor invades my nose.  Laughing I push him away, “Yuck! You stink like falcon crap and the landfill.  Go shower so I can hug you!”

Feeling mildly disgusted as well as blissfully happy, I head back into the kitchen to wash up and find something special to make for D-. If I remember correctly, chocolate was his favorite.  I began to rustle through my recipe box.  Yes, here it is.  A perfect choice.

(Click on recipe card to save and print.  It is designed to be printed on 5×7 photo paper and stuck in a card file, on the fridge or given to a friend.)

Deep Chocolate Brownies

  • 1 stick of butter, cut into pieces
  • 10 oz of Dark Chocolate, cut into pieces or chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped (optional)
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips (optional)

Supplies

  • medium-sized metal mixing bowl
  • small saucepan
  • wooden spoon or scraper
  • aluminum foil or parchment paper
  • 8×8 baking dish

Preheat oven to 325F.  Line 8×8 pan with foil or parchment paper.

Melt chocolate and butter together in a double boiler.  I use a metal bowl and a small saucepan for this step. After they are completely melted and combined remove from heat and add sugar.  Mix well.

Stir in eggs one at a time, incorporating each in well before adding the next.  Stir in vanilla extract.

Stir in flour and salt mixing until almost combined.  Add walnuts and chocolate chips.  Mix until all flour is incorporated but try not to overmix.

Bake at 325F for 35-40 minutes.  Check for doneness with a toothpick.  You want the toothpick to come out dry with a couple of crumbs clinging to it.  Don’t over cook these.  Its better to slightly undercook then overcook these brownies.  Cool 45 minutes before slicing.

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Recipe adapted from The Good Cookie by Tish Boyle.