RSS Feed

Category Archives: Economical

How exactly did 2013 end so quickly?

The annual “year in review” by WordPress was inspiration enough to reflect back over the past year and all of the blog posts I didn’t do. Kind of an easy reflection when you consider all the times I thought of posting, but something else was always more important. So goes life.

Image2013 was a year like many, filled with both good and bad. The highlight of the good was most certainly my wedding – tying the knot (twice) – both legally in Washington State – and locally here at home for family and friends. After 15 happy years of cooking together, making a lifetime of it seemed like a safe conclusion to make. The bad (which no one ever wants to highlight) would be cancer diagnosis of a dear friend, a number of injuries to this aging body, and far too many meals of frozen dinners and packaged mixes.

While shopping for groceries just the other day I went to my blog to look up one of my favorite recipes for chicken chili. You see the local wedding of 70, catered by one of our favorite restaurants Smoke Shack, produced enough smoked chicken leftovers (now portioned out in our freezer) that we either needed to have another big party or I needed to do some serious cooking. Alas, said recipe was no where to be found. This is a quick recipe when it comes to chicken leftovers, and perfect for a very cold Wisconsin winter’s NY eve.

So here it is, my one blog posting to bid farewell to 2013 and usher in a year that I hope will mean more meals together at home with my spouse, a lot of great friends, and our most loved families. Happy New Year!

Kickin’ (smoked) Chicken Chili

2# cooked chicken (leftovers) or 2 grilled chicken breasts

5 cups chicken broth (preferably homemade stock)

16 oz. Tomatillo salsa (again, homemade if seasonal)

1 or 2 cans great northern or any white beans (for me – not from scratch)

1 cup chopped onion

6 cloves garlic, minced

3 peppers of your choice (jalapeño, poblano, dried chili, etc.)

1 green or red pepper (again, your preference)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon white pepper

Remove meat from chicken carcass and shred into small pieces.

Heat olive oil in a large soup pot and add all chopped peppers and onion. Cook for 10 minutes until soft. Add chopped garlic and cook for another 5 minutes.

Add the chicken broth, chopped chicken, tomatillo salsa, spices and sugar. Bring to a boil and then turn town to a medium simmer without a cover. Simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally.

Add one can of beans. If the chili seems to thin, add two. If too thick after two, add a bit more water. Simmer another 10 minutes or so until beans heat up.

Add cilantro to the entire pot, and serve. Image

Six Months Later…

Although it seems like only yesterday it’s actually been six months since I ended my Year of Inconvenience. I continue to have people stop and ask me from time-to-time, how the “cooking from scratch” is going, or if I’ve continued with any of the routines I had grown accustomed to during that one very long year of my life. Sometimes I’m asked those questions while I’m shopping – my cart brimming with canned goods, chips, deli salads, frozen pizza, and boxed cereal. I’ve since learned to hide all of those items under the bulk rolled oats, flour, and fresh produce (just in case).

I guess the bright side is that some of the things I learned in that year have really stuck with me. While sitting down to write this post my house is bathed in the sweet aroma of maple syrup and toasted pecans, as a batch of fresh made granola bakes away while the granola bars I made earlier still cool down next to the stovetop. Those are two of the items I continue to make from scratch whenever needed, even though they are just as easy to buy as all of the other items that line our pantry shelves.

Speaking of the pantry, just one look and you can see how things have changed over the past six months compared to eighteen months ago. Canned beans and mushrooms balance nicely beside the jars of nuts, dried beans, and flour. Tucked safely behind the toaster is my “snack corner” – a plethora of salty choices I had to previously do without – and instead make a batch of popcorn whenever the munchie craving struck me. There really isn’t much room in the pantry for all of the jars of bulk foods, additional cookbooks I collected that year, and the newly added canned goods. But that’s the way it is now, the blending of two distinct ways of getting food on the table, either slowly from scratch or semi-conveniently.

While the pantry isn’t as organized as it was last year neither am I. Two necessary evils that cooking from scratch really forces one into are organization and planning.  In fact without the meal planning it’s just too easy to look at your significant other after a long day of work and say, “I’m so tired, let’s just pick up a frozen pizza.” Ah pizza, the dish I swore I would never return to in it’s frozen form. We’ve probably made a ratio of 2:1 frozen to fresh pizzas over the past six months. Without the planning and preparation of sauce in advance, let alone planning enough prep time for the dough to rise, that box of Connie’s Pizza is just too tempting of a backup plan. And so I give in.

The other thing I swore, I mean seriously promised to continue to make from scratch every week was bread. The first time we ran out of bread (which was probably in late May when the farmers markets opened up) I gave myself permission to buy a loaf from the market, since the bakery they were selling was obviously made them from scratch that morning. Lightening didn’t strike me as I handed over my money in exchange for that crusty loaf of multi-grain goodness, nobody judged me – I mean really – it was just too easy to get away with. We did that for several weeks at the market and by July the summer heat and my social calendar gave me even more reasons to make excuses to not bake bread. When the markets closed in late September I knew I either had to start baking bread again or make up a new excuse to buy it. Needless to say it’s November now and my bread pans remain as cold as my convenience-oriented heart.

I have had some other successes in sticking with the from-scratch routine, such as back in September when my Mom delivered a 5-gallon bucket filled with tomatoes from my brother’s garden. We cooked that down all day into some delicious sauce while the same day a neighborhood friend also brought over about 2 pounds of cherry tomatoes just gleaned from the remaining plants in her garden. Those sweet little things got roasted with garlic, olive oil, some fresh oregano and rosemary, and we packed them in small batches to freeze for use on our fresh pizza. The warm autumn weather in Wisconsin this year just kept on producing more and more tomatoes, and we processed one additional batch we received from a farmer-friend. Where was this abundance of free tomatoes when I really needed them back in August of 2010?

Well life does indeed go on and I’m recommitting to return to that path of real food love whenever possible. In fact I still have my list of things I never did try making during that year (nor have I ever made before) that still warrant discovery – like home brewed beer, layer cake, vinegar, mayonnaise…

52 Weeks By The Numbers

Posted on

Let the countdown begin. When I began my year of inconvenience I thought it might be interesting if I kept track of the quantity of staples I was buying and making. Not everything mind you, but mainly the items I would have typically purchased conveniently at the supermarket (or in this case at my co-op). I’m pretty sure I missed tracking a number of items, or at least it feels that way now recalling how many weeks these items were part of my at times, frustrating routine.

Here’s a glimpse into my 52 weeks of inconvenience, primarily cooking or baking for just the two of us (although some food items became gifts, while others were served to our dinner guests. I started to provide links to the recipes below, but decided instead to develop a recipe listing in one of my future posts just to stretch this out a bit further.

Ingredients Made From Scratch
40pounds of flour(14 lbs. whole wheat flour and 26 lbs. white flour) 40 loaves of sandwich bread, 7 loaves of cinnamon raisin bread, 3 loaves banana bread, 6 Christmas Stollens, 24 hamburger buns, 24 flour tortillas, 24 popovers, 18 bagels, 12 pita breads, 12 pizza crusts, 4 batches flax seed crackers, 2 batches chocolate graham crackers, 8 crusts for chicken pot pies, and 4 pounds of pasta. Oh, and a crazy cake, cinnamon rolls, cookies, and I’m sure I missed a few other things as well. Whew!
52 pounds of tomatoes 144 ounces diced tomatoes, 96 ounces tomato sauce, 80 ounces pizza sauce, 54 ounces pasta sauce, 28 ounces roasted tomatoes. And I was worried I wouldn’t have enough to last.
8 pounds of rolled oats, 5 pounds of pecans 21 pounds of granola8 batches of granola bars (200 of 2×2 squares)The rest of the pecans were used in the Christmas Stollen
5 pounds Masa 7 batches (80) corn tortillas. I love making these and likely will not go back to buying them pre-made.
13 pounds of whole chickens and 13 pounds of turkey breast About 4 chicken and turkey dinners as well as leftovers for sandwiches, soup, and stock.
448 ounces (or 56 cups) of stock Chicken soup, veggie soup, turkey soup, lamb stew, tomatillo pork stew, chicken pot pies, dozens of rice dishes and other crock pot dishes
48 Tablespoons or 24 ounces Instant yeast Sandwich bread, cinnamon raisin bread, stolen, hamburger buns, bagels, pita bread, pizza crusts.
52 ounces honey Breads, 8 batches of granola bars (200 squares)
48 ounces maple syrup Granola (sweetener) and pancakes. Life is so sweet.
10 pounds fair trade sugar Okay that number should scare me into a five-mile hike. Yikes, that’s a lot of baking.
3 pounds (48 ounces) brown sugar Granola, some breads, granola bars, cookies
8 pounds (256 tablespoons) unsalted butter Wow, really? What did I make with all that butter? I only use unsalted for baking and some cooking. And I wonder why I gained 6 pounds this past year…
97 ounces or 12 cups of olive oil Salad dressing, marinades, pasta sauce, and all of those made from scratch dinners.
20 dozen eggs (that’s 240) Okay, if Lisa and I averaged 4 eggs/week total for breakfast that would be understandable. Many, many eggs were used in baking and pasta – and the rest made for some great breakfasts.

My year ended on April 17, and I still have some of the tomatoes and chicken stock in my basement freezer. I remember when I was so worried about putting up enough tomatoes last summer, to last me through the winter, and much to my surprise I didn’t use them all. We’ve eaten a few meals over the past two weeks (since the year officially ended) that were part of my stocking up on frozen dinners. Things like curried chicken pot pie, turkey meatloaf, turkey noodle soup, and pork carnitas have added a bit of value to what might have otherwise been a convenience food splurge for me.

In fact, over the past two weeks not a whole lot has changed for me… uhm yet. I baked two breads, made a batch of granola, one pizza, a number of from-scratch dinners, and averaged at least 3 out of 7 lunches from scratch each week. What did change is that I purchased pasta, chips, salsa, breakfast cereal, canned beans, a few salads and one sandwich from my co-op. I have a half-gallon of milk in the refrigerator right now for making yogurt (tonight) and I also think twice before buying anything convenient, partly out of habit and partially out of guilt. Could I actually be a changed woman? Only the next 50 weeks will tell for certain.

Week 45 – Hamburger Help Her (Recipe)

Posted on

Looking for an easy meal to make? Time to reach for your Hamburger Helper. Wrong answer – that’s a convenience food, and quite honestly I have never in my entire adult life used that product. So what’s a girl to do?

When you’re cooking everything from scratch the only “easy” meal to make when you get home late from work usually consists of a protein, vegetable and starch. I’ve been getting pretty tired of that kind of “easy” meal now 45 weeks into my challenge, as well as reverting to the same old frozen leftovers. So this week I was determined to look my arch nemesis straight in the… uhm… I was determined to overcome my fear of failure for the third time, making pasta from scratch. I decided on an easier topping for my pasta, one that could be made in about 20-30 minutes or so from start to finish. I don’t think I’ve had beef stroganoff for a couple of years now, ever since I began working on shedding a few pounds, so I wanted to make something that was lower in fat and calories.

Intimidating, me?

Bison, for those of you really afraid of the notion of using this meat, is very, very, need I say VERY similar to ground beef. The flavor is almost indistinguishable so get over that fear right now. The American Heart Association (and Outpost’s nutritionist Judy Mayer) recommends bison as a healthy alternative to beef, as it’s lower in fat and cholesterol. A three-ounce serving of bison is only 143 calories, compared with ground beef at 211, and has only 2.42 grams of fat, compared to 9.3 grams in ground beef. There, have I convinced you yet?

The other product I substituted in the original recipe (from Cooking Light) was non-fat strained yogurt in place of the sour cream. Straining it through cheesecloth for about 45 minutes (or overnight if you plan this meal ahead) gives you the thick consistency of sour cream without the calories (120 calories in a cup of nonfat yogurt compared to 280 calories in a cup of low-fat sour cream).

Now if you’re committed to make everything from scratch in this recipe, you’ll need to have some beef broth made ahead of time (frozen) and you really need to mix your pasta dough first before you do anything else. I finally found a dough recipe that works (thank you Gourmet) and the key I believe is to let the dough rest after kneading – which this recipe calls for resting for one hour. So that doesn’t make this a really quick meal now does it? Well it does if you make the pasta ahead of time since you can refrigerate it fresh for a few days or freeze it for later. Or if you’re like me, you plan on 1 ½ hours total, starting with the pasta dough, and while it’s resting you make the stroganoff. I let my dough rest for 45 minutes and it worked just fine.

Look at me, all proud of my pasta. This from the girl who has been resenting it since the last failed batch a few meals ago. In fact just this past week I made a “pasta salad” from some frozen rigatoni I had made a month or so ago using my pasta play dough maker. The pasta was rather gummy so the salad did not look at all appetizing, so I was embarrassed to eat it in front of my co-workers at the lunch table. How I got the courage to try again, I don’t know. But I’m really glad I did try again. In fact I was so proud of myself I had to take a small bowl of cooked pasta into work to show my co-workers that I wasn’t as lame as I looked last week eating my sad, sad pasta salad.

Okay, now it’s time for you to try. This is really delicious, so get out there and make yourself a truly rewarding dinner. Believe me, you’ll impress the heck out of your dinner companion (do make sure you have one for this meal as they will think you are a culinary celebrity).

Fresh Egg Noodles

Do not even think you can deviate from this recipe. The eggs give it the silky noodle texture you need.

1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I used 00 pasta flour)

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons water

½ teaspoon salt

Place the flour on the surface of your table, preferably a wooden surface. Make a well in the center of the flour.

In the center of the well, add the salt and the eggs along with 1 tablespoon of the water. If you’re lucky, the eggs won’t break the wall of the well and start running towards the edge of the table like mine did. You’re lucky? Great, now gradually stir in enough flour into the eggs to begin to form a paste, pulling in flour closest to the egg mixture and being ever so careful not to make an opening in the outer wall of the well.

Knead the remaining flour into the mixture with your hands until it forms a ball, adding a few more drops of the remaining tablespoon of water at a time, until the dough softens. The dough should be firm but not sticky.

Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes. Cover it with an inverted bowl and let it stand for about one hour. This is an important step because it will allow the dough to relax and be easier to work with.

Divide the dough into 4 pieces, and keep whatever dough you are not rolling out covered by the bowl. Roll the dough with a wooden rolling pin, or through a pasta roller until very thin. The dough will tend to stretch and then spring back a little, so I held onto one end of the dough with the palm of my hand while using the rolling pin to stretch it. Flip the dough over as you roll. I didn’t need any flour during this process but if your dough is a little sticky you will need a small amount of flour. Use as little flour on the counter as possible.

Cut thin egg noodle size strips and set them to the side while you finish rolling out all of your dough. Cook in boiling water for about 5 minutes. They cook very quickly so keep your eye on them.

Bison Stroganoff (My Hamburger Help Her)

1 pound ground bison (or extra-lean ground beef)

1 cup chopped onion

8 oz. sliced cremini mushrooms

4 small cloves garlic (2 teaspoons), minced

1 cup beef broth, fat-free and low sodium

¾ cup strained non-fat yogurt

OR ¾ cup low-fat sour cream

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt or less if you’re using canned stock

¼ teaspoon fresh thyme

2 tablespoons dry sherry

Pepper to taste

Chopped parsley to garnish

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the bison or ground beef, breaking up the meat into smaller pieces while it browns.

When the meat is brown, add the onions, garlic, and mushrooms and continue to cook for about 4 minutes, until most of the liquid evaporates. Stir this mixture frequently. Add the salt.

Next, sprinkle the flour over the meat and cook for about one minute, stirring constantly. Your mixture should thicken up nicely with the flour.

Stir in the beef broth and sherry and bring the mixture to a boil. Once it boils, reduce the heat and let it simmer for a few more minutes. The broth will thicken up nicely at this point. Add pepper to taste.

Remove from the heat and stir in the yogurt or sour cream until combined.

Serve over homemade pasta, which you are incredible pleased that you made yourself and it turned out so perfectly!

Enjoy with your stroganoff because you made everything from scratch!

I had our nutritionist provide the nutritional breakdown on the stroganoff (per serving, recipe serves 6): 165 calories, 4 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 9 grams carbohydrates, 21 grams protein, 607 mg. sodium, 1 gram fiber, 83 mg calcium. (Without noodles)

Week 43 – Time For Sushi

It’s Valentines Day and while many people will have their hearts set on chocolate or cake or other sweet delectable’s of the day, I say there’s no better way to celebrate with your sweetie than with sushi.

Sushi is something I had given up for the year (the sushi made at my co-op), although I have been invited out to celebrate special occasions with friends where local sushi was the destination. Sushi also has a special place in my heart for Valentine’s Day. I met my sweetie for the first time about 16 years ago while I was sampling homemade sushi at one of our stores and she was sampling apple cider as one of our sales reps. It’s unfortunate I don’t have a strong recollection of the day or event – but that doesn’t mean a lasting impression wasn’t made – or that it was the beginning of the best of the rest of the years of my life!

To many people sushi means “raw fish” and if that were the case I would avoid it like the plague. My very first sushi experience was in 1983 when I went to a natural products trade show and was introduced to the great folks at Eden Foods. I was invited to a party they were sponsoring after hours at the show, and it was there I learned how to roll my first sushi roll. (Yes, it was sushi I was rolling.) It was filled with fresh vegetables, daikon radish, umeboshi plum paste – all flavors I had never had before that day. I instantly became a sushi convert.

So this year I made sushi for Valentine’s Day. And Lisa found another vintage garlic keeper on Ebay to replace last week’s unfortunate mishap. Life is really great!

Sushi Made Easy (really, it is easy)

1 package Sushi Nori

2 cups sushi rice or short-grain brown rice

¼ cup brown rice vinegar

Filling:

Fresh vegetables like avocado, cucumber, carrots, watercress, or lightly steamed asparagus

Cream cheese, smoked salmon, steamed shrimp

Accompaniments:

Wasabi (a spicy hot green Japanese mustard)

Soy Sauce

Pickled Ginger

 

Cook the rice, 1 cup of rice to 2 cups water. If cooking brown rice it will take twice the amount of time as white sushi rice. Sushi rice cooks in about 25 minutes. Brown rice will take about 40 minutes.

Allow the rice to sit covered for 10 minutes after it is cooked. Remove the cover and empty into a large bowl to cool down. After it has cooled a bit (15-20 minutes), add the brown rice vinegar and stir, careful to not over-mix and make the rice too sticky.

 

Prepare your vegetable or fish fillings. I cut veggies into thin matchstick size pieces. If using shrimp or smoked salmon, make sure those pieces are also long and thin, rather than diced. They will stay together in the roll much better.

Lay a sheet of sushi nori on top of a dishtowel that is folded in half. Line up the end of the nori with the end of the dishtowel closest to you. You will use the towel as a rolling mat.

Crumble 1 cup of cooked rice over the top of the nori, leaving about two inches at the top of the sheet uncovered by rice.

 

Moisten your fingers with water (I keep a small bowl next to me) and press down on the rice until it holds together (it will be very sticky). Make a groove in the rice near the center and arrange your veggies and fish across the rice inside the groove.

 

 

Moisten the 2-inch edge of the nori with water so it becomes subtle. This will help seal the roll at the end of your rolling.

 

Using the edge of your dishtowel as your guide, begin rolling the nori roll away from you, pressing firmly like rolling up a jellyroll. Keep rolling using the towel as a guide around the roll until it gets going, then lay the end of the towel down and finish the roll by sealing the nori to itself.

 

When I have all the rolls rolled up, I like to wrap the roll in plastic and refrigerate for a bit to firm it up. After it has chilled, slice the rolls carefully into eight or more pieces. Serve with the accompaniments.

Week 42 – Saving Money And Some Time

If you’ve been a follower of my blog over the past 41 weeks, you’ve seen my vintage garlic-keeper mascot in many of the photos.

He unfortunately passed away this morning, the result of what I expect was some kind of disagreement…

… over his place in the pantry and with this “innocent” creature named Olive.

RIP Garlic Man, I’m very sad to see you go.

 

When I first began this year of inconvenience it was springtime and I was filled with ambition and the spirit of adventure. That bubble was adequately “popped” a few weeks later as I struggled to figure out how to make the time I needed to get the food I loved on my table, and more importantly, into my freezer. Local tomatoes were not in season and I didn’t have a hint of anything that resembled tomato sauce, pasta sauce, chicken stock, soup, or tortillas in my freezer. To make these things for myself I was spending the majority of both weekend days cooking, which meant my “free time” was limited and the whole situation was making me (and someone else in my house) a little crabby.

So here I am now with those 42 weeks behind me and only 10 more weeks to finish the year. My freezer is pretty well stocked and I have my regular routine of bread or cracker or granola baking planned out so I’m no longer in any panic for food essentials. In fact, I’m feeling pretty good about managing my time around food preparation, other than totally forgetting I had a bread rising in the warm bathroom last night – things are mostly under control.

So I thought I’d take this opportunity to share with my readers, a time and cost comparison of the foods I hope to continue to make from scratch even in week 53. That’s the question I’m being asked now by a number of people, “when this is all over, what are you going to continue to make from scratch?” Besides a few more of my new favorites, these items are topping off the list.

Food Hands On Time Additional Cooking or Baking Time Cost Comparison
Corn Tortillas 35 minutes from mixing to pressing to cooking 8 tortillas None Holy cost savings – tortillas are the best value around! Only      3 ½¢ per ounce or 28¢ for 8 ounces compared to 89¢ for 12 ounces at the grocery store (7¢ an ounce)
English Muffin Bread 20 minutes to gather the ingredients and mix the batter 60-90 minutes rising time, 20 additional minutes baking time Organic cinnamon raisin bread costs me $2.77 to make a 16 oz loaf. The same size package of organic English muffins are $4.99at my co-op.
Pizza (crust and toppings) 65 minutes total, for crust and toppings (using frozen sauce I made) Crust rises for 30 minutes while prepping cheese and veggies. Bake for 15 minutes I obviously don’t know how much cheese is on the frozen pizza, I used 1/3 of a pound on my own. Cost is about 19¢ per ounce for homemade and 26¢ per ounce on the frozen as a cheese only pizza comparison.
Chicken Stock 10 minutes throwing everything into a large stockpot with water You need a slow simmer for at least 4 hours to get a rich tasting stock I use celery, carrot, onion, fresh thyme, bay leaf, and peppercorns with my chicken carcass. I included the cost of the carcass when buying the whole chicken. No surprises here, at 3¢ per ounce homemade, 12¢ per ounce for Pacific brand.
Yogurt 20 minutes to bring milk up to temp, 20 minutes to let it cool down, add culture, wrap up in towel 8 hours or overnight unattended I didn’t think there would be much of a savings because the starter costs $1.16 a packet. However, using organic milk and starter, my homemade cost is only 8¢ per ounce compared to 11¢ per ounce of my favorite local brand, Sugar River.

I’m sure it’s not much of a surprise that things like chicken stock or homemade bread is so much more economical. What surprised me was that these things don’t take that much time and I can come home from work at 6:30 and still get a fresh-made, better than anything frozen, pizza on the table in just about one hour. I do believe I am becoming a convert of inconvenience. Except for beans… and pasta… and the occasional canned tomato imported from Italy that makes the best sauce ever. That is, until someone else can convince me otherwise.

Week 40 – It’s in the Dairy Air

The Green Bay Packers just beat the Chicago Bears and are heading for the Super-duper Bowl. It’s getting pretty exciting here in Wisconsin. Oh yea, and I made some cheese and yogurt. Talk about excitement!

I have to say I’ve been way excited all week, long before this football craze came along. I’ve been hoping to try my hand at a few other types of cheese besides the mozzarella I made a week or so ago, perhaps something quicker and easier to build up my confidence a bit. And yogurt – well I really never considered making it at home since it’s a product well within the limits of my rules – however everyone was saying it’s just so darn easy and economical – so I had to try my hand at it.

When I was in college back in… well it doesn’t matter what year it was… when I was in college I had a yogurt maker. Making yogurt was one of my first ventures into natural foods and hey, everyone was doing it. All I knew of making yogurt were the instructions that came with the yogurt maker. Heat some milk, add some plain yogurt as the culture, pour into the small glass jars and snap on the lids, then turn on the machine. There it sat quietly on the counter of my apartment, doing its yogurt magic overnight while I slept snugly in the next room. The following morning I would find something in those jars that was perhaps slightly runny, but pretty much looked and tasted like yogurt.

Fast forward to this past week. I no longer have that yogurt maker of my college days, and while a friend offered to lend one to me I had already been reading enough online about making yogurt in a Crockpot, and decided that would be my yogurt maker of choice. Okay I’m really trying to curb my enthusiasm here. Making yogurt in a Crockpot is totally awesome! In fact I’m trying my best to eat what I made quickly enough so I can make another batch this week. What’s so great about this method is that I know a lot more about food than I did when I was 20, and understanding what it takes to get the consistency I wanted takes nothing more than a bowl, a colander and some cheesecloth. I now have yogurt, Greek yogurt, and something that resembles sour cream in my refrigerator – all from one batch of Crockpot yogurt.

Before I get to the yogurt recipe I also made some cheese this week in preparation for a photo shoot and video that’s happening this coming Tuesday. Oh, I didn’t mention that earlier? Yea, it’s funny what happens when your communications director at work sends out a press release on your blog project. Seems like I got myself involved in an upcoming story and online video for our local paper, as well as a spot on a morning show this coming Friday. I’m excited and a bit nervous. And yeah, I’ve been cooking and cleaning all weekend in preparation. So the cheese recipe, “queso blanco”, will complete the meal I’m making, which is my pork carnitas on homemade corn tortillas, topped off with some homemade queso blanco and homemade yogurt “sour cream.”

Okay, here are the really easy steps to making Crockpot yogurt. My Crockpot, which I’m guessing is about 20 years old, didn’t quite get the milk to temp in the time the recipe said it would, so I think I have a shortcut for the next time I make it that I’ll include in the steps to follow. I honestly don’t believe you really need a Crockpot, and I’m going to try it without the next time I make it.

What you’ll need to make the yogurt is:

½ gallon of milk

2 packets of yogurt starter, or 2 tablespoons plain yogurt

1 Crockpot or slow cooker of your choice

1 kitchen thermometer (this is science baby, make sure you have one and use it)

1 large and warm bath towel (yes, for making yogurt)

So first, you need to get your milk up to temperature. All signs point to using milk that isn’t ultra pasteurized, just like in making cheese. I used skim milk and it didn’t affect the texture or taste of the yogurt, at least not to the point I expected it would.

The recipe I used said to set your Crockpot on low for 2 ½ hours to get the milk between 180 – 190° mainly for the purpose of creating a sterile environment for inoculating the milk with yogurt culture. My 20-year old Crockpot took 4 hours, so next time I’m just going to bring it to temp in a pot on the stove.

Next, once it reaches 180° you need to let the milk cool down to 110° which is the magic temperature for inoculating the milk. It took about 2 hours for the milk to cool down to that temperature so don’t wander off too far, you’ll want to keep checking.

Once the milk is at 110° you’ll notice it has formed a skin on the top while cooling. Remove the skin and discard. Take about 1 cup of milk out of the pot and using a whisk, mix it with the yogurt culture. Now add that back to the pot of milk and whisk that mixture.

Grab your bath towel and take your Crockpot of inoculated milk to a warm part of the house. With the cover on the Crockpot, wrap the whole baby up in the bath towel and let it sit in that warm spot for about 8 hours. That’s right, 8 hours. You need to plan your day out around yogurt, both the heating and cooling, as well as allowing yourself the full 8 hours for it to create yogurt magic.

After 8 hours you have yogurt. You can put your Crockpot insert into the refrigerator if it’s time for bed, or portion out the yogurt into glass or plastic containers. I lined a colander with cheesecloth, set the colander over a bowl, and took some of the yogurt out, putting it into the cheesecloth to make ‘sour cream’. I covered the colander with plastic wrap and set it in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning I had a very thick yogurt I’m going to use as sour cream –  to top off the pork carnitas!

The next day I also took some more of the yogurt and placed it into the cheesecloth lined colander to thicken it up a bit to the consistency of Greek yogurt. That took about 3 hours in the refrigerator.

So it’s true, I’m a yogurt-making convert and this house is going to be filled with the dairy air for at least the next 12 weeks to come. I only have twelve weeks left in my year – I can hardly believe it.