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Yogurt, the simple staple

06 Jun

In many societies yogurt is a staple, it can be served hot or cold, as a liquid or custard style, in dressings, as a base or as a staple; that is unless of course you are a westerner.  For some reason we still look at yogurt as a frozen desert or that cup of goo we grab as we run out the door.  Though I must say through media and very high priced name brands, it is making a stong recovery for its diet-regulating qualities.  In my opinion it is one of the most versatile ingredients you can find in your refrigerator.

Yogurt is a very important element in the kitchen and is not only very simple and easy to make, but it is also very economical.  To make it all you need is a large earthenware or glass bowl, a plate to cover it and a small thick blanket (I use a wool throw which once served as a “decoration” on a rocking chair).  And the very important thing, the draft free location.  Personally, the I find the most “draft free” location to be in my oven and it works great.

There are many companies which will sell you some expensive and not so expensive pieces of equipment, but to be honest, I have never used them, just the things listed above.  There is a slight learning curve to it, and in your first year you will learn the subtle nuances of seasonal climate changes when making it, but don’t fret, it really is a simple thing to make.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon of starter (cultured yogurt)
  • 2 1/2 cups of milk

If you increase the amount of milk, make sure you increase the amount of starter you use accordingly.

Thats it, nothing fancy, nothing difficult.  I purchase my initial starter from http://www.leeners.com/  In fact this is where I purchased my kits to learn how to do most things.  Don’t confuse their Yogurt starter with the starter mentioned above and here is why.  Initially you have to add the bacteria to your milk in order to get it to curdle into yogurt.  Once you have your yogurt going, you simply use a tablespoon of your last batch of yogurt to culture your new batch of yogurt.  You can of course always purchase plain yogurt from your local grocer, but I find it doesn’t contain nearly as many live active bacteria as just starting it yourself.  There is simply no comparison to the creamy smooth texture of starting off with the right cultures.

One word of caution here, don’t be heavy handed or overly liberal with the culture or you will cause your yogurt to go a bit sour and that’s not what you want.

Directions:

Bring your milk to boil over a medium heat, when the froth starts raising to towards the top of the pan, reduce the heat and allow the milk to simmer for 2-4 minutes.  Remove it from the heat and allow it to cool till you can dip your finger in it and count to 10.  If you have a candy thermometer, it should read between 106 and 109 degrees farenheit.  Warning here, this is the most exacting part of making yogurt, if it is much cooler or warmer, your yogurt has a higher liklyhood of failing.  For this reason, while learning the “finger dunk technique”, I highly suggest you dunk your finger, then use a thermometer to check and see if you were right.  Once you train your brain to tell the proper temperature, you will never need to double check yourself again.  If any “skin” has formed while cooling, make sure you remove it.

In a large earthenware or glass bowl, add your starter (the cultured yogurt) and mix it until it becomes quite liquid, then one tablespoon at a time, add your hot milk, mixing thoroughly.  Once you have a good liquid mixture going, you can add the remaining hot milk to the mixture.  Make sure you mix it thoroughly to get the culture completly blended in.

Place the plate on top of your bowl, wrap it in the blanket and place it in a warm, draft-free location.  The mixture needs to remain undisturbed for a minimum of 8 hours, though overnight if it is not too warm is perfectly fine.  This allows the bacteria in the culture you started with, to turn it into a nice yogurt.  When it is done, give it a quick stir and place it into the refrigerator.

It will keep up to a week, but try to get yourself into the habit of making a new batch every four days or so.This will ensure you have a good starter going and keep it going.  If your batch fails and you are left with no yogurt starter, simply start with a new live culture and begin again.  It does take a slight learning curve, but once you learn how to do it, it really is quite simple.

In the winter months, I turn the oven onto the lowest temperature I can get it, when the milk begins the cooling phase, I turn the oven off and crack the door.  You don’t want the oven hot, simply a little warm.  Again, I only do this in the really cold months, most times the earthenware bowl and blanket work just fine.

To eat it, I simply toss some fresh fruit in the bottom of a bowl, top it with yogurt and you have your very own fruit flavored yogurt.  If you like it sweetened, drizzle a little honey or sprinkle a little sugar on it.  Personally I like it with just a few drops of vanilla.

I also make cream cheese from yogurt by simply adding salt, but I will get into how you do that in another post.

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