May 27, 2012

My New Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

 When I was in high school there was this recipe that was being passed around the internet.  'The $250 Cookie"  The story was that the lady went to Neaman Marcus and asked for the recipe to this wonderful cookie she had.  They said that it would cost her two fifty.  She gave them her credit card and got the recipe.  When she got her credit card bill it was $250 not $2.50!   So to get even she sent the recipe to everyone she knew and asked them to send it to everyone they knew.  I don't believe the story is true but they are really good cookies, and I thought I'd share the recipe with you.

Turn the oven on to 350F

Cream together
2 cups butter
2 cups white sugar
2 cups brown sugar

4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
Mix well.

4 cups flour
5 cups oatmeal, blended until fine powder
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
mix well!

24 oz (4 bags) chocolate chips
18 oz dark chocolate bar, grated
Mix well.

At this point the dough is very tough to mix.
Form into 1-1/2 inch balls.  Place on cookie sheet about 2 inches apart.  (they flatten out abit)
Bake for 10 min
cool on a rack completely before serving so the chocolate can harden abit or you will have a wonderful chocolatey mess...good thing or bad?!  Not quite sure at this point.

May 15, 2012

Easy Homemade Yogurt-Homemade Basics 101

Why Make Homemade Yogurt?

Downloadable version of this post Here
I’ll bet a lot of people are apprehensive about making homemade yogurt for a variety of reasons:
  1. too much time
  2. too complicated
  3. afraid it won’t work out
  4. growing bacteria just sounds scary and dangerous
My job is to dispel all your fears and teach the no dishes, no fuss way to make homemade yogurt.  

Here’s your motivation:

At current prices of $4.99/gallon for milk(give or take) and $3-5 per 650ml. tub of plain yogurt, I save $18-20 every time I make a gallon of yogurt, which I do almost every month. That’s about $240 a year off my food budget. Yes, we eat it that often.
Nutritionally, I can be totally in charge of the ingredients. No high fructose corn syrup or fake foods for my family. Just the health benefits of yogurt, thank you!
If you compare to the little plastic presweetened cups, the savings are greater in every category.
For example, the last time I read the nutrition facts on a 6 oz. yogurt cup, it contained about 45 grams of sugar. One teaspoon of sugar has 4 grams, and an 8 oz cup of milk has 12. I don’t think I could add enough fruit to make 45, so I guarantee you can cut your sugar intake…significantly…by using plain yogurt!

How Much Time Does it Take to Make Homemade Yogurt?

Grand Total: 15 minutes active work, an hour and a half that you’ll need to be at home.
  1. 5 minutes to pour milk into jars
  2. a few minutes over the next 20 minutes to check on temperature
  3. a few minutes to move the jars to cool them
  4. wait an hour and a half or more
  5. 5 minutes to stir in the starter and put them to incubate
  6. a few minutes to get the jars in the freezer and then the fridge

How Complicated Is It?

The basic steps:
  1. Heat to sterilize the milk. (185 degrees)
  2. Cool milk to proper incubation temperature. (90-110 degrees)
  3. Add starter yogurt.
  4. Incubate at warm temperature 4-24 hours.

Easy Homemade Yogurt

Let’s get started.
There are a bunch of ways to do this, but here’s the easiest method, in my opinion. I realize this post looks very long, but it’s just because I want to hold your hand through every step to take the fear out of the process, which is really simple once you read through this and try it once.

Supplies necessary:

Glass jars (quart wide mouth canning jars or empty mayo or spaghetti sauce jars work great)
Milk (any, from skim to whole)
Candy thermometer, but I can show you how to do it without one too
Canning Pot (large enough to hold your glass jars)
2 TBSP of plain yogurt per 1/2 gal of milk (Buy the freshest yogurt possible at a store and make sure it has “live and active cultures”. I prefer Dannon. I know it has the three top cultures that I’m looking for to help the gut. The little cups are often on sale for 40-50 cents.)
picnic cooler


Sterilze your jars. Either boil or put them in the oven. (They should be totally dry before capping.) I let them air dry completely on top of my toaster oven. If you’re a real baby stepper, just put this step on your to-do list for this week, along with “print and read yogurt directions”. Then NEXT week you can tackle “make yogurt” on a day of your choosing! {As long as your jars have been thoroughly cleaned, absolutely completely dried out, and then capped, I wouldn’t worry too much about the bacteria…but don’t take my word on it.}
Get out picnic cooler and clean bath towel.
The very first time you make yogurt will take a little more attention, because you’ll have to check temperatures to figure out the timing. After that, it’s a piece of cake!
Put your sink washcloth in the bottom of the pot. This will prevent the jars from breaking if they start shaking when the water boils (especially if you forget about them).
Added bonus: You know how sometimes even after washing your dishrag, it still smells sour? This will knock the stink right out!
Pour milk into your jars to about an inch from the top.
Place jars into the potand fill pot with tap water around the jars.
Milk ready to boil in the pot. You can see two mayo jars, one canning jar, and a spaghetti sauce jar.
Put candy thermometer on edge of pot. Heat on high until boiling (now your thermometer is sterilized). Sometimes I put a spoon in there too so I know it’s sterile for stirring the yogurt starter in.
Move thermometer into one of the jars; turn heat to medium-low or so, just enough to keep the water boiling.
When the milk is at about 180-185F (you can’t burn it with this method, so if you forget it for a while, it’s OK!) turn off the heat and put lids on the jars.
The no-thermometer method: When a “skin” appears on the top, you’re at temp. Just scoop the skin off and throw it in the sink.
Cool the jars of milk in an ice bath.  It works in about 20-30 minutes with water just halfway up the sides of the jars at my house. {In the winter, I put the jars in my cold garage}
Optional(but a good idea): Take starter yogurt out and let it sit on the counter. This ensures that it’s not too cold when you mix it into the warm milk.
Run you bath tub water until very hot.  Fill you cooler with hot water.
Your goal is to get the milk down to about 110 degrees. Incubation happens between 90-120 degrees, so you have decent wiggle room, but 100-112 is optimal. At my house it takes at least 90 minutes on the counter,  20 min in the sink. The first few times you make yogurt, you’ll figure out timing. Keep your thermometer sterile and check after about 45 minutes, or leave the thermometer in the jar for the first time only and check at intervals.
UPDATE: I’ve found that I prefer the thickness of the yogurt better at ~100 degrees.
No-thermometer method: You can learn what the jars feel like from the outside. I’ve found that I can’t hold onto the jars with bare hands for more than a few seconds, it’s still too hot. Give it 5-10 more minutes and check again. 118 degrees is the temp at which enzymes and yogurt bacteria die. It’s also the temp at which humans say “ouch!” God built in a way for us to know when our food is too hot for our health! Another way to check the temp of the milk is to use a clean spoon and drip a bit onto your wrist. You want it to feel warm, but not painful. Remember that your body temperature is about 98, and your goal is approximately 10 degrees higher. If you do have a thermometer, I would recommend the first few times to use it and your wrist so that you know what 110 feels like for future reference. *If you miss and it gets too cold, just heat it up again in the pot on the stove. It’s just milk at this point, so you’re not out anything!
Stir in 2-3 Tbs. plain yogurt for each 1/2 gal of milk. Stir gently; remember that you’re dealing with living organisms and you don’t want to knock them senseless! More is not better; too much starter can make bad yogurt. Again, these living organisms need room to reproduce. If you ask too many to live together, it’s like making tenements and living conditions aren’t as nice for your friendly bacteria!
Empty the cooler.
Get those lids on again and nestle your jars in the cooler. Fill the cooler up with Hot water just until the jars barely start to float. Then close the lid of the cooler to keep the heat in.
My yogurt jars happily nestled in the cooler, ready to incubate.
Keep the cooler still, more or less. Jiggling will affect the consistency of the yogurt. Don’t let the kiddos “cooler-race” in the kitchen! If you have no room in your bathtub, put the cooler in another room and leave yourself a note to remind you when to take the yogurt out.
You have to make a call on whether you check your yogurt temp every hour or so (you can add more Hot water to the cooler if the temp is getting too low, after emptying the cool water first) or just let it go and see what happens. Keep in mind that again, when you open your cooler, you’re affecting the temperature. I would recommend leaving it alone, and as long as your cooler is tough enough to keep the heat in the first time, you will never have to babysit your yogurt. This is NOT rocket science! ( I rarely open it cause I do it before bed and wake up to yogurt)
Incubate 4-24 hours. Shorter incubation makes sweeter yogurt, longer is more tart. Also lower incubation temperature makes sweeter yogurt and higher makes more tart. I’ve had good success between 4 and 8. I forgot it once when my goal was 4 hours and found I liked it better at 6. I forgot it once at 6 hours and found that 8 is fine, but I liked 6 better. More recently I read that after incubating a full 24 hours, almost all the lactose is eaten by the bacteria, making the yogurt extremely digestible. I tried leaving one jar for 24 hours, and it wasn’t too bad. I usually shoot for about 16 nowadays. Experiment to see what you prefer!
Note: If you incubate longer than 8 hours, I would recommend setting a teapot to boil and pouring the contents into your cooler. For 24-hour-yogurt, I add boiling water before I go to bed and when I wake up in the morning. I’ve never “checked” on the temp of my yogurt – I prefer to leave it alone – and I’ve had no problems.
When the time is up, put the jars into the freezer for about an hour. This improves the texture. No room in the freezer? (I did have a broken jar once when I put it directly into the ice.) Just go right in the fridge. If you forget the yogurt in the freezer, it’s fine. Yogurt can freeze! Just thaw in your fridge.
Note: Don’t get too interested in what it looks like until the yogurt is cold. I have a feeling stirring, and definitely shaking, the jars at this point hurts the process.

That’s it! You have created yogurt!


What Does it Look Like?

Most of the time, the finished product will have a yellowish “whey” around the thicker yogurt. This is normal! You can pour it off (into your soup, preferably – there’s protein in that whey!) or stir it in, depending on what consistency you want.
See the whey? Looks gross, but it's just what you want!
8-hour yogurt on the left, 16-hour on the right. The 16-hour yogurt is a bit thicker, but not appreciably so.
When your yogurt is cooled and ready to eat, take out a few Tablespoons for a starter for your next batch. Store it in a clean container and date it (I use a glass baby food jar that has been through the dishwasher). Best practice is to take your starter out first so that it’s the least contaminated by folks dipping out yogurt throughout the week.
I’ve found that I can make a batch every one to two weeks or so and the starter is still plenty strong. I might buy a new starter at the store every 2-3 months. If my yogurt starts getting runny, especially twice in a row, I can solve it by buying a new starter.

Serving Suggestions

Breakfast, Lunch and Snacks…We like the plain yogurt at our house with a bit of sugar (about a tsp per serving) or honey and frozen fruit. Yum-O! When I sweeten a whole quart, I use about ¼ c. sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla. Remember to stir gently – if you whip up your yogurt too hard, it will remain runny.
Sour Cream Sub…Plain Yogurt can substitute in any recipe that calls for sour cream.
Smoothies…Add milk, fresh or frozen fruit, maybe a few ice cubes, and blend. A snack or a dessert! Green smoothies are all the rage right now. I use half yogurt and half milk with the fruit, and my boys think a frozen banana really makes it great!
Bake with it…you can use yogurt instead of milk in biscuits, cornbread, and pancakes. I also just read that you can replace some of the butter or oil in muffin or brownie recipes and all of the fat in cake mixes.
Dips and dressings…Add chopped cucumber and dill weed to plain yogurt and eat as a salad or with grilled meat. I’ll share some more recipes later in the week.
Here is how thick my yogurt turns out. It can get a bit smoother after stirring well, but gently.
Yogurt definitely keeps well for two weeks, probably longer, but it does get more tart with age.


Yogurt too runny?

Yogurt got too cool while incubating (bacteria inactive) I’m pretty sure this is not a big deal as long as the yogurt is at the proper temp for at least the first four hours.
Milk too hot when starter stirred in (bacteria dies) This one is a deal breaker!
Stirred too hard when introducing starter
Weak starter – buy new yogurt at the store
What to do with failure? There’s nothing wrong with runny yogurt. Stir in some unflavored gelatin and use it anyway or be creative with runny half-milk, half-yogurt. Smoothies, anyone? Use it in baking like you would milk, or make cream of vegetable soup. If your yogurt incubated WAY too hot, it’s pretty much just milk. Make hot chocolate and try again tomorrow!

Cottage-cheese-like consistency?

This is my most common problem. I really believe the freezer step helps guarantee a creamier consistency. I also think the precise temperature when you stir in the starter may make a difference here, but I haven’t pinpointed exactly how to make perfect yogurt every time. Also make sure you’re not overdoing the amount of starter. Just 2 Tbs! Sometimes just stirring gently will help out with this problem.

Tastes sour?

Too much starter
Incubated too hot or for too long for your taste

Strong, yucky smell?

Introduced bad bacteria into yogurt, then let it multiply. Throw away this batch and be more careful next time!
Best of luck to all of you! I’m convinced that everyone should make homemade yogurt, if you eat it at all. I used to think you had to be an at-home-mom or have time on the weekends, but now that I’ve successfully cultured 24-hour-yogurt, I really think anyone could do it, even if you work all day long. Just start the yogurt while you’re making dinner, add boiling water before bed and in the morning during breakfast, and remove the yogurt after work the next day. You could also just incubate overnight and put in the freezer in the morning. I have accidentally left yogurt in the freezer overnight with no negative repercussions. You can do this! It’s NOT rocket science, it’s just a little food science that anyone who can make chocolate chip cookies can handle.

Check back this week for more recipes using your freshly made, nutritious easy homemade yogurt!