Fair warning – this has nothing to do with our delightful CSA box. I’m feeling very accomplished because I made my own yogurt and my own granola. Then I fed it to my cloth diapered, still breastfed toddler before we went to mama/baby yoga class. I’m just a pair of hemp underpants away from buying a VW bus and driving to Burning Man. Both the yogurt and granola were shockingly easy to produce and I intend to continue to replicate them into the future. But I wasn’t making these things just to see if I could. There was a two-fold motivation behind these culinary adventures.
The first motivation is cost. I love Greek yogurt. My husband could live off a granola IV drip. But both granola and Greek yogurt are rather hard on the wallet. Since we are a family of three on an income of one, I’m looking to cut costs anywhere I can, and one of the fastest ways to cut costs in just about any instance is to make something instead of buying it. After reading up on how to make these things, I decided I was up to the challenge. My key requirement was that I not need any special equipment or crazy ingredients to make something from scratch. It’s not worth spending $30 on a fancy pan or special spice just to make something I could purchase for $3. Trade off is important, and I made both the granola and the yogurt using things I already had in my house.
The second motivation is nutrition and health related. We are currently smack-dab in the thick of this whole child-rearing adventure. Our 16-month old daughter is eating everything in sight, and it’s really making me think about food. I’m starting to think more and more about how our food is produced, where our food is produced, what is in that food, how that food is packaged, how it is shipped, and is it what I want to put into my precious little daughter? Because of this increased concern for our food, I’m starting to research all of these questions. This is a very difficult thing to do. There is so much information out there on food, and not all of it is correct. There is so much to learn about food labels, which symbols are meaningful and which are complete bunk. I’m trying to find un-biased, scientifically verified sources of information to help me make the best food choices for my family. That means that I cannot trust the Organic Food Makers of America for their information – they have an agenda. I also can’t trust the Petro-Chemical and Pesticide Producers of the US for their information either. (I think both of those agencies were made up…by me…right now.) In doing all this research, it means I have to start building a balanced system for our choices. Sure, it would be great to go all organic, all local or whatever, but see previous comment regarding family 3/income 1. So add to the mix deciding where the priorities of our food dollars lie, and I am starting to realize that my masters degree and culinary degree leave me unable to produce dinner for my family.
This is how I ended up making yogurt on a lazy Thursday. Because I’m concerned about our food and I know that if I start with a trusted carton of organic milk, add only the ingredients and sweeteners I trust and feel comfortable feeding to my child, and put the elbow grease in by myself, I’ll be rewarded with a product that I can feel comfortable feeding to my daughter and husband while paying pennies on the dollar. Not too shabby.
To start – the yogurt! I used the recipe and formula found on this site. The author does a beautiful job of explaining each step with pictures, what could go wrong, and how to fix it. She also has some great troubleshooting help at the end, which was extremely helpful when the first two attempts I made failed miserably. But to summarize:
Pour half a gallon of your choice of milk into a large, microwave safe bowl. I used 1%.
Microwave the milk in increments until the milk is 175 to 180 degrees. It took 15 minutes in 3 increments in my microwave. I stirred and took the temperature with my candy thermometer after each increment.
After the milk is heated, cool the milk to between 105 and 120 degrees. I cooled to 111 degrees. It took three attempts for me to get the yogurt to work – the first two I did the next step when the milk was still nearly 120 and I think it ruined the batch. So wait until you’ve built a comfortable buffer from 120 degrees.
Whisk into the milk 1-2 teaspoons (not more!) of store bought plain yogurt that contains active cultures. In the future, you can use your own yogurt for this step, but you need those cultures the first time to get things rolling.
Whisk in 1/3 c powdered milk solids.
Cover the milk and leave it undisturbed for 6-14 hours. The milk must stay at a temperature of 100 degrees for that time. I put the bowl on a heating pad set to medium and wrapped everything in a couple of large bath towels. I also stuck my thermometer into the milk and set the alarm to warn me if the temperature dropped below 100. I found this method kept the yogurt at the perfect temperature for the entire span of time, but the original author suggests several other alternatives. For the first time, it’s important to try and keep an eye on the temp. My two failed batches were left to sit in the oven with the temperature set to 100. On the third attempt I took the oven’s temperature and found that my 100 degree setting was actually closer to 85, and therefore worthless in giving those cultures a nice, warm environment to grow.
After your yogurt solidifies (6-14 hours), drain the whey. It took 8 hours for mine to turn to yogurt. If you don’t drain the whey, you’ve got yogurt and it’s fine. If you drain the whey, you’ve got Greek yogurt, and it’s amazing. I very gently spooned the yogurt into a colander lined with a couple of decommissioned burp cloths. I let the yogurt drain in the fridge overnight. In the morning it slid off the cloth and into a plastic container with ease. Whisk the finished product to smooth the texture and enjoy!
Now the granola!
This one is much simpler than the yogurt.
2 1/2 c rolled oats (not quick cooking)
1/2 c flax seed
1/2 c unsalted pumpkin seeds
1/2 c pecan pieces
1/2 c coconut
2 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1/4 c honey
3 T vegetable oil
1/4 c brown sugar
1 t vanilla
1/2 c dried cranberries
Combine all the ingredients except the cranberries in a bowl. Stir until completely blended. Spread the mixture on a rimmed sheet pan. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes. Stir the mixture. Bake another 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool completely then transfer to a container. Add the cranberries, shake, and enjoy. This is very much a “kitchen sink” recipe. I made it twice in a day, adding and subtracting based on what I had available. The flax seeds can be omitted with no flavor consequence. You could easily add other nuts, seeds, or dried fruit based on availability.