I grew up here in Arizona. As a child, we lived in the middle of nowhere outside Phoenix. What are now strip malls and housing developments was just desert in the early 60’s. Hot, dry desert.
My father was interested in all kinds of things. He experimented with everything from greenhouses to healthy foods. We were the only children who had to eat wheat germ on our cereal. We weren’t allowed dyed foods or much sugar. Dad kept bees. We ate honey. He was ahead of his time in a lot of ways. I thought he was crazy.
Before yogurt was commonly sold in grocery stores, flavored with everything imaginable and loaded with sugar, gelatin and who knows what else, my dad was making yogurt. Worse yet, he was making us eat yogurt. He made it by burying jars of milk in the ground. He said that’s how people did it in the Middle East. Didn’t he know we lived in Arizona? This stuff made wheat germ taste like candy! It was horrible. He ate it warm! He made us eat it warm. Even our dog wouldn’t eat it. But we had to “try it.” Yuk.
When I finally was able to start eating yogurt again, it was at the height of the “fruit on the bottom,” gelatin-and-sugar phase of grocery store yogurt. As I got older and more interested in healthy food, my search began for healthier yogurt. I tried organic yogurts, goat yogurts and soy yogurt. As I was acquiring my taste for yogurt, the price for yogurt was increasing steadily. Finally, I decided on organic cow’s milk yogurt, 1 or 2% fat.
Evenutally, though, making my own yogurt seemed like a much better idea, and less expensive. Even though we live in the desert again, I do NOT bury milk in the ground! We have a Yogotherm yogurt maker. We chose it because it’s not electric and requires nothing of me except to keep it closed for 6 hours. I heat a half gallon of 1% or 2% cow’s milk on the stove, add a half cup of powdered milk, whisk and heat it to 185 degrees.
I have a handy floating dairy thermometer that works really well for yogurt making, and is very accurate. I leave it in the warmed milk solution and turn off the heat.
When it gets down to 118 degrees, I pour the milk into the Yogotherm, whisk in the starter and leave it for 6 hours. I use about 1/2 cup of yogurt from either store-bought yogurt or from my last batch I found that the starter used makes a difference in tartness. I’ve often used FAGE nonfat greek yogurt for my starter. (Yogotherm or direct starters are available from Lehmans.com.)
The FAGE starter makes a very mild yogurt. I have used my own yogurt for starter too, but each time I use it, it gets progressively more tart and eventually a new starter is needed.
My homemade yogurt is good, and very mild when made with a fresh starter. In fact, it’s so mild that my husband also likes it. We add fruit, honey and an assortment of flavors to our plain yogurt.
Yogurt can be used as a substitute in a lot of recipes. I often substitute 1/2 the oil in baked goods with yogurt. Often a recipe calls for 2/3 cup of oil. I just can’t do that! I’ve never had a problem with substituting some yogurt. This cuts the calories and adds healthy cultures to the diet.
Plain or flavored yogurts be frozen and eaten like ice cream. Yogurt can be made into cheese and used in place of cream cheese or sour cream in dips and sauces too. When it’s made with skim, 1% or 2% milk, it has a lot less fat than sour cream or cream cheese made with whole milk. And it has all those healthy live cultures!
The yogurt strainer is one of the best inventions ever. When my yogurt is finished, I immediately pour it into the yogurt strainer and put it in the refrigerator. I leave it overnight and the next day I have Greek yogurt. A few more hours and I have “cream cheese,” a super-creamy and thick spreadable yogurt that’s nearly indistinguishable from cream cheese.
And don’t forget the WHEY! The yellow liquid that drips off the straining yogurt can be used for a lot of things. They sell powdered whey in health food stores for a lot of money! Whey can be put in soups, baked goods and even smoothies. Since whey is a lacto-fermentation, it can be used to jump start the fermentation process for vegetables like cabbage (kraut) and anything else that you might want to ferment. Whey is good for you–don’t waste it when you’re making different things with your yogurt.
I know we are not supposed to give our pets milk, but I think a little spoonful of yogurt once in awhile will keep their systems healthy. Our dogs and cat have never complained about it.
Easy To Make Yogurt “Cheesecake”
Here’s a very easy recipe for a “cheesecake” made of yogurt. I like this because it’s low fat and so easy to make.
- Make 1/2 gallon of yogurt. When it’s done, put it in the yogurt strainer overnight.
- Make a graham cracker crust. Most graham crackers have 4 packages in the box. Use 2 packages of graham crackers, crushed into crumbs. Mix with enough butter or margarine to make crumbs hold together when you press it into a pie plate. I use about 3 TBS. of butter.
- Put the strained yogurt into a bowl, add 2 tsp. lemon juice and sugar to taste. I don’t like much sugar, so I use about 1/4 cup.
- Mix well. Spoon the mixture into the pie crust and refrigerate for a couple of hours.
- Presto! A softly set ‘cheesecake’, ready to top with fresh fruit.