Homemade Yogurt, The Easy Way + How to Drain Yogurt for Thicker Greek Yogurt

Homemade Greek Yogurt

Homemade raw Greek yogurt, topped with honey and cinnamon.

 Over the past couple of years I have struggled with some fairly major health problems. leaving me with low energy most of the time, ranging to completely fatigued and exhausted on a bad day. Thankfully, the bad days are becoming less frequent than they used to be, but even on an average day I have far more project ideas than I have energy to put into projects.

This means, that while cooking healthy food is usually a priority for me, I really don’t like to make any of my projects  more involved or complicated than they have to be. Certain projects that others consider complex might fit nicely into my routine, but other projects, sometimes even one that don’t seem so complicated to most people, just seem overwhelming.

So, when I discovered a super easy way to make my own raw yogurt, I was thrilled. Yogurt is generally considered fairly fussy. Regulating the temperature is a pain and doesn’t seem to guarantee results no matter how carefully it’s done. Plus, I was on GAPS diet at the time, with little energy to spare, and a lot of special cooking to be done, and a lot of slowly fermented food needed on a regular basis. The idea that I could drop yogurt in a jar, add milk, and then just let the whole thing sit out in a warm spot to make yogurt was a relief.

Now, as simple as the process is, fermented foods do often have a bit of a finicky streak. You may immediately find a warm spot that happily makes yogurt without any problems, ever. More likely, you’ll have to try a couple warm spots to see which one ferments your milk at the speed which is convenient to your schedule. You may find that the warm spot on top of your fridge, that normally turns out yogurt like clockwork, overheats on your baking day, and the pervading warmth of the oven ferments your yogurt unexpectedly faster than normal.

To me, these inconsistencies are simply an expected part of cooking real and traditional food. Like making soup with leftovers, or marrying into a family that makes a lot of last minute plans, life is often something of a grab bag no matter how carefully we try to regiment it.

I have found this method of making yogurt to produce mostly consistent results, and the occasional batch of extra sour and thick yogurt, or runny yogurt can easily find their home in baked goods without dramatically disrupting the rhythm of my life. These odd batches of yogurt even seem to make fine starter for a new batch in most cases, as the inconsistencies are naturally evened out by the steady working of the natural probiotics and enzymes through slight disruptions of their routine.

If this sort of adaptation to changes in your life is not for you, I recommend googling ‘crockpot yogurt’ and continuing in your quest to bend the world to your will without detouring through my yogurt making method. Best of luck to you in that endeavor.

In the realm of adapting to changes, the video I have posted on  making yogurt is technically a fail video. It still demonstrates *how* to use my yogurt making technique, but in a moment of brain fog, I misremembered how much whey was needed for the amount of yogurt I was making, resulting in a less than optimal batch of yogurt. Feel free to both laugh at my fail and glean what you can from watching my methods.

Straining (or draining) the yogurt to make it thicker is completely optional, but since we really like greek style yogurt, and I find it really handy to have whey around for recipes (soaking whole wheat flour, ketchup, etc), I almost always do drain it.

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

Not only is the yogurt completely natural, but making your own plain yogurt gives you the ability to make your own flavored yogurts without any unnatural sweeteners or additives. Obviously, you get an extra boost to your enzymes if you start with raw milk, but you can use this method for any type of dairy you generally use (I haven’t tested it with non-dairy milks) and meet your general health standards.

Yumminess Rating: Kinda Yummy

I’ll be honest here: homemade yogurt isn’t something my husband raves about. He actually kinda likes Yoplaits.

As for myself, I don’t hate yogurt, but I’ve never been a huge fan of any kind of yogurt, even including Yoplait (which baffles my husband). But, throwing a couple splops (yes, that’s a very specific measurement, why do you ask?) of yogurt into a smoothie is easy and doesn’t adversely affect the taste, and if I mix the homemade yogurt with sufficient honey and fruit, my husband doesn’t mind eating it, and in the right mood, I rather enjoy it.

Homemade Yogurt

1 cup of whey or yogurt

3 cups of milk

Mix whey or yogurt with milk in a quart jar. Cover and set in a warm place for 12-24 hours. Refrigerate.

To make greek yogurt: Line a strainer or colander with cheesecloth or thin cotton (not terrycloth) dishtowel. Set on a bowl to catch the whey. Pour yogurt into the cheesecloth lined strainer and let it drain for a few hours, until it is your desired thickness. (You can also make yogurt cheese, which can be used as a cream cheese substitute, by draining the yogurt longer, until it’s very thick.) Using a large metal spoon or rubber spatula, transfer yogurt to a jar or covered bowl and store in refrigerator. Pour whey into a separate bowl or jar and store in refrigerator.

 

Boxty: Irish Potato Pancakes

Boxty: Irish Potato Pancakes

 

While I have a fair amount of Scottish blood in me, and my husband is part Irish, we share an interest in good foods, celtic music and traditions, and church history. As you might guess, we celebrate St Patrick’s Day every year, and with lots of Irish food. Our standard Irish dinner is corned beef with cabbage and potato, a sweeter version of Irish soda bread, and whatever other irish or green (or orange if I’m feeling especially like a cranky protestant Scottish girl…) food happens to hit the table.

I discovered boxty when looking for ways to extend our Irish food exploration beyond just dinner on St Patricks Day–why not have Irish food for breakfast too?

Boxty is like a cross between hashbrowns, biscuits and pancakes, and can be eating like any of those: with lots of butter, with butter and honey or syrup, with meat and gravy, or with ketchup. It can also be eaten as a breakfast food, or as a side at lunch or dinner. (Or as a snack for that matter. They’re even fairly portable, though better when they’re still warm.)

Healthiness rating: Healthy to Kinda Healthy

While I have no problem with including this in a meal and then classifying the meal as healthy, I am, for some reason hesitant to  put forward this recipe as having a lot of redeeming health food features. Depending on your definition of healthy food, and what kind of flour you decide to use, this could range from healthy to kinda healthy food.

Yumminess rating: Yummy

This one is less complicated: yummy and husband approved. (But then, he’s Irish, and eats cold baked potatoes straight out of the fridge, so in this case it might actually be more helpful to point out that I also like this recipe.)

Boxty

Large batch:

10 cups of mashed potatoes

10 cups of grated potatoes

8 cups of flour (white or whole wheat)

5 cups of milk or whey

1 cup melted butter

2 TBSP salt

Small batch:

2 cups of mashed potatoes

2 cups of grated potatoes

1 1/2 cups of flour

1 cup milk or whey

3 TBSP melted butter

1 tsp salt

butter or oil for frying

Put the grated potatoes in a clean cotton dishcloth. Squeeze out the excess moisture.  Mix grated potatoes with other ingredients (other than butter or oil for frying, obviously).

Heat butter over medium heat in skillet. Using about 1/4 cup or 1/3 cup batter per pancake, depending on size desired, fry two minutes on each side, until outside is crispy and inside is set to a firm but crispy consistency.

Christmas Pudding

Christmas Pudding

This is my third year making Christmas pudding. The first year I followed the traditional instructions to make it a month ahead so it can age for proper flavor. It went moldy.

The next year I decided to make it only a week or two ahead of time, and as an extra precaution, poured rum over it as a mold preventative. I served it with a simple brandy sauce (recipe below) and it was amazing.

Christmas pudding is very dense, like a hearty bread pudding. Lightly sweet, with dried fruit and spices, it has a good medley of rich flavors, but none of them overwhelming.

I used a white flour in this years pudding, but it’s one I got through Azure Standard with the wheat germ left in and only the bran removed. With the bran removed you have no pesky phytates to worry about, and a lot of the nutrition is still intact because of the wheat germ.

I used homemade bread crumbs this year. I save bread heels and overdone (but still not burnt) toast and other such odd bits of bread in a bag in the freezer, and just throw them in the food processor when I need bread crumbs. This means my bread crumbs were in about the same ratio of wheat to white as the bread we eat–mostly whole wheat, but with a bit of white thrown in here and there. In previous years I’ve used store bought panko bread crumbs.

The last two years I haven’t been able to find suet in our local grocery store and had to fall back on grated frozen butter. This year I wasn’t even going to try to look, but as I was poking through the meat on manager’s special I found beef suet  just sitting there for seventy-five cents. So I finally get to compare and see if it turns out better with suet! I have to say though, I didn’t notice any problems with using the butter instead.

To puree the orange, cut it in quarters, with the peel still on, and put the whole thing in the blender or food processor. Blend until smooth, with no large pieces of peel. Last year I used a whole lemon instead of a whole orange, but I didn’t happen to have lemons on hand this year.

Healthiness Rating: Kinda Healthy

I rate this as kinda healthy, because you can really make it as healthy as you want to depending the ingredients you choose (there’s very little innately unhealthy about the ingredients: dried fruit, spices, breadcrumbs that can be whole wheat, etc). But then, this is a Christmas pudding recipe. Healthy isn’t really the point.

Yumminess rating: Yummy

The brandy sauce tastes especially amazing, but the pudding is very good too. Let me put it this way: How good do you think it would have to be for me to decide it’s worth it to go through the bother of making and steaming a Christmas pudding every year?

Yep, it’s pretty good.

Christmas Pudding

1 1/2 cups flour

3/4 tsp sea salt

2 1/4 tsp baking powder

2 cups bread crumbs

6 oz suet or 1 1/2 sticks frozen butter, grated

3/4 cup turbinado sugar

1 cup raisins

1 cup craisins

½ tbsp molasses

½ apple, peeled and grated

½ carrot, finely grated

1 orange, pureed

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp of ginger

1 egg

Method

Mix all ingredients together.

Run hot water over a thin cotton dish towel (not terry cloth!). Wring out as much as possible. Sprinkle flour on cloth.

Dump mixture on to the flour in the middle of the cloth. Smooth mixture into as tight a ball as possible, then tie opposing corners of the cloth over the christmas pudding ball. Make it as snug as you can (you’ll probably have small divot in the bottom of your Christmas pudding from the knot), then tie the two remaining corners snugly.

The next step is to steam the pudding. I don’t have any fancy steaming equipment, so I’ve used a few different strategies over the years.

I’ve tied the longer ‘tails’ of the corners of the towel to my stockpot handles, suspending the pudding in the middle of the pot above the boiling water.

I’ve skipped the dishcloth altogether, packed the pudding mixture in the bottom of a 2 qt stainless steel bowl and boiled the whole thing, keeping the water level low enough that the water never got in the bowl. (This option  is nice for aging and reheating as it can just stay in the same bowl for that entire process.)

This year I set my mesh strainer in the top of my stock pot and put the pudding-tied-inside-a-towel  inside the mesh strainer, keeping the pudding out of the boiling water but still in the steam.

Whatever method you use, the pudding with need to cook for about 2 1/2 hours. When it’s done it should be one cohesive pudding and no longer crumbly.

When it’s cooled enough to handle, remove the pudding from the towel, poke a few holes in it with a skewer, and pour over it 2 TBSP of rum, slowly to give it time to soak in.

Put the pudding somewhere cool and dry to age for a week or two (or four if you’re a traditionalist).

To reheat the pudding, use any of the methods listed above for steaming the pudding, but only steam it for about an hour.

Pour brandy over the pudding and light it just before serving. Serve with brandy sauce.

If you want to serve it for Christmas breakfast (which is not as scandalous as it sounds, because the alcohol is cooked off the pudding, even if you serve it flaming, and you can easily cook the alcohol off the brandy sauce as well, if desired) you may want to put it in a small bowl inside your slow cooker, put a couple inches of water in the bottom of the slow cooker crock, and steam it overnight so it’s ready in the morning with no fuss.

Brandy Sauce

3 TBSP butter

3 TBSP flour

1 1/2 – 2 cups milk

3 TPSP sugar

1/4 cup brandy

(All these measurements are approximate, as I really just eyeballed measurements for a white sauce, then added sugar and brandy to taste)

Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Whisk in flour. Slowly whisk in milk. Add sugar and wait for it to thicken. Remove from heat and add brandy. (If you prefer, add the brandy and cook for another minute or two to cook off the alcohol.)