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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Homemade Yogurt

Several years ago I inherited my Mom's old yogurt maker from the 70's.  Well, to be truthful, I borrowed it for so long she forgot where it was until I confessed.  She let me keep it!  (Wish I could "borrow" her 100 year old upright grand piano! LOL)  I've made many batches of yogurt in this machine.  It has been well worth the money Mom paid for it.  :)

You do NOT, however, have to have a neat little machine to make fine yogurt!  The only thing that machine does, is keep the yogurt at a constant temperature while it incubates (I know that makes it sound like it's going to hatch, but it's the only word I can think of to describe it at the moment!) .... around 100 degrees.  There are several other options for keeping it warm but I'll just share the two I've used.

There are a few items that are useful for making yogurt:  a cooking thermometer the one I use looks like THIS.... a larger, heavy bottomed pot.... glass jars, quart, pint, or even jelly jars would be great.

This will take a little time to complete, but you won't be standing in the kitchen the whole time.  Don't let it intimidate you!  Give it a try!

Homemade Yogurt

2 quarts of milk - either fresh or mixed from dry
1/4 C. plain yogurt with live culture

Pour milk into a heavy bottomed pot.  Over medium heat (or just under that) bring milk to 170-180 degrees.  Stir often to avoid scorching - especially helpful to stir constantly once it gets above 140 degrees.  Be patient and use a lower heat or it will scorch.  Once you reach 180 degrees, remove from heat and let cool to 110.  This takes a while, if you want to hurry it up, put ice water in your sink and set the pan in the ice water.  Stir often to keep a skin from forming on the top.  If one does form, skim it off and toss.  While your milk is cooling, set your 1/4 C. yogurt out on the counter to start warming up.   When the milk is at 110 degrees, mix a little milk into the yogurt to thin it down and then add that whole amount back into the pan of milk.  Pour into clean glass jars, cover with lids. 

Choose your own method of keeping the yogurt warm while it incubates.  The two I've used are: 

1.  Place filled jars inside a food cooler, pour in a few quarts of hot water, around 120 degrees or slightly more, replace cooler lid.

2.  Place jars in large pot - big enough you can cover with a lid.  Pour hot water around jars, cover with lid and then wrap pan with a heavy towel.  

Let your prepared yogurt incubate for at least 4 hours - up to 8 hours.  After 4 hours, lift one jar and tip it slightly to test how set it has become.  When it seems fairly firm, put all jars in the refrigerator to chill.   Serve with fruit or sweeten with jam, the plain yogurt can be used to make cream cheese.

Joy's Notes:   I've found that the higher fat milk you use, the better the texture is. Often I use reconstituted dry milk. (Whey based dry milk substitute does not set up well, use regular or instant powdered milk)  I add an extra 1/2-1 C. of powder when I mix it to give it more body and sometimes I add a few cups of whole milk to it.   I read that the longer you incubate past the 4 hours, the more thick and tart your yogurt will be.  It definitely is more tart the longer it sits. I've had batches turn out super thick and others much thinner.  I think the quality of the yogurt start is a factor as well as the milk used. Some of my batches have been so mellow I could eat the plain yogurt and it tasted wonderful!  Other batches have definitely needed jam to sweeten. :o)    Lately I've been doing 1 gallon at a time.  I just use a 6 quart pan or larger to heat the milk.  This keeps in the fridge nicely about a week.

Homemade yogurt is a healthy snack.  We love homemade strawberry or raspberry jam to flavor it.  Try using it with some fruit to make smoothies for a healthy breakfast!  Making yogurt at home is a good way to control the amount of sugar added and you know your ingredients.  Plus, on a "Green" note - think of all those plastic containers you're saving from the landfills!   Enjoy your yogurt adventures!

I think I've been working on this post too long!  The word "yogurt" is starting to look funny to me, as though it's spelled incorrectly.  I'll check back later and see if it's better then.  :)

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Fun April Fools Ideas

It's almost time again for April Fools Day!  I'm not a big believer in mean or hurtful pranks, but in our household a few little surprises or twists here and there are a lot of fun!!!   Generally I don't allow things that make a mess or hurt feelings.  Here are a few of the fun FOOD pranks we've done the past few years.....   I can't use them again very soon, but YOU CAN!

These pranks are all quality tested in my own home.  :)    My 8 year old son was looking over my shoulder as I was putting this post together and he said "That was so fun!  Can we do it again this year?"  I had to explain that surprise is the best part of the fun... but I'd better get on the ball and find a fun surprise for him!   Maybe THIS year my April Fools Surprise will be doing NOTHING!   They'd be able to enjoy it all day!  

Click through each link to see more pictures and details on our April Fools Fun.   

I'd love to have you share your April Fools Fun ideas with me!  Feel free to share in a comment what your family has been surprised with!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Soft and Chewy Pretzels and Pretzel Bites

My daughter Audra has been making delicious, chewy pretzels for her family for a while.  They were getting rave reviews from her hubby and kids.... so of course I had to try them!  We decided to try them as pretzel bites rather than a full sized pretzel.  It worked perfectly.  Family loved them!  Win!

Audra and I made several batches of these Pretzel Bites for a meeting I was attending.  So many of the people there loved them as well.  I've never had store-bought soft pretzels before, but several of the meeting attendees said they were as good as Pretzel Maker Pretzel Bites.  

The recipe is simple and not too time consuming for bread.  Give it a try!

Soft and Chewy Pretzels and Pretzel Bites

2 3/4 C. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
2 1/4 tsp. yeast

1 C. warm water

Pretzel Salt or Coarse Salt

3 T. melted butter (for brushing after baking)

Put all dry ingredients in mixer bowl.  Pour warm water over and stir with a spatula to incorporate.  Knead on medium low for 5 minutes.  Put in greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap (spray the plastic wrap as well for easy removal) and let rise for 30 minutes or so.

While the dough is rising, make a soda wash by mixing 1 T. baking soda with 1/2 C. of warm water and then microwave for one minute.  Set aside.

Preheat oven to 475 degrees.  Place dough on an oiled surface and divide into 8 pieces.  Roll each piece into a long rope about 1/2 inch diameter.... twice as thick if you're doing bites.  Shape each rope into pretzels OR cut 1 inch pieces from the rope.  Dip each pretzel/bite into soda wash and place on a well greased cookie sheet.  While still very wet, sprinkle with salt.  Let rest 10 minutes.  Bake for 9-10 minutes or until beginning to brown.  Remove from oven and brush with melted butter.

Enjoy plain or dipping in cheese sauce.  YUMMM!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Healthy Breakfast Scramble

It is said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  Yet, that's often one of the most difficult times to take a few minutes to nourish yourself!  This breakfast scramble can be cooked in under 10 minutes and is quick to eat.  Ingredients can be prepped ahead to save time.

I often fix this just for myself, though if my husband is home he enjoys it as well.  It works well to just double the ingredients and cook for two.  It doesn't work as well to cook for six people as the eggs take longer to cook and the spinach goes too soft and the color leaches out into the eggs.  

Dave and I have been participating in a health program through his work that gives us support on making healthy changes to our activity and food.  One of the challenges is to eat a high protein breakfast each day.  This recipe supplies around 15 grams of protein and 260 calories.  Add a piece of whole wheat toast and you're above 20 grams of protein. Add 1/2 an oz of shredded cheese on top and even better if you're not counting calories!  You can do more than that in a protein shake, but I really really love to chew my breakfast!    

Don't forget, you don't have to limit this only to breakfast!  It's a tasty lunch or dinner as well.

My Favorite 
Healthy Breakfast Scramble

2 eggs, beaten with about a teaspoon of water and salt and pepper

2 baby portabella mushrooms, sliced

1 handful of fresh baby spinach

2 tsp. olive oil

1 fresh tomato, sliced or diced 

In a small frying pan, over medium heat, saute the mushrooms in olive oil until they are lightly browned.  Add spinach and stir gently as it warms and goes limp, about 1 minute.... maybe 2 at most.  Add eggs and stir gently until they are set.  Remove from heat.

Slide your breakfast scramble onto your favorite plate and top with diced tomato.  Sprinkle with a tad of salt if desired.

Enjoy warm!