Monday, September 29, 2014

How to Make Yogurt In a Slow-Cooker

It's been done before, and blogged about before. But I wanted to record my sister's method here for others to reference with ease. Before I launch into the recipe, allow me to describe this yogurt's virtues. 

First, it is cheap. I used to spend $3.79 (or sometimes, if I was lucky - $3.00) on a 2 pint container of organic, full-fat yogurt. Now I can spend $1.89 (or $3.19-3.69 if organic) on a half-gallon of milk (plus say $0.50 max of store-bought yogurt "starter") and turn it into twice as much yogurt. Second, it is tasty. I would liken the taste to Straus, which is now sadly unavailable to us in KY. It is tangy, but not overly so, and it is thick, but still smooth. Finally, it is versatile. You can strain it if you want Greek yogurt. 

Yogurt a la The Cheesy Sisters 

1. Obtain a crock-pot with a temperature probe function. I use this one.
2. Get a half-gallon of whole milk. (I have had the best luck with milk that is not ultra-pasteurized. Unfortunately, around here, this means the milk that I can find which fits these specifications is not organic. Try a couple of different types and see what works best for you. I strongly suggest using whole milk. You will not get the same texture or taste if you use a less-fatty - inferior - milk.)
3. Get about 2 heaping tablespoons of plain yogurt. I use Stonyfield plain yogurt. I have used full-fat and low fat with no discernable difference in results. (As I continue making my own yogurt, I hope to just begin with the dregs of my previous batch and re-use my homemade yogurt as the starter. I've read that sometimes homemade starter loses its efficacy over time, but I will try this and report back in comments.)
4. Pour all that milk in the slow cooker and set it on high, using the probe, to reach a temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
4. Set about 2 heaping tablespoons of the plain yogurt starter aside in a bowl so that it warms up to room temperature. Wait.
5. When the milk hits 180 degrees, turn off the slow cooker. Stir the milk some and skim off any skin.
6. Wait, and wait until the temperature of the milk drops to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. While you're waiting, gather a couple beach towels or a sleeping bag. (In my experience, for the temperature to drop 60 degrees it takes well over an hour. It will go faster if you stir the milk occasionally. When I stir the milk, I always find more "skin" to skim off. To check the temperature, you can use a meat thermometer, but I have had better results with a candy thermometer. I think it is more accurate. If anything, I would err on starting the following step #7 in the recipe at a temperature slightly under 120, rather than over 120. If the milk is too hot, it might kill those marvelous active cultures in your starter.)
7. When the temperature is at 120, stir a little of the warm milk from the slow cooker into your starter. Stir it until it is smooth and then slowly stir all that starter+milk into the milk in the slow cooker. Stir it gently until the starter is well incorporated. 
8. Put the cover back on the slow cooker and wrap the whole slow cooker in towels or a sleeping bag to incubate the milky culture. Set it aside (I like to put it in my oven (turned off!) so it is out of the way) for 8-12 hours in its warm little nest. 
9. Unwrap and open up the slow cooker to find YOGURT! You'll see some whey on top. You can pour or skim that off and save it for baking or pancakes. Or you can even chug it for the probiotics, which I'll admit is kind of nasty but makes me feel pretty crunchy and strong. If you want thicker yogurt, I have had good results setting a Chemex strainer over a bowl and just letting the yogurt strain a bit. I store this in my trusty Duralex food storage containers, but mason jars, or Tupperware would work fine too.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Home Ownership Miner Style

I have received one request for pictures of our new home. So I will impose a solitary picture on the Internet at large. Earlier, I had shared one photo on Twitter of our amazing retro bathroom light fixtures. They are in each of the two larger bathrooms. They function in one and appear to be purely "decorative" in the other. 

I have many projects - including ones that involve the aforementioned light fixtures - around the house in the mix and I am no serious DIY-er, but I will endeavor to share small glimpses into our home as I manage to slowly make it more "finished." Friends and family should come visit us now, regardless of the state of the house, but suffice to say I am very motivated to whip more things into shape so we can host plenty of visitors.

Tonight, I bring you our hilarious, but functional, toy storage.
First, it bears mentioning that we would never have had space for all this in our old apartment. We crammed it in there somehow, but this room + the dining room + the kitchen approximate the size of our entire apartment in San Francisco. We are swimming in space here. To illustrate the point, we have one entire (large) room that is devoid of all furniture but a $12 end table I picked up at a thrift shop last week, two lamps, an area rug, and two currently seat-less dining chairs I need to repair. So, perhaps it goes without saying that my favorite part about this toy storage is that we have ample space for it.

I also love that this is constructed out of my cheapo graduate school closet clothes storage (the metal grid shelf structure) and beer boxes from our beloved local liquor store in San Francisco (Reno's*). The guys at Reno's let us use dozens of used beer boxes for moving our stuff. I "wrapped" the beer boxes that remained in decent condition after the move in butcher paper and just taped them up and labeled them. 

The other excellent aspect of this storage is that it actually does not hold all that much. I have always had a tendency to purge whatever strikes me as clutter, but after reading "Simplicity Parenting" several years ago, I try to make somewhat regular attempts to winnow down the girls' toys. It's time to do another one of those major sort-and-donate missions, but for now this is working pretty well. There are far more than enough items to keep the girls entertained and occupied, but not so many toys that they (or I) find it too overwhelming to clean up, or that drown them in so much excess that they don't really "play" with what they have.

So, enjoy the wall color that we did not choose, the carpet I hope to part with, and the sentimental beer boxes turned toy box. This is how we do.

*I miss Reno's so much. It has been surprisingly difficult to adjust to not having a corner store. I miss the community of the Dogpatch present at Reno's, the ease with which I could just run in and grab whatever I "needed" (pints of ice cream, beer), and I hate having to drive most everywhere here. If you haven't thanked your local bodega owners recently, send them my love. I love them with all the nostalgia in my very nostalgic heart.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Am I Becoming More of An Introvert...

...or am I just compelled to forgo social interaction and replace light switch covers because that's what "normal" first-time home owners do?

These are the questions that keep me up at night these days. Not really. Lydia and Stella do a pretty good job of that most of the time. But I do wonder whether moving at this juncture in my life will make me turn inward a bit 

more. Certainly, not knowing too many people here makes staying home a more attractive option than it used to be. Living in an actual home, instead of a tiny apartment, also has that effect. And my desire to really settle in, fix things up, etc, also moves me in a crafty, or nesting mode instead of a go-introduce-myself-to-strangers or mill-around-town mood most of the time. It doesn't help that there's not all that much to do here other than thrift shop. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy thrift shopping more than the average person probably, but I need to get into another routine - like going for hikes, or something.

All this is to say that I've been kind of withdrawn lately. Not in an unhappy way necessarily, but a reflective, and sometimes lonely one. 

I'll sign off with two hilarious pieces of the Internet that were sent my way recently:

  1. Signs You're a San Francisco Parent (guilty as charged to numbers 3, 7, 9, 18, etc etc)
  2. It's Like They Know Us (I laughed aloud, repeatedly)