Foolproof Greek Yogurt

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Okay, I know yogurt is not a plant-based food, but for those of us who aren’t vegan and indulge in dairy, it can be a good source of protein in your diet.  The only problem is that store-bought yogurt contains all sorts of yucky stuff! Some are better than others, but seriously, have you ever looked at the label on a container of yoplait? Ew!  Store bought yogurt either has tons of sugar or contains loads of artificial sweetener. Yuck! If you do want the good stuff, you know you’re going to spend an arm and a leg for it.  We are talking $4-6 for 2-3 cups of the stuff… and it still will probably have a few things in it that aren’t that great.  Well let me offer you a perfect solution:

Make your own!

After experimenting for about 6 weeks, I have come up with a foolproof method for making greek yogurt. Yes, the good stuff!  When doing research about making yogurt, I was pretty intimidated by the technicalities of it. Watching temperatures exactly, hovering over cooling milk for hours, it just wasn’t my thing.  So I have tried 3 different methods and adapted them to take the exact measuring out. Now that is MY kind of cooking! After testing my method several times I have yet to get a bad result. The best part? When you are done, it only contains the protein-rich dairy and the bacteria you introduced.  Those two things are all you really eat yogurt for anyway!

Foolproof Greek Yogurt

Ingredients & Supplies:

– 1 gallon milk (I use 2% because that is what my daughter drinks.)

– 2 heaping tablespoons store-bought yogurt with LIVE CULTURES.

– 1 large pot with a  lid

– 1 large bowl

– 1 colander

– 5-6 coffee filters

– 1 old bath towel

Start by pouring the whole gallon of milk into the large pot.  Cover with the lid and heat over medium-low heat on the stove top.  Check the milk now and then for the next 20-30 minutes and watch for it to begin steaming.  You do NOT want to bring it to a boil. That will change the nature of the milk. You just want it to be obviously steaming.  This step sterilizes the milk and kills any bacteria that may already be present.

Once steaming, take the milk off of the heat and allow to sit and cool for about an hour.  You will know it is cool enough to proceed when you touch the milk with a freshly washed finger and it is slightly warmer than your hand, or about the temperature of a tepid bath. This is the optimal temperature to introduce the bacterial culture for best possible growth.

In a separate bowl, mix the 2 heaping tablespoons of store-bought yogurt (or 2 tablespoons of your previous batch of homemade yogurt) with about 1 cup of the warm milk. Stir until the starter yogurt is evenly distributed in the milk.  Pour the starter mixture into pot of warm milk and gently stir until you feel it is evenly distributed throughout the milk. Put the lid on the pot, wrap the pot in a towel, and place inside of your oven to incubate.  DO NOT TURN ON YOUR OVEN. If your oven has a light in it, leave it on to generate a very small amount of warmth.  Allow to sit for 12-14 hours. The longer your yogurt is left to sit at room temperature, the more tart it will become. 12-14 hours of incubation creates a yogurt with a mild and sweet flavor. I experimented with longer times and found 17 hours to create a classic tart flavor.  I prefer the more mild flavor because I don’t feel the need to sweeten it as much, but if you like it tart let it sit longer.

At the end of the incubation period, the yogurt in your pot will be liquid and easy to pour. This is because it contains a large amount of whey, which needs to be strained out. Whey is clear and light yellow, closely resembling egg white.  The more whey you strain out of your yogurt, the thicker it will be. The only difference between greek and regular yogurt is the amount of whey left in it. Doesn’t feel like it is worth that much extra money now, does it?!

To prepare your colander, nest it inside of the large bowl and line it completely with coffee filters.  Most people use cheese cloth instead of coffee filters, but it is so messy to clean up afterward and the coffee filters make clean up a breeze. Just toss them in the trash when you are done!

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Pour the yogurt from your pot into your lined colander. cover with plastic wrap or a lid and allow to sit in the fridge for 12-24 hours.  The longer you allow it to sit, the thicker your yogurt will become. I always let mine sit for 24 hours, and it makes a very thick delicious yogurt that has the same consistency as thick, full-fat sour cream.  Depending on the depth of your bowl, every 6 hours or so you may want to pour out the whey that has collected so that it doesn’t touch the bottom of the colander and stall the straining process.

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To finish, simply scoop your yogurt out of the colander and into an airtight container for storage.  Throw away the coffee filters, and you are done! Don’t forget to leave the last 2 tablespoons of your batch to use as your starter for your next batch! That way you won’t have to purchase any store bought yogurt in the future.

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One gallon of milk yields about 1/2 gallon yogurt for me, but this may vary depending on the holes in your colander, how long you let it sit, etc. I’d say that is a pretty good deal, though! $3 for 1/2 gallon of perfect greek yogurt?! Yes please!

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Tips & Tricks:

– The whey contains the majority of the milk sugar called lactose. Removing as much whey as possible is what makes greek yogurt lower in carbs and higher in protein.  If it feels wasteful to you to throw away the whey, there are ways you can use it.  You can use a little in your bread recipes to create a mild sourdough flavor. It can also be used in the process of making ricotta cheese. I have even thrown it into a batch of sugar cookies!  I have also heard of people feeding it to pigs and chickens if you have any of those around.  Honestly, after trying to be creative with the whey, I have decided that it mostly just adds sugar to things so I don’t feel bad throwing it out. That’s just me. Please let me know if you find a good, healthful use for it!

– My favorite store-bought starter yogurt is called “The Greek Gods” and can only be purchased in larger containers for around $4.  The reason I love it so much is it contains three different LIVE ACTIVE bacterial cultures. They are hearty and fully alive, unlike some of the more popular brands of yogurt which have been heat-treated after incubation to kill most of the bacteria.  They do this to make the taste more stable in case it gets warm while being shipped, which would activate the growth (and sour-flavor) of the bacteria. However, they kill off the beneficial bacteria in the process! Be sure that the label on your starter yogurt says that the cultures are LIVE and ACTIVE or else your milk will never grow any cultures.

– My favorite way to eat this yogurt is with a handful of frozen blueberries on top and a little agave nectar drizzled over it.  It is also a great replacement for sour cream or for mayonnaise when making salad dressing.  I also like to mix it into my daughter’s oatmeal. My husband makes protein smoothies with it in the mornings.

– Plan ahead and incubate your yogurt based on a schedule that works for you. I prefer to incubate my yogurt overnight, starting around 8 pm. This way when I get up in the morning, it is ready to transfer to the colander.  Then 24 hours later at about the same time the next day, it is ready to eat for breakfast.

-You may find that your yogurt is a little lumpy. This is normal.  Just stir it well after straining it to achieve a more smooth consistancy.

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How to Use Tofu

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Are you slightly intimidated by Tofu? If so, you are not alone.  Tofu is a great source of protein that can take the place of meat in many recipes, but few people know how to prepare it. With a little know-how you can stop being intimidated by it and start using it!

Tofu is made from soy beans.  The soybeans are first processed to produce soy milk, and then the soy milk is coagulated into blocks.  It is very bland, and easily takes on the flavor of anything that is added to it.

Tofu comes in several varieties depending on water content. The more water it contains, the softer the tofu.  Silken tofu is the softest, and extra-firm is the hardest.  Silken tofu is great for blending into smoothies and soups, and if chopped and cooked will not stay together. If you want to use tofu as a meat replacement, I recommend buying firm or extra-firm.  This, when used correctly, will stay together much better when cooking.

It is important to press firm or extra-firm tofu before cooking it. Pressing the water from the tofu makes it have a more meat-like texture.  Below are directions for pressing tofu:

1. Cut open the package of tofu and strain off all of the water.

2. Carefully remove the block from the package and press it gently between two paper towels to absorb as much water as possible.  Place the block between two fresh paper towels on a hard surface.

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3. Place a heavy object on top of the block and paper towels.  Allow to sit for 10 minutes.

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4. After it is well drained, you can cube, slice, or crumble the block according to your recipe.

Enjoy!

Note: While tofu is an excellent source of protein, I try to only use soy-based products once a week or so because I have heard that high levels of soy consumption can be estrogenic, meaning it can increase levels of estrogen in the body in both men and women.  Moderation in all things!

Pomelo, Queen of Citrus

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You may have seen a small pile of pomelos in your grocery store before, but your eye may have passed them by because of their unfamiliarity.

They are usually yellow/green, and about two to three times larger than an orange.  Few grocery stores stock them in large quantities, so they are usually located off to the side of the grapefruit somewhere. Below is a picture of a pomelo next to a grapefruit. Yes, a grapefruit.  They are that big!

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I discovered the wondrous pomelo during one of my favorite excursions – “find something weird in the produce department and try to figure out how to use it.” What I discovered would convince me that this is the best citrus fruit… Ever.

Pomelo originate from southeast Asia.  They taste very similar to a grapefruit, minus the bitter taste that turns most people off to grapefruit. That is what makes them so delicious! They pretty much taste like Fresca in a peel.

They have a very thick albedo, which is the white pithy part between the peel and the fruit. So, even though the pomelo appears extremely large, the edible portion inside is much smaller.  This very thick albedo can make them difficult to peel, so I usually cut mine into slices and eat them that way, biting each slice off of the peel as I go. Depending on the fruit, sometimes the membranes between sections can also be very thick and sometimes bitter, so eating around that is a good idea, too.

The most important part about choosing a good pomelo has to do with the smell.  When they are ripe and good, they have THE MOST HEAVENLY SMELL.  I could sniff them for days on end. My version of heaven smells like pomelos all. of. the. time.

When I have a nice, ripe pomelo sitting on my counter it makes my entire kitchen smell heavenly. I can smell it from across the room! It’s beautiful!

While in the grocery store, select a nice yellowy pomelo and give it a hearty sniff.  If you can easily detect a citrusy, grapefruity smell, it will probably taste nice and sweet inside.  If you can’t smell anything, or the smell is very faint, do not bother buying one. They usually aren’t cheap and it is worth it to wait for a really good one.

Other ways to pick a good one: the peel should be more yellow than green, the larger the fruit the better, and when squeezed it should have a little give which means the albedo is nice, soft and thick.

Pomelos are delicious to eat just as they are, but can also be incorporated into other lovely dishes. If you have the patience to remove all of the sections from the membranes, they are great in fresh fruit salads, and in China it is commonly used in pork stir fry.

Have you eaten a pomelo before? If you have, I would love to hear about it!

P.s. When we were in Disneyland 2 weeks ago, we saw gorgeous pomelo trees with beautiful, big fruit on them right on Mainstreet USA, near the entrance to Tomorrowland!  I got just as excited as my 2-year-old when she spotted Mickey Mouse. I wanted to pick one soooo badly.

For the Love of Beans

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Beans, as you may have heard, are magical.  They are magical not because they give you gas (which can be avoided, FYI!), but because they are a low-fat, protein & iron-rich food that comes completely unprocessed from plants! Yay!  They are also delicious.

I didn’t always like beans. In fact, when I was younger I pretty much avoided them as much as possible. I’m not sure what changed, but after preparing them myself for several years, they have become a staple in my diet. I even crave them.

If you only buy beans in a can, you are missing out.  Not only is it WAY more expensive to buy them in a can, but they are also more processed and contain a lot more salt than is necessary.  Most people avoid cooking their own beans from dry because it is so time consuming. Well guess what? It’s time to get over that.  With a little thinking ahead, you can have your own beans that are ready to use at a moments notice WITHOUT using canned. The secret? Cooking & freezing beans in bulk.

Every 6-8 weeks I take about a day to soak, cook, & freeze enough beans in a few varieties to last us for the next 6-8 weeks. I usually freeze them in quart bags, which I lay flat in my freezer and they stack up quite nicely.  When I want to use them, I just pop them out of the freezer, into the microwave on defrost, or right into a pot already cooking full of goodness on the stove. Ta da!

The method I use is simple. It is a little time consuming, but definitely NOT labor intensive. You just have to plan ahead a little bit.  This method is the soak-rinse-cook-rinse method, and when followed, will DRASTICALLY REDUCE if not ELIMINATE the dreaded gaseous side affects from eating beans.

Soak-Rinse-Cook-Rinse Method:

Place your dry beans in a bowl. Choose a bowl that is large enough that you only fill it about half-way, because when beans soak, they expand a lot.  Cover the beans in cool water with about 1-2 inches of water above the level of the beans.  Cover with a dish towel and allow to sit overnight, or for at least 10-12 hours.

When you come back to your beans, you will notice they have expanded nicely! Good job, beans!  Rinse them thoroughly under cold water in a colander.

Put the rinsed beans into either a pot on the stove or a crockpot.  Cover again with water, about 1-2 inches above the level of the beans.  Season as desired. I usually add a little salt, garlic & onion powder. Cook until soft.

The amount of time needed to cook depends on the variety of the beans. Black beans are a pretty hard bean, and will take longer, whereas great northern beans or navy beans are much softer and will take less time.  Be careful not to overcook them because they will become mushy in any dish you add them to.  Unless you are making refried beans, then it doesn’t matter as much.  It is usually about 1 hour. This is a great list of recommended cooking times for beans.

If cooking in a crockpot, you can put it on high for 3-4 hours, or on low for 5-6 hours.  I usually have one variety cooking in my crockpot and another two boiling on my stove.

After cooking is complete, rinse the beans again in a colander under cool water. Rinsing the beans twice is very important for washing away the chemicals that give you gas. Rinse rinse rinse!!

Fill your quart bags 1/2 full and lay flat in the freezer. One of these bags is usually the perfect portion of beans for my small family of 3. The three staple varieties in my household are black beans, pinto beans, and kidney beans.

Give beans a chance! They are a wonderful food!