Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Success! Crock Pot Yogurt

Recently I learned that you can make yogurt in the crock pot. I love yogurt. I eat it every day, sometimes multiple times a day and I also like the Greek kind, which many of you know is more expensive. I have to admit I was skeptical about making it in the crock pot. I have always assumed yogurt to be one of those foods that most of us would be better off not knowing how it is made--like cottage cheese. However, curiosity got the best of me and I decided to give the yogurt in the crock pot a shot. I did a lot of reading about the process too, so I could understand the "why" behind each step.  My reading led me to the conclusion that industrial yogurt making is not all that different than making it in the crock pot--just in case you are skeptical like I was. The recipe comes from Stephanie O'Dea's blog--which I cannot recommend enough.

The recipe calls for whole milk, but you can use skim or 2%. It is a good idea to start with whole when you are learning because it will set a bit better. Once you got the process down, you can try lower fat milks.  This recipe should be started in the early evening (5-6 PM) or done on a weekend because of the timing.


1/2 gallon of whole milk, pasteurized (NOT ultra-pasteurized)
yogurt starter (I used 7 oz of Fage, but next time I will use my homemade yogurt)


1) Pour the milk into a very clean crock pot. Set to low and leave for 2 1/2 hours so the milk reaches 180 degrees. Most crock pots will bring the milk close to this temperature, but you might want to use a thermometer to check. If is not at 180, leave it for 15-30 minutes. If it nowhere close to 180, turn the crock pot up to high and check in 30 minutes.

Why: By bringing the milk up to 180 degrees you kill the bad bacteria that you do not want in your yogurt that can effect the taste and the texture of the final product.

2) When the milk is at 180 degrees, unplug the crock pot, leave it covered and come back in three hours. At this point it should be at about 120 degrees. If not, let it cool more.

Why: By letting the milk cool to 120 degrees, you bring the milk to a temperature where the live cultures can thrive and do their "thing" that turns the milk into yogurt. If it is too high, the live cultures will die. If it is too cool, the cultures will not turn the milk into yogurt.

3) Scoop out a couple cups of milk and whisk the starter yogurt in and pour back into the crock pot. Wrap the crock pot in a towel and let it sit for at least 8 hours. I put my crock pot wrapped in towel in my oven (turned off). If you are doing this in the early evening after this step you can go to sleep.

Why: You want the milk to stay in a temperature range where the live cultures can do their thing. The longer your milk stays in this range, the better the yogurt will taste. This is why I put it in my oven. I figured if any heat escaped, at least it would be in a small enclosed space.

4) After 8 hours (and even a bit longer if you want tangier flavor), you should have yogurt. It might be a bit runnier than you are used to (store bought yogurt typically contains thickeners), but you can strain it in cheese cloth or with coffee filters. The more you strain it, the thicker it will be.

5) Add whatever sweetener you want--sugar, vanilla, honey, fresh fruit, or frozen fruit. 

Enjoy! It should last 7-10 days in the fridge. I store it in Mason jars. Making your own yogurt will save you a lot of money. I typically by Chobani singles which are $1.35 each. The yogurt I made today cost under $3.00 and I got at least 48 ounces. Next time it will cost less since I can use my own yogurt as a starter.  You also avoid all of the weird things in store bought yogurt and you can control how much sugar or sweetener is in it.

The Straining Process


Friday, December 9, 2011

BLT Chicken Pasta

I love going to the grocery store—however, sometimes I like to challenge myself and see what I can do with ingredients that I have on hand. I had two ingredients that I really wanted to use—kale and grape tomatoes. I usually cook kale at a high temperature in the oven in various sauces and spices, but I wanted something different that incorporated both. Kale is like lettuce and with tomatoes it made me think of an American favorite—BLTs. I was not in the mood for a sandwich, I needed more protein than just bacon and that is where my idea was born—BLT Chicken Pasta. This was absolutely delicious and it really hit the spot. This is definitely something I will make again.

4 slices of bacon, sliced in bite sized pieces
2 chicken breasts
8 oz of grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1 small head of kale, chopped
3 cups of cooked pasta (I used rotini)

1)      In a pan, sauté the bacon and once you get some grease going, add the chicken breasts and cook until they are done, about 6 minutes a side. In the meantime, cook your pasta in a large pot (you will need it later). Drain and return to the pot you cooked it in.

2)       With a slotted spoon, remove the bacon and also the chicken. Set aside.

3)      Add the grape tomatoes and the kale to the same sauté pan and cook until the kale is wilted and the tomatoes hot. Slice the chicken into strips and cut in half.

4)      Put the pasta back on the stove in the pot you cooked it in, add the contents of the sauté pan and then the chicken and bacon.  Cook under low heat, tossing all of the ingredients evenly.

This was great when I ate it and even better the next day as leftovers.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

White Sauce--My Tips, Tricks and a Great Way to Use It (Mac 'n Cheese)

Last night I made a white sauce. I have made white sauces before and they just never seem to turn out the way they should. This was a white sauce for a big dinner party and it had 1 ½ sticks of butter in it, ¾ cups of flour, 7 ½ cups of milk, and 1 ½ cups of half & half, so if it did not work, it would mean a trip to the grocery store, so I was determined. It turned out perfectly. Here are my tips for making the perfect white sauce:

1)      Whisk!
Whisk, from the moment you add the flour to the butter and do not stop until it is nice and thick. If you are uncoordinated this might mean enlisting a helper to add ingredients. Whisk, scraping up the bits of flour and butter stuck to the bottom of the pan. Use a wire whisk and not a Teflon one as it just does the job better. If you have a lot of volume, it will take longer to get thick, so you could be whisking a long time (for me it was at least 15 to 20 minute process, but my recipe was tripled).

2)      Be Patient
I was on the phone asking my Mom, “What do I do if this does not get thicker? Do I add flour, cornstarch or butter?” She told me to be patient and keep on whisking. I tripled my recipe, and I expected the thickening time to be about triple that of the recipe, but it was taking even longer than that. I was beginning to get frustrated because nothing was happening. I would question myself as I looked at the sauce—is it getting thicker or am I just being hopeful? I whisked and whisked some more—and then all of the sudden the sauce changed. It turned from a frothy mixture that could barely coat the back of a spoon to this creamy thick wonder. So be patient. You will know when your sauce is properly thickened and just whisk away and await the transformation.

3)      Be mindful of heat.
During the first step when you are melting the butter, I recommend medium high heat, and definitely no more than that. You do not want the butter to burn or you will be repeating this step. You also don’t want the flour to scorch. When I added the milk, I definitely dropped the temperature a bit because I wanted it to slowly heat up and you do not want the milk to boil. As soon as it is nice and thick, turn off your heat.

Whole Milk
4) Use whole milk. I cannot stand drinking the stuff, however, if you want your white sauce to have a rich and creamy taste, milk with higher fat content will give you that flavor. I also cannot help but wonder how much the extra fat helps the sauce thicken up.

The following recipe would be great for making macaroni & cheese:

4 Tbs. of butter
4 Tbs. of flour
2 ½ cups whole milk (you could use lower fat, I used whole because I thought
Salt & Pepper to taste
½ cup of Half & Half (optional)
1 ½ cups shredded cheddar cheese (or gruyere or Jarlsberg)

1)      In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. When the butter is completely melted, whisk in the flour.  Let the mixture become golden and bubbly—whisk constantly for 3-5 minutes. Do not let it burn. Add salt & pepper.
2)      While whisking, slowly pour in the milk and half & half. Turn the temperature down just a bit. Keep on whisking until the mixture thickens. This could take anywhere from 2-6 minutes, although if you increase the volume of the recipe, it will take longer. Be patient! My Grandma June suggested adding the milk bit by bit rather than all at once and that sounded like a good idea to me.
3)      Once the sauce is thick, turn the heat off and stir in the shredded cheese.

To make macaroni & cheese, mix some cooked pasta (shells or macaroni) with the sauce, spread in a casserole dish and top with some shredded cheese and cook in the oven for about 20 minutes at 350. Yeah—it is really bad for you, but we all deserve to indulge sometimes.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wild Rice Soup--a Minnesota Favorite!

I'm back! I have been on a blogging hiatus while I worked on a very special gift for a friend, that I will maybe share later. I am hoping to keep up with the posting through the holidays, but we will see! Life is crazy.

I made this soup for a friend who is a new mother. I chose wild rice soup because it is hearty and delicious and is filled with good proteins from the rice and chicken. It took me a long time to find a recipe that I liked, but I used this Southern Living recipe as a base, and changed it quite a bit. This soup is sure to warm you up this winter!

Ingredients1/2 cup wild rice
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
2 parsnips, chopped (optional)
8 oz of baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1-2 TBS of Olive Oil
1/4 cup of butter
1/4 cup of flour
1/2 cup of half & half
1 1/2 cooked and cubed chicken
6 cups of chicken broth

1) Cook the wild rice. In a small pot, add 1 cup of water to the rice. Bring to a boil, cover and turn the heat down and let it simmer until all of the water is absorbed and the rice is tender. You may need to add more water. This takes about 45-60 minutes and can be done the day before. Set aside.

2) Heat up a pan and add 1-2 TBS of EVOO. Saute the onions, celery, carrots, parsnips and mushrooms and on medium heat and cook until the onions are golden brown and the mushrooms are no longer steaming. Set aside.

3) In a soup pot, melt the butter and then whisk in the flour. Let the mixture turn golden brown and bubble a bit, while still whisking it. It should cook for 3-5 minutes. After that, add the half & half, whisking until the mixture starts to thicken. Then slowly add in the chicken broth, still whisking. Keep on whisking, picking up any bits of butter & flour mixture that stick to the bottom of the pan. You should let it come to the point it is almost boiling, but not quite as you do not want any curdling. Keep on whisking it for 6-8 minutes. It should be thicker than a normal soup, but it is not the end of the world if it is not.

4) Add the vegetable mixture and the wild rice and let cook (without boiling) for about 30 minutes.