Monday, September 21, 2009

The Three Chef-kateers!

All of you with little people in your life that want to be just like you need to get this book. Buy, borrow, or rent, just hurry, winter is coming, do it now!

A friend and I are doing a pre-school swap this semester since we both have kids who won't start kindergarten for two more years--we wanted them to get the fun and exposure to pre-school, but with a more relaxed and flexible schedule and without the pre-school cost and committment.

For the month of September we've been studying food. Where it grows, how it grows, why we should eat a balanced diet, and yes, cooking. We went to the library and looked for books the kids could read to go along with our theme, field trips, etc. There are a lot more books on the topic in the picture-book/early reader section than I would have imagined, and we came away with a dozen or so on various topics. My favorite has to be the book I mentioned at the top of the post. It's called Salad People and it's a picture cookbook with recipes even pre-schoolers can make largely themselves. Obviously each recipe has "adult-only" jobs, but after the intro page and written recipe there are step-by-step picture instructions as well.
It was my turn to host the kids, so we made a little menu, grocery shopped for the items we needed, and then it was cooking time. I was really impressed by how well everybody listened and how patient they were in waiting. Our menu: granola, focaccia bread, and cream of tomato soup. I'd be willing to guess there are a large number of adults who haven't cooked these items from "scratch" but with the instructions in this book they really were easy enough that two 3-year-olds (and a one-year-old who thinks she's three, of course) did it. :) No food tastes better than food you made yourself!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Yogurt, Yum!

Ok, so during my blogging hiatus I've finally been trying several of the things I've wanted to, but just didn't get around to. (Sounds a bit like my blogging now that I mention it...)

My favorite is the yogurt. I'd seen a lot of people posting that they'd made yogurt and it's gotten so pricey...really, .$75 for a 4-6oz. carton of NON-organic yogurt? I enjoy a yogurt here and there, but with the way everyone else in my family eats it, we'd need to buy stock in Yoplait.

Anyway, I figured I'd give it a shot and worst case scenario was I'd wasted a half gallon of milk. Well, it turned out great! We're well on our way to batch #3 and I'm not rationing yogurt anymore. :) It's super simple and hands-off too. Here's my "recipe" (which I originally found here) if you can call it that, why not give it a try?
What you need:
1/2 gallon whole milk
1/4-1/2 cup non-fat dry milk (optional, will increase thickness as well as calcium/protein in your yogurt)
1/2 cup plain, unsweetened live-culture yogurt (this is your starter and can be any plain yogurt, you just don't want it to have added sugar or flavorings...I've heard Dannon naturals works well, I used yogurt from a local farm the first time and 1/2 c. from my first batch the second time.)

This is what you do:
Pour the entire half gallon of milk into your crockpot on its lowest (not warm) setting. Cook for 2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Turn crockpot off and let the milk sit for 3 hours. Place two cups of warm milk in a separate bowl and stir in plain yogurt "starter" until well combined, then return the mixture to the crockpot with the rest of the warm milk. Pour in non-fat dry milk if using.
Take the whole crockpot, wrap in a heavy towel and place in a warm place (I like to use my oven with the light on--doesn't get bumped and it stays nice and warm) for at least 8 hours or overnight.
When you wake up you will have yogurt!
Place in a large bowl and keep in the fridge, it will stay fresh about 7-10 days in it's plain form.

To serve:
Scoop out the desired amount and add honey, fruit, jam, vanilla, granola, etc. to taste. Only flavor/sweeten what you'll use at once since it becomes less thick once you add flavorings.
For an extra special treat, place the desired amount of yogurt in a coffee filter over a mug Let sit for at least two hours, then drain liquid in bottom of cup. You'll have super thick, creamy Greek-style yogurt. Sweeten and top as before!
Ignore the following if you're just in a crafty mood and don't care about the cost-benefit analysis. However, I was curious how much I was actually saving, so I did the math. I've included it below. These are based on the typical prices I've seen here in my upper-midwestern grocery store. You actual costs may be more or less depending on location, but it should give you a good idea at least. I've given ranges of price, but used my high-end numbers accross the board, results would obviously be a bit different if I had used the middle of the range or the bottom, but it should scale similarly.

Cost analysis: This is a great way to save a bunch of money! For traditional yogurt I figure the total cost for one batch (~1/2 gallon) is between $1.50 and $2. Cost for organic is between $3-4 per batch. A typical single-serve(4oz.) traditional yogurt costs between $0.40-0.75 per container and organic is between $.75-1.25 per container. Greek yogurt is even pricier, costing between $1.25-2.5o for a single serving. Each batch of homemade yogurt makes about 16 single servings (or 12 servings of Greek-style once you pour off the liquid). Using these numbers the costs for homemade yogurt per serving is as follows: $0.125 per serving for traditional, $0.25 for organic,
or $0.16 for Greek-style. Total savings for one batch of traditional yogurt? $10 ($12 for 64oz. purchased yogurt in single-serving containers-$2 for 64oz. homemade yogurt.) That's quite a bit of saving!