Category: Recipe

Happenings Around the Homestead – The Yogurt Edition

Will this winter ever end‽  The bitter cold temperatures have continued this week, though they have been sandwiched between some warmer days.  That means we have had some rain, some melting, some freezing, some snow – sheesh.  While some of the country is used to many days of snow-covered ground, we aren’t here in western Kentucky.  What makes this worse is that it seems we are going to have a wet few weeks now, which will make the ground an absolute mess.  Candidly, this makes me thankful I have went with the Back to Eden Garden type this year.  Those wood chips are going to be a lot easier to work with than mud, that is for sure.

The two things I have worked on this week is finalizing what seeds and plants I need for the spring and making homemade yogurt for the first time.  I’ll spend much of this post on the latter of the two.  The seed ordering had to be done though – we are nearing time to start planting peas and other spring crops, yet with the snow on the ground it isn’t happening just yet.  Perhaps this week I can get some seeds out.  I could probably wait up to two weeks and still be okay, but it is time.

Now, on to yogurt making!

This is something I have wanted to try for a while, but I have just been a little intimidated by doing something new like this.  However, I am eating clean again, which for me is very low carbohydrate.  This means I am avoiding anything low fat, and most storebought yogurt is just that – low fat.  So, I decided to make some of my own.  Basically, the recipe that I used is as follows:

While some would say it is not required, it is advised that all utinsils you are using to make yogurt be boiled beforehand and allowed to air (or oven) dry.  This is to reduce the chance that other bacteria will get into your yogurt mix, thereby ruining it.

  • 1 quart of milk (or substitute – see below)
  • 1/4 cup of a plain commercial yogurt that contains live cultures (I used Dannon)

Heat the 1 quart of milk to 185° F, constantly stirring.  Once it reaches 185° F, remove it from the heat.  Some folks say you can speed cool this by placing a container with the heated milk in cool water, but others say to let it cool on its own.  Once it reaches 100° F, you can add the yogurt.  I recommend two things though.  Wait until it cools to room temperature.  This leaves no room for error.  If your milk it too hot, it kills the live cultures in the yogurt.  Second, I mixed the yogurt in with some of the milk, 1/2 cup, before mixing it into all of it.  It seems to help it mix better.

Once you have mixed the yogurt with a small amount of the room temperature milk you just heated, then mix it in with the rest of the pan.  Stir well.  Now, pour the mix into a container (I used 1 quart canning jars), cover the jars (I used plastic wrap and a rubber band to hold it on), and place them in a place to allow the cultures to grow.  This could be in an oven with just the oven light on, or you could use a yogurt maker.  I chose to put them in our Excalibur Dehydrator on 100° F.  The key is keeping it between 95° F and 110° F.  Outside of that range it may not work.

The yogurt is technically done after 8 hours, but you can let it continue to ferment for up to 24 hours.  Going longer than 24 hours is playing with fire though, as the bacteria will run out of food (sugar) soon after that and begin to die.  Why would you choose a shorter or a longer time?  The longer it ferments, the more tart and thick it will be.  It also will have less sugar left, as the bacteria continue to eat the sugar until it is all gone, at which time the bacteria die.  Ideally, I am trying to achieve just this: as little sugar as possible.  As such, I let mine cook for 24 hours.

Once you remove the yogurt, place it in the refrigerator to cool and thicken.  It may or may not be as thick as what you get in the grocery store, as most of the grocery store yogurts have thickening agents added.  You can do this too with pectin or another thickener.  I chose to not do this.

Now, let’s share some pics and I will share what I did different than noted above.

First off, I made three batches.  Now one thing to realize is that you can make yogurt with many things, it doesn’t have to be just milk.  As long as it contains sugar, the bacteria will grow.  The three mixes I chose are as follows:

  • three cups of coconut milk and one cup of heavy cream
  • two cups of coconut milk and two cups of heavy cream
  • one cup of heavy cream and three cups of 2% milk

Technically, if you just use heavy cream, you will end up with sour cream, but I wanted some of the thickening that the heavy cream would provide.

So, I started with these two ingredients for the first two batches:

Heavy Cream and Coconut Milk

Heavy Cream and Coconut Milk

Once mixed together, this stuff looked pretty nasty.  😀

Heavy Cream and Coconut Milk

Heavy Cream and Coconut Milk Mixed Together

While cooking, I used a candy thermometer along with constant stirring to be sure it didn’t stick and that the temperature stayed correct:

Cooking Yogurt

Cooking Yogurt

Once it was done, I place the jars into the dehydrator to ferment:

Fermenting Yogurt

Fermenting Yogurt

The milk and heavy cream ended up being the most thick – check this out!

Thick Yogurt

Thick Yogurt (3 cups of 2% milk and 1 cup of heavy whipping cream)

That is not a table behind the yogurt – it is a door!  That is being held sideways!  It smelled somewhat of cream cheese.

The other two looked good too, though the one made with the most coconut milk is the most thin, and it could not be held sideways at all.

Coconut Milk/Heavy Cream Yogurt

Coconut Milk (3 cups) and Heavy Cream (1 cup) Yogurt

Candidly, it was milkshake thick.  Here is the one with half coconut milk and half heavy cream:

Half and Half - Heavy Cream and Coconut Milk Yogurt

Half and Half – Heavy Cream and Coconut Milk Yogurt

Finally, here is a jar held normally:

Yogurt - Finished Product

Yogurt – Finished Product

Okay, I am sure you are all interested in how it tastes.  I decided to do a taste testing video for you.  Here goes:


Easy Real Vanilla Extract

The older I get, the more I realize these two things:

  1. Homemade is almost always better.
  2. Doing something right is almost always worth it.

A couple of years ago I decided to make my own vanilla extract, and I haven’t regretted it.  Not only has it been significantly less expensive, it tastes better too.  A few weeks back Charity let me know that it was about time to make the next batch, so I began getting the ingredients together.

First, I ordered vanilla beans from

Madagascar Vanilla Beans

Madagascar Vanilla Beans

Resist the temptation to get premium beans and save some money while improving the quality of your extract by using grade B.  Thankfully it is not the end of the world if you order grade A because I messed up and did that on this order.  The reason to go with grade B is that there is less moisture in them, which makes for a better extract.  In my case, I will just have to use more beans.  Of course, grade B beans are less attractive, but who cares how they look for an extract?

You can spend all day searching for vanilla extract recipes, but you might still miss out on the real keys.  To be considered real vanilla extract, the extract must have the following attributes (see CFR part 169.175 for more information on the regulation specifying these attributes):

  • Vanilla Extract must contain no less than 35% alcohol (70 proof).
  • Vanilla Extract must contain 13.35 oz of vanilla beans per gallon of alcohol, which means you need 0.835 oz. of vanilla beans per cup of alcohol.
  • If your beans contain more than 25% moisture, then you will need to use more beans.  In my case, Beanilla’s premium vanilla beans contain approximately 33% moisture, which meant I had to use more beans.  (I used the following formula: (13.35 oz * 0.75)/0.67 = 14.94.  In other words, I need 14.94 oz of premium vanilla beans per gallon of alcohol (or 0.934 oz per cup, which I will round to 1 oz per cup).  Because I am using 80 proof alcohol, I could further adjust this, but I am going to choose not to since a higher alcohol content is acceptable.)

With all that legal mumbo jumbo out of the way, let’s make some extract!

The ingredients I will use is as follows:

  • 1 oz of vanilla beans (this is more than is required, but more is acceptable, less is not)
  • 1 cup of alcohol that is at least 70 proof (35%)

Now, let’s begin the real work.

  • Cut the beans longways.  Some folks say to scrape the pith out, but by cutting the beans longways you are allowing the pith to come in contact with the alcohol, which is what you are after.
  • Next, cut the beans in small pieces.  The smaller the better here.  The more surface that can touch the alcohol, the better.
  • Put the cut beans into an appropriate sized jar and add the alcohol.
  • Store in a cool dark place, and shake vigorously every day for at least the first week.
  • After the first week, store in a cool dark place and shake vigorously a few times a week for the next three weeks.
  • At this point, your extract is done; however, I prefer to let mine age as long as possible — at least six months.  Longer is better.

First, we need to slice our beans longways:

Slicing Vanilla Beans Longways

Slicing Vanilla Beans Longways

Next, cut the bean pods into small segments.  Remember, smaller is better, as the more surface area that touches the alcohol, the better.

Cutting Vanilla Beans

Cutting Vanilla Beans

Cut Vanilla Beans

Cut Vanilla Beans


Place the pith and the cut pods into a glass jar and add the alcohol.

Cut Vanilla Beans in a Glass Jar

Cut Vanilla Beans in a Glass Jar

Day One of the Vanilla Extract Aging

Day One of the Vanilla Extract Aging

Aged Bourbon Vanilla Extract

Aged Bourbon Vanilla Extract

That’s it!  Now I’ve place my jar in a cabinet to be taken out and shaken as described above.  Though I will strain out the pith when I am ready to use the extract, I will leave the pods in the extract, as I suspect some vanilla will still extract out over time, and there is no danger of spoiling in the proportions used for this recipe.

You will notice, perhaps, the last picture is labeled “Aged Bourbon Vanilla Extract”.  The first time we made this, we made one batch with bourbon, which gives the vanilla a different flavor that adds some uniqueness to the foods you make with the extract, and you’re not likely going to find that on a store shelf.

I owe significant credit to the Vanilla Extract Instructionable and the superceding instructions.