When I was little I was a very picky eater. (My parents are both fabulous cooks by the way.) In the last few years I have often looked at the food I am cooking and thought,"First grade Sarah would not have appreciated this food." I cook some pretty odd things these days, which I now consider delicious, but I know that if I think about it, I would still be able to point out the characteristics of a given food that have would have determined why my little self could not have done anything but despise it. Some of these traits include soggy, slimy, mealy or plastic-like textures; bitterness which adults often fail to notice; sulfurous, fishy, or otherwise strong unpleasant odor; and unidentifiable ingredients (which was often solved by cooking with my Mom).
Thinking back to those times, I find it funny that even though I would need to receive punishments before I would eat plain chicken or hot dogs, I and my sisters always ate my Dad's soup. You may think to yourself, "Oh, kids always love chicken or tomato soup." But my Dad has always been more creative than that. He is inspired more by ingredients than by recipes. Some of the soups we curiously consumed included a beef soup with mandarin oranges and watermelon in it (both turned to odd strings of sponge); a multi-vegetable soup of family legend which prompted me to ask, "Do I have to eat the black corn?" (ask us about that one); and various soups using Chinese ingredients such as reconstituted fungus or dehydrated vegetable protein. I am not sure what led my sisters and me not to flinch at such unusual combinations. Perhaps we felt daring, or perhaps we knew that the recipes could not be reproduced and so it was a one time obligation.
The one constant in my relationship with food has been yogurt. I have and could eat it for any meal of the day throughout my life. Sometimes we purchased it, often my Mom made it for me, and now I regularly make it for Nathanael and myself. Making yogurt is less expensive (especially here in Wisconsin where the milk is well priced, but virtually no local yogurt companies exist), and this makes me feel a lot better about using it as an ingredient for indian food, or eating it frequently with cranberry sauce.
If you've never made yogurt before, the process is neither difficult nor precise...
1. Put some milk in a pot.
I usually measure out 8 cups of whole milk, but you can use other milks and you can certainly use smaller amounts.
2. Heat the milk (while stirring) until it steams and has some foam on top, but not to boiling.
3. Turn off the burner and allow the milk to cool until you consider it comfortable to touch. It should still be very warm but not have that sharpness of heat that would make you call it hot.* (If using a thermometer this is between 90 and 120 degrees F.)
4. Mix in a few tablespoons of store bought yogurt, preferably something with three or more bacterial varieties that is fresh (not opened more than 14 days ago).
5. Pour the mixture into glass containers. Jars or bowls both work.
6. Cover and place in a warm* (90 to 120F) place for 6 to 8 hours.
I usually turn the oven to the lowest temp (200 on mine) for 10 minutes, then place my jars in a water bath, turn off the stove, slide them in and leave them overnight. But the heat for our building is turned up so high I could probably just leave them by the radiators.
7. Refrigerate. (This will cause additional thickening.)
*If the yogurt cultures are exposed to temperatures over 120 for very long they will begin to die off. You might get some thickening, but your yogurt will probably be less than satisfactory.
If the temperature falls below 90 the cultures will not continue to multiply and thicken your yogurt, but you can return them to the proper temperatures for a longer period of time and it will continue to thicken (even if you have already refrigerated it).
Finally, a few wise words from New Hampshire's yogurt man, Gary Hirshberg, who spoke at my most recent graduation...he gave us all free yogurt.