Slow Cooker Greek Yogurt

Homemade Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt is a great source of protein and probiotics.  It’s thick and creamy even when made with skim milk.  The only problem is it can get expensive! A 48 ounce container from Costco is around $6, but I can make 64 ounces at home for the price of a gallon of milk.  This week Aldi has milk on sale for $1.65 a gallon!  It’s yogurt making time :).

I like to do a whole gallon at once, because I use yogurt for a lot of things–eating with fruit, pancake topping, sour cream substitute, to make dip and salad dressing, as a base for cream sauces etc.  It’s a fabulous high protein snack for everyone in the family. If you use less, you can cut everything in half and do just a half gallon if you use less yogurt. So here’s how I make it:

Greek Yogurt and Blackberries

Pour 1 gallon of milk in a 5 quart slow cooker.  Place on low for 2-3 hours or until it is 180 degrees. Do not let the milk boil! If you have a digital thermometer with an alarm, you can walk away and forget about it. You can use any kind of milk–skim to whole.  I prefer skim for the lower calories and we are used to it.  Whole milk yogurt is delightfully creamy  though.

Turn off the slow cooker and let the milk sit until it has cooled to 110-120 degrees. (2-3 hours)  I know heating the milk feels like an extra step if you are just going to cool it down, but it’s necessary to unravel the proteins and allows the yogurt to thicken.  I’ve made raw milk yogurt before and it doesn’t get as thick.

Take 1/2 cup of plain yogurt (reserved from your last batch or purchased) and mix it with 1 cup of the warm milk from your slow cooker.  Then stir this mixture into the rest of the warm milk.  It would seem like adding more yogurt starter would just make yogurt faster and thicker–but it doesn’t work that way.  More is not better. 1/2 cup per gallon is perfection.

Cover with the lid and wrap the whole thing in bath towels to insulate.  Keep the slow cooker turned off and allow it to sit overnight.  In the morning it will look like this:

Slow Cooker Greek yogurtYou can see the whey separated and floating on the top with the yogurt solids underneath.  If you stir all this together, you will have regular plain yogurt.

To make Greek Yogurt:  Layer a large bowl with a large colander and line with 3 layers of cheese cloth.  Pour your yogurt  into this and allow to drain without stirring until half of the volume is reduced.  Save the nutritous clear whey for baking and use it like buttermilk in pancakes, biscuits, bread etc.

Take the strained yogurt and put it in your electric mixture with the wisk attachment and whip.  If it’s too dry add a little fresh milk (or cream) until it has the moistness and consistency you like.

It should be very thick and creamy when you are done.  This recipe yields 1 gallon of plain yogurt or 1/2 gallon of Greek Yogurt for around $3.  This is roughly 1/4 the cost of buying the same amounts at Costco and requires very little hands on time.

If your yogurt doesn’t set up, you can leave it another day.  I’ve forgotten about it before and left it for 24 hours.  The yogurt was perfect and the cultures kept the milk from spoiling.  If it doesn’t work at all, it is possible the yogurt cultures weren’t alive.  This happens if the milk is too hot when they are added (high heat will kill them.)  Or if the starter was too old.  It works best if you can make yogurt once a week or every other week and use 1/2 cup from the previous batch to keep the cultures alive and happy.

 

Peach Mint Iced Tea

We save a lot of money by drinking water instead of juice, milk, or soda.  I keep a pitcher of water full in the fridge so it’s cold and inviting.  Even then, sometimes, it’s nice to have something flavorful to drink. Even better if it’s inexpensive and healthy too.  Peppermint tea is my favorite summer beverage to add variety to the every day. I save even more by using 1 tea bag for 2 cups of water and letting it steep a little longer so it’s just as strong.

iced tea

 

Peach Peppermint Tea is a fancier version of my favorite. I first tasted this tea at a wedding shower for my close friend.  The shower was held in a victorian style cottage in a wooded area and everything about it was quaint, delicate and beautiful.  They had tea sandwiches and petit fours with fresh berries. Everything was served on floral vintage china with mismatched pieces.  Serving serfaces were softened with lace and cabbage rose printed table clothes. Dreamy….

peaches

The cold refreshing tea was sweetened with honey, but it’s also yummy with stevia. Here’s the simple recipe:

  • 8 cups  boiling water
  • 4 peppermint tea bags
  • 4 tablespoons honey (or 8 packets of truvia)
  • 2 fresh peaches

Steep tea bags in boiling water for 5 minutes.  Discard bags, pressing moisture from them back into the tea.  Dissolve honey into the hot beverage and add sliced peaches.  Cool until room temperature and then chill until ready to serve.  Serves 8.

 

 

Easy Peel Hard Boiled Eggs

Easy Peel Hard Boiled Eggs

Meat and Cheese are the two most expensive categories in my grocery budget. I keep costs down by choosing less expensive proteins a few times a week like eggs.   While I’m not a fan of vegan protein alternatives like tofu and TVP,  I do enjoy fresh or dry roasted edamame.

how to prepare tofu

If someone in my home developed food allergies to all dairy and eggs I’d consider tofutti. Until then…. nope.

Eggs, on the other hand, are little compact nuggets of serious nutrition.  2 large eggs have 140 calories, 12g of protein, and everything necessary to grow a chick = lots of nutrients.   Plus at $1.50 a dozen, a serving of 2 eggs is only $.25.

Grant Slicing Eggs

We like to have hard boiled eggs on hand for snacking.  They are also great chopped on top of a chef’s salad, in egg salad, potato salad, tuna salad, creamed eggs over biscuits, deviled (stuffed) eggs….you get the idea.

Boiled eggs are easy to cook, but may not be so easy to peel.  When eggs are freshly laid, they are slightly acidic which makes the shell stick tightly to the albumin in the egg white and impossible to peel cleanly. The hen covers her eggs with a protective coating as they are laid which keeps this acidic level intact and the egg fresh outside the fridge for 10 days.

peeling eggs

Commercial eggs have the protective coating washed off.  This allows the natural CO2 trapped in the egg to dissipate through the porous shell reducing the acidity and the stickiness of the shell.  Commercial eggs will ripen in the refrigerator to be easy to peel in about 10 days. By the time they reach our homes commercial eggs are typically perfectly ripe.

If you have your own hens, you’ll need to wash the eggs you hope to boil with warm water and a soft cloth before storing in the fridge.  Label them so you’ll be able to tell the date they will be ready to boil and peel (10 days ripened.)  Oiling the eggs for storage will make it impossible for them to ripen to easy peel stage.

Eggs in steamer

We enjoy steaming our eggs instead of boiling them in water.  They don’t crack since they aren’t in the rocking boiling water to knock them around.  We think they are easier to peel than boiled eggs and don’t have the grayish green line separating the yolk from the white, unless we forget about them and over do it.

I use our combo steamer/slow cooker/rice cooker to do it, because it automatically starts timing when the water comes to a boil and sets of an alarm when they are done.  I simply fill the bottom with 2 inches of water, fill the top basket with eggs, set it to steam for 15 minutes and go to something productive.

Peel eggs with a spoon

When the alarm sounds , I use oven mitts to lift out the steamer basket and plunge it into a sink of cold water to stop the cooking process.  When they are cool enough to handle, I tap and roll the eggs on a paper towel (or cloth towel) to break up the shell, then slip a spoon between the shell and the egg.  The spoon curves with the egg keeping it protected and the peel slips off pretty quickly this way. If the spoon doesn’t slide well, I oil the tip with a touch of olive oil.

How about you, does peeling eggs frustrate you? Do you have a family tradition for making eggs easy to peel?

 

 

Homemade Calzones

Calzones

Calzones are my favorite to make, because you can tuck almost any combo of leftovers in them and have a portable meal to go.  We especially like ham and cheddar; turkey, broccoli and swiss; pizza combos; and bbq.  They are great for grabbing to eat at the soccer fields or for a picnic meal.  My kids even like to pack leftover calzones for cold lunches. The whole thing can be done from the homemade dough, to the meal in hand in around 45 minutes, and most of that is wait time. Read more

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

chicken soup with homemade noodles

One of the lowest cost food categories is soup.  Soup is mostly water but still filling and comforting.  I love that soup is a meal in one, saving prep time and money on side dishes.  I usually add a hearty bread for the men, but skip it myself to stay on track with my fitness plan.

Recently the weather has turned super cold and white, so we’ve been enjoying night after night of various soups.  Is there a limit on how many days in a row one can serve soup?  I don’t think so–that would be like saying there was a limit on the number of days in a row you could eat pizza.  Crazy.

chicken noodle soup 1

I posted this photo on instagram and got a couple of requests for the recipe.  My husband’s sisters made this soup for the family when they were growing up and the first time I tasted it, I begged the recipe from them.  It’s the perfect thing for a crowd or when someone isn’t feeling well.  Full of rich bone broth, it’s soothing and healing.  When someone is suffering and I feel powerless to help, I make soup!

My pot is still cooking so I’ll update with finished pictures later.  I didn’t want my friends to wait for the recipe :).

Chicken Noodle Soup 2

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

1 whole roasting chicken (4-5 lbs)

12 cups water

5 tsp mineral sea salt (you can use less, but we go for 1 tsp per quart of food/liquid)

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp fresh black pepper

6 carrots, peeled and sliced

4 stalks of celery, chopped

1 onion chopped (I had red on hand, but any kind will work)

Combine everything in a large pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer and simmer for about an hour or until the chicken is falling apart.  If your chicken was frozen, allow 2.5-3 hours to cook.

Remove chicken and bones to a bowl to cool enough to touch. Skim any foam off the top of the broth and discard.

chicken and Vegetables

Use a slotted spoon or spider to remove vegetables to a second bowl.

Remove meat from bones and chop.  Store meat with the vegetables in the bowl.

Homemade noodles 1

Hand kneading noodle dough

The left hand was wet the right hand wasn’t.  Keep a bowl of water close for re-wetting your hands.

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homemade noodles 2

 

For noodles combine:

2 cups of unbleached flour

1 tsp salt

2 tsp olive oil

2 eggs

4 Tbs water

Knead everything with damp hands then roll out 1/4 inch thick.  Dough should be dry and barely hold together. Cut with a pizza cutter into strips about 3/8 inch wide and 2-3 inches long.  Bring the chicken broth to a full rolling boil and drop the noodles in.  Separate with a spoon when they first go in.  Boil for 15 minutes then turn off the heat.  Return vegetables and chicken back to the soup and sprinkle the top with dried parsley.  Don’t skimp on the parsley–it makes it so pretty and appetizing.

chicken noodle soup 3

 

 

 

Roasted Autumn Vegetables

Yesterday I made the most delicious shredded beef in the slow cooker.  I worked all day knowing I had that meal ready to go.  When it was almost time for dinner, I slid our homemade buns into the oven and realized I didn’t have a side dish.  Not one. I poked around in the freezer and the fridge and saw we had frozen brussels sprouts, half a butternut squash, a bag of radishes, and a bag of baby carrots.

Roasted Winter Vegetables before

I threw them all together in a pan–the colors were glorious! Then drizzled and tossed with oil.  Sprinkled and tossed with a tsp of sea salt, and cooked for an hour at 400 degrees.

Roaste winter vegetables

Gorgeous right?  The only problem was last minute and bake for an hour don’t go together well.  I let the family eat the roast beef sandwiches and some canned apple slices and by the time the veggies were ready, they weren’t hungry enough to be adventurous.Roasted Winter Vegetables After 2

Stage 3 of my plan to make my family Butternut Squash lovers backfired, but it was really delicious.  I’m super pumped to have leftovers.

The recipe is simple, trim and cut veggies into bite sized pieces, toss with a little oil, sprinkle with salt and roast at 400 (up to 450 if not in glass) for an hour or until fork tender and golden.  For best results stir after 30 minutes.  Serve while your family is still famished–unless they already know that gorgeous food can be delicious too.

Butternut Squash Fritters

Butternut Squash Fritters 5

Remember yesterday when I told you I have a secret plan to make my kids like squash?  This is level 2.

We enjoyed these fritters (inspiration here) during last Sunday’s lunch with our oven baked chicken, but we kicked it up a notch in the evening by warming them back up in a skillet and melting cheese on the top.  We tried Monterey Jack which was good but sharp cheddar would have been even better. Next time I plan to stir cheddar right into the batter.  It might get crisp in the areas where the cheddar hits the griddle—there’s nothing wrong with that.

Butternut Squash Fritters 2

There’s quite a bit of shredding involved in these.  I decided that it was worth the hassle to get out the kitchen aid shredder attachment to do these.  I was so right.  It shredded up my giant butternut squash in less than 5 minutes.  If you try this by hand it will count as aerobic exercise.Butternut Squash fritters
If you don’t have an electric shredder (or food processor) then grab the kid who most recently used the word, “bored.”  Or the one who was asked to sweep the floor and then walked off with the chairs still pushed against the wall and the broom lying on the floor. He will love to shred the squash for you.  So will the one who made a sandwich and left the mayo on the counter with the knife still in it.

Butternut Squash fritters

I didn’t have any trouble peeling my squash.  The hardest part was cutting it open.  I grabbed the longest, widest knife I had and that helped.  My regular vegetable peeler took the skin right off.  I’ve heard if your peeler is on the dull side, it could be more challenging.  Some have success stabbing the squash with a fork a few times, then microwaving it whole for 3 minutes.  That softens the skin without cooking the meat.

Butternut Squash Fritters

5 cups shredded butternut squash (deseeded and peeled but still raw)

2 eggs

1 tsp salt

2/3 cup flour (or 1/2 cup THM baking mix)

coconut oil for frying

Place your squash in a mixing bowl and sprinkle all over with salt.  Beat in eggs, then stir in flour.  Warm a griddle or frying pan and melt a little bit of coconut oil in the pan.  Use a level ice cream scoop to drop batter onto the hot pan and flatten with the back of your flipper.  Cook like pancakes letting the fritter cook halfway through and get toasty brown before flipping.  Then flip and cook the other side.

Butternut Squash Fritters 3

You know what else (besides cheese) would make these yummy?  Bacon. I’ve tried to think of things that bacon wouldn’t make better….like apple pie, pancakes, or ice cream.  Then I had to take it back, bacon would make those things better….

 

 

Butternut Squash Chili

Butternut Squash Chili

I love Chili and all things beans, but sometimes they don’t love me.  And beans never love my teenage son.

Butternut Chili Con Carne 2

With butternut squash we can have a nice thick beanless chili without spending a fortune on extra meat. Originally I planned to cut the squash into bite sized squares for a nice texture similar to beans.  Then I remembered my kids aren’t big fans of squash…yet.   I have all sorts of secret plans to turn them into squash fans, mmmmmwwwwahahahahahaha.  It’s a work in progress.

Butternut Chil Con Carne 3

I sauteed the squash in a skillet with a little coconut oil and chopped onion, then pureed it in a blender with a can of broth.  When I stirred it into the crushed tomatoes, the squash and onion disappeared.  Chili powder’s dark color made the camouflage complete.

Butternut quash’s mildly sweet flavor complements the spicy seasonings perfectly.  The kids gobbled this up.  It’s a hearty, comforting autumn meal that is lower carb and won’t cause bloating or other gastric distress.

Butternut Chili Con Carne

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed

1 onion, diced

1 can, 15 oz beef or chicken broth  (or 2 cups homemade, cool in temperature)

2 lbs ground beef or turkey, browned and drained

1 can, 28 oz crushed tomatoes

3 Tbs chili powder

1 Tbs cumin

1 tsp salt

1 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp black pepper

Saute squash with onion in a little bit of coconut oil until fork tender, about 15 minutes.  Add to a blender or food processor with broth.  Puree.  (You can leave it whole if you like the texture.)  Combine everything in a stock pot and warm through.  The longer it simmers the better the flavors will meld.  This can be stirred together in the morning and held in a slow cooker on low until dinner.

Topping ideas: shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped chives, chopped tomatoes, olives, crushed tortilla chips, oyster crackers….

1/8th of the recipe prepared with 93% lean ground beef = 318 calories, 9g fat, 19 net carbs, and 34 grams of protein