Yogurt is one of my favorite foods to make from scratch. It's actually incredibly easy, and such a versatile food! It makes great breakfasts, snacks, deserts, and of course is the perfect baby food. It can easily be made from powdered milk - I actually prefer to use powdered milk because you can make it "richer" (I often use a ration of 3:1 for yogurt instead of the normal 4:1) and therefore a higher-protein food.

All you need are two ingredients - milk, and a yogurt starter. Yogurt starter can be a small amount of already-made yogurt, or it can be a powdered yogurt starter (which may not be available in your area, but can easily be mailed from the States). In our area, there are a few locally-made yogurt drinks available, and also a frozen yogurt snack, all of which I've used for yogurt starter. I've also bought a small amount of Labneh, a middle-eastern yogurt available in our bigger supermarkets, for starter. Of course a plain yogurt works best, but you can use flavored yogurt because you use such a small amount that it won't make a much difference. After the first batch, use a bit of your own yogurt (as long as it turns out well!) as starter for your next batch. This way you don't have to continually buy more starter.

Yogurt Recipe:

4 cups of milk

1/4 c. yogurt or yogurt starter

The simple instructions: all you have to do is heat up the milk to about 115 degrees, add the yogurt starter, and keep the mixture at that temperature for 4-6 hours. Not hard, right?

If I'm using powdered milk, I make a teapot of hot water, dilute it with cold water until it's the right temp, add the powdered milk, add the yogurt starter, and whisk it all together. If you are using fresh milk, you will have to be more careful as you heat up the milk, so that you don't scorch it and don't go above the desired temperature. If your yogurt starter is pretty thick, dilute it with a bit of the hot milk first before adding it to the whole batch, so that it mixes in better.

So the trick is figuring out how to keep your yogurt "cooking" at 115 degrees for 4-6 hours. In the hot season, our house is warm enough I just wrap the jar in a towel and set it in a warm place in the kitchen! In "cooler weather" I wait for a sunny day to make yogurt, then wrap it in a towel and set it outside in the sunshine. You do have to keep an eye on it and be sure to move it to keep it in the sun the whole 4-6 hours. If your oven has a "low" setting, you can set the jar in your oven. If your oven is well-insulated, it may also work to turn the oven on while you're making the yogurt, then turn it off and it will hold it's heat. Just be sure it doesn't cool off too much. The method that I've used in the States (no hot African sunshine here!) is to fill an ice chest with hot water and set the jar(s) down into the water to stay warm. You can check the temperature every couple hours and add more hot water as needed.

After 4 hours, check your yogurt. Tip the jar to see if it is still liquid or has begun to thicken. I have found that my homemade yogurt usually does not get as thick as American store-bought yogurt, but it should be somewhat thickened. It may be slightly separated, with a little yellow whey at the top of the jar. If it doesn't seem to be thick after 4 hours, let it go a couple more hours. Just remember that the longer you leave your yogurt, the more sour-tasting it will be. When it is done to your satisfaction, put the jar in the fridge, and you've got yogurt!

The big key to making yogurt successfully is the temperature. If the temperature drops too low, the yogurt culture will not do its thing. If the temperature is too high, it will actually kill the culture and nothing will happen no matter how long you let it set! It's best if you have a thermometer to measure the temperature of your milk when you start, and the temperature of whatever environment you are "cooking" your yogurt in. However, most of my yogurt-making days I had no such helpful device, so I only guessed. If the milk is quite warm but you can hold your hand in it without discomfort, it's probably about right. If it's hot enough to burn your hand, it's too hot, or if it's close to your body temperature (doesn't feel hot to the touch), it's not hot enough.

So that's how to make yogurt! Now what do you do with it? A few ideas -

 **I often flavor my yogurt with a tiny bit of a "Kool-aid" type drink powder. You can also use honey or fresh fruit.

**If you want a thicker (Greek yogurt) consistency, you can strain the yogurt. Line a colander or a strainer with a loosely-woven (clean!) dish towel, and slowly pour the yogurt into it. Let it set for a few minutes, then scoop it out of the towel back into your container. The "whey" that is strained off can be used in place of water or milk in bread recipes, or used for cooking rice or oatmeal.

**If you want to make a cream cheese substitute, strain the yogurt as above, but let it set in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. You can use this as a spread (sweet or savory, depending on how you season it) or use for making deserts. Not quite the same as cream cheese, but it's great if you can't get dairy products in your location.

Do you make yogurt? Any tips for a beginner? How do you flavor plain yogurt so that your children will eat it? Share your ideas below!

Also, don't stop asking questions, ladies! If there is a topic you would like to see discussed, or a question you would like to get our readers' input on, please drop me an email!

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