A few months ago, after acquiring a second mortgage and having a tiny mouth to feed, my husband and I took a good hard look at our monthly budget. We have a dorky little spread sheet (can you tell I'm married to an engineer?) with the weekly and monthly allowances for pretty much every single expense of which you could think. Our grocery bill is crazy. I mean, seriously crazy. We eat well, I won't deny that, but holy cow. With horrified thoughts of having 3 additional kiddos with adolescent metabolisms someday, I decided we needed to work on this budget. And now. There had to be something I could change with that weekly expense multiplying exponentially. We've made a few changes since then. I've starting making my own breads, some crackers, and tortillas. I've adopted a more strict menu plan for each week and am trying to creatively use leftovers and scraps (not like what you would feed the dog, but you know, the extra pieces left in the fridge that have no assigned purpose.) I enjoy the creativity (most nights, unless it's a night like this), and it has really cut down on the waste.
Another item added to the do-it-yourself category was yogurt. Truthfully, I was nervous to do this. For whatever reason, the idea of playing with bacteria gave me flashbacks of microbiology and growing our hand flora in a petrie dish. Gross, right? I don't want to play with bacteria. Bacteria is gross. My internal conversation went something like, "Self, what if I screw up, and we get sick?" "It has to be hard to do." " It can't possibly be something I can keep up weekly." Despite my internal nay-sayers, I thought I'd give it a try. What did I have to lose? Besides, have you SEEN what is in yogurt these days? Don't look. It's more terrifying than the bacteria growing on my hand right now. Milk, sugar (should sugar really be the second ingredient?), fruit (shouldn't there be more fruit than sugar?), modified corn starch (what modifies it?), gelatin, aspartame (if there is already sugar, why is there aspartame too?), natural flavor (what is natural flavor anyway?)... Of course, not all yogurt is bad, but have you seen the price tag on some of those? A six ounce single serving cup of organic yogurt (labeled organic, not necessarily healthy, because there is still added sugar) is $1.19. If hypothetically my husband, my daughter, and I each ate one yogurt per day in a work week (5 days), we would need to spend $17.85. That is a huge investment in active cultures, my friend.
Here enters our friendly Crock Pot. Yep! We are going to make yogurt in the Crock Pot, and the kicker is, it's super easy! The tutorial I originally referenced for myself is here.
Active time for this recipe is probably 15 minutes at the most if you want to strain the yogurt, otherwise 5 minutes. Actual time is hours, though. I usually start mine around 2 PM, and let it incubate overnight. Directions are very simple. Pour the milk into the Crock Pot. Heat on LOW for 2 1/2 hours. Turn OFF/unplug. Let sit, covered, for 3 hours. After 3 hours is up, put your working shoes on. Remove about 2 cups (no need to measure) of the milk. Gently whisk in yogurt. Mix back in with the rest of milk. Remove the dish portion from the Crock Pot. Wrap this (with the cover on) in a large towel. Place in the oven. Do NOT turn on the oven, just the oven light. Remove working shoes. Wipe sweat from brow. Allow to incubate for 8-12 hours while sleeping. In the morning, it will have thickened, and you will have yogurt. Let everyone ooh and ah over all the hard work you did to make homemade yogurt.
The latest trend in yogurt is Greek style, which is thicker than regular yogurt. You can achieve this by straining. I do this by placing a colander over a large Tupperware container. Line the colander with cheese cloth, coffee filters, or a dish drying towel. Pour the yogurt into the strainer. Place in the refrigerator, and let it sit for about an hour. (See above bottom right photo.) This separates the whey from the yogurt. You can repeat this as many times as you want to get your desired thickness. I usually just do this once, but have done it extra when I am using the yogurt in place of sour cream. There are apparently a bunch of ways to use whey, so don't throw it away! Whey is kind of a super food and provides excellent protein while being low in calories. I use it in place of water when making oatmeal or quinoa and also in place of water when baking bread or making pizza dough.
If you are used to the more traditional store-bought yogurt, you are probably used to the flavored varieties. My husband and I have grown accustomed to the plainness of this yogurt and find that we usually just need to add fruit on top. However, with it being winter, we are finding a lack of sweet berries or grapes, so this past week I made a simple blueberry syrup out of blueberries, maple syrup, orange juice, and cinnamon. We mixed this in with this batch and found a quite refreshing and real tasting blueberry yogurt with a little more depth than the store bought kind, which was a nice treat. I like that I am able to control what kind of sweetener I use, and how much of it.
Finally, the cost. A half gallon of organic milk is roughly $3.00. I have gotten it for about $2.50, but we will say $3.00 to be on the safe side. I used one 6 ounce container of Stoneyfield organic plain yogurt at $1.19, so our total for this batch cost about $4.19. After straining once, I usually get between 45-50 ounces of yogurt. That comes to a cost of roughly 9 1/2 cents per ounce, but we will adjust to 10 cents per ounce to be generous. At $1.19 per 6 ounces, Stoneyfield runs about 20 cents per ounce. If you buy in the larger tubs, it is 15 cents per ounce. That's comparing apples to apples. Yoplait original 6 ounce cups are $0.80 which comes to about 12 cents per ounce, and the larger tubs are about 11 cents per ounce. So even using organic milk, you can make yogurt for cheaper than the "cheap" yogurt. PLUS you are in complete control of what is added to yours. Furthermore, if you remember to save a half cup of your yogurt, you will not have to pay the $1.19 for subsequent batches, though you could keep that extra amount to account for adding fruit. I used frozen fruit though, which isn't that expensive either when you spread the cost out. So let's compare one week. If my husband, my daughter, and I each eat 6 ounces of yogurt per day in a work week, we will eat 90 ounces per week. That would cost us anywhere from $10.00 to $17.85 depending on our preferences, more if we prefer Greek style yogurt. Making our own yogurt costs us at the most $8.38 per week, though probably more like $6.00 per week. The savings could easily be around $12.oo per week (almost $50.00 per month, and more staggering, $624.00 for the year!) I'd say that's worth 15 minutes of my active effort (we'd make $36.00 per hour at that rate!) plus think of all the extra nutritional benefits we are packing in.
Here is the recipe.
Have you been adopting any new money saving habits for this new year? Have any unique yogurt flavor ideas? Spill the beans, please.