How to Make Vanilla Yogurt in Your Crock Pot

A Simple Way to Make Homemade Vanilla Yogurt in Your Slow Cooker - So simple and delicious! It's a great way to save money and be healthy at the same time.

Here is something I never imagined myself doing. I am now making my own yogurt! You see, I’ve always liked yogurt but started eating it more in the past couple of years. I regularly eat it for breakfast with granola or as part of my lunch. It’s a good source of protein and dairy. When I started to feed Nathan solids, yogurt was one of those foods that he loved. However, I quickly realized how expensive yogurt has become. I also realized that many of the yogurts have lots of artificial ingredients in them. This got me thinking.

In my quest to being more frugal, two years ago, I had started buying the large tubs of yogurt and dividing it into containers myself. It is much more cost efficient than buying the individual containers but it still wasn’t cheap. The regular price for a quart of yogurt is now $3. I had heard of people making their own yogurt and decided to give it a try. Guess what? I’m hooked. It’s simple and delicious and so much cheaper! When I get my milk on sale, I can now much 4 quarts of homemade yogurt for under the price of $3. (Yes, I can easily get a gallon of milk for under $3 in the wonderful state of Indiana.) Plus, I know that my yogurt is made of milk, sugar, vanilla and the live cultures. That’s it! No artificial ingredients in this homemade yogurt.

You may be in disbelief but give it a try. It takes some time but the effort and supplies involved couldn’t be simpler. I read dozen of recipes and combined a couple of them to come up with this recipe. The main reason being that I wanted vanilla yogurt and almost all the recipes I found were for plain yogurt. Also, I didn’t want to mess with a thermometer if I didn’t have to. With this slow cooker method, homemade yogurt is truly a make it and forget it recipe.

Ingredients:

1/2 gallon milk (I used 2%. Most recommend whole milk for thicker yogurt but 2% works fine.)

1/2 cup yogurt starter (Any yogurt with live cultures works. I’d recommend plain or vanilla. I used Stonyfield Organic Vanilla Yogurt for my original starter because that is what I was feeding Nathan. Once you make your first batch, simply save 1/2 cup of the yogurt to use as starter for your next batch.)

1/2 cup sugar (I’ve read that honey works too. I stuck with a simple sugar. You can add more or less to taste. This amount was just about perfect for us.)

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract (I use my pure Mexican vanilla which I love! We buy ours at El Mercado in San Antonio but you can buy a similar bottle on Amazon, although not as cheap. It is so delicious!)

Cheesecloth and colander (Optional and explained below.)

Directions:

Pour 1/2 gallon of milk into your crock pot and turn it on low. Let it sit for 2 hours and 45 minutes. Set a timer and walk away from the crock pot at this point.

When the timer dings, turn the crock pot off and unplug it. Whisk in sugar and vanilla. Let the yogurt sit for 3 hours. Again, set your timer and resume your regular activities.

After the 3 hours are up, spoon 1 cup of the milk into a small mixing bowl. Whisk in your yogurt starter. Add this mixture back to the crock pot and whisk it all together.

Put the lid back on the crock pot and wrap the entire crock pot in one or two beach towels. I wrap one around the outside and cover the top with another towel. The reason being is that it allows the temperature of your yogurt to slowly cool and culture.

Let your wrapped crock pot sit for 8 to 12 hours while the yogurt cultures. The longer the yogurt cultures, the tangier the taste. 8 to 9 hours is what I generally do.

When you unwrap your crock pot, you will now have yogurt! See how simple? The yogurt is delicious but my yogurt turned out slightly thinner than store bought yogurt. It tasted fine and can be eaten as is. Simply spoon into jars and store your homemade yogurt in the fridge. If you prefer, you can add one more step as I now do to thicken the yogurt.

After the 8 hours are up, I line my colander with 2 or 3 squares of cheesecloth. I place the colander on top of a metal bowl and pour all my yogurt into the cheese-lined colander. I carefully place the bowl in the refrigerator for a couple hours. After trial and error, I believe 3 hours is the right length of time for this straining. You can check the thickness of your yogurt by stirring it. Whenever you think it is ready, scoop the yogurt out of the colander and put it in glass jars or storage containers.

The cheesecloth step is not necessary and a matter of preference. It will reduce the amount of yogurt you get from your milk but I think it nice to have a slightly thicker yogurt. When you lift the colander out from the metal bowl, you will notice a clear, yellow liquid. This is whey. You can save your whey in the refrigerator for up to 6 months. Whey can be used in place of buttermilk in recipes or to make ricotta cheese. That is next on my list of projects, once I collect enough whey.

Additional Notes:

I think vanilla yogurt is the perfect flavor for the addition of fruit or granola. If you don’t want vanilla yogurt, simply omit the sugar and vanilla in this recipe to make plain yogurt.

1/2 gallon is 8 cups. If you don’t strain the yogurt, you will end up with 8 cups of yogurt. When I am done straining it, I end up with around 4 cups of yogurt. If you strain out too much whey and the yogurt is too thick for your liking, it is easy to stir some whey back in to make your yogurt thinner.

I found my cheesecloth at Meijer. You can also buy it on Amazon here or here (affiliate links). I have heard that coffee filters work too. Since I plan to continue making my own yogurt, I spent the couple dollars and invested in cheesecloth.

Due to the amount of time it takes, I have decided it is best to start the yogurt 6 hours before I want to go to bed. I put the yogurt into my slow cooker around 4pm so that it can culture overnight. Then, first thing in the morning, I put the yogurt into cheesecloth to strain and my yogurt is ready for a late breakfast.

If you find a good deal on milk, remember that milk freezes really well so you could buy your milk and freeze it until you are ready to make yogurt. Just pour a little bit of milk out before freezing so the jug can expand. I buy a whole gallon of 2% milk to make yogurt. I use half of the milk to make yogurt and freeze the other half until I’m ready to make another batch.

I have read that you can easily double this recipe but I have not tried that yet. Please let me know if and when you do! I hope this answers many of the questions you might have. If you have others, ask them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them. It might seem intimidating but if you eat a lot of yogurt and are looking to save money, give this a try!

What do you think? Will you try making your own yogurt?

How to Make Homemade Vanilla Yogurt in Your Crock Pot

The Fringe Hours – Finding Yours!

At the beginning of the year, I was honored – and thrilled – to be selected as part of Jessica Turner’s blogging team for her new book, The Fringe Hours. While I received this book for free, all of the opinions expressed are my own. This book was at the top of my “to read” list for the year anyway and the fact that I got to read it before it was released was extra exciting. The book officially (and finally) releases today, and I want to tell you about this incredible book.

It’s life changing. It’s encouraging. It’s the book every woman needs to read. 

The Fringe Hours is a book about finding and reclaiming time for yourself. Why is this important? When we doing something we love, we are more energized for life in general. It’s a struggle for many women today – me included – because we are constantly going and doing. As Jessica says on page 43, “The reason so many women today struggle to make themselves a priority is because they are trying to be everything for everyone!” True!

The Fringe Hours talks about why you should make time for yourself and then it shows you how to make time for yourself. Jessica is very honest in this book and reminds us that, “What works for someone else might not work for you.” I need that reminder to make my life and time work for me. Besides, “You are never too busy to make time for what you love.”

You are never too busy to make time for what you love. Jessica Turner - Fringe Hours

We all have different things that we enjoy doing. For some of us, it may be reading or scrapbooking. For others, it may be baking or sewing. For still others, it may be taking pictures or doing home projects. Whatever it is, Jessica encourages us to go ahead and do it. Stop saying there isn’t time – and make time to do what you love! Yes, this means the dishes may wait for a bit but do something for yourself every day.

Jessica had so many brilliant quotes in this book. My book is underlined and starred throughout as I read and took notes of all the things I wanted to remember. One of my favorite quotes is below about nights. With Nathan crawling (and almost walking), my days are becoming even busier as I keep up with my little boy. When he goes to bed, it’s so tempting to hurry and accomplish all the chores that didn’t get done during the day. After reading The Fringe Hours, I’ve made a shift in how I approach my nights. Some nights still have to be a chore or project completing night but I am trying to use my nights to do more of what I want to do instead of only what I have to do. 

Nights are a gift to use to refuel and invest in yourself. Jessica Turner. The Fringe Hours

The gist of  The Fringe Hours is that we need to really evaluate our life and our time. Are we using it in the best way we can? If we are energized and renewed, then we can care for everyone around us with more joy and passion. After reading this book, I started making more time to bake from scratch. I am also making my writing and blogging more of a priority. Finally, I’m making sure that I have time to work on my digital scrapbooks and of course, read. This book reminded me that we always have a choice about what to do with our time. I’m working at being more productive with my working hours so that I can still have fringe hours for myself daily.

This is Your Time for a New Beginning. Jessica Turner. The Fringe Hours

I truly believe that every woman – single or married, with children or without, stay-at-home Mom or working professional, young or old(er) – needs to read The Fringe Hours. Let’s start making ourselves a priority! Are you ready to do so? Go read this book and tell me how you’re going to use your fringe hours. What excites and energizes you? What do you want to do just for you?

Finally, I’ll leave you with one last quote from Jessica and her wonderful book that I loved. “Life is not perfect. You are not perfect. But you are a glorious creation, and your life is meant to be lived with joy. Some days you aren’t going to get your makeup on, you will burn the cookies for the school bake sale, and you will spill wine on the rug. In our mess, God makes us strong. In your glorious imperfections, you can still shine beautifully bright. Embrace that truth. Stop trying to be everything for everyone and start investing in who and what really matter.”

The Two People I Love Most

On this Valentine’s Day, it’s only fitting that I share a couple pictures of two people I love. I love a lot of people but these two are the ones I love the most. I am thankful that God has blessed me with Andy – and now Nathan. My life is so much richer with them at my side. Here’s a couple things I love about these two.

I love bath time with Nathan. He loves his bath! Smiles abound and so do the splashes. I love his smiles, too.

Bathtime Smiles

I’ve always loved books and I love reading books with my baby. I love seeing how much he loves books, too!

Book time with Daddy

I love seeing Nathan light up for his Grandparents – whether on Skype or in person.

Skyping with Barz Grandparents

I love seeing how Nathan adores his Daddy. From the moment we wave goodbye to Daddy to the moment Andy walks in the door again, it is clear that Nathan loves his Daddy. And Andy loves Nathan just as much!

Nathan Sledding with Daddy

I love hugs and kisses from my sweet baby. There are days I still can’t believe I’m a Mom to this precious boy.

Hugs from Nathan

Valentine’s Day is just one day, but we can say “I love you” each and every day to the people in our lives. Show them how much you love them. May we all live a life of love! Happy Valentine’s Day to you – and all that you love!

Happy Valentines Day from Nathan!

Parmesan Garlic Rolls

Oh, bread! How I love bread! I could never be one of those people who gave up eating carbs because I enjoy my bread too much. I have recently re-committed to baking our bread instead of buying it. I can control what goes into it that way. Plus, it really isn’t all that hard to bake bread and it tastes so good when it’s homemade! I am also baking our own rolls for special occasions. My two favorite rolls to make are the best ever homemade crescent rolls and these parmesan garlic rolls.

The recipe for these parmesan garlic rolls came to my Mom from her friend, Rosalie, at church. They are delicious! This recipe alone makes a bread maker worthwhile. True story. I bought my first bread maker used at a church rummage sale for $4. It lasted me for 7 years so was money well spent. It recently died and I replaced it with another used bread maker. This one cost me $10 at my Uncle’s garage sale but I still consider it money well spent because now I can make these rolls again!

I like to serve these rolls along side sausage crepes or poppy seed chicken. These would be great with any pasta meal, too! They are a simple recipe and the use of the bread machine makes it even simpler. Dump everything into your bread machine and once the dough is ready, divide them into little balls. Allow the rolls to rise again and bake. The deliciousness comes from the topping of parmesan and garlic butter, so don’t forget that step! The other wonderful part of this recipe? These rolls freeze wonderfully. You can enjoy one pan now and save one for later!

Parmesan Garlic Rolls - A delicious roll recipe made simple by using the bread machine. Plus, they freeze great!

Ingredients:

1 cup water
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon Red Star brand active dry yeast (add another teaspoon if you use Fleishmanns)
1 1/2 tablespoons butter or margarine
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons dry milk powder
1/4 cup melted butter or margarine
1 clove garlic, crusted
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Place first seven ingredients (water, flour, salt, yeast, margarine, sugar and dry milk powder) in bread machine. Select Dough setting and press start. Allow your bread machine to work it’s magic!

When the dough has risen long enough, the machine will beep. Turn off bread machine, remove bread pan, and turn out dough onto a floured countertop or cutting board.

Knead the dough once or twice before using a sharp knife to divide the dough in half. Roll each section of dough into a long rope. Using a sharp knife, divide dough into 24 pieces (12 pieces per rope).

Shape each section of dough into a ball. Place rolls in two 8-inch greased pie pans – 12 rolls each in each. I usually put 9 around the outside with 3 in the middle, leaving space between the rolls for them to rise.

In a small bowl, combine butter and garlic. Pour over the rolls. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Cover rolls and let rise in a warm oven 30 to 45 minutes until doubled.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden. Remove from the oven and serve warm.

Additional Notes:

These rolls freeze very well! Simply allow the rolls to cool before removing them from the pan. If you are careful, all the rolls should come out attached to one another. Wrap in foil and freeze until ready to use. Place the foil wrapped rolls in the oven to reheat them before serving.

Becoming a SAHM: Plan ahead.

Becoming a SAHM: Plan ahead. Part of the How to Become a Stay at Home Mom series.

It’s time to continue with my SAHM series. Being a SAHM has kept me busy, so busy, that it’s taken me awhile to write about these experiences. I am learning so much that I don’t want to forget – and that I want to share with others.

After you’ve made the decision to be a stay at home Mom, you need to plan ahead. For some, this planning takes place over a number of years. While for others, it is a matter of months or only weeks. As much as you are able, plan ahead to be a SAHM.

My husband and I made the decision early on that I was going to stay at home with our children. We had almost 5 years together as a married couple before our son was born. During that time, we lived frugally, paid off our debt and saved for retirement. We are two responsible individuals. Still, I occasionally find myself wondering if we could have done more.

We had cable for a time. We took vacations. We went out to eat. We did a couple of major house projects (although spending several thousand dollars as a result of flooding to our newly finished basement wasn’t the most fun of those projects). We paid off my husband’s college loans but still have part of one last loan remaining on our Tahoe. We were more frugal than some but not as frugal as others. Could we have done more? Yes. Did we still do a lot? Yes. Do I regret our choices during that time before our son was born? No.

We bought our house knowing that it was a house we could afford on one salary. This was one of the most important aspects of our planning ahead. We worked hard at paying down our debt, and our remaining car debt should be gone within the year. This was also important in our planning ahead journey. We saved for retirement, knowing that this would be much harder to do once I stayed home. Right now, I’m not contributing to my Roth but I can let it sit there and accumulate interest. These were personal financial decisions that we made as we planned ahead.

It is important to plan ahead financially so when you transition to one salary, you have less financial burdens that constrict you. Pay down as much debt as you possibly can and start living on one salary, if you are able. We didn’t do this to a full extent but partially as we used my salary to do home projects, invest in retirement and pay down debt. While finances are one of the most important areas in which to plan ahead, I also believe you should plan ahead in other aspects of your life.

Start now learning how to be a good homemaker. Spend time with children and gain experience for the day when you have a child of your own. I was a teacher (and an early childhood one at that) so spent lots of time with young children. I am very grateful for those years of experience! Most importantly, pray for God’s guidance and wisdom as you plan to be a stay at home mom.

In what other ways did you plan ahead? Any advice to share with those Moms who are just starting to plan ahead?

The Soup Club Cookbook

The Soup Club

It’s winter time and time for soup. I’ve already made two different soups this week. Do you crave soup as much as I do in the winter? For that reason, I was highly intrigued by a new book called  The Soup Club Cookbook by four friends – Courtney Allison, Tina Carr, Caroline Laskow and Julie Peacock.

The Soup Club Cookbook is part memoir, part cookbook and part instruction manual. It’s the story of four friends in New York City who, in 2011, began a soup club. The premise was simple – and wonderful. Every week, one woman would cook a soup for all of the other ladies and their families. The maker of the soup then delivered it (with the fixings) to the other homes for their families to enjoy. So, once a month they cooked and then the other three weeks, they enjoyed a soup made for them. I love this idea!

The cookbook includes many of the soup recipes the ladies cooked. Some of them were more exotic than what I would cook (I’ll pass on Red Lentil Curry or Senegelese Peanut Soup) but others look delicious (like Beck Chicken Chili or Chicken Tortilla Soup – yum!). That was the only negative for me – the many exotic soups that weren’t to my liking. Each recipe begins with a paragraph of introduction from the cook with the history of the soup or a story about the making of it. I liked that personal aspect.

I liked the style of this cookbook. It was written as if you were sitting down with a good friend, chatting about soups. They even included pencil style drawings which added to the informal – but helpful – style of this cookbook. The recipes were easy to follow and most of them had regular ingredients.

The Soup Club Cookbook also includes practical instructions for you to begin a soup club of your own. This was the part that made me think the most. They suggest 4 members so you have a turn monthly. They tell you how to pick a big stockpot and tips for cooking in bulk. They even tell you little things like to deliver your soup containers to the next cook at least a day before the next soup delivery. I love this concept! The trick is in finding friends to make this work. If you are sharing the meals, you don’t have to worry much about cost because it will balance out as you cook once every couple of weeks. You should establish ground rules and this cookbook helps with that too.

The Soup Club Cookbook is an innovative cookbook! You don’t have to be a soup lover to appreciate the uniqueness of this cookbook (although that will certainly help). Whether you want to set up your own soup club or are just looking for new soup recipes, you’ll enjoy this cookbook. If you want to set up a freezer club or crock-pot club, this cookbook can be a good resource for you, too! If you’re interested in any of the topics I mentioned here, take a look at this cookbook!

Please note that I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own. 

Simple Chocolate “Dump” Bars

Simple and Delicious Chocolate Dump Bars - When you are in the mood for chocolate, here's a recipe where you can dump everything in a bowl and end up with a delicious chocolate treat.

You know the moments when you want something sweet for dessert and you don’t have a brownie mix in your pantry? If so, this is the recipe you need to know! These chocolate dump bars are thicker than a brownie with a slight cake like texture. This is a handy recipe to have on hand when you need to make a quick chocolate dessert.

These chocolate dump bars use simple ingredients that are already in your pantry. You don’t need a mixer and you won’t dirty many dishes. You just dump all the ingredients in a bowl, stir it together and bake. Hence, the fancy name of this recipe!

With no further ado, here’s the recipe to make these chocolate dump bars.

Ingredients:

2 cup sugar
1 3/4 cup flour
5 eggs
1 cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup cocoa
1 cup chocolate chips

Directions:

Dump all the ingredients (except chocolate chips) in a large bowl. Mix with a spoon until all ingredients are moistened. Spread in greased 9 by 13 pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool and cut into bars.

Steadfast Heart Review

Steadfast Heart

I recently received Traceie Peterson’s newest book to read and review. I’ve always enjoyed Tracie Peterson’s books. Her “Heirs of Montana” series was one of my favorites of all hers. So when I received this first book in her new series, the “Brides of Seattle,” I was eager to read it.

Steadfast Heart is the story of wealthy, only child 20 year old Lenore Fulcher. Her parents are insistent that she marry a man of equal standing and try to set her up with various proper gentleman. Lenore, however, resists all of those and searches for true love. When she sees Kolbein Booth, a young lawyer from Chicago, she falls instantly for him. Kolbein is searching for his runaway sister and Lenore is not sure how he feels about her. Steadfast Heart supposedly tells the story of Kolbein and Lenore, but what I found disconcerting is that Lenore isn’t even mentioned for a good portion of the book.

I enjoyed the story of Steadfast Heart but it was not one of my favorites. I felt there were too many other little stories going on, which I’m sure was intentional, since this was the first book of a series. Most times that doesn’t bother me, but this time, I found it distracting and was actually glad when the book finished. I’m not giving up on Tracie Peterson but I probably won’t finish this series. I’d rather reread some of her other ones.

Please note that I did receive a free copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

A Snowy Weekend in Fort Wayne

We finally got our first big snow of the year. The forecasts were telling us to expect 10 to 15 inches of slow and steady snow on Sunday. It was as promised with 10 inches of snow in Grabill falling by late Sunday evening and even brought us a snow day on Monday. I love a good snow fall! Here are a few pictures from our latest big snow.

When Andy drove us to late church at St. Paul’s on Sunday morning, the roads looked like this. I was very thankful that Andy was driving.

A Snowy Scene in Indiana

By the time we came home from a sparsely attended service, we slowed down more than usual on the snowy roads. The Amish buggies were hurrying home from their church too as we knew the snow was set to increase.

Amish Buggy in Snow

The snow continued to fall all day, slow and steady. We stayed in and watched the snow, and were excited – and surprised – to get a snow day call already on Sunday evening. Nathan doesn’t understand sleeping in yet, so he and I read stories in our pajamas and let Daddy sleep in on his snow day.

Nathan and Mommy reading in pajamas

After Andy shoveled us out, he took Nathan for a quick sled ride. It was still cold and Nathan did not want to be bundled up in all the layers. Once we got outside, we were able to get some smiles from him on his first big snow day.

Nathan bundled up for sledding

We made soup for dinner. Nathan skyped with Grandma Barz to show her all the snow. We read some more stories and cuddled before bed. All in all, it was a lovely snow day. We have a delay to start our day today which is nice. I’m a bit nervous to drive since I hear the roads are quite snow packed and now, icy. I’ll be driving slowly to teach music today! I hear more snow is in the forecast on Wednesday and yet again this weekend. It looks like winter is here in Fort Wayne!

Supermarket Healthy Review

Supermarket Healthy

One of my goals for the year is to continually improve our eating habits. As a frugal shopper, I’m always interested in ways to improve our meals on a tight budget. For this reason, I was curious to read Supermarket Healthy by Melissa D’Arabian.

The premise of Supermarket Healthy is that we can all eat well without spending a lot. Melissa promised a book full of healthy recipes made from ingredients that can be found at any supermarket. I was intrigued and eager to explore the recipes in this book. I love a good cookbook! Unfortunately, this book didn’t live up to my expectations.

I have to admit that I was disappointed in this cookbook. I thought the recipes were too fancy for most families. The recipes used a lot of kale, fish and other ingredients that my husband (or myself) wouldn’t be a fan of eating. I also didn’t think the recipes were as frugal as promised. I could cook a lot more frugally than these recipes. There were pricey ingredients (certain cheese, olives, and cuts of meat) in many of the recipes. Of the 150 recipes included in this book, there were only a couple that I would actually make for our family.

For some people, maybe Supermarket Healthy is a frugal cookbook. And for some people, maybe this really is a cookbook that would encourage them to explore the bargains in their grocery store. That said, I’ll keep looking for a cookbook that fits our budget – and food tastes – better than this one.

Please note that I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own. 

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