I’m not a coupon-cutting, bargain-hunting grocery shopper, but lately I’ve taken a step toward more aware spending at the market. I won’t compromise on a certain standard of quality when it comes to what I’ll eat. I try to buy as much organic or sustainable produce as I can afford. I insist on organic dairy products, organic or anti-biotic and hormone-free meats (the NY premiere for the documentary Resistance that I attended last week in NYC sealed the deal on that issue for me), and I shop carefully amongst the processed and manufactured foods to pick things with short ingredient lists made up of things I recognize as food, devoid of chemicals and additives.
I give up certain material luxuries easily, (no Prada bags here) but I won’t compromise on the quality of food I buy and eat or serve to my loved ones and guests. I feel as though the few extra dollars I have to pay for this added quality and safety is well worth it. I think of it as an investment in my health and in the future of food production in America. (Can you hear the sound of me dragging my soapbox to the middle of the floor?) I believe it’s important for people to “vote” with their wallets and show food manufacturers and producers that we, as a nation, want the same quality of food that Europeans insist on, we want healthier, safer, more honest and humane food on the market and want to see less of the over-processed, sugar-laden, chemical infused junk.
It is the power of consumer buying habits that has transformed out markets in America today. The hundreds of choices we now have for organic, healthier, higher quality foods weren’t available to us 10, 15, 25 years ago when I had to drive hours out of my way to some hippie-dippie health food store to find organic anything. I’m so grateful to be able to go to my local grocery chain store and find so many of the organic and high-quality products I want.
Still, I was a little shocked this week when I noticed that a quart of organic Greek yogurt was $9.70. “You are kidding me.” I said out loud in the dairy aisle and got a nervous look from the woman next to me who quickly moved a few steps south to the juice section. I find myself talking out loud often in public…too much working at home alone with no one but the dog for company will do that to you.
But back to the subject: almost 10 bucks for a quart of yogurt? I go through at least a quart of yogurt a week! So, standing there freezing in the dairy aisle, with my chest puffed up with budget-conscious righteous indignation, I thought: what better time than now to figure out how to make yogurt at home? I check prices on the organic milk and even if it took 1/2 gallon of milk to yield a quart of Greek yogurt, I’d still save about 5 bucks a week or $260 a year. That’s almost a plane ticket to Napa! I was committed!
Next, the generous people at Cuisinart were willing to supply we with one of their sleek new yogurt makers and they gave me one to give away too, so I felt as though the Gods of Serendipity were working overtime to get me to make homemade yogurt and share a few yogurt-driven summer recipes too.
First, I made the mistake of doing a little too much research into making yogurt. I think I know why Google is called Google now. Once you finish reading everything on the internet that comes up on a given topic search, you feel “googly-eyed.” Googly eyes are the blank, staring, jiggly eyeballs you’ll find on stuffed animals everywhere. Cross-eyed and glazed over, that’s how I felt. Cultures, different kinds of cultures to produce different textures and flavors, monitoring temperatures for the milk, blah, blah, blah. I spoke to a friend whose Lebanese mother made yogurt every week of her childhood and her mother’s advice was “heat the milk until it’s so hot you can’t put your finger in it, then cool it down until you can put your finger in it.” That was the kind of instinctive cooking advice I could get behind, so with my new yogurt machine ready to go, I took the simplest route to homemade yogurt I could.
I happened to have some raw milk on hand from a farm in Pennsylvania that I sometimes take a 40 min drive to for fresh, organic dairy products. I heated the milk. I stuck my finger in it. It hurt. I cooled it down. I stuck my finger it in. It didn’t hurt. I mixed it with about 8 ounces of organic greek yogurt from the store as a “starter” to introduce the live cultures to the milk and I put it in the machine. I set it for 4 hours and went out to run errands while the milk fermented or “set.” After 4 hours the smart little machine switches gears and starts cooling down the yogurt keeping it cool until you can get back to it. When I did get back home after about 6 hours, a creamy, tangy and cold container of homemade yogurt was waiting for me. (To “greek” the yogurt, or thicken it, you can put it in a fine sieve, over a bowl in the fridge for a couple of hours and allow some of the whey to drain off. Some manufacturers use guar gum or xanthum gum to achieve this…another reason to make your own!)
The only thing left to do now was make something delicious and fast and easy with it. The chicken “satay” is a simple skewered chicken breast marinated in some of that creamy yogurt and seasoned simply with salt, pepper, curry powder and a knob of grated fresh ginger. I’ve also made this with other spice blends such as Chinese 5-Spice, Ras Al Hanout, Tikka Masala, Garam Masala and even a Creole/Blackening Blend so you can definitely experiment with this and make it your own or make it with what you have on hand in the spice cabinet. I left out garlic in mine, but you can add it in, raw and minced or powder form. The acid from the yogurt/dairy helps to tenderize the meat considerably, while the spices bring flavor.
While those are grilling or even broiling, in the absence of a grill, finely chop some cucumber and add it to more of that lovely yogurt….
and add some herbs like mint and parsley along with salt, pepper and a drizzle of nice olive oil for this fresh and delicious sauce for the meat. This sauce is a wonderful dip for just about any grilled meat, but especially lamb meatballs, or just served up with pita chips and crudite.
The Cuisinart Yogurt Electronic Yogurt Maker certainly makes yogurt making easy. In about 15 minutes you can set it up to make a weeks supply of creamy yogurt. And then you can stop talking to yourself in the dairy aisle and scaring people. And you can make satay and yogurt sauce to the delight of your family and guests, all summer long.
To enter the give-away, leave a comment below and tell me your favorite way to enjoy yogurt! A winner will be chosen randomly (it’s automated) and notified by email by June 7, 2014.
Chicken Satay with Herby Cucumber Yogurt Sauce
1 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic (optional)
1 tablespoon curry powder (or other spice blend)
For the satay:
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into strips
20 wooden skewers, soaked in water 30 minutes
Vegetable oil, for grilling
For the yogurt sauce:
2 cups whole milk yogurt
1 whole cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely chopped, then drained of most of it’s fluid.
3 T mint leaves sliced into ribbons (chiffonade)
2 T lightly chopped parsley leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 garlic clove, minced and or 1/2 shallot minced (optional)
A good quality extra virgin olive oil for drizzling (aobut 1-2 tablespoons worth)