Saturday, May 11, 2013

Countess of Cheap Conjures Concoctions.....

For years I've been a yogurt eater and when we moved to Panama the price seemed a bit higher than the yogurt in the states.  Although back in Texas I was buying pricey Greek style yogurt because it's so high in protein for my after workout breakfasts which I'd pack and take to work with me.  The prices back then were about $1.25 a serving just for the yogurt before I added any fruit and I also like to add a sprinkling of dry oatmeal to give it even more substance. 

Here in Panama an eight ounce serving of the local brand of regular yogurt sells for around 80 cents and either has sugar or artificial sweetener added.  So one day I looked up how to make yogurt at home and it seemed like a long, cumbersome process that involved a thermometer.  Last summer while visiting the states I even invested a whole dollar or two in a candy thermometer with the idea of someday making yogurt at home.  I stashed the thermometer in a drawer still in the package and never bothered to try out yogurt making.  Then one day while scrolling on facebook a local friend posted that she made yogurt for the first time so I finally fired up my new stove and gave it a whirl. Make sure the thermometer you buy has a clip on it to hang it on the side of the pot and goes up to 185 degrees.

I was amazed to discover the whole process was easy, only took about 30-minutes or so from start to finish, and the final product cost about half the price of store bought yogurt.  Besides that there's no added sugar, artificial sweeteners, or anything else. 

First I bring a pot of water to a boil and dip in my spatula and thermometer for a few seconds to sterilize them.  I'm not really sure why this needs to be done, but the water needs to be heated anyway so it's no big deal. 

Next I pour a half gallon of milk into another pot (I use non-fat milk but any type works) and sit the pot of milk into the pot of hot water to form a double-boiler effect.  The handles of the smaller pot rest on the side of the larger pot to hold it in place.  Since milk burns easily this is a safe way to make sure it doesn't burn or scald and it doesn't have to be watched as closely. The milk is supposed to be at room temperature, but I usually don't remember to take it out of the fridge until I start boiling the first pot of water and it hasn't been a problem.  Heat the milk until the thermometer registers 185 degrees which is just where it's starting to get frothy on top.

Then I take the whole pot of milk and sit it immediately into a sink of ice water to bring the temperature down to 110-115 degrees.  Since we live in the tropics cold water is warm here so I add ice to the water to cool the milk quickly. 

And the most important step is next.....add two tablespoons of plain yogurt with active cultures to the milk (2 tablespoons per quart of milk so I use 4 tablespoons to a half gallon of milk).  Basically however much milk you use, that's how much yogurt you'll end up with.

Now lift the whole pot out of the water, put a lid on the pot and wrap the whole covered pot with blankets or towels to keep it warm for 7-8 hours.  Then I sit the whole thing in a cooler (ice chest type of thing) close the lid and leave it untouched (don't peek or touch it) for the whole 7-8 hours.  The longer it's left the tangier and thicker it gets and from what I've read 7 hours seems to be the optimal amount of time.  The past two batches I've made I left for 7 hours.  Once the time is up remove the towels or blankets and stick the whole pot in the back of the fridge where it's coldest for at least 4 hours or overnight before eating.  And who knew that Greek yogurt is simply regular yogurt put through a strainer to take out the excess water....imagine that?  Guess that's why it's twice the price of regular yogurt!  So if you want to strain it using cheese cloth or a strainer overnight, you'll end up with a thicker product.  I did try this with some of the yogurt the first time I made it and it was great, but decided to leave the rest alone.

The next day you'll have pure, natural yogurt at a fraction of the cost you'd pay in the stores. It's very tangy just like yogurt used to be back in the 70's.  We like to add a little honey or agave nectar, some dry oatmeal, fruit and nuts for a great breakfast.  It lasts for about a week in the fridge and one batch made with a half gallon of milk is just about right for the two of us for a week.

The first time we looked to buy pickles here I was shocked at the small selection and high prices, although pickle prices in the US aren't cheap either.  So I've started making refrigerator dills, also very quick and easy.  Since I can't find pickling cucumbers here I just use the regular ones found cheap everywhere. 

First I  wash and slice the cucumbers (I don't peel them) along with some onions.  I mix together equal amounts of white vinegar and water, throw in some dill (either fresh or dried) along with a few peppercorns and about a spoonful of sugar. Put the cucumbers and onions in a jar and fill it with the liquid.  Refrigerate for at least a week before eating, and the longer they sit the tastier they get.  Again, quick, easy no preservatives and cheap!

I saw a post online about making homemade Febreeze and since I haven't been able to find the stuff in Panama, why not try to make it?  I used a cup and a half of water, two tablespoons of liquid fabric softener (any type) and a tablespoon of baking soda.  Pour into a spray bottle, shake well and wah-lah....Febreeze.....very cheap and easy and it smells great too!

Last night we concocted a cheap dinner of French bread pizzas using local long, skinny, bakery-type of bread. I've heard these type of breads called, flautas, bagettes, or Italian bread.  Here's they're long and thin and only cost around 50 cents each, enough for us to make pizzas for three night if we wanted to. 

We pick up a pound of pepperoni from the deli for around $2 a pound and throw it in the freezer.  A pound goes a long, long way and lasts a long time in the freezer.  Our pizzas get topped with tomato sauce sprinkled with some Italian dried herbs, peppers, onions, olives, tomatoes and cheese and we bake them till the cheese melts for a cheap, easy meal.

Squeezing a dollar out of a dime is what this dazzling, duo does with the Countess of Cheap clutching closely to every entity ensuring that the eyes of each President pop profusely. Thus providing profound popularity to her friend in frugality and favorite husband .....along the gringo trail.

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