For years I didn't think I liked yogurt. Of course, I was eating  low fat, commercial brands that market themselves as healthy but really contain lots of sugar and additives (not to mention low fat isn't as healthy as we've been led to believe).  Then one day I bought Fage/Total full fat Greek Yogurt and I realized it wasn't that I didn't not like yogurt. I just didn't like 'yogurt'.

Over the years, yogurt has become a staple in our house. It's my son's favorite thing to eat when he gets home from school. He enjoys mixing his own rather unique blends. Most days I have my own unique blend for breakfast.

I also use it for anything that usually calls for mayonnaise or sour cream. I know it's a common practice of those cutting calories or fat, but considering my yogurt actually has *extra* fat, that's certainly not an issue in our house. My husband has never liked mayonnaise and though I used to, I stopped eating it because it was too difficult to find a brand that didn't contain soybean  or similarly unhealthy oils.

Recently I discovered it's amazing in place of buttermilk. Biscuits, muffins, scones and pancakes are softer, lighter and fluffier. The first time I tried this with pancakes my family wanted to know what I did differently - and strongly suggested I make this alteration to the recipe permanent.

It didn't take long before I was spending a significant amount of money every week on yogurt. It seemed like such a waste when so many others I knew I were making it at home.

I read several websites and experimented a bit on my own and came up with a method that works for me. I have been making small amounts several times a week, but am thinking of doubling it and trying to get away with once a week. Right now I'm using:

16 oz whole milk
4 oz cream
1/2 t gelatin

Measure the milk and cream into a pan. Sprinkle the gelatin on top of the milk/cream and allow to stand a few minutes. I know many recipes suggest powdered milk to thicken the yogurt, but I didn't want to use it since it's not a healthy product. Gelatin, on the other hand, supplies added nutrients and we like the ever so slightly gelled texture.

Slowly heat to 180 degrees. I use a thermometer since I'm not good at guessing. Sometimes if I've been baking, I put the pan in the oven instead of on top the of the stove to use the residual heat.

Remove from heat and allow to cool to 110 degrees

When it's cooled, stir in a few tablespoons of reserved yogurt. I used Fage to start with, but now use some of my previous batch. I've heard it loses strength after a while, so every so often I'll buy a yogurt and use that to freshen it up a bit.

Pour into jars and keep warm and keep at 100 degrees for at least 8 hours.

This is where it really varies. Some people use a yogurt maker. Some people use crock pots, or styrofoam ice chests. I've even heard you can incubate it in the hot car on a warm summer day. In the summer, I leave mine overnight in the oven with the light on. In the winter, that doesn't stay hot enough, so I use a heating pad and a cardboard box.

I put a towel in the bottom of the box, put the heating pad on that, with another towel on top of it. The jars go in next and are covered with another towel. I put the thermometer in with the jars so I can keep an eye on the temperature.

Leave it overnight, or about 10 hours.

Chocolate Truffles

I've got the day off today, and like most people, I've got a long 'to-do' list. As usual, many of them have to do with spending time in the kitchen. One of these is especially pleasant, though - making chocolate truffles. (I know..more chocolate)

For quite some time I was fooled into thinking they were difficult to make - possibly even beyond my skills - so I didn't even try. Now that I know how simple they are, I've made them a few times. It's a good thing they're so easy to make - this year I decided to make loads of them to give away for Valentine's Day.

Like many of my recipes, I'm not even sure where I got it. Usually I study a number of recipes, try a few that appeal to me the most, make a few changes here and there, and end up with something that works for me. Sometimes I'm very organized and take notes - other times...not so much - and I have to try to remember what I did, or worse, start all over again. 

This is the recipe I've been using the last few years. It's a basic, rustic looking truffle. Maybe someday I'll experiment with flavorings, coatings and frills. On the other hand....maybe not.

Chocolate Truffles

8 oz  dark chocolate (I used Girardeli 60% chocolate chips today)
1/2 C cream
2 T butter
Cocoa powder for dusting

Measure the chocolate chips, or break up chocolate if using bars,  into a medium sized bowl. Heat the cream and butter until almost boiling. Pour over chocolate and stir until the chocolate is completely melted, and beautifully smooth and shiny. Refrigerate.

Once the mixture is set, use a teaspoon or other small scoop to measure out small amounts of the chocolate. Working quickly with cool hands, shape small amounts of the chocolate into balls and roll in cocoa powder. Return to the refrigerator until firm.

I usually do this part in two stages. I use two spoons to drop small mounds of chocolate onto a paper lined baking sheet, refrigerate, then shape and coat, then refrigerate again.

Allow to return to room temperature before eating.  Share and enjoy.

Oh, and when everyone is impressed with how clever you are and how many hours you must have worked to make them, feel free to simply smile modestly and thank them.

Valentine's Day Chocolate Fondue

I don't know if there are other couples who don't go 'out' for Valentine's Day, but we haven't done that for several years. We give cards, but skip the 'date' or 'gift' part. We just don't miss any of it, so we don't bother.

Whatever else we might do depends on what appeals to us at the time. No matter what we end up doing, one thing remains constant - our traditional Valentine's Day Chocolate Fondue.

Though it's quite simple to make, to me nothing feels quite so luxurious. I usually use good chocolate even for every day uses, but for this I splurge on even better quality chocolate and buy strawberries out of season (something I don't normally do).

The choices of dipping items are usually fruit, though marshmallows are often included since they are  a favorite of one particular family member. Besides strawberries, I usually include whatever other fruits are available at the time and seem like they would work well. I've tried cookie/cake type things, like lady fingers or shortbread when I've had them on hand, but the fruits are more popular.

Chocolate Fondue

1 cup heavy cream
12 ounces good quality dark chocolate, chopped (I used Callebaut)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Heat the cream in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat until hot, about 2 to 3 minutes. When hot, add the chocolate and stir until it is just melted and smooth. Stir in vanilla. Transfer to a warm ceramic fondue pot and thoroughly enjoy :)

Snow Cream

Like most of the country, we've had interesting weather lately. While some places were getting massive amounts of snow, we had serious cold.

Eventually we got some snow, too. About six inches of fluffy whiteness - perfect for making Snow Cream.

Growing up in a snow-less part of the country, Snow Cream wasn't part of my childhood, and I confess I'd totally forgotten about it until just a few days ago. Snowy days have always been much more likely to make me think 'hot chocolate' rather than a bowl of creamy vanilla snow. But the few times I had it as a teenager were fun and I was looking forward to introducing my family to it.

Luckily, we didn't have long to wait. The snow started falling around noon and continued into the night. By dessert time, the bowl we'd set outside earlier in the day was filled to overflowing with fluffy, new snow.

I didn't really measure the ingredients, but this is approximate:

Snow Cream

1/2 c fresh, good quality cream
1 Tablespoon unrefined  sugar (or honey or (real) maple syrup)
dash vanilla

Mix until well blended.

Gently stir into a bowl of clean, fresh snow.

 Spoon into bowls (chilled bowls work best) and eat immediately.

The weatherman says we should get several chances to perfect our recipe this week