Homemade Greek Yogurt

Making your own yogurt is quite simple! It does take a little time, but most of it is inactive. It’s a really fun, easy project to try at home at least once!

greek yogurtYou’ll need: 1 liter (4 cups) milk + 2 tbsp active culture yogurt + time

1. Heat the milk to about 77C (170F). If you don’t have a thermometer, then heat the milk until it just starts to simmer around the edges.

2. Cover the pot with a lid and let it cool down to 43C (110F). Then stir in the yogurt. Now you just have to keep the yogurt warm, and wait about 5-10 hours.

3. You can warm up your oven very slightly (to about 43C / 110F), turn off the oven and leave it in there. Or, if your oven has a setting for letting bread rise, you can use that. My oven in Japan has that kind of setting, called 発酵, hakkou, or ‘fermentation’, which will keep your oven temperature at 40C. I used that setting for a little while, then turned off the oven and left the pot in there with the door closed until it was done. Or, if you don’t have an oven or don’t want to use it, you can wrap the whole pot (with the lid on) in a heavy towel, and leave it in a warm spot. I’ve done it that way before with no problem.

4. Check the yogurt once in a while to see if the milk has congealed. There might be a little whey on top (a clear yellow-green liquid), which you can pour off. At this point, you’re done! If you want to make Greek/strained yogurt, you can strain it by putting cheesecloth or coffee filters in a strainer, setting it over a bowl, and letting it sit in the fridge overnight.

If you don’t strain your yogurt, you’ll get about the same amount of yogurt as the milk you started with. If you strain it, a lot of whey will come out. I started with a liter (4 cups) of milk, and ended up measuring 560mL (2-1/3 cups) of whey, leaving about 410g (1-2/3 cups) Greek yogurt. (It does depend how thick you like it, so your results may vary.)

So, is it worth it?

If you’re currently buying Greek yogurt, then it’s worth it. Or, if you don’t strain your yogurt, it’s worth it. In those two cases, making your own costs about 1/3 as much as buying in the store!

If you want to strain your yogurt, here are the numbers I got. This will, of course, vary slightly depending on the price of milk and yogurt in your area.

Buying Greek yogurt in the store: 1.35 yen/gram
Buying yogurt in the store and straining it: 0.5 yen/gram
Buying milk in the store, making yogurt, and straining it: 0.4 yen/gram

So it’s much cheaper than buying Greek yogurt, but only slightly cheaper than buying yogurt and straining it. If you add in the extra effort of making your own yogurt, each person will have to decide whether they think it’s worth it. For me personally, I probably won’t make yogurt every week, but once in a while I will.

How about taste? Well, I love the taste of the homemade yogurt. I don’t really like a very strong sour, yogurty taste, but the homemade yogurt is very mild. It tastes very fresh and pure. I like to eat it with a little honey and some toasted walnuts (like in the picture above), or mixed with fresh/dried fruit, jam, or nuts.

Especially in Japan, I use strained yogurt a lot – not only for eating, but also as a substitute for sour cream or cream cheese in certain applications. You can make dip with yogurt (mix with a little mayo and some seasoning) and no one can tell the difference. You can make tzatziki (a Greek yogurt cucumber sauce). You can also strain it a little further and make a spread for crackers that’s like cream cheese. You can even make cheesecake with it. You can put a spoonful of it in soup to make a creamy contrast; you can use it to make pasta sauce; you can use it in tacos or burritos; you can make a creamy salad dressing with it; you can…

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Swedish Bread

swedish breadI love baking bread in the winter. It makes the whole house seem warmer and cozier, and warm homemade bread is one of my favorite things to eat. This is an old recipe that my Mom and I used to make when I was younger, and I hadn’t made in many years until this Christmas. It’s got egg, milk, and sugar in it, which make the dough rich and sweet, and it tastes like almonds. You can make regular loaves, or braid them like I did in the picture above if you want to be fancy!

Ingredients (makes 2 loaves)
½ cup (113g) melted butter or margarine
⅔ cup (133g) sugar
1 teaspoon salt
405 mL (2-1/4 cups) hot milk
2-1/4 tsp dry yeast
¼ cup (60mL) warm water
1 egg, well beaten
1 teaspoon almond extract
7 cups (910g) white flour (approximately)

Optional: 1 egg yolk, 1/4 cup almonds (for topping)

Instructions
Mix the butter, sugar, salt, and hot milk in a large bowl and let cool to lukewarm. Stir the yeast into the warm water and let it stand for 5 minutes to dissolve.

Add the dissolved yeast, egg, almond extract, and 3 cups (390g) of the flour to the milk mixture and mix vigorously. Add 3 more cups (390g) of flour and mix well.

Turn out onto a slightly floured board, knead for a minute or two, and let rest for 10 minutes. Adding the remaining flour only if the dough is too sticky, resume kneading until smooth and elastic. Put the dough in a large bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until double in bulk. Punch down, knead for a minute or two, and shape into two loaves. Place in two buttered 9×5 inch loaf pans, cover, and let rise until double in bulk again. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake bread for 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from pans and cool on racks.

For Braided Bread: After the dough has risen for the first time, punch it down, knead for a minute or two, and divide it into six equal pieces. Stretch and roll each piece with your hands until you have six long rolls of uniform size. Make two braids with them, pinching the three piece of dough firmly together when you start braiding and again when you finish. Tuck each end underneath the loaf. Place on greased cookie sheets, cover, and allow to rise until double in size. Brush with 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon cold water, and sprinkle with chopped almonds. Bake for only 25 to 30 minutes.

Caramel Hot Cocoa

caramel hot cocoaThis past weekend, the Tokyo area was hit by a “blizzard”. I put it in quotations because I grew up in the Northeast U.S., where 4 inches of snow is not even worth mentioning. But here in eastern Japan, snow is unusual – once or twice a year at most – and usually just a dusting. Anyway, all usual transportation stopped for a day or two, and everyone was finding alternate ways to get where they needed to go, and doing a lot of walking in the snow and slush in shoes that were not intended for that kind of use. It seems like everything has been cold and wet, and when I come home to my non-heated house, the first thing I want is hot cocoa. This caramel hot cocoa is my recent favorite – if you want it to taste more like “salted caramel”, you can add a little extra salt!

Ingredients (serves 1)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp cream
1 tbsp cocoa
3/4 cup milk
1/8 tsp vanilla
sprinkle of salt (or more to taste)

Instructions

Put the sugar in a dry saucepan over medium heat until it begins to melt. Let the sugar melt and caramelize into a brown liquid. Don’t stir – but you can swirl the pan a little if it doesn’t melt evenly. Don’t walk away – it happens very quickly and the caramel can burn in an instant.

When the sugar is melted and has turned a reddish-brown, turn off the heat and add the cream carefully. It may splatter a little bit. Immediately whisk or stir, but don’t worry if it hardens up on you.* Add the cocoa and mix it into the caramel.

Add the milk and turn the heat back on medium-low. Whisk until the milk heats up and begins to steam. Then add the vanilla and salt.

* If the caramel completely hardens, just add the milk first, turn the heat on, and the caramel will melt into the milk. Then you can add the cocoa powder afterwards.

Ingredients in Japan: Dairy Products

This post is part of a series about the differences in ingredients between Japan and the U.S. When I first arrived in Japan, I had a lot of trouble at times because I wasn’t used to these differences, so hopefully this information is helpful! For the full list of posts in this series, see this page.

Dairy is not used in traditional Japanese cooking, but these days, many different cuisines are popular in Japan, and all kinds of dairy products are easy to get here. For this post, I’ll talk about milk, cream, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream. There’s a quick note about dairy substitutes toward the end.

Milk
Milk is commonly sold at supermarkets, convenience stores, and drugstores. Most milk seems to be whole milk, but you can also get low-fat milk. Milk seems expensive to me here; in my area it ranges from about 150-200 yen per liter (that would be US$1.50-$2 per quart, or $6-8 per gallon). Low-fat milk is a little cheaper. There is also a higher-fat “luxury milk” available which is more expensive.

Buttermilk
I’ll mention buttermilk here because it’s used in many American recipes, but I have not seen it sold in Japan. Depending on the recipe, you could use yogurt thinned out with milk, or use this “recipe” to make a buttermilk substitute: For 1 cup buttermilk, put about 1 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar in a measuring cup, then add milk until it reaches 1 cup (240mL). Let sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes before using.

Cream
Trying to buy heavy or whipping cream in the store was a little puzzling to me at first, because it’s labeled differently from the American style. Heavy creams are labeled by percentage of butterfat. I usually see 35% or 48% cream, and recently there has been 42% cream at some places. All of these will whip and can be used as whipping cream. It’s a little expensive and is sold in 100mL or 200mL cartons. It’s usually called 生クリーム, nama kuriimu, literally ‘raw cream’. There’s also something called “pantry cream,” which has a lower fat content, and will NOT whip. (Also be careful not to confuse this cream with the cheaper ホイップ, hoippu which is a vegetable product that can be whipped and used like ‘non-dairy topping’ in America.)

Yogurt
Yogurt is extremely popular in Japan and there are many types available. There are non-fat, low-fat, and full-fat, plain and sweetened varieties, as well as many types with fruit added. Quite recently, Greek yogurt has become available here. It goes by two names: カスピ海ヨーグルト, kasupi-kai youguruto, literally ‘Caspian sea yogurt’, or ギリシャヨーグルト, girisha youguruto, ‘Greece yogurt’. Another very popular product is called ‘drinkable yogurt,’ which is just what it sounds like, and usually found in the refrigerated beverage section.

Ice Cream
Ice cream is popular, but mostly sold as individual pieces on sticks, or in small cartons. Ice cream in large tubs as we often see it in the U.S. is very uncommon. In shops, soft serve is very popular, although it’s called ソフトクリーム, sofuto kuriimu, ‘soft cream’. There are literally hundreds of common and unusual flavors available, often changing by season.

Cheese
This is the one that makes us cry! Cheese is not as popular in Japan as America, so there are few varieties available, and they tend to be expensive, small, and not as tasty (in our humble opinions) as what we had in America. The most common cheese sold in stores is called ‘pizza cheese’ or ‘mix cheese’, which is a mixture of white, meltable cheeses that you can use on pizza or similar. Parmesan cheese (powdered) is also usually available in stores, as is sliced ‘processed cheese’. Other types can be found here and there, but you’ll have to look around to see what different stores carry. If you really want a certain type of cheese, your best bets are ordering online, or going to Costco.

Butter
See my older post on butter and fats.

Dairy Substitutes
I’d like to write more about this at some point, but just as a quick reference: Soymilk (豆乳, tounyuu) is extremely popular and widely available in “plain” as well as many, many flavors. There are basically two “plain” types, which are called 調整 (chousei, ‘adjusted’) and 無調整 (muchousei, ‘unadjusted’) – when I did a little searching I found that the ‘adjusted’ variety has a little salt and sugar added and the pH is adjusted; all of this is done to make it taste a little better or more “drinkable”. I don’t drink soymilk plain; I only use it for cooking and smoothies, so I always buy the ‘unadjusted’ variety. These two plain flavors are found in both small (200mL) and large (1000mL) sizes. The other flavors, which range from coffee to strawberry to mango, along with seasonal or limited-time flavors including cherry-blossom, cola, and grape, are usually found only in the small size. I have seen soy yogurt once in a while as well, but have never tried it.

The other dairy substitute that has become popular recently is almond milk. I’ve seen two brands sold in various stores. There are a couple of flavors that have come out – I’ve seen plain, unsweetened, chocolate, coffee, and banana – but the plain one is easiest to find. I had only seen the small 200mL size being sold (for about 100-120 yen, about $1 US) until last week, when I saw the 1000mL size for the first time in the supermarket, which was a little more cost-efficient at 358 yen (about $3 US). Both brands taste fine, though they seem to contain a lot of sugar.

Naan

IMG_7796This flatbread is easy to make and goes well with curry or lentils! It does take some time, but only because it has to rise for 2-1/2 hours. The actual working time is not very long.

Ingredients (makes 6-8 naan)
2 cups (260g) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp yeast
3/4 cup (180mL) milk (you can also substitute all or part of the milk with yogurt)
1/2 tsp sugar
1-2 tbsp butter (optional)

Instructions

Warm up the milk, and add the sugar and yeast. Add the salt, and half of the flour, and mix well. Add the remaining flour, and knead until a smooth dough is formed.

Place dough in a bowl, cover with a towel, and let rise 2 hours.

Divide the dough into 6 to 8 pieces. Let rest for 30 minutes. Heat your oven to its highest temperature. Roll out the dough into circles and bake for 2-4 minutes.

If desired, brush the warm naan with melted butter.

Lavender Earl Grey Tea Latte

IMG_7797I’m not much of a coffee drinker, so when I go to cafes, I usually try their tea drinks. One US-based chain has a Lavender Earl Grey Tea Latte that I love, but it is outrageously expensive. I figured I could make something similar at home for much less money, and tried out different ways until I found something I liked. If you like this one, I also recommend the Pumpkin Spice Steamer I posted a while ago!

Ingredients (makes about 1 cup: 1 large or 2 small servings)
360mL (1-1/2 cups) milk
1 Earl Grey teabag (or 1 tbsp Earl Grey tea)
1/2 tsp lavender*
2-3 tsp sugar (2 tsp was enough for me, so start with that)

*Lavender is the hardest ingredient to find; you can get it at import stores or maybe also at tea stores. It’s quite inexpensive and a little goes a long way.

Instructions

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat until mixture begins to simmer.

Turn heat to low and let the milk simmer very lightly for 10 minutes.

Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer, and serve immediately.

Runza

runzaRunza are made from a slightly sweet, rich bread dough and a filling of beef, onion and cabbage. Although the ingredients are simple, the results are delicious. This recipe does require some time since the bread dough has to rise. However, you can certainly make the filling while the dough is rising. Another reason these are great is because they can be refrigerated or frozen and reheat extremely well.

Ingredients (serves 4)
Dough:
4-1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1-1/2 tbsp yeast
1 tsp salt
180mL (3/4 cup) milk
120mL (1/2 cup) water
100g (1/2 cup) shortening
2 eggs

Filling:
450g (1 lb) ground beef or beef/pork mixture
2 onions, chopped
4 cups thinly sliced cabbage
pinch of salt, pepper, and nutmeg

Instructions

Mix 1-3/4 cups flour, sugar, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Combine the shortening, milk, and water, and microwave or heat on the stove until shortening melts. Let cool slightly and add to the flour. Add eggs and mix well. Add remaining flour (2-3/4 cups) and mix until smooth. Let rise 1 hour.

Meanwhile, saute meat, onions, and cabbage until meat is cooked through. Season with a pinch each of salt, pepper, and ground nutmeg to taste.

Divide dough into 12 equal balls, and roll into squares of about 6 inches (15cm) on a floured surface. Place about 1/3 cup of the meat mixture in the middle of the dough, and fold one corner over to the opposite corner, making a triangle. Use a fork to seal the edges of the dough very well.

Bake at 180C / 350 F for 20 minutes.