Monday, June 30, 2008

Salad Bar

This is one of my family's all-time favorite meals, strangely enough! Everyone actually cheers when I say we are having salad bar for dinner (I still think that's wierd, but whatever... it's good for them!) Seems kind of obvious, but it's nice to have a list of options. Simple, but does take some chopping time so enlist the kid's help. Use what you have on hand, and occasionally try something new.

cut, washed, dried romaine lettuce
washed, dried spring mix
sprouts (any kind)
chopped tomatoes
chopped celery
thin peels of carrot
chopped radish
chopped fresh broccoli
chopped hard boiled eggs (although sometimes I leave some whole)
chopped red onions (or green onions)
chopped peppers (green or other colors)
thin sliced jicama
chopped cucumbers
pea pods (either thin ones, or chop the fatter ones)
sunflower seeds (soaked/dehydrated or sprouted)
chopped almonds (soaked/dehydrated)
leftover chopped meat (whatever you have, small amount is great - especially good if you have 1-2 pieces leftover from grilling)
shredded parmesan cheese or queso fresco
freshly ground pepper

Salad dressing options:
basic vinaigrette
ranch dressing

Set everything out buffet style and let everyone pick what they want. You can serve with fresh rolls or bread sticks, but we usually don't because it takes so much time just to chop it all up.

Chocolate Milk

I tried to come up with a healthy chocolate milk that was quick and easy and also didn't have cocoa chunks in it. I came up with this tasty version that the kids really enjoyed!

1 TBS cocoa powder (or cacao)
2 tsp agave nectar
1 c. milk (preferably raw milk)

Put the cocoa powder in the bottom of a 10-12 oz. cup. Pour in agave nectar, and stir to make a paste. Add a little milk. Stir until the paste is dissolved, then add the rest of the milk.

Variation: Make molasses milk. Pour a little milk in the cup. Add 1-2 tsp organic unrefined molasses, stir till mixed. Add the rest of the milk and stir.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Coconut Balls

I make these like I make peanut butter balls - just toss the ingredients in! You'll have to play with this recipe a bit to get it how you like it. Great way to get extra coconut oil into your diet, but make sure you keep 'em cold.

1 c. virgin unrefined organic coconut oil, softened
1/2 c. almond flour (preferably ground soaked dehdyrated almonds)
1/2 c. shredded unsweetened coconut
1/8 c. agave nectar (or more as desired)
1/4 to 1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp vanilla

Extra shredded coconut

Mix it all together, adding more almond flour to make it less sticky. Roll into balls, then roll in shredded coconut. Or you can smash flat in a pan and cut after it's cold. Keep refrigerated. Sometimes I add currants or other chopped dried fruit.

Add 1 TBS cocoa powder to make a chocolate version (may need more sweetener.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Potato Babies

I have no idea why these are called potato babies, they just are. Great way to use up leftover mashed potatoes! 4 out or 5 kids give these 2 thumbs up. I never measure these either!

3 c. mashed potatoes
1 egg
garlic salt to taste
1/4 - 1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese

whole wheat flour or arrowroot powder

Mix first four ingredients together. If too sticky, add a little flour or arrowroot to the mix (but you don't want it to be so dry like playdough.) Sprinkle flour on the counter. Scoop out a large spoonful of potato mixture and plop it on the flour. Mash into a potato patty. Melt butter in a large skillet and then fry the potato babies up. Should be golden brown on each side, sometimes I'll add more butter to the other side before I flip them. Serve with ketchup.

Peanut Butter Balls

Kids love peanut butter balls, and they're great for a quick snack or pick-me-up. I never measure when I make these, I just dump it in and when it's the right texture and tastes good they're done. I put approximate measures for you to start out with.

1 c. organic peanut butter
1/4 c. honey (or agave syrup)
3/4 c. shredded unsweetened coconut
1/4 c. currants (or raisins)
1/8 c. - 1/4 c. ground flax seed
1/4/ c. coconut milk powder (or arrowroot powder)

Mix the first two ingredients together, then add anything else in you want. The coconut milk powder is added last and is to make the mixture into a playdough texture rather than sticky. If you don't have coconut milk powder, use arrowroot powder instead. Roll into balls and store in the fridge. Or you can just flatten in a pan and cut into squares later after refrigerating.

Other things to add in:
Dried apple fiber powder
Chopped nuts (almonds, pecans, peanuts, etc)
Any other chopped dried fruits
Sprouted sunflower seeds

Make carob or cocoa peanut butter balls by adding 1-2 TBS of carob or cocoa powder to the mix before you add the coconut milk powder.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Ranch Dressing Mix

My two year old loves ranch so much she'll just dip her whole hand in if I'm not watching! Make this healthier version.

2 TBS dried parsley flakes
1 TBS dried minced onions
2-1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp dill weed
1-1/2 tsp sea salt

Combine all and store in a mason jar. To make dressing you will need a salad dressing holder that can hold 16 oz or a quart jar. Pour in 1 c. buttermilk, then 1 c. good quality mayonnaise and then 1 TBS mix. Shake well. I haven't found a good quality mayo that I really like and I don't have a good source of eggs to make my own, so in the meantime I've been using Hain's Safflower mayo which doesn't have a strong taste and is better than Kraft.

Berry Green Smoothie

It took me almost a year to work up the nerve to make a green smoothie and try it. And then I wondered why I waited so long. The whole family loves these. You need a powerful blender like a vitamix or blendtec otherwise you won't be too happy with the results. This is my basic mix in a 6 cup blender. Measurements are VERY approximate as I usually just toss stuff in.

1/2 frozen banana
1 c. frozen berry mix (I get triple berries from Costco)
4-5 frozen strawberries
1 whole peeled orange
1/4 lemon (washed, with peel on)
4-6 c. washed greens (about 1/2 the pitcher full)
2-3 TBS coconut oil
2 TBS flax seed
2-3 cups water as needed

Put it all in and blend it up! Number 4 on the Blendtec. About greens: start with spinach as it'll be the most mild. Kale and chard are good too, but romaine lettuce is decidely NOT good. I've tried the spring mix from Costco (removing the bitter endive) and sometimes it's good, but last time it was horrible, so that's kind of more of a wildcard. Put more frozen berries in when you first start out to get a deep purple color and it will look more appetizing.

Try different fruits after a while, and your family won't even care if it's a pukey green color because they know it'll taste good. I make two pitchers full for our family of 7.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Quick Easy Healthy Snack Ideas

The kids are always hungry right? So here are some quick easy healthy snack ideas! Interestingly, until I stopped buying snack foods such as pretzels, crackers and other munchies, I could never get them to eat much of these healthy snacks, mainly because it was too easy to pull out the processed snacks from the cupboard! The Keep It Simple, Stupid principle sure helps out here, most of the snacks are very simple, and on occasion we'll make something that takes extra prep time for a snack. It's all gluten free except for a few of the homemade goods.

Fresh Fruits
Apples (get an apple slicer, very convenient)
Cinnamon Apples
Peaches, Nectarines

Frozen Fruits
Berries, any kind (eat frozen or thaw)

Dried Fruits (unsulphured, no sugar added)
Fruit leather

Fancier Fruits (slightly more prep)
Raw applesauce (or any other fruit sauce)
Fruit salad (mix any combination with whip cream, yogurt or nothing)
Fruit parfait (layer fruits with whip cream or yogurt, top with granola)
Fruit Smoothies
Green Smoothies

Frozen corn
Snap peas
Peppers (red, green, yellow, try them all!)
Sprouts (sunflower, alfalfa, etc)
Pickles (fermented with salt rather than vinegar, refrigerated like Bubbie's pickles)

Fancier Veggies
Bugs on a log (celery sticks spread with peanut or almond butter, topped with currants or raisins)
Muffin tin veggie tray (get a muffin tin, and put different cut veggies in each tin along with dipping sauce)

Yogurt dip
Peanut butter dip
Cream cheese dip
Spinach dip
black bean dip
Refried bean dip

Cheese sticks, cubes (cultured cheese)

Seeds & Nuts (sprout or soak/dehydrate for better digestability)
Sunflower seeds
Trail mix
Popcorn (Just pop this, of course)

Homemade Snacks
Granola bars
Peanut butter balls
Coconut balls
Homemade crackers
Homemade corn or sprouted wheat tortillas
Leftover pancakes or waffles

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Berry-Rhubarb Pudding

Last year almost everyone in the family insisted they hated rhubarb. So I tried out a new recipe this year, and of the 6 of us that ate it, we all liked it. This is pretty approximate, you've got a lot of wiggle room on the measurements here:

2 c. washed, chopped rhubarb (dark red part of stalk)
1 c. water
1 c. frozen berries (any kind, I used triple berry mix from Costco)
2 TBS OJ concentrate
1/4 c. sucanat
3 TBS arrowroot powder (can use cornstarch, but arrowroot is much healthier)
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 c. agave nectar

Put the rhubarb and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Let simmer about 4-5 minutes or until soft. Add the berries, OJ concentrate and sucanat, simmer 2-3 minutes more until berries are soft. Mix the arrowroot powder with a little water in a cup, stir until dissolved. Slowly pour into pudding while stirring so that it thickens. When thick, remove from heat. Add agave & vanilla and stir.

Serve this warm as-is, or you could serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. You could even make a crumble topping to serve this with too.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Natural Sweeteners

There is a lot of information about natural sweeteners out there, how do you know what is best? This is what I've learned, and these are the sweeteners I use the most. Always try to buy the best quality that you can, I've found that Wholesome Sweeteners brand is probably the best generally available brand out there for many of these.

Raw Honey - Has many health & healing benefits, including digestive enzymes. If you buy local honey, it can have a homeopathic effect in helping to reduce allergies (meaning you're eating little bits of what you're allergic to and calms the allergy.) If you find a local source, it's reasonably priced in bulk. It tastes good, but you also have adjust your recipe (adding in more dry ingredients) when using it in baking. And it can make some things taste too much like honey.

Sucanat - Sucanat is unrefined dried cane sugar juice, and stands for SUgar CAne NATural. The molasses has not been removed like in regular table sugar. It has less sucrose than white sugar. It has a definite molasses taste and can easily be substituted for brown sugar in recipes. However, if you don't want your finished product to taste like molasses, then don't substitute directly for sugar. It is not cheap, which is good because then you can limit it's use as it should be. Be sure to buy good quality sucanat, as some is simply regular sugar with molasses added back in. I buy Wholesome Sweeteners brand, and it costs about $2-$3 per pound at the health food store, or if you buy it in bulk it's about $75 for a 50lb bag which lasts our family of 7 the whole year.

Stevia - Stevia hasn't been approved by the FDA as a food, but as a dietary sweetener. It's an herb that's derived from a plant grown in South America, where it's been used for 1500 years. It is 300 times sweeter than sugar, but it is very low on the glycemic index, which means it doesn't spike your blood sugar and is perfect for diabetics. There are varying qualities on this product too, of course. You can purchase the green leaf which is less refined, but quite frankly tastes rather terrible (perhaps I got some poor quality stevia or something, but it makes your food taste like sweet herbs). I much prefer the white powder, and I purchase Sweet Leaf Stevia Extract for about $9 for 1 oz, which sounds incredibly expensive, but it goes a loooong way. It can leave an aftertaste, so I sometimes use a little of another natural sweetener to counteract that. It is much better to add to foods already cooked or raw such as fruit shakes, puddings, yogurt, etc rather than to try to bake with stevia.

Agave Nectar - One of the newest sweeteners to appear on the health food scene, it's best features are low glycemic index and a very mild taste! Moderately pricey at $35 a gallon, but worth it. It's 3 times sweeter than sugar. Agave nectar comes from agave plants, mainly grown in mexico. Interestingly, tequila is made from agave plants too (although I don't recommend using tequila!)

Maple Syrup - Buy real maple syrup, not flavored maple syrup like Mrs. Butterworth's. Grade A is what you'll find in most stores, but grade B has more nutrition. Grade A is more highly filtered, thus removing many of the valuable minerals. Organic maple syrup is preferable because they don't use formaldahyde in the processing. Maple syrup isn't cheap, 1/2 gallon of grade A syrup costs $18 - $20 at Costco (sometimes they even have organic), and grade B can cost upwards of $40-$50 for 1/2 gallon.

Molasses - Buy organic unrefined blackstrap molasses for best nutrition (great source of b vitamins and iron.) I like the taste of the molasses from Wholesome Sweeteners the best.

Real Vanilla Extract - while not a sweetener, you can often cut back on adding other sweeteners simply by adding vanilla!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Potato Cheddar Broccoli Soup

Some of the kids will eat it, some won't, but dad & mom sure liked it!

2 TBS butter
1 onion, diced (or puree in blender)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red, yellow or orange pepper, diced (or 5-6 mini peppers)
2 TBS flour
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 to 1 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 c. chopped fresh broccoli (or use frozen)
8-10 small red potatoes (or 2-3 large), diced with skins on (1/2" chunks)
1 c. grated cheddar
1/2 c. cream or milk (optional)

Melt butter in large pot, add onions and garlic and saute. I always puree my onions in soup because some of the kids do not like onion chunks. Add chopped peppers and saute until soft about 5 min.

Meanwhile mix flour with spices. Add to sauteed onions and cook for a minute. Slowly add chicken broth . Bring to a boil and then add potato chunks. Boil for 15 minutes or so. Add chopped broccoli (small pieces, including stem). Boil 10 minutes more until both broccoli &
potatoes are soft.

Using a hand blender, blend soup till smooth. Or process in small batches in the blender to make smooth (blend about 2 cups at a time, pour back into pot, and repeat.) Add cheese and cream as desired.

Can start in the morning in a crockpot if desired, just add cheese/cream at the end.

The Way We Eat

I thought I ought to make an explanatory post of the types of recipes you'll find here and why.

I grew up with a mother who was always very interested in nutrition (so much so that she owns a health food store), so naturally I thought it was all kind of crazy. But darn it, Mom was right. Fast forward some years...

My second child was an extremely picky eater who constantly was getting rashes, headaches and stomachaches, extreme mood swings among other symptoms. The allergist found no "allergies" but told us to try a rotation diet to see if we could narrow it down, as it was clear that food was causing her problems. Sure enough, we tracked symptoms being caused by 10-12 very common foods, and that was simply the ones we could figure out. She couldn't be allergic to everything, could she? We tried to avoid those foods that gave her the biggest problems, and she was feeling mostly ok for a while. But then came the summer when she was basically sick in bed feeling miserable with a headache, stomachache and she was covered from head to toe with hives for six weeks. With lots of prayer, we happened to hear about celiac disease and decided to get her tested. She didn't end up having celiac disease, but we did put her on a gluten free diet. What an amazing difference it has made in her life. After four years of being gluten free (she's now 12), she's healthy, no longer a picky eater and doesn't even remember what she used to feel like.

Through all this, I explored many different areas of nutrition. There are so many different ways of eating, that I finally just decided that the best way for us to try to eat would be to eat as much as we could that was not processed. So I had to learn to cook everything from scratch. We do still eat a few convenience foods, but we try hard to avoid additives as much as possible. Nourishing Traditions was an excellent eye-opener on preparing foods to be enzyme-enhanced to promote digestion, as was learning to eat more raw foods. The whole family (7.5 of us) does not eat gluten free, but we eat gluten free foods much more than we ever used to. And when we do eat gluten, we try to eat it soaked or sprouted, but with this many kids that doesn't always happen.

I recently came across a quote by Ezra Taft Benson where he said, "In general, the more food we eat in its natural state and the less it is refined without additives, the healthier it will be for us." (Ensign, Nov. 1974 "Do Not Despair") Pretty much confirms my eating beliefs!

Coconut Granola

Perfect to eat with milk, homemade yogurt or just plain. I make this huge batch probably 2-3 times a month.

16 c. oats
6 c. unsweetened shredded coconut
1 c. freshly ground flax seed
3 c. chopped nuts (I love pecans in this, but you can use almonds, walnuts, whatever)
5 TBS cinnamon

Mix the above ingredients together in a large bowl.

1-1/2 c. coconut oil (organic unrefined)
1 c. honey
1 c. maple syrup (or do 1/2 c. blackstrap molasses and 1/2 c. maple syrup)
2 tsp vanilla

Heat the oil & sweeteners on low on the stove just until melted. Add vanilla flavoring. Pour liquid into large bowl and stir until it's all mixed in.

Line a large turkey roasting pan with parchment paper and dump the granola in. (Or you can bake it in shifts on jelly roll sheets, but it will fill about 4-5 trays.)

Bake at 250 degrees, stirring every 1/2 hour. Takes 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 hours to get crunchy in such a large pan.

Can add sprouted sunflower seeds when serving for live sprouts (soak 1 c. raw sunflower seeds in filtered water in a jar overnight.)

Monday, June 9, 2008

Sweet Chex (or Popcorn) Mix

While I don't normally buy cold cereal, our daughter needed a healthier gluten free alternative to the sweet chex mix they were serving at girl's camp, so we made this tasty and healthier version:

3 C. corn or rice chex (GF) (Popcorn would be a great subsitute)
1 c. rolled oats
1 c. coarsely chopped nuts (almonds or pecans are great)
1 c. coconut
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c. butter
1/3 c. honey
1/4 c. sucanat

Combine cereal, oats, nuts, coconut, cinnamon and salt in large bowl. In small saucepan, combine butter, honey and sucanat. Cook over low heat stirring constantly until butter is melted. Pour over cereal mix and stir until well coated. Spread evenly into a 15x10 jelly roll pan.

Bake 20 -25 minutes in 250 degree oven until golden brown. Stir every 5-10 minutes. Spread onto wax paper to cool. Store in tightly covered container. Makes about 6-7 cups.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Honey BBQ Sauce

Really tasty on grilled chicken.

3 TBS butter
1 small onion
3 cloves garlic
1 TBS dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp paprika
2 TBS fresh lemon juice
1 TBS worcestershire sauce
1/4 c. ketchup
1/4 c. honey
dash of chili powder

Blend the onion and garlic cloves with a little water in a food processor or blender (we like it smooth.) Saute in butter until soft. Add remaining ingredients and simmer on low for 10-15 minutes if you're in a hurry, or longer if not. Allow to cool. Keeps in fridge for several months.

Peach Cobbler

Oh so good when it's warm and served with vanilla ice cream!

1/2 c. butter (or 1/4 c. coconut oil & 1/4 c. butter)

4-6 sliced frozen peaches, thawed
1/4 c. honey
1 pinch cinnamon
1 pinch nutmeg
1 - 1/2 tbs arrowroot powder
1/2 c. water

1 c. milk
3/4 c. sucanat
1 c. whole wheat pastry flour (for gluten free, substitute 3/4 c. GF flour mix)
2 tsp baking powder
1 pinch salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place 1/2 c. (cube) of butter in 9x13 pan and put in oven to melt the butter. Do not burn!

In a large bowl, combine peaches, cinnamon & nutmeg. In water, dissolve arrowroot powder and add honey. Add to peaches, stir. Add more honey if needed. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Beat until smooth. Pour batter over melted butter. Spoon peaches over batter.

Bake for 40 minutes until done.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Hearty Cowboy Pasta

Purdy darn tasty, pardner.

1/2 lb ground beef, browned (or can do 1 lb for meatier pasta)
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can diced tomatoes
1 c. salsa
1 tsp dried basil
green chiles or pepper flakes or chili powder to taste
3 TBS worcestershire sauce
1 box (1 lb?) pasta, preferably whole grain or brown rice pasta (GF)
Grated cheese (optional)

Prepare noodles according to package directions until firm. Meanwhile, brown the beef in a pot. Add onion & garlic and saute until clear. Add tomatoes, salsa, basil, chili, and worcestershire sauce, mix well. When pasta is done, drain. Add meat sauce. Pour into 9x13 pan. Cover with grated cheese if desired. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes until cheese (or casserole) is hot and bubbly.

Cinnamon Apples

I get asked about this one a lot, mainly because people have no idea what we're eating! Great snack to go.


Wash and/or peel apple. Slice it. Put in a bag. Sprinkle cinnamon in bag. Shake until apple slices are covered with cinnamon. The kids never know if the apples are brown!

Garlic Salt

Probably kind of obvious, but I always forget...

3 parts Real Salt
1 part garlic powder

Mix it up!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Homemade Yogurt

I've been making homemade yogurt for about 4 or 5 years now, first for health reasons, now for taste & cost reasons too. I get asked a lot how to make yogurt! I messed up about 75% of my first 20 batches, but I think I've got it down now. No fancy equipment needed, just a food thermometer. Start small when you first try it.

1 gallon milk
4 TBS plain commercial yogurt (I love brown cow cream top)
Large pot
5 Quart jars
Small Cooler
Towel (optional)

These pictures were invaluable for helping me learn to make yogurt. My directions are below, because I don't do what they say to on the site because they are making a special yogurt for really extreme digestive issues.
They let it ferment for 24 hours, which makes very tart yogurt (but full of good bacteria.) 4-6 hours of fermentation is plenty for most people.

Make sure everything is clean, if you've got contaminants it can prevent the yogurt from setting up.

Instructions: (Number correlate to pictures):
1. Same as in picture, but I use 1 gallon full fat raw milk when I can get it, or bgH free when I can't. Whole fat milk makes much creamier yogurt. Turn burner onto med-low temperature. (On my burner it goes from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest. I put it at about a 3 or 4.)

2. Do not bring it to a boil. Set the timer for 10 minutes, then whisk the milk well when it beeps. Continue to set the timer for every 5-10 minutes and whisking until the milk starts getting warmer (around 140-150.) Now set the timer for every 3-5 minutes and whisk every five. This helps keep the milk homogenized and from burning on the bottom. Heat it to 180 degrees (not 212). I put my whisk on a clean plate to keep it and the counter clean. This will take a while
(maybe 45 minutes?) so I usually do something else in the kitchen in the meantime. If a skin starts to form, I just whisk it back in. You can skim it off, but if you're whisking every few minutes, the skin won't form much. If I'm in a hurry, I will turn the stove up to a 6 or 7, and stir starting at every 5 minutes. This way only takes 15-20 minutes, but you're more likely to burn the milk. Note that smaller amounts of milk will heat faster!

3. Fill sink with ice water about 4" deep. Put pot in ice water. If you're careful, you don't need to cover the pot, and it will cool faster. I occasionally check the temperature. This goes a lot faster than you'd think. It takes around 5-10 minutes, I think.

4. Cool to around 110 to 115 degrees, not 100. In a glass jar, put 4 tablespoons of brown cow cream top plain yogurt. I've had the best results with this brand, but any kind will do. You can even use flavored yogurt in a pinch, but it'll give all your homemade yogurt a faint flavor. Using a clean ladle, scoop out some milk and put in glass jar with the yogurt. Put the top on and shake until smooth. Pour it back into the pot and whisk well.

5. You can ferment the yogurt right in the pot, but I usually need my pot before the yogurt is done. So I pour it into 5 quart jars (it'll fill about 4 -1/2 jars.) I used to have the same heating pad as in the picture and medium works well for me too. At least until I plugged it in and it exploded. Apparently new heating pads often have an auto shut-off feature which isn't such a feature for making yogurt! Yes, I bought a new one, and it didn't work out too well because it did turn off. Now I just put the quart jars into a small cooler. If you don't have a small cooler that will fit the jars, you can put it in a large cooler, but just tuck in a towel all around the jars.

When I first made yogurt this way, I periodically checked the yogurt's temp to make sure it was at 110. Now I just leave it and don't worry about it. I leave the yogurt for about 5-6 hours. If you forget the yogurt, it's ok, you can still use it up to 24-26 hours, but it'll just be more tart. When the yogurt is done, put it in the fridge for 4 to 8 hours. Don't disturb it till it's done, because it's still fermenting and setting up.

6. You can eat it at this point. Or strain the whey as described in the picture. Use the whey as an acid to soaking water for beans, or add it to baking or smoothies for extra nutrition.

Other tips:
I freeze my plain yogurt in ice cube trays. Each ice cube is about 1TBS, so when you want to make yogurt, take out the cubes when you start making the yogurt. It's 1 TBS per quart you want. If it's not thawing fast enough, place in a glass jar w/lid in hot water. I don't usually start new batches with my homemade yogurt because it gets runnier each time you do.

Homemade yogurt IS runnier than store-bought yogurt. Don't compare the two, as they are really two different foods!

I sweeten with stevia, honey, maple syrup, agave, or sucanat. I've found that it takes just about 1/2 tsp of white stevia powder to sweeten the whole gallon. However, you want to start by adding small amounts until you get the sweetness you want.

My favorite way to sweeten yogurt - I add about 1-2 TBS sucanat, 1 tsp vanilla, and 4 scoops of white stevia powder to 1 quart of yogurt and stir it up. Wait five minutes and stir again so the sucanat is dissolved.

Sometimes we make "pie filling" to add - just mix berries or fruits with water in a pot. In a glass jar, mix about 1TBS arrowroot powder and 2 TBS water (shake). Add to fruit/water and cook till boiled. Cool before adding to yogurt. We also bought some plastic freezer jam containers and I put yogurt in those for individual serving sizes. You can put the pie filling on the bottom of the container for "Fruit on the bottom" style.

Favorite uses: smoothies, popsicles, yogurt with granola and berries (parfaits, or just dump it all together), use in baking for moist baked goods, in place of sour cream, and so on.

For an extra friendly bacteria, mix half and half with kefir. I purchase kefir at the store, and mix it into sweetened yogurt. I've tried making kefir, and it was not good. Someday I'll learn!

Our family of 7 eats 2 gallons a month. They'd probably even eat more than that, but that's all I make.