Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Making Yogurt in the Crock Pot!

Okay, I had to try it again.  I have had three 'iffy' and one totally failed try at making yogurt.  What a pain in the caboose! BUT!  In the deep recesses of my teeny brain, I remembered reading that you could make yogurt in your slow cooker without all the hassle.  Here's the recipe that I followed at Stephanie's blog, A Year of Slow Cooking:

http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/2008/10/you-can-make-yogurt-in-your-crockpot.html
Take the time to read the comments.  I added powdered milk because that's what I had around here and I think that helped me to have better than usual results.

My results?  Ta-dah!  Yogurt!  Almost.  It's in the frig now, and although it looks like yogurt, tastes like really fresh yogurt, it's still on the runny side, but just a bit.  Maybe after it chills for a bit, it will be a little firmer, so I'll update this result later.  But hey!  It just tastes so good that I keep going back to the frig and getting another spoonful.  I have a pile of spoons in the sink now, I should just fill up a bowl and chow down!

I crunched my own numbers on the cost of my homemade yogurt:
24 oz tub of cheapest yogurt at our local store - $2.66, making it $5.50 for a half gallon (64 oz).
64 oz of 2% milk - $1.65, $0.05 worth of electricity, and maybe $0.10 worth of powdered milk = $1.80 for a half gallon of the absolutely most fresh, yummy tasting yogurt ever!  And so easy!

If you have a hankering for some cream cheese on a bagel, you can plop some of the yogurt into a strainer lined with a double layer of cheese cloth or a paper coffee filter.  Cover it, put it over a bowl in the frig and let it drain for several hours.  But most of the time I just take one of Bill's clean hankerchiefs, soak it in some bleach water for a few minutes, rinse well again and let it dry.  I've even used it wet, just squeezed out as much moisture out as I could. Using my colander, there's always enough to fold back over the yogurt and then I can put a saucer on the top.  The added weight helps it drain a little faster.  So does putting a can of green beans on top of the saucer for a weight.  No, don't open the can.  :o)  Use more yogurt than what you want to have for cream cheese.  It shrinks down a lot after the whey drains out.
My slow cookers are ancient, even my newer one is pretty old.  I have a hunch that the newer ones run a bit hotter and are probably better insulated, so if yours isn't 20 years old, you might have perfect results.
But while you are there checking out the recipe, hang around and do some reading at Stephanie's blog.  Her humor, style of writing and recipes - good and failed ones - make it a good read.
Later:  It's still pretty runny!  Tastes really good, though.  I put mine over pineapple tidbits and made Bill the banana cream smoothie.  Both of us were happy.  I honestly think it's my ancient slow cooker that's not keeping it warm enough as it sits, even with the towels around it. 

I did find a great blog that lists several ways of making yogurt  - http://www.salad-in-a-jar.com/recipes-with-yogurt/more-than-six-ways-to-incubate-yogurt-without-a-yogurt-maker

Added 8-14:  I finally got it tweaked for the results I wanted.  I use my big slow cooker, about 3/4 gallon of milk and let it heat on low for about 5 hours.  I give it a stir every once in a while, at least once an hour.  Let it cool for a couple hours, whisk in the yogurt starter and ladel into jars & lid.  The only cooler that I currently have available is a big round one, so three quart jars fit perfectly.  I have my ancient heating pad on medium heat at the bottom, put a trivet on top of that, then sit the jars on top of the trivet.  You could use a pot holder, too.  I then wrap a couple of old towels around the top and set the lid of the cooler back on the top of that.  6 hours later, it's setting up and not too tangy for me.  The longer it's in the cooler, the more tangy it will be.  I let it go 12 - 14 hours one time.  Talk about TWANG!  I ended up draining some of the whey off of it and adding fresh milk so I could eat it without cringing.

I no longer add the dry milk.  It also suddenly dawned on me that since I was using more milk in the slow cooker, I'd have to let it heat longer.  Duh.  So I let it get good and steamy, then proceed.

Added 11-17-11:   I have made changes throughout the months and finally got something that works the best for nice and thick yogurt.  Now I make a gallon at a time in my heavy bottom pot.  I have the heat set at medium, and give it a stir every so often until it starts getting pretty warm.  Then I lower the heat a bit, and stir constantly until it's really hot.  If a little spoonful of milk almost scalds my tongue, it's hot enough!  Then I lower the heat a bit more to the 'simmer' setting on my stove and stir constantly for 20 minutes.  Maybe that's overkill, but I'm alway afraid that I'll scald the milk.
At the end of the 20 minutes, I move the pan off the heat and let it cool for about 1-1/2 hours.  It will still be pretty hot. Stir in the starter, jar and lid.
My old heating pad bit the dust and the new one doesn't get hot enough to incubate the yogurt.  I pre-warm a big cooler by placing a bowl of hot water into it while the milk is cooling.  I have enough room to put all the jars around the bowl.  I put fresh hot water into the bowl, back into the cooler and shut the lid.  A couple hours later, I change the water again.
4-1/2 to 5-1/2 hours later (when I remember it), I take the jars out and put them all into the frig.  The next day it's really thick yogurt, not too twangy, no draining whey.  Yes!  It makes the sheer boredom of standing there stirring the pot for-e-ver worth every minute of it.  Your yogurt will keep 2 to 3 weeks in the frig.  Don't forget to take some out of that first jar for your starter for the next batch.  You can freeze it if you want to.

I didn't have good luck trying to incubate it in the oven.  My oven light wasn't warm enough to keep the temperature up.  I also don't have an oven thermometer that goes down that low, so it was a constant guess.  It's a guess in the cooler too, but the hot water keeps it warm enough.  The heating pad was definitely hotter, but it still worked.

This site truly has all the basic info you need, plain and simple:
http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/publications/nchfp/factsheets/yogurt.html 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

DIY Non Toxic Dry Cleaning

I love Mag Ruffman!  Here she tells you how to save bucks by doing some of your own dry cleaning.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Even MORE ways to save money and end up with money

Put your debit card away.  It's pretty easy to grab that thing and use it, huh.  You're less likely to buy impulse items if you have to dig out the check book or use cash.  Vow to never get cash from the ATM that charges you a fee.  If your bank charges you fees for checking, look for another bank.

Now that you have the checkbook in your possession again, there are some things you can do.  First, start a coin can.

Write the check at the grocery store to the next highest dollar so you get some change back.  When you get home, put the coins in your new 'savings' can.  Every time you have a few coins in your pocket, add them to the can.  A lot of people save $300 a year doing this simple thing.

Use coupons?  Rebates? Put that money in your coin can when you get home.

Talk yourself out of buying something extra at the store?  Put that money in the coin can.

Got an expensive habit, like tobacco or alcohol?  Try to cut it in half.  You're already used to the money leaving your pocket, so put the 'saved' money in the coin can.

If you usually have cash in your wallet, can you add a dollar a day to the can? Or even just a dollar a week?

Now that you have your own little stash at home, use it to your advantage. Do the debt snowballing thing to stop paying interest.  If you saved up $30 in your coin can this month, take it to the bank and then pay an extra $30 on your credit card payment, car payment, etc. You can get a good idea of how much your loan is costing you (and how much you'll save by paying a little extra each month!) by using an online 'what's missing' calculator like this one - http://www.hughchou.org/calc/missing.cgi  .  Hugh has a ton of different calculators to help you.

Round up to the next dollar when you subtract the check amount in the register. Write a check for $39.03?  Subtract $40.  By the end of the year, you could have another $300.

You can also write 'saved' amounts on a calendar. This comes in handy when you get back from the store and only used $2.15 worth of coupons, or decided not to buy that bottle of water from the convenience store.  Put that amount on your calendar.  At the end of the month (or sooner!), make an extra online payment on  your credit card.  Seems like another bill going out, doesn't it.  But it's money that you would have spent in your previous lifestyle.  If it's just a few dollars at the end of the month, add it to your usual payment.

Need to buy a car?  Buy a used one instead of the new hybrid you really want.  The money you'll save over all by lower cost, insurance and taxes will more than offset what you'd save in gasoline costs.  I hate this one, but it's true.

Sometimes you have to look at quality over cost.  We could save $500 by buying a used riding lawn mower, but by spending the extra, we'll get a three year warranty and know that we aren't buying someone else's problem. We'll take good care of it, so it should last us for as long as we're here or will need one.

Rent a movie instead of going to the movies.  More popcorn, whatever drinks you want and as much as what you want, plus you won't miss part of it if you need to make a pit stop halfway through.  Write down what you normally would have spent on the calendar.

Try more private label stuff at the grocery store.  Some of it is lousy, but many items are just as good as the name brands. Jot down the price difference, then add it up when you get home.  Put the difference in the can, or write it on the calendar.

Every two years, check around for insurance rates.  Insurance companies have a way of sneaking the rates up.  Look for an insurance broker that doesn't represent just one company or look online.

Ideally, come April 15th, you don't want to have to send a check, but you also don't want to use the IRS for a savings account, either.  But some people qualify for money back that they didn't send to them to begin with.  Don't go buy that new computer!  Pay off your debt or put it in a savings account.

Just got a raise at work?  Lucky you!  Use that extra money to pay off debt or save.

Friday, May 13, 2011

How to Retire (Early) without a Huge Pension and Enjoy It!

I just read this wonderful 'book' at the Homesteader's Free Library.  Titled "The Economics of Being a Cheap-o - How to retire without a huge pension and enjoy it", the author has perfectly stated my random thoughts and beliefs.  Jan Cooke, the author, has an easy to read style mixed with humor, noteably so in Part Two.  Take a look here:

http://www.homestead.org/JanCooke/EconomicsofBeingaCheap-o/EconomicsofBeingaCheap-o.htm

also:
http://www.frugal-living-freedom.com/index.html

If you aren't interested in having the homesteading lifestyle and want to retire early (should I stress the word EARLY), take a look at this:

http://www.frugal-retirement-living.com/

And if you want to chuck the typical 8-5 job of working for someone else right now, there's this:

http://manvsdebt.com/

There are other well written and informative sites that I've been to, but I just can't put my finger on them at the moment.  I'll add them as I come across 'em.  The bottom line for all is that you don't have to have that $1.3 million in the bank to retire.  Yes, you can actually be happy NOW, doing what you love to do NOW with some creative thinking and taking steps to get yourself out of the box.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Jar in the Refrigerator

Every time I open the frig door, I see this jar.  It's just a pint jar with contents of the prettiest yellow color, something that I would describe as similar to sunshine in a jar.  It's easily hidden behind the milk, but for some reason, it just jumps out at me every time I open the door.  It's because I know what it is and I don't know what to do with it.

It's not something evil.  It doesn't taste bad, either.  It's just so sweet that I can't eat it, and I really like sweet stuff.  So, what is it?

It's Mountain Dew jelly.

Ya, honest.  Now, I like Mountain Dew.  Diet Dew was at the top of my list for soda pops, back when I was drinking them.  The jelly seemed like a good project for when our grandson was going to visit.  I realized early on that my primary role as this kid's grandma was to say 'yes' to practically every little thing he wanted and to what his mother wouldn't allow at home.  The kid is 15 now.  How lucky are we that he still wants to hang out with his grandparents, right?  So, I printed off the recipe.

So the next time he comes out, we make the jelly.  Wow, it did taste like Mountain Dew, looked like Mountain Dew, but holy mama!!!  It was so sweet that my teeth almost hurt.  It got me at the outside edges of my jaw.  My face was puckered up, I'm sure of it.  The kid's reaction?  The kid loved it!  I'm standing there with that bitter beer expression, looking at his wide eyed expression of surprise and delight.

When he went home, he took two pints with him.  He called me the next day and said that it was the best.  His plans for the day were to 'make toast and eat jelly".

I have a hunch that my daughter wanted to thump me on the head when she got home from work that evening.  It's a pretty good bet that the kid was bouncing off the walls all evening, too.  So, if you're brave, here's the recipe that I followed, including the 4-1/2 cups of sugar:

http://www.grouprecipes.com/21209/mountain-dew-jelly.html

I still have my own jar to contend with.  One of the first rules of the kitchen is that nothing goes to waste.  If we don't eat it, the cats, dogs or chickens get it.  But I don't want to put my hens into a diabetic coma.  Maybe they would be more like hens on speed?  Eh, maybe they wouldn't even eat it.  But throw it away?  Perish the thought.

Hey!  Maybe I can melt it and make some fly strips!!!!!  Here's the link for those directions, but they use honey instead of Mountain Dew jelly.

http://www.care2.com/greenliving/no-fly-zones-green-pest-strips.html#

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Here's the poop on cat litter

It's funny the things that just annoy you for no real reason.  For our daughter, it's the plastic on the little individual slices of processed cheese.  She was on an active search for sliced cheese without the plastic (that didn't taste like plastic).  Although I'm rather against new plastic coming into my house, I never gave that plastic a second thought until she complained about it.

For me, it's cat litter and I'm rather obsessive/compulsive about it.  Our current feline population (our son calls them 'the rodents')  is not low.  I have five long haired cats in the house and two litter boxes.  But I don't want my house to smell like I have five cats inside. Out in the shop, we now have the little black kitty that moved in with us, so another litter box in there.  Frank, one of the barn cats, kept putting the smack down on him so much that I finally had to rescue him.  Of course, the barn cats use my garden, flower beds and a big sand pile out front for a litter box.

So now there are three litter boxes that have to be dealt with regularly.  I am tired of lugging heavy bags into the house, and then heavy litter boxes outside to clean. What I want is something that's lightweight, cheap, has odor control and eco friendly. Also, paying for something that I throw away regularly just goes against the grain. These are my observations from years of experience, in the order that I tried them:

Clay litter:  Cheap, heavy to lug home, did almost nothing for odor control, pain in the butt to dump pan and clean.  Nasty stuff.
Silicone based litters:  Not so cheap, heavy to lug home, some worked fairly well for odor control, especially if I scooped a lot.  Still a pain in the butt to dump pan and clean.  Not quite as nasty as clay, but not a great solution.  Definitely not eco friendly.
Feline Pine:  Again, not so cheap, about $27 in our area plus a 35 mile trip one way to get it, but it lasts longer between box changes.  Heavy to haul home, great for odor control as long as you scoop the poops.  The urine breaks the pellets down into sawdust.  When you have a litter box full of sawdust, it can be used as mulch around flowerbeds, composted, sprinkled around the yard, etc, so this appeals to the eco friendly part of me. Easy to dump and clean the pan.
Homemade Yesterday's News:  Cheap, cheap to make, using recycled newspaper and about $0.10 worth of baking soda.  Super light weight to carry in a bag, but takes some planning ahead as it takes a full day or longer to dry (recipe below).  Surprisingly, this had really good odor control.  Can be composted for flower beds, too.  And this really appealed to the eco friendly part of me.  Easy to dump and clean pan.  The only down sides were that I had to have an area to dry the stuff and had to have a batch drying all the time with the herd that lives with us.
Straw bits/dried leaf crumbles/dirt mix:  Free, as I just raked it from my garden.  I stored some in a big trash can in the shop for winter use and hauled a 5 gallon bucketful in the house as needed.  Easy to rake up, lightweight.  Some odor control, hard to scoop poops, tracked all over the place.  Easy to dump, clean pan and of course, can be composted for flower beds.
Sand:  Free as I already have a big pile of sand.  Really heavy, absolutely NO odor control.  Hard to dump pan as it was so heavy.  Nasty stuff, worse than the clay.
Shredded newspaper:  Free since I can get it from friends.  Not too time consuming to run it through the shredder.  It didn't absorb odors too well, matted down with urine unless I changed it almost daily.  I just have too many cats to do this.  Some tracking. Easy to dump, clean pan and compostable.
Pine shavings:  These are the bigger shavings, bought at Orchelin's or other farm/ranch stores.  It comes in a plastic wrapped bale, commonly sold for bedding with chicks, etc.  Shavings we purchased from other places were much smaller, some almost like sawdust.  Anyway, about $6 for a large bale, so cheap.  Pretty good odor control, easy to dump pan and clean.  Of course, can be composted or used as mulch around flower beds.  Tracked all over the place!  Clung to the fur of our long haired cats and we found shavings all over the house.
Chicken scratch grains:  I never tried this one.  I just didn't want to lug another 50 pound bag home, but here's the link for that recipe - http://www.ehow.com/how_4868252_make-homemade-cat-litter.html

That's pretty much it.  Right now I'm using Feline Pine for the indoor cats and the pine shavings for the shop cat.  He's shorthaired, and I don't care how much it tracks out there.  The plan of the moment is to rig up some kind of work area in another room of the shop with some easy drying racks made with old window screens.  Then I can do the newspaper litter in a couple of 5 gallon buckets, use a drywall paddle or paint mixer to mix the slop, etc.  Hopefully I can get a bunch of it drying at one time and store it for use later. Here's the basic recipe for homemade litter:

Homemade Yesterday's News clone kitty litter

1. Shred newspaper in a paper shredder or tear it into strips (that's faster and easier for me).
2. Soak the paper in warm water mixed with a squirt of dish soap for a few hours. The paper won’t come  clean, but the water will turn grey.  Make sure you use an old bucket as you never will be able to get the ink residue off of it.  Ditto with the colander used for draining later.
3. Pour off the water and repeat the soaking process in clean warm water.  Soaking overnight is okay, too. The shredded paper will be easy to goosh up with your hands and look like cooked oatmeal.  You might want to wear gloves to avoid getting ink on your hands.  It's soy based, so it probably won't kill you, but it takes a while to get off.
4. Drain well (an old colander helps here). Sprinkle baking soda liberally on the wet paper. Knead it in to the mixture
5. Squeeze the remaining moisture out until it’s as dry as you can get it.
6. Crumble the paper over a screen and let it dry for a few days.

I got beat up by a couple of gals when I posted this recipe on a forum, so let me address those issues right now.
No, it's not time consuming as long as you don't sit there and watch it soak, drain or dry.  It takes a few minutes to tear up the paper strips (I did mine in 2" strips).  It takes a few minutes to add the baking soda and mix it with your hands.  It takes maybe 5 minutes to crumble it over a screen to dry, depending how how much you mess with it.
No, I'm not saying that you have to do it, or that you should do it.  I'm just saying if you want to do it, here's how.

This page has a hilarious yet informative Scoop on Poop - http://www.heptune.com/poop.html

And while we talking pet poop, here's a link on how to make your own covered litter box, easy and cheap -
http://petprojectblog.com/archives/cats/make-your-own-cat-litter-box/

And if you really can't stand the smell of the litter box, here's a ventilation system for it -
http://gadgets.boingboing.net/2008/09/15/alans-diy-cat-jet-li.html