Okay, so I really prefer warm weather vacations. However, having just returned from a week in Vail, Colorado, I will have to admit that the area was breathtakingly beautiful. I hope to someday return in the summer to see what the mountain landscape looks like without all the snow.
Vail Village is a charming place, with cobblestone roads and picturesque ski lodges. Throughout the town are dozens of sculptures, wall murals and lighted decorations. My first day I spent about two hours walking around Vail Village, Lionshead Village, Cascade Village and Golden Peak.
This was our first week-long vacation in almost ten years where we were not staying someplace with a kitchen. This meant no grocery shopping, no cooking and no dishes to wash! With restaurants abounding, each evening we selected a different place to eat.
Lancelot Restaurant – great weinerschnitzel
Almresi – here we had Austrian Hutessen – beef cooked on a flat-iron at the table, kind of a cross between grilling and sauteing
Up the Creek – awesome Arugula salad and Tortilla soup
Fall Line – the tastiest filet I have ever had!
Alpenrose – great German restaurant (forgot to take photos of the food here).
Not being a skier, I took my snowshoes along and went on several long walks.
My first trek was a guided walk through the Ford Botanical Gardens. This walk was only about 2 miles total but was very educational. The naturalist gave some insights into the trees and plants that grow in the area. Even though the average annual snowfall in Vail is 169 inches, the area is considered a high desert. Due to the dry air, the snow sublimates rather than melts. So, the amount of water available to plants is limited. Even so, there are many lovely evergreens making the winter scenery prettier than in Minnesota with our deciduous trees.
On my subsequent snowshoeing walks, I headed each direction out of Vail Village. The Gore Creek runs through Vail, so I followed the creek west one day and east the next day. Each day, I walked for just under two miles and then headed back to the village.
For my final walk (without snowshoes), I rode Gondola One up the hill and then followed Gitalong Road and Vail Village Catwalk back down. This path, with a few treks to get closer to some wildlife, was just under six miles in length. Luckily it was downhill. Unexpectedly, the downward movement made some of my muscles rather sore.
On my excursions I saw lots of wildlife as well.
We stayed at the Gasthof Gramshammer, which featured classic European ski lodge architecture. Between a 2am fire alarm going off, the room thermostat stuck on high (we slept with the patio door open), and a constant humming noise, it was an interesting place to stay.
I love French yogurt – it is thick and creamy, but not as tangy as Greek yogurt. Sold in their distinctive glass jars, the Oui yogurts are a bit more expensive than some of the other yogurt on the market. But they taste great and at least the glass is recyclable. Eating a jar of yogurt each day, however, meant a lot of glass going in our recycling container.
Thinking about the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” to limit our individual impact on the environment, I was as least doing the last step – recycling. But after a few months, I realized that the jars may be useful for other things. So, I started saving the jars, cleaning them and using them for storage, candles, etc. I’ll post pictures and descriptions of some of the projects soon.
Last spring, after purchasing an Instant Pot, I discovered that one of the functions available was for making yogurt. I thought this would be a great thing to try. And, if it worked, I would reduce my purchasing glass jars. After reading some information about making yogurt in an instant pot, my first trial was with Greek yogurt since that was the only plain yogurt I could find. The yogurt turned out well, just as tangy as the commercially available ones but not as thick. Next, I wanted to try French yogurt, but I could not find any plain French yogurt. Settling for the next best option, I purchased a jar of vanilla flavored Oui yogurt. After making the first batch, I was really pleased with the flavor but it wasn’t as creamy and thick as I had hoped for. So, I set out to do some experimenting.
If you want to skip the descriptions of my testing, step-by-step instructions of my current recipe are at the end of this post.
Trial #1: The first few times that I made yogurt, I made batches of 4 cups each directly in the IP stainless steel pot. Since the French yogurt is manufactured directly in the glass jars, I decided to try that next to see if the consistency would be better. Using 8 ounce jelly jars, I mixed the culture and milk together in individual jars. The resulting yogurt was a bit creamier, but even waiting until after the yogurt set while chilling in the refrigerator, it still not what I was hoping for. Using individual jars were nice however because I did not need to wash the pot before starting the next batch of yogurt.
Trial #2: All of the recipes for making yogurt mentioned the incubation time as a minimum of 8 hours and a maximum of 12 hours. Since my original batches were each stopped at 8 hours, I decided to try 9, 10, 11 and 12 hours and see if that changed the consistency. Using my 3 quart IP, I could fit four jelly jars in a single batch. After starting the yogurt and incubating, I removed and labeled one jar at 9 hours, then another at ten, then 11, and the final one was stopped at 12 hours of incubation. The jars were each placed in the refrigerator and tasted the next day. This initial test showed that the yogurt became thicker and creamier with longer incubation time. A repeat of the trial showed similar results. Since these timing trials, I have used 12 hours for my subsequent yogurt batches.
Trial #3: Do other brands of milk work? Most of the information about making yogurt mentioned using ultrafiltered milk. I had selected Fairlife whole milk because it was readily available at the stores I shop at. It is a bit more expensive than other milk, so I did a small trial with the regular 1% milk that we use for drinking and cereals. I also purchased some whole milk of the same brand. Don’t try this – the yogurt cultures did not multiply and the result was stale sour milk. Fairlife whole milk was what I have used ever since.
Trial #4. Chocolate Yogurt? The Fairlife Milk that I used to make yogurt also comes in a chocolate flavor. Following my set upon recipe, I tried making chocolate yogurt. The result was okay, but the flavor was not very good. The amount of chocolate in the milk was not enough to make the yogurt taste like chocolate. To salvage the yogurt, I mixed in about a half teaspoon of cocoa and a half teaspoon of sugar. But, I decided chocolate yogurt was really not something I enjoyed.
Trial #5: To add flavor to my yogurt, I was mixing the flavorings in after incubating. To save that step, I tested whether the flavor and/or sweeteners could be added at the beginning. I tested adding honey, sugar, Splenda and Stevia. The results were not very good. The yogurt tasted more like sweetened curdled milk rather than yogurt. I would not recommend it. Likewise, I tried fruit flavors and tested adding lemon juice, lemon curd, orange marmalade and strawberry fruit puree. The lemon juice was definitely not good. I did anticipate the the citric acid might make the milk curdle before the yogurt cultures could multiply and I was correct. The other three were okay, but not great tasting. I have since been making plain yogurt and adding the flavorings after the yogurt is complete. This turned out to be a good idea because I can make the next batch of yogurt by taking some of the fresh culture and mixing with milk, rather than relying upon purchased yogurt starter.
Homemade French Yogurt in an Instant Pot
Ingredients and supplies
Instant Pot (mine was 3 quarts)
8 ounce jelly jars
Fairlife Ultrafiltered Whole Milk
Plastic Lids (Amazon has colored ones)
Flavorings (per personal preferences)
Sweetener and flavor preferences are very personal. But here are my favorites:
Orange – orange juice works well, True Orange crystallized fruit powder (Amazon) works better. But, I prefer the flavor of homemade orange marmalade (2 teaspoons mixed in).
Lemon and Lime – True lemon (Amazon) or True lime (Amazon) crystallized fruit powder works better than juices. The crystallized fruit powder comes in individual packets. One packet per jar gives a nice flavor.
Other Fruit Flavors – I originally used crushed berries for other fruits. For better flavor, I have found that SmartFruit Smoothie Mix is much better. There are a variety of flavors available (Amazon). They are large jars, but they last a really long time.
You can sweeten the yogurt if desired.
A few pointers:
** Even though the IP is set for 12 hours, you can stop the incubation earlier. Just make sure the yogurt has been in the IP for at least 8 hours.
** Refrigerate for a couple hours before eating because the yogurt will be warm when first removed from the IP and the yogurts sets further when cooled.
** The first time you make yogurt, you will be using a container of purchased yogurt as your starter culture. But, you will only need a small amount. The rest of the yogurt can be stored frozen to use at a later date (or you can just eat it!). I found some small containers for carrying dressings in lunches at our local Target store. They were only about $3 for a set of four. These work really well to portion the culture and freeze. I purchased two sets, distributed the excess culture into these containers and put them in the freezer. Now when I go on vacation, I won’t need to purchase new starter to make yogurt after I return.
** After each batch of yogurt is complete, but before adding any flavorings, remove about small amount (approx. 1 tsp) from each jar and place into a clean jar to use as culture for your next batch. Then just continue with steps two through six above. If you will not be making another batch right away, place a plastic lid on the jar and refrigerate until you are ready to make the next batch. I have saved the yogurt this way for up to five days without any change in the yogurt outcome. I have not gone any longer than five days, so I really do not know how long the cultures will last.
After a day or two in the refrigerator, you may notice some liquid separating from the culture. This liquid does not affect the outcome, just proceed as described above. So far, I have only used a frozen starter once since starting yogurt making mid- summer. My current yogurt is from starter that was first used mid September. It appears that my frozen starter jars should last me a really long time.
** If you make a variety of flavors, different colored lids (as seen in the photo in step #6 above) will easily differentiate them. I even made a small laminated flavor list and posted it inside my refrigerator so everyone knows what is in each jar.
It sure is nice to make homemade yogurt with no preservatives or other additives!