Mar 29, 2011

The Coupon Stash

I have been actively using coupons for the better part of 7 years and
the question I hear most is, "Where do you get your coupons?" The
short answer is newspaper and internet. In this post I'll lay out
several avenues of amassing a coupon collection.

First, I highly recommend subscribing to the Sunday paper. Each week 
(except holidays) you will receive a combination of Smart Source and 
Red Plum inserts and monthly, a P&G insert. The coupons in these
inserts will vary by region. For instance, my papers in Fayetteville
contain about three times more than the papers in my hometown. Some
areas even receive Target store coupons in their papers (I envy those
folks!). offers great rates on Sunday and
weekend subscriptions...often cheaper than buying directly from the
newspaper itself. If you find that your local inserts are measly or if
you missed a week somewhere, consider buying whole inserts from coupon
clipping services. When I want multiples of a specific coupon, I
usually turn to Ebay. Another favorite is Danielle's Coupon Paradise
( because she does not require a
minimum purchase. Other sites such as Coupons & Things by Dede
( or My Coupon Hunter
( have a minimum purchase requirement but have
the advantage of a larger selection of coupons. Keep in mind that
whatever you spend on buying those extra coupons will take away from
your savings. For example, I recently bought 15 Propel coupons on Ebay
because of an upcoming sale at Target that would make them $.29 each.
After shipping, the coupons ended up costing me $.10 apiece. That
means the Propel drinks would essentially come out to $.39. For me,
that was still an acceptable price. Think ahead and decide if the
purchase is really worthwhile.

Another way to add to your coupon stash is to hit the recycling bin.
One of my local Walmart stores has a big newspaper recycling bin
outside the front door. I sift through and snag a few inserts each
time I shop there (be prepared to throw that pride right out the
window!). Coffee shops and McDonalds are other places where you might
find abandoned papers. Also, check with your newspaper delivery
person. They just throw those extra papers away anyway.

Magazines are a good source for coupons as well. Free subscriptions
pop up on blogs often. When you see one, sign up because you never
know what next month's issue will bring. You'd be surprised how many
popular magazines can be gotten for nothing...Glamour, Newsweek,
Parents, Parenting, Woman's Day, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Cosmo,
American Baby, Working Mom, Ebony, Family Circle, Elle, and Harper's
Bazaar to name a few...and they almost always (except Newsweek) will
contain coupons. Free magazines are great, but there are some that you
just won't find free, namely All You. All You is the mother of all
coupon magazines. Each issue usually has around $75 worth of savings
inside. A subscription runs about $15-$20 a year or you can pick it up
off the newsstand exclusively at Walmart. I ask for this every
Christmas :)

Walmart, Costco, Target, and Sam's Club all offer samples on their
sites. Free samples generally come with coupons. You can also request
samples and coupons for Procter & Gamble products on P&G Esaver
( These can be requested once per quarter.
For the past few years, P&G has offered a $100 coupon booklet at the
end of each calendar year. Buy $50 in P&G products (before coupons),
save your receipts, and submit for the booklet. So easy! You are
allowed one request per household.

Right at Home has a savings booklet called Organize in Style filled
with coupons for Swiffer, Cascade, Mr Clean, Febreze, and Dawn
products. There are currently six different links up for these
booklets. You can find them all on my blog HERE.

Internet printables are everywhere.,,, and are some common ones. has
both manufacturer and store coupons. These sites all allow two prints
per computer. Many manufacturers offer coupons on their own sites as
well. Facebook has recently become a hot spot for printables. Simply
"like" a company to access coupons exclusively for facebook fans.

When you are out shopping, keep your eyes peeled for coupons. Blinkies
are found in little box-like dispensers (usually in grocery and drug
stores). Catalinas are coupons that print out at the register. Peelies
and hangtags are found on actual products. My kids love looking for
coupons in the store. It's like a game for them and keeps them
occupied while I shop.

As you can see, there are many ways to build an arsenal of coupons.
Next post, I'll talk about organization methods.

Mar 24, 2011

Dinnertime Dilemma

by Jada Swanson (

Recently, in a blog post, I shared why I planned my menus. A friend commented, “The question is not ‘why’ you menu plan, but ‘when’ do you find the time? Seriously, I think I’d lose zzzzz [sleep]!” 

Well, if truth be told, I am somewhat of a nerd when it comes to organization, lists and structure. Having a plan calms me; assures me that at least one area of my life is in control, although another may be in disarray. :o) Just keeping it real, folks! 

In this series of posts on Menu Planning, I hope to share with you the basics of menu planning, various resources, and a few of my personal tips and tricks, which have made this seemingly laborious chore enjoyable.  With the hope that you will be able to incorporate some of these ideas into your family, no matter specific food preferences,  dietary needs, food budget or time constraints. 

In all honesty, in the beginning it did take more time, than it does now. However, the effort was worth it. After a few initial tasks and projects, menu planning now takes no more than an hour or so each week. And while I love to cook, most of my meals take no more than 30-45 minutes to cook from start to finish.

The Game Plan

*Make a list of the foods and/or meals your family really enjoys. 

Perhaps your husband loves steak, but your kids love chicken. You enjoy a vegan meal from time to time. Write everyone’s preferences down. By serving everyone’s favorite meal occasionally, it gains trust. With trust, I am able to introduce new items into our menu plan. 

*Next, make a list of foods and/or recipes that you would like to introduce. 

While I enjoy stretching my family’s taste buds and culinary palettes, if I am constantly serving meals they don’t enjoy, or using exotic ingredients they won’t eat, I am wasting money, time, and effort. It’s all about balance and slowly making changes. 

Since we cannot serve only soda and snack foods, from time to time we can splurge and have fun meals. My family loves when I declare it “Finger Food Friday,” where everything we eat is with our fingers. I can get them to try just about anything on “Finger Food Fridays!”

*Take an inventory of your pantry, freezer and refrigerator. 

There are many great websites, which offer free forms and templates for this endeavor.  Or, like me, you can just use a spiral notebook. I have a “Household Notebook,” (here) which I use regularly, but spiral notebooks are tucked inside of it! :o)

Organized Home

Organized Home
*Put it all together.

Discover what meals you can put together, which your family will eat, from the ingredients you have on hand. Several websites allow you to share the ingredients you have on hand, then share recipes using those ingredients.

All Recipes



As well, collect recipes from family and friends, magazines and online. In my “Household Notebook,” I keep handwritten, copied, or recipes torn out of a magazine. Just hole punch them and tuck inside. On my computer, I have a designated folder for recipes. I do my best to try them all, keeping those we have enjoyed. Periodically, I go through both files and discard the ones we haven’t tried, or didn’t enjoy. 

Formulating the Plan
Do you prefer to use your computer for your meal planning (an online calendar, such as Google calendar or iCalendar)? Or do you prefer a menu planning form? Many are available online, or you can create your own. Do you like to plan a week, two weeks, or even month of meals at a time? 

Organized Home-Weekly Planner

Noel’s Kitchen Tips-Monthly Planner

Money Saving Mom-Variety of Menu Planners

For long-range planning, I use an online calendar. If I have an hour or two one day, I’ll spend some time on this. Scheduling meals for a month or so; using themes, such as Soup Night, Chicken Night, Breakfast for Dinner, Leftovers or Ethnic Meal (Mexican, Italian, Ethiopian, Indian, etc.) 

For my weekly menu planning, I spend about an hour on Sunday evenings. I use printed forms, posted on my refrigerator. This allows me to make sure I have the necessary ingredients. Also, I find it quiet handy to post the menu plan onto my blog, linking the recipes, which allows me to have everything in one place. Although I have a collection of recipe books, most of the recipes I use are available online. 

Now, you have some basic tools, in order to begin meal planning. Next month, I want to share some insights on stocking a pantry, which will enable you to have a variety of “on the fly” meals to prepare at a moment’s notice, saving time and money. 

If you have specific questions, please let me know. Stop by my blog Food.Fun.Family ( or email me at foodfunfamily {at} wordpress {dot} com. 

Mar 23, 2011

Great Deals without Coupons!!!!

My sister, an avid Kroger shopper, was able to get everything pictured above for a total of $10.53 - without using a single coupon! Unfortunately, there are no Kroger grocery stores near me. If there were, I think I would probably be a regular! Not only do they allow you to load coupons onto your store savings card (meaning that you can use a site called cellfire and electronically load coupons onto your card; no clipping, no sorting - just hand your card to the cashier and they automatically come off your bill) - but they have absolutely incredible deals all the time! Literally! Here's the breakdown of what my sister was able to find today:

2-2 liter bottles of Coke-A-Cola and Coke Zero on sale for .89 each

2pk Kroger chocolate donuts .50 each
4-4pk hot dog buns .25 each
1 Cinnamon raisin English muffins 6pk .25
1 Danish cherry pastry x2 .25 each
1 Dinner rolls 2 dozen 25.each
2 loafs white bread .25 each
2 loafs whole wheat grain bread .50 each
1 powdered donut holes .50
6 Vitamin waters .50 each
1 VitaminZero water .50

Most of these were what Kroger calls "Manager Specials". The following pictures show what kind of tag you should look for. 

So, as much as I LOVE coupons and think they are an absolute must for the savvy shopper - sometimes you can find amazing deals without them. You might just have to do a little digging!

Mar 21, 2011

Battling it out with the Target Manager

So, I've been couponing for several years, but up until recently (the last 2 months or so) it has been pretty much contained to grocery shopping at Harris Teeter. It has grown from an interest in saving money to a hobby I'm passionate about. You may think that's a little strong for something like couponing, but it really is something that I enjoy and find truly beneficial for my family. One of my favorite places to shop is Target...and not just because it is clean, organized, and has good quality items. It's because they have an amazing coupon policy that makes it truly one of the cheapest places to shop. I know that Wal-Mart is often a lot cheaper, but I really do despise going there and avoid it at all cost! And that used to be literally true. Now I feel I can shop at Target and save so much more money than going to Wal-Mart - and actually have a pleasurable experience!

However, the last two trips to Target have been a night-mare upon checking out. Today's experience was just about enough to send me over the edge. But don't worry - I've calmed down now and am more determined than ever to shop there with success, just to "show them". I'm going to tell you my story below not to scare you, but hopefully to give you some confidence. Hopefully the lesson learned will be: do not let them bully you!

Coupons equal more work for the cashier. I love Target. I love the people who work there (generally). But honestly, in a day where people rarely use cash anymore - the cashier has a pretty easy job of it. The computer does all the work! All they have to do is scan, place the items in the bags, and hand you your receipt. They don't even have to worry about calculating your change - the computer does that too! So, when you hand them 15 coupons, they will often act like you have totally ruined their peaceful day. I'm not joking!

Last week I visited a different Target than usual. When checking out, I normally wait until all the items have been scanned and then hand the cashier my manufacturers coupons. Once those have been scanned in, then I hand them my Target coupons, and then hand them my phone for any mobile coupons. This just keeps things from getting confused and also gives me the best chance of getting overage (if there is any to be had). Well, the cashier noticed that I had coupons in my hand and asked for me to hand them all over. So, I went ahead (she seemed nice enough). Then she proceeded to scrutinize each and every coupon. She actually closed down her lane and laid out the coupons on each item, to make sure that I had the exact items that the coupons were for. I tried to explain to her that the register basically does that job for her and that if there is a problem that it will beep, and then we could look for the item to make sure. That was not acceptable. A manager was called over. They couldn't understand how it was possible for me to have a manufacturer coupon that said "available at Wal-mart", but be using it at Target (btw - it was not a Wal-Mart coupon, just an advertisement showing that Wal-Mart carries the item). Then they couldn't figure out how to deal with a coupon in which I would be getting overage. Then they refused to touch my phone - saying it was a liability. Twenty minutes later, I finally left with my purchases in hand - successful, but exhausted!

Today, at my usual Target, the cashier didn't understand that I could use one manufacturer coupon and one Target coupon on each item and he didn't want to scan my phone - didn't even want to try. The manager was called over immediately! I then had the manager tell me that the coupons only applied to items pictured on the coupon! This was for a Target coupon for buy 3 Nabisco items get one free. I told her that there were probably 20 different Nabisco items on their shelves and that there was no way for them to picture all the different possibilities on the coupon; I finally convinced her to let me use it. Then she gave the same objection to a Neutrogena coupon on ANY face or skin care item. They only pictured 2 items on the coupon and she said she was "putting her foot down and wasn't taking the coupon". I told her I wasn't going to buy it, then. She also tried to tell me that I had probably exceeded the limit on coupons allowed - though she didn't know what the limit was. I told her that there is no limit on number of coupons that you can use on the Target Corporate Coupon policy, to which she replied "well I guess you know more about our coupon policy than me"! I had to bite my tongue from the many "smart" retorts that were coming to mind at the time. She then insinuated that I was committing coupon fraud and that I was going to make her loose her job over a $1 coupon! After many stares from other people, the manager and cashier carefully scrutinizing every item that I purchased, and a little heated debate, I walked out with $36 worth of items for a total of $10.93.

Here are the lessons learned:
1) Print out the coupon policies and keep them with you!!!
2) Keep your calm and gently explain to them how it all works (they just don't know)
3) Remember that you're NOT doing anything under-handed or wrong. The amount you're saving is just un-fathomable to them and some of them just cannot wrap their heads around it! 

When I got home, I blew off my steam to my husband and then calmly wrote Target about my experience. I think that this is an important step that we often under-estimate. We automatically assume that they don't care, won't listen, and don't give them the opportunity to fix the problem. Even if nothing changes and the cashiers are still as oblivious to the coupon policies as ever, at least I have voiced my concerns and let them know about the issues. I have already received a short/diplomatic reply:

Dear Lisa,

I'm glad you've taken the time to write us about your experience. We’re sorry you didn't receive the type of service you've come to expect at Target.

We know the importance of having well-trained team members who knows well about our coupon policy, and I know it can be frustrating if you receive inconsistent information about our services. Hearing your comments is very important to us, and I’ve shared them with the Charlotte SE and Charlotte Midtown Target Stores Leadership team for further review.

Thanks for taking the time to write. I hope we'll see you again at Target.


Target Guest Relations

So keep couponing and come back next week for our special guest post from Hollie Amos about all the tricks! Also, I'd love to hear memorable/funny/exasperating coupon stories! Leave them in the comments section!

Mar 19, 2011

Save on Gas...maybe

Reader Amanda passed on this information on saving money at the gas pump, and I thought I would share it with all of you. I did check it out on to verify that it is legitimatem and they have a mixed review. The article is quite lengthy and a lot of their complaints about it is that it takes more time and is inconvenient. But, that's what a lot of people say about couponing and I obviously see the value in clipping/using coupons! So, here are the tips: 

Only buy or fill up your car or truck in the early morning when the ground temperature is still cold. Remember that all service stations have their storage tanks buried below ground. The colder the ground the more dense the gasoline, when it gets warmer gasoline expands, so buying in the afternoon or in the evening....your gallon is not exactly a gallon. In the petroleum business, the specific gravity and the temperature of the gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, ethanol and other petroleum products plays an important role.  A 1-degree rise in temperature is a big deal for this business. But the service stations do not have temperature compensation at the pumps.
*Snopes concedes that doing this could save you about $31/year (if you're purchasing 15 gallons of fuel each week at $4/gallon.

When you're filling up do not squeeze the trigger of the nozzle to a fast mode If you look you will see that the trigger has three (3) stages: low, middle, and high. You should be pumping on low mode, thereby minimizing the vapors that are created while you are pumping. All hoses at the pump have a vapor return. If you are pumping on the fast rate, some of the liquid that goes to your tank becomes vapor. Those vapors are being sucked up and back into the underground storage tank so you're getting less worth for your money.
*Snopes agrees that pumping slower does reduce the amount of vapors, but their main contention is once again - the time issue.   

One of the most important tips is to fill up when your gas tank is HALF FULL. The reason for this is the more gas you have in your tank the less air occupying its empty space. Gasoline evaporates faster than you can imagine. Gasoline storage tanks have an internal floating roof. This roof serves as zero clearance between the gas and the atmosphere, so it minimizes the evaporation. 
*Snopes says that doing this will mean you fill up your tank twice as often. At 8 minutes per trip to the station (including driving there, paying, filling up, and getting back on the road), this will take 7 hours/year to achieve a roughly $62/year savings.

Another reminder, if there is a gasoline truck pumping into the storage tanks when you stop to buy gas, DO NOT fill up; most likely the gasoline is being stirred up as the gas is being delivered, and you might pick up some of the dirt that normally settles on the bottom. 
*Snopes agrees that dirt and sludge do get stirred up when tanker is refilling, but gas stations are required to have filters and our cars also have fuel filters.

So, my personal opinion about all of this is - why not give it a try? Gasoline is now $3.60/gallon here in Charlotte (and that's for the cheapest stuff) and I just about cry every time I fill-up. Automobiles definitely run better (and it's just safer) to keep a gas tank more full. You've got to buy gas at some point, why not the morning? And are we in such a rush in our lives that we can't pump the gas on the low setting? Even if it's not saving us a dime, isn't it better to not release all those vapors for us to breath in while standing there pumping the gas? Doing these little tiny things saves you at the bare minimum about $100/year. I don't know about you - but I could find a way to spend an extra $100! :)

Mar 16, 2011

Lights Out!

Ever visited someone's house and let out a big sigh as you walk in? It just has that nice comfy-cozy feel to it. It isn't cluttered, but it isn't bare. It's how I want my home to be - so there must be something tangible that makes these homes homey! It used to be that I couldn't put my finger on exactly what it was that made these homes have such appeal. But recently I've been a little more observant. The colors normally muted. There are normally throw blankets and pillows - and maybe a few magazines...but not too many. The book shelves are not too crowded and have variation and depth. There are normally a variety of plants - that add that splash of natural green and extra oxygen to the room. And the lights - they are never florescent or even bright. In fact, what I've found to be pretty much universally true is the use of lamps. They create such a nice ambiance that is the icing on the cake. When I finally realized that this was the touch that was missing in my home, I started using more lamps. Then I realized that not only were they a wonderful artistic touch, but they are a huge money saver! Here's what I mean:

Take a look at this picture - it's of the ceiling fan in my living room. It is the same ceiling fan that is in all the bedrooms as well! It has a whopping FIVE light bulbs! If you only put 40 watt bulbs in each socket, that is still 200 watts of energy - for one room! And the lights are all concentrated in one area!

For a while we just didn't put bulbs in all the sockets - but honestly, that just offends my sense of style! So, this is how I rectified the situation. The picture below is in our living room (where the ceiling fan above is). Rather than a minimum of 200 watts for the fan - we have a total of 80 watts! It is plenty to give us enough light and give a nice comfy feel to the room. If we need more light at the other end of the room, then we can turn on the light in the hall (one bulb) or the light at the entrance (one bulb).
This shot is in our bedroom. We have a three-way light bulb in this lamp (50/100/150) - so if we need more light, we can just click the lamp up a notch!
We also use a lamp in our daughters room. We have a 60 watt bulb in there, and that is plenty of light to change a diaper, or anything else necessary.

Another place you may not think of putting a lamp is in your bathroom - but it totally works! Look at all the light bulbs required in my master bathroom light fixture! Yep, that's 8 light bulbs! I forget the wattage on those, but it gets super hot in the summer!

So, we've just put a little lamp on the ledge, and it works perfectly! I do have to turn on the main lights when showering or putting on make-up, but that's about it!

Now, you may think that purchasing attractive lamps will completely negate any savings you may have by using them - and if you went to regular store, you'd probably be correct. But - you have to be creative. The lamps I use in my living room were given to me by a friend who could no longer use them. When I got them they were beige with lamp shades that looked like old-timy hats. Cute for a little girls room - not so much for my living room. So I spray painted the bases black and bought new shades at Target for $6 each! The spray paint I got for free. So both lamps cost me a total of $12 and a little time. The lamp in my daughters room was one I bought in college at a garage sale for $5. I bought a new shade for it and it is perfect! You can ALWAYS find lamps at garage sales and stores like Goodwill. Just be creative and think about how different it might look with a little spray paint and a new shade! 

Mar 15, 2011

Regular Guests Posts Coming Soon!!!!

We love free

Starting next week, Hollie Amos (author of the blog will be sharing all of her secrets! She will be posting a series of articles all about the "ins and outs" of couponing - and boy are there a lot!!! Hollie has been very patiently teaching me over the past 2 months all about couponing and not only has it been fascinating, but it is SO much fun! She'll give you ideas on strategy, resources, organization, and so much more! Hollie has a wealth of knowledge and an abundance of creativity! Her straight-forward and simple techniques are sure to convert even the busiest of skeptics into avid couponers! 

Mar 13, 2011

Wine Sales at Harris Teeter

There are some great wines on sale at Harris Teeter right now! Here's what I've found:

I'm actually drinking this one right this very moment - and it is quite good. It is very smooth for a Merlot! As you can see, it is on sale for $8.99, normally $15.99 - so almost 50% off!

We had this one the other night and really enjoyed it! It has an 86 point rating (which is really good for wine)! This falls in the range for good every-day wine - only $7.99 (normally $12.99)!
I decided not to pick this one up because it was just a little more than I wanted to spend - but you can see that it is on sale for $9.99 - normally $18.00!!!!
I have had this wine before and for the $20 price range it normally falls in, it is excellent. As you can see, it is on sale for $9.99 - after $12.00 off!! That is such an amazing deal. I'm hoping that it will still be on sale this week when I go back!

There were many others, but these were the ones that really stood out to me!

Mar 8, 2011

Recent Deals I've Gotten

I thought these deals deserved their very own post!

Visit today and you can score some great deals on some really cool stuff! I just bought 2 bamboo cutting boards (one is 8.5x11 and the other is 9x13) for a total of $5.77 with shipping (regularly $30 + tax + $7.95 shipping)! This is what you do: register for a free account and you will automatically get a $5.00 credit. Then go to the Core Bamboo Sales Event and you'll see all kinds of cool bamboo items on sale. Pick which one you want. When you get to the check out, enter in MARCH10 as a code and you will get $10.00 off your order! This is what mine looked like:
Order Subtotal $12.00
Discount $10.00
S & H $7.95
Tax $0.82
Total Before Store Credit: $10.77
Store Credit: $5.00
Total $5.77
If you don't mind, enter in my email address: as the invitation code when you sign up!

Another deal I just got is from! Just click on this link, enter your email address and you will get a $20 gift card - good towards any purchase! They have mini photo books on sale right now for only $2.49 and the shipping is just $.99 on the first book, and only $.10 for each book after! And you can use your credit for this sale! You do have to download their software, but it literally took less than 3 minutes to do!

It's hard to beat these nearly free deals! Happy Shopping!!!

Mar 5, 2011

How I make homemade Yogurt

 by Sarah Hodges (

I love yogurt. It's my go-to lunch and snack. It's the food I can always get in the mood for even when I'm super hungry and nothing sounds good. I add fresh fruit, nuts, coconut flakes, maybe some flax seeds for a filling and nutritious bite to eat. Or I throw it in smoothies for a little extra nutritional umph or lunch on the go. Strain it and eat it with a little honey and maybe some walnuts for a treat. My kids like it with vanilla extract and a few drops of stevia, but I prefer it plain. Oh, a dollop in some pickled beet kvass or beet borsht is heavenly too. Mix with grated cucumber, cumin and cilantro for a raita, a delicious accompaniment to Indian dishes. Mmm mmm.

We go through several quarts a week of the stuff, so it can get pretty expensive to buy organic cream top yogurt made with grassfed Jersey cow milk. Did you know Stoneyfield has changed their recipe and is now homogenizing their organic yogurt? No more cream top. And the local organic creamtop version is delicious, but sells at my Whole Foods for $1.69 for a 6 oz cup. Way too expensive for my budget, but perfect as a good quality starter to make my own. Even at $7/gallon which is what I pay for grassfed, non homogenized milk, it's half the price of Stoneyfield to make it myself. So that is what I have been doing. (Of course, if you don't care about organic or all that jazz, you could do it for LOTS cheaper than that with regular grocery store milk!)

I'm not an expert by any means, but I have been doing this long enough (4 years or so) to have made pretty much every possible mistake. So, I'm hopeful that sharing my process with you will help you get started, or at least just motivate you to put it on your “things I would like to do but won't ever have time for” list.
Supplies needed:

clean counterspace
a stock pot that can contain the amount of yogurt you are making with several inches to spare (in case of boiling over)
clean jars with lids
a strainer
a thermometer (optional)
a whisk or spoon
cream (optional)
a starter batch of yogurt (previous batch or good quality storebought – about 2 tbsp per quart of yogurt)
a place to incubate the yogurt between 90 and 115 degrees (oven with pilot light, a cooler and towels, or a dehydrator/yogurt maker)
a few hours where you are not going anywhere
a spouse who doesn't mind coming in after you and cleaning up pots and pans (optional)

Some recipes call for powdered milk. I do not use powdered milk, since I'm not sure the process renders the milk healthful. Instead, to achieve a creamier consistency, I add cream, and/or strain a bit of the whey out of the yogurt once it's done to my desired consistency. (More on that later.)

Let's get started.

I like to run really hot water in the jars (you could pour boiling tap water in and let it sit, too for extra security) and let it sit there until the yogurt is ready to pour. This also helps keep the jars warm so you're not losing heat when you pour in the pre-incubated yogurt.

Then, in the stockpot, add milk and cream and slowly bring to about 180 degrees. (Sometimes I make raw milk yogurt, which only needs to be heated to about 120, but if you use pre-pasteurized milk it's best to bring it up to 180 to ensure any pathogenic bacteria are gone). If you don't have a thermometer, you can tell it's hot enough when the entire milk surface is giving off steam. If it gets too high it will boil, and that can be messy, so keep an eye on it and stir it every few minutes. This can take up to an hour (depending on how much you are making at a time).

The temptation is (or is that just me?) to put the stove on really high to get it to temp faster, but I have been sorry for doing this as it causes the milk to burn on the bottom and stick and can give your yogurt off flavors. Just keep it on medium (or medium-high if you must). The higher you put it, the more important it is to babysit the temp and the more often you should stir.

Finally the watched pot will reach 180 or so. At this point, give it a final stir and let it cool down.
It's fine to continue stirring every so often while it's cooling, which helps prevent that layer of cooked milk skin to form on the top. If you are good enough about stirring you might not even need to strain the yogurt in the last step – but if you don't strain it, and there is a skin, you risk getting a bit of a gritty texture in your delicious yogurt. (It won't hurt anything, though.)

You want the yogurt to cool down to about 115-120 degrees. If you don't have a thermometer, you can tell it's right when it's still warmer than body temperature, but doesn't burn your clean finger when you touch it. When it does reach this magical temperature (not before, or you'll kill your starter), pour some of the warm milk into a bowl or jar, add the yogurt starter and stir to thin it down. (This is just to make it easier to incorporate and make sure the good bacteria that make yogurt get evenly distributed throughout the batch. Skip this extra step and dirty dish if you feel like it by just dumping your starter into the pot and stirring well.)

Once it's all stirred in, go ahead and strain it into your jars. (If you find it unwieldy to pour from pot to strainer into the jar, you pour it into a wide mouth pyrex measuring cup for ease. But that adds another dirty dish. If you have the optional cleaning-spouse mentioned above, go for it.) 
If you are using an oven with an oven light, and it's cold in your kitchen, you can pre heat the oven for about 2 minutes (set a timer!), turn it off, and add the jars of yogurt and let it stay there for 3-12 hours depending on how thick and tangy you want it (it will get more tangy the longer it sits – I personally prefer it longer rather than shorter).

If your oven doesn't have a light, just wrap the jars in kitchen towels. Or you could wrap the jars in towels inside a cooler. If you do want to try the cooler option, go ahead and fill up another jar or two with hot water and set those in there too. That will help keep the temp in the right range.
The easiest option is of course a dehydrator or yogurt maker where you can set the temperature to the correct setting. I put mine at 110-115.

Check the yogurt at 3 hours and see how it looks. Tilt it. It shouldn't act like milk anymore, but should be thicker. It probably won't be done at 3 hours but if you use more starter, it might. I don't find it is quite ready until 8 hours so I usually leave it overnight. (No harm done, especially if you have it in the oven or a cooler – because eventually it cools down to room temperature and slows the culturing process.) Many recipes I've read online say 3-5 hours, so I don't want to mislead you and tell you forget it until morning, just in case it's different in your kitchen than mine. But if it isn't done by then, and you want to leave it longer, it should be just fine.

Here's a chance to learn from my bad experience (dare I say, many more times than once! Doh!):
Stick a sign on your oven (right on top of the button or dial that turns it on) that says “YOGURT!” if you don't want to forget it is in there, preheat for something else, go to put your roast in and notice there is a bunch of weird looking, bubbly, hot mason jars with cooked yogurt cheese in your way.

Here is what mine looks like after being in the dehydrator overnight:
You can see there are clear pockets of whey that have separated out from the curd – just like if you have started a container of storebought yogurt and put it away, the next time you open it, it has a puddle of whey in there that you can stir back in. If yours doesn't look like this, it's probably just because it hasn't been incubating as long. As I said, I like mine on the tangy side, so if you have decided from the tilt test that your yogurt is done in 5 hours' time, it probably won't have separated like this, and that's okay too.

Mmm, buttery cream-top goodness...
Here's how mine looked spooned into a bowl:
(I was too lazy considerate of my cleaner-spouse to strain it, but as I said, it won't hurt anything. Heh.)

One thing to keep in mind is that it will thicken up a bit more in the fridge, so even if it looks more runny than you'd like, after getting cold it might have a perfect consistency. If not, or if you like it more to the consistency of greek yogurt, you can go ahead and take a strainer in a bowl, line it with a tea towel, and pour the yogurt in to strain. 
(Be sure to save the whey! If you don't use it as a lactic acid starter for fermenting your own veggies like sauerkraut (surprisingly easy) or for soaking your oatmeal or other grains overnight, you can still use it as a base for smoothies instead of milk, and get a little boost from the fresh whey protein and beneficial bacteria!)

After straining, it is much thicker and will stay on an upside down spoon. 
So that's basically it!

Heat. Cool. Mix. Wait. Done!

If anything sounded confusing or you have follow up questions, feel free to shoot me a comment here or on my home blog,

Thank you Lisa for sharing your space with me today!
And happy yo-ing to all.

Mar 3, 2011

Slight Delay...

Because of computer difficulties (her hard drive crashing), we will have a slight delay in our guest post from Sarah Hodges. In the meantime, browse and check back frequently!