Part of finding the "normal" in our lives in the midst of this journey with Richard's brain cancer is resuming our simple, healthy diet, one of the tools we use to keep him healthy without resorting to prescription meds. After this latest surgery–his third craniotomy in 17 months–and six days in the hospital eating well… hospital food, we were both eager to get home to our own kitchen.
If you've seen the new USDA food pyramid guidelines, you have a sense of our diet: high in whole grains, healthy dairy products, fruits and vegetables, low in sodium, refined or processed foods, and fat (we eat almost no meat, but do eat eggs and some fish). Because we like to know how our food is grown and treated, we eat mostly local foods, organic wherever possible. (That's part of today's lunch in the photo below: two quesadillas made by broiling fresh corn tortillas spread with basil pesto and yogurt cream cheese, plus micro-greens from our friend Lisa's greenhouse, and a small handful of organic walnuts and cranberries.)
The afternoon last week when our quick visit to the local VA clinic turned into a last-minute drive to the VA Hospital in Denver and a six-day stay, I was in the process of making a gallon of yogurt. Thanks to our neighbor Bev, who unearthed the crock of yogurt-in-the-making from under the mound of towels that insulates it in its water bath and put the crock in the refrigerator the next day, our week's supply of yogurt survived our absence.
That yogurt–made from local, organic milk–is an important part of our protein supply. Richard eats a cup every morning on his five-grain hot cereal, I cook with it, and it's our source of cheese. I hadn't ever made cheese before reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle a couple of years ago. When I discovered the recipe for yogurt cream cheese, I knew it was for me: it doesn't require special ingredients, tools, or cooking, and it's almost laughably simple.
Best of all, it's delicious: a smooth, spreadable cheese like cream cheese, but much lower in fat and with a lovely yogurt tang. It's yummy with fresh herbs mixed in from the garden in summer, with pesto in winter (we freeze jars of summer pesto for winter consumption), with honey or jam… Or just plain.
Here's what you need to make yogurt cream cheese:
1 quart plain yogurt (use any fat content you prefer: non-fat yields the least cheese because there's more whey to drain off, whole-milk yogurt is creamiest)
two pieces of triple-thick cheese cloth, about 12" wide by 22" long
two large rubber bands (I use the ones that come on bunches of broccoli)
a faucet to hang the cheese from
a pinch salt
Set the strainer in the sink and line it with the cheesecloth (overlapping the pieces in a cross-shape as in the first photo above). Pour the yogurt into the center. Pull the edges together to form a bag for the yogurt. Wrap one rubber band around the "neck" of the bag, folding the neck over. Thread the other rubber band through that loop in the neck so that two ends are free. Suspend the bag from a faucet using the loop formed by the second rubber band. (It's easier than it sounds: see the second photo above.)
Let the yogurt drain overnight (at least eight hours is best for a thick cheese). Remove the bag from the faucet, unwrap the cheesecloth, and place the soft lump of cheese in a small bowl or crock, and knead in salt with a spatula. (Kneading also evens out the texture.)
Yogurt cream cheese is wonderful by itself, and delicious with chopped fresh herbs mixed in, or savory spices like curry powder or ground chiles, sweet spices like cinnamon and ginger, or honey, jam, or marmalade. If you use local milk, you may notice the subtly changing flavors over the seasons as the cows' diets vary. Enjoy experimenting with your own cheese!
On a related note, I'm joining author, illustrator and gardening-maven Sharon Lovejoy's Grimy Hands Girls Club. If you don't know Sharon Lovejoy's work, check out her books and blog. Her tagline, "cultivating wonder," says it all.