My crock pot occupied a dusty back shelf of a corner cabinet for years. I registered for one because I felt obligated to scan everything on the "suggested items" list. Now I know the lists are just another marketing tool aimed at a vulnerable target group - brides.
All I knew of crock pots was my mom's delicious bar-be-que recipe and lots of dishes involving cream of mushroom soup. I have nothing against mushrooms, cans or cream, but combine the three, and my lip creeps up into a half snarl. I just hate cream of mushroom soup. So, I used my crock pot once a year to make bar-be-que.
Until recently... I was looking for a recipe to make yogurt at home. My mom used to make yogurt. I can still see the quart jars sitting next to the milk in the refrigerator. My sister and I gave my poor mom so much grief over that yogurt. Lesson to be learned - don't start your kids on the processed stuff, and they won't know the difference (until they visit a friend's house for lunch).
Anyway, I decided to make yogurt but didn't really have all the necessary tools (gas stove or oven that heats as low as 110 degrees or even a candy thermometer). Then I stumbled upon directions for making yogurt in the crock pot. Here's the gist.
You need: a crock pot, milk, starter yogurt (live, active culture), a heavy towel or two, a timer
Pour 1/2 gallon of milk into crock pot (you cannot use Ultra Pasteurized milk, but you can use soy. The more fat, the easier). Turn the crock pot on low for 2 1/2 hours. Then turn the crock pot off for 3 hours (Do set a timer - I really screwed this up the first time using my faulty postpartum memory). The goal here is to heat the milk to about 180 degrees to kill any bacteria you don't want, then let the milk cool to about 110 degrees. You can speed up the three hour cool down by setting your crock in a sink of cool water. Just check the temperature of the yogurt (a clean! baby thermometer can measure this high).
After the yogurt cools to 110 degrees, add 1 cup of starter yogurt and mix throughout. Wrap the crock pot in a heavy towel or two to act as insulation and leave over night. The good bacteria you just added need heat and sugar (lactose) to react and make yogurt. The temperature must remain fairly constant. I found that turning the crock pot on low for 10 minutes before I go to bed helps the temperature stay high enough for the bacteria.
The results: the first was a mess. I ended up with warm milk because I didn't keep the crock warm enough. Now I use two towels and give it an extra jolt. The second, I didn't add enough starter yogurt, so it was runnier than I wanted. You will see recipes that read half a cup for a half gallon. That didn't work for me. Third attempt: perfection, well close to it. I got the kinks worked out, and we now have two quarts of really delicious yogurt in the refrigerator. Now, I don't have to buy anymore starter yogurt because I can just use my own.
In case you're thinking that this is too much work for something you can easily buy at the grocery store, I see where you're coming from. Until you taste the homemade yogurt, you might not be able to wrap your mind around how much better fresh yogurt tastes. Also, it's cheaper, and you know exactly what went into your yogurt - nothing but milk! Then you can add fresh fruit or honey or vanilla. I even like it plain. Did I mention it makes terrific smoothies? This is a must try.