A Philosophy of Staples and a Simple Yogurt Recipe

I was talking recently with friends about how there are basically two approaches to meal planning. You can do the nimble riffs and experiments that I’ve mostly done and talk about here.

But there’s another way, favored by my friend Trish, of making a few staples from scratch and building nearly all your meals from those. I asked her about it recently: Is it frugality? A South African thing?

She told me it was born out of geographic necessity, primarily. She’d spent some of her growing up years living in very remote areas of Africa where grocery stores weren’t handy. And so now it feels natural to build her family’s diet around a few homemade things: yogurt, bread dough, black beans, granola, etc.

I’ve been moving in that direction myself. It started with sourdough, which kind of necessitates some buy-in if you’re going to do it at all, unless you just want to waste starter all the time. Then I tried making yogurt again (despite my vow that it’s a Thing I Don’t Do), because it saves our family somewhere around $20 a week. We already have a freezer full of beef and a friend’s son’s pork, and so our model of meal planning has begun evolving.

I’m not sure I’ll ever adopt the meal planning predictability of my granny, who had a weekly spaghetti night, etc., or even my friend who has a day-of-the-week theme to her meals. But it’s been interesting to think more in terms of rotations, by combining ingredients I’ve already got. Last night I made a very satisfactory meal of chicken stroganoff from homemade yogurt, leftover roasted chicken, the day’s sourdough bread, and a few other odds and ends. So far I like the structure that comes from working with what you’ve already got, and it allows me to be more deliberate in sourcing good ingredients from people I care about.

So, because I don’t know if I’ve shared it yet, here’s my yogurt recipe. I borrow from the tutorial for instant pot vanilla yogurt at These Lovely Acres but omit the vanilla because I end up with a thicker yogurt.


  • gallon milk ultra-pasteurized
  • 3 tbsp plain yogurt


  1. Pour the entire gallon of milk into the Instant Pot. Add the yogurt. Whisk to combine. Lid the pot. (It doesn’t have to come to pressure, though.) Dance in ecstasy because you don’t have to raise and lower the yogurt temp.

  2. Press the Yogurt button on the Instant Pot. Adjust timer to 10 hours. (I run it for 10 hours, partially for tanginess and partially so I can sleep longer.)

  3. When the yogurt is done, remove the inner pot, place a plate on top as lid, refrigerate. Don’t mess with it! It needs to set for about eight hours.

  4. At this point, I pour about half of it off into old yogurt tubs right away for Pippin, who likes runny yogurt. Then, in two or three batches, I pour more yogurt into a colander lined with an industrial-size coffee filter, and nestle the colander in the bowl. Over a few hours, the yogurt will drain off excess whey and thicken up. The whey I pour into jars and use in bread and other kitchen experiments.

How do you go about stocking your pantry? What staples do you always make?

4 thoughts on “A Philosophy of Staples and a Simple Yogurt Recipe

  1. I’m so curious about this yogurt method. How runny is it? I’ve used the This Old Gal recipe to get thick yogurt (which I then strain to make even thicker), but the temperature monitoring is certainly annoying. One time I actually had it all boil over because I put it to “Saute” instead of the Yogurt Boil setting to get it to 180 and then, I forgot about it….


    • Hey Amanda! When I made it with the vanilla extract it was very runny, but when I omitted the extract it came out edible in thickness for me…maybe like Dannon, whereas with the vanilla it had been like kefir. When I strain it through the coffee filter I can get it to my favorite texture, like thick, sludgy Greek yogurt. I’m willing to tinker because I really hate the traditional heating and cooling method. Always takes forever, and right at bedtime, too. This is much easier!


    • I think maybe the ultra-pasteurized has been extra…sanitized? And that’s what makes it shelf stable so much longer (have you noticed the UP organic milk always has a couple months before it expires?) and also makes it safe to skip the fidgety extra heat-and-cool step in most yogurt recipes.

      Liked by 1 person

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