Besides, my sweet parents recently gave me a yogurt maker. Thank you, parents! (Note: A yogurt maker isn't essential by any means; Francis Lam says he mixes up his cultures in a Pyrex bowl and lets it hang out in a warm spot all night, which is also how I make creme fraiche. Low-tech and cheap! And Andrea Nguyen's technique for Vietnamese-style yogurt calls for a warm water bath. But I have a yogurt maker, so I used that.)
Humankind has been making yogurt forever, and it is a neat concept: you extend the life of milk by heating it, adding cultures and allowing bacteria to colonize it. The general idea is to pour your milk into a saucepan and heat, stirring constantly, to around 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Once it hits 180, you let it cool to 110-120 degrees. When the milk is ready for the culture, it's time to stir in 1 tablespoon active-culture yogurt per pint of milk and mix until smooth. (My yogurt maker came with packets of dried yogurt starter, and it says to stir in 10 grams of dried yogurt starter per liter of milk, so apparently that's an option if you prefer not to buy yogurt to make yogurt.)
Now all you have to do is wait. I've learned that the longer it sits, the tarter and firmer your yogurt becomes. After 3 hours, mine tasted like thickened milk; after 5 hours, it had developed a hint of tartness that tasted good to me, so I set it in the fridge to chill overnight.
I used high-quality, organic whole milk for my first batch and thought it was excellent plain, but I couldn't resist stirring in a spoonful of Mark's mom's delicious blackberry jam. Either way, the texture was lovely -- creamy, custardy, drizzle-able -- and the flavor was just to my taste, creamy and slightly tart. And when I asked Mark if he thought this could replace his favorite yogurt, he said yes, if only the texture were thicker. So I set a cup of yogurt in a fine mesh strainer above a bowl; after a few hours in the fridge, some of the whey had seeped out and I was left with something closer to Greek-style yogurt.
So, I guess it's official: I'm adding yogurt to my list of foods I prefer making myself. Other things I like to do with yogurt, besides eating it plain: Stirring in some sugar and running it through the ice cream maker for the best frozen yogurt you can imagine. Mixing in chopped garlic, minced herbs and salt to make a sauce that is perfect for drizzling on crispy fish, slathering on lamb meatballs, or topping roasted cauliflower. Making a quick raita with grated cucumber, chopped cilantro and toasted cumin seeds to accompany basmati rice and a spicy lentil dal. Using it instead of mayo on an avocado sandwich or in dips. Mixing into all kinds of batters, from biscuits to cake to pancakes. All I have to do is remember to keep a few spoonfuls to make the next batch.