Cool, creamy yogurt pleases palates and whittles waistlines

It’s January, with days dreary and nights dark. A time of reckoning after a season of revelry. Even the Seasonal Shopper is touting yogurt. Here’s the skinny: I’m writing about yogurt because it tastes great, not because I’m from the diet police. We’re talking good eating, and not just prepackaged pickup snacks. The health, diet and nutrition benefits of yogurt are merely lagniappes. If you haven’t shopped yogurt lately, you’ll find plenty new. Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s, Global Foods Market and Jay International Foods all carry a good selection of different yogurts. The creamier European style works well as a base for dips and dressings. A favorite winter salad of spinach, sweet clementines, almonds and red onion tasted zippier with a honey-Dijon-yogurt dressing. Ditto for the iceberg wedge slathered with yogurt blended with Gorgonzola crumbles and cracked black pepper. Thick and rich, the Greek and Mediterranean yogurts can be used as you would cream cheese. Mix them with honey, spread them on graham crackers and top with slivers of dried apricots and chopped pistachios. Swanky. Combine the yogurt with apples and celery, diced small, carrots grated fine and chopped walnuts for a crunchy spread that works well for crackers or bagels. Yogurt cooks, too. Read Indian, Greek and Mediterranean cookbooks to learn how. I found yogurt makes a great marinade for shrimp or chicken. Fiery curries, chiles, coriander, cumin and mustards combined with cool yogurt produce incredible tastes as sauces for potatoes, pastas or rice. When I substituted yogurt for sour cream in several tea bread and cake recipes, the play of very tart against sweet made good recipes better. For a taste departure, try yogurt made from goat’s milk produced at Our Garden in New Florence, Mo. Right from the carton, the flavor was too intense for me, but blending one cup of yogurt to two cups of softened cream cheese made a spread I loved. The flavor is original and well worth a try. You’ll find Our Garden selling at both winter farmers’ markets. Yogurt can even be made in your own kitchen. Doesn’t get more local than that. Making it doesn’t require much more than milk, nonfat milk solids, starter, a thermometer and a pan. It’s simple, but how easy it is depends on how much you want to invest. The easiest way is to buy a yogurt maker, which maintains temperature throughout the fermentation period – essential to produce a good yogurt. Salton makes one, available online, that produces quarts and another for individual cups. Kitchen Conservatory in Clayton carries the Donvier brand yogurt maker and packets of dried yogurt culture. If you have a place in your house where the temperature remains a steady 90 to 100 degrees for five to eight hours (like a closet with a heat vent running through it) or if you are willing to baby-sit a container of fermenting yogurt sitting in a water bath in an unheated oven for at least five hours, a yogurt maker isn’t necessary. Either way, we’ll show you how in this month’s recipe. Revisit yogurt this month. It’s a taste brightener. Plus, you can feel virtuous eating such a healthful food.