lola rugula how to make homemade vanilla yogurt

How to Make Homemade Yogurt

If you’ve followed along for a while on my journey here then you already know I love probiotics and “live” food. I’ve shared with all of you how I make homemade sauerkraut, homemade kimchi, and homemade fermented dill pickles. I also made kombucha at home for over a year though I never posted my recipe for it. I did share this shot of one of my kombucha batches but just never found the time to get a post up on it. So it goes sometimes as a food blogger.

So, how do you make homemade yogurt? Well, there are basically 2 ways to make it. One involves purchasing yogurt culture starter and the other involves just adding a bit of plain yogurt to milk (and a little heavy cream, as I do here).

lola rugula homemade yogurt

Beware that the resting time on this is 12 hours. You can experiment a little with this but I’ve found that this is the time range where I like mine. Letting it sit for less time may result in a little less thick and a little less tangy yogurt.

Special equipment that I use for this:

  • Electronic probe thermometer (a candy thermometer will probably work, too)
  • 3 pint canning jars with lids, cleaned and ready to go (this makes a little more than 2 pints)
  • Large crockpot with a “keep warm” setting
  • Fine sieve mesh strainer
  • 2 large, thick bath towels

Homemade Vanilla Yogurt Recipe

  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise (omit if you’re making plain yogurt)
  • 3 generous tablespoons plain, whole milk yogurt
  1. In a medium saucepan, heat milk, heavy cream, and vanilla bean over low heat. Insert the probe of the thermometer into the milk and heat, stirring occasionally, until it reaches 195º. Don’t try to rush this step or you will burn the milk and cream.
  2. Remove from heat.
  3. If you’ve removed the probe, place it back into the milk mixture and let cool to 110º – 115º. If you want to rush this step along, fill your sink with 2-3 inches of cold water, add some ice, and then set the pan in the ice water for just 3 minutes or so. The mixture should still be steaming a little but this cuts the cool-down time in half. Remove from ice water and let finish cooling to 110º – 115º.
  4. While the mixture is cooling, preheat your slow cooker by turning it on “keep warm”.
  5. When the mixture has reached 110º – 115º, use the fine mesh sieve and strain the mixture into your jars. (you can skip the straining step if you’re not using the vanilla)
  6. Put lids on the jars and place in the preheated crockpot – I put mine right in the center of the crock.
  7. Place probe in crockpot and put the lid on the crockpot
  8. Monitor the temperature for a few minutes – mine stays pretty steady at around 111º. You need the temperature to stay right around 110º.
  9. Leave like this on the keep warm setting for about 45 minutes.
  10. Without removing the lid, carefully slide the probe out of the crockpot
  11. Turn crockpot off and unplug it.
  12. Cover the crockpot completely with the 2 towels, gently tucking an edge or two under the crockpot, until it’s completely covered.
  13. Let sit for 12 hours.

Remove the jars from the crockpot and refrigerate until cool.  You now know how to make easy homemade vanilla yogurt!

lola rugula how to make homemade vanilla yogurt

Now, I have found the crockpot works best for me for making this but there are a lot of other methods out there. Some people place the pan in their oven with the light on and the door closed, which may be a better alternative for you.

I also like my vanilla yogurt really vanilla-y, so feel free to adjust the amount to your taste. Also, this is a pretty thick homemade yogurt but if you want it even thicker, let it cool and then scoop out into a muslin-lined strainer set over a bowl and let it drain in your refrigerator for a few hours.

I’ve only made this a few times now, but it’s been consistently good each time. I really like that I can make this at home and leave out all of the sugar and other things that store-bought yogurt is typically full of.

I hope you give this a try and love it – don’t be afraid to play with your food!

lola rugula how to make homemade vanilla yogurt

French Onion Soup

A friend recently asked me about French onion soup and I realized how long it’s been since I made it. I love homemade French onion soup but what I don’t love is standing at the stove for an hour or more caramelizing a huge batch of onions. So, on a recent weekend when I had a lot of projects to do at home, I decided I’d toss the onions in my crockpot and let it do most of the work.

lola rugula french onion soup

Crockpot French Onion Soup Recipe

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2.5 lbs. sweet onions, cut in half from root to top and then sliced thin
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 heaping teaspoon flour
  • 51/2 cups homemade or good quality beef broth (for vegetarian French onion soup, substitute vegetable broth)
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For serving:

  • French bread, cut into slices
  • Grated gruyere or cheese of your choice

Total cooking time is approximately 8 – 8 1/2 hours.

  1. Rub the inside of the crock with butter and reserve the rest
  2. Add onions to the crockpot
  3. Drizzle onions with olive oil
  4. Sprinkle salt over onions and toss well
  5. Pat the onions down into the crock – don’t smash them, just gently press them down so they’re somewhat compacted
  6. Place remaining butter on top of onions
  7. Cover the crockpot and turn on high

Cook the onions for 5 – 5 1/2 hours, stirring every hour or so. At the end of this time, your onions should be beautifully caramelized.

lola rugula caramelized onions

Now, on to finishing your soup:

  1. Sprinkle the flour over the caramelized onions and stir well
  2. Cover and cook for a half hour
  3. Add beef broth, wine, thyme, bay leaf and pepper
  4. Stir well, cover, and cook 2.5 hours longer on high

Turn off heat, remove bay leaf and discard, ladle soup into bowls and serve with crusty bread topped with melted cheese. For the cheesy bread, I simply slice my French bread, place the slices on a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil and broil for a few minutes until one side is nicely toasted. Then, turn the bread over, top the untoasted side with cheese and place back under the broiler for a few more minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and starting to brown.

lola rugula how to make homemade french onion soup

I like to serve my toasted cheese bread on the side but if you prefer, you can place oven-safe bowls filled with soup on a sheet pan, top with bread and cheese, and then broil until the cheese is bubbling and starting to brown.

This soup is dark, rich and flavorful. I’m a big believer that homemade beef stock makes a world of difference here so if you don’t have homemade broth, be sure to buy the best you can.

If you want to make a vegetarian French onion soup, simply replace the beef broth with homemade or good-quality vegetable stock. The finished soup will be a little lighter in flavor but it’s just as delicious, trust me. I was vegetarian for a couple of years and made this a number of times during that period.

While making this crockpot French onion soup is easy, it’s not a throw-it-in-and-forget-it dish. It still takes a little watching and maintenance to be careful that the onions don’t burn. Every crockpot is different, so keep an eye on your onions in the first hour or two.

The all-day aroma of caramelized onions cooking makes this totally worth making and letting my crockpot do a lot of the work freed me up to do other things. That’s a win-win in my book.


lola rugula how to make homemade vanilla yogurt

Chunky Red Lentil Chili

If you’re looking for a hearty, satisfying dish but also want to eat something healthy, look no further than this chunky red lentil chili recipe.  Packed full of protein, veggies, and flavor, this easy lentil chili comes together quickly and is the definition of comfort food.

People often don’t know what to cook with lentils, though they’re very versatile. I particularly like red and black lentils, which work well in both hot dishes and cold salads. My husband is a big fan of my braised black lentils and their color is what gives them an extra boost of anthocyanins, which are powerfully good for you.

The other benefit of lentils is they cook very quickly, making them perfect as an easy side dish, or as a base for soup or chili, such as this one, which comes together in about an hour.

Vegetarian option:

To make this a vegetarian lentil chili, simply use vegetable stock, omit the ground turkey, and start the recipe by heating the oil and adding the vegetables as directed.

lola rugula easy red lentil chili

Chunky Red Lentil Chili with Black Beans Recipe

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, separated
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb, ground turkey
  • 1 cup diced white or yellow onion
  • 1 sweet bell pepper, diced (I used red for the recipe pictured)
  • 1 small jalapeno, chopped
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked black beans
  • 1 1/2 cups crushed or diced tomatoes with juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1 cup dried red lentils
  • Salt, to taste, if needed

For garnish:

  • Sour cream
  • Finely-diced jalapeno
  • Finely-diced red onion
  • Chopped cilantro


  1. In a large pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes
  2. Add ground turkey, season with black pepper and saute, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until all moisture has evaporated.
  3. Drizzle in the second tablespoon of olive oil and stir well.
  4. Add onion, bell pepper, and jalapeno and stir well.
  5. Continue to cook over medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring often.
  6. Reduce heat to medium, add garlic and stir well.
  7. Cook for about 4-5 minutes.
  8. Add stock, water, beans, tomatoes, and spices and stir well. Bring back to a healthy simmer and cook for 15 minutes.
  9. Add lentils, stir well and continue to cook for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lentils are cooked and liquid has reduced.
  10. Taste and add salt, if needed
  11. Ladle into bowls or mugs, spoon a dollop of sour cream on top of each and sprinkle with red onion, jalapeno and cilantro before serving.

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

It’s beautiful, isn’t it? I love colorful dishes and this definitely is one. The spices add flavor and warmth, the addition of sour cream smooths out all the flavors and the fresh onion, jalapeno, and cilantro on top add an extra burst of crunch and flavor.

Isn’t this so simple? Probably the easiest chili recipe ever and I think you’ll be amazed at how much flavor this really has.


lola rugula how to make homemade vanilla yogurt

Pasta Carbonara

Ahhh….pasta carbonara. So few ingredients yet a rich, incredible dish that every pasta lover should have in their recipe arsenal. I’ve had this post written for a long time but getting the photos has been another story. I can promise you that making this is WAY easier than documenting it, mostly because it’s so delicious that whenever I make it we just want to dig right in and eat it – it’s definitely a pasta dish best when served fresh.

lola rugula pasta carbonara

pasta carbonara recipe

  • 1 lb. bucatini or spaghetti (I prefer De Cecco) + 1 teaspoon of kosher salt for cooking pasta
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, plus an additional 1/4 cup for serving
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 ounces pancetta, cubed or sliced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

A couple of notes before you start:

  • Start your pasta cooking, have your egg & cheese mixture mixed together, your garlic minced and your parsley chopped before you start, then you’re not rushing or pressured when the dish is ready to put together.
  • One of the keys to a carbonara sauce is cooking the sauce while the pasta cooks. This ensures that the pasta will be hot and ready to toss with your sauce when you need to. This will also ensure that the eggs cook just a bit, which accomplishes two things – not eating raw eggs and making a creamy sauce that clings to your pasta.
  • Instead of draining my pasta, I use tongs to scoop it out and toss it right in with the garlic pancetta mixture. This may be a little messier but it’s faster and ensures I have reserved hot pasta water when I need it.


  1. In a small bowl, blend your eggs and cheese together well using a fork or whisk
  2. Bring your pasta water to a boil, add salt and pasta and stir well. Bring back to a boil and cook for 10 minutes or according to directions on package, while completing the steps below.
  3. In the meantime, once the pasta has been cooking for about 3-4 minutes, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  4. Add pancetta and cook until fat is rendered and the pancetta begins to crisp up, stirring often, about 4-5 minutes.
  5. Reduce heat to medium, add garlic and stir constantly over heat, about 2 more minutes.
  6. Shut the heat off of the pasta if needed, while you complete the sauce.
  7. Using tongs, pull pasta directly out of the water and toss into the pancetta garlic mixture, tossing it all together.
  8. Quickly add the egg and cheese mixture, tossing well again.
  9. Using a ladle or measuring cup, add about 1/4 cup of hot pasta water to the cooked pasta mixture and keep tossing.
  10. If needed, add more water in 1/4 cup increments until creamy sauce forms. You may end up adding close to a cup of water. Toss well after each addition.
  11. When you have a creamy sauce, plate pasta immediately, sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper, additional Parmesan, and chopped parsley.
  12. Serve and enjoy!

lola rugula how to make easy pasta carbonara

This dish is really all about timing because obviously, there aren’t a lot of ingredients involved. Again, having everything chopped, mixed and as prepared ahead of time as possible makes this much easier to throw together.

Invest in the best cheese you can for this, as it’s really the star of the dish.

Once you have this down, you’ll find yourself making it pretty often. It’s a perfect pasta dish for an easy weeknight dinner, a romantic dinner for two or a dinner party with friends or family.

Want to make carbonara with bacon instead? Go for it! I’ve done it and it’s delicious. I’ve also tossed roasted, chopped asparagus into this and it’s divine. Don’t limit yourself – you can use this as a base for all kinds of ideas.


lola rugula how to make homemade vanilla yogurt

French Country Bread

I think the only thing better than eating freshly-baked, crusty, chewy bread is how divine it smells while it’s baking. Even just the dough rising in a bowl on the counter is enough to fill the air with a delicious, yeasty aroma.

I enjoy making my own bread while playing around with different flours and methods of making it. Years ago, I shared with you my Quick French Bread recipe, which really is an easy, quick yeast bread as far as yeast breads are concerned. It occurred to me over the weekend as I was making this loaf of French country bread that I’ve not shared any other bread recipes with you since then, so I’m here to rectify that. (Well, I’ve also shared my Zucchini Bread recipe, but that’s not quite the same)

This recipe starts with a preferment (also called a starter, sponge or poolish) which needs to sit for 10 hours, so it’s easiest to make the starter a day ahead of time. This takes a little pre-planning but the starter is very quick and easy to make.

lola rugula homemade french country bread

French Country Bread Recipe

To make the starter, combine in a small bowl:

  • 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water

Stir together and let sit for 5 minutes until mixture is cloudy and small bubbles can be seen. Add:

  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour

Stir with a fork until everything is combined and then whisk with a fork for about 100 strokes. The mixture should be a creamy, pudding consistency, with long strands following your fork as you stir it.

Using a spatula, gently scrape the mixture into a pile in the middle of the dish. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Let sit at room temperature for 10 hours.

10 hour later….

  • 3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 2 1/2 cups warm water
  • 6 cups unbleached white bread flour + about 1 cup extra for kneading
  • 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
  • Oil for resting the dough
  • Cornmeal for baking
  • Spray bottle of water for misting

In a large bowl, combine 3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast and 2 1/2 cups warm water. Stir well with a fork and let rest for 5 minutes, until cloudy and small bubbles can be seen.

Add the sponge to the new yeast mixture and stir gently with a spatula until all of the large chunks of sponge have been incorporated into the new mixture.

You should see the mixture start to bubble from all the yeast.


  • 6 cups of unbleached white bread flour 1 CUP AT A TIME, whisking with a fork with each addition until well blended. Do not worry about chunks of sponge/dough being visible – it will all come together in the end.
  • Tip: Pick 6 of some item that you can move across the counter to help you count the cups. This assures you won’t lose track of the cups you’re adding, should you forget or get interrupted. I use small glass beads but honestly, you can use toothpicks, pens, magnets…whatever works!
  • Tip 2: Make sure when you’re measuring your flour that you use a spoon to fill the measuring cup and a spatula or butter knife to level it off. Never use the measuring cup to scoop flour right out of the bag or shake the cup to level the flour – this packs it down and throws off the measurement
  • The mixture will not really begin to form a mass until about the 3rd cup
  • After adding the sixth cup, mix well and scrape the dough out onto a floured work surface
  • Sprinkle the dough with 1/2 tablespoon of kosher salt
  • Knead mixture for at least 10 minutes, adding additional bread flour to keep it from being overly sticky
  • At the end, the dough will form a beautiful ball that holds together, isn’t overly sticky and shows no obvious small bumps on the surface. It will be long strands as you knead it that hold together and roll into each other.
  • Form into a ball and let rest for 5 minutes
  • Turn into a well-oiled bowl (I use olive oil) and then flip the ball of dough so that it’s coated with oil on both sides
  • Cover with a towel and let sit until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours
  • Gently scrape out the dough onto a work surface and divide into 2
  • Shape each half into a ball – I do this by just gently tucking the edges underneath it and form a ball that way. The less you play with and less you deflate it, the better.
  • Lay a piece of parchment paper on a sheet pan and sprinkle liberally with cornmeal
  • For even baking and browning, bake one loaf at a time
  • Place ball of dough on prepared sheet pan
  • Using a very sharp knife, gently score 4-5 shallow slices across the top of the bread
  • Let rest for 30 minutes

Preheat oven to 425º

Spritz the top of the dough with water

Bake for 35-40 minutes, spritzing the top of the bread with water every 10 minutes or so.

Remove from oven and let rest at least 30 minutes before serving.

lola rugula french country bread

Freshly-baked bread is a beautiful thing.

There are a number of notes on this that I’d like to add:

  • I realize that activating the yeast in water is no longer considered necessary by many. I’ve made bread like this for so long it’s a habit for me and I always want to share with you the exact way I make things.
  • If you don’t have a spray bottle or don’t want to hassle with spraying the bread, fill a short pan or baking-safe dish with hot water and place it on the oven rack under your bread while it’s baking
  • If you only bake occasionally, keep a jar of yeast in your freezer. This keeps it fresh and active long past its expiration date.
  • If you don’t have bread flour, you can use all-purpose flour instead. Bread flour does have more protein in it, which helps make a loftier, chewier bread, but all-purpose flour will work just fine.
  • Be aware that a number of factors can affect bread making, including room temperature and humidity.

lola rugula how to make french country bread

This also bakes beautifully on a cornmeal -dusted baking stone. I’ve done it both ways and the stone does give it a bit more of a crusty-crust. (Is that a term?)

This is a lovely, rustic bread that, as you can see above, slices beautifully for sandwiches. It was also perfect with my big weekend meal of homemade meatballs and sauce. Personally, all it really needs though is a fruity olive oil or swipe of Kerrygold and you’re good to go.


lola rugula how to make homemade vanilla yogurt

Eggs Benedict with Easy Hollandaise Sauce

Welcome to one of my all-time favorite meals: Eggs Benedict. (I love eggs!) A combination of a crunchy, toasted English muffin, a slice of ham or Canadian bacon, a warm and oozy perfectly-poached egg, all covered in buttery, lemony hollandaise sauce. Hello, deliciousness.

I only indulge in making eggs benedict a few times a year but whenever I do, I can always count on my husband to remind me that he never liked hollandaise sauce until he had mine. That, my friends, is a pretty big compliment. It’s an especially big compliment considering that over the many years I’ve made it, I’ve perfected an easy, microwaved hollandaise sauce that’s pretty much foolproof and not nearly as difficult as everyone thinks it is.

Before your head explodes over the supposed blasphemy of making hollandaise in a microwave, let me just say that it’s the same ingredients and the same end result as the classic version, sans the double boiler or stainless steel bowl over a pot of boiling water.

I’ve discovered that a lot of people are a little intimidated by making hollandaise sauce, often because of the double boiler method of making it.  I remember being intimidated myself when I first learned how to make it, unsure of what tempering or curdling or breaking was. Hollandaise had a reputation for being difficult to make, involving preciseness, and patience.


That’s just simply not true and I’m going to show you how easy hollandaise sauce is to make. Once you’ve made it in your microwave, I guarantee that you will never be intimidated by making it again. It might even inspire you to make it the old-fashioned way. 🙂

And honestly, if you’re making your hollandaise for eggs benedict like I do here, the hardest part isn’t making the hollandaise but timing everything so nothing’s ice cold when you plate it.

lola rugula easy eggs benedict with microwave hollandaise sauce

Eggs Benedict with Easy Microwave Hollandaise Sauce Recipe

Ingredients you’ll need for 2 servings of Eggs Benedict:

  • 6 eggs (4 for poaching, 2 egg yolks only, for hollandaise sauce)
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2-3 dashes Tabasco sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 English muffins, split and toasted
  • 4 slices Canadian bacon
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar for poaching eggs
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Easy Microwave Hollandaise Sauce Recipe

This makes about 1/2 cup hollandaise sauce, which is more than enough for 2 servings.

  • 5 tablespoons butter (put your good European or grass-fed butter to work here)
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (or to taste – I like my hollandaise on the lemony side)
  • 2-3 healthy dashes of Tabasco sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 egg yolks


  1. Separate yolks from 2 eggs, placing egg yolks into a small dish and setting aside whites for a later use. Whisk the yolks with a fork until well blended.
  2. Put butter, lemon juice, Tabasco, and salt into a glass bowl and microwave just until hot and melted
  3. Spoon a tablespoon of the hot butter mixture into the egg yolks and whisk well with a fork
  4. Add a second tablespoon and whisk again
  5. Scrape the egg yolk mixture into the butter mixture and whisk it all together very well

As the yolks are incorporated into the butter mixture, they’ll begin to cook. If the hollandaise is still too runny, return the whole dish to the microwave and heat in 5-second increments, stirring with a fork in between, until to your desired consistency. Hollandaise should be slightly thick but still pourable, not runny like water.

That’s it. You just made easy microwave hollandaise sauce.

If you should overheat the hollandaise, it will curdle due to the yolk cooking too much or the hot butter separating from the rest of the mixture. Don’t despair! Whisk it well and quickly with a fork or whisk until re-incorporated. You can add a teaspoon of cool water also and whisk it in, to help blend it all back together. Usually, this is all that’s needed to recover it.

lola rugula easy eggs benedict with microwave hollandaise sauce


Poached Eggs Recipe

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 shallow pan (I use a stainless skillet) filled 3/4 of the way with water
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
What you’ll need:
  • A small bowl or ramekin
  • A slotted spoon
  • Paper towel for blotting eggs when done cooking
In the meantime:
  1. While eggs are poaching, split and toast your English muffins
To poach eggs:
  1. Add water to pan until about 2/3 full, add vinegar
  2. Bring water to a low boil
  3. Crack one egg into ramekin and then slip into the water
  4. Repeat with remaining 3 eggs
  5. Simmer eggs at a low boil for 3 minutes, using the slotted spoon to gently turn them over about 1/2 way through
  6. If needed, gently slide the spoon under the eggs if they seem to be sticking to the bottom of the pan
  7. Use the slotted spoon to remove from water and place on paper towel to drain
To plate eggs benedict:
  1. Place 2 toasted muffin halves on each plate
  2. Top each half with a slice of ham or Canadian bacon
  3. Place 1 poached egg on top of each ham-topped muffin half
  4. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of hollandaise over each egg
  5. Sprinkle with just a bit of freshly ground black pepper (optional)
  6. Serve immediately

lola rugula how to make eggs benedict and easy hollandaise

There’s something really beautiful about the mixture of textures and flavors in eggs benedict. And when you split open the poached egg, it’s an oozy, golden plate of amazingness.

As mentioned earlier, I like my hollandaise on the lemony side, so you can adjust the lemon to your taste. Sometimes I make it extra lemony, especially in the summer.

As always, don’t be afraid to play with this – place a little blanched spinach or arugula underneath the eggs, throw on a slice of roasted onion, switch out the Canadian bacon with regular bacon or crispy prosciutto….mix it up with some of your favorites.

Of course, this is especially nice when served with a bright mimosa or spicy bloody mary…all the makings for a perfect homemade Sunday brunch.