Sourdough = Fail; Yeast = Win

Several years ago I had a sourdough starter that I raised from scratch. It was a very good starter and I baked most of our sandwich and dinner bread with this starter. This was also before I discovered Traditional Foods, and was baking with white flour. Things got busy as they often do, and I stopped baking so often and failed to maintain my starter. As I started learning about the importance of whole grains, and more importantly the need to soak those grains in an acidic medium before cooking with them to neutralize the phytates I turned back to sourdough, which accomplishes the soaking step with the long rising time and acidic starter. I tried for months to raise a whole wheat sourdough starter. I baked loaf after loaf of super sour doorstops. I finally waved the ‘white’ flag, and went back to my plain white bread baking, assuring myself that at least it was better for my family then store bought white bread. Always seeking new information, I continued on my journey into nutrition and discovered the evils of white flour. So now I can’t feed my family white bread, and I can’t feed my family unsoaked whole wheat bread, and I can’t bake a loaf of sourdough to save my life. This most recent attempt to raise a starter has met with similar frustration and equally inedible results. However every door in my home is now securely propped open. In all of my reading about sourdough baking, I’ve decided to quit trying to raise my own starter. I plan to send off to the Friends of Carl for his Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter.

Last week I turned to my tried and true trusty yeast for our sandwich bread needs. Not ideal by any means, but I enjoy baking, and it really has got to be better than store bought. Owen had been begging for swirly bread (cinnamon swirl bread) and I obliged. This loaf not only used commercial yeast, but white flour and a good deal of sugar too. But it turned out wonderfully, and my confidence in myself as a baker has been restored.

I also undertook a whole wheat sandwich loaf, and whole wheat hamburger buns. Both of which rose to my expectations.

I’m not posting recipes today because they are not recipes that I actually condone. I’m looking into some recipes for soaked whole wheat that doesn’t utilize a sourdough starter and I’ve found a few that I want to play with. When I find one that works I will share. And I will also share my experience with Carl’s Sourdough Starter when I recieve it, althoug that can take up to 6 weeks, so I’ll have to be patient.

Jack-O-Lanterns and Pumpkin Seeds

Yesterday we finally got around to carving our pumpkins. We usually go to Circle S Farm for the hay ride and sunflower maze and to pick our pumpkins out of the field, but this year our plans were foiled by a tummy bug and we never managed to reschedule so we have boring grocery store pumpkins. They did carve up nicely though.
That’s face paint on my oldest. He did it himself. The boys picked out their own face designes, but I did most (all) of the work. They did help in scooping out the gunk though.

Once the pumpkins were carved, I tackled the huge bowl of pumpkin guts in attempt to rescue the seeds from clutches of the tentacle like threads of goop. This is a very slow, very slippery, very frustrating project. While at this tedious task, of course the baby wakes up. So as I wash my hands of slime and go to get her out of her crib, I notice some of the water gets into the bowl of cleaned seeds, and guess what, they FLOAT! This new knowledge completely changes my approach to the pumpkin seeds. I filled the bowl with water (after getting the baby and setting her up with a box of toys to dump out), swish around all the pumpkin guts, and miraculously all the seeds float nicely to the top.

It is now an easy task to fish them out and deposit them into the colander. A few more swishes to get the stubborn seeds that were still stuck and I had a colander full of clean seeds.

I soaked them in salt water for the rest of the afternoon, then spread them on a cookie sheet to dry over night in the oven. This morning I roasted up two batches. One sweet with pumpkin pie spices, and one savory with Worcestershire sauce and garlic powder. I read a bunch of recipes on line and in the end made up my own based on several that sounded good.

For the sweet ones I used 2 Tbsp olive oil, about 2 Tbsp succanat, 1/2 tsp sinnamon, 1/4 tsp each cloves and allspice, and a pinch of salt. For the savory ones I used 2 Tbsp olive oil, 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce, and a sprinkle of seasoned salt, garlic powder and onion powder. I really should start measuring stuff, but I rarely do. Each batch got about 1 1/2 Cups of pumpkin seeds. I roasted the seeds at 250* for about an hour and a half, stirring ever 15 minutes and rotating the baking sheets.
We’re trick or treating at my grandparents house tonight and I had planned to bring these along to share. It’s going to be hard not to eat them all before we leave though!

Homemade Convenience

I am constantly trying to phase packaged convenience foods out of our home. Let me tell you it is HARD to do. The boys need snacks for school. Brad needs lunches for work. Sometimes I need something to munch that doesn’t require cooking or creating dishes to wash. Sometimes dinner time sneaks up on me and I haven’t given it the slightest bit of thought earlier in the day. Convenience foods are, well, convenient. So as I go about my journey to get the junk out of our diets, I’ve had some success in finding homemade versions of some of our favorites that have the benefits of not only being free from chemicals, preservatives, and excess packaging, but also much, much cheaper. Today I’m going to share with you 3 of our favorites: Fruit leather, cheese crackers, and mini fritattas.

Fruit Leather:
My boys love the apricot Stretch Island fruit leather. But at $1 a pop, those things are crazy expensive! We would get them occasionally as a treat in the checkout line at Whole Foods for being helpful shoppers. But now that I have an Excalibur Food Dehydrator, making our own is a snap. Since the boys love the apricot flavor, I start with dried apricots. You can use any type of fresh or dried fruit. If starting with fresh, just omit the soaking step.

Cover dried apricots in water, and leave to rehydrate for several hours. Cover the bowl so nasties don’t fall in.

Once the apricots are nice and juicy again, pour your apricots and a good bit of soaking water into your blender. I love my Blendtec , it makes short work of just about anything. Use just enough water to get things blending smoothly.

Next, spread apricot goop in a thin even layer on a piece of parchment paper on your dehydrator tray. The Excalibur comes with some teflex sheets, but I prefer the parchment paper because when it’s dry I can roll the whole thing up and cut into strips so the boys have fruit roll-ups.

This batch made four trays worth of fruit leather. I put it in the dehydrator at about 145* for around 6 hours. See how easily the fruit leather lifts off the parchment paper? It’s done when the thickest spots are dry to the touch.

Cheese Crackers:
These cheese crackers are the closest to Cheez-Its I’ve found. They are really yummy, and since I do the whole process in my food processor it’s super easy and they come together lickety split. I have made the recipe with whole wheat flour before and they turn out ok, but they really just taste better with white. Since these are a once in a while treat, it doesn’t bother me too much.

1/2 lb grated extra sharp cheddar
1/4 C butter, softened
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 C flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Cream together first 4 ingredients. Slowly add flour to make a stiff dough. It’s important to use sharp cheddar in these, even if it’s not the kind you like for eating. I like to use extra sharp. Otherwise the crackers don’t have a lot of cheese flavor. Also, you can decrease or omit the cayenne pepper if you think your kids won’t like it. With the full 1/8 tsp the crackers have a little bit of a kick. My kids don’t seem to mind, and I like it that way. 1/16 would probably be fine if you have kids with a picky palette. If you leave it out completely the crackers will be kind of bland, but hey, some kids like it that way.

Divide the dough int 3 portions and roll into logs. Wrap the logs in waxed paper and place in the fridge overnight, or the freezer for 1 hour. I’m always in a hurry so I always use the freezer method and it works great. The idea is just to get the dough chilled enough that you can slice it with out smushing it.

Slice thinly and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. These do not expand very much when baked so you can place them fairly close together, but not touching. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt.

Bake at 350* for about 12 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack. Once completely cool you can store them in a ziplock baggie or a glass jar. I really have no idea how long these keep, even if I make a double batch they are gone in less than a week.

Mini Fritattas:
Here’s my newest toy; a 24 ct mini muffin pan. Oh the possibilities! Today it was fritattas.

Bacon, spinach, cheese into every muffin cup. Then I mixed 6 eggs with 1/2 cup of cream, and topped off the fritattas. This made just enough egg mixture to do all 24, not a drop left over.

After 30 minutes in the oven at 350*, I had cheesey, bacon-y, egg-y goodness.
Yum! I meant to put half into the freezer for later, but for some reason they mysteriously disappeared before I got around to it.

Finding homemade versions of some of your favorite packaged foods is a great first step in the direction of phasing junk out of your diet and home. The kids love these snacks, and I feel good about feeding them something healthier than what comes out of a box. What are some of your favorite homemade convenience recipes?

Happy Birthday My Handsome Little Man!

It’s been a busy week. On Sunday, my car baby turned 3. I don’t think I have his birth story on my blog yet. I’ll post it later, but the short version is that he was born in the front seat of my doula’s minivan just outside the OSU hospital where I had been planning to deliver. Needless to say, he hit the ground running and I’ve been trying desperatly to keep up ever since. Over the past few months he has transformed from a toddler, really still a baby, into a little man. He’s growing up so fast! Birthdays are very special at our house, even though we try to keep them as simple as possible. We started the morning off right with chocolate chip pancakes.
Once every last moresel of chocolate had been devoured, and the kids had been assured that there was no more and I wasn’t going to make another batch, Brad took them to Magic Mountain for arcade games and an indoor play structure while I readied the house for the party and baked a cake. Although we mostly bake with whole wheat in our house, I’m not above white flour and white sugar for a birthday cake. We do avoid box mixes when ever possible. Nothing beats a homemade cake. This year Connor asked for a chocolate cake with chocolate icing and balloons. At the last moment, he decided he wanted strawberries too, so I added a strawberry jam layer to the center of the cake. Yum!

The grandparents (well, my grandparents, his great-grandparents) arrive for the party at 2:00. Commence the present opening!


Aria samples some wrapping paper while Connor works. Alfie the robot, Knight dress up clothes, Color Wonder markers and paper, and a noise making garbage truck were the stars of the show. After the presents have been played with, it’s on to the cake! I’ve never seen a kid more excited then when we were singing “Happy Birthday” to Connor.


And he blew out his candle in one blow.

Birthday cake rocks!

So happy birthday my handsome little man. Your mama loves you more than you could ever imagine. You are growing up so well, and I am so proud of you. Enjoy being 3.

Kombucha

One of the many things brewing in my living kitchen is kombucha. Kombucha is a fermented tea beverage that has been around for thousands of years. It consists of a mother, or scoby (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), and green or black tea with sugar. The culture eats the sugar and produces many healing compounds including, amino acids, B vitamins, glucuronic acid, and gluconic acid. Regular consumption boosts the immune system, aids digestion, supports the liver and has been said to help in the healing of numerous afflictions from cancer to arthritis. I grew my own scoby from a bottle of GT Dave’s Raw Kombucha, but at the moment there is a nation wide scarcity due to some labeling issues. That makes me even more glad that I have a scoby and brew my own at home. You can’t buy it at the store right now. If you have a friend that brews kombucha you can get a scoby from them, as a new scoby is produced with each new brewing cycle. Otherwise there are several places on-line that sell and ship scobys.

Here’s my scoby. Your scoby will grow to the size and shape of your container. I use a 1 gallon glass jar. A brand new scoby will be creamy white. This one just finished brewing a batch of kombucha and is colored by the tea it was floating in, so it looks a little darker than a brand new scoby. The scoby you’re using to start your brew is affectionately called the ‘mother’. The new scoby that forms on top of your brew is the ‘baby’. Once you have a baby, you can put it in it’s own brew where it is now the mother, and a new baby will form. Or you can give it to a friend who wasn’t lucky enough to get in on the GT Dave’s before it was pulled from the shelves. Always keep your scoby in some kombucha tea. If you order one it will arrive swimming in some tea. I only put it on the plate for the picture so you could see it clearly.

Here’s some tea. I brew a very strong pot, and then add water go get it to a gallon. This is about two quarts of water and 6 tea bags. For 1 gallon of tea I use about 1.5 C of plain white sugar. Do not use honey, as it can kill your scoby. I find I get the best taste with white sugar, but I’ve made it with Sucanat before and it turned out just fine. It was just a lot stronger tasting. I steep my tea bags for about 1/2 an hour, then add my sugar, stir to dissolve, and cover with a lid to cool to room temperature.

Here’s my sweet tea, ready for the culture. It’s next to a 1/2 gallon jar of finished kombucha. You can see how much lighter the finished product is. This is because the culture eats the tea as it ferments. In this picture I’m only making 1/2 a gallon of kombucha. I’m using a small scoby and don’t want it to have too much tea to convert. For the next batch I’ll use this scoby and the new ‘baby’ scoby together and brew a full gallon.

Once the tea was ready I added about 2 cups of already brewed kombucha. This brings the pH of the tea down to optimal brewing levels and discourages the growth of mold. If you ordered a scoby or got one from a friend it should have come with some kombucha tea. You’ll use this as your starter, so put it in with the scoby. Sometimes your scoby will float, sometimes it will sink, and sometimes it will float a little sideways like this one is doing. All of these things are fine and will not affect the outcome. The new baby will always form on the top. Cover your jar with a thin cloth. Cheese cloth is too poreus. I use a flour sack kitchen cloth. You want to keep bugs and dusties out of your kombucha, but it is a living thing and needs to breathe.

We keep our house pretty cool, even in the summer (I’m a weenie when it comes to heat) so I typically brew for about 2 weeks. When it’s finihsed you’ll have a nice new scoby on top of tea. It will taste tart and a little effervescent. You can slip a straw down the side of the jar into the tea, place a finger over the top of the straw to trap the liquid, and bring it up to taste. If it still tastes very sweet, it’s not done culturing so leave it for a few more days and taste again. Once you have a good sweet/tart balance, it’s time to bottle it. I strain it into glass canning jars. Be sure to leave a few cups of tea to use as starter for your next batch. I also do a second fermentation in the glass jar with the lid on at room temp for anohter 2-3 days. This helps build more carbonation. Then I pop it into the fridge and enjoy!

Chicken Soup For a Friend

When a mama gets sick, she can’t call in to work. A full time mom doesn’t have the luxury of going to bed and staying there. And for a lot of full time moms, finances are just tight enough that they wouldn’t dream of asking hubby to stay home from work unless they were being admitted to hospital. So when I discovered that a good friend was down with the flu, and looking after two little ones, one of which was also under the weather, I offered the only help I could: Chicken Soup. This friend of mine is dealing with multiple food reactions in her children, so it’s not very often that I have things on hand that are safe for her family to eat, but Sunday I just happened to have all of the ingredients for chicken soup on hand, ready to go, and allergen free.

The best chicken soup starts with home made chicken broth. I sauteed up some diced veggies, and I happened to have a whole batch of crock pot chicken in the fridge from the day before. They are gluten free, so I have potatoes in the soup in leu of noodles.

Everything into the pot for a good simmer. Seasoned with salt, pepper, and a little thyme.

Here it is all packaged up and ready for delivery. Sweet heart, I hope you’re feeling better soon!