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Saturday, May 31, 2014

My Cooking Adventures

So today I really wanted to have Tuna and Crackers for lunch. The only problem was...I forgot to buy the crackers! Now, if you've read My Car-Less Adventure blog you will know that I do not own a vehicle, so just running to the store is NOT an, it's been raining off and on all day and a 35-minute walk or 15-minute bike ride to the bus stop just wasn't appealing (just to get crackers at the store!).

Admittedly, I could just eat something else for lunch. However, I got up this morning excited about being home again and just being the thought came, "I've been wanting to try making crackers, so today's the day!"

Here are some pics after processing, dough formation and rolling:

Using a wooden skewer, I made straight lines and cut with a pastry wheel before placing on the baking sheet.

Square Cheese Cracker Dough
I was so excited to get them into the oven, I forgot to fork-prick before baking. Some of the square crackers actually formed like little son was delighted!
Round Cheese Cracker Dough

I divided the cracker dough into two balls. For the second batch, I decided to make round crackers...similar to ones I would likely have bought at the store. 

My canning funnel seemed to be the perfect size for cutting -- An empty, 6oz tomato paste can works very well also.

Here are the baked results, after being properly pricked:
Square Cheese Crackers

Round Cheese Crackers

round crackers
Round Cheese Crackers in glass jar

Gather your supplies!

Preheat oven to 450F
Food Processor     Rubber Scraper     Mixing Bowl 
1 cup measure   1 teaspoon   1 Tablespoon 
Rolling Pin     Cutters     Fork     Baking Sheet

3 cups white wheat flour
2 teaspoons organic cane sugar
2 teaspoons pink sea salt
1-1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

4 tablespoons oil
1 cup filtered water (approximately)

Pulse first 4 ingredients in Food Processor until evenly mixed. While processing on low speed, add oil, turn off, scrape down sides and pulse again until oil is evenly distributed. 

Turn off processor and place ingredients into Mixing Bowl. Using Rubber Scraper gently mix in water, as needed, until moist, forming a soft dough. Divide into two or three dough balls, depending on your counter space available. 

Flour counter surface and Rolling Pin and begin rolling dough; turn rolled dough a few times, adding a little flour as necessary to keep dough from sticking to counter. Cut crackers as desired, place on lightly floured Baking Sheet, and prick cracker surface with Fork to prevent bubbles.

If desired, sprinkle a tiny bit of pink sea salt on each cracker. Bake for 12 minutes or until lightly browned.
Recipe adapted from:
EDITED 5-31-14
My newest batch of cracker are the best yet! Here are the variations I made:

8 oz sharp cheddar    1 small jalapeno chopped   1/8 cup sunflower seeds

I put a full 8 ounces of block cheese, cubed, into the food processor, then added the flour, salt, sugar, the sunflower seeds, and jalapeno. I blended this very well before adding the oil. Proceed with the water, adding slowly as needed.

These really come together quickly and are a delicious alternative to store-bought crackers! 

For the past few years I have slowly been removing pre-processed foods out of our diet and replacing them with home-made versions...with fantastic results. Some have been for money-savings, but mostly so that I can be more sure of what ingredients are actually in the foods we eat. 

As a single mom of two teens, I want to be sure we are getting the most nutrients from our grocery dollars! I hope you've enjoyed reading my blog and making these crackers for your family too.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Bike Lights & Pizza Time!

This has been a busy and productive week! I was able to be home with my sons last Monday and finish some important household projects (laundry, cleaning, food prep, etc) before my 3-day work week at the hotel.

          Starting this week my schedule is about to get more busy...who can live on just 24 hours 
          of pay?! So, I have started an additional part-time job that I'm hoping will go full-time after 
          the first of the year (2014). Working both jobs should give me the needed income to stock 
          up our pantry and buy some much-needed household items!

As for my commute...this past week I rode my bike to the bus stop, loaded my bike onto the bus rack, rode to work from my last stop, and then back home again. I was tired! I had not ridden a bike in quite a few years...and there are a few hills around here you don't necessarily pay attention to when you are driving a car or riding a bus! Nevertheless, I did shorten my commute -- it was very nice being able to leave my house 30 minutes later in the morning, which gave me enough time to actually eat something light before leaving...and I arrived home about 45 minutes earlier..yay! This saved me over an hour of commuting time each day...I am delighted!

On Tuesday I was able to obtain some lights for my bike...2 white lights and 1 red, now I have headlights and a rear taillight. When riding in the mornings it is still dark and I need to see and be seen.

Now, onto the Pizza!

I have been a single mom for the past 20 years and have learned how to be very frugal. We have had times of very little...and some brief moments of, I've learned how to stretch our dollars and still eat nutritious foods. The key is cooking at home and not relying on processed foods, which are expensive to buy and lack good nutrition. I want to KNOW the ingredients in my food so that my food dollars are spent on nourishing foods that are also filling.  Good nutrition = better health.

So, here is my routine and recipes for Delicious and Nutritious Pizza at home!

Pizza Crust

4-1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
3 cups warm water (110F) -- ("baby-bath warm" on wrist)

Measure yeast and sugar into a large non-reactive mixing bowl and add water.

Be sure the water is not too hot or it will "kill" your yeast. 
I use the "baby-bath warm" should feel warm, but not hot, on the inside of your wrist.

"Non-reactive" bowls are any non-metal or stainless steel bowls...
yeast is very sensitive to metal ions.

Let this mixture sit for at least 10 minutes and you will see the yeast grow and know it's working then. This is fascinating to share with little ones!

After 10 minutes add:
1 teaspoon salt (use kosher or sea salt for best nutrients)
2 Tablespoons olive oil (or grape seed oil)
Mix well.
I use white wheat flour for the higher fiber content and more nutrition...
it's a good transition from white flour to whole wheat flour.

Next, you will be adding lots of flour, at least 5 cups. Add the white wheat flour, 1 cup at a time, stirring with a sturdy wooden or bamboo spoon. The dough will get thicker until stirring is no longer an option. 

Now the fun begins and you will get your hands messy!
You may want to remove and set aside any rings you are wearing
-- or, some people wear food-prep gloves.

As the dough becomes stiffer, and you continue adding flour, you will be folding and pressing the dough. This will be easier on a counter or floured work surface...continue adding flour, working it in by folding and pressing down the dough. As the dough becomes less sticky you can roll it (like a log) and fold and press. You can pour a little oil on your hands to keep it from sticking too much.

You will get a good upper body and abdomen workout in the process...
I believe in combining activities when you can!

When the dough no longer sticks to your fingers and hands it is now time to and the dough! Pour a small amount of oil into your bowl and spread oil up the sides of the bowl, place the dough back into your bowl, cover with a clean, damp towel, set bowl in a warm spot (away from cold or drafts) and set the timer for at least 30 minutes (longer is fine).

At this point you can prep your sauce and veggies if making a pizza now...
or go read a story with your little one, or nurse that baby!

Once the rest period is over you will divide the dough into 3 equal balls. Do this by pinching and pulling the dough apart. Place dough in freezer safe baggie or container. If you will be making pizza within 24 hours you can place dough in refrigerator.

I like to use produce bags for dough storage in the refrigerator.

Pizza Sauce:
6 ounce can of tomato paste
2 Tablespoons olive oil (or grape seed oil)
2 cloves of fresh garlic, crushed
Italian seasoning to taste
1 large carrot, shredded finely
pinch of salt (use sea salt for best nutrients)

Combine in small prep bowl and set aside to blend flavors.

Prep veggies / toppings -- use any you like. 
We like sliced mushrooms, green or red peppers, onions, fresh basil, black olives, 
turkey pepperoni or turkey sausage and lots of mozzarella!

To make pizza...
Preheat oven to 425 F
Roll out or shape dough onto cookie sheet or pizza stone. Spread pizza sauce evenly to edges of dough. Bake for 6 minutes.

Arrange toppings, with cheese on top, and bake for an additional 8 - 10 minutes. Watch for cheese to bubble. Remove from oven and place on heat resistant surface or trivets. Let sit for 5 minutes before cutting.

Now, sit down with your kiddos and enjoy the best homemade pizza --- 
Your Nutritious and Delicious Pizza!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Beginning this Car-Less Adventure

I began this Car-Less Adventure at the beginning of June 2013, about 17 weeks ago, and as a fairly new resident of Louisville, Kentucky.

Initially, I planned to begin writing about my adventure (experiences) immediately. However, I'm glad I waited to share this as my perspective has changed somewhat as I've learned to navigate the local bus system and cope with the complexities and disappointments of a less than ideal, and fairly antiquated, public transportation system.

I must view may be somewhat "tainted" by the fact that I moved to Louisville, Kentucky from the Boston, Massachusetts area -- where 1.3 million trips are made daily by people using some form of public transportation. In Louisville, it seems to be geared primarily to the disabled and low-income resident and not as a workable replacement of car usage for the average worker-resident.

While living in Massachusetts I commuted about 40 miles by train, from my home near the New Hampshire state border into work at Cambridge, MA...taking the train into North Station (at the TD Garden), walked outside and down the stairs to board the Green Line, got off at Park Street to board the Red Line across the Charles River, right into Harvard Square and then walked about 10 minutes to my work location. All of this took a total of 1-1/2 hours each morning.

Today, in Louisville, I walk 35 minutes to the closest bus stop, board the TARC (Transit Authority of River City) bus and ride for 20 minutes to my second stop, wait 10 - 15 minutes for the next bus, ride that bus for 30 minutes, get off at my third stop and walk about 15 minutes to my work location...traveling a total of 12 miles from my home to work. All of this takes a total of 2 hours each morning.

Now I realize it's an inequality to compare trains and subways to buses. However, my current commute is less than 1/3 the distance (12 miles:40 miles) but takes half an hour longer to complete and more than half the total commute time is spent either walking to, or waiting for, a bus. It feels absurd! 

But, that's not Louisville, my round-trip daily commute takes 5 hours due to the misaligned bus schedules in the afternoon/early evening. Additionally, since the bus near my home does not run late enough I am limited to working only three days at this job. I will need to find another part-time job (within walking distance) to make up the income loss.

Fortunately, this week I acquired a bicycle and plan to combine it's use with the bus to, hopefully, shorten the commute time to my first job! I will let you know how this works out!