February 8, 2013

Favorite Homemade Snacks

Here's a list of things I've made recently that I'm not going to blog about because few, if any, of the ingredients were sourced from the farmers market, but they deserve your attention (especially if you're a mom who avoids packaged foods and you're looking for lunch box ideas).

And if you fit into that category and you don't already follow Alana Chernilla's blog Eating From the Ground Up, may I highly recommend it?  She has a book out titled "The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making."  (Click here to use the Look Inside feature on Amazon, but if you want to buy it, go support an independent bookseller.)  It is #1 on my list of Books I Want to Read, But Can't Find At the Library.  In the meantime, every recipe I've tried from her blog (or from other internet sources with her name on them) has been undoubtedly worth the effort.  The recipes are simple and adaptable using easily sourced, mainly whole-food ingredients.  Her writing style is welcoming.  Her blog serves as a gracious reminder to me to not be overly frustrated by chaos in the kitchen and to remember what a blessing it is to spend time in the kitchen with my daughters.

Car Snack 2-  This takes about five minutes of actual work and 25 minutes of baking time.  And you end up with 12-16  honey granola bars (I subbed honey for the Lyle's Golden Syrup), heavy on the oats, kinda crisp, with just a little chew.  Perfect for a kid's or adult's lunch box.  (A good starter granola bar for a person who thinks they don't like nuts.) 

Car Snack 3-  This one takes a little longer to prepare because there are more ingredients: lots of nuts and seeds, but again after a half hour in the oven you're left with two dozen granola bars, which store nicely in the freezer.  These are vaguely reminiscent of a storebought Chewy granola bar, but a little bigger and heartier, less sweet.  These are a lunchbox favorite of my 8-year old, who says she doesn't like nuts.  Hmm, I guess the almond butter absorbs into the other stuff enough that it doesn't count, and well, I don't know what she thought that shredded coconut and those pumpkin seeds (which I used in place of sliced almonds) were.  Maybe it's the presence of just enough chocolate to steal the show?

Homemade Instant Oatmeal- Not a kid's lunch box item, but it's an easy breakfast for the kids and something I can take to work and make at the office.)  I haven't been an instant oatmeal eater for years, but there are certain flavors that my husband and older daughter liked when we were buying packaged cereals.  Oatmeal (the Old-Fashioned kind) is an easy enough thing to whip up in the mornings.  Grace is certainly capable of making it herself in the microwave (1 cup of water + 1/2 cup oats in a Pyrex measuring cup microwaved for 3:30).  But lately I've grown skeptical about the safety of heating food in microwaves, so I tried this.  I never imagined what an instant hit it would be our household! All four of us have been enjoying it for breakfast.  And the real beauty of it is that the toppings are already in it, so making a bowl of oatmeal only requires boiling water on the stove (and an optional splash of milk).  No kids juggling glass jars of brown sugar (and parents wondering exactly how many 'scoops' of sugar were put into a bowl of oatmeal).  No spilling cinnamon on the counter.  No arguing about an appropriate amount of raisins... or the color of the raisins.  No complainants that we're out of one of the necessary add-ins.

We tried this on a whim a month ago, and since then I've needed to make a double batch each week to keep us stocked up.  As is customary with Alana's recipes, this one is very versatile.  The ingredients are old-fashioned rolled oats, brown sugar (I've been using half Rapadura, because I like that it is less refined, and half organic sugar), cinnamon, salt and dried fruit.

The oats are spread on a baking sheet and toasted for 20 minutes in the oven.  If you're into soaking your grains, you can certainly do that, just plan for a longer toasting time (usually about 40 minutes, with a couple break-up-the-clumps-breaks in the middle).  Then four cups of the oats are pulsed in the food processor with the sugar, cinnamon and salt, and lastly the remaining two cups of oats and the dried fruit are stirred in.  (Raisins and blueberries can be left whole or chopped briefly in the food processor.  The easiest way I've found to cut larger dried fruit is with kitchen shears.  I tried the food processor, but large pieces seem to get stuck on the blades.  I add about 1 cup of dried fruit to a 6-cup batch of oatmeal.)  We keep our instant oatmeal in a glass canister or half-gallon mason jar with a half-cup scoop left in the jar for easy measuring.  One batch yields 12-14 servings of oatmeal.

To make a serving simply pour almost 1 cup boiling water over 1/2 cup instant oatmeal in a bowl.  Cover with a plate to keep the heat in and let it hydrate for 5 minutes.  After the five minutes is up, remove the plate, add milk if desired (if I'm at the office I add a tablespoon coconut oil and some broken crispy walnuts for a healthful fat and protein boost), stir and serve.  (You could certainly add finely chopped nuts or toasted coconut to the instant oatmeal with the fruit if you think you'll go through it quickly, but I don't because I'm the only one in my family who wants nuts in my oatmeal.)

Even without the milk (or coconut oil), this oatmeal is creamy and satisfying because of the ground oats.  The proportions of salt and sweet seem just right to me, but you could certainly add a bit more or less to your taste. With the walnuts and coconut oil it feels less like carb-heavy to me personally, but the lack of fat and protein in the original version don't seem to bother anyone else in my house.

So far the flavors I've made (using dried fruit from Trader Joes or S&S) are
  • Apple-Cinnamon-Raisin
  • Apricot
  • Blueberry (we haven't come to a consensus on whether or not cinnamon should be included in this flavor)
  • Banana (no cinnamon) 
  • Our favorite, Mango (sub 1/2 tablespoon ground cardamom for the tablespoon of cinnamon).
Chocolate Buckwheat Cake  A lunchbox, whether kid or adult, needs a treat, right?  This grain-free chocolate cake is similar to a mousse-like brownie.  (It would actually be the perfect Valentines Day dessert with just a little coffee ice cream or whipped cream and a little garnish!)  A small wedge of it in my lunch keeps me from hitting the candy jar or vending machine.  And while it's texture is a bit decadent, my kids love it too.  Everybody's nutritional philosophy is different, so this may or may not fit your criteria, but one of our goals right now is less sugar. I think a tablespoon of sugar (and I use Rapadura in this recipe because of it's nutrient content) or less per wedge seems reasonable for a treat.  And none of the other ingredients are things that I find offensive:  chocolate, farm fresh eggs, pastured or organic butter, almond flour, buckwheat flour and yogurt.  No refined carbs, limited refined sweeteners, with a dose of protein and healthy (animal) fats.

For sources please see the links.

Success with crackers can be a little difficult.  First you need a good recipe.  Can I interject here: I'm constantly amazed at how many cracker recipes (particularly those on "Real Food" blogs, those of the "Nourishing Traditions" variety featuring soaked, sprouted or soured whole grains, raw dairy and that type of thing) are decidedly disappointing.  Why do I get my hopes up when a recipe is touted as tasting "just like Goldfish crackers but better," when every one of the recipes I've tried for "real food" cheddar crackers tastes more like cooked Play Dough than a childhood snack favorite?  Which brings up a good point:  Without the additives, artificial flavors, dough enhancers and sugars included in commercially produced crackers, homemade versions are going to taste different, so an adjustment in expectations might be necessary.

With a good recipe, there's still room for error.  A cracker baker must take care to roll the dough as thinly as possible.  Some recipes want you to roll the dough 1/8" thick and some say thinner.  When it doubt, I recommend thinner.  And finally, a cracker baker must watch carefully during baking to avoid burning.  Oven times vary and dough thickness varies, so you can't just set the timer and walk away.  In fact, it is highly likely that the crackers toward the outside of the pan will be crisped and marked by golden brown perfection--and will need to be removed from the oven--at least a couple minutes before the crackers toward the center of the pan are done.

So why make your own crackers?  Because in the long run they aren't that difficult.  It's just that the technique takes practice and presence of mind.  And when you find a recipe you like, you will most certainly get a better-quality product than you would find in a grocery store and for less money. 

"Wheat Thins" - I appreciate that this recipe includes the step of soaking the dough overnight.  (I like to emphasize sourdough breads and soaked grain products in our eating, and cut down on non-sour, -soaked versions.)  I also appreciate that the claim, "These taste exactly the same as a store-bought Wheat Thin!" is incredibly close to accurate.  I can't discern the individual flavors of paprika and vanilla in the finished product, but, along with the small amount of sugar in recipe, they give these crackers that characteristic taste.

Wheat Thins + sliced cheddar cheese + carrots sticks and a piece of fruit  = a satisfying lunch.

Cornmeal, Parmesan & Poppy Seed Crackers - Vanessa Barrington's DIY Delicious is another book with the stock-your-pantry-with-homemade-foods theme.  It's one of the five cookbooks I use most frequently. I've mentioned it before on the blog.  What drew me to these crackers is that they use poppy seeds.  I have homegrown poppy seeds!  How cool is that?! They have a good crunch from the cornmeal and seeds and good flavor from the parmesan.  They are unique enough to stand on their own, but of course I like them topped with cheese.  I appreciate the technique that Barrington provides for making the seeds and salt stick to the top:  roll the dough out, sprinkle with poppy seeds and salt and roll once more to embed the toppings.

Saltines - Whole-grain homemade crackers are a hard sell to my husband, so sometimes I make these.  The trouble though is that I eat faster than he does and it certainly is hard not eat a whole batch.  I happened to have some homemade butter on hand the last time I made these.  Saltines + homemade butter!  It was one of those why-have-I-ever-cooked-anything-else?-These-are-so-good! moments.

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