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Whole Grain Olive Oil Crackers

February 23rd, 2011

As part of our No Buy February Challenge, I’m going to be posting Make Your Own how-to’s on Wednesdays. Learning to make things yourself from scratch is a great way to save money.

I’ve been making my own crackers and flatbreads for quite a while. Healthy crackers can be very expensive, and it’s very difficult to find them without all kinds of hard to pronounce ingredients that you probably don’t want to eat. For our Super Bowl party I made whole grain olive oil crackers, they’re kind of like wheat thins, only much better. I used freshly ground wheat flour and super tasty olive oil from Chaffin Family Orchards.

I used the recipe from Chocolate & Zucchini, making mine with sourdough starter, but you can make them without. I also make mine with freshly ground 100% whole wheat flour.

WHOLE WHEAT OLIVE OIL CRACKERS

2 1/2 cups whole grain flour
(I used 2 cups flour and 100 grams of sourdough, slightly less than 1/2 cup)
5 Tablespoons of coarsely ground wheat or other flour (cornmeal, millet, etc)
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup water

Preheat the oven to 400°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. If you have a baking stone put that in the oven and you can slide the crackers on that to bake them, if you don’t have a stone you can bake them on a cookie sheet.

Place the flours and salt in bowl, add the olive oil and stir it in with a fork until mixture resembles find crumbs (it’s like making pastry). Add the water and sourdough mix is making the sourdough version and mix it in. When the water is absorbed, turn the dough out onto lightly floured work surface and knead gently to form a ball. Add a few drops of water if the dough feels too dry to gather into a ball, but you don’t want the dough to be sticky in the least or it will stick to the pastry roller.

Divide the dough into 8 pieces equal size, and cover with a towel. Take a piece of dough and flatten it into an oval with hands, dust lightly with flour. Set a pasta roller on the widest setting, and slip the disk of dough in the roller to thin it out. Fold the dough in half so the two short sides meet, and put the dough through at the thickest setting again, repeat a few times until dough feels soft. Since I made mine with 100% whole grain flour it cracked a bit on the edges, but it still worked well. If you don’t have a pasta roller, you can use a rolling pin.

Switch the pasta roller to the next smaller setting and feed the dough through. Repeat reducing the setting on your pasta rollers, making the dough thinner each time. Stop when you reach the #5 setting. Your dough should look like a long oval. Place it on one of the prepared baking sheets, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Continue this process for each piece of dough.

Slide crackers on parchment onto the baking stone, or put baking sheet in the oven and bake for 7-12 minutes, turning once to ensure even browning. If you’re using whole grain flour you might need to bake them for 15 minutes so they’re dry enough when you pull them out of the oven. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

If you find you didn’t bake them long enough i.e. they’re soft after cooling, simply put them back in the oven on 300 for a few minutes to dry them out more. Store crackers in a container and enjoy, you’ll have these eaten up LONG before they go stale believe me!
If you have a large family, or consume a lot of crackers I’d highly recommend making a few batches of these at once. You can change the flavor by subbing in different kinds of flours and different kinds of oils or fat. They’re perfect paired with cheese, and equally delicious with dips. I bet if you made them with half corn meal they could taste a lot like tortilla chips. I have a few other recipes I like to make for store-bought cracker alternatives, see links below for some of my faves.

Do you ever make crackers at home?

Sesame Semolina Flatbread from Wild Yeast
Crisp Rosemary Flatbread from Smitten Kitchen
Parmesan Cheese Crackers from Smitten Kitchen
Soaked Spelt and Yogurt Crackers from Nourished Kitchen

Comparing Overwintering Spinach

February 22nd, 2011

Last fall I planted two different types of spinach in one of my low tunnels. It was covered with greenhouse plastic, that’s it, no inner row cover. I was interested to see how the two varieties would survive the winter. As you can see, they both looked pretty good last fall when I covered the raised bed.

They two types I planted were:

‘Catalina’ Spinach – Tender, flat, deep green oval leaves with a delicate flavor perfect for salads. Fast growing, heat tolerant and extremely disease resistant. Seed source Renee’s Garden

‘Giant Winter’ Spinach – elected for cold hardiness. Dark green, glossy leaves are slightly savoyed. Appropriate as a flat baby leaf variety as well as winter full size. A heavy yielding variety recommended for fall crops, winter greenhouse production, or over-wintering outdoors under mulch. Seed source Sand Hill Preservation.


Since ‘Giant Winter’ is specifically bred to be a cold tolerant variety and ‘Catalina’ advertises heat tolerance, I figured the ‘Giant Winter’ would come out ahead. Last week, on that 60 degree day, I took the plastic off the hoop house and was surprised to see that the ‘Catalina’ looked much better than the ‘Giant Winter’.

This could be because the seeds germinated much more quickly and it had about a week’s worth of growth on the ‘Giant Winter’, but I’m thinking it’s just as cold tolerant as it is heat tolerant. Regardless, it’s fascinating to grow different varieties of the same vegetable to see which ones will do best in you soil and climate. I have a few more varieties of spinach to try this summer and fall, it will be interested to see how they stack up to ‘Catalina’.

Have you found specific varieties that do better than others in your climate?

Meyer Lemon Pound Cake

February 21st, 2011

As promised last week, I’m giving you the recipe for that Meyer Lemon Pound Cake I made for our Super Bowl party. I used Ina Garten‘s recipe, as she never lets me down. I love that her recipes always uses real ingredients: butter, cream, eggs, olive oil, fresh lemon zest, freshly squeezed juice and fresh vegetables. I always love leafing through her many cookbooks; The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook and Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics: Fabulous Flavor from Simple Ingredients are two of my favorites.

Traditionally pound cake was made with a pound of: butter, flour, eggs and sugar. Since leavening wasn’t used in a traditional pound cake all ingredients had to be mixed by hand until light and fluffy, this provided the texture of the cake. Of course now days we have mixers and baking soda and baking powder, so we don’t have to worry about spending an hour mixing all the ingredients until they’re light and fluffy.

This lemon juicer was my grandma’s, my mom’s mom. My mom saved this and gave this to me for Christmas this year. I was happy to pull it out and use it when making this cake. Of course these Meyer lemons are the ones I ordered from the Lemon Ladies Orchard.

This recipe can easily be halved, which I needed for our Super Bowl party because I only had 2 eggs lef. A lot of pound cake recipes use 5 eggs, which makes it difficult to halve the recipe. I baked it in one of my cast iron bread pans, which I’d highly recommend as it does a fabulous job of baking the cake and I didn’t have to use parchment because the cast iron is well seasoned.

MEYER LEMON POUND CAKE
adapted from Ina Garten’s Lemon Pound Cake recipe

For the cake:
2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted room temperature butter
2 cups sugar
4 extra-large room temperature eggs
1/3 cup grated Meyer lemon zest (6 to 8 large lemons)
3 cups all-purpose flour (I used freshly ground white wheat with some of the bran sifted out)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
3/4 cup room temperature buttermilk (you can sub a mix of half yogurt half whole milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the syrup:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice

For the glaze:
2 cups sifter confectioners’ sugar
3 1/2 Tablespoons of freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8 1/2-by-4 1/4-by-2 1/2-inch loaf pans, and line the bottoms with parchment paper or use a bundt pan of a 9 x 13 pan.

2. Cream butter and 2 cups sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Mixing at medium speed, add eggs, one at a time, and lemon zest.

3. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, buttermilk and vanilla. Add flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to butter and sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Divide batter evenly between pans, smooth tops, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.

4. Combine 1/2 cup sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan, and cook over low heat until sugar dissolves.

5. When cakes are done, let them cool 10 minutes. Invert them onto a rack set over a tray, and spoon lemon syrup over cakes. Let cakes cool completely.

6. For glaze, combine confectioners’ sugar and remaining 3 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice in a bowl, mixing with a whisk until smooth. Pour over top of cakes, and allow glaze to drizzle down the sides.


The first time I baked this cake in 2 cast iron bread pans, I’ve also baked it in a bundt pan and a glass 9 x 13 pan. I use freshly ground white winter wheat for my loaves, I sifted out some of the bran. If you don’t sift out the bran you’ll have to add a little bit more flour to get the right texture of batter.

This cake is really delicious, perfect for pairing with coffee. It has the perfect lemon flavor since it’s layered into every part of the recipe, from the zest and lemon juice in the cake batter, to the lemon juice in the syrup and the glaze. If you love lemon, this is the cake for you! And I LOVE lemon, so this is probably my most favorite cake. I think it would be even better studded with some fresh blueberries or black raspberries, which I’m going to have to remember next time I bake one. Another thing I love about this recipe is that there’s no icing, I’m not an icing person, the glaze is just right (although I often skip it and just do the syrup when making it for us at home).

What’s your favorite flavor of cake? Are you an icing lover?

Quote of the Day: Wesley Bates

February 20th, 2011

There’s no need for a piece of sculpture
in a home that has a cat.
~Wesley Bates





We love all of our cats, they provide so much entertainment and give us lots of laughs.

Even Miss Mama and Little Softie the garage cats bring us lots of joy. We took Little Softie in to get spayed this past week, she seems to be going well. Hopefully she’ll live a long happy life in the Chiot’s Run garage.

I’m definitely a cat person, I love cats, always have. We almost always had cats in the house while I was growing up and Mr Chiots and I have had pet cats for most of our married lives. We’ll probably always have them. I’m not as much of a dog person as I am a cat person though, if I had to choose one I’d choose cats (shhhh, don’t tell the resident Chiots, the namesake of the garden).

Are you a cat or a dog person?

Solar Dryer Back Up and Running

February 19th, 2011

It’s been so nice the past couple days (in the high 50′s & low 60′s) I washed and dried a few loads of laundry – outside, on the line.

This is what my clothesline looked like a few weeks ago when that big ice storm came through.

Yesterday it was lined with kitchen towels and rags instead of ice. It’s going to get cold again, but I think I’ll have at least one warm day each week I can plan to line dry on that day.

It’s always a good feeling when you can line dry the clothes again. The towels smelled so fresh when I folded them after they had dried. There’s just something about the laundry when the sun and the wind dry them.

Do you line dry any laundry? Can you do it all year long?

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but just recently moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine.

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