Grain-free crackers

crackers

I’ve been grain- (and mostly dairy-) free for about a month now, and have not yet died of starvation. I consider this a win.

I know, I know. First-world problems, right? Because I’m not really starving. It just feels like it some days — and it’s not like I’m that limited in what I can eat. It’s more the fact that I can’t rely on so many things that I’ve historically used as quick hunger-quenchers — those things that you just grab and snack on to quiet your belly until you can eat a proper meal. As a mother of small children, this list of things historically included:

  • crust cut off lunch sandwiches
  • crumbs from bowls of snack crackers
  • an extra piece of cheese that won’t fit onto the bread for kids’ grilled sandwich
  • the occasional chocolate sandwich cookie, eaten while kids aren’t looking

Looking at that list, I see that I’ve been functioning as nothing more than a glorified human dust-buster for my kids’ meal time messes (I’ll call it multi-tasking). You’ll notice that none of these things are inherently unhealthy (a question mark looming over the cookie)  — they are just off-limits for me right now, with all of their grain-y-ness. Which often leaves me in that dreaded position of standing in front of an open refrigerator, wishing something edible and GAPS-friendly would materialize before my eyes. Something other than butternut squash.

If I had to make a list of things I missed, things that caused me to physically ache in my abstinence — perched high upon a glowing pinnacle would be homemade pizza. I’m still making it every Saturday night for my family, and darnit if it doesn’t kill me just about every week, not to be able to eat it.

But second on that list might be crackers. It’s not that I’ve historically eaten vast quantities of them, it’s just a thing that, when you want one, there’s little that can replace it. I can’t satisfy my need for salty crunch with yet another hard-boiled egg. When you want a cracker, only a cracker will do. And while fake pizza crust is something that will never satisfy my need — a grain-free cracker is something I can make with believability.

I went through a few recipes for nut/seed varieties before finding one I liked. Many recipes call for mostly seeds — but I only like seeds in very small amounts. So I went heavy on nuts instead, and added a little extra salt, and lo and behold, we had a winner. I’ve enjoyed them so much, topped with everything from cheese (cheating! and I regretted it!) to peanut butter to our beloved Almond-Tomato Spread. They are so good, and so much better than my previous grain-based attempts at homemade crackers, I’ll likely keep them around, even after these long, dark days of avoidance are past.

 

Recipe: Grain-free Nut & Seed Crackers

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups nuts and seeds (I used about a 2-cup combo of walnuts & almonds, plus 1/2 cup combo of sunflower & sesame seeds — all should be either raw or pre-soaked & dehydrated)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1-2 Tbps water, as needed

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350º, and have two baking sheets ready. Cut two sheets parchment to fit the sheets (you will roll the dough directly onto the parchment).
  2. In a food processor, process the nuts and seeds until very fine and oils begin to release, about a minute.
  3. Add the egg, sea salt, and 1 Tbsp of water. Process until a ball forms. If dough is too dry, add another Tbsp water (dough should stick together when pressed).
  4. Divide dough into two pieces. One at a time, roll dough between two sheets of parchment (or onto one sheet, with a well-greased rolling pin) until about 1/8″ thick (or even thinner if possible).
  5. Carefully transfer dough (parchment-side down) onto baking sheets. Using a knife or bench scraper, score the dough into the shape/size you desire (it’s ok if some edges are left rough).
  6. Bake for 10 minutes. Rotate sheets front to back and top to bottom — and if possible, flip the crackers using a spatula. Bake for an additional 3-5 minutes, until very lightly golden (watch them carefully, the color will barely change — if they get too brown they will taste burned).
  7. Remove from oven, and slide parchment onto counter or cooling rack to cool completely (crackers will become crisper as they cool). Store in an airtight container.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2011.

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This post was linked up to Simple Lives Thursday, via GNOWFGLINS.

Pumpkin Pie Jars (grain-free, dairy-free, naturally-sweetened)

piejars

I know. You think all of those parenthetical modifiers should include (taste-free).

But — and this is where you can rightly point out that I am a grain- and sugar-deprived woman of sheer desperation, to be trusted about as much as a parched dessert-dweller at a bottled-water tasting — I think they actually taste good. And my kids like them, and at least one other adult person who may or may not have been saying so just to make me feel good.

Think of these as pumpkin pie, in a jar. Hence the name. Only instead of a crust, they have a crunchy, nutty, salty-sweet topping. If you’re not avoiding dairy, a lovely option would be a dollop of fresh whipped cream on top.

(sorry, I need a moment to just think about that whipped cream)

Ok, let’s just say that, even if you’re avoiding dairy, that on Thanksgiving day, you definitely decide to top your pie jar with just a dollop of whipped cream.

Why? Because you are thankful for cows. And what better way to show it.

In all seriousness, though — even if you’re not avoiding anything, these pumpkin custards are delicious, surprisingly so, considering they are only sweetened with honey. About a tablespoon per jar. Not bad, for something to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Custards bake best in a water bath — I use two bread pans since they are deep enough to hold a level of water that comes about halfway up the sides of the jelly jars. In a pinch you could try a shallower baking dish — but definitely don’t skip the water bath, or your custards will rise too high and then deflate. You can also use regular custard cups if jars aren’t available.

If you’d like to double the recipe, use 3 eggs and 3 egg yolks — double everything else. And be doubly-thankful this Thanksgiving.

Recipe: Pumpkin Pie Jars

: adapted from a GAPS menu recipe by Cara at Health, Home, & Happiness

makes 4 (5-oz) servings

Ingredients: Custards

  • 1 cup pureed cooked winter squash or canned pumpkin
  • 3/4 cup full-fat coconut milk (can substitute heavy cream)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp ground allspice

Ingredients: Topping

  • 1/4 cup chopped nuts (raw preferred)
  • 2 Tbsp almond or coconut flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp honey
  • 1 Tbsp coconut oil
  • dash salt
  • dash ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350º. Fill two bread pans about halfway with water, and place in oven to preheat.
  2. Puree first 10 ingredients (pumpkin through allspice) together in a blender or food processor until smooth.
  3. Pour puree evenly into (4) 8-oz (half-pint) jelly jars.
  4. In a separate small bowl, combine the last 7 ingredients (nuts through vanilla). Using a fork or your fingers, mix well, distributing the honey and coconut oil well (the mixture will be crumbly but moist). Divide topping evenly among the jars, sprinkling on top of the custard (it’s ok if the topping sinks into the custard a bit).
  5. Carefully lower the jars into the hot waterbath pans (I put two jars per bread pan).
  6. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the custard is set and the topping is golden.
  7. Carefully remove bread pans from oven, and let jars cool in the water bath for at least 30 minutes. Then remove jars to a counter to cool completely. Can be served at room temperature or chilled.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2011.

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Emergency plan, part deux

Note: this is part 2 of a post sponsored by Pepperidge Farm — they challenged me to come up with ways to “rescue” the holidays when the unexpected happens. You can read more about that sponsorship, and the first part of the challenge, here.

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This weekend, my husband went with our three kids to his parents’ place while I undertook an intensive organizing marathon. My goal: to finally face-off with “the box” — the receptacle sitting next to my desk that (until late Saturday night) held every single important piece of paper, receipt, bill, invoice, packing slip, notice, card, or file that I’ve received in the 18 months since we moved into this house. Stacked up, in order, from the time I started putting them there in May of 2010.

See, it all just went into “the box” because I couldn’t file it. And the reason I couldn’t file it was because I had not yet rigged my up-cycled idea for a file cabinet:

(ok, how cute is it?? I do love it. But the image of this, in my head, yet incomplete, is what kept me from filing anything for EIGHTEEN MONTHS. Is it now clear why some of those papers included receipts for a therapist?)

I totally accomplished my goal — even squeezing in book club on Friday night and a fun jaunt Saturday morning to the Indy Winter Farmer’s Market with Sonja and Alex of A Couple Cooks. Leaving me feeling like a superstar, right up until about 7pm Sunday night when I realized that Thanksgiving is THIS week.

And how exactly did that happen?

Between last week’s Bug of Terror and my whirlwind weekend fling with some plastic bins and a borrowed document shredder, it’s like I lost a whole week of November.

And I’ll be honest here — I’m not even cooking Thanksgiving dinner, we’re headed to my in-laws’ for the big day. But once we get back, it’ll be nothing but fast and furious non-stop Festivus right up until the first week in January. The realization of all this got me into planning mode, which got me thinking more about my Emergency Plan for the holidays.

Between me and many of you who commented on last week’s post, it seems that freezing things ahead is a trend when it comes to expecting the unexpected (only two of you admitted to having/wanting generators in your basement, so I’m gonna go ahead and remove that from my list of Things I Should Be Panicking About Not Doing In The Near Future).

So going into this holiday season, here are some things I’ll be trying to do to make sure last-minute surprises or illnesses don’t dampen the spirit at the table:

  1. I’ll have a freezer stocked with pre-baked goods, including last week’s Pepperidge Farm Stone Baked Artisan rolls. A handful of extras will go a long way on a busy evening when cooking from scratch isn’t an option — and it’s always good to have something that my husband can cook without my looking over his shoulder (not that I ever do that).
  2. Always have frozen cookie dough on-hand — I like to make double dough recipes and divide them into smaller portions, baking just a dozen cookies at a time. It’s the perfect amount for an impromptu dessert or afternoon tea if a friend pops in unexpected.
  3. Try to stock a few extra bottles of wine in the basement — ones that aren’t to be opened unless company arrives (perhaps a locked safe is in order here? One to which I don’t know the combination?) I’ll also check the “liquor cabinet” (i.e., the cabinet above our refrigerator where a handful of liquor bottles share space with green coffee beans, cookie-decorating paraphernalia and empty ice cube trays) to make sure we have full-ish bottles of other seasonal liqueurs — a fresh White Russian or homemade egg nog can make the most unexpected guest feel warm and welcome.

And thanks to last week’s comments, I’ll be adding a few of your line items to my HEP (Holiday Emergency Plan):

  • Always have yummy cheese in the dairy drawer, and perhaps some fancy crackers.
  • Have my pantry stocked with the ingredients for at least 2 recipes that are easy to whip out in a pinch.
  • Make-ahead enough pizza dough for an impromptu pizza night (I think my fingers are physically unable to dial the number for Papa Johns, I’m blaming a recessive genetic trait).

Meantime, I do have some baking to do. I’m hoping to share a recipe this week for a grain-free, naturally-sweetened dessert for my own holiday enjoyment (since I’ll be forgoing the traditional dessert table for obvious reasons) — and while I don’t expect you all to rush in and replace your grandmother’s pumpkin pie, it might be one you file away for another day — maybe in January when everyone’s on a resolution-like sugar hiatus (and my misery will finally have company).

 

 

It’s holiday time. What’s your emergency plan?

Note: this is a sponsored post: Pepperidge Farm asked me to try their Stone Baked Artisan Rolls, and challenged me to find ways that a home cook can be rescued during this oft-harried season. You might rightly wonder how a semi-locavore like me goes about taking coupons and compensation for trying supermarket rolls? Well, it all goes back to realism — I am frequently asked by friends what I do when I just don’t have time to bake bread — what are the options at the market? I usually share my personal list of best-option supermarket breads, and when those aren’t available I tell people what ingredients to avoid. When Pepperidge Farm contacted me, I responded with a request for the ingredient list. While enriched flour is not ideal, it was thankfully unbleached, and the rolls contained nothing I couldn’t pronounce, no HFCS — i.e., a best supermarket scenario.* Seemed like something worth trying, especially for holiday emergencies.

And while I’m not beyond faking illness for some coupons (did someone say Extreme Couponing?) or radically adjusting my lifestyle for free food opportunities, the story below really and truly happened. Ask my kids the next time you see them, they might be permanently traumatized by the scenes they witnessed in the dark of that night.

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And by emergency plan, I don’t mean anything that concerns stockpiling dry-goods (not that there’s anything wrong with that) or making sure you have a generator in the basement (does anyone actually have those?). I mean what you do when, during this season of generosity and giving, of sharing meals and visiting, your dinner plan serving 4-6 unexpectedly turns into serving 6-8, and you want it to still feel like a festive holiday.

Or, like the scenario that played out at our house just this week: someone (ahem… the cook) in your house falls prey to one of the countless bugs and viruses going around during this time of “sharing.”

Each Wednesday, we host a group of people from our church for dinner — usually, it’s a crowd of 15 (including us and 6 combined offspring). Yesterday afternoon, I had just gotten a giant stockpot of our beloved Tuscan White Bean stew into the oven to slow-simmer for a couple hours when I noticed I had that feeling. You know, when you kind of think your lunch didn’t quite settle right, and wow, that feeling is lingering, and I hope it doesn’t go down that road. Tim came home at 5pm, and I told him I needed to go lie down for a bit, before the crowd showed at 6.

Fast-forward that hour: on a downward spiral, I’m in bed, wearing my puffy winter coat, still shivering under two down comforters. Tim checks in, and asks what still needs to be done for dinner: he needs to make mac-n-cheese for the kids, and we needed bread to go with the soup.

If you know little else about me, you know I am a bread-baker. I make our sandwich bread about 75% of the time, and go through phases of making our dinner breads as well. There are many ways to make bread ahead: you can freeze whole loaves, to be thawed and crisped later in the oven, or you can freeze par-baked rolls, pizza crusts, and flatbreads, to be thawed and fully baked at a later date. While I often have something par-baked in our freezer, either homemade or from a local bakery, last night I had nothing, save for the fact that I’d fortuitously found the Pepperidge Farm rolls at the grocery store earlier in the day (those blissful hours when I still felt normal, part of the living).

Tim is great in the kitchen, but most often tackles breakfast. This was one of those rare times when it was so nice to be able to say, “Get the rolls out of the freezer, and follow the directions on the package.” He did as told, and by the time our guests arrived the kitchen smelled of fresh-baked bread and Tuscan herbs. Not that our friends would’ve turned and walked out the door if the meal had not been complete — but I felt better (upstairs, in that tossing/turning/freezing/burning sort of way) knowing that their bellies would be full and their bowls sopped clean.

So, tell me: what are your secrets for keeping your kitchen ready for what hits it during the holiday season? How do you make sure your guests feel warm, fuzzy, and well-fed, even when the unexpected happens? I’ll be posting next week, a few of my own ideas, and would love to add yours to the list.

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* Ingredients for the rolls: Unbromated unbleached enriched wheat flour (flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate [vitamin B1], riboflavin [vitamin B2], folic acid), water, contains 2% or less of: salt, white rice flour, malt syrup, yeast and sesame seed meal.

 

Fat Week, continued.

ghee-solid

(I didn’t really set out to talk about rendering two different types of fat this week. But such is my current life in the kitchen.)

Today we cover ghee, which is a clarified butter that has been cooked slightly longer so that more moisture evaporates and the milk solids caramelize a bit to provide a rich, nuttier flavor — it’s used a lot in Indian cooking. Straight-up butter is made up of three things: butterfat, milk solids, and water. When you heat the butter slowly, and let it sit, the water evaporates and the milk solids sink to the bottom of the container. You are left with butterfat, which can be skimmed as-is for clarified butter, or cooked a bit longer for ghee.

You might wonder what’s the point? It’s not like I’m cooking Indian food every night, and when I do, why not just use butter and save myself a little time in the kitchen (if you do wonder this, you can join the likes of my husband, who often wonders why I go through the trouble of doing about half the stuff I do, out of sweet concern for his wife, who has a perpetual list of things to do that she cannot possibly overcome — but at the same time, he never complains while eating dinner).

The answer is three-fold: First, ghee has a higher smoke point than butter — so while butter will burn in your pan if the heat is too high (one reason recipes often call for a mixture of butter and olive oil, to increase the smoke point), ghee has a smoke point of 375º. Second, ghee is often tolerated by those who cannot have dairy (the allergy-causing milk solids are strained, leaving just the fat) — and still lends that lovely buttery flavor. Third, it has a longer shelf-life, and can be stored for very long periods at room temperature.

Once you fall in love with ghee, there is a fourth reason to make it at home: cost. I have in the past purchased jars of ghee at the natural foods store — a small half-pound jar can run upwards of $10. If I make it at home, I can make 3/4 pound for the price of a box of organic butter — on sale, about $4.

And, it’s easy. I used the oven method, which requires nothing more than an oven-proof dish. If you skim your ghee rather than strain it, you need nothing else but a jar.

I recommend using only organic butter — and for this, it must be unsalted. There are multiple ways to separate the butterfat from the milk solids — read more here — I tried it once with cheesecloth and it wasn’t dense enough to catch the milk solids (see pic below). So the next time I used a coffee filter — and while it worked like a charm, took a little patience. Also, I noticed that my homemade ghee, while creamy, had a gritty consistency that was different from store-bought. After some online reading, it seems this is typical, and does not mean that milk solids were left in the fat.

Come on. It’s the week before Thanksgiving. What could you possibly have to do in your kitchen besides render fat?

ghee-liquid

(The jar on the left is the ghee after it was strained into the jar. On the right is the jar into which the milk solids slipped through cheesecloth — but never fear, it was re-melted and skimmed to clarify.)

ghee-straining

(My second-attempt setup for straining through a coffee filter, worked great.)

 

Recipe: How to make ghee

: instructions adapted slightly from a recipe in Internal Bliss

makes about 12 ounces ghee

Ingredients

  • 1 pound (4 sticks) organic unsalted butter

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 200º. Place butter in a small oven-proof dish.
  2. Place butter in the oven. After it melts, it will eventually separate and the milk solids will sink to the bottom, leaving a clear golden liquid on top.
  3. After 30 minutes, check it every 15 minutes. Once the foam has dissipated from the surface, and the liquid on top is clear and quite golden, carefully remove from oven. This can take 1 – 1 1/2 hours.
  4. Either skim the golden liquid (butterfat) from the surface into a clean jar, or pour the liquid through very dense cheesecloth or a coffee filter placed over a fine sieve. Discard the milk solids.
  5. Leave on a counter until cool, then cover. Once cool, it will thicken to a room-temperature-butter consistency. Ghee will keep in a sealed jar at room temperature for several months.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2011.

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How to render lard

lard_solid

These days, the fats I use in my kitchen look vastly different than they did even a few months ago. While I’d long ago stopped buying canola oil (it’s often rancid at the time of purchase, and during processing the omega-3 fatty acids actually turn into trans fats similar to those in margarine), I was still most often drizzling my cast iron skillet with a healthy dose of olive oil.

Don’t get me wrong — I love olive oil, it’s one of my favorite fats, ever — and is the safest vegetable oil to use. But the more I read, the more I became convinced that I should not use it for high-heat cooking, but only for dressings and drizzling, or cooking at lower temperatures. When olive oil is heated near the smoking point, the monounsaturated fat (75% of its makeup) also turns into a trans fat.

So these days, when I’m going to sear meat, or saute vegetables at a high temperature, I reach instead for coconut oil or rendered animal fats — chicken fat skimmed from stock-making, bacon fat reserved from the pan, duck fat purchased from my local butcher, or pork lard — this, I render at home.

Something I’m doing today — and while I posted about it last winter, I didn’t give very detailed instructions. All you need is a crockpot, a fine-meshed sieve or cheesecloth, and glass jars to store your finished product. In fact, the most difficult thing about rendering lard will likely be finding the leaf lard (high-quality fat from around the kidneys) you’ll need to get started (leaf lard is different from rendered lard, you can read my original post to find out how). Since the nutritional value of animal fat depends heavily on how the animal ate and lived, I recommend buying from a local farmer who can tell you exactly how the pig was raised. They should be free to roam and root, and eat quality grain when not foraging.

Thanks to my pig farmer, Mandy, for providing these directions on her family farm’s website (I’m paraphrasing, but following the original instructions exactly — click on the link for “pie crust,” she provides a great recipe using your finished lard!).

Recipe: Pork Lard (how to render)

Ingredients

  • 1-3 pounds leaf lard (the high-quality fat taken from around the kidneys of a pig)

Instructions

  1. Chop the leaf lard into small (1/2″) chunks. Add to a slow-cooker along with 1/4 cup of water.
  2. Cook on low, stirring about every half hour or so. After several hours, the fat will melt away and leave the cracklings floating on top. Do not let the cracklings burn, or the lard will have an off-flavor.
  3. Scoop out the cracklings with a slotted spoon (yes, you can eat these!). Strain the fat through cheesecloth or a fine-meshed sieve into clean glass jars.
  4. Store in the refrigerator (will last 6-8 weeks) or freezer (up to a year).

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2011.

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This post was linked up to Simple Lives Thursday, via GNOWFGLINS.