Goldfish Crackers

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Before we get started, let me just say that, yes, I do know that most people just buy these at the store.  However.  I’ve yet to find the recipe that promised to help me make something either cheaper or healthier than I could buy it that I didn’t want to try.  Lest you think I’m some sort of kitchen wizard that makes every. single. thing. from scratch, let me assure you that I do not.  I’ll try anything once, but it has to be either exceedingly fantastic or exceedingly easy for me to make a habit of it.  These crackers are both.

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I should perhaps also tell you that I don’t even like Goldfish crackers.  I’ve never cared for any of the cheese flavored snacks that most kids (and husbands) love.  I can’t stand cheez-its or cheetos either.  So why would I bother with these?  Because my child, like many, loves bread.

Wait, what?

Since we’ve been letting our nearly 9-month old join us for meals, she’s been a fairly adventurous eater.  She’ll try anything we give her, and she like the strangest things (for instance: I’ve never seen a baby put away a lemon slice before, but she appears to love them).  And she absolutely adores bread.  Loaf bread, pizza crusts, focaccia.  Plain, toasted, as a vehicle for smearing yogurt all over the table… If I don’t offer her any, she will usually happily pick her way through any number of fruits, veggies, or meats.  If I do put bread on the table, she will ignore everything else and eat only that.  Don’t get me wrong, I love bread myself, and I don’t mind if she does either, but it’s not exactly packed with nutrition.  I wanted to be able to offer her something that she likes, but in a self-limiting package so that she could get her fix, but then move on the to the more nutritious items.  As crackers are really just bread’s smaller, thinner, possibly more delicious cousin, I thought I could offer her one as a side for her veggies and see what happened.  It worked perfectly: she ate the wheat thin right away and then moved right on to the broccoli.

Which leads me to these Goldfish.  They’re small, apparently delicious, and adorable.  Imagine my surprise when I tasted them and found them to be, not only apparently, but actually, delicious.  And by making them myself I can limit the amount of salt, which is my main complaint with store-bought snacks.  They are definitely baby-approved, being the perfect size for tiny fingers to grasp while remaining just outside the bounds of the dreaded choking hazard (although, of course, you should always use caution with small babies and food).  And as I mentioned above, they are exceedingly easy to make.  The ingredient list is gratifyingly short (only 6 ingredients!), and I had these  mixed, cut out, baked, cooled, and ready for consumption in about 45 minutes.  Honestly, the part that took me the longest was “decorating” them, and you can totally skip that and save yourself an additional 15 minutes.

I got the recipe from (no surprise) Smitten Kitchen.  I’ll copy it below, since I did make a change to the type of flour, but I urge you to visit her post if you need any help, as she has several good tips.

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Goldfish Crackers
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Yields aproximately 100 1 1/4 inch goldfish

6 ounces (1 1/2 cups coarsely grated) sharp cheddar
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (37 grams) whole wheat flour
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon table salt

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine all ingredients in a food processor, running the machine until the dough forms a ball, about two minutes.

If the dough feels warm or too soft, wrap it in waxed paper or plastic wrap and chill it in the fridge for 30 to 45 minutes. This also makes it easier to transfer shapes once they are rolled out.

On a lightly floured surface, using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough out 1/8-inch thick. Form shapes with a cookie cutter, dipping it in flour from time to time to ensure a clean cut. If you like, poke a hole for the eye (I used a toothpick), and use the edge of a spoon to make a little smile.  Gently transfer crackers to an ungreased cookie sheet with a 1/2 inch between them. Bake the crackers on the middle rack for 12 to 15 minutes, or until they are barely browned at the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the cookie sheet for a minute or two before removing to a rack.  Keeps at room temperature in an air-tight container for several days.

NOTES: Yes I did buy a special cookie cutter just for this.  Any shape will work, you don’t have to make them in the shape of fish. But they are super duper adorable, and who am I to resist when Amazon makes it so easy to procure such things?

Deb at Smitten Kitchen went full-on healthy by making these whole wheat.  I appreciate that it’s really good for you, but I don’t always love whole wheat cluttering up the flavor of my favorite snacks.  So I switched the amounts and made the larger amount AP flour, and the smaller whole wheat.  I couldn’t even tell it was there.

 

 

Homemade Granola Bars

Dear Internet. I’ve been avoiding you. #sorrynotsorry.

It’s been a bit of a crazy summer here, but I’ve been teasing my Facebook friends and Instagram followers for months with photos of the homemade granola bars that I make every couple of weeks or so, and it’s really not very nice of me to keep holding out.

The first time I made these, I had been running (marathon training… yikes) for several months and had started to increase my mileage enough so that I was constantly on the lookout for a snack.   Said snack needed to be able to stand in for a light breakfast, too, on occasion, so I wanted something healthy-ish and versatile.  I had printed this recipe from some long-forgotten website and it seemed as good as any of the endless stream of results that google will happily spit at you if you are silly enough to search for “homemade granola bar”.  Maybe you didn’t know, but granola, homemade stuff, and healthy snacks are, like, a trend or something.  So I would encourage you to not get overwhelmed with the 2,440,000 results on google if there is something in here that you’re opposed to.  Just switch it out for something you do like and call it improv.

There are a few little shortcut-like tidbits I’ve come up with (after having made a double batch of these bi-weekly since around May) at the end of the recipe – please read all the way through before jumping in.  Enjoy!

Fruit and Nut Granola Bars

1 2/3 cups quick cooking rolled oats
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup whole wheat flour*
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 to 3 cups dried fruits and nuts (total of 15 ounces), the two mixes I use most often are below.**
1/3 cup peanut butter or another nut butter
6 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup honey or maple syrup
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 tablespoon water

Fruit and Nut Mix:

5-7 oz dried fruit, something similar to this mix.  Publix sells a store brand tropical mix that I like.

3-5 oz unsalted sunflower seeds

3-5 oz flax seeds

2-5 oz pepitas

Cranberry Orange Chocolate Chip Mix:

5-7 oz dried cranberries

3 oz unsalted sunflower seeds

3 oz pepitas/flax seeds

4 oz mini chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8″ x 8″ x 2″ pan in one direction with parchment paper. Lightly grease the parchment paper and the exposed pan, or coat with a non-stick spray.

Stir together all the dry ingredients, including the fruit and nuts. In a separate bowl, whisk together the melted butter, peanut butter, liquid sweeteners and water. Mix the wet ingredients with the dry until the mixture is evenly coated and sort of crumbly. Spread in the prepared pan, pressing the mixture in firmly to ensure they are molded to the shape of the pan. (A piece of plastic wrap is useful here; just lay the plastic on top of your mix press it into the pan.)

Bake the bars for 30 to 40 minutes, until the edges are browned and the top is golden. Let cool on a baking rack until you can lift them out of the pan with your parchment paper, and then let them cool completely to room temp before cutting.  I slice them into the size that works for me as breakfast/post-run snack but feel free to customize that as well.

*If you do not have whole wheat flour, don’t fret.  Just use oat flour, which is an equal amount (1/3 cup) of oats that have been processed in a food processor until coarsely ground.  I think the texture is better when the grind is just shy of “fine”.  I’ve made these with the whole wheat flour and the oats, and both work fine.

**This is the tricky part:  put whatever you want in here.  I use my digital scale and just add the stuff I want until I get to 15 ounces, so it’s never the exact same twice.

I use this Earth Balance Spread that I found at Publix.  It tastes awesome and gives the best holding power in my experience, i.e. the bars stick together and hold their shape really well.  Otherwise peanut butter works well, as does almond butter.

I found that the Earth Balance Spread was harder to stir into my dry stuff.  I started adding the spread to my butter when I melt it in the microwave so that it melts and gets good and liquid-y and I can whisk all my wet things together really well and the stirring is much easier at the end.

Homemade Moon Pies

Are you guys familiar with Moon Pies?  They’re a southern favorite – you can get them at any gas station or snack machine below the Mason-Dixon line.  We loved these as kids and I am so excited to (finally!) be sharing this recipe for a homemade version with you.  I first made these almost a year ago for a baby shower that I co-hosted – the shower was Children’s Book themed and I made these to accompany “Goodnight Moon”.  They were divine you guys, and I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to give you the recipe.  Now don’t be intimidated.  When I tell people that I make homemade Moon Pies they all get this look on their face, the “That’s so cool. I can’t believe you can do that.  Why did you do that? You’re a crazy person.” look.  But really, they’re pretty straightforward.  A Moon Pie is basically a graham cracker cookie with marshmallow filling, dipped in chocolate.  The cookies take about an hour to make, but 30 minutes of that is dough-chilling time, and I usually get my marshmallow fluff going while I’m waiting (you could totally use store bought marshmallow fluff if you wanted to skip this step.  Then it’d be super easy and you’d have no excuse not to try this).  The filling is as simple as whipping egg whites and boiling syrup, and if you can’t drop a cookie in a bowl of melted chocolate, then I don’t know what to tell you.  I usually make these at a pretty leisurely pace – I did the entire process in about 3 hours a couple of days ago, but if you were being really efficient and wanted to knock it out I’d think that you could do it in about an hour and a half.  I got the recipe from a really good source, and I only tweaked one minor detail: I did only single layer cookies, rather than the “Double Decker” version.  So although there are several components to this cookie, they are all relatively simple and even beginner bakers should be able to handle this project.  If you’re looking for something to put in your Christmas Gift Baskets and you want to blow everyone’s mind with your baking prowess, I’d totally recommend this.  Happy Holidays!

MOON PIES

Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker, makes around 24 sandwich cookies

For the Cookies:
1 cup unsalted butter, room temp
¾ cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt

For the Marshmallow Filling:
2 egg whites
Pinch cream of tartar
Pinch salt
2/3 cup light corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

For the Chocolate Coating:
12 ounces semisweet chocolate
¼ cup vegetable oil

To Make the Cookies:

With a mixer on medium speed, beat the butter until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the brown sugar and beat at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium, add the egg and the vanilla extract, and beat to combine. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour and the salt, and mix just until a soft dough forms. Divide the dough in two, shape into disks, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350º while dough is chilling.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat; set aside. Working with one disk at a time, roll out the dough to about 1/8-inch thickness. Using a 2½-inch diameter round cutter, cut out the rounds and place them on the prepared baking sheets, about ½ an inch apart.  Try to end up with an even number of cookies, since you’ll be making sandwiches with them.  Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool completely on a wire rack before filling.

To Make the Marshmallow Filling:

Using a mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the the egg whites with the cream of tartar and the salt until firm peaks form, gradually increasing from medium-low speed to medium-high speed as the egg whites gain volume. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, boil the corn syrup over high heat without stirring until it registers 230 to 235 degrees F on a candy thermometer (thread ball stage). Slowly drizzle the hot corn syrup into the egg whites and beat at high speed until glossy, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium-low, beat in the vanilla extract and the powdered sugar.

Using either a pastry bag or a spoon, mound about 1½ tablespoons of marshmallow filling into the center of a cookie. Top with another cookie and press lightly to spread the marshmallow to the edges. Repeat until you run out of cookies.

To Make the Chocolate Coating:

Using a double boiler (or in the microwave on 50% power and in 30 second increments) melt the chocolate and vegetable oil together until completely smooth. Let cool for a few minutes – you don’t want it to be piping hot when you dip the cookies or they tend to slide around a little and lose their shape.  Using a fork, dip the sandwiches into the chocolate, turning over to coat. Place cookies on a wire rack set over a baking sheet or wax paper and allow to set at room temp for a couple of hours – or move them to the fridge to speed up the process.

A Homemade Life

Merriam-Webster defines homemade as being made in the home, on the premises, or by one’s own efforts.  And that’s the key isn’t it?  The effort part, I mean.  In our modern world of technology, convenience, and instant gratification, it’s a simple thing to purchase ready-made items – be they food, clothing, decor, gifts…you name it and you can find it packaged up and ready for immediate use.  And there’s certainly a place for that – I’ll be the first one to admit that I take full advantage of the wonders of modern civilization – but there’s a joy that I get from making something myself that no amount of convenience can replace.

Deep thoughts, right?  It’s not something I ever used to think about – 10 years ago I’d have laughed out loud had you suggested that I’d be in such a mood at any point in my life – but as I’m making my home, my new lovely dream home, and looking to the future (a few years yet, parents and in-laws!) when I might have some tiny people running around, I find myself wanting more and more to have the things around me be things that I particularly love.  And lately I’ve been finding that the things I love the most are the photographs that we’ve taken, the special meals we’ve made and shared, the handmade cards given on momentous occasions…the things that I’ve invested my time and effort in.

My birthday is approaching (next week!) and I’ve had several bewildered reactions to my statement that I am making my own cake, and gladly.   Friends will offer to purchase a cake for me so that I can “enjoy my day” and not have to make all that effort, but I want to.  You see, in my baking, I rarely make anything that I choose.  I’m not saying I don’t enjoy the fruits of my labors – far from it! – but I usually make things at the requests of others, or because I know that my husband or my guests or whoever will particularly enjoy it.*  So for my birthday, I would like to make something spectacular that I alone have chosen.  I’m not a bad baker so I’m sure my friends and family will enjoy it as well, but really it’s my birthday, and I’m making the exact cake that I want.  And I will enjoy it all the more because I’ve taken the time to create it myself.

Where’s all this coming from? Where’s all this going?  I guess that I’ve just been so inspired lately – so many wonderful projects that I have in mind for my home, my garden, my kitchen.  One of my favorites of the modern conveniences is our present access to almost unlimited inspiration via the internet.  It seems almost everyone is an artist these days – sewing, writing, building, cooking, designing, photographing, and on and on and on.  And all of these words and ideas and images make me so eager and excited to create my own things that will inspire my family and friends and guests in my home – to share some of the joy and satisfaction I get from the creation of something lovely.

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*Please don’t think I mind making things for you!  There’s no greater compliment for me than to have someone request that I make something for them.  I’m flattered that you think I can do justice to your favorite dessert/meal/jam/etc, and no time spent in my kitchen is wasted when I know someone’s going to enjoy and appreciate my efforts.  And let’s be honest, I love to cook, so really I’m doing it all for me anyway [insert evil laugh here].

Mayonnaise

Are you busy?  Like, do you have 15 minutes to spare?  And a single solitary egg, oil, lemon juice, mustard and salt? By the way, I may judge you just a little if you don’t have those things – I mean, it’s like condiments and an egg. See the reason I’m asking is, those things correctly combined turn into a mayonnaise that is so totally beyond the sum of it’s (paltry) parts. I mean beyond, people.  It’s like this luscious, tangy dream of a mayonnaise.  And it literally took me less than 15 minutes to make.  Am I convincing you yet?  You should be running home to do this right now.  Running, I say.

So, Emily, it’s just mayonnaise, you say.  What’s the big deal?  Well, mayonnaise from a jar is pretty good right?  I mean it dresses up our sandwiches and chicken/egg/potato salads.  It makes deviled eggs worth eating, and if you really want to get crazy with it, you can add some to chocolate cake to make it really moist and awesome (I can’t speak for that, I’ve just been told it’s the best secret ingredient ever).  But compared to this mayo it’s just this dull, flavorless, boring thing.  It’s tangy and smooth, with just the tiniest mustardy hint, and it is going to make your next sandwich jump for joy. Side note: a jumping sandwich would be fairly awesome, yes?

I’m aware that that is a fairly boring photo, but I mean, there’s only so much you can do to make a bowl of mayo look enticing.  All you need to know is that it is possibly the best thing to come out of my kitchen all year.  Are you running yet?

Mayonnaise

1 large egg yolk

2 tsp lemon juice

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1/4 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp cold water

3/4 cup neutral tasting oil such as canola or safflower*

Preparation

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolk, lemon juice, mustard, salt and 1 teaspoon cold water until frothy. Whisking constantly, slowly dribble (a drop or two at a time) in the oil until mayonnaise is thick and oil is incorporated. When the mayonnaise emulsifies and starts to thicken, you can add the oil in a thin stream, instead of drop by drop.

Makes 1 cup.

*A note on the oil.  I used Canola oil, and at first I was worried that I could taste it in the mayo – but after it chilled in the fridge for a while, I couldn’t detect any flavor from it at all. I think next time I may try half EVOO and half canola to see how that is.  Let me know how yours turns out!

 

 

Update 01.26.2013:

I made a new batch of this mayo using EVOO, and it turned out great.  You can definitely taste the olive oil, but it’s not overpowering and I quite like it.  If you prefer the more traditional mayo taste I’d stick with canola or another neutral oil, though.