Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Homemade Convenience

I am constantly trying to phase packaged convenience foods out of our home. Let me tell you it is HARD to do. The boys need snacks for school. Brad needs lunches for work. Sometimes I need something to munch that doesn't require cooking or creating dishes to wash. Sometimes dinner time sneaks up on me and I haven't given it the slightest bit of thought earlier in the day. Convenience foods are, well, convenient. So as I go about my journey to get the junk out of our diets, I've had some success in finding homemade versions of some of our favorites that have the benefits of not only being free from chemicals, preservatives, and excess packaging, but also much, much cheaper. Today I'm going to share with you 3 of our favorites: Fruit leather, cheese crackers, and mini fritattas.

Fruit Leather:
My boys love the apricot Stretch Island fruit leather. But at $1 a pop, those things are crazy expensive! We would get them occasionally as a treat in the checkout line at Whole Foods for being helpful shoppers. But now that I have an Excalibur Food Dehydrator, making our own is a snap. Since the boys love the apricot flavor, I start with dried apricots. You can use any type of fresh or dried fruit. If starting with fresh, just omit the soaking step.

Cover dried apricots in water, and leave to rehydrate for several hours. Cover the bowl so nasties don't fall in.

Once the apricots are nice and juicy again, pour your apricots and a good bit of soaking water into your blender. I love my Blendtec , it makes short work of just about anything. Use just enough water to get things blending smoothly.

Next, spread apricot goop in a thin even layer on a piece of parchment paper on your dehydrator tray. The Excalibur comes with some teflex sheets, but I prefer the parchment paper because when it's dry I can roll the whole thing up and cut into strips so the boys have fruit roll-ups.

This batch made four trays worth of fruit leather. I put it in the dehydrator at about 145* for around 6 hours. See how easily the fruit leather lifts off the parchment paper? It's done when the thickest spots are dry to the touch.

Cheese Crackers:
These cheese crackers are the closest to Cheez-Its I've found. They are really yummy, and since I do the whole process in my food processor it's super easy and they come together lickety split. I have made the recipe with whole wheat flour before and they turn out ok, but they really just taste better with white. Since these are a once in a while treat, it doesn't bother me too much.

1/2 lb grated extra sharp cheddar
1/4 C butter, softened
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 C flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Cream together first 4 ingredients. Slowly add flour to make a stiff dough. It's important to use sharp cheddar in these, even if it's not the kind you like for eating. I like to use extra sharp. Otherwise the crackers don't have a lot of cheese flavor. Also, you can decrease or omit the cayenne pepper if you think your kids won't like it. With the full 1/8 tsp the crackers have a little bit of a kick. My kids don't seem to mind, and I like it that way. 1/16 would probably be fine if you have kids with a picky palette. If you leave it out completely the crackers will be kind of bland, but hey, some kids like it that way.

Divide the dough int 3 portions and roll into logs. Wrap the logs in waxed paper and place in the fridge overnight, or the freezer for 1 hour. I'm always in a hurry so I always use the freezer method and it works great. The idea is just to get the dough chilled enough that you can slice it with out smushing it.

Slice thinly and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. These do not expand very much when baked so you can place them fairly close together, but not touching. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt.

Bake at 350* for about 12 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack. Once completely cool you can store them in a ziplock baggie or a glass jar. I really have no idea how long these keep, even if I make a double batch they are gone in less than a week.

Mini Fritattas:
Here's my newest toy; a 24 ct mini muffin pan. Oh the possibilities! Today it was fritattas.

Bacon, spinach, cheese into every muffin cup. Then I mixed 6 eggs with 1/2 cup of cream, and topped off the fritattas. This made just enough egg mixture to do all 24, not a drop left over.

After 30 minutes in the oven at 350*, I had cheesey, bacon-y, egg-y goodness.
Yum! I meant to put half into the freezer for later, but for some reason they mysteriously disappeared before I got around to it.

Finding homemade versions of some of your favorite packaged foods is a great first step in the direction of phasing junk out of your diet and home. The kids love these snacks, and I feel good about feeding them something healthier than what comes out of a box. What are some of your favorite homemade convenience recipes?

2 comments:

captainbayinghound said...

I don't make many of our own crackers but we do buy them from the store. They are something I would like to replace with homemade and your cheese cracker recipe looks perfect!

Katie said...

Yum yum yum! Thanks for the recipes, Momma!