Monday, July 30, 2012

Peppery Cheddar Cheese Crackers

My son likes to eat cheese crackers like the ones shaped like goldfish that you can buy. We have only bought it a few times for him since they don't seem very healthy to me. We tried a healthier version which were shaped as bunnies. They were better but were kind of expensive too. Ha ha! I'm complaining about it being expensive but making your own can get expensive too. When we were in Portland this past Spring, we visited the Tillamook Cheese factory and hoarded a ton of cheddar cheese back to Canada. Tillamook cheese is good! But cheese as you know is not cheap.

There are actually a lot of recipes out there to make your own cheese crackers. It consists of mainly flour, butter, and cheese. There are a few advantages to making your own and you can decide whether or not it is worth your time and energy. Here are some of the advantages I can think of:
  1. You know exactly what you put in it so you don't have to worry about preservatives. It will therefore be fresher and healthier than any version you can buy.
  2. It will taste better and smell cheesy. I could see myself eating homemade cheese crackers while sipping red wine. I would probably not drink wine with the store bought cheese crackers. Or at least not pair it with my good wine :)
  3. You can customize it with different spices and your favorite cheddar.
  4. Best of all, you can shape it the way you want! Goldfish are cute but let's face it, rocket ships are way cooler!
My husband is a space geek. My son will likely be one in the future. Last week I told my 3.5 year old son that I would make him rocket ship crackers. His eyes lit up. He loves cheese crackers and he loves rocket ships :) Space geek or not, who doesn't like rocket ships?

Phew! It was a bit more work than I expected since the crackers were so small. They puffed so much when they were baked and my cookie sheets tilted in the oven so a lot of the crackers lost their shape. Boo:( I can now see why a lot of people bake with simple shapes like squares and triangles.

There were skinny rocket ships, fat rocket ships, skewed rocket ships, and quite a few unidentifiable space objects. Lol. My 3.5 year old still loved them all the same. He couldn't get enough of them! The perfectionist in me was slightly disappointed but they sure did taste great. I love the peppery taste of them as well. Next time I might try simpler shapes but I wouldn't change a thing in the recipe :)

Peppery Cheddar Cheese Crackers
Makes 4 cookie sheet full of small crackers
(Mainly adapted from Home Cooking In Montana)

2 cups flour
5 cups Tillamook cheddar cheese, grated (or use your favorite cheddar!)
1 1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 cup salted butter (or use unsalted butter & add some salt)
1/2 cup water

Mix all of the above, except the water, in a large mixing bowl. Add the water bit my bit and mix. Knead inside the bowl for a few minutes until it resembles dough. Wrap and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

Preheat your oven to 400 F. Roll out the dough on a floured surface and cut into your desired shapes. Use rolling pin elastic rings if you have them. This will ensure all the cut pieces are the same thickness and will cook about the same time. Bake close to the top rack for about 12 minutes, rotating halfway. If your crackers are larger, you may need to bake longer.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Cupcakes for Sale at a Garage Sale

Have you ever sold home baked goods or food at a garage sale? I heard of people doing it and having a lot of success so I thought I would try as well. Cupcakes seem to be a big attraction, as well as lemonade. If you could provide both, that would be even better!

This past weekend, I had a garage sale. My table was one of many tables and parking stalls at a community garage sale held at a shopping center near my home. The host was Save-On Foods, a popular local supermarket in the Vancouver area. Not only was this my first ever garage sale but it was also the first time I was going to sell home baked goods for myself. The only times I have sold home baked goods in the past were for fundraising. I donated bakes such as brownies, peanut butter rice krispies, carrot cake, and apricot bars to non-profit organizations to raise money for their programs. It's funny because back then I wasn't even interested in baking much. I was present each time to help sell the goods as well. In fact, I organized a successful bake sale for an AIDS organization when I was living in Paris, which raised over 362 Euros in the one day. Clearly, people love sweets and baked goods :)

For my first garage sale this weekend, I made cupcakes. Lemonade seemed like too much work since it would have had to be kept cool and we didn't have a big jug. If people were really thirsty, they could have just grabbed a drink at Save-On Foods or the nearby Starbucks. My master plan was to use pretty cupcakes to lure people to our table and have them buy other things we were also selling. In particular, we wanted to attract the parents with the babies and small children since we were selling baby things like shoes, books, and toys. It just seemed like a brilliant idea. Right? 

My 3 1/2 year old put on all the sprinkles.

 My little chef was such a great help :)

After taking a poll on Twitter, I decided to make both vanilla and chocolate cupcakes. I wanted to go with a basic kind to minimize work for myself and also to avoid allergy problems with nuts. Initially I was only going to make vanilla cupcakes but my Twitter friends ended up convincing me to make both. If you offer both, people might be tempted to get one of each. Interesting :) It also turns out that some people really like one over the other. My family prefers chocolate for sure! Some people are allergic to chocolate and I have friends who don't like the taste of chocolate cake at all. We actually encountered one or two people who only wanted the vanilla cupcakes. They said they didn't like chocolate. Another raved about the swiss meringue buttercream I used on the vanilla cupcakes and only wanted that. However in the end, the chocolate cupcakes sold better than the vanilla cupcakes.

Vanilla cupcakes with swiss meringue buttercream. $1.50 each

Vanilla cupcakes tinted with a bit of green. $1.50 each

Dark chocolate cupcakes with French chocolate ganache. $1.50 each

I took another Twitter poll and decided to price the cupcakes at $1.50. Initially I wanted to price the cupcakes at $1 since I didn't think anyone at a garage sale would want to spend anything more than that. I wanted to make the cupcakes as cheaply as I could using (God forbid) cheap margarine and cheap eggs. However, when it came time to making them I couldn't find anything cheap and ended up just using my good butter, good eggs, and the good chocolate I bought from my recent France trip. *big swallow* $1.50 then!!! I made sure I advertised "real butter" and "French chocolate" on the signs. If this was a baker's market or a bake sale for fundraising, I think the cupcakes could sell for $2.50 or even $3 each. If I was a shopper, I would have thought $1.50 was a complete bargain myself. I'm frugal too!

How did we do at the garage sale? Due to a few unfortunate circumstances, which were out of our control, we didn't do very well :( For instance the lack of organization resulted in very few people coming by at the community garage sale. However, the cupcakes sales did make up more than 50% of our profit. I can now confirm that making cupcakes and selling them at a garage sale is in fact a brilliant idea :)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Summer Squash Farci with Chicken Quinoa

The first time I had farcis was in France over 10 years ago. Small round vegetables like onions and courgettes were stuffed with ground beef, pork, and lamb. There were also vegetables and rice in the stuffing but it was mainly meat. It was then baked with bread crumbs and cheese on top. Some versions I had were even served with tomato sauce. Are you drooling yet? Sounds incredible, right? I LOVE farcis and I love that each stuffed vegetable is a complete meal.

Since we have cut down on meat and have been exploring other kinds of foods, I wanted to create a modern and less meaty version of the traditional farci. I've made various versions already but the one I want to share is one of my favorite ones. My stuffed vegetable of choice are the little summer squashes known as pattypan squashes. Technically, squashes are fruit but we treat them as vegetables most of the time! Round zucchini balls work well too and are easier to stuff. I like the taste of the pattypan squashes. Since they are only available this season, I only get to make these farcis in the summer time:( I do make plenty of them so we have leftovers for days! Yay! Cook once, enjoy many times! I love that :)

Summer Squash Farci with Chicken Quinoa
Serves 8

12 pattypan squash (or round vegetable of your choice)
12 slices of tomato (optional)

4 cloves garlic, pressed
1 onion, minced
3 tbsp olive oil
400g ground chicken
1 cup pattypan squash flesh (or insides of the round vegetable you are using)
1/2 cup loosely fresh basil, finely chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
1-2 tsp salt
3/4 cup to 1 cup uncooked quinoa
1/4 cup water
1 egg
1/4 cup Parmesan

Cut off the tops of the squash and scoop out the flesh. You only need to save 1 cup of the flesh for this recipe. The rest can be used for stock or soup or whatever else you can think up. You want to scoop out enough to have a good fill with the stuffing but not too much or else the squash will puncture. Keep in mind the squash will also shrink and thin out a bit when cooked.

In a wok, fry the onion and garlic in oil for a couple of minutes. Add the chicken and continue cooking for another couple of minutes. Add the squash flesh, basil, tomato paste, and salt. Cook for another minute. Finally add the water, stir in the quinoa and Parmesan, add the egg and turn off the heat. This is your stuffing.

Fill each squash with the stuffing and make sure each squash is packed tight. This is another reason you don't want to scoop out too much flesh from the squash :) Top each farci with a tomato slice before placing their tops on. The tomato slices keep the top of the filling moist so that the quinoa ends up cooked instead of being toasted. Bake at 375 F for around 45 minutes.

After you fill all the squashes, you may have some leftover filling. The pattypan squashes didn't have a lot of volume for me to fill so I ended up with extra filling. You could either prepare more vegetables to stuff or make something else with the stuffing. I ended up whipping up some fried rice using mine.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Roasted Almond Pesto Farfalle Pasta (from scratch)

I'm really getting the hang of using my pasta roller. I have already made cannelloni, fettuccine, ravioli, and lasagna. This time I thought I would tackle farfalle. It's actually really easy to do and they look great.

I used the recipe that came with my Marcata Atlas 150 pasta roller. To make the farfalle, you will need to cut your pasta sheet into rectangles and then pinch them in the middle with three fingers. Flour generously as you go and cover it up while you roll the next sheet. I used a setting of 8 for thickness and it worked out well.

Pasta Recipe
Serves 6

200 g unbleached all-purpose flour
200 g durum semolina flour
4 eggs

Mix well, then knead for a few minutes.


Fresh pasta tastes really good and you don't necessarily have to serve it with a lot of sauce or anything complicated. I prepared a simple pesto sauce for it and it was simply delicious. Then again, what doesn't taste good with fresh pesto right? :)

Roasted Almond Pesto
Serves 6

1/2 bulb garlic, peeled
1 1/2 cup fresh basil, loosely packed
1/2 cup Parmesan
1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup almonds, roasted
1 tsp salt
Black pepper for serving

Roast your almonds in the oven for about 10 minutes at 350 F. Check one by breaking it in half. The center should be lightly toasted. Meanwhile, cook the fresh pasta with a bit of salt for 3-5 minutes. Drain and set aside. Throw the garlic, basil, almonds, and olive oil into a blender and puree it. Pour the drained pasta into a large mixing bowl. Next, dump the contents from the blender into the bowl. Add the Parmesan and salt. I used Himalayan pink salt crystals from Trader Joe's. Gently mix the pasta until everything is coated in sauce. Serve with a bit of black pepper on top.

Looks like green goo but it really is delicious :)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Have you watched Food Inc.?

My husband is a flexible-vegan. In the past year he has researched and studied all sorts of food lifestyles to better understand the reasoning behind different diets, especially the vegan diet. I say study but it's more like he has been obsessed about the subject. Whether I was interested or not, he tried to educate me as well. When I told him I spotted Food Inc. at the library and instantly thought of him, he pretty much wanted me to go back and borrow it right away.

Last night we watched Food Inc. I have to say I was a bit scared to watch this. Partly because it was recommended by my husband. This is the same person who sent me numerous links to videos of animal torture and killings. No meat eater wants to see that or even wants to think of that. Thank you.

For a documentary, I thought Food Inc. was well done. Contrary to what I was expecting since this video came from my husband, it doesn't urge you to eat a certain way. It merely educates you about where your food comes from, what is in it, and why things are done the way they are. I guarantee everyone that watches this film will learn something new. I already knew quite a bit going in from my husband's constant ramblings but I still learned a lot.

After the film, I felt a bit powerless and scared for all of us. As a population we are growing too fast and consuming too much of our planet's resource. The pressure to feed more at a low cost has driven our government to allow bad practices to continue. Like they say in the film, whenever something went wrong, instead of looking at the initial practice and asking should we be doing this in the first place, companies only look to technology to find new ways of fixing the problem so that the practice can continue. The goal is to mass produce at a low cost. Anything short of that is not acceptable.

We eat too much! If we eat meat, that is worst because that meat comes from an animal that also has to eat. We are sharing our planet's resources with animals that we will eventually eat. It's not just the meat but all food products in general. The film talked about corn and it's role in the food industry. Corn is heavily subsidized by the government and for this reason a lot of it is grown and then turned into other things to be used in food and products we buy every day. With corn, you can derive high fructose corn syrup, which is basically like sugar but is cheaper and will extend the life of food. Fast food companies use high fructose corn syrup a lot. No surprise there. A host of other ingredients can also be derived from corn and I forget the number mentioned in the film (50-80%?) but a shocking amount of items you can find at the supermarket will have come from corn. Even diapers and Duracell batteries! That is incredible. There may be thousands of brands but only a handful of big companies control all of them.

As you may be aware, most live stock such as cows and chickens are raised in factory farms and some don't even see sunlight their entire lives. Normally cows dine on grass but in the factories, they are taught to eat corn. Corn fattens them up more. The problem is that they are not used to this diet and if I understood correctly, a strand of E. Coli can emerge in their feces. Since they are covered in their manure all the time and are still covered with filth while they are being butchered, E. Coli can spread quite easily. In fact, this bacteria can also be spread to other things we eat such as spinach. Basically, it's not safe to eat anything! One of the Food Safety Advocates in the film shared her tragic story of how her perfectly healthy little boy ate three hamburgers and then died 12 days later from E. Coli poisoning. She wasn't able to trace the E. Coli source until 6 or 7 years after her son's death. Now meat is processed with an addition of ammonia treatment to kill bacteria like E. Coli. Yes, this is what it has come to. It's also interesting to note that if cows were put back on a grass diet for 5 days, they would shed most of the E. Coli in their system. Now why would we do that when ammonia is probably easier and cheaper?

I liked how the film talked about free range and organic farming to contrast the factory farms. If you are going to eat meat, buy free range or organic meat. Cows at these farms are let out to eat grass every day. This way, the farmers never need to cut the grass and any droppings from the cows will naturally act as fertilizer for the land. All the animals roam freely and farmers actually enjoy what they do.

I'm a bit surprised Food Inc. was made. There is so much secrecy in the food industry that I thought the government or a big company would have put a stop to the film. I'm glad they didn't and if you are at all curious about where your food comes from, you should definitely watch this film.

I think the world is already changing. With every E. Coli outbreak, the world learns a bit more and more people make healthier food choices. Walmart is even carrying organics and the organic aisle at Superstore is expanding all the time. We buy our vegan Daiya cheese at Superstore all the time now. Veganism and healthy diets are on the trend. Even McDonald's offers some healthy food. We are still very far from saving our planet but change can start in each and every one of us. If everyone would just eat less meat and support local free range farmers when they do eat meat, then everything else will automatically improve. It's not easy though, right? It's much more expensive to eat healthier and to buy locally. We are trying to do more and more of this but we find ourselves guilty some times too for grabbing the product that is the better bargain:( It's important though and I hope one day we will get there. Our planet can still be saved.
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