Food Matters
All about fresh, flavorful food


5-Ingredient Sourdough Crackers

If you keep a sourdough starter going, you may accumulate a lot of unfed starter in your refrigerator. I am always looking for easy ways to use mine up. These crackers provide one delicious option.

One batch of crackers uses up 2/3 of a cup of unfed starter. The microbes in the starter transform a handful of ordinary ingredients into dough that renders thin, crisp crackers that taste—believe it or not—cheesy. They taste taste so delicious in fact, that you may want to double or triple the recipe.

le parfait sourdough starter
You need only flour and water to make and nurture a sourdough starter

If you don’t have a sourdough starter, go here to learn how to make one. You need only flour and water and if you take care of your starter, it can last for years. Some starters in the sourdough museum (yes, that’s a thing) are over 100 years old! Mine—I named her Eleanor—turned five this year. She makes fantastic bread.

MEL sourdough bread
Sourdough bread

Some notes

1. I make a double or triple batch of the dough and after it has fermented on the counter for several hours, bake some of it and store the rest in the refrigerator. When I want more crackers later in the week, I can just grab a hunk of dough and whip them up. It’s like having convenience refrigerator dough on hand without the over-packaging and nasty chemicals.

2. Refrigeration halts the fermentation. I find that when I let the dough ferment at room temperature for too long (let’s say over 6 or 8 hours), it starts to break down, making a big mess when I attempt to roll it out. But in the refrigerator, the microbes go dormant. Now I can make a pile of this dough at once—and use up even more starter! No more baking dough bleary-eyed at night and cursing myself for having started it in the morning. If I’m too exhausted to bake, I simply put the dough in the refrigerator.

3. If desired, top the crackers with sesame seeds, garlic powder, nutritional yeast, flax seeds—the possibilities are endless! I roll out the dough on a floured work surface but as I get a couple of rolls away from finishing, I sprinkle the surface with toppings and roll them into the dough. If you sprinkle them on the finished dough, they tend to fall off.

4. To speed up the process, transfer the intact piece of rolled dough to the cookie sheet and use a pastry cutter or knife to cut the dough into squares. Cutting the crackers out and then transferring them to your cookie sheet will take a lot longer. The crackers shrink in the oven and so will not stick to each other while baking.

MEL sourdough crackers
Sourdough crackers and bean dip

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup unfed starter from the refrigerator
  • 3 heaping tablespoons coconut oil or olive oil
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt plus extra for topping
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Instructions

1. Combine starter and oil in a non-metallic bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, salt and baking soda.

2. Add dry ingredients to bowl with wet ingredients. Combine. If necessary, knead the dough a few times to incorporate the last bit of flour. Cover bowl with a plate or towel and let rest for six hours at room temperature. Store in the fridge after this if you won’t bake right away. The dough will keep in the refrigerator for about a week. Let it warm at room temperature for 15 minutes to half an hour to making rolling easier.

3. When you’re ready to bake, divide the dough into two halves on a generously floured surface.

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

5. Roll the dough out about two millimeters thick. If necessary, sprinkle with flour between rollings to prevent dough from sticking to your work surface.

6. Transfer the dough to ungreased cookie sheets.

7. Cut into rectangles with a pizza cutter, pastry cutter or a knife. Sprinkle with salt.

8. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, turn trays and bake 6 to 8 minutes longer. Crackers are done when crispy and slightly browned.

9. Transfer crackers to a rack to cool. Store in a glass jar. These also freeze well.

New Gluten-Free Bread Method

If you prefer gluten free breads, you can make home-made tasty loaves that are healthy and cost less than what you find in stores.

I rarely make gluten-free bread. However, my experience has been that using gluten-free boxed bread mix or purchasing gluten-free flour mix is an economic and easy way to produce a quality gluten-free loaf.

IMG_9981

The advantages of using a commercial mix to make gluten-free bread include:

  1. You don’t have to purchase multiple types of flour typically used in gluten-free loaves.
  2. There’s no worry about using the proper ratio of flours in your recipe.
  3. No need to search for a recipe you can count on. Your box mix or gluten-free flour mix should produce a satisfactory loaf (check out my recommended baking method here).
  4. There are multiple brand-name gluten-free mixes that are wonderful quality and readily available.

If you’ve had an unsuccessful experience baking gluten-free bread – either with a mix or from scratch – no need to give up. Gluten-free recipes are far different from wheat and other whole grain bread recipes. Learning how to manage them may take a bit.

One thing that both traditional bread and gluten-free bread have in common is yeast. The same method you can use to ensure you produce a high-rising, light traditional loaf of bread works equally well with the gluten-free: activate your yeast in recipe liquid that’s warmed to a specific temperature range and keep the dough warm throughout the mix/rising process.

The method:

  • Warm your recipe liquid (water, milk, etc.) to a temperature range between 105- and 110-degrees (Fahrenheit). This is the temperature at which yeast thrives. Use a digital thermometer to verify that your liquid temperature is within that range. Instant-read thermometers are convenient, but any type of thermometer will register the liquid temperature.
  • Thoroughly dissolve the yeast and give it time to develop a foamy top, which means it’s started working.
  • Once you add the yeast mixture to your flours, keep the dough warm so the yeast continues to work.

So far, I’ve baked my gluten-free bread in my bread machine because it’s an easy way to handle the dough once it has risen. Late model bread machines will have a gluten-free setting and should provide details about using it in their manual.

The other thing that both traditional and gluten-free bread dough have in common: they thrive in a consistently warm environment.

To achieve that consistency, I recommend that you:

  • Warm your bread machine canister with hot water before placing your bread ingredients into it.
  • Warm the measuring cup/bowl you use to activate your yeast so the utensil doesn’t take heat away from your liquid.
  • Use the bread machine to raise and bake your gluten-free bread. It’s an easy, hands-off way to make the bread and the dough will stay at a consistent temperature in the canister.

Be aware that gluten-free bread spoils faster than a traditional loaf. If you wish to freeze the bread, slice it, place plastic wrap between each slice, put all in a bag and place in your freezer.


Long time journalist Loretta Sorensen is the author of Secrets To Baking Your Best Bread Ever! and regularly shares information about whole grains and bread baking. You’ll find her book on her blog site at www.bakeyourbestever.com, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the Country Store at Our Dakota Horse Tales. Her weekly bread baking posts are featured at Mother Earth Living, GRIT MagazineOur Dakota Horse Tales, and on Pinterest and Facebook.

Homemade Mozzarella Cheese

I'm still on my cheese kick. I've been making easy cheeses and with those successes under my belt I feel I have a right to graduate to something more challenging. Fresh homemade mozzarella cheese is not the easiest cheese to make. Cottage cheese, panir (or paneer), chevre are a lot easier to make at home. However, the flavor of homemade mozzarella cannot be surpassed and, therefore, it is well worth the trouble. I scoured the internet for a good recipe and made all the mistakes so you don't have to. If you follow my suggestions I think you'll be successful.

oil

The difficulty in making homemade mozzarella is not so much in the process itself for the process is quite simple and does not take a lot of special ingredients or supplies. It can be done in a day and you'll be eating mozzarella in a few hours. You don't have to age it for a few months. The difficulty lies in the care that must be taken in adhering to and performing the instructions. Mozzarella is not forgiving like other homemade cheeses. You have to do what you have to do it when you need to do it in the way it needs to be done. As long as you know what you're getting into and are willing to submit to the discipline you will be rewarded. Have I scared you away? Don't be! Let me break it down for you.

Get your supplies all lined up and clean and your ingredients measured out. When you've done that we're ready to proceed.

Homemade Mozzarella Cheese Recipe

Ingredients:

• 1-1/2 teaspoons citric acid, dissolved in 1/2 cup cool water
• 1 gallon pasteurized whole milk — not ultra pasteurized
• 1/4 rennet tablet, or 1/4 teaspoon liquid rennet, dissolved in 1/4 cup cool, unchlorinated water
• 1/4 cup cheese salt (sea salt is fine; no additives)

Equipment:

• Stainless steel stock pot
• Dairy thermometer
• Perforated ladle
• Stainless steel potato masher
• Wire whip
• Really sharp knife
• Clean rubber gloves for kneading curd
• Pyrex custard cups or some small clean container
• A smooth surface for kneading

Instructions 

1. Start off by putting a little non-chlorinated water in 2 custard cups or small containers. Add the citric acid to one and the rennet to the other. Stir them both until they're dissolved and set aside.

2. Now add the citric acid to milk that is at 55 degrees. (Fifty five degrees is a little warmer than your average fridge. Use your milk thermometer to find out what temperature your milk is.) 

3. While stirring briskly, add the citric acid  slowly to the milk. Whisk it all in. It’s important to distribute the citric acid evenly and quickly, to avoid curdling the milk.

4. Now heat the milk to 90 degrees. It probably won't burn but stir it gently and constantly anyway. Remove the pot from the heat and slowly stir in the diluted rennet with an up-and-down motion for about 30 seconds. This is where I found that a potato masher works well. The rennet will start acting on the milk pretty quickly. Just make sure you incorporate the rennet well. The up and down works but for some reason circular stirring does not.

5. Cover the pot and leave it undisturbed for 5 minutes. Set your timer. 

curds whey

6. After 5 minutes check the curd. There should be a clear separation between the curds and whey. If the curd is too soft, or the whey is too milky, let it stand for a few more minutes.

If the curd is granular, and not forming a custard-like consistency, don’t freak! It may be that the milk was been ultra-pasteurized even if it wasn't labeled that way. Granular curds can still be used to make the cheese. The stretch may not be as elastic and the final texture might be softer. This is what happened to me but it turned out all right so forge ahead if this happens to you.

7. Cut the curd into approximately 3/8 inch cubes. Make sure your knife is sharp so it pulls as little as possible on the curd. Don't worry if the size is not exact.

8. Place the pot back on the stove and heat the curd to 110 degrees F.

9. Now remove from the heat and using your slotted spoon stir slowly for 5 minutes. Stirring for 5 minutes will produce a firmer cheese.

10. After 5 minutes scoop out the curd with a slotted spoon. Put it in the bowl. If it falls apart a little don't worry. You see my curd fell part quite a bit. Keep going if this happens. It will form into balls once you start handling it. Reserve the whey.

curds

11. Now squish the curds gently with your hands forming the size units you want. Squish out as much whey as possible. Pour what you get into the whey pot.

12. Add 1/4 cup cheese salt to the reserved whey in the pot and heat it to 175 degrees F.

13. While the salted whey is heating up shape the curd into one or more balls. I wanted bite size so that's what I did.  Once the whey has reached 175 take the pot off the heat so it doesn't get hotter. Then scoop your round units with a slotted spoon and float them in the hot whey for several minutes. My recipe said "seconds" but it wasn't enough. I found that letting them sit for 2-3 minutes worked better. I think the hot water kinds of melts the curd which makes it easier to "knead".

hot water bath

14. Knead the curd by hand between each dip, and repeat this process several times until the curd is smooth and pliable. This is how you "knead": you knead by folding the curds over and over on themselves. It's not kneading like bread dough. The kneading helps to distribute the heat through the curds. Fold and press. Fold and press. Your curd will become smooth, shiny, almost melted looking. THIS IS IMPORTANT: Keep an eye on the whey temperature. If it gets too cool the curds will not warm sufficiently. If it gets too hot the curd will dissolve. It's OK if your curds have to sit on the counter while the whey heats back up. Remember: once it's heated to 175 take it off the heat. My whey hovered around 175 plus or minus a few degrees. It doesn't have to be 100 exactly but it can't vary widely.

15. Continue to knead and float the curd units back into the hot salted whey, until the curds have melded into a single, glossy mass, and will stretch like taffy. As you fold and press try to shape the balls as round as possible. Do not expect your balls to look like store bought! Manufacturers have machines for precision. Homemade should look homemade! This is what it's all about! You can eat it while it's still warm or you can put it in ice water. The ice water helps make the texture smoother.

cheese balls

I put what balls I haven't eaten (they're hard to resist!) in a jar and cover them with oil and herbs, to marinate. This cheese is best eaten fresh, within 2 days of making.

Easy Lunch Meat Frittata Recipe

Recently I have been intrigued by the idea of frittatas. They just seem so healthy and are a great way to use up some of my extra eggs. I like how they can be paleo or keto friendly as well. Another great thing is the variety. You can choose your meat, veggies, etc. I just recently bought a cast iron skillet and the main thing that I wanted to try in it was a frittata. 

When I decided that I was ready to make the frittata, I just looked around the web for some basic recipes that I could use to customize my own. I had recently eaten a turkey migas and it got me thinking that it could be easy to just try to use some turkey lunch meat in the recipe. I like to use Organic Valley lunch meat since it doesn’t have a lot of added ingredients and it is nitrate and carrageen free. 

I knew I wanted to use zucchini and I had a bell pepper that I needed to use up soon. I had some leftover shredded Parmesan cheese. I know that goes so well with zucchini. Since I am working toward more of a keto lifestyle, I added the cheese. If I was more with the straight up paleo, I would have skipped it. 

Now that I had my ingredients figure out, I was ready to get cooking. While I was preheating the oven to 400, I sautéed the zucchini and bell pepper in olive oil. I added some Himalayan pink salt, paprika and garlic. I was aiming for six regular eggs, but with my little bantam eggs, I used a full dozen. I added the eggs to a bowl and beat them. Then I added a little more salt and garlic powder to the egg mixture. Next I cut up the turkey into small pieces and added it to the eggs. 

I cooked the vegetables for about 10 minutes and then added the eggs and meat. I let that cook for around four minutes to set the edges of the eggs a little. Right before I placed everything in the oven, I sprinkled on the Parmesan cheese. I then placed the cast iron skillet into the oven and cooked it for about 20 minutes. At the end of 20 minutes, it was not quite set so I cooked it for another five minutes. 

It smelled so good while it was cooking. My husband and I were eager to partake of it. It actually turned out quite yummy and I felt good for making a tasty and healthy dish. I will definitely be making more of these.

MEL frittata
Photo by Faithful Homesteader

Lunch Meat Frittata

I don’t generally measure herbs and spices

Ingredients: 

• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 large zucchini, chopped
• 1 bell pepper, chopped
• 6 large eggs or 12 bantam eggs
• 8 slices of turkey lunch meat chopped
• Enough shredded Parmesan cheese to cover the pan
• Himalayan pink salt, to taste
• Paprika, to taste
• Garlic powder, to taste

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. 

2. Sauté chopped zucchini and bell pepper in olive oil with seasonings for about ten minutes. Beat eggs into a separate bowl. Add additional garlic powder and salt. Add lunch meat to the eggs. 

3. Pour egg and meat mixture into the skillet with vegetables and let cook for around two to four minutes to let the edges set. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top. Place frittata into the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the eggs have set.

Why Sift Flour?

I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve ever sifted flour. In modern, everyday kitchens, it’s not such a common practice. However, flour sifters have garnered my attention since I started grinding my own whole grains for bread baking. That’s because this simple practice easily separates chunky bits of grain from the finer flour.

Don’t get me wrong, I look for those chunky bits in my whole grain breads. However, not everyone in my household has the same appreciation for them.

That conflict has led me to search out a means for producing a finer flour with the equipment I already have in my kitchen. So far, I haven’t been successful. 

IMG_9963
Photo by Loretta Sorensen

My food processor may not have the proper attachments for grinding grain. Although my research brought up information about using a food processor to produce flour, it didn’t work for me at all. 

For several years I’ve relied on my Vitamix high speed blender to produce whole grain flour – using the dry container. It works better than any other appliance I have, but I still have to sift out the chunks, or spring for a flour mill.

If you’ve researched grain mills at all, you probably know that it will cost you between $300 and $500 for a quality flour mill. You could spend less, but some reviews of less costly equipment are not complimentary.

It will be a while before I’m ready to purchase the grain mill I really want, so what do I do in the meantime? Sift the flour.

Fortunately, I’ve cached two flour sifters in my cupboards: one vintage and one just a few years old. So, I will learn to use the newer one, knowing my flour prep will take a bit more time, for now.

If you opt to stick with a sifter (and who knows, maybe I will, too), you’ll find a range of options well beyond the iconic cylindrical, handheld sifters our mothers used.

One reasonably priced sifter option is the mesh sifter, which looks like a round cake pan, just with a fine mesh for a bottom. There is an electric flour sifter, and of course many handheld versions, including “The Original Bromwell Flour Sifter,” the first patented flour sifter first made some 200 years ago.

My approach to refining my flour will be to grind it in my Vitamix (one cup at a time, max), then sift out the unground bits, return them to the mixer and finish grinding. Generally, there’s only a tablespoon of bits that need more attention, so that doesn’t take long.

If I just ground the flour and used it as it is, it takes just moments to grind 3-1/2 cups for one loaf of bread, so adding a few minutes of sifting isn’t huge. Since this will be my process for a while, I’ll plan to grind 4 or 5 batches at a time. Doing that may reveal to me that I really don’t need a flour mill any time soon.


Long time journalist Loretta Sorensen is the author of Secrets To Baking Your Best Bread Ever! and regularly shares information about whole grains and bread baking. You’ll find her book on her blog site at www.bakeyourbestever.com, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the Country Store at Our Dakota Horse Tales. Her weekly bread baking posts are featured at Mother Earth Living, GRIT Magazine, Our Dakota Horse Tales, and on Pinterest and Facebook.

Store-Bought or Fresh Ground Flour?

Early in my bread-baking efforts I wanted to answer this question. Since every baker has different goals, there’s no one “right” answer. 

Certainly, if taking time to grind your own grain would stall or even end your bread-baking activities, use the milled flours you are able to purchase. With all our buying options — in-store, online, direct from growers, etc. — it’s generally not difficult to obtain quality flour for your bread.

And with online purchase options, there’s certainly a wide range of brands and flour types at our fingertips.

Here’s a summary of advantages for both purchasing milled flour and making your own!

IMG_9913
Photo by Loretta Sorensen

Purchasing milled flour

  • Big time saver
  • Finely milled to give you a fine bread texture
  • Ability to purchase in quantities large enough for making multiple loaves
  • Consistent quality and texture

Grind your own grain

  • Ability to manage freshness by grinding the grain shortly before or right before using it
  • Create customized grain blends
  • Obtain coarse grind flours
  • Verify growing conditions (grow yourself or purchase from known grower) 

Of course, there are some disadvantages to grinding your own grains. One main hurdle is purchasing proper grinding equipment. Most modern blenders will grind grain. Depending on the blender’s power, the flour may be quite coarse.

Personally, I love a coarse grind to bake my bread. Some visible pieces of the whole grain and bran show up in your loaf. However, if you have someone with digestive/colon issues, those little bits of grain may cause problems.

While you can create customized grain blends by grinding whole grains, there’s no reason not to use milled flours to make grain blends that help you reach your baking goals.

One of my common grain blends is wheat and rye. We enjoy rye bread on occasion. Since rye has less gluten than wheat, my loaves are most satisfactory if I blend 50% wheat flour with 50% rye flour. (If you use this blend, boost your kneading cycles to 18 minutes each to maximize your gluten activity.)

If you’re experimenting with grain blends to find personal taste, nutrition and texture preferences, using milled flour will be faster and may be less expensive.

Grinding your own grain is much easier than you may have imagined. Using a Vitamix blender (use the dry container), you can grind approximately 4 cups of flour in just 5 minutes or less. This will be a somewhat coarse grind, but easily fine enough for baking bread.

If you prefer to mill your own grain, be prepared to invest in a quality grain mill. Some of the highest rated home mills cost at least $500. You may also want to consider how much storage space you have for a mill before you buy one. They’re not huge, but will require a significant amount of storage space.

My goal is to invest in a mill so I can produce the fine flours my family prefers. Once I reach that point, I expect to grind enough flour for 2 or 3 months. Stored in the freezer, they will retain their quality for at least 6 months.

It’s not necessary to grind your own grain to bake bread, but there’s a certain satisfaction that comes with preparing your own bread flour. Once you learn how fast and easy it is, it may be the only type of flour you use.


Long time journalist Loretta Sorensen is the author of Secrets To Baking Your Best Bread Ever! and regularly shares information about whole grains and bread baking. You’ll find her book on her blog site at Bake Your Bread Ever, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the Country Store at Our Dakota Horse Tales. Her weekly bread baking posts are featured at Mother Earth Living, GRIT Magazine, Our Dakota Horse Tales, and on Pinterest and Facebook.

Fresh Cottage Cheese Recipe

I have been on a mission to drastically salt from my diet. I know I can't or shouldn't eliminate all of the salt because sodium is actually necessary for your body to function properly but when you have high blood pressure (like I do) or just want to eat a natural diet (like I do) you will find that most store-bought prepared foods are high in sodium. For example, look at the label of your natural foods and you will be very surprised. I was!

Fortunately,  many foods are not hard to make yourself and then you can control how much sodium (or other bad stuff) goes into your body. Living a natural lifestyle is within reach of everybody. Let's get back to the foods that grandmother or great grandmother ate and didn't think twice about it.

One thing I want to eat more of but has too much salt are the cheeses of the world. I'm French. I love cheese. How do I get to eat more cheese and eliminate the salt? The answer is trés simple. I make my own.

Today I am making homemade cottage cheese and it turns out that it couldn't be easier.

finish

Homemade Cottage Cheese Recipe

Supplies:

Milk thermometer
Large stainless steel spoon for stirring
Clean tea towel or layers of cheesecloth or butter muslin
Colander
Large bowl that a colander fits into but doesn't touch bottom
Twine
Heavy bottom stainless steel pot that holds one gallon of milk

Ingredients:

1 gallon pasteurized whole, 2% or skim milk
3/4 cup white vinegar
To taste: Natural salt or kosher salt (salt that doesn't have any additives in it; one of my pet peeves is that regular salt has dextrose in it - sugar!)
Heavy cream or half and half, to taste

Instructions:

heat

1. Pour the milk into the pot and put it on medium heat.

120

2. Heat it to 120 degrees and then remove it from the heat.

vinegar

3. Gently pour in the vinegar. By the way, the vinegar will not affect the taste one iota.

4. Stir it gently for a minute or two. You should see the curd separating from the whey. Make sure that vinegar is stirred all the way through the milk or you might not get it all curdled. I found this out the hard way. Waste of milk!

5. Cover and let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

6. Place a colander lined with a tea towel, 2 layers of cheesecloth or one layer of butter muslin over the large bowl. Pour the curdled milk into the colander. Let it drain for 5 minutes or so. Pour out the whey or save it for the hens.

drain

7. Gather up the edges of the cloth and tie twine around the gathered edges. Hang the bag from the handle on one of your cabinets and let the bag drain into the bowl for 30 minutes or more.  Once cool squeeze more whey out as best you can and put the curds in another bowl. Add the salt while breaking it up into bite size pieces as you mix. If you are going to eat it right away you can now add the cream. If you aren't you can put it in the fridge and add the cream later when you want to eat it.

Photos by Renee Benoit






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