Thursday, March 28, 2013

Laundry Soap

Not all of my efforts to make our home chemical free are happening in the kitchen. Although, making food is a lot more fun than making soap, because you get to eat it. One benefit to making your own laundry soap besides choosing the ingredients is that is is CHEAP! You buy three simple ingredients and it makes a ton of soap and the ingredients last a long time!

Most of the recipes I found for making homemade soap involved buying fels naptha bar soap. Being a rookie, I figured this was the soap I had to use. Well, I bought the stuff, and the first thing I noticed is that it has a strong smell. Very perfume-y, and that doesn't exactly make me think "chemical-free". It actually brought up some old memory of relatives that must have made their own soap or used fels-naptha. It was such a cloudy memory but those olfactory glands can sure spark a vision! Anyway, I learned that you can use essentially any bar soap, such as Dove, Ivory, etc. So next time I will be buying an unscented bar of soap - or possibly just using castile soap which I happen to have anyway.

The other two ingredients are washing soda and Borax. You can usually find all these items in the cleaning isle of any walmart or grocery store. I also learned that in a pinch, you can actually bake your baking soda to make washing soda. Interesting!

The most labor-intensive part was grating the fels naptha. I've heard that Ivory grates much easier.

mmmm cheese...oh no wait...its soap
You use 1/3 of the bar of soap, and than a half cup each of Borax and Washing soda. You melt it all down with 6 cups of water.

This is when the stink from the fels naptha got really strong. My husband said it was burning his nose. Luckily, the clothes I have washed with it end up smelling like nothing, but the hour after making this stuff was horrible. 

After everything is dissolved you add this to 1 gallon plus 10 cups of water in a large bucket. Mix it well and let it sit! It gelled up overnight, and this is what it looks like:

I've heard it an look like many things - more solid or more liquid, chunky, etc. You just grab some of all of it when you measure out your 1/2 cup for your load of laundry.

I may also add some essential oil next time - like lavendar. I don't think it'll make my clothes scented but I do laundry so often, it would be nice if it had a pleasant smell!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Homemade OREOS

A good friend of mine planted the idea in my head for these made-from-scratch oreos. When it comes to cookies, oreos aren't my first choice, but I certainly don't turn my nose up at them! In fact, once I eat one, it is hard to stop. My mission to make our household chemical free is all about being healthy - and I think an important part of being healthy is letting yourself indulge in something you love in moderation. Given that these are made from scratch I feel completely comfortable serving them to my family and having one or two (or three or four) myself. I love sweets, and so does my family - they are good for our souls!

I used this recipe from My Baking Addiction. If you have made a cut out sugar cookie before, you can make these.

First, you have to make sure the hinge on your mixer works. Lift it up and put it down several times. Unplug the mixer and make sure all the knobs work for the speed changes. This very important job is best performed by a toddler.
Then make the cookie dough like any other cookie - creaming the sugar and the butter, adding the egg and vanilla, and then the dry ingredients.

Due to my dirty-dish phobia, I don't combine my dry ingredients in a separate bowl. I just throw them all in there and they come out fine every time. Then you make two discs out of your dough and refrigerate them for a while - I think I let mine sit for a couple hours.

One chilled, roll them out. The thickness of your cookie is preference. My husband liked the really thin cookies, and I prefer the ones that are a little thicker. If you want them exactly like an oreo you'll have to just use your best judgement - they don't spread in the oven so the thickness you roll them is the thickness they will be. I tried to use as little flour as possible - but I also didn't want the dough to stick.

I just used an little baby food container to make my circles. Then into the oven for 12 minutes.

Then you have your nice crunchy chocolate cookie part. They did lose some of their crunch over the course of a week of being filled with the icing, but you know, they ARE homemade.

The icing was a simple buttercream recipe, but a little thicker - so just more powdered sugar and less milk or cream.

I put the filling in a bag and cut the tip off just to make the application easier.

Then just make a sandwich! The filling will firm up a little more as it sits for a bit.

I think about half of these were gone the first day they were made. The rest we stretched out for a week. They would make an awesome gift - and you can make the filling colorful if you wanted them to be for a holiday or babyshower or whatever!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Clean-up's a b*tch

Since I need to upload some photos in order to finish a blog - I thought I'd throw this in to supplement an actual make-it-yourself post.

When you start to make things yourself - be it food, soap, clothes, decorations - there is the element of the mess it creates. Well taking on this project of making everything from scratch and passing up the cracker isle at the supermarket is sure taking its toll on my kitchen!

Let me say - I am not a clean cook. I do not carefully pour flour into my bowl without spilling it. I do no wash dishes as I go along. I do not put stuff away as I am done with it. I make a huge mess. I do clean it up, but I do not like it! I am getting used to it though. I am also getting very good at figuring out when I really need to dirty a dish. I very rarely "mix dry ingredients together in a separate bowl" or "melt butter in a small pan on the stove". I choose my utensil by thinking about how I am going to use it throughout every step of the process.

Homemade crackers, pie crust, some breads, pizza, etc. all require me to roll things out on my table with flour. Then I have a mess of flour and stuck-on dough bits not only on the table, but on the floor, and there are usually toddler hand prints elsewhere in the house, depending how long the boy has been free before I realize he is running around the house after being in the flour. Also, have you ever made the mistake of trying to clean up flour with a WARM washcloth? I have - and I never will again! The warm water makes the flour's gluten act up and you get a goupy mess on the washcloth.

Something I have learned to accept after having a second baby is that sometimes, there is just going to be a mess that I can't get to right away. The baby might need to be fed, the toddler may fall and stub his toe, or both at the same time. Sometimes I sit there and go crazy over the fact that there is flour over my kitchen. However, I am getting better and better and learning to let it go, and realizing that once I get the chance I can clean it up. I can take my time. I'm doing good thing for my family - and that is worth the mess every time.

It also helps to have a somewhat OCD husband when it comes to having the floors clean. If there is anything on the floor WATCH OUT! He'll be there with his vacuum sucking it up as soon as he walks in the door. He will also help me clean up dinner. Now if only I can apply those OCD qualities to the bathroom - hmmmm.

In the end - the mess is worth it, and I will continue to reluctantly clean it up.

Just a small example of what I face every day :)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Rustic crackers

This may be my favorite cracker recipe yet. It is easy and versatile. I don't have to individually move little crackers onto my cookie sheet because you cut them right there on the cookie sheet! Less cleanup makes me sooooo happy! I used this recipe for the crackers and then made my own additions at the end. 

It is a simple recipe - just combine all the ingredients in a bowl to form a dough. I used part white flour and part whole wheat flour this time, but next time I think I'll just use all whole wheat flour. I don't think it'll effect the texture too much.

Then my favorite part - you just put some of the dough on your cookie sheet, and roll it our right in there! I used a sil pat, but you probably don't need it.

You make an egg wash and brush it over the crackers. I think this is an important step because it'll give the crackers that extra shine and crispiness on top. It also helps any toppings you put on stick!What is fun about these crackers is you can add toppings. I did one batch of plain (with salt - always with salt), one with sesame seeds, and one with dill. You can do all sorts of herbs, garlic, poppy seeds, what-have-you.
 Then with my cookie cutter I made the crackers.

My Mom was visiting this day and was able to take some pictures for me. I thought an action shot would be nice :).
Then you bake the crackers at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes. You have to watch them. The original recipe says 10 minutes but that wasn't enough for my crackers. It depends on how thin you roll them, your pan, etc. etc.

Funny story - When I was going to bake up the last bit of dough Alli woke up from her nap and she was looking for some milk, so I went to nurse her and asked my Mom if she could finish up the last bit of dough. So I'm sitting there nursing and my Mom looks out of the kitchen and says "I just realized that I didn't cut the crackers before putting them in the oven!". So, we ended up with one big cracker, teehee. There is no doubt that I am this woman's daughter - because I do stuff like that all the time.

So here is Ma with her big cracker. I know, isn't she beautiful?

So with this I just broke it up into pieces - and to be honest I loved how it turned out! Instead of having perfect little squares I just had chunks of cracker - very rustic indeed!

So here are some of the finished crackers. They are so simple which makes them so wonderful.

Rustic Crackers

2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt (plus more for topping)
1 t. baking powder
2/3 cup water
1/3 cup olive oil
egg wash (one egg beaten with 2 T water)

Mix dry ingredients first, and then add the water and olive oil. Make a dough, and divide that dough into 2 or 3 portions, depending on your cookie sheet size. Then take a portion and roll it out right on the cookie sheet as thin as you want. Top with egg wash, toppings, and then cut unto desired shapes. Bake at 400 degrees for about 10-20 minutes, keeping an eye on them.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Irish Soda Bread

Ok, I am a little late with this. When I made this soda bread last week I thought I'd be giving you a recipe for St. Patrick's Day but with our data-limited internet plan, I couldn't upload the pictures until today! However, this soda bread would be good any day, any time of year. It is my Great-Grandma's recipe. My GG. She wasn't from Ireland but Scotland, and you know, that is pretty close :). I even debated whether I wanted to share this family heirloom with you because I thought it might be best kept a secret for our own family. But, recipes are meant to be shared. I think my GG wouldn't mind me sharing her recipe with all of you!

There are many recipes and types of soda bread, but what I like about this one is that is isn't super-sweet, and it isn't very dry like some soda bread recipes. It has a richness to it that is somewhat deceiving because it is really a waist-friendly bread. I'll say this over and over - my blog is certainly not about low-calorie/low-sugar/losing weight, but if you are trying to lose a few, this recipe isn't going to ruin your week.

It a one-bowl recipe, which I really like! You start with the dry ingredients - flour, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar. Then you crumb-in half a stick of butter. This is what I mean by waist-friendly - two loaves of the bread only has 1/4 cup of butter in the whole thing. It mystifies me how it can be so good - but I think it has a lot to do with the buttermilk. I also use my fingers to incorporate butter into dry ingredients. It is so much easier than trying to use a pastry cutter or two knives or what-have-you. Then you add in the raisins, and then the eggs and buttermilk.

Then you let it stand for about 15 minutes. I think this has to do with letting the soda mix with the buttermilk and work its magic.

Then you put it into two greased bread pans and bake it at 350 for about an hour. It is really good warm straight out of the oven!

GG's Soda Bread

3 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/4 cup raisins
2 cups buttermilk

Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut in butter. Add raisins. Then add the buttermilmk and eggs. Pour in to 2 greased bread pans and let stand, covered, for 15 minutes. Bake in 350 degree oven for 1 hour.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Venison Taco Pizza

Ever since getting pregnant with Gavyn I have craved Mexican food. So, basically, I have craved the same food just in different forms. Have you ever noticed that about American-ized Mexican food? It is basically seasoned meat (exclude for vegetarians), beans, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and sour cream, and maybe some avocado, all wrapped up in some sort of carbohydrate. This could be a tortilla - corn or flour - a chalupa, crispy tortilla chips, etc. The spices are mostly chili powder, cumin, onion and garlic, salt and pepper, maybe some oregano, and maybe some paprika or other "hot" spice. It can be baked, fried, or just assembled. What can I say - all of these things put together is just an awesome meal! So whether it is a taco, a burrito, an enchilada, a salad - my pregnant and/or lactating body just craves it. At least it is well rounded!

So the star of this post is the pizza crust - because it is the ingredient that a lot of households see as being difficult to make from scratch and so they end up buying frozen dough or worse - dough from a can. I love "regular' pizza but since we have Mexican night here and I have difficulty finding different ways to assemble my 7 Mexican ingredients - this is my Mexican pizza.

The dough starts with these ingredients:

I used a combination of white and whole wheat flours. Then you also need some warm water - the way I test the temperature of my water is I put my wrist on the side of the container that I am heating it in (usually my glass measuring cup). It should feel warm, but not hot. It should not be steaming. Then I sprinkle the yeast over the water and let it sit for 5 minutes to proof. I really don't know why I sprinkle it over the top instead of just mixing it in the water. That is the way my Mom did it and so that is the way I do it. I'm sure there is a reason.

I start with 2 1/2 cups total of flour in my mixer fitted with the dough hook. I add a heaping teaspoon of salt. After the yeast mixture is a little foamy, I add it to the flour along with about 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. I just eye-ball it. Then I let the mixer go to work! You may need to add extra flour if the dough ball is sticking to the sides of the bowl. You can always add flour, but you can't take it away. After the dough looks like it isn't going to be really sticky, let the machine do its work for 4-5 minutes. If you don't have a mixer - you'll have to knead the dough by hand. It is actually a good stress relief and sometimes I just want to get my hands in the dough!

Then you coat it with olive oil and let it sit for about an hour to rise. Sorry for the lack of pictures - but I kind of figured you'd get sick of me posting pictures of dough rising. Anyway, once it has risen you roll it out into a pan in whatever shape you want. I wanted to use my cookie sheet to bake the pizza so I spread it out to just fit the cookie sheet.

While the dough was rising, I cooked up a pound of ground venison and then added about 1/2 cup of my homemade enchilada sauce as the seasoning. So this went onto the pizza dough.

Had I some refried beans, that would have gone on first, but I just didn't have time to make any, so instead I add some whole beans later (I like to make a whole bag of dried beans and freeze what I don't use so I always have frozen beans). Then go the toppin's! Tomatoes, green onion, black olives, beans, and cheddar cheese.

It baked at 415 degrees for about 20 minutes. There were a lot of toppings on there.

Add a dollop of sour cream on top of your piece and there you have it!

Homemade Pizza Dough

1 cup warm water (115-120 degrees)
1 packet active dry yeast
1 heaping tsp. salt
2 1/2 - 3 cups flour
2 T extra virgin olive oil

Combine yeast and water and let sit for 5 minutes. In stand mixer attached with the dough hook, mix 2 1/2 cups of flour and salt. Add in the yeast mixture and olive oil and turn the machine on low. Add more flour until the dough is no longer sticky. Knead with dough hook for about 5 minutes. Coat with oil and let rise for about an hour. Roll out into pizza form!

Toppings for pizza:
Ground venison/beef with enchilada sauce of taco seasoning
3 green onions, chopped
2 roma tomatoes, chopped
Black olives
Cheddar cheese
Cooked beans
Whatever you have!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Wheat Thin -type Crackers

Yes, another cracker recipe. I can't seem to keep crackers in my house for long, so I am always making them now. That is the problem with going homemade - toddler and husbands (and breast-feeding Mamas) eat them up FAST! This was a request by an old friend of mine and she gave me the recipe to try out. This is the recipe she had me try. I like this recipe for lots of reasons. One, it uses all whole wheat flour. Two, it uses honey as the sweetener. Three, they come out great, as long as you bake them long enough. 

I said this because the first batch I  made I didn't bake long enough. I baked them about 10 minutes, as per the directions, and they did look nice and brown. In fact, a couple were a little on the too-dark side. However, once they cooled, they weren't exactly crispy like crackers should be. Since I had the other half of my crackers waiting to be baked (I didn't want to dirty two cookie sheets so I just used the same one twice) I decided to bake them longer. I baked them for what I thought was going to be too long, and was worried because I didn't want to burn them. I basically took them out right before they burned, and they were perfect. once they cooled they had that nice crunch to them. So if you make these, they need to be really really done. Almost burnt :).

The recipe is like many other cracker recipes - you mix the dry ingredients, cut in the butter, and then add the rest of the liquids.

The butter cut into the dry ingredients - I use my fingers
My mess of a dough ball. 
Another nice thing about this recipe is that I was able to leave it and come back to it throughout the day due to Mommy duty. It still worked out fine. I was in a rush getting this ball of dough together so it is kind of messy!!

They were easy to cut out with a pizza cutter. 

My little helper
They really need to get nice and dark. Maybe it is the whole wheat flour. The crispy ones were awesome - we spent the rest of the night eating them with cheese!

Homemade Honey Wheat Thins Crackers
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Snacks
  • 1¾ cup whole wheat flour
  • ½ tsp sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling
  • ¼ tsp paprika
  • 5 tbsp organic butter, cold and cubed
  • 2 tbsp raw honey
  • ¼ tsp white vinegar
  • ¼ cup water
  • ¼ tsp pure vanilla
  1. In a large bowl combine the wheat flour, salt and paprika. Use a whisk to mix together.
  2. Using a fork, knife, or your hands, mix in the butter until the mixture is similar to coarse sand.
  3. Add the honey and vinegar and stir well.
  4. Combine the water and vanilla in a small dish or cup.
  5. Slowly pour the water into the dough while stirring, just until the dough starts coming together. You may need more or less water. I needed a little more.
  6. Dust a work surface with flour and knead lightly.
  7. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 10-20 minutes.
  8. Preheat oven to 400.
  9. Prepare a piece of parchment paper to fit your pan and dust with flour.
  10. Roll dough until thin. The thinner the crispier!
  11. Cut with a pizza cutter.
  12. Sprinkle with salt and place in oven.
  13. Cook 7-10 minutes until crispy to your liking.
Try rolling the dough to the same thickness. My edges burnt because the edges were rolled thinner than the middle.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Greek Dip

To go with my homemade pitas I made this greek dip to fill them up with some good flavor. Homemade hummus is ALWAYS better than store-bought, because you can add your own spices and additions and make it just how you like it. This dip would also be good with crackers, chips, etc. Or just eat it with a spoon. Or a fork - whatever you have.

I started with the hummus. In my food processor I added 2 small cloves of garlic that I had rough chopped. You can put them in there whole but I thought I'd give them a head start because even though I like garlic, I do not like huge chunks of garlic.

I then added a can of chickpeas, about 1/4 cup of tahini (sesame paste), a teaspoon or so of salt, and a crackling of pepper. That is my own culinary term - a crackling, meaning to crackle the pepper mill over the food until you have as much as you want. I use smoked peppercorns, because in most cases I love a little smokey taste to my food. You can't really taste the smokiness here though.

You can also add lemon juice, spices, more garlic, roated red peppers, etc. etc. at this point. Then add about 1/4 cup olive oil with the processor going. You can keep adding oil until it becomes smooth, but I stopped at 1/4 cup and started adding water because even though it comes out AMAZING if you use all oil, I am trying to shed some baby weight and thought I better use some water. Although I do think fats are crucial to your body!

So once your hummus because creamy and spreadable, it is done!

I put it as the bottom layer of my dip. Then I topped it with chopped cucumber, tomato, kalamata olives, and feta cheese. Oh and a sprinkling of salt, of course. So. Good.

Homemade hummus

1-3 garlic cloves peeled and chopped, depending on your preference
1 can chickpeas, drained
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
about 1/4 cup water or enough to make it creamy

Pulse garlic in processor. Add chickpeas, tahini, salt, pepper, and pulse a few times. With the processor going, add in the olive oil and then the water until it becomes creamy.

Pita Pita

When I was in college there was a place called the Pita Pit that I got food from a lot. It was the only place where I felt I could get something really healthy either picked up or delivered to my door. It was more like a wrap than an actual pita pocket and I liked that. Anyhow it has been a long, long time since I ate there because I avoid campus like a nail in the foot after I graduated, but recently I thought it would be fun to try and make my own pita-like-wrap to fill with yummy things.

I turned to pinterest, where I had already seen several pita recipes posted. The difference between a  pita and a tortilla is that the pitas have yeast in them. I used this recipe to make my pitas. They are more like wraps than the kind you get that are really poofy and have a little pocket. I just can't eat those - they fall apart on me every. single. time.

Making this is a lot like making pizza dough. Only you dry-cook the pitas in a frying pan. I used my stand mixer, but you could easily do it by hand.

Here is my nice ball of dough after proofing the yeast in water, and then adding the flour, salt, and olive oil.

After letting it rise I made my little balls of dough - 8 total. You only see 7 here because a certain little toddler decided he was going to take his pita making into his own hands.

I rolled them out pretty thin, because I did want them more like a wrap.

Then I just put them in a pan heated on medium high heat and cooked them until they started to get all bubbly on one side, flipped them for a very short amount of time on the other side, and they were done!

See the bubbles? That is how you know it is working
I filled my pitas with a greek dip I made using hummus, cucumbers, tomatoes, feta, and kalamata olives. I'll post the hummus and dip recipe next!

Homemade Pitas

1 cup warm water (110-115 degrees)
1 packet active dry yeast
2 1/2-3 cups flour
2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil

Dissolve the yeast in the water and let sit for 5 minutes or so. Meanwhile, mix the flour and salt in a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Once the yeast is proofed (getting a little fizzy) pour it in the machine along with the olive oil and turn the machine on a setting of 2 or 3. Once it is combined turn the mixer to its lowest setting. You want your mixer on the lowest setting for kneading the dough because if you go to fast you will actually work air into the dough which you don't want!

You may have to add more flour so the dough isn't very sticky anymore. Then coat with oil and let it rise for an hour or so. Once risen, divide into 8 portions and roll each portion pretty thin - maybe about 1/8" in thickness.

You can coat your pan with some EVOO for the first one to ensure the pan is prepped and that the pita won't stuck. Don't go nuts though, you don't want it fried. Let it cook on one side until you see little bubbles all over the surface, and then flip it over. Cook a little while longer until there is some color on the underside and then take it off and set it aside so you can do the next one. These are best fresh but we were still eating them 3 days  later and they were still good!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Hot Dog Buns Success!

So I decided to go ahead and try making hot dog buns again, and I am so glad I did! These rose beautifully, and I ended up with a really good bun for my venison hot dogs. Another plus was that I could make them as long as I needed them - and the hot dogs I used are really long!

See how much the dough rose? I credit the active dry yeast I used...NOT instant.

I would have gotten 8 buns instead of the 7 you see here, but I decided to do something fun with the last bit of dough for Gavyn. I rolled it out and filled it with garlic salt and cheese.

And made little cheese rolls for Gavyn's lunch! Let me tell you, these were delish. I may make it for my own lunch someday, or an appetizer for a party or something.

Anyway back to the hot dog buns. I used this recipe but cut it in half. I also used bread flour, but will add whole wheat next time. I always like to test a bread recipe using all white flour first and then start adding in whole wheat from there. You don't want to bother if it doesn't even work with white flour.

I didn't top them with anything fancy. You could brush them with egg wash and top with poppy seeds or what-have-you but I just wanted a simple bun. They worked great for out venison hot dog lunch!

Don't hate me - I love ketchup on my hot dog. I am such a bad Chicago-an
Uncle Tom topped his with Chili. We were out of mustard!

Homemade Hot Dog Buns

1 tablespoon sugar (I used raw)
1 packet active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (105°F to 115°F)
3/4 cups warm milk (105°F to 115°F)
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon salt
3 to 3 1/2 cups flour

Combine warm water and sugar, and then sprinkle the yeast on top and let sit for 5 minutes or until frothy. Add in the warm milk and oil. Put 3 cups of flour and the salt in your stand mixer attached with the dough hook and add the wet ingredients. Let it work for 5 minutes or so. It shouldn't stick to the sides of the bowl, but you want to stop adding flour right when that happens because you don't want it too dry either. Let the hook knead the sough for 4-5 minutes (if you are doing this by hand, just put in a bowl and mix everything until a soft dough forms, and then knead for 4-5 minutes). Then coat with oil and let it rise for an hour. 

Divide the dough into 8 portions and roll into buns of your choice (these would make great hamburger buns as well). Let rise again for just about 20 minutes. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. I took mine out before they got too dark. Let cool before slicing, but in my opinion they should still be served slightly warm :).