Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tinkering in the kitchen

Steering my life back into the slow lane has given me the opportunity to get back in the kitchen for some play time. I first learned how to bake bread a year ago, after a lifetime of assuming it was too gosh darn difficult for me to figure out, let alone ever master. Let me tell you, never think you can't do something just because you've never tried. 

Within months, I was making some of the tastiest whole wheat bread loaves around, soft and light, just like sandwich bread should be. In fact, my brother was reluctant to believe that I didn't just buy it from the store. The loaves are actually that pretty. But with the craziness of my life over the last few months, as I've been heavily involved in the community, bread baking has been one of the things that fell off the radar. Sure, I was still making all our bread from scratch, but I wasn't trying anything new. 

So when my body finally put a halt to my hectic pace, I knew it was time to get back into the kitchen. There's almost nothing as relaxing and rewarding as making your own breads. So, empowered by past successes, I decided to give a few commercial favorites a shot...

Whole Wheat Crackers - I love nibbling on crackers. Doesn't everyone? But the packaging always leaves me feeling guilty. I hate waste. Can making your own crackers really be that difficult?

Let's see:
  • 1 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 6 tbs water
  • 4 tbs oil
  • 1 tbs honey
Mix everything together in a bowl and knead for about 3 minutes. Roll it into a bowl and allow it to rest for 15-20 minutes, while you preheat the oven to 350. Spray a cookie sheet with oil and place the dough down. Roll it out to about 1/8 inch thick with a rolling pin. Use cookie cutters, a pizza cutter, whatever to cut the dough into your cracker bites (I just ran a pizza cutter through mine leaving in one large mass to bake). Bake the crackers for 10 minutes. Then turn the cookie sheet 180 degrees and bake for another 10 minutes or until the crackers start to brown. Allow them to cool on the cookie sheet and store in an airtight container. Yum! Feeling creative? Throw in some fresh herbs or try different flours.

My first attempt at wheat crackers was successful, but they didn't have that crunch that you expect out of a cracker. For the subsequent batches, however (and there have been a few of them), I left them in the oven just a little bit longer and they were perfect! Geez! Crackers are the easiest things ever and they taste GREAT when they're homemade! 

Whole Wheat Tortillas - Inspired by one of the bread bakers at the farmers' market (who makes GREAT whole wheat tortillas), I was determined to try tortillas myself. I mean, you can do anything with tortillas, right? Dave could have one with egg and salsa. I could have beans, rice, and sauteed veggies. The possibilities are endless. 

I found a quick and easy recipe on-line and decided to give it a shot. Not having made them before, I followed the recipe to the letter. Making a dough for the first time is tricky, as experience has taught me. Until you know what the dough is supposed to feel like, you never know how the end product will result. The dough felt really dry to me, but what do I know, right? 

I divided out the dough into four balls and let them rest for about 20 minutes before I rolled them out with a rolling pin. It was at the rolling stage that I realized just how helpful it must be to have a tortilla press. Let's just say, mine were not the shapeliest of tortillas. But it's the taste that matters, right?

Well, I suppose it's time to confess. The first two batches of tortillas tasted fabulous, BUT they were hard and I had an awful time rolling anything inside because they would break. They just didn't have that wonderful pliability that you expect with a good tortilla. 

That's when I called in reinforcements - Enter Chile (of Chile Chews) and Rebecca (my tortilla vendor friend at the farmers' market). Both were eager to help and had great ideas on ways I could tinker with ingredients and technique. Having talked to them, I plotted my next tortilla move...

Would you believe the third time (with some help from my tortilla gurus) was the charm? That third batch of tortillas were PERFECT. I'm not kidding - absolutely perfect! 

So allow me to share, my totally awesome, super yummy, whole wheat tortilla recipe:
  • 1 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup water (maybe just a touch more, you have to get a feel for it, but it should be workable dough consistency)
  • vegetable oil
Mix the whole wheat flour and salt together, then add the water. Mix it first with a spoon or spatula until it forms a ball in your bowl. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead for a few minutes, adding a touch of water to soften the dough if needed. 

Split the dough into 4 balls, cover with a towel, and set aside for 30 minutes. 

After the dough has rested, pour a little vegetable oil in your hand and roll the dough around to coat the exterior. Then put it down on a rolling mat, sprinkle with flour so it doesn't stick to your pin, and roll out the tortilla very thin. Repeat these steps for each of the four balls.

Heat a griddle or frying pan (I used a cast iron griddle) and place your tortillas down (I can fit 2 at a time on mine). When you see the dough bubble up from underneath, it's time to flip it and brown the other side.

When the tortillas are done, place them in a clean towel and cover while you cook the other tortillas. This keeps the steamy heat in and keeps them soft. Serve and enjoy!

These are wonderfully easy and delicious! I pop mine in the fridge and have been taking one out for breakfast in the morning along side some fresh fruit. For breakfast, you can roll your tortilla with eggs and salsa, eat them plain (like me most of the time) or for a special treat, try a smear of peanut butter and jelly. Of course, for other meals there's beans, rice, avocado, tomatoes, sauteed onions and peppers, salsa... Be creative. It's all good!


Of course that's just my most recent efforts to tinker around the kitchen with baking. Last year, I also taught myself to make bagels, challah, yogurt sandwich rolls, french bread, and (of course), my whole wheat sandwich bread and rolls. What's next? Well, you'll just have to stick around and find out.


Seraphim said...

Oh wow those crackers look great...I'm deffinately going to be trying those! Have you ever tried to make any indian breads? They're super easy and really tasty.

- Sera

Farmer's Daughter said...

I just made some tortillas last night for enchiladas. After filling with your ingredients (I use ground beef, cheese, and salsa, but I'm sure veggies would be awesome!) bake at 350 for 20 minutes. They're so yummy!

Kori~Q~ said...

I make regular ol' white flour tortillas pretty regularly, but haven't had much luck with whole wheat - definitely going to try your recipe!

For what it's worth, tortilla presses don't really work for flour tortillas, just corn. And yes, I learned that the hard way! The owner of our favorite family-owned TexMex spot swears by using an extra-thick dowel (think closet bar thickness) about 2 feet long as her flour tortilla rolling pin. I have one of the french rolling pins and it works great, also.

Good luck with your future tortilla-ing!

(Total side note, but it really IS a small world... apparently your hubby is buddies with one of my closest friends in the world - how random is that???)

JAM said...

Heather, thanks for the recipes - I'm going to try both of these!

Theresa said...

Oh, I am so trying those crackers! And I might get brave and try the tortillas too! What I would really like to make are pita breads to go with my home made tzatsiki. Have you had any luck with naan or pita bread Heather?

Heather @ SGF said...

Sera - No, I haven't. Do you have a good recipe you'd like to share? It sounds good!

Farmers' Daughter - I was thinking some rice, salsa, chopped veggies... One of the vendors has peppers at the market. I might just pick some up this weekend. It's all good :)

Kori - good to know! I won't lament not having a press :) You'll have to email me and let me know who your friend is. How did you make the connection?

JAM - Have fun! They are SUPER easy - even though it took me a few times to get the tortillas right :)

Theresa - I haven't tried pita bread yet, but one of the other bloggers linked to a recipe a few weeks ago and I PDF'd it to try one of these days:


You'll have to let me know if you try it and if you liked it!

Jennifer (of Veg*n Cooking) said...

Crackers AND tortillas? Yummy, yummy YUM! Those crackers look perfectly crispy and I love that they are whole wheat. Do you think you could work herbs or garlic or something into the dough to give the crackers more of their own flavor?

And those tortillas! I STILL have not made tortillas from scratch which I really want to do. After I successfully made the ciabatta, Brett proposed and so now my time in the kitchen has been limited and I MISS IT! I think I may have to break down and make Brett some cookies tonight or something, I need to be in the kitchen beyond throwing together "whatever we have on hand meals".

Heather @ SGF said...

jennifer - absolutely! Play with different spices and you're sure to find something you love. Recipes were made to be tampered with :)