Apr 4, 2016

LK's Homemade Cheese Crackers

Anyone who has taken care of a toddler knows they tend to eat like mice, not much at a time, but constantly foraging. I've become somewhat of a health nut in the past few years, so while, when my own little ones needed a quick snack, I opened a box of crackers, still trying to stay on the healthier side of things, and thought I was doing well, I now search for better options as I can. With GMOs and all kinds of preservatives and such, whether that's new or I wasn't aware enough before, I even hesitate to give the grandbabies store-bought "healthier" crackers.

I'm not an "always looking for things to do to keep myself busy" grandma. Well, I do keep myself busy, far more than I can keep up with, but I'm a working grandma, an at-home working grandma with one of the little ones living here, which gives me triple duty. Still, health matters, so I keep trying to find quick ways to focus on actually healthier things for all of us. (Grandma has to stay healthy, too, so she can keep up!)

A while back I found this recipe for cheese crackers, an alternative to those bright orange cheddar crackers from a box:

2 c shredded cheddar cheese
1 c whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbs unsalted butter, softened

Pulse 1st 3 ingredients in food processor, add butter and pulse until ball forms, adding water if needed. Roll out onto floured surface, cut thin, and bake at 400 for 13-15 minutes until golden brown.
(Apologies for not writing down where I picked this up months ago.)

It worked pretty well. They were good, better than the box version. But I'm a creative type when it comes to cooking, also. I like to change recipes to suit my own needs. A couple of days ago, I tried it again with my own flair, and here's what I did:

LK's Healthier Cheese Crackers

2 c Colby/Monterey Jack blend shredded cheese
1/2 c whole wheat flour (because it is healthier)
1/2 c all-purpose flour (because whole wheat flour can leave a harsh taste)
1/2 tsp Himalayan pink salt (because it's good for you, research says)
a generous sprinkle of parsley
a touch of basil
6 tbs unsalted butter (Real butter, NOT margarine)

I pulsed everything but the butter just enough to mix them together, and I didn't bother to let the butter soften first. That might be why I had to add about 3 tbs of water before it would ... well, it didn't form a ball (the first time, either), but it did get moist enough that when I dumped it out on the flour-coated counter, I could easily press it into a ball and then roll it out.

I apparently rolled it thicker than they intended, also, since they took 15-20 minutes to be cracker-crisp (at 400 degrees). I did pull out the thinner edge pieces when they were done and then stick the rest back in. So if you're more careful than I was with your rolling, you could leave them all in for the same amount of time. If you want more pieces and faster baking, roll them as thin as you can while still being able to pick them up and transfer them to the baking sheet.

They turned out very well and I'll use my own recipe from now on. You could use any shredded cheese. I used what I usually have, and I like it better than cheddar. All whole wheat flour is fine, too, and better if you don't mind the harshness. 

Oh! I actually did two batches while I was making a mess (um, baking - kind of the same thing for me) anyway, and in the second batch I added some Parmesan cheese, which then needed a touch more water. Both are pretty good - enough even the adults in the house were grabbing them, myself included. 

I have them stored in a closed container. They'll last as long as you need them to last, I imagine, which around here, won't be long. If you make a bunch, you could always freeze part of them to keep them fresh.

If you make them, I'd love to hear your thoughts, especially if you make your own adaptations.

[Note: I'm a dabbler in the kitchen, not a professional. Take my advice at your own risk.]

Mar 24, 2016

Toddler Easter Egg Art

Coloring eggs for Easter has always been a tradition for us, as for many families. I don't know about you, but I always think it's sad that those beautiful eggs don't last. So when I found fake eggs that didn't open to put goodies inside, but to dye into permanent colors, of course I grabbed them.

Well ... they don't dye very well. But they do take paint very well!

I keep thinking I'll paint some delicately and prettily and use them ... for decoration, I guess, but I haven't done that yet. This year, I had a moment of inspiration when my granddaughter wanted to paint and reached for a white egg.

Of course! Perfect! Colored eggs that will last through the years, with the additional benefit of saving those precious childhood memories!

You could use tempera or watercolor so they're more easily washable, but I suggest craft acrylics, which are super inexpensive. Just be sure to wrap little one in a smock or paint shirt and protect surrounding surfaces. Once it's dry, it's there. And they dry fast.

I started by giving her the white eggs and dabbing a couple of colors of paint into a disposable container (only a few drops will work). She started with a brush and then decided finger-painting was more fun.

She did two each of three color mixes, to give me half a dozen pretty little keepsake art eggs, as seen above. Yes, that is completely her work.

We did these over two sittings because three at a time seemed to be enough for this barely two-year-old. Be sure to keep it fun for the little one! Choose their colors or let them choose their colors. Mix and match and play around with them. (The eggs are super cheap, also.)

And then I had to experiment and paint a base coat on another six eggs before I handed them over to my little artist. You may need 2-3 coats to get a non-streaky base coat depending on your paint. A tip: toilet paper rolls work great to hold them while one half dries before turning them to paint the other half.

After they were fully dry, I took them outside and propped them up in a non-windy spot and sprayed them with acrylic sealant. You can use matte or glossy, whichever you prefer. I used semi-gloss. The white eggs absorbed it without taking the shine, although the paint has a sheen to it, but the fully painted eggs have a nice shine without being glossy.

I sent a dozen, 6 white and 6 painted, to my grandson, also, and I look forward to see what he comes up with. :-)  I sent them too late to have them back for this post, but I may have to update. I put baby girl's initials and the year on the bottom with an ultra fine Sharpie so I can tell them apart in later years. I may make this a yearly tradition, as well.

If you want to hang the finished eggs, you could always find little hooks that can be hot-glued to the tips. I may do that when I get back to the craft store and use them on an indoor Easter Egg Tree. (I'll keep my plastic snap eggs outside instead so I don't risk losing these.)

Yes, we'll still color the real eggs, too. I won't mind as much not being able to keep all of those pretty eggs now that I have keepsake sets.

Do you have any Easter or spring crafts for little ones to share? I'm always looking for guest posts.

LK Hunsaker has been artsy since she can remember, fueled by a lot of artsy family members. She also writes fiction. LKHunsaker.com