Friday, November 29, 2013

Cheese Crackers

Who doesn't like Cheez-Its?  It was an eye opener this year when I realized just how many different flavors of Cheez-Its there were on the market these days.  One of my favorite is the smoked cheddar, but alas, that flavor you cannot buy in a box yet....too bad as that one I would definitely indulge in instead of trying to reproduce the crackers at home.  Since I learned to bake with my grandma when I was young, I have tried to recreate things that I love to smell in the kitchen and of course eat as well!

I came across the book Real Snacks by Lara Ferroni which covers a lot of the snacks that I grew up with, but this book shows how to make them from scratch.  Coworkers always thought I was crazy to make things at home that take time in order to be able to make things from scratch, when you can spend just a few dollars and buy them in a box at the store.  Cooking and baking really isn't about that for me.  I like to cook and bake when I am stressed, when I feel like I need some good food to eat in the warm of my kitchen, when I want to be creative, and really just to see if I can do it.  This cheese cracker recipe is somewhat time consuming for the amount of crackers it makes, but in the end I thought it was well worth the effort.

Cheese Crackers
5 ounces cheddar cheese, finely shredded
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup wheat flour
1/4 cup flour
1/8 teaspoon ground dehydrated onions
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons milk
Preheat oven to 350F.  Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Combine all ingredients in a bowl (cheese, butter, flour, onion powder, salt and milk).  (NOTE: I used dried onions and then ground them in a coffee bean grinder to a fine dust for the essence it is onion powder.)  Mix all ingredients into a ball.  You can do this by hand or in a food processor.  At this point you can wrap it and refrigerate for ease of rolling or roll it our straight away.  Turn the dough out onto a floured surface.  Roll to about 1/8 inch thick.  Brush the dough with milk.  Cut the dough into inch squares.  Make a hole in the center of each cracker.  Bake on prepared pans for about 10 minutes or until the crackers are golden brown on the edges.  The crackers will puff up as they bake.  Do not over back them as they get crisper once they cool.  Cool completely before eating.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Festive Banana Bread

Since I was little my grandma always made zucchini and banana bread.  Some happy accidents made her recipe better and inspired me to try different ways to get a bread to be the way I wanted it to be depending on my mood...sweet, moist and plain....or with chocolate and coconut....or this time with nuts.  I have never been a big fan of nuts in my sweet breads, but with a little roasting, the flavor comes out and compliments the banana much better than not roasted ones.  Plus, I have a thing for crunch.  Sometimes I just want to eat chips or carrots because they have crunch.

I have experimented with different recipes for banana bread since my grandma's recipe.  This recipe that I use now is based on Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.  I have never toasted the coconut, but that is something that I might in the future.  Plus, because of my experimentation, everyone benefits...guess what is going to accompany as I visit people for the holidays?  Yes, indeed, different versions of my banana bread.

Festive Banana Bread
1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
3 very ripe bananas, mashed until smooth
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup toasted pecans
1/2 cup coconut
1/2 chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line a 9x5 inch loaf pan with parchment paper.  Mix together dry ingredients.  Cream butter until light.  Then add the bananas and eggs to the butter.  Beat well.  Add the dry ingredients until just combined.  Add in the nuts, chocolate and coconut (or any variation of the the three that you choose).  Stir together gently.  Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan.  Bake for about an hour, but check with a tooth pick to be sure it is baked throughout the loaf.  The top should be golden brown.  Do not overcook  Cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes before removing from the pan.  Let cool completely before wrapping for storage.  This loaf will be moist for up to three days, but it is also very good toasted (or toasted with peanut butter).

Roasted Brussel Sprouts

My family never made brussel spouts growing up, so I never knew what I was missing.  Well, I did have them eventually when I was in New Zealand, but they were not something that tasted good, nor was it something that I would ever have thought to make, eat and enjoy.  Fast forward many years later.  I was living in Munich and was invited to a Thanksgiving dinner made by a New Zealander.  No, New Zealand does not celebrate Thanksgiving, but this was an expat whom had lived abroad with Americans and found that he loved Thanksgiving and every year since then had continued to celebrate it.  I was the token American invited to this Thanksgiving dinner.  As you can image, I met another very different brussel sprout at this dinner that remained intact in my memory so that again years later, I would see these wonderful things at a grocery story and decide that finally it was time to tackle the brussel sprout.

The way that amazing brussel sprout was prepared was ever so simple...roast them with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  This simple method creates a lovely sweet brussel sprout.  I recently made them for a friend of mine at a dinner party.  She, and everyone who was present, thought I was crazy to make something that few people like.  Well as it turns out everyone who tried them also thought they were wonderful.  How can you turn up your nose to olive oil and balsamic vinegar roasted goodness?  I encourage lovers and haters of brussel sprouts to try these.  Not only are they lovely to eat, they are also curious when you buy them in a complete stalk.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts
Decide on a quantity of brussel sprouts
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper

Clean the brussel sprouts, remove any outer leaves which look damaged, then cut them in half. Drizzle with olive oil (just enough to lightly coat each sprout...depending on the quantity about 2-3 tablespoons).  Drizzle with balsamic vinegar (less so you have about a 2 to 1 ratio of olive oil to vinegar).  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast for 30-40 minutes at about 375F or until the brussel sprouts have absorbed the balsamic vinegar and are slightly shriveled.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Sun-dried pesto dinner rolls

I have been baking sourdough consistently now for a couple of years.  I don't bake every week, but every few weeks I will take the time and make 3-4 loaves of bread to eat over the next weeks or to bring to a party to share.  As much as I love sourdough, I want to spread my wings and bake more types of bread.  I have always aspired to be a proficient baker like my grandma.  I remember her baking nearly every weekend.  Maybe that isn't quite correct, but to my memory as a child, it seemed like she was always baking bread rolls or cinnamon rolls or other equally delicious things.  When I came across this recipe online I decided the time had come to try some dinner rolls.  A while back I had made Danish Rye Butter Buns ( and they turned out wonderful.  The time came to bake rolls again.  Conveniently, I had homemade pesto in the refrigerator from my last batch of pesto.

Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto Dinner Rolls

1 Tablespoon Active Dry Yeast
3/4 warm water (about 105F)
1/2 cup milk (preferably not skim)
1 large egg
1/2 diced sun-dried tomatoes (I bought them in a jars in strips and cut them into smaller pieces)
1/2 pesto (homemade is best!)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups wheat flour
2 1/2 cups white flour
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Stir yeast and warm water together in a stand mixer bowl.  Let it sit until dissolved.  In another bowl whisk milk and egg.  Add this to the yeast mixture once the yeast is activated.  Stir together.  Stir in sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, salt and wheat flour into the liquid mixture.  Add white flour (start with 2 cups) until you have a floury dough.  Let the the dough rest for about 10 minutes.   Knead the dough with a dough hook on low speed until dough pulls away from sides (about 9 minutes).  You may need more flour depending on how wet your pesto is.

Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk - about an hour.  Dust your counter with flour and pull out the dough.  Divide dough into 12 pieces.  To shape each roll, you will make turns like when you rise a sourdough loaf.  Tuck the outside edges in until the roll is firm and will hold it's shape.

Preheat oven to 375 F.  Place into a parchment lined 9x12 pan.  Arrange in the pan with a little space between rolls, though they will come together as they rise.  Once all the rolls have been made and placed in the pan, let rise a second time until they fill the pan and are airy looking, about 35-40 minutes.  Once the rolls have risen, bake until they are golden brown, about 18 minutes.  Sprinkle the top with Parmesan and return to oven to melt the cheese.

Let the rolls cool on a rack for a few minutes.  They are best eaten the same day, but will last a couple of days if wrapped tightly.  Makes 12 rolls.