Friday, May 24, 2013

Cheddar Cheese Crackers

This week is mayhem in my head. I am somewhat of an OCD person when it comes to planning and being organized about those plans. Well, we are taking a road trip to two different places this weekend, and staying for two weeks. My planning began months ago.

Despite all my hard work making lists and trying to be ready for this trip as a family of 5 (John, myself, Gavyn, Alli, and my step son Kolton as well) is just such a project. Not to mention I've dedicated myself to making all of our food to avoid the processed stuff. Just because we are on vacation doesn't mean I want my family to forget our new food values. So this week has been full of more list making, packing, organizing, some anxiety attacks, and a lot of baking. I've been baking bread, granola bars, and crackers like crazy to have enough for the car rides and the whole trip. We'll be sharing them too. I finally made my final trip to the grocery store last night to bring up all that I can so our shopping there will be minimal. Hopefully, by Saturday, I can relax.

Oh wait, I have 3 kids. Oh well.

Anyway, I have made Basic Sandwich BreadGranola BarsRustic Crackers, and Graham crackers this week, and plan to make all my sauces and buns while there. I also made these cheese crackers for my in-law visit last weekend and for the trip. They are one of my favorites, and so much more nutrient-packed than Goldfish crackers, which is a toddlers best friend of course. Naturally, Gavyn isn't crazy about these crackers and prefers the boxed version - but I'm working on changing his mind.

If you frequent pinterest you have probably seen recipes like this floating about. I used this recipe but omitted the red pepper flakes.

Flour (whole wheat), cheese, butter, and salt in food processor. 


After adding the milk, you get a ball

rolled out right on cookie sheet



baked again!
So the first time I made these crackers was before I started this blog, and while they were good, they were more like little cheese biscuits rather than crackers. They were soft and kind of chewy. My husband and I liked them, but the toddler didn't want much to do with them. The direction say to not overbake, but I went ahead and cooked them for 10 minutes longer than the suggested time and let them get nice and dark. That seemed to be the answer. They got pretty brown but not burnt, and they were crunchy! Delicious too.

I also decided I was done with rolling, cutting, and places individual crackers onto my cookie sheet. With every cracker I make, I just roll the dough out on the sheet itself (on a silpat) and cut them with a cookie cutter right on there. Then I break them apart when they are done. This has worked perfectly with the rustic crackers, graham crackers, and now these. I did make some fun shapes with my graham crackers but that was actually fun. What is not fun is transferring 1-- little crackers from your counter onto a cookie sheet.

So to sum up - these crackers are easy and delicious - just roll them out right on your baking sheet and bake them until they are nice and crispy brown!

Cheddar Cheese Crackers

  • 6 oz. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup butter softened and cut into pieces
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. milk
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Place shredded sharp cheddar cheese, butter, flour, and salt in a food processor. Pulse until the dough turns into coarse crumbs.
  3. Add milk and process until dough forms into a ball.
  4. Roll dough out onto a silpat (or parchment paper) on a cookie sheet. Roll it to about 1/8" thickness. 
  5. With a pizza cutter or knife, cut dough into 1" squares. Use flat end of a wooden skewer or a fork to poke holes in the squares. 
  6. Bake 23-25 minutes or until brown. After they are cooked they should be crunchy. If you underbake them, they are still good but soft.  Store any not being eaten right away in an airtight container for 1-2 days.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

French Bread

We are so lucky as a family to have so many good friends. Luckier still, to have those friends going through the same life stages as we are. Now that the weather is getting nicer my hostess bug is starting to itch. I have always loved having friends over, as much as I like going other places for dinner. I think this itch has gotten stronger since becoming a stay at home Mom. While it is the best job in the world, I do lack in adult interaction. I do belong to a couple of parent's groups and have play dates that give me the conversation binges I need during the week, but there is something about having a reason to wash the floors, scrub the sink, and make lots of good food that would be way too much for my husband and I alone. Being able to entertain people, make new recipes, and chat about baby sleep and poop to other parents is priceless.

This past weekend we had two dinners at our house, and took a trip to Homer Lake with John's boss and his family to check out the "natural play area" there. I have an abundance of goat cheese from our local goat farm, as well as some walnuts and local honey. So I decided to make an appetizer of crostini with goat cheese, walnuts and honey. For this, I needed french bread. At one point I may have bought a loaf from the store. Well, what fun is that? So here is my new awesome french bread recipe, as well as my crostini and a fabulous muffaletta sandwich recipe that we took for our family picnic. \

This bread is my own creation. I'm very proud of it!

This is the water, yeast, honey, and vinegar mixture. I mixed it all in the bowl of my stand mixer, and after the yeast was able to proof for 5 minutes or so, I added the rest of my ingredients, which were salt, olive oil, and flour. The amounts of each are listed in the recipe below.

I love a good rise in my dough! Look at how high and bubbly it is!

I made 4 smallish loaves out of this recipe.

Never a bad moment for practicing our letters in the flour on the table.

Here are my fancy slits in the bread. After your oven is preheated to 350 degrees, and the bread has had a chance to rise again, I give them a spritz with water - this will help the crust form that nice "french bread" appearance.

All baked up! Aren't they pretty?

I tried to slice the loaf pretty thin for my crostini. You can see the whole grain goodness on the inside. This bread is also tasty with a slather of butter or some olive oil and parmesan cheese.

Whole Wheat French Bread

2 1/2 cups warm water
2 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp white vinegar
2 packets active dry yeast
1 Tbsp salt
1/3 cup olive oil
6-7 cups flour - I used a mixture of whole wheat and white whole wheat flours - about half and half

Combine the warm water, honey, and vinegar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment. Add the yeast and let if proof for about 5 minutes. Then add the salt and olive oil. Mix in 6 cups of flour - I used 3 cups whole wheat flour and 3 cups white whole wheat flour. Add in enough additional flour until the dough is no longer sticking to the sides of the bowl as it kneads. A wet dough is better than a dry dough, so be careful. This dough does best if it is a little sticky. Let the dough hook do its thing for about 5-6 minutes. Then remove the hook and cover with a little oil and seran wrap, and let rise for about an hour. One great thing about summer time is that I don't have to search everywhere for a warm place!

After an hour, punch down the dough and separate it into 4 sections. Roll each section into your desired shape. You can also make 3 larger loaves, 2 really large loaves, or even 2 sandwich loaves. Make slits about an inch deep. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Let rise for another half hour or so, covered with a tea towel. Spritz with water and bake for about half an hour, or until nice and brown on top.

Goat Cheese, Toasted Walnut, and Honey Crostini

1 french baguette, sliced thinly
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Goat cheese - about 4-5 ounces
1/2 cup whole walnuts, toasted (toss with oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake 5-7 minutes)
Honey to drizzle

With a pastry brush, brush olive oil on each side of bread slices to cover the surface. The extra virgin olive oil on the bread gives these a lot of flavor, so don't be skimpy. Toast the crostini in the oven at 375 for about 10 minutes. Flip, and bake another 5 minutes or so, or until each side is nicely toasted. Let cool slightly. Spread with goat cheese and then add 2-3 pieces of toasted walnut. Drizzle them all with a generous amount of honey.

Griesbaum Muffaletta

One loaf French Bread
1/2 cup green olives
1/3 cup black olives
1/2 an onion
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
Venison summer sausage, sliced thinly (or traditionally can use salami and other lunch meats
Provolone cheese
Roasted red peppers

Split french bread in half lengthwise and dig out some of the middle. Save this for other uses, like making bread crumbs (or, like me, spread soft butter on it and eat it all while making the sandwich). Combine olives, onion, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in food processor and process until a chunky paste is made. Spread this on both sides of the baguette. Then layer sausage, provolone cheese, red peppers, and another layer of sausage. As you can see, I was generous with my fillings. Wrap tightly and place in fridge for at least 6 hours (Mine sat over night). Cut into 4 pieces and serve.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Honey Ice Cream

This is the great thing about my Mom. Mother's Day was just upon us, and while I should be the one showering her with presents for being the amazing mother that she is and always has been, she is sending me gifts for being the mother of her grandchildren. While I did send her a gift, flowers, and a yet-to-be-delivered package of fun things, I think she still topped me by getting me not just one present, but two, off my Amazon wish list. One was a cast iron skillet, and the other was an ice cream maker!! I must be turning into my Mother - because I spent Mother's Day showering my own kids with goodies and gifts. In the end, we just want our children to be happy. I am most certainly one proud daughter to be able to say that I am turning into my Mother.

I think I've mentioned before that I could live without ice cream. Now that I can make it myself - why would I ever want to?! Plus I'm not just making ice cream - I want to make gelato, sorbetto, freezes, fro-yo, etc. Perfect for summer. Plus the family loves frozen treats. I wanted my first recipe to be a pretty basic one just to see how the machine worked and to taste some good, pure ingredients in my ice cream. This honey ice cream recipe was perfect because not only did it use honey as the sweetener, but it also used whole vanilla beans, which I had left over from making my extract anyway. I love seeing the little black specks in the finished product - and the taste is amazing!

I think we'll be eating a lot more ice cream in the months to come. It is cool, wet, and you can make it however you want. So get ready, here I go!

Something you should know about me is I really don't like reading directions. I can usually figure things out on my own. In this case, however, that trait bit me in the behind because I was pretty gung-ho about making ice cream one day, just to discover I had to freeze the main compartment for 24 hours!! So I made my cream mixture a good day ahead of time. Oh well, I guess that gave the vanilla a good amount of time to infuse the milk and cream. So if you get an ice cream maker - wash it, and then get the main compartment in the freezer!

I used this recipe from Thank Heavens blog. I only used one vanilla bean and I didn't think the ice cream needed any additional honey on top. Then again, I like subtly sweet things.

You start by heating up the cream, milk, honey, and vanilla beans (with the seeds scraped out)

Gavyn had a blast watching the ice cream being made. He watched it the whole 25 minutes it churned. 

Then after the mixture is completely cool, you put it in the machine and let it go to work! If you just put the cream mixture in the freezer, you would basically get a cream ice cube.

 I strained the vanilla pods out - they are tough. I squished out the tiny vanilla beans though!

Here is the ice cream after churning for 25 minutes. It is now creamy, cold, and has expanded from both freezing and having some air worked into it. It smelled so good.

And here is the first taste! It is a hit all around.

Honey Ice Cream

1 vanilla bean
2 cups cream
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup honey

Cut the vanilla pod and scrape out the seeds  Put the seeds and the pods into a pot with the cream, milk, and honey. Heat it until it is just about to start bubbling, then take it off the heat. Let it sit for 20 minutes or so and then put it in the fridge to cool for at least 4 hours or over night. It should be completely cold! Strain out the vanilla pod. Add the mixture to your ice cream maker and churn as per the directions for your particular maker. Place in a suitable container and keep in the freezer. It is soft at first but firms up more as it freezes some more. Serve and enjoy!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Vanilla Puddin'

We have never eaten a lot of pudding in this house. It has just never really been at the top of our yummy list. I do enjoy it though - it is creamy and thick and sweet - I may have to eat it a little more often. What's more, is that you can make a lot of great desserts using pudding. A lot of trifles and layered no-bake desserts use pudding and they are all so good!

I have used boxed vanilla pudding for cookie and cake recipes before and I never will again! There is so much junk in there. I think I'll eat my pudding in its pure form as just pudding.

This recipe came out really really good. We all ate it for dessert the night I made it. Since we made it with whole milk and eggs I felt good about Gavyn getting some nutrition in his dessert. It didn't keep all that great though. It was OK the next day, and then it started to separate a little bit, and then it turned kind of runny. So this needs to be used or eaten pretty quick.

I used a Martha Stewart Pudding recipe because I really wanted to use eggs. There are plenty of recipes out there that do not use eggs though. I also played around with trying to use flour instead of cornstarch, but I knew the cornstarch would probably work better and in the end, the two probably contribute the same amount of processing into the mix.

I didn't stray from the recipe at all. As with most things, I was surprised at the ease. You basically just put all the ingredients into a pot and heat it up. You wait until it starts to bubble, and then stir it for a minute and then you are done! It has to cool completely before serving. It thickens up a little more in the fridge as it cools.

You can make all kinds of pudding by adding cocoa powder for chocolate, and different extracts for other flavors.

All the dry ingredients - I used raw sugar

Whisk in all the wet ingredients

Heat it up to a bubble

Cool and Serve!

Vanilla Pudding

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Vanilla extract

For a couple years of my life after college I became a pastry chef. I worked at a little bakery in downtown Champaign making cakes, cookies, and other traditional European desserts. One of my favorite jobs for sure. I love baking - I love that you can create something that not only tastes good, but is beautiful. Most importantly though, it makes people happy. I absolutely love making people happy.

There are so many wonderful things about baking. It is a science for sure - and to get something right is an amazing confidence boost. I can set aside the world and just make something. I imagine it is what an artist feels when they paint, or what a swimmer feels when they are doing laps. I relax - no matter what is going on around me. When I was little my Mom let me lick the bowl and I do the same for my kids. It is a tradition that I hope many households still hold on to.

Then there is the smell. Entering a house that has anything baking - from bread to brownies to custard - there is nothing like it. It smells like home, warmth, and comfort. It smells like Mom and Nana. It lifts the spirits. There are many things that go into that smell - the butter, the chocolate, sometimes the yeast - but nothing competes with vanilla. When I was a little girl I used to stick the vanilla extract bottle right up to my nose when my Mom would use it. Smelling it now always brings such fond memories of baking with her and being a carefree child. Olfactory glands have amazing memories - probably why I find vanilla so comforting.

Did you ever ask to try the vanilla? Surely something that smells so good must taste unbelievable. False. It's awful! It tastes almost as bad as straight vodka. Oh wait....that is exactly what it is. Alcohol. I have no issue with store-bought vanilla extract, except that the good stuff is expensive!! They want me to throw down 5 bucks for a tiny bottle of the stuff that only gets me two batches of cookies? Until now, that is exactly what I have done, because I didn't know better.

Now I know how easy it is to make my own - in large quantities! All you need is vanilla beans and vodka. I'll be honest - I bought the cheap stuff. Maybe it would be worth getting good quality vodka - but I'm trying to save money here. You just split the vanilla beans, which I ordered off Amazon (like I do everything in my life) and place it in the vodka in an appropriate container. This is what I used because it fit the vanilla beans in perfectly.

How my vanilla beans came

Split them with a sharp knife down the center

Fill with vodka!

Starting to infuse...
Ready to use!
I let my vanilla sit for over a month before using it. I just leave the vanilla beans in there - it can only get better with time. Then when I start to get low I can  just add more vodka, and more vanilla beans. I used 7-8 beans for this batch. I've been using it recently and it is everything I would want out of vanilla extract. Soon to come I'll make some vanilla pudding with it and really put it to the test!

While I was playing with vodka - I added some lemon peel to some. Bam - lemon extract. What else can I add to vodka and make magic happen?