Parmesan Herb Crackers

Today I went to a Change of Command ceremony. For you non-military peeps, that’s when a new boss takes over for an old boss. It’s very traditional and symbolic. I love attending these ceremonies because they just make me proud to be part of the military.  Before I left I had written a draft post about how good crackers are hard to find in stores and how easy they are to make at home.

 

Now I feel compelled to share with you the words of wisdom I heard from the outgoing commander, a man who has been a pleasure to know these past couple of years. My husband worked for him the first year we were here before moving on to another job.

He said a lot of great things but what really stood out was this piece of advice: Do your job. That sounds pretty simple, right? But think about it for a second. How often are you worrying about what someone else is doing instead of just focusing on what you should be doing? It happens a lot, especially for Perfectionists like Me. We’ve all worked with someone who was a slacker and we had to pick up their slack. Think about how easier your job would be if the slacker just did their job! And think for a second about the job you have to do. If you are spending all your time worrying about what the person next to you is doing, what’s happening to the job you are doing? It suffers. This doesn’t just happen at the office. It happens everywhere and in every aspect of life.

So do your job and do it the best that you can. Everything else will work itself out. Can’t ask for much more, right?

Thanks, Peaches. We’ll miss you!

 

Why, yes, I did drink that wine in this photo. I couldn’t let it go to waste. One of the downsides of using wine as a photo prop! 

One year ago: Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies

Parmesan Herb Crackers

Inspired from Pastry Affair and NYT

Yield: Several dozen 1 inch crackers

Difficulty: Easy

Time: 20 minutes to prep, 20 minutes to bake

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup finely grated parmesan
  • 1 TB fresh herbs, chopped
  • 3 TB cold butter
  • 1/4 cup +2TB  milk, divided
Procedure

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Prepare two baking sheets with silpat or parchment.

2. You can use either a food processor, a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, a pastry cutter, or your hands! I think the food processor works best but mine broke while making these the first time. It is not a good year for small appliances in my kitchen.

3. Using your tool of choice, mix together the dry ingredients. Add  the parmesan and herbs. Cut your butter into small cubes and mix with the dry ingredients until it resembles fine cornmeal.

4. Add in the 1/4 cup of milk. If the mixture is still dry, add one tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together nicely. It should not be wet, but should form a ball easily.

5. If it is warm in your kitchen, and it probably is considering how hot the whole country is right now, wrap the dough in plastic and chill for about 30 minutes. This will make it easier to roll. When you are ready to rock and roll, divide the dough in half.  You should not need any additional flour for dusting, but if you do, use as little as possible. Roll to 1/8″ or smaller. The most I have the patience for is 1/8″ but you will have crispier crackers if you can get them thinner. Using your rolling pin to help, roll some of the dough onto the pin and transfer to a baking sheet. Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough into 1 inch squares (no need to separate, they will not rise or spread). It is much easier to cut on the baking sheet than try and move all those little crackers to the sheet! If you want bigger crackers, by all means knock yourself out. Do the same with the second half of the dough.

6. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on your oven and how crispy you want your crackers. I wanted mine crispy so I baked mine a little longer.

7. Let cool completely. They will crisp up as they cool. Enjoy with cheese, olives, and wine for a delightful snack!

Notes: You can use any cheese you want, just make sure it is finely shredded so it mixes in with the dough. If you don’t like herbs, feel free to leave them out. I liked the white whole wheat flour here because it gives that nice nutty wheat flavor, but still easy to work with like white flour. You can find it in most grocery stores now.

 

 

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Easy Challah Bread

May’s Daring Bakers’ Challenge was pretty twisted – Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to make challah! Using recipes from all over, and tips from “A Taste of Challah,” by Tamar Ansh, she encouraged us to bake beautifully braided breads.

I was pretty excited about this month’s challenge. My hubby and I love challah and I love any excuse to make it!

Challah bread is definitely a bread that anyone can make. It’s pretty forgiving and easy to shape. I have no idea just how traditional this particular recipe is (not much challah bread up in North Dakota where I grew up), but it is tasty. This could also be easily made into rolls for those summer time burgers now that grilling season is here with Memorial Day.

Thank you to all who serve on this Memorial Day! Thanks to my grandfather who served 23 years in the Air Force, my father-in-law who served 20 years, and my brother-in-law who also served 20 years. And especially to my wonderful hubby who is still serving – you make me proud every day!

Challah Bread

From Professional Baking by Wayne Gisslen

Yield: 2 loaves

Difficulty: Intermediate

Time: 30 minutes hands on; additional 2 to 3 hours for baking and proofing.

  • 8 oz water (temperature will vary depending on your kitchen – warm kitchen equals cool water)
  • 1 TB + 2 tsp instant yeast
  • 20 oz bread flour
  • 4 oz egg yolk (about 6 to 8 eggs)
  • 1.5 oz sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 oz oil
  • egg wash

1. Put all the ingredients into a mixing bowl starting with the water. If using a stand mixer, mix on speed 2 for 4 minutes (using your dough hook) or until all the ingredients come together into a ball, or use a wooden spoon to mix until it is ready to knead. At this point I like to finish kneading by hand, but feel free to finish in the mixer on speed 3. Knead until smooth.

2. Form into a ball and place in a greased bowl. Cover and let rise until about double, about 1 to 2 hours.

3. Gently deflate and cut six equal strands. Roll each strand to the length of your sheet pan. Place three strands on each sheet pan and braid. Pinch the ends and tuck under. Brush with egg wash and let rest for another hour or until about double again. Preheat oven to 400F.

4. Brush with egg wash again. Bake about 25 minutes, rotating half way through. Loaves should be golden brown. Check temperature if needed – bread should be no less than 180F in the center.

Let cool completely (it will be tough!) before enjoying! This bread makes a fantastic french toast, but it is also great all by itself! Enjoy!

Note: I know there are no pictures of the process and the instructions might be a bit vague for those who haven’t made bread before. Please shoot me an email or comment below if you need further clarification! It really is an easy bread to make!

Check out more bread ideas at Yeast Spotting

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Pineapple Chile Ice Pops & Book Review

Summer makes me grumpy. For some summer may be a good thing (if you live up North, perhaps) but here in the South summer is Not Fun. It’s buggy, muggy, and just plain hot.

But there is one huge positive for summer: frozen treats. Nothing quite cools you down like a good ice pop. We all grew up with various forms of Popsicle and ice pops. I remember spending summers at my grandparents playing in the itty bitty plastic pool and then having a cool treat afterwards.

I admit I was a little afraid of this recipe. It is technically titled “Spicy Pineapple” but it wasn’t spicy at all. The chiles add such a wonderful complexity to the sweetness of the pineapple, but they aren’t spicy. These would be a perfect treat at a BBQ.

I got this recipe from the book Paletas by Fany Gerson. The other recipe I’ve tried was a yogurt and berry pop. Great post-run treat. My next one will be the avocado pop. Yup, avocados in frozen form! The book is inexpensive at $11 and is full of beautiful photos and great instructions. I have these reusable molds that are pretty decent for the price. But what I love about the book is she has instructions for various forms of ice pop making. Apparently there are instant ice pop makers  and she has instructions for those as well as the molds. You can just as easily use paper cups and a stick. Or a shot glass and a stick. How fun would that be?

These are quick and easy to make. The longest part, obviously, is waiting for them to freeze. But otherwise they only take a few minutes to make.

Disclaimer: I purchased this book on my own and was not paid to review. I just trusted the reviews on Amazon!

Spicy Pineapple Ice Pops (Paletas de Pina con Chile)

Adapted from Paletas by Fany Gerson

Yield: 8 to 10

Difficulty: Easy

Time: 15 minutes hands on; several hours for freezing

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 small serrano or jalapeno pepper, split lengthwise
  • 1 ripe pineapple, peeled and cored
  • 2 TB lime juice
  • 1 to 2 tsp ground chiles (I used 1 tsp chile powder)
  • 1/2 tsp salt

1. Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add the pepper, reduce to a simmer for five minutes. Let cool and strain. I did this step the day before and chilled overnight.

2. Coarsely chop the pineapple. Put the pineapple, syrup, lime juice, ground chile, and salt into a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth. Alternatively, finely dice 1 1/2 cups pineapple and set aside. Coarsely chop the rest. Toss the finely diced pinaple with the chiles and salt. Blend the remaining ingredients.

3. Pour mixture into molds. Freeze until firm, about 4 hours. If you are using the finely diced pineapple, freeze for about 30 minutes until slushy and then add the diced pineapple. I just made it easy and blended everything for a smooth ice pop. You’ll still have a few chunks.

What’s your favorite frozen treat?

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Rigatoni Bolognese

Rigatoni? Whoa, wait, what?! I thought this was a baking blog.

As much I’d like to live on bread and cookies, my body disagrees. I love to cook and it’s good to mix things up a bit, don’t you agree? One of my latest obsessions is The Chew.  Any food lover should watch this show. It’s hilarious, every recipe I’ve tried has been wonderful, and the pointers are great. No, ABC is not paying me to review this show (but I’d be open to discussions. Hint, hint).

This recipe is from Michael Symon. We’ve already made this dish three times because we love it so much! Perfect Sunday dinner. It takes about 30 minutes to prep but then it just simmers quietly in the background for two hours, getting all delicious and scrumptious. You’ll have a bowl and be full but still want more. The ingredients are simple but the flavors are complex. It’s equally as tasty the next day.Which is good because this makes around 8 servings.

We don’t eat much meat. I probably buy some form of meat two or three times a month. When we do, we splurge for the good stuff. I used grass fed beef here even though it was twice as expensive than the “non-grass fed” beef. No pink slime either. I don’t care how safe the beef industry and government says it is; I do not want ammonia sprayed on my meat. Doesn’t it make you wonder why the “meat” products are so unsafe that ammonia needs to be used in the first place?

That’s my rant for the day. Moving back to the recipe… I modified it a bit to “meat” (ha, I kill me) our needs. I added half the pasta and meat (because really, two pounds of beef and two pounds of pasta? I do not have a pan that big), but left all the vegetables the same and added some tomato sauce.

Thank you, Michael Symon for this delicious dish. I just made it and can’t wait to have it again!

The bread in the picture is one of my favorite recipes from King Arthur Flour: Sourdough Baguettes. It’s relatively quick, very easy, and another great reason to have a sourdough starter in your refrigerator. I’ll blog about it soon.

I hope all of you enjoy it just as much. And, if you do watch The Chew, what has your favorite recipe been? I’d love to hear about it!

One year ago: Chocolate Chip Pound Cake

Rigatoni Bolognese

Adapted from Michael Symon

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Difficulty: Easy

Time: 30 minutes hands on; 2 1/2 hours total.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 pound Ground Beef
  • 1 Onion (rough dice)
  • 3 cloves Garlic
  • 2 Carrots (rough dice)
  • 2 ribs of Celery (rough dice)
  • 1 28-ounce can Whole Plum Tomatoes (I used diced)
  • 1 15-ounce can Tomato Sauce
  • 1 cup Dry Red Wine (the rest of the bottle will be for you)
  • 1  Bay Leaf
  • 6 sprigs Fresh Oregano (chopped)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup Flat Leaf Italian Parsley (torn)
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan (grated)
  • 1 tablespoon Unsalted Butter
  • 1 pound Rigatoni (I buy pasta that is made with durum wheat flour and nothing else; check your ingredients!)

Procedure

1. Heat a large pan with the olive oil. Make sure your pan is really hot here otherwise you’ll be waiting all day for your meat to brown, or worse…it will just be gray meat! Gray meat does not equal flavor. Once your pan is hot, add the meat with a pinch of salt and brown.

2. While your meat is browning put your onion, carrots, celery, and garlic in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Try not to puree, but it won’t be the end of the world. I did that accidentally and it still tasted fantastic.

3. When your meat is brown, deglaze with the wine. You may not need it all. Then add your veggie mix and cook for about three minutes. Add your tomatoes, tomato sauce, bay leaf, and oregano. If you used whole tomatoes, break them up as you stir. Bring to a simmer and taste. Add salt and pepper as needed.

4. Simmer, slightly covered, for about two hours. When the sauce is done, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a hefty pinch of salt to the water then add your pasta. Stir and cook until al dente, about 7 minutes.

5. Add the pasta to the sauce; be sure to save some pasta water in case you need some. If the sauce is too thick, add the water until the desired consistency.

6. Remove from heat. Add the butter, parmesan, and parsley. Drizzle each serving with some extra olive oil.

7. Tear off a piece of crusty bread, pour a glass of wine, and enjoy that rigatoni.

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Spice Coffee Cake

The Daring Bakers’ April 2012 challenges, hosted by Jason at Daily Candor, were two Armenian standards: nazook and nutmeg cake. Nazook is a layered yeast dough pastry with a sweet filling, and nutmeg cake is a fragrant, nutty coffee style cake.

While the Nazook looked utterly amazing and mouthwatering, I had no time to make it this month due to my crazy busy schedule right now. (This is the part where you pity me, of course). Thankfully, the nutmeg cake rocked and I’m so glad Jason introduced us to it! It’s incredibly easy and quick to make and tastes delightful, especially with a cup of coffee (huh, wonder if that’s why it’s called a coffee cake?). It  has a crust like a cheesecake and texture like well, a dense cake. No icing or glaze needed but I’m sure that wouldn’t hurt things. Don’t let it’s simple exterior fool you. The flavor is quite complex.

This cake would be easy to personalize to meet your taste buds. I didn’t find the nutmeg overwhelming but I do love nutmeg. I also added a pinch of cinnamon. Nutmeg and cinnamon are just meant to be together, in my humble opinion. But if they aren’t your favorite spices, just add whatever suits you. This cake has a beautiful caramel taste. The edges get a little more done than the center but that was actually my favorite part. A little bit chewier and caramel-y.

Did I mention it was quick? Less than 20 minutes, maybe closer to 10 but I wasn’t really counting, to pull together and about 40 minutes to bake. I love quick recipes that taste awesome, don’t you?

Nutmeg Cake

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups (280 gm/10 oz) AP Flour
  • 2 tsp  baking powder
  • 2 cups  (400 gm/14 oz) brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 3/4 cup (170 gm/6 oz) butter, unsalted, cubed
  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces, or any nut of your choosing. I used pecans.
  • 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 egg

1. Preheat your oven 350°F.
2. Mix the baking soda (not baking powder) into the milk. Set aside.
3. Put the flour, baking powder, and the brown sugar into your food processor (mixer will work too). Pulse until uniformly mixed.
4. Toss in the cubed butter. Pulse until uniformly mixed into tan colored crumbs.
5. Pour HALF of the crumbs into your springform (9”/23cm) pan. Press out a crust using your fingers and knuckles.
6. Mix in the nutmeg and cinnamon
7.  Add the egg, mix until combined.
8. Pour in the milk and baking soda mixture. Continue to mix until a slightly lumpy tan batter is formed.
9. Pour the batter over the crust in the springform pan.
10. Gently sprinkle the nut pieces over the batter.
11. Bake in a preheated oven for 30-40 minutes. It’s ready when the top is golden brown, and when a toothpick comes out clean. It took 40 minutes in my oven, but I started checking at 30 minutes.
12. Let cool for a minute or two, then run a knife around the pan. Remove the outer part and let cool. If you let it cool in the pan it may stick. Make coffee and enjoy!

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Chocolate Chip Hazelenut Biscotti

Biscotti, how I love thee!

Ok, I know, I’ve been out of commission for what, six weeks now? I have lots of good reasons, and probably a few that aren’t so great. First, I’m taking a couple of online writing classes, which is the biggest reason I’m not blogging since I’m busy writing for a grade. Second, everything that can break seems to have broken, including my Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer (insert tears here).  That will be a separate post.

In the meantime…I’m making bread by hand and making other doughs with my hand mixer (also a Kitchen Aid…). Biscotti was perfect for the hand mixer, other than me being annoyed at having to stand there holding it. Yeah, I know, I’ve gotten lazy with my big, (sort of) powerful stand mixer. I have to actually pay close attention now! Can you imagine? Hmph.

This is an easy recipe and is actually the same as the Cinnamon Hazelnut Biscotti, but I took out the cinnamon and added espresso and hazelnuts. I originally had espresso in the title but that was bordering on obnoxiously long. And you could really use this recipe as a base for whatever you wanted. And for me, biscotti really hits the spot first thing in the morning when you are sitting down for coffee after a good workout or yard work. It’s a great way to start your day.

Chocolate Chip Hazelnut Biscotti

adapted from Bon Appetit Desserts

  • 3 cups unbleached AP Flour
  • 1 TB baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt (I prefer sea salt)
  • 2 tsp espresso powder (optional, but adds a nice touch)
  • 1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and husked*
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, somewhere in between room temperature and cold.
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs, room temp
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

*To husk the hazelnuts: spread in a single layer on a sheet pan and bake in oven at 350F for about 10 minutes until very fragrant. Cover with a towel. Cool slightly and then rub together.   The skins will come off fairly easily.  Don’t fret if you don’t get all the skins. A little won’t hurt.

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare two baking sheets with either silpat or parchment. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.

2. Chop hazelnuts in food processor until slightly chunky. How chunky depends on your preference.

3. Place butter, sugar, vanilla, and zest in stand mixer and mix until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time and mix until combined. Scrape the bowl after each addition. Add flour mixture. When flour is almost completely mixed, fold in the chopped hazelnuts and chocolate chips.

4. Divide the dough in half and place on prepared sheet pans. Flatten dough into an even rectangle. If you want to cut them diagnol, keep it narrow and long. If you want to cut just straight, make it wider. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden on the edges. Remove from oven (but keep oven on),  let cool slightly and carefully move to a cutting board. Slice slightly on the diagonal. Return pieces to the sheet pan. Bake about 10 minutes. Flip pieces, bake 10 minutes more, or until desired crispiness. Careful that they don’t burn, but also make sure they are golden enough to be crunchy. Make coffee, and enjoy!

 

 

 

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Lemon Blueberry Ricotta Muffins

The Daring Bakers’ February 2012 host was – Lisa! Lisa stepped in last minute and challenged us to create a quick bread we could call our own. She supplied us with a base recipe and shared some recipes she loves from various websites and encouraged us to build upon them and create new flavor profiles.

I’m having a love hate relationship with these muffins. My favorite muffin forever has been blueberry. So of course, I decided to make blueberry muffins for this challenge, but work towards developing my own. I started with this recipe from King Arthur Flour. I modified it quite a bit before actually making the original recipe. Not always the best idea, but well, I was in a hurry. At first I hated them and almost threw them all in the garbage. After sitting, however, I liked them again.

I think the issue is that these are slightly healthier muffins. Not a health food, but healthier than say, a Starbucks muffin. There isn’t much fat, not much sugar, and flax for that I-feel-less-guilty-when-eating-these. I’m trying to add more flax to our baked goods, since it has so many health benefits, particularly all those Omega-3s. But when eating a muffin, most of the time we expect it to be sweet. These aren’t overly sweet, so once I got past that, I really liked them. My taste buds just needed a moment to adjust. I didn’t particularly care for the whole flax seeds, but the flax meal was not noticeable.

All that being said, these are a work in progress. But for now, they are a decent muffin, quite good with coffee. I used Meyer lemons since they are in season but traditional lemons will work fine. I’m posting two recipes: one with the healthier additions (which is the one I made) and the less healthier muffin for those days when you just need a muffin.

Lemon Blueberry Flax Muffins

Yield: 12 to 15 muffins

Time: Less than one hour including bake time

Difficulty: Very Easy

One Year Ago: Leaning Tower of Red Velvet

Modified from King Arthur Flour

  • 2 Cups AP Flour
  • 1/4 cup flax meal
  • 1/4 cup flax seeds (optional)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 TB butter, room temp
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 4 TB lemon juice (juice of 1 lemon)
  • zest of 2 lemons
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup ricotta (or 3/4 cup milk)
  • 1 1/2 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
  • Sanding (coarse) sugar for sprinkling

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Line a muffin pan with papers or grease.

2. Whisk together dry ingredients: flour, flax, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

3. Cream together the butter, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes.

4. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl after each addition. Add the ricotta, mix until just combined. Add the dry ingredients and mix untilalmostcombined. The key to tender muffins is to not over mix!

5. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the blueberries. Continue folding gently if needed until all flour is mixed in.

6. Fill muffin tins 2/3 full, sprinkle with sugar,  and bake in preheated oven for 15 to 18 minutes, or until toothpick comes out mostly clean. Let cool completely – they taste better after sitting for a while.

Lemon Blueberry Less Healthy Version

  • 2 Cups AP Flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 8 TB butter, room temp
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 4 TB lemon juice (juice of 1 lemon)
  • zest of 2 lemons
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup ricotta (or 3/4 cup milk)
  • 1 1/2 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
  • Sanding (coarse) sugar for sprinkling

Follow the same instructions as above.

Enjoy with coffee!

 

 

 

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