Thursday, March 25, 2010

How To: Make Your Own Cheese Cracker

My daughter LOVES Goldfish crackers. She is always bringing me the box when she wants a snack. I knew that crackers were relatively easy to make and while Goldfish probably are cheaper to buy, I know what is going into these crackers and I can make them healthier by adding in some whole wheat flour and flax meal. They do take some time to do but the possible flavors of these crackers are endless. I'm going to give you the basic recipe along with the one that I did. Know that you can use any spices or herbs and you can change the cheese in the crackers too as long as you stick with a harder cheese. I'm sure how using a softer cheese such as mozzarella would work but if you're feeling adventurous then give it a try and let me know how it goes!

What You Need: (basic recipe)

1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 c (1/2 lb or 8oz) sharp cheddar cheese either shredded or in small cubes
1 1/4 c flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 to 3 tbs water

What You Need: (My version)

1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c whole wheat flour
3/4 c flour
2 c (1/2 lb or 8oz) sharp cheddar cheese either shredded or in small cubes
1/4 c grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
pinch of onion powder
2 tbs flax seed meal
1 to 3 tbs water

What To Do: (For either recipe)

In a food processor, place all of your ingredients except for the water.

Give several pulses to combined, before letting the food processor run to really incorporate everything. If the mixture is really crumbly, with the processor running, add in water 1 tbs at a time until it starts to adhere together.

Turn out onto a piece of waxed paper and knead together. If you find your dough to be warm and to soft, let rest in the fridge, covered in plastic wrap for 30 minutes.

Otherwise you can either roll it into a cylindar and using a sharp knife, slice very thin pieces, or you can roll it out flat and very thin. Then using a pizza cuter, cut the rolled out dough into squares which is what I have done.

Place on a baking sheet that has been lined with either parchment paper or one of those silicone liners. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until they start to brown around the edges. They will puff up a bit, but as long as you rolled the dough nice and thin they should still get crispy. Let cool on the pan for 10 minutes before transferring them to a wire wrack to cool the rest of the way.

If you find they are more chewy then crispy, or you didn't roll them thin enough you can toss them back into the oven on very low heat for while. This will "dry out" the crackers and make them crispy.

You can also easily add some sesame seeds to the top by giving the un-baked crackers a light spritz with oil and sprinkling some seeds on top before baking.

That's it! You now have some yummy cheese crackers!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Grilled Veggies

The weather was go beautiful last week that I think I used my out door grill every day. I love grilling season! Everything just seems to taste so much better when cooked over a fire, especially veggies! Zucchini, yellow squash, onions, green peppers, asparagus, eggplant, even tomatoes can be done on a grill. It's so easy that I know you'll be trying it soon. What's great about cooking them on the grill is they become so flavorful and can eaten as a side dish, chopped up and mixed in with some pasta or even used as a main dish.

What You Need:

Veggies of your choice such as:
Yellow Squash
Cherry Tomatoes

A bottle of your favorite Italian dressing.

What To Do:

Depending on the size of the veggie depends on how I cut or slice them. If I have smaller summer squash then I will slices them long ways instead of in rounds. Onions I cut into thick slices. Depending on the size of the mushroom I'll either leave them whole or cut them in half. Button mushrooms and portabella caps works best for grilling. Just use your judgement. You don't want the veggies to fall through the grates.
Drizzle Italian dressing over both sides of the veggies. This not only gives them some more flavor but the oil in the dressing will help prevent sticking to your grill.
Cook the veggies over medium to high grill heat, basting with more dressing if needed, turning over once. Veggies like onions, peppers and mushrooms will take longer then the softer squashes and tomatoes take almost no time at all. When cooking the tomatoes, I suggest putting them on a skewer just to make them easier to turn and remove from the grill.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Asparagus Risotto

I started making risotto a while back. I was always afraid to make it because it seemed like something only expert chefs should tackle. You need a special type of rice, and the stock has to be added a little at a time. Not only did it seems complicated but labor intensive. Since I started making it, I realized that I was pretty much wrong. Yes, there seems like a lot of steps to making a good risotto, and yes it does take some time to do it, but it wasn't that hard. Risotto is also something that can be a starter, main course or side dish realativly easy with the addition of a couple ingredients. When I make a risotto with a vegetable in it, such as this dish, I normally serve it as a side, killing two birds with one stone, with a starch and a veggie in the same dish. Now this doesn't mean that I don't serve another vegetable as well, often I do. Asparagus is just starting to come into season now so I thought it would be the perfect addition to my risotto.

What You Need:

6-8 cups of veggie or chicken stock
3 tbs olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cup aborio or other risotto rice
1 bunch asparagus
1/2 c Parmesan cheese
white pepper
2 tbs butter

What To Do:

Bring the stock up to a boil and reduce to just barely a simmer. Trim the asparagus and drop into the stock for about 2-3 minutes, just to blanch them, removing them to an ice water bath. This makes and keeps them nice and green.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and cook the onion and garlic in the olive oil. Once the onions are translucent, add in the rice, stirring to coat in the oil. Cook the rice until it becomes shiny and opaque. This takes about 2 minutes. Add in about 3 ladles full of stock and give the rice a stir. Let the stock be absorbed by the rice, stirring occasionally, until about half the stock has been absorbed. Continue add in the stock one ladle full at a time, stirring and letting the rice absorb the most of the liquid after each addition. Once you have about half the stock into the rice is when I start for checking for doneness.

While your working on the risotto, you can finish the asparagus. Cut the the asparagus a little more then half way from the bottom. Chop the stems into rounds to add to the risotto later. Once the risotto is almost done, place the tops back into the simmer broth to heat through for the garnish.

Before I ladle in more stock I take a small bite of the risotto. Most of the time I use just about all of the stock, but sometimes it's not needed. Once the rice is completely cooked, I add in one last ladle of stock, a pinch of salt and white pepper, the Parmesan cheese, and the sliced asparagus. Give it a stir to combine before stirring in the butter. Risotto should have a nice creamy texture. Garnish with the reserved asparagus tops.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes

This house loves pancakes. I make them quite often for my husband and daughter but normally I just use Bisquick or another type of instant pancake mix. One morning, I had some leftover buttermilk that I didn't know what to do with. I had planned on making blueberry pancakes so instead of pulling out the Bisquick, I decided to make homemade blueberry buttermilk pancakes. Let me tell you how awesome these pancakes are! In reality they weren't much harder then opening the box of instant pancake mix, but the taste was incredible. So incredible in fact, that I don't think I"ll be using an instant pancake mix again for a long time. These cakes are fluffy, sweet and sort of tangy. They rise up and become beautifully light and fluffy as long as you don't over mix the batter. You can ruin any pancake by over mixing, just like a muffin or quick bread batter. I really hope you gives these a try the next time your in the mood for some goodness. You won't be disappointed.

What You Need:

2 cups flour
1/4 c sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 c buttermilk (make sure to shake it well before each use)
1/4 c butter, melted plus more for the griddle
1 c blueberry, either fresh or frozen

What To Do:

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add in the eggs, buttermilk and melted butter. Whisk until just combined. The batter will be lumpy and this is what you want. If it seems to thick, you can add in a bit more buttermilk. Fold in the blueberries and let the batter sit for about 15-20 minutes. Giving it a chance to rest will let the baking powder activate and produce fluffy pancakes.

Heat your griddle and butter generously. Ladle a bit of the batter onto the griddle and cook until the edges start to look dry and bubbles form on the top of the cake. Then flip over to finish cooking. The second side, will cook much quicker then the first. Remove to a plate and continue making pancakes until all the batter is gone. This recipe makes plenty for a family of four. Serve with maple syrup.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

French Onion Soup

There is a little restaurant in the town of Wellsville NY, called the Beef Haus. Their menu isn't very big, but the food is incredible and the price is right. It is my favorite place to eat and we normally go there for just about any occasion. They make a French onion soup that is to die for! I swear it has to be because of all the beef scraps and bones that they must make their beef stock with. While I have tried unsuccessfully to get them to part with their recipe, I have failed on all attempts. My recipe comes close, and my husband says it's so much better then the the Beef Haus, but I'm still partial to theirs. Perhaps it's because I don't have to cook it!

What You Need:

3-4 large white onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbs olive oil
3 tbs butter
1/2 c sherry
6-8 cups beef stock
1 tsp dried thyme, or a couple sprigs of fresh
salt and pepper
2 tbs beef base
8 slices of Gruyère cheese
4 thick slices French bread
Parmesan cheese

What To Do:

In a heavy bottomed pot, slowly sautee the onions and garlic in the olive oil and butter. You want to caramelize the onions and to do this they need to be cooked over medium low heat, stirring only when they start to brown on the bottom. You can add a pinch or two of sugar to the onions to help this process if you'd like. Once the onions are cooked, season with a pinch of salt and some black pepper. Turn the heat up to high and once the onions start to sizzle, deglaze the pan with the sherry. Add in the beef stock, thyme and beef base, give it a stir and let simmer for at least 30 minutes. This gives a chance for the flavors to combine and concentrate.

While the soup is cooking, take 4 thick slices of French bread, drizzle each side with a bit of olive oil and place on a cookie sheet in a preheated 350 degree oven until golden brown and crispy. About 10 minutes or so.
When the soup is done, preheat your broiler and ladle the soup into oven safe crocks. Float a piece of toast on top of each soup. Place two pieces of cheese on top of that, so that it covers the entire crock and hangs off the side a pit. Sprinkle a little bit of Parmesan cheese on the top and place under the broiler for a few minutes. You want the cheese to be melted, bubbly and slightly browned. Carefully remove the crocks from the oven, they will be pretty hot. Place on a plate and sprinkle the top of the soup with a little freshly chopped parsley.

Just a couple notes:
--When choosing a bread for french onion soup, I usually buy a batard. It's shorter and wider then the normal french bread and is usually the perfect size for my soup crocks.
--Gruyère is a french swiss cheese that is most commonly used for french soup. It can found in the cheese case of every grocery store I have ever been to, plus it's the only swiss cheese I like. If you're not partial to swiss or can't find it for some reason, a provolone cheese would work as well.
--The sherry I use is found near the specialty vinegars like balsamic. It's just a small bottle, and inexpensive which works perfectly for this recipes as it's the only thing I use sherry for. It's normally on the top shelf, along side the white wine for cooking. 
--Beef base is this thick, molasses like concentration of beef stock. It gives the soup a great depth of flavor. You'll find it near the canned soups, however it could be near bouillon cubes as well. Look for the brand "Better than Bouillon"

Monday, March 15, 2010

Snicker-doodle Cake

While I really can't stand the show "Semi homemade with Sandra Lee", she has a good idea. While I don't agree with some of the prepackaged things she uses because of all the preservatives, I'm the first person to go to my cupboard and grab a boxed cake mix. I always keep a few on hand because they make a quick dessert. Keep a few boxes of yellow as well as a few boxes of white cake mix gives you the basic starter for numerous cakes with some great flavor. If you don't know what a Snicker-doodle is, consider me disappointed. Snicker-doodles are these crispy cinnamon sugar coated cookies. They also happen to be my husband second favorite cookie in the world, second only to the soft chewiness of a peanut butter cookie. This snicker-doodle cake has all the wonderful cinnamon flavor of it's cookie counterpart but only takes about half the time and energy to make!

What You Need:

1 box white cake mix
1 cup milk
1 stick butter, melted
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3 tsp cinnamon
1 container of vanilla frosting

What To Do:

Preheat your oven to 350 degree and grease two 9 inch round cake pans. In a large bowl whisk together the cake mix and 2 tsp cinnamon. Using a hand mixer, blend the cake mix with the milk, melted butter and eggs. Divide between the two pans and bake for 25-30 minutes on the center wrack of your oven.

When it's done, remove from the oven and let cool in the pans for 10 minutes before turning out onto wire racks to finish cooling.
Meanwhile, combine the vanilla frosting with the remaining teaspoon of cinnamon. Once the cake is cooled, place the layers together and cover with the frosting. If you don't want to mix the cinnamon into the frosting you can sprinkle some on top of the cake and in between the layers.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cole Slaw

Cole slaw is one of those dishes that are made in so many different ways and can be hard to nail down a great recipe. My husband is very picky when it comes to salads of this type. He's not a fan of mayo so when I make potato salad, macaroni salad or Cole slaw I'm very careful with how much I put in it. I finally decided to ask him what he didn't like about Cole slaw and was told that most had way to much mayo and way to much vinegar, both of which he doesn't care for. So on the search I went. Most recipes out there were very similar and some were so off the wall that I didn't even take a second look. One thing to remember is that cabbage is full of water and that water will leach out of the cabbage and into the dressing, making more of it.

What You Need:

1/3 c mayo (not the salad dressing kind)
juice of half a lemon
1 tbs mustard (any type will do but Dijon or spicy brown work best)
Splash of cider vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1 small onion, grated
1 bag of shredded cabbage and carrots
salt and pepper

What To Do:

In a large bowl, combined the mayo, lemon juice, mustard, sugar and cider vinegar, whisking well to combine. Grate the onion, using a box grater into the dressing. Season with salt and pepper and mix in the cabbage mix.
As I mentioned above, it won't look like there is enough dressing, but once you let it sit for a bit, give it another stir and it will be fine.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Yankee Southern Fried Chicken

I am a Yankee! Born raised in the northeast, I can't stand the taste of sweet tea or collard greens but I make some of the best fried chicken out there. I don't have some secret blend of spices and herbs like the colonel, but it's just as flavorful, moist and delicious. The whole chicken is cut into pieces and then soaked in salt water overnight. I don't buy already cut up pieces because I feel they can sometimes be dry, and it only takes a few minutes to cut them up yourself at home or have the butcher do it for you in the store. I soak them in salt water for two reasons. One the salt gives some flavor to chicken itself, and two the salted water helps to penetrate the chicken and keep it moist during the frying process. Making fried chicken is a messy job. You have to dip the chicken into buttermilk and flour and well the goop ends up covering your hands. There is no way to avoid it if you want to make some great fried chicken!

What You Need:

1 (3-4) fryer chicken, cut into pieces
2 quarts of cold water
2 tbs salt
3 cups flour
2 tbs garlic powder
2 tsp cayenne powder
salt and pepper
1 quart of buttermilk
2 tbs hot sauce
peanut oil for frying

What To Do:

If you haven't already done so, cut your chicken into fryer pieces. You can remove the breast from the bones if you like. My hubby isn't a fan of chicken on the bone so I do this for him. Place the chicken in a large container with a lid. Cover with the 2 quarts of water that has the 2 tbs of salt mixed into it. If the chicken isn't completely covered, add more salt water, using 1 tbs of salt per quart of water. Let this sit overnight in the fridge.

About 45 minutes before you want to eat, start coating the chicken. In a large container (I like using pie plates) mix the quart of buttermilk together with the 2 tbs of hot sauce. In another large container mix together the flour, garlic and cayenne powders, a pinch of salt (not to much since the chicken was soaked in salt water) and a few grinds of black pepper.

Drain the chicken from the liquid. Take one or two pieces at a time and cover them with flour. Then dip them into the buttermilk and then back into the flour, making sure to coat it well. Place the coated chicken onto a cookie sheet and continue covering the rest of the chicken. Once the chicken is all coated, then start heating your oil. You want about 3 inches of oil in a heavy bottomed, deep pot. I use my dutch oven for this. I like to wait to heat my oil because it gives the chicken some time to rest and the coating to really stick and create all those nooks and crannies that make fried chicken what it is. Heat the oil to about 360-370 degrees.

You want to fry the chicken at 350 degrees, but you start with a higher temp because once you start adding the chicken the temp of the oil will drop a bit. Fry the pieces, a few at time, being careful not to over crowd the pot. When placing the chicken in, don't use tongs. Tongs could rip the coating off, or the chicken could slip from the tongs and oil could go every where, possibly causing burns. Use your fingers to carefully lay the chicken into the oil, setting it in so that it goes away from you. Let the chicken fry for about 12 minutes. It will get nice and golden brown. When it's done, remove from the oil and let drain on some paper towels or a paper bag. I like to take a lemon and squeeze just a bit of juice onto the hot pieces, but that's just a me thing. Continue frying the chicken until all the pieces have been cooked. I serve mine with Cole Slaw and a nice hot buttermilk biscuit.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Bacon and Leek Spaghetti

This is a very simple, flavorful recipe that is great for using up all the wild leeks that seem to grow around here. They really are more like a scallion then a leek and are called Ramps. Ramps have a red cast to them but the onion flavor is still there. They grow all over the place in my area and start showing up in late spring. In the fall and winter time when I can't go into my back yard and pull some up, I purchase the leeks that everyone is used too right at my grocery store. Leeks have a sweet, oniony flavor and can be used in several dishes. They should be firm, with dark green leaves and the medium ones (about 1 1/2 inches in diameter) have the best flavor. Leeks need to be washed very well because of the way they grow, the soil and sand gets trapped in between each of the layers. To clean them, cut off the dark green tops and remove the tough outer leaves. Slice them down the middle and rinse well under water. You can also slice them into half moons and place in a large bowl, full of cold water. Agitate them with your hands a bit to help loosen the dirt and then just let them sit for about 10 minutes so that all the dirt falls to the bottom of the bowl. Then just carefully remove the leeks without stirring up the water, and they'll be ready to go!

What You Need:

3 leeks, sliced in half moons and cleaned
2 tbs olive oil
5-6 slices of bacon, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and Pepper
1 (28oz can) crushed tomatoes
A handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped, plus more for garnish
1 lb spaghetti
Grated Parmesan Cheese

What To Do:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.

In a deep skillet over medium high heat, cook the bacon in the olive oil until crisp. Add in the garlic and leeks and cook for a few minutes to soften and bring out their flavor.

Season with some salt and pepper and add in the can of tomatoes. Give it a stir and let simmer over low heat while you cook the pasta. This lets the sauce thicken. Once the pasta is done, add the parley into the sauce and then toss it all with the spaghetti.
Serve with more chopped parsley on to and a good handful of grated parmesan cheese sprinkled over it. Make sure to have some nice crusty bread to mop up the sauce and serve it with a nice garden salad.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

French Dip Sandwiches, Crockpot style

A French dip is basically just a steak sandwich that you dip into the juices the meat was cooked in. Doing it in the crock pot keeps the beef moist, and because of the long cooking time, you can take an inexpensive cut of meat, and make it very tender. You'll notice that there is a bit of coffee in this recipe. The only reason for the coffee is while I was making it one time, my husband came up behind me and scared me. I had the coffee pot in my hand at the time, and I ended up spilling it into the crock pot. I don't really know what it does, but it just doesn't taste as good without the coffee. You can either slice the meat or shred it depending on which cut of beef you use. I often use a chuck roast, which is easier to shred, however if you decide to use a sirloin it might be easier to slice. I normally serve these sandwiches with brown rice and some steamed broccoli. Horseradish on the sandwich taste mighty good too!

What You Need:

3lb chuck roast
2 cups beef stock
1 envelope of onion soup mix
1/4 c coffee
2-3 cloves of garlic
salt and pepper

What To Do:

Season both sides of the roast with salt and pepper.
In a Crockpot/slow-cooker, whisk together the stock, coffee and onion soup mix. Give the cloves of garlic and little smash, remove the skins and drop into the liquid. Place the meat into the liquid, cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours. Remove the beef and slice thinly or shred. Strain the liquid and use as the au jus for dipping. Serve meat on hard rolls. You can top with cheese, sautee mushroom and/or onions too if you'd like.

Note: You can take the leftovers and make hot roast beef sandwiches out it by thickening the au jus into a gravy and serving over some bread. The 3lb roast makes enough for two meals for my family which is great because I love recipes that do double duty!

Monday, March 1, 2010

How To: Make Your Own Croutons

Every time I buy or make my own hard rolls, I always seem to have a couple left over that I don't know what to do with. They normally end up hard and stale and get thrown out for the birds, which means money wasted. I also love making salads and to me a salad insist complete without the crunch of a crouton, which normally meant paying way to much money for a small box of toasted and seasoned bread at the grocery store. To remedy both problems, I started making my own. It couldn't be easier either. Just some cut up some day old bread or rolls, add some olive oil and seasonings and you've got the perfect crouton. You can use any type of bread too, or even mix them up. I promise once you see how easy it is, you'll be making your own in no time!

What You Need:

Left over bread or hard rolls
1/4 to 1/2 c olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
Salt and Pepper
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp orgeano
1/2 tsp thyme

What To Do:

Cut the bread into chunks, as big or as small as you like. You want 4 to 6 cups total.

Give your garlic cloves a smash, to remove the skins and then sprinkle with a little salt. Take the side of your knife to turn the garlic into a paste by pressing and dragging your knife over the garlic. The salt acts as an abrasive to break down the garlic. It takes a couple minutes so just keep at it.

In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, olive oil, and seasoning. Place your bread in a large bowl and drizzle the olive oil over the top. Toss to coat the bread evenly, using more olive oil if needed, but you don't want to drown the bread in it either.

Place in a single layer on a cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until the croutons are dried and a bit browned. Let them cool before storing in a covered container.
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