Friday, March 13, 2015

Homemade Cheddar Cheese Crackers

Homemade Cheddar Cheese Crackers

I am a cracker person. I love crackers and I especially like cheese crackers. The problem
is I am also trying to eat well and almost all of the crackers on the store shelves are made
with weird stuff and unnecessary chemicals. It is a problem when it is so easy to reach
for the box of Cheezits.  However, you can make your own cheese crackers and it really
isn't too hard and it is just a few ingredients.

Ingredients:
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese ( I like extra sharp but shred your own, don't buy the
pre-shredded) I sometimes add a few tablespoons of grated Parmesan to kick them up.
1 cup Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 teaspoon of Kosher salt.
6 tablespoons softened unsalted butter

That is really all you need for plain cheddar cheese crackers. If you want a little more zing
try a pinch or two of cayenne, cracked black pepper, dried herbs or even granulated
garlic. Experiment with adding sesame seeds and other things to get some flavors you
like.

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400 F.
Place the first 3 ingredients in a food processor and pulse several times to combine.
Add the butter and pulse until a ball forms. Take the dough out of the food processor and
form a big ball.  The dough generally comes out fine, but you may need to add a little bit
of water (just a few drops) if your dough is not well formed.

Roll out dough on a floured surface or on top of Parchment Paper.  Don’t roll too thin
because the crackers break easily.  Cut in squares with a knife or a pizza cutter.
Bake for about 13-15 minutes until golden brown. I use parchment paper to make things
easier or a Sil-Pat works as well.

If they last this long, they will keep covered for a week or so.

Ostara Is Upon Us

Ok, here we are just a week away from Ostara also known as the beginning of Spring and it is time to plant some of the warm weather seeds like tomatoes and eggplant. All the pepper, leek, shallot and onion plants are up and going. It is also time to get your flower seeds going. Marigolds. zinnas, and nasturtium to attract pollinators and discourage pests. I'm going to try and get all my different peas in the ground this weekend as well. I'm a little late as I was waiting for my inoculant to show up. Insuring the legumes like peas have the proper bacteria they need to fix nitrogen from the air makes a big difference in yield. Everybody get planting.

I'm running a little slow as I am having some laser surgery on my legs and it makes them a little tender, not to mention that I have to wear compression stockings which limit my flexibility a bit. The old "very close vein" thing. Getting old sucks but the other option isn't too great either.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Spring Really Is Coming

In spite of the record cold over the last week, Spring really is coming. Here we are at the last week in February and it is time to get the slow growing garden plants going. Peppers are the big thing for me since around here I target the last week of April to get the peppers and tomatoes in the ground. Pepper seeds planted this week will, with luck, be ready to go into the garden when the soil temperatures warm. Slow to germinate and slow to get going you really need them started in the next few days.

My shallots and leeks are just peeking through the soil. I started them a couple of weeks ago and they have been in the greenhouse keeping nice and warm with a grow mat underneath. They don't mind cool but need some warmth to germinate.

I won't start tomatoes for another couple of weeks as they germinate quickly and grow much faster. If I start them too early they will be too leggy before the ground is warm enough. If the ground is too cold the tomato plants will just sit there and do nothing until the ground warms.

Time to think about companion plants for the garden as well. The right plants in the garden will go a long way in helping you with pests. They also have the added bonus of bringing some color.
You can't beat Marigolds as companions with just about any garden plant. They repel beetles, nematodes, and even some animal pests. I plant them everywhere I have a square foot of space. They typically stay small and compact and they also attract bees and butterflies. Zinnas are good too but they can get pretty tall.

Other good companion plant can act as trap plants, luring insects to themselves instead of your precious vegetables. Nasturtiums, for example, are so favored by aphids that the devastating insects will flock to them instead of other plants.

Carrots, dill, parsley, and parsnip attract garden heroes — praying mantises, ladybugs, and spiders — that munch on insect pests. I always have plenty of dill, basil and parsley planted in the garden. Besides their value as pest prevention they are a must for cooking. The parsley will even overwinter in many parts of the country.

Don't forget about what I call "quickie veges": Lettuce, radishes, and other quick-growing plants sown between hills of melons or winter squash will mature and be harvested long before these vines need more leg room.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Just Your Basic Tomato Soup

It's cold and there are snow flurries. I'm feeling it in my bones and I need some comfort. Not many things make me happier than a nice bowl of soup and there are few soups better than a plain old tomato soup. Nothing fancy...just tomatoes, onions and broth. That's what's coming down for dinner tonight along with some homemade sourdough with toasted Le Gruyere.



Ingredients

2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
3 cups low-salt chicken broth ( I prefer Swanson)
1 quart of home canned plum tomatoes or 1 28-oz. can whole peeled plum tomatoes, puréed (include the juice) try to find San Marzano tomatoes from Italy as they are as close as you'll find to home canned.
1-1/2 tsp. sugar
3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp of dried thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a nonreactive 5- to 6-quart pan, heat the oil and butter over medium-low heat until the butter melts. Add the onion  and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft but not browned, about 7-8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the flour to the onion and garlic and cook for another couple of minutes. This will get the raw taste out of the flour.

Add the broth, tomatoes, sugar, thyme, and 1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat while stirring the mixture to make sure that the flour is not sticking to the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 40 minutes.

Discard the thyme sprig. If you like it "chunky" its ready to go. If you like it smooth then use an immersion blender or  purée in two or three batches in a blender or food processor. If you used a blender or processor then return the soup to the pot and adjust the salt and pepper. Reheat if necessary.

Croutons, goat cheese, or parmesan  all make great garnishes. There is also nothing wrong with sprinkling a few Fritos on top either.

No need to mention grilled cheese sandwiches.

Coltrane on the recorder

I can't even fathom how long it must have taken to get this right.



Maybe Steve Bates can tell us.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Happy Candlemas, Imbolc, Brigid's Day and Ground Hog Day.

Happy Candlemas, Imbolc, Brigid's Day and Ground Hog Day. The ancients have celebrated the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox since forever. It notes the first signs of spring and a celebration of the ancient belief in the transformation of the Goddess from the old Crone of Winter into the Maiden of Spring. Later the Christians took the holiday as Candlemas and celebrates the presentation of Jesus at the temple. It is the day candles are purified for the church. It is also Brigid's Day. Brigid is the Goddess of poetry, healing, smithcraft, and midwifery and is celebrated with candles as well. Whatever your flavor enjoy the day. As the old saying goes.....

If Candlemas is bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year;
If Candlemas brings snow and rain, old winter shall not come again.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Wind Wimp

I should be in the garden but I'm a wimp. I just got back from taking Zoey for a walk and the wind beat me up. It's not really that cold (45F) but the wind is a steady 20 mph or so with gusts of probably 30 or more. I dislike it immensely. My task for the day in the garden was to continue putting wood chips in the paths between the beds. This necessitates laying newspaper down first which is impossible with any wind. There...I've justified staying in and reading and drinking tea.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Johnny Cakes

Updated below: Johnny cakes or Journey cakes as they were originally called are a quick and easy way to add some novelty and good taste to a meal. That's especially true for a nice winter meal of beans, chili or vegetable soup. They are super easy. All you need is some corn meal, salt, milk, butter and a griddle or big fry pan. Actually, you don't even need the fry pan as another name for them is "hoe cakes" as you can use the back of your hoe to cook them over an open fire whilst working in the field,

The following basic recipe will make about 16 cakes but you can easily double or triple it for making a bunch and since there is no leavening you can make the batter a day or two in advance and likewise keep extra for a couple days.

Johnny or Journey or Hoe cakes

1/4 cup butter (if you use salted butter cut back a wee bit on the salt)
1/4 cup whole milk
1 cup plain cornmeal ( I like yellow but white
is fine just make sure it is NOT self rising)
1 1/2 Tsp salt
3/4 cup boiling water

In a small pan (or in the microwave) heat the butter and milk until the butter melts and set aside.
In a medium bowl mix together the cornmeal, salt. stir in the water, mixing well then add the milk/butter.
Using a quarter cup measure cook the cakes on a medium hot griddle or fry pan(or hoe). If the pan is the right temperature it should take about 3 minutes until the edges start to brown. Flip and cook on the other side about a minute more. These are best served hot.

You can fancy these up with some tasty additions to the batter. Try some green onion or chopped hot pepper. Minced shallots or garlic is nice. Use your imagination. A little sorghum, molasses or honey isn't a bad idea either.

Update: I should have mentioned that you want a batter that will flow a bit like pancake batter. If it is too thick add a little more boiling water (this is especially true if the batter sits for a while). Too thin add a little more cornmeal.  If you have to spread the batter out manually on the pan then you need to thin it a bit.

I should also note that I add a tablespoon of Bob's Red Mill Polenta to the mixture to create a little more texture.
one more thing...I only got 12 cakes out of this recipe last night. That's enough for the two of us but you should probably go for the full batch if there are more than two.

Image from Country Living.com





Sunday, January 11, 2015

Easy French Onion Soup

It is forecast for more rain this afternoon and I am in the mood for onion soup. Here is
the recipe I use. You'll see a lot of recipes for all beef broth but I think that hides some of
the onion flavor so I like to cut it with some chicken broth. The key is to fully caramelize
the onions...they should be rich and dark before we move to the broth part. Sometimes it
helps to add a bit of white sugar to the onions which will encourage the caramelization.

It is believed that the original onions soups were made with just onions and water and it
was only the caramelized onions that brought flavor. Meat based stocks were a luxury for
the peasants. You can, of course, use water and or a vegetable stock here but I really like
the recipe below. Since there are only two of us I typically only make a half recipe so I
don't have to deal with left overs. I should mention that the only really safe bowls or
crocks for the broiler are stoneware or something like Pyrex. Regular old dishes might
crack. I have a special set of onion soup crocks that work great. Just be careful.

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 pounds thinly sliced sweet or red onions (about 6 medium onions)
1 tbsp all purpose flour
1 cup dry white wine (I use vermouth)
4 cups  low-sodium beef broth
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
8 to 10 sprigs fresh thyme stripped or 1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Half a good baguette slice into 3/4 inch slices on the angle buttered lightly
3 cups grated Le Gruyere cheese

DIRECTIONS

In a large heavy-bottom pot, melt the butter over low heat. Add the sliced onions, salt,
and pepper and continue to cook on low heat, stirring occasionally until the onions
become a deep golden brown and very soft, about 30 to 45 minutes and depending on the
moisture in the onions even longer. Be patient this is where all the flavor comes from.
Add the flour and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. If you are using dried thyme add it now along
with the white wine and scrape up any fond on the bottom of the pan and simmer for 5
minutes. Add the beef stock and  chicken stock, fresh thyme, and bring to a simmer.
Cook for an additional 30 minutes.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Preheat the oven 400F and toast the lightly buttered bread slices. 10 or 15 minutes
should do it....you just want them lightly browned but nice and crisp.

Ladle the soup into 4 to 6 oven-safe crocks or bowls. Top with the toast and a handful of
grated Le Gruyere. Arrange the crocks or bowls on a half sheet pan as they will be easier
to handle.

Place the crocks or bowls under the broiler for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the cheese is
melted and begins to brown.

This recipe makes four generous servings or 6 starter servings