Give the People What They Want

My husband the pollster tells me that those snap online polls that pop up on news websites after political debates are pretty much worthless as a gauge of public opinion. That’s because the people taking part in the poll are self-selecting, and there’s no way to know if they represent the public as a whole. Also, campaigns can hijack an online poll by directing their supporters to take it. Some diehards will even delete the cookies in their web browsers so they can take the poll again and again!

sitting

But I’m running a food blog, not running for president. My time is tight and blogging is getting harder and harder to do with a nearly three-year-old, a seven-and-a-half month old, and a full-time job. So when I was trying to decide if the next recipe should be my favorite challah, our go-to pizza, or homemade Cheez-Its®, I took the question to Facebook and asked my friends for their opinion.

The clear winner was Cheez-Its®, although folks made it clear they like the looks of the pizzas we’ve been posting to Instagram. I’ll get to all of them, I swear, and I’ll also share the cupcakes and frostings from the build-your-own cupcake bar we made for Lilli’s birthday party. Sometime before Lilli gets to middle school, at this rate.

I first made these crackers when Lilli wasn’t quite two. It was that golden era when she still ate everything she was served, and gobbled up things like broccoli and mushrooms. It was that naïve time in my life where I actually believed she’d be better off if she only ate things I had personally cooked and baked myself. No puffs for her, and certainly no Goldfish. Obviously she had no interest in these crackers, and, as it turned out, any cheese cracker served to her. No Goldfish, Penguins, or Bunnies. Serves me right for being a Sanctimommy. (Second kids are very different; Bea gets puffs, frozen waffles, and, as of tonight, Nutella.)

eating

The recipe comes is from Classic Snacks Made from Scratch by Casey Barber, which is where I got the Nutter Butter recipe. This one is much simpler, and comes together very quickly in a food processor, although there is a little bit of effort transferring the crackers to the cooling rack. I like this recipe because the ingredient list is very short, far shorter than on a box of Cheez-Its®. And even though it does call for two tablespoons of vegetable shortening, using Earth Balance instead of say, Crisco, just feels better.

Barber makes a big deal of warning that the crackers’ high fat content makes them easy to burn. But I’ve had some come out on the darker side, and I swear they were even better. Sometime in the past year the Cheez-Its® people decided that was truth and marketed a dark brown version of the cracker for a limited time.

The second time I made these crackers I ended up not having the time to bake them immediately. Instead of chilling the dough for an hour, it sat in the fridge for about five days. No harm came to the crackers. They were thicker and seemed to rise a bit more in the oven.

I’ve photographed this recipe twice, something of a record for me at this point. But obviously I have no idea where any of those pictures are. Sorry about that. If you want the crackers’ signature pinked edges, Barber suggests using a fluted pastry cutter. I don’t own one, but my pizza wheel did the job. If you don’t have a pizza wheel, just use a sharp knife.

Cheez-Its® from Classic Snacks Made from Scratch by Casey Barber

Ingredients

1 (8-ounce) block extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, coarsely shredded

1 ounce finely grated Parmesan cheese (about ¼ cup)

2 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½ – inch cubes

2 Tablespoons vegetable shortening, cut into ½-inch cubes

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup (4 ¼ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

2 Tablespoons ice-cold water

Directions

Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, blend the cheeses, butter, shortening, and salt on medium-low speed, OR pulse in the bowl of a food processor until soft and homogenous. Add the flour and pulse or mix on low to combine; the dough will be dry and pebbly.

Slowly add the water (through the feed tube, if using a food processor) and continue to pulse/mix as the dough coalesces into a mass. Depending on the brand of cheese used and the humidity level at the time, you might need a small dribble of water or the full 2 tablespoons. Pat the dough into a disc, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat liners.

Divide the dough into 2 pieces on a floured surface and roll each into a very thin (1/8 inch or less) 10 by 12-inch rectangle. Using a fluted pastry cutter or pizza cutter, cut the rectangles into 1-inch squares, then transfer to the baking sheets. Use a toothpick or the tip of a chopstick to punch a hole in the center of each square.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until puffed and browning at the edges. Watch carefully, as the high fat content of the crackers make it a fine line between golden delicious and burnt. Immediately move the baked crackers onto wire racks to cool.

Store your Cheez-Its at room temperature for up to a week.

 

Letting Go

I believe in leftovers and packing lunch, which means I have a cupboard that is jammed with Tupperware, Gladware, and well-washed yogurt containers. About once a year I sit on the floor of the kitchen and empty it out, marry each container with its lid, purge singletons, and neatly stack all parts back on the shelves. Things remain tidy for about three weeks, but before long, plastic containers throw themselves to the floor when I open the cupboard door.

We’ve had one container in particular that’s been in our collection for years. It’s a huge yellow tub that once held peanut butter, and, until recently, served as the perfect vessel for our homemade ice creams. Whenever we’d whip up a batch of peach basil, or maybe some Turkish Delight, I knew I could count on the plastic tub to be just the right size for our new flavor. Until last week, that is.

Last week was our friends’ 7th annual beer and cheese party. Last year Rich and I went local, bringing both beer and cheddar that was made nearby. I simmered up a pear chutney to keep things interesting, and it went over very well. This year, due to the impending birth of the hosts’ second child, the party was moved up from the fall to August, which meant a pear chutney was out of the question. To keep things interesting, we didn’t bring a cheese, but homemade cheese crackers, which we paired with a selection of local German-style lagers by Jack’s Abby brewery in Framingham. The crackers are a Melissa Clark recipe (I know, I know, what can I say, I just can’t quit her), and they taste like a healthy Cheez-it, or a Goldfish cracker you wouldn’t mind feeding your little one. The hostess noted they were a bit like a whole wheat shortbread.

The crackers went over well, but we left the party early for a dinner party. Not all the crackers had been eaten when it was time for us to leave, so Rich left the container on the table and walked away. Which container? My beloved yellow tub. I didn’t realize until we were about 10 minutes from the party that we’d left it behind. “My container!” I whelped. “Let it go,” Rich said. “But! But!” I responded. “Let it go. Just let it go.”

Healthy Homemade Cheddar Crisps from In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite by Melissa Clark

We actually used a combo of leftover cheese bits that were in the fridge: fontina, cheddar and Parm. I say use whatever cheese or cheeses you have that you’d like. It’s your palate, after all.

Ingredients

1 cup whole wheat flour

¼ teaspoon baking powder

4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

½ teaspoon kosher salt

Pinch cayenne (optional)

1 ½ cup (6 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese

Directions

In a small bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. In a food processor or electric mixer with a paddle attachment, mix the butter, salt and cayenne until creamy. Add 1 cup (4 ounces) of the cheese and mix until thoroughly combined. Gradually add the flour mixture and run the food processor or beat with the paddle until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and starts to form a ball, about 7 minutes. Wrap the dough in plastic, and roll into a log about 1 ½ inches in diameter. Chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour or up to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350F and line two sheet pans with parchment. Unwrap the log of dough and slice into rounds 3/16 inch thick. Arrange the rounds on the prepared baking sheets and place a generous pinch of the remaining ½ cup cheese on each cracker. Bake until the crackers are golden brown, about 12 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the crackers to crisp for an additional 5 minutes. Transfer the crackers to a wire rack to cool.

Clark points out that you can also place the dough between 2 sheets of plastic and roll into a rectangle 1/8 inch thick. Using a small (1 ½-to 2-inch) heart-or-fish-shaped cookie cutter, cut out the crackers and place them on the prepared sheet pans. Press the remaining scraps of dough together, reroll, and cut out additional crackers, then bake as directed.