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.

 

Butternut Basics

Butternut squash risotto: seven minutes in a pressure cooker.

As I mentioned in a previous post, work and school have been really crazy lately, and with Rich doing campaign things, sharing a meal together has become a precious commodity. I know I must sound like a broken record by now, but with my trusty pressure cooker and my well-stocked pantry, we have continued to enjoy tasty, inexpensive and quick meals.

One of my go-to dishes when I’m in a time crunch is butternut squash risotto. What?!? Impossible! you’re thinking. But I swear to you, if you buy a pressure cooker, you too can make risotto in seven minutes. Yup, that’s all it takes. Just buy a pressure cooker; most likely it will come with a recipe for risotto. (Results, and recipes, may vary by make and model, so I am not posting a full recipe here.)

In terms of ingredients, all you need is some Arborio rice (which Ocean State Job Lot will sell you for $2.99 a box), a chopped-up onion (pantry staple), a hunk of parmesan (which should just kind of hang out in your fridge’s cheese drawer) and a few cups of stock.

Now, I must admit I am spoiled by Rich who enjoys taking a few hours on his weekends to make homemade stock with leftover chicken carcasses (we keep them frozen until he has the time) and some odds and ends from my veggie drawer. Once it’s cooled off, we pour the stock into ice cube trays, freeze them, and then store the stock cubes in Ziploc bags in the freezer. But, in all seriousness, just keep a box in the pantry. As Julia Child (or Rachael Ray) would say, who’s to know if you take short cuts?

Now that that’s squared away, the only thing standing between you and a nice autumnal dish is that pesky butternut squash. Sure, you can buy it pre-cut from Trader Joe’s, or even find it in your grocer’s freezer, but the cheapest way to enjoy butternut squash is to buy it whole and clean it yourself.

I know that might sound daunting. But I promise you can do it. Here’s how:

First, take your butternut squash and cut it in half, so that you have a distinct round bottom.

Then, peel it. Yup, it’s just that simple. I have very good Kyocera ceramic peeler that my awesome brother-in-law got me for a birthday present last year which does a great job. Now, I’m not trying to sell Kyocera products (or even a specific brand of pressure cookers, for that matter) but, if you don’t think your peeler can handle peeling squash, then I would suggest purchasing a new, sturdier peeler. It should cost less than $15.

After you’ve peeled both pieces of your squash, cut the round bottom one in half, and scrape out the seeds. Then cut your squash into thirds, and then start dicing.

Yup, it’s really that simple.

Once you’ve cleaned your squash, prepare your risotto according to the instructions that came with your pressure cooker, and right before you put the lid on, dump the squash into the pot.

The squash will soften into the rice mixture and, by the time you unlatch the lid, become one with your risotto. I happened to have a rind of parmesan in my fridge which I tossed in pre-pressure, too.  In general, if you find yourself with just the rind of a piece of cheese, keep it in the fridge, and the next time you are making soup, toss it right in. It will add layers of rich flavor to your soup — or in this case, your risotto.

Latch things up, pressurize, cook according to your machine’s instructions, then blow off the steam. Here’s where you add the good stuff: butter and grated cheese. This time, I also threw in some sage from the bush out front. You could also go with goat cheese and rosemary, a la Grendel’s, if you prefer. And there you have it: a fast, simple dish made with pantry staples and one fresh veggie.