Italian Crackers

After making sourdough crackers a while ago, I thought they were just pretty good. Not amazing or so incredibly easy that they basically make themselves or so different than anything you can buy in the store.  They were just good.  They were also a pain to bake since they baked unevenly and had to be checked constantly.
Then I chatted with a friend of mine who had one of those comments that made so much sense. “Why don’t you spread them out a little?”  DUH.  Why don’t I do that??? Have I even baked before???

So I did, this time with italian seasoning instead of herbs de provence.  It didn’t even take 30 seconds to rearrange them on the sheet pan after cutting. Then I put them in the oven and walked away. No prodding. No taking the outer ring of crackers off. No fussing. Just a quick pan rotation halfway through.

Tada! Perfect crackers. They were…delicious. I can see a homemade cracker problem developing in my future.

I also ended up making yet another batch of these and turning them into breadsticks to go along with a pasta meal. 

  

Baking Bacon

I’m not going to say I’m a bacon fanatic because I haven’t yet made an actual eating vessel made out of bacon. I don’t even have it every week. But I do really like it even though making it is a total pain in the butt. The splatters. The cleanup. The curled bacon. It sucks.

bacon

Thankfully, the oven comes to the rescue and I haven’t made bacon on the cooktop since. You’ll need a half sheet pan (WITH A LIP!) and a cooling rack that fits inside. A single rack can hold one package of bacon, depending on how thinly cut it is.

Bake at 425-450ish for about 20-30 minutes. Check on it frequently since it can burn easily and cooking times aren’t exact since bacon is cut to so many different thicknesses. Voila. Flat, perfectly cooked bacon and you didn’t even need to get bacon grease in your eye.

bacon fat

The final bonus? The rendered bacon fat stays nice and clear in the pan. While it is still warm, you can drain it into your mason jar of bacon fat you keep in the fridge. Everyone has that, right???

Buttermilk biscuits: The Smitten Kitchen Recipe

biscuit

After having Alton Brown’s Biscuits a few mornings ago, I was on a biscuit roll. Alton’s recipe came together easily but I wanted to try my hand at an all-butter recipe and Smitten Kitchen came to the rescue.

butter

The batter came together similarly to Alton’s but the butter took longer to incorporate into the flour mixture. I took a little extra insurance against butter meltage by sticking the entire bowl in the freezer while I cleaned up the first set of ingredients and measuring cups. It was probably only 2-3 minutes but it did feel a little firmer and colder when I took it out.

batter

I added the buttermilk and plowed ahead. I still don’t have a “proper” biscuit cutter so I used the same straight-sided glass I used for the Alton recipe. I kind of love the charm of the messy last biscuit made from all the scraps.

last biscuit

In the end, these were delicious. More than delicious–buttery, soft, high-rising, and perfect. I have to admit that I am an all-butter biscuit convert. While the half butter/half shortening was easier to bring together as a batter, the difference in flavor was significant.

baked

I finally broke down and bought some cake flour (sadly, White Lily Flour–the southern staple for biscuits–isn’t available where I live. After we move this month, I’ll stock up from amazon). I can’t wait to try the biscuits with the softer flour.

Smitten Kitchen’s All Butter Biscuits

2 1/4 cups (280 grams) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoons (10 to 20 grams) sugar
1 tablespoon (15 grams) baking powder
3/4 teaspoon (5 grams) table salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
9 tablespoons (125 grams) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
3/4 cup (175 ml) buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400. Combine dry ingredients and work butter in as quickly as possible with your fingers. Stir buttermilk in until just combined. Turn onto a floured surfaced and fold dough back on itself a few times. Pat into a circle 1 inch thick and cut out biscuits. Reform scraps and repeat.

I placed mine shoulder to shoulder on the pan so they could lend each other support while baking. Bake 12 to 15 minutes until golden, turning pan halfway if needed.

These are best fresh from the oven (and then to snack on the rest throughout the day. I had one leftover for breakfast the next day and it had dried significantly.

Buttermilk Biscuits: The Alton Brown Recipe

biscuits

I remember my first biscuit. I was around 15 and was working at that amazing icon of fine southern fare: McDonalds. It is really no wonder that I thought biscuits were pretty terrible, right?

dough

Thankfully, I’ve come around to appreciate the southern biscuit. They are so different than the flaky, buttery biscuits I grew up eating and they are also so much more versatile: breakfast, dinner, snack. They can do it all. I made this batch and left it on the counter where we all snacked on them throughout the day.

cutting

I’m certainly no expert on biscuits but I’m working on it. I am starting here with Alton Brown’s recipe. I’ll admit that I didn’t use the White Lily Flour that he talked about on the biscuit episode but I will next time. Mine were clearly flatter than his and I’m guessing the flour makes a substantial difference. I just hated to buy yet another bag of flour so close to an across the country move.

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Alton Brown’s Biscuits

2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons shortening
1 cup buttermilk, chilled

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using your fingertips, rub butter and shortening into dry ingredients until mixture looks like crumbs. (The faster the better, you don’t want the fats to melt.) Make a well in the center and pour in the chilled buttermilk. Stir just until the dough comes together. The dough will be very sticky.

Turn dough onto floured surface, dust top with flour and gently fold dough over on itself 5 or 6 times. Press into a 1-inch thick round. Cut out biscuits with a 2-inch cutter, being sure to push straight down through the dough. Place biscuits on baking sheet so that they just touch. Reform scrap dough, working it as little as possible and continue cutting. (Biscuits from the second pass will not be quite as light as those from the first, but hey, that’s life.)

Bake until biscuits are tall and light gold on top, 15 to 20 minutes.

baked

Project Cornbread: The Alex Guarnaschelli Recipe

slice

I grew up in the mitten-state of Michigan and, therefore, had little exposure to the wonders of cornbread for many years. Even after we moved to the south, I still wasn’t convinced since most of the cornbread I had was terribly dry and grainy stuff from restaurants. It wasn’t until a friend invited me over to her very southern grandmother’s house for a very southern meal that I had amazing cornbread. Moist, just sweet enough, buttery, and perfect for soaking up everything else on the plate.

batter

I’ve made do with just so-so cornbread since but another perfect recipe quest is about to begin: Project Cornbread. I chose to start with Alex Guarnaschelli’s skillet cornbread recipe. I had everything on hand, so off we went!

crust

In all honesty, I should have let the pan heat up longer than I did. I didn’t get the amazingly golden crust I was hoping for. In the end, this cornbread was just ok. For one, it was far too buttery. I love a butter flavor but this had so much butter that, after it cooled, there was solidified butter sitting on top of the bread. Not so good for eating cold out of the fridge (you do that, right?).

Alex’s Cornbread

1 1/4 cups coarsely ground cornmeal
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup whole milk
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F and place a 9-inch cast iron skillet inside to preheat.

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients: cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. In another bowl, combine the wet team: milk, buttermilk, and eggs. Whisk in almost all of the melted butter, reserving about 1 tablespoon for the skillet later on.

Remove the hot skillet from the oven and reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees F. Coat the bottom and sides of the hot skillet with the remaining butter. Pour the batter into the skillet and place it in the center of the oven. Bake until the center is firm and a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes and serve.

Whew–an entire stick of butter. I will try this recipe again but I will dial the butter back to 6 tablespoons.

Applesauce

sauce

I’ll admit that I am often on autopilot when I go through the grocery store. I buy the same core fruits each week for us to use as snacks. When I don’t take a stock of what we have on hand before I go shopping, we end up with more of one fruit than we can eat before the pile will start to go south. This week, it is apples. I ended up with 8 extra apples in the fruit basket this week and, with another 7 fresh ones from the store. All signs point toward applesauce.

slicing

We don’t often end up eating the applesauce as a standalone food since it isn’t the most mobile of fruity foods. Instead, I commonly use applesauce as a sweetener in muffins to help increase the healthy factor for the kids. I’ve had good success subbing it for up to 1/3 of the white sugar in almost every quickbread/muffin recipe I’ve tried. This batch of sauce may be destined for pure apple muffins though.

readytocook

If you haven’t ever made applesauce before, it is dead easy! If you are into canning/preserving, this is a good candidate to put up. All of my canning and preserving equipment is packed up right now for the move, so this batch will need to be used up quickly!

mashing

Applesauce

8 Apples. I used mostly fuji with a few honeycrisp.
1 1/2 cups of water
1/2 cup of sugar
2 tsp cinnamon. This can be adjusted to taste–I usually use much more.

Peel and slice your apples. Add to a largeish pot with the other ingredients. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until your apples are soft. This timing will depend on the size of your apple slices, so check often!

Mash with a potato masher (Or a stick blender if you want super smooth applesauce). Add water or continue to simmer to adjust the thickness.

Makes roughly 6-7 cups

Zucchini with Fried Onions

Zucchini was pretty much absent from my childhood.  I don’t know if it is a general midwestern thing or just my family’s general dislike of vegetables. Whatever the reason for my zucchini-barren upbringing, I’ve spent a good portion of my adult life making up for lost time.

Years ago, I came across a recipe for Zucchini Parmesan Crisps in one of those 4 ingredient/15 minute magazines by the checkout. It is completely delicious but, honestly, kind of a pain in the ass. “Dip each round into the Parmesan mixture, coating it evenly on both sides, pressing the coating on to stick, and place in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet.” Ain’t nobody got time for that when we all want a pile of these things on our plate.

Enter the tart pan and french fried onions.

Zucchini

I’ve made some modifications to the original recipe in this photo but I’ve also made the original breadcrumb/parmesan topping and added it to the tart pan arrangement and its quite delicious as well.

My Lazy Zucchini:

2-3 Zucchini, depending on size
3 tblsp Zesty Italian dressing (or olive oil)
French Fried Onions
Salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 450.

Cut the zucchini into 1/4 inch rounds and line them up in circles in the tart pan, overlapping them slightly.

Drizzle with the salad dressing or olive oil. (I recommend the salad dressing. Its easy and adds a lot of spices and flavor.) Add your salt and pepper as well.

Crush up the onions a little bit and sprinkle on top. You can use as many or as few as you like–basically whatever is left in the can after everyone eats a handful.

Throw it in the oven. It won’t take long to cook–maybe 10 minutes? I pull it out when I can stick a knife into a zucchini without a lot of resistance and the onions are nicely browned.

These don’t keep well but you probably won’t have any leftovers anyway.