Cheese UnBalls

My Mom has been making these cheese balls for as long as I can remember. I snubbed them as a child because “they looked icky” but I’ve since come around. These things are straight out of the 1970’s when tacos were considered “international cuisine.”
My mom would spend forever chopping the dried beef and then making tiny cheese balls to roll in the beef.  I still remember the face she would make when my dad would come by and put an entire mini cheeseball on a cracker. All that labor and fussiness gone in a second.

Ain’t nobody got time for that and, thanks to my food processor, I can spend 1/25938293th of the time for basically the same result in spread form.


The hardest part of making this recipe will be finding the ingredients in the grocery store.  You are going to need prepared horseradish and dried beef. My husband thought it was some cruel joke the first time he was sent to the store with these on the list. The horseradish will be in the refrigerated section near the pickles/chip dips. The dried beef will be by the spam and canned tuna.

I know both of these ingredients sound terrible. You just have to trust that these will come together into a spicy cream cheese. And then don’t tell anyone what is in them until after they’ve tried them because you’ll get some funny looks and nobody will be willing to try them.

Bringing this recipe together couldn’t be simpler:  put the dried beef in the food processor and pulse a few times until it is about 1/4 inch pieces.  Remove the beef from the processor and add the cream cheese and horseradish. You’ll need to judge how much to use. Do you like horseradish/spicy food?  I do so I use about 1/4 cup. Start with less and add to taste.

Once you have a cheese flavor you like, add the beef back in and pulse to combine.  You still want decent sized flakes of the beef, so don’t blend until it is smooth. Serve on crackers, celery, bagels, anything you like!  It’s spicy but cool from the cream cheese–like jalepeno cream cheese but…horseradishier. The dried beef brings a little flavor but mostly it adds a texture element.

 

Spicy horseradish cheese spread

–two blocks of cream cheese

–1/4 cup prepared horseradish

–1 jar of dried beef

Pulse the dried beef in the processor to chop it up. Remove to a bowl.

Add the cream cheese and horseradish to the processor and pulse smooth. Add beef and pulse to combine

Radish Chips, take 1

My son and I went a little overboard planting radishes this spring. Since they are quick to grow, I knew seeing all the little green sprouts within a few days would keep him excited about our little backyard garden beds.  

 

Now I’m stuck with a glut of radishes. I like radishes…but how many can one person eat? I turned to google and came across a few recipes for radish chips. They were all pretty vague, so I sacrificed just two radishes for the first try.    

I sliced them on the thinnest setting on my mandolin. I don’t use my mandolin often but it’s the only tool for some jobs. 

 

Then, spread them on a single layer and spray with olive oil. Since I’m lazy, I used the olive oil Pam spray. One of these days I’ll get a real olive oil sprayer… Then, sprinkle with salt. 

  
Then I baked at 400 degrees. They baked quickly and some of them got a little brown before I realized it. I mixed them up and put them on a lower rack in the oven to finish crisping up. 

  

 
These were delicious but need some work. The line between soggy and burnt is very thin but I have some ideas to help. 

Next time:

  • Slice them a little thicker to give them a little bit more cooking time.
  • Dry the slices before applying the olive oil. 
  • Less salt. I didn’t anticipate how much these would shrink up so the salt really concentrates 
  • A lower oven temp (350?) and the rack in the low/middle of the oven.

As for taste, these were surprisingly delicious. Crispy like a potato chip with just a little bit of the radish flavor remaining. If you like kale chips but wish they were a little more substantial like a potato chips, these will be right up your alley. 
I’ll be trying these again soon. Maybe even today since some of the radishes are really starting to crowd my pepper plant!

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. 

  

Apple Butter

It is FINALLY fall–more specifically, October. October–the best month of the year! Cool weather, Halloween, changing leaves, and MY BIRTHDAY! Its also time for amazing apples! I grabbed a large bag last time I was at the store and, true to type, came home to find a large drawer of them still in my fridge. I was up early one day anyway so I broke out the slow cooker and started up a batch of Apple Butter.

6.5 pounds of apples: peeled, cored, and sliced.

Combine with cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar and white sugar in your slow cooker.  Set to low for 10 hours.

Wait.  That doesn’t look like apple butter.  You’ll need to use a stick blender or (like I did) work this in batches through your blender.  Then, put it back in the slow cooker and continue to cook with the lid ajar for several more hours (or you can do this on the stove top) until the apple butter is the consistency you like.  This could take 1-2 hours or another 6 like mine did.

Eat with everything.  Muffins, biscuits, pretzels.  Or just a spoon.

Apple Butter

6.5 pounds of apples–variety of your choice.  I used honeycrisp and a couple of fujis.

1 cup of sugar

1 cup of dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp salt

Peel and core the apples and combine with the spices in the slow cooker.  Cook on high for 10 hours, puree, then return to a pot (either the slow cooker with the lid ajar or a large pot on the stovetop).  Simmer until you reach the consistency you like.

 

 

Herbs de Provence Crackers

  
Crackers?  I never really considered making them myself since I have a pretty mean addiction to cheezits.  I came across this recipe for Sourdough Crackers over at King Arthur Flour when I was looking for ideas for my starter.  The ingredients were pretty minimal and I’d never made crackers before…so, why not?

 

  
I grabbed the ingredients and then pondered herbs.  Oregano? Rosemary?  Then I found this jar of Herbs de Provence–something I hardly ever use.  The topping called for sea salt or kosher salt but since I was feeling FANCEE, I grabbed my jar of Fleur de Sel salt.

  
The dough was incredibly easy to bring together and, after a rest in the fridge, rolled out easily.  I was skeptical I’d be able to roll a wheat dough out so thinly since my usual sourdough bread doughs are so stretchy and elastic.  This dough rolled out in a jiff and I set to work brushing it with olive oil, sprinkling on the salt and cutting it into squares.  The last step was to prick the crackers with the tines of a fork but, next time, I’ll do this before cutting.  My fork kept grabbing the dough squares and lifting them off the parchment.

  
Baking them was…interesting.  The edge crackers brown well before the center ones are done.  I found myself removing the pans and pulling off the outer ring a couple of times.  It made the bake time longer with so many interruptions but if I had left them all in until the centers were done, the edges would have been inedible.

  
These are quite delicious and surprisingly easy to make. Nice and crisp and a great way to use up some herbs (and sourdough starter) that otherwise would either be discarded or languish until expired.  I could see these being  a regular thing around here with different herbs mixed in.  I bet this dough would make excellent long thin crispy breadsticks for pairing with italian meals.

 

Fancee Crackers

1 cup Whole Wheat Flour

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 cup unfed sourdough starter (mine happened to be fed and they still turned out fine)

1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature

2 tablespoons Herbs de Provence or other dried herbs

olive oil for brushing

Fleur de Sel or other coarse salt–about a tablespoon

Mix together the flour, salt, sourdough starter, butter, and optional herbs to make a smooth(not sticky), cohesive dough.  I ended up adding about an extra tablespoon of flour to get mine to the non-sticky stage. Divide the dough in half, and shape each half into a small rectangular slab. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or up to a couple of hours, until the dough is firm.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Very lightly flour a piece of parchment, your rolling pin, and the top of the dough.

Working with one piece at a time, roll the dough to about 1/16″ thick. The dough will have ragged, uneven edges; that’s OK. Just try to make it as even as possible.

Transfer the dough and parchment together onto a baking sheet. Lightly brush with oil and then sprinkle the salt over the top of the crackers.

Cut the dough into 1 1/4″ squares and prick each square with the tines of a fork.

Bake the crackers for about 20 minutes, until the squares are starting to brown around the edges.  I checked mine at 18 minutes and started removing outside crackers every minute or so until the interior crackers were finished.

When fully browned, remove the crackers from the oven, and transfer them to a cooling rack. Store airtight at room temperature for up to a week; freeze for longer storage.

Sourdough Pretzels

  
My sourdough starter met an unfortunate fate during our recent move across the country. At first, I thought maybe I didn’t need to get another one since my other sandwich bread and basic loaves were coming along. hahahahahahahaha. yeah. That feeling didn’t last long. After we were settled, it didn’t take long for me to order a new batch of starter from King Arthur Flour.

I’ve kept my starter on the counter for a while to get it chugging along before it goes to its usual home in the fridge. Since a room temperature starter needs to be fed twice a day, I’ve had a lot of starter to use up. Technically, what I have is fed starter since it has been recently fed with flour and water but I used it in the Sourdough Pretzels recipe from King Arthur Flour anyway.

The dough itself came together easily without a lot of kneading. It took just a couple of minutes to go from this pile of junk:

  
 

to this beauty:

 

  
After a rise, it was time to shape the pretzels. All those years of play doh work have really paid off, no?

 

  
 

These were completely delicious. Soft and chewy with just a little bit of that nice crust on the exterior. They are soft enough that I’m considering using them for an amazing hamburger bun next time I make a batch. These were met with rave reviews by everyone and will definitely make a regular appearance around here to use up all the extra starter I have. I may try to par bake a few next time and freeze them. Sourdough pretzels from the freezer? Could it happen??

Sourdough Pretzels
From King Arthur Flour

3/4 cup lukewarm water
1 cup unfed sourdough starter, straight from the refrigerator
3 cups All-Purpose Flour
1/4 cup Baker’s Special Dry Milk
2 tablespoons (1/2 ounce) non-diastatic malt powder
1 tablespoon butter or vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast

Topping:
1 tablespoon non-diastatic malt powder or sugar
2 tablespoons water
pretzel salt
2 tablespoons melted butter, optional

Mix and knead the dough ingredients — by hand, mixer, or bread machine — to make a cohesive, fairly smooth dough. It should be slightly sticky; if it seems dry, knead in an additional tablespoon or two of water.

Cover the dough and let it rest for 45 minutes. It will rise minimally. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased work surface, fold it over a few times to gently deflate it, then divide it into 12 pieces, each weighing about 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 ounces.

Roll each piece of dough into an 18″ rope. Shape each rope into a pretzel or any other shape youd like. These would be delicious as long pretzel sticks.

Dissolve the malt in the water. Brush the pretzels with the solution, and sprinkle lightly with coarse pretzel salt.

Bake the pretzels for 25 to 30 minutes, until they’re a light golden brown. Note: This is correct; there’s no need to let the shaped pretzels rise before baking.

Remove the pretzels from the oven, and brush with melted butter.

Toasted Ravioli

  

Honestly, I don’t know why these are called toasted ravioli because they certainly aren’t toasted in any way. Fried ravioli would be accurate but maybe that isn’t as sexy and exciting as “toasted”. Regardless, these are something any St. Louis native would recognize but they don’t seem to have made it to nation-wide recognition yet. That is a shame because you are missing out if you haven’t had these!
If you have ever fried anything, this recipe will be a cinch. If you haven’t fried anything before, this will be a great place to start. 
You can work with ravioli straight from the freezer. I used round cheese ravioli but my sister in law from St Louis insisted they should be square meat ravioli. I say use what you have and like. 
Crack a few eggs in a bowl and add a little milk or buttermilk to thin the mixture. Add some salt and pepper and beat the eggs for a minute.  In another bowl, season some breadcrumbs with some salt and pepper. 

  
Dredge the ravioli in the egg mixture, then the breadcrumbs a few at a time.  When you are close to complete, begin heating 2-3 inches of vegetable oil in a Dutch oven or other large pot with high sides. 

  
Once the oil is close to 400 degrees, add a few ravioli (one or two at a time). I put them on a slotted spoon and lower them in because I’m not into oil splash burns. 

Cook for about 90 seconds (more or less–this will depend on the size of your ravioli). Lay them to drain on paper towel while you finish the batch. 

Serve with warmed marinara sauce. 

  

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

Mr. Piehole’s Manchos

Below is a guest post by my husband, Mr. Piehole. While he has many, many fine qualities, his cooking skills are a little below average. I don’t really mind this since it means that he is fairly amazed at even the simplest things I do in the kitchen. He also goes and gets all the takeout, so I consider it a fair split.

————

My wife can cook and I can not cook. This is not to reinforce gender stereotypes to say that women can cook and men can not. Nor is it to say that all valid couples are male/female or that one is only valid within a couple or anything like that. One must always provide provisos like this on the Internet; never has our ability to comment gone from zero to Hitler so quickly.

Of course, we have on in the background an episode of MasterChef where they are assigning sweet versus savory baskets right now and the sweet baskets are pink with a bow. Really.

Anywho, you may know someone who can cook. In this post, that person will be my wife. You may know someone who can’t. That’s me.

If you are in the Ms. Piehole category, the first thing that you should know is that when a person says they can not cook, they do not mean this literally. They are certainly capable of holding something over a fire and applying heat to it. Then pulling it out and putting it on a stick, probably, because that fire is hot.

What they mean is that all of the shortcuts you have built up over time, they don’t have. They don’t even know the long way, or they would take it. This includes:
–Where stuff is. Saying the parchment paper is next to the muffin containers is like saying that Henry IV was king during the rule of the House of Lancaster. It’s true, but the novice wants to know whether he fought with swords, guns, or biplanes; your answer makes them wonder if they heard wrong and he has a brother named Tyrion.
–What stuff is. I once was sent to the store for dried beef. I like my beef moist, so this was an odd request. The me in your story doesn’t know where to even to start looking for this. There’s a good chance that your local supermarket stocker doesn’t either. I know — I was one once. I remember searching a produce department for jicama, which was pronounced gee-comma for me. Eventually, I had to leave that poor man, who is probably still wandering through a Pick n’ Save, surviving on foods we learned in our alphabet books like apples, carrots, and zebra meat.
–What stuff goes with other stuff. Before Ms. Piehole was Ms. Piehole, she caught Mr. Piehole eating rice, barbeque sauce, and corn. They happened to be the three things left in the apartment at the time. Today, this meal would be much better, but only because there’s more stuff in the house.
–Ratios. Not math ratios. Mr. Piehole calculates ROI, CPM, and CTR PDQ. But how much of one food would one logically want with other food? This mystifies.

So if you live with such a person, please treat them, in this area, as you would a novice. Don’t assume. Use good reference points like “it’s in the cabinet you always leave open.” There is a world of difference between “next to the oven” and “next to the mandolin.” You do not want your loved one wandering like Jicama Man.

If you are such a person, this “recipe” is for you. It can make you successful enough to feed yourself and your loved ones when you need or want to (and you should want to every so often). It is a basic food delivery system.

Other examples of systems I have worked to perfect…

hahahahahahahahahahahaha. Sorry. Thought I could get through that with a straight face.

Other examples of systems I have worked on are 1) boxed couscous, 2) minute rice, 3) egg scrambles/omelettes, and 4) smoothies. These are all things that have other things in them and can be adapted to your taste. If you like it, you may like it over rice or in an omelette or in a smoothie. If you don’t, but it’s good for you, you can shove it in there and probably not notice. Ratios don’t matter as much and can be refined over time.

So nachos were the next mountain to climb. Uh, molehill to scale. I have written this recipe for people like me. Be gentle.

nachos

Mr. Piehole’s Nachos

Chips, preferably tortilla. Would it work with Doritos or something? Try it and let us know (on the worst episode of America’s Test Kitchen ever!)

Cheese. Preferably shredded. Classical cheeses are usually yellow/orangeish. But if you want white, we will not judge you a cheese racist. If you are shopping for this dish specifically, go for Mexican mix. Let someone else sort out which cheese.

Other stuff you like to eat. I’d recommend a protein that someone with skillz already cooked (I used leftover ground beef (It was leftover taco meat I made with chili powder, paprika, cumin, chipotle, and cayenne–Meg)) and a tasty vegetable or three (I used green peppers).

Salsa. From a can or jar.

1. Get a cookie sheet. I puzzled on which one. I went with one that had raised sides. Any chance of less mess, take it.

2. Put parchment paper down on the cookie sheet. If your house is like mine, it’s next to the muffin containers. If not, can’t help ya. Basically, you want to cover the cookie sheet to minimize drippage and have an easy transfer to your eventual serving vessel.

3. Put down a layer of nachos. As many as you and your clan will probably want to eat.

4. Put down a big old layer of cheese. More than you would think. Finely shredded, especially, will melt down small.

5. Put down a layer of stuff. Actually, if, like me, you have a green pepper, you should cut it first.

5. (revised) Cut up your green pepper by cutting off the top (with the stem) and bottom. Slice it once and unroll it so the inside is up. Cut off the fibery parts. (This is the level you are dealing with, quality cookers. At least with me). Make them pretty small, about the size of the base of a Monopoly house.

6. Now put down your layer of stuff.

7. Put it in the oven.

8. Actually, you should have probably turned on the oven.
Revised step 5: Turn on oven to about 400 degrees Fahrenheit. This should be fairly precise. You want at least 50 degrees between you and the temperature at which books burn.

I’m just kidding. Nothing in this recipe is precise.

9. Put it in the oven. Wait about 8-10 minutes.

10. Take it out with hotpads if it looks like it would be tasty to eat. You are probably looking for the cheese to have turned into a flat surface rather than disconnected parts of cheese.

11. Transfer your parchment paper to a serving vehicle. Ms. Piehole suggested a white platter on top of the china cabinet. This was clearly overkill for a recipe including the ingredient “stuff”, but hey.

12. Put salsa on top to taste. Jalapenos too, if you dare. I dare to put them on for Ms. Piehole, but not myself.

13. Eat when they don’t burn your mouth.

grabbyhands

Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy. In future episodes, maybe I’ll teach another platform. Or have burned down the house. Good luck!

PS. Step 14: Turn off oven.

Kolache

I had never heard of a Kolache before I moved to Texas about 7 years ago but, apparently, a lot of Czech immigrants ended up in Texas and started selling these little pillows of amazingness.  They have really caught on here and there are several Kolache bakeries in my town. Though they originated mainly as a dessert, stuffing bbq into them was really just a matter of time here in Texas.

We are preparing to move away from this area and, sadly, that means my love affair with the kolache drive through right by my house will come to an abrupt end. I have until the move to both eat as many as possible as well as learn to actually make the dough. Its unlike most savory breads I’ve had as it is super soft and pillowy and also sweet.

This is my first try and I’m going with the Kolache Recipe from King Arthur Flour, my usual standby for great bread recipes.  The dough came together easily and was easy to work with.

dough

You prep it the night before and allow it to rise in the fridge, so this recipe does require a little planning but I threw the dough together in a few minutes before we headed to bed, so its a minimal issue.

divideddough

The next day, the dough had risen a little and was ready to divide into equal-ish sizes. I rolled each into a small tortilla sized circle and piled on the stuffing. I went with bacon and cheese, since it is my personal favorite.

baconstuff

I gathered the edges up, smooshed them together and then inverted it so the seam was on the bottom.

readyforbaking

The kolaches around here have the amazing buttery quality to them, so I took an extra step and brushed them with melted butter once about 2/3 of the way through baking and then again right when I pulled them out of the oven.

baked

I was really pleased with how close these looked to the kolaches we buy at the bakery.

insides

The final result was close to great. I need to roll the dough a little thinner on the edges so there isn’t quite so much bread at the seam. Also, more fillings! The cheese really shrinks down so stuffing them with more will result in the nicely filled kolache from the bakery.

Other stuffing ideas:
–bacon and cheese
–cheese and jalepeno
–bbq beef
–leftover meats? brisket? Chicken?
–pizza toppings!