Homemade Cheez-It Crackers

Ready to serve

This post is pretty much part two of … So You Had a Bad Day …

When the chips are down, the loves in my life reach for chocolatey things. Me? I reach for Cheez-Its. And I reach for them. And I reach for them. And I reach for them. And suddenly the box is empty. My mood is not necessarily better, still have the stink of a bad day, but now I have Cheez-It guilt in the mix. I have simply filled myself with faux cheesey goodness. however, if you pair those Cheez-Its with a big ole glass of bourbon on the rocks, whatever bad day I have had melts away, even with the Cheez-It guilt. Either that or I am in a cheesy, bourbon fog and it doesn’t seem to matter.

But, let’s face it, as delicious as store-bought Cheez-Its are, they can’t possibly be good for you, and really, isn’t that practically the point? So, an entire BOX of them has to be super bad for you. And after having lost 70 pounds, I simply cannot justify the caloric intake. Not that I have ever dared to look at the nutrition label on the box. I shudder at the mere thought of that.

Now, in comes my love of making homemade versions of things so easily purchased in a supermarket … ketchup,  tater tots, magic shell, to name a few. I’m not quite sure if it’s my childlike (notice I said childLIKE and not childISH) sense of curiosity, the fits of giggles this seems to bring to my lovies, or getting Ernie to lower and shake her head in disbelief.

Actually, her reaction when I told her about the Cheez-It project was … “Why? Why? Why? I’ll buy you a big box of Cheez-Its! Why are you doing this to yourself AGAIN?” My response was, and always is, “Oh, come on, it will be a snap. What could go wrong?” “Did you learn nothing from the jellies disaster?” So I had one, maybe two of these homemade adventures that went pear-shaped. Most of them were great, certainly I would do most of them again and again.

Whichever of those reasons it is, when America’s Test Kitchen made Cheez-Its, I knew this was a recipe whose time had come to my kitchen. I expected this to be a gigantic project and a gigantic pain in my tushy, and perhaps a gigantic flop, but surprisingly it came together quite nicely and easily. The hardest part was not eating EVERY.SINGLE.ONE before they could be shared over a Drink, watching the sun set! Share-schmare! let’s be honest here, the hardest part was not eating them all as they were cooling on the baking sheets!

  • 3 T boiling water
  • 1 T annatto seeds, coarsely ground
  • 6 oz (1 1/2 C) finely grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 4 T (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 t black pepper
  • 1/2 C plus 2 T all-purpose flour
  • 2 T cornstarch

NOTE: The first go round I grated the cheese myself. this was fine. But the second time, I had a lot of baking to do in a very short period of time and went with grated cheese in a bag. Stop booing out there, I can hear you, ya know. I ran a knife trough it to make it finer and this actually worked out better than my grating it.

Annato seeds

In a heatproof bowl, stir together the water and annatto seeds. Allow to steep for 5 minutes, then pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Discard the seeds and save the (now orange) liquid. Let the liquid cool to room temperature.

Seeds draining

NOTE: I had to make these twice. SIGH. The first time, 3 tablespoons of water did not produce 2 tablespoons of annatto water. The second time, I used 4 tablespoons of water and ended up with enough for 2 tablespoons.

NOTE: The annatto seeds are what make the crackers orange. If you cannot find annatto seeds in your local market, Amazon carries them.

In mixer

Add the cheese, butter, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and pepper to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the mixture comes together and starts to stick to the sides of the bowl, about 30 seconds.

Add the flour and cornstarch, beating until incorporated – the mixture should look like coarse sand. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the reserved liquid the annatto seeds steeped in and mix just until the dough starts to come together. (If the dough seems too dry, you can add up to 1 tablespoon of additional plain water to bring it together.)

Dough

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and shape into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 375 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

rolling

 

On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a rectangle with a thickness of 1/16-inch.

NOTE: I am not a very good dough roller outer type person. I’m sure it’s just fear and loathing in New York, but this was easy to roll out, although how you get to 1/16″ is beyond me. No tape measures, just guess. Though I did look at a ruler to get an idea, so the guessing was a bit easier.

Cutting

Using a pastry cutter (or if you don’t have one, a pizza cutter or sharp knife will work) cut the dough into 1-inch wide strips, then cut 1-inch squares from those strips.

NOTE: The pastry cutter will give you the ruffled edge Cheez-It’s have.

Cut

Transfer the squares to the prepared baking sheets – you can pack them in pretty tightly, they don’t spread very much at all.

Poking holes

Now for the most boring and tedious part, using a wooden skewer, and using the flat end, poke a hole in the center of each dough square. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

NOTE: I used a fine sea salt, and probably a wee bit more than 1/2 a teaspoon.

Bake the crackers until the edges just begin to turn gold brown, about 18-20 minutes. Allow the crackers to cool completely on the baking sheets. I thought these were best on the day I made them and 1 day later, but they’ll keep in an airtight container for 3 days (like they’ll last that long!).

NOTE: And now for the reason they had to be done twice. 18-20 minutes was far too long. I set the timer for 18 and one tray was cinders, the other WAY too dark and un-Cheez-It looking. Might have been the size I cut them, might have been the thickness I rolled them out to, whatever it was I had to do them again. So watch! The second batch took les time. I started watching at 13 minutes, and they probably took about 15 or 16 minutes.

Baked Tater Tots

Okay. So first it was ketchup. And now I have this slammin’, simple, delicious, eat it from the spoon ketchup, it really needs something equal … fingers in ears, folks, Ernie is about to start shrieking again … I know! I’ll make TATER TOTS! The Tot is truly one of the world’s most perfect foods.

I have been told that perhaps I have gone round the proverbial bend  … too much time on my hands … the best I can tell you is that I was, perhaps, dropped on my head as a child.

But Tater Tots! Come on! Why wouldn’t you make them from scratch if you possibly could!? And they’re baked! And, much to the chagrin of he-who-won’t-be-mentioned the shaping of the Tot is not a tightly-held industrial secret.

These were fabulously simple and yummy beyond belief.  You may never buy a frozen Tater Tot again. This is a mishmash of a bunch of different recipe I found. One said to roll them in panko crumbs. I may try that next time, but don’t think it’s necessary. Would like a more even brown on them. But, hey, this was the first time out of the gate and they were inhaled in seconds!

  • 4 russet potatoes, peeled
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper, plus more for seasoning
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Ketchup, for serving

NOTE: Adjust the cayenne, smoked paprika and garlic powder to taste. 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees, with oven rack in center position. Place a rimmed baking sheet in oven.

Peel and grate potatoes and transfer to a large bowl.

NOTE: I started off using a box grater. UGH! Suddenly my Cuisinart started beckoning to me and the shredding disk started waving at me. Hello? Remember us? Well, that turned this into something even easier!

Cover the grated potatoes with boiling water, by about 2 inches. Steep for 10 minutes. Drain potatoes in a colander and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Squeeze potatoes with hands to remove excess moisture and transfer back to large bowl.

NOTE: I put the potatoes in a clean, white kitchen towel and squeezed them. The drier they are the better off you are.

Add flour, salt, pepper, spices and beaten egg to bowl and fold into potatoes.

Shape into Tots.

Carefully remove hot baking sheet from oven and coat with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Quickly transfer Tots to baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and bake for 30 minutes, flipping once, until golden brown and crispy. Sprinkle with salt. Serve with ketchup.

NOTE: Next time I think I’ll add some grated onion. Maybe a little bit of fresh garlic instead of powder.

Ketchup

Yes, Ernie. Yes, I know Ernie. Yes, I understand there are companies that have been making ketchup and putting it glass containers and placing those glass containers on supermarket shelves for over 100 years. And, yes, dear, I am well aware that there is an aisle filled with almost nothing other than ketchup at my local supermarket. But aren’t either of you even just the tiniest bit curious to experiment and learn how to do it, or what it would taste like out of your own kitchen?

Can you all hear Ernie SHRIEKING …. NO, NO, NO!

I can’t either. It helps that I stick my fingers in my ears whilst singing “la,la,la,la, I can’t hear you”

I had to do this. Just had to. Quite frankly, it has been sitting on my to-do list for quite some time.  I would look, and sigh, and turn the page. But things have been pretty quiet in my end of the world and something was needed to occupy my time to not miss people so much.

KETCHUP to the rescue!

  • 1  28-oz. can tomato puree
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed and peeled
  • 1/2 fresh jalapeño, stemmed and seeded
  • 2 T dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 C cider vinegar
  • 1 C water
  • Pinch cayenne
  • Pinch celery salt
  • Pinch dry mustard
  • Pinch ground allspice
  • Pinch ground cloves
  • Pinch ground ginger
  • Pinch ground cinnamon
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

NOTE: It’s all those spices that make the difference. It seems a little spicy as it’s bubbling away, but once it cools and sets up and then chills, it’s very mild.

Yields about 4 cups of ketchup (that’s about 3 1/2 pint jars)

Put tomato purée, onion, garlic, jalapeño, and brown sugar into a blender or food processor and pulse until just blended. Add in the vinegar and water and purée until smooth.

Transfer the mixture to a medium saucepan; add cayenne, celery salt, mustard, allspice, cloves, ginger, and cinnamon. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes to an hour, testing the consistency after an hour. ** 

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Store in refrigerator, covered, for up to 1 month.

** To test the consistency of  how thick the ketchup will be when it’s cold, place a small plate in the freezer for about 15 minutes. When you think the ketchup is done, put about a teaspoon of the ketchup on the cold plate. Stick the plate back in the freezer until the ketchup is cold, about 5 minutes. Then taste it, see if you’re happy with the taste and the consistency. The consistency of the ketchup on your plate will be about how thick the ketchup will be once it’s chilled.

If you like the flavor and consistency, take the pot off the heat, let chill and jar. If you want it a bit thicker, simmer for another 5-10 minutes, and do the cold plate test again.

Homemade Magic Shell

When I was a kid, I loved to take these apart and try to see how they went together. Most of the time I could take them apart, see how they worked and then put them back together – usually, with success, but not always!

I have the same curiosity when it comes to food.  I have made Sweet Chili Sauce, have ketchup scheduled to make and mustard.

And then one day, poking around the internet I saw recipes for Magic Shell popping up everywhere! Oh, I had to try this. I LOVE Magic Shell. And being able to make my own, if it works,  would be so FREAKIN’ COOL!

This definitely falls under the category of Ernie SHOUTING ‘ WHY? WHY? WHY?’.

Why? I’ll tell you why … It’s liquid, it hits something cold and hardens? WHY? HOW?

When I had to take physics in college – what a nightmare – and a term paper had to be written – double nightmare – mine was done on kitchen physics. My professor thought I was nuts, until he started reading. It was fascinating and remarkable. Who knew physics could be so much fun and so relatable!? It answered so many ‘why’ questions.

But do not despair, Ernie, this was simple and quick and not messy.

  • 1 1/4 C chocolate chips
  • 1/2 C coconut oil (when solid)

NOTE: I bought the coconut oil at Trader Joe’s. I know they sell it in the local health food store. I know Amazon sells it as well.  Also, when I made it, it was quite warm in New York. I put the coconut oil in the refrigerator until it became solid., then scooped it out and continued on.

Place the chocolate chips and coconut oil in a glass bowl and microwave for 30 seconds.  Remove from microwave and stir.  Continue to microwave in 15 second bursts, stirring in between, until the chocolate is almost all melted.  Stir until the chips are all melted and the lumps are gone.

Pour into a glass jar and store on the counter.

NOTE: The mixture will stay liquid at room temperature in warmer months, if it lasts that long! If it’s cooler it may solidify a bit, simply microwave briefly before serving.

NOTE:  All I can say is WOW! Super cool! The flavor is spot on ~ AND IT WORKED! My curious side sated for the tiniest bit of time. I poured it over Ben & Jerry’s Bonnaroo’s Coffee Caramel Buzz ice cream – Coffee and Malt ice cream, whiskey caramel swirl and chocolate covered English toffee. All I can say is I have loved ones begging me to make it for them. In good time, sweetie, all in good time.

Bagels

 

Some of you may remember that last summer my friend Lizzy from that Skinny Chick Can Bake and I did a joint baked beans cook along – different recipes, same dish. We had so much fun doing this together we decided to try it again. The baked beans were my idea, so it was Lizzy’s turn to pick. Much to my chagrin, she chose bagels!

I have been dying to try my hand at bagels. Long story – when I was a kid (not just a kid at heart), and we had our house in Westport, the one annoying thing about the town was that every single solitary store (except perhaps Mr. Grubb’s – another story) closed at 6:00. One night my mom had a yen for bagels and none to be found. She pulled out her Joy of Coooking and got going. She didn’t finish until late, children falling asleep with tongues hanging out waiting for bagels, but they were great! Needless to say, gone in minutes!

When Lizzy said bagels, I figured I would follow in Mom’s footsteps – whoa, tooooo many steps! Off I went in search of a simple bagel recipe! As I stood gaping at my ever growing collection of cookbooks, I saw The Brooklyn Cookbook. What could be more Brooklyn than bagels? There must be a recipe for bagels there!

Gloomy, miserable rainy. Can’t go out. After the car fiasco on the Verrazano Bridge, I wasn’t driving ANYWHERE in the rain! (yet another story!) May as well make bagels. I can already hear Ernie sighing and saying “Walk to the corner. Buy them!”

 This bagel recipe was simple and fool (ME being the fool!) proof.

  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1/3 C warm water
  • 1 t salt
  • 4 C all purpose flour
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1 C milk
  • 1 egg, beaten with a little water, for glaze
  • coarse salt, or poppy seeds, or sesame seeds

Sprinkle yeast over the warm water, stir, and let dissolve.

Put the salt, flour, and 4 teaspoons of the sugar into the bowl of a food processor equipped with the dough blade. Pulse the mixture several times to mix it well. This aerates the ingredients.

Combine the yeast mixture and milk in a measuring cup. WIth the motor running, pour the mixture through the feed tube. Knead until the mixture balls together and is no longer sticky, about 60 seconds.

Lightly flour a large plastic bag, place the dough inside, squeeze out the air, and close the end of the bag. Let the dough rise until doubled, about 45 minutes. Punch it down.

NOTE: At this point the dough can be refrigerated for up to 4 days. Bring it to room temperature before proceeding.

Let the dough rest for 10 minutes. Pull off pieces of dough to form 12 2 inch balls. Poke a finger through the ball, making a hole the size of a golf ball. With your fingers, shape the bagel evenly.

Put the bagels on a cookie sheet, cover with oiled plastic wrap, and let them rise until puffy, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Bring 4 quarts of water to the boil in a wide pot. Ad the remaining 2 teaspoons of sugar. Poach the bagels, 3 or 4 at a time, for 30 seconds. Turn them over and poach for 30 seconds more.

Remove with a slotted spoon, let them drip briefly on a towel held under the spoon and place them 1 inch apart on a baking sheet.

Brush each with a little of the egg glaze.

Leave them plain or sprinkle with coarse salt, poppy seeds or sesame seeds, or a combo of all three.

Bake until golden, about 15 minutes.

Let cool on racks – if you can bear to wait!

THINGS TO REMEMBER FOR NEXT TIME!:

  1. Use whole milk. I only had skim and the dough didn’t come together well. I added a bit more, but from the processor running for far more than 60 seconds, the dough was a little tough.
  2. Bake on parchment paper. When you egg wash them, if the egg wash trickles down onto the baking sheet, the bagels stick and that’s no bueno.

This was simple to pull together and the end result was fabulous, even given the over worked dough. This method is not an overly long process. These are not really big bagels, but not as small as mini-bagels.

And my favorite breakfast on a delicious bagel I MADE MYSELF!

Homemade Flour Tortillas

So, it’s the summer and 1/2 of our household is away.

It’s hot.

I am bored.

I am a nurturer by nature with no one to nurture. Well, there’s the dog – Zena. And she will take absolutely as much attention as you are willing to give to her. She will always say yes to a snack or a meal or to go out and ‘do’ something. Though our ideas of ‘doing’ something are polar opposites.

I have a lot of time on my hands.

Just when I was about to give into despair and yet another day of watching the Real Housewives of some horrible place that I wouldn’t want to be lest they be my neighbors, I found The Secret Recipe Club. Simple premise. Join. Get an email with the link of the blog you are assigned. Hop over to that blog. Find a recipe you like. Use it for inspiration, make it exactly, or tweak it to your suiting. Blog about it. How much fun is that!

For my first go at this, I was assigned the wonderful life adventures of Adventures in All Things Food. Very nice blog indeed.

Scrolling through the days and weeks of this blogger’s life, I came across a recipe for both flour and corn tortillas! Both of these have been on my wish list of things to try, though I had bookmarked a recipe from Rick Bayless’ book Authentic Mexican – which, by the way, is celebrating its 20th anniversary!

And besides, I had a new TOY! A tortilla press! The choice was now simple! Flour tortillas!

  • 12 oz (about 2 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour, plus extra for work surface
  • 5 tablespoons lard or vegetable shortening (or a mixture of the two)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup very warm water

Simple ingredients, right?

Add the flour and shortening (or lard) to a large bowl.  Use a pastry cutter (or your fingers) to work the fat into the flour – you want it incorporated completely. 

NOTE: I am pastry cutter stupid. They do not work for me. Yes, simple. hold it and smoosh into the flour and butter, or lard or shortening and kep doing that. Nope. The solid gets stuck in the cutter part. It is a mess and then I get into a very. BAD. MOOD. I started with the pastry cutter and ended with my hands!

Combine the salt and water in a measuring cup and pour about 3/4 of the water over the flour and shortening mixture.  Use a fork to stir to stir together until all of the dry ingredients are moistened, adding the rest of the water (and even a little more), if needed. 

Turn the dough onto your work surface and knead until smooth – it’ll only take a minute or two.  The dough shouldn’t be very sticky, but if it is, add a tiny bit of flour to your hands so you can work with it.

Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll each into a ball.  Put them on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and let rest for at least 30 minutes.  This rest time helps the dough relax so it’ll be easier to roll.

Set a heavy skillet (I used cast iron) over medium to medium-high heat. 

NOTE: I used a cast iron grill pan.

Working with one piece of dough at a time, set on a lightly floured surface and roll into a 7-inch circle.  Add only enough flour so you can work with the dough – it will be quite thin by the time it reaches 7 inches in diameter.

NOTE: I used my new toy. I will have to make the dough balls smaller. TOo much came out the sides and was too thick. But smooshing them makes for fun in the kitchen!

Transfer to the flattened tortilla to the preheated pan – you will hear a sizzle when you place the dough in the pan and should see bubbles forming across the surface almost immediately.  Cook for 30-45 seconds on the first side, then flip and cook 30-45 seconds on the other side.  The tortilla should be golden brown and might have a few dark spots, but you don’t want to over cook it or it will be crisp rather than pliable.  Transfer to a plate and cover with a kitchen towel.

Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough, and continue stacking them under the towel.  Serve warm, or let cool then wrap in plastic and keep at room temperature for a few days, or pop in the freezer.  Reheat in the microwave wrapped in damp paper towels.

Makes 12 tortillas

NOTE: These are SO good! I had one immediately with butter. Had one with my dinner and then stopped myself by putting the rest in the freezer!



Grandma Wetzler’s Baked Beans

 

So my friend Lizzy from That Skinny Chick Can Bake (if you haven’t read her blog or don’t follow her on Facebook, what are you waiting for, go on, do it!) and I were lamenting about our husbands and their love of baked beans. Sigh. Really? Baked beans?

A grilled hot dog and a little scoop of baked beans and I am really done. Lizzy likes them even less.

My idea of making baked beans is popping open a can of Bush’s Vegetarian Baked Beans and doctoring them up – a little ketchup, maple syrup, some crisp bacon, perhaps mustard. But from scratch? Do people really do that? And How?

So the solution? Let’s pick a recipe and make it together, we can compare notes, miseries, etc., We would be giving our husband’s a favorite BBQ treat and being very virtuous by making them from scratch.  We just needed to find the recipe. 

Off to the bookshelf I went. I grabbed the Thrill of the Grill and there was the solution – Grandma Wetzler’s Baked Beans.  The recipe had most of the ingredients I used to doctor my beans up, how bad or difficult can it be? And it’s a recipe from a Grandma, it has to be good. Right?

  • 1/2 lb bacon, diced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced small
  • 1 gallon water
  • 1/2 C molasses
  • 1/2 C brown sugar
  • 1/4 C maple syrup
  • 2 C ketchup
  • 2 T yellow mustard
  • 1 1/4 lbs navy beans (soaked in water to cover overnight)
  • S&P to taste

NOTE: I did this through and through. Left beans soaking in a covered bowl over night. Would it have been simpler to open a can of beans? YES! If I were to do this again, would I do that? HELL YEAH!

In a large pot, sauté the bacon over medium heat until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the diced onions and cook until browned, about 5 minutes.

Add the water, molasses, brown sugar, ketchup, maple syrup, and mustard, and bring to a boil.

NOTE: There are times I am very much like my mother and only read every other word in a recipe. I missed that bring to a boil step.

Add the beans, bring back up to a boil, then reduce to a slow simmer and cook 4 to 5 hours until the beans are soft, adding water from time to time if necessary and stirring often to prevent burning. Season with salt and pepper to taste. These beans will keep, covered and refrigerated, about 1 week.

NOTE: To serve, I added a little crisp bacon to the top. I am of the belief that it is impossible to have too much bacon!

Okay, now this is where this wonderful, loving gesture takes a turn for the worst nightmare.  I used my sturdy Lodge 5 Qt. pot. These beans were to be for another night. So while I was making these, I was outside cooking dinner. I came in and checked the beans, gave them a stir. I diligently had a timer with me.  Not quite sure what happened, perhaps one too many Coronas, but on one trip in the house I smelled something burning!

Oh, no, OH NO, ohnoohnoohnoohno! Heavy sigh.

Without moving everything around too much, I scooped up the top layer of beans. Fortunately they didn’t taste burnt. But below this was a thick layer of burnt, blackened, stuck on, goo. How was I going to get this MESS off the pot!

I scraped out what I could – that’s the beauty of cast iron, with the exception of soap, there’s little you can do to destroy it!

First, cover mess with water and boil, scrape while it’s boiling. Some came off, but there was still at least an inch of burned yuck there!

Thank goodness for foodie friends. My friend Linda at How to Cook a Wolf saved me – of course after asking me repeatedly what was wrong with me making them from scratch when I could easily doctor …. yes, yes, yes, yes….

She says … pour baking soda in the pot, add water, boil for a while, turn it off and let it sit.

Linda, I am indebted to you. It was like a miracle elixir! One couple of small little spots didn’t come up, and I used my mother’s trick of a wet Bounce drier sheet, and I was finally able to scrape it all off. I did need to reseason the pot. And I will NEVER, EVER make baked beans from scratch again!

Yes, they were delicious. But I can throw away a can, I can’t throw away my pot!