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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.

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Bacony Mac and Cheese

I love Mac and Cheese.

It doesn’t necessarily like me back – lactose intolerance is a terrible thing.

Every once in a while I just can’t help myself – I just gotta have it.

If I am going to suffer after eating Mac and Cheese, this is the mac and cheese it has to be!

My sister gave me this recipe many moons ago. I change it to suit my mood and what I have on hand. I’ll give you the original recipe and then the way I made it this time.

Really, as long as you keep the bacon in, it’s all good, right?

  • 3/4 C bread crumbs
  • 1 lb pasta
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 3 T flour
  • 1/8 t nutmeg
  • 1 qt milk
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 t fresh ground pepper
  • 1/2 lb shredded gruyere
  • 1/2 lb Velveeta
  • 1 lb bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 3 ripe tomatoes, diced
  • 3 T olive oil

Now that’s the original recipe. This make A LOT of mac and cheese. I halved the recipe and made some minor adjustments to the ingredients.

  • 1/3 C bread crumbs
  •  1/2 lb pasta
  • 1 T unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 T flour
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 C milk
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/4 t pepper
  • 1/2 lb shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 lb bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 1 tomato diced
  • 1 1/2 T olive oil

NOTE: I used medium shells. I switched to just cheddar because gruyere is SO expensive and my supermarket didn’t have it.

NOTE: The cooking instructions are the same regardless of which version you use.

Preheat oven to 350.

Cook the pasta, drain, set aside.

NOTE: I cooked the pasta, drained it and then put it back in the pot I cooked it in. How many bowls and plates can one person mess up for a recipe!?

Generously butter a 1 quart baking dish. Add a third of the breadcrumbs and shake to coat the baking dish evenly.

Melt butter in a saucepan. Whisk in flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add nutmeg. Whisk in milk all at once. Heat to a boil, lower to a simmer, and let simmer for 5 minutes, stirring often. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove from heat and stir in cheese until melted.

Add sauce to pasta and mix thoroughly.

Spoon half the pasta mixture into baking dish. Add bacon and tomatoes in an even layer and top with remaining pasta mixture.

Combine remaining breadcrumbs with oil and sprinkle over pasta.

Bake until golden brown and bubbling, about 45 minutes.

NOTE: Every time I make this I say I don’t like the tomatoes in it. Everyone else does, but I am not a fan. I wonder if I used grape tomatoes and roasted them first if it would be better?

Sargento Cheese Comparison

Sometimes you just gotta love blogging!

FoodBuzz Tastemakers and Sargento Cheese asked me to compare Sargento cheese to any processed cheese.

First, contrary to popular belief, processed cheese is real cheese. It just has emulsifiers added to it so that it melts more uniformly. Also, the additives allow this cheese product to have a LONG, long, long shelf life!

And another bit of misinformation, although Kraft was the first American company to introduce processed cheese it is actually a Swiss invention!

Because of the additives and emulsifiers, tis cannot be sold as cheese but only as a cheese product.

Now, on the other hand, Sargento is all natural cheese. No emulsifiers, no additives.

The 2 cheese in that photo are both cheddar. The one on the left is a cheese product. The one on the right Sargento.  Sargento’s cheese saps when you bend it, te processed not so much. The color is more vibrant ont he Sargento. THe taste has a wonderful sharpness and dry quality.

We had this taste comparison over the weekend – some crackers, grapes, dried cherries, caramelized onions. And trying each with a bit of each topping, even with eyes closed – well, there is no comparison –

Sargento is a superior cheese. Great taste. Great value. Perfect for all our cheese needs!

Edible Containers – Daring Cooks

Really intriguing thought, don’t ya think? That’s what I thought when I saw this as a challenge over at Daring Cooks. Such a good idea that it’s a joint Daring Cooks/Daring Bakers challenge.

Perhaps it’s the thought of not washing a dish that intrigues me. But, wait, that can’t be so. The edible container still has to sit on something, doesn’t it?

So goes that theory.

The question became … sweet … savory … sweet … savory?

I thought perhaps a spun sugar bowl with beautiful strawberries … (stop laughing) … okay, I am laughing too. Who am I kidding?

Savory? Looking through the mountainous recipes next to my bed I came across frico – crispy discs of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese – which can be molded into shapes. I found my solution.

I used Giada’s frico cup method –

1 1/2 cups of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

I didn’t use the smallest holes on my box grater. I didn’t use the largest. I used the ones in between. If I had any sense I would have taken a photos of the grater to show you, sense wasn’t something I was necessarily born with!

Sadly, I wasn’t really holding out hope for this working.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Definitely use a silpat or parchment paper. Use 1/4 cup for each cup, flattening it out to a diameter of 4 1/2 to 5 inches.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes.

NOTE: My second batch I baked for less time, about 6 1/2 minutes, and had a better result.

Working quickly and using a thin spatula, transfer the frico to a muffin tin and put a glass inside to shape.

NOTE: ARE YOU FREAKIN’ KIDDING ME HERE OR WHAT? Totally didn’t work. I tried using the bottom of the muffin tin, but the muffin cups were not deep enough. I tried a juice glass. NOPE. The bottom of my cordial glasses were the perfect size.

If you don’t have the frico molded before they start to stiffen, pop them back into the oven for 20 seconds or so – they become pliable again.

Now that I had the edible container part sorted out, what to put in them?

I was roasting a cut up chicken (surprise, surprise) for dinner with Mediterranean spices and thought I would serve a tomato, cucumber and parsley salad to go along. Usually I toasted pita bread and break it into shards to sprinkle over the top, but the penny dropped and I thought what a great way to use the salad AND my beautiful frico cups.

I removed the seeds and pulp and then diced a couple of tomatoes. Then I peeled, removed the seeds from and diced a cucumber.  Chopped some parsley. A simple dressing of olive oil, red wine vinegar and oregano and we were all set!

The frico are terrific. A little bite of crispy cheese, some yummy salad. A lot of oooohing and aaahing and a lotta gone! Isn’t that the end result we all want?

Tackling something I found a little intimidating is so empowering!

Fresh Ricotta Cheese

My pal Liz over at That Skinny Chick Can Bake made ricotta one day to put into a cheesecake. The only thing going through my head – over and over again, I might add – was ‘ I need to do this!’ Liz believes the original recipe came from Making Great Cheeses at Home. I am going to try and take it out from the library to see if that’s the book.

I made this recipe specifically for a recipe I was dying to try – Stuffed Shells Bolognese – absolutely fantastic – and greedily ate the rest with fresh strawberries for breakfast.

Truthfully, I may NEVER buy ricotta in a plastic tub again! 

  • 1/2 gallon whole milk
  • 1 C heavy cream
  • 7 T fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 t salt

Combine ingredients in a large saucepan. Heat over a medium low flame for 45 to 50 minutes until it reaches 165-170º. Stir a couple of times during heating to avoid sticking.

NOTE: I stirred every 15 minutes. With each stir the curds became bigger and thicker.

Once it’s reached 165-170º, increase heat and cook until the temperature reaches 200-205 in the center and edges. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let rest 15 minutes.

Line a colander with a double layer of damp cheesecloth. Pour into colander. Drain 20 minutes. Makes approximately 16 oz.

NOTE: The freshness and taste of this is unequaled. It is really cool to watch the liquids turn into curds. I taped the cheesecloth to the outside of the colander so that it didn’t slide into the colander and make a mess. My end result was about 2 cups total, though you would be hard pressed to tell as my spoon kept going back for a taste, a taste a taste.