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    Ravioli di Ricotta

    Insane. I am telling you I am insane. Perhaps certifiably insane.

    Those of you who know me well are reading this and nodding your heads in agreement. I know. I have come to terms (mostly) with my insanity and am beginning to embrace it – as a southern woman would, gardening in big ugly hats, drinking see tea and having many cats. Being in Maine ones insanity eccentricity comes in a slightly different form – Bean boots, Allen’s Coffee Brandy (honestly, I have never had it and never will) and making maple syrup.

    When I gear up for the winter, I fill our house with wonderful ingredients, the Dear One fills it with firewood, I hang the window quilts I made, and I scour recipes for projects. Recipes I might not have as much time on my hands to try when the sun is shining and we’re puttering in the garden or working way too hard.

    This particular project started with a birthday gift from my dear husband – a pasta maker. We made fettuccine and spinach fettuccine – a dessert pasta may be on my list.

    And while this kept us occupied for a while, we wanted more. I have been making ravioli with my Mama for most of my life. She will undoubtedly say you only started helping in your 20s, but at this point in time, and at my age, that IS most of my life.

    I have ravioli forms that my mother gave me and they’re great, but I thought … we have this machine there must be an attachment to make ravioli. And there was! When my in-laws asked what we’d like for Christmas, without hesitation, we both said – a ravioli attachment for our pasta machine!

    It’s obviously taken some time for us to get to this point. I would look at it. It frightened me. I walked away. It sat staring at me, taunting me, daring me to try making ravioli with this machine.

    It snowed. I was bored. HEY! Let’s make ravioli!

    First the filling:

    • 1 pound fresh ricotta, drained if wet
    • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
    • 1 t freshly grated lemon zest (from about 1/2 a lemon)
    • 1 C freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
    • 1 large egg
    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

    In a large bowl combine the ricotta, nutmeg, lemon zest, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and 1 egg. Season to taste with salt and pepper, stir well, and set aside.

    Now the difficult part, the ravioli dough:

    • 3 2/3 C all-purpose flour
    • 2 large eggs
    • 2 egg yolks
    • 1 T olive oil (optional)

    Mound the flour on a clean work surface and create a well in the center. Place the eggs, egg yolks, and oil (if using) in the center. Using a fork, whisk the eggs and oil together and slowly start dragging the flour into the egg mixture. Knead by hand until all the ingredients are well combined and the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.

    (Alternatively, place all the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. With the mixer on medium speed, knead the dough until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.)

    NOTE: I was seriously lazy. I used the stand mixer. THIS SUCKED. No, really. It was terrible. I finally got it to the right consistency, but it took forever. More flour, more water, more oil. No more lazy.

    Wrap the dough in plastic wrap or place it in a covered bowl and let it rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

    Set up a pasta machine and turn it to the largest opening. Cut off pieces of dough about the size of an egg. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll the dough into sheets about 1/8-inch thick.

    NOTE: You start at zero, and with each pass through you raise the number. We went to #6

    Lay 1 pasta sheet flat on a lightly floured work surface and determine approximately where the halfway point is lengthwise.

    Lay the pasta dough in the machine, folded edge on the roller, with the dough lying on either side of the machine. Turn crank 1/4 turn to start dough feeding.

    Put the filling shoot into the machine and crank slowly. Keep adding filling as you crank the dough through the machine. Repeat and repeat.

    Let dry for 10-15 minutes and pull the ravioli apart and boil right away or let dry completely and freeze.

    The easiest way to do this is roll a sheet and fill – roll a sheet and fill – roll a sheet and fill.

    NOTE: Okay. These are the prettiest photos. The beginning part of this process was hell. Rolling the pasta sheets was difficult. Filling? Can’t even talk about it yet. But I keep finding filling in my hair. I used a ravioli/pasta/pastry cutter to help separate the ravioli.

    I’ve gone through all the trouble to make this ravioli, I need the perfect sauce. I scoured the internet and came across this sauce from Giada De Laurentiis. Her dish and ravioli was different, but I found the sauce intriguing.

    • 6 T unsalted butter
    • 2 T balsamic vinegar
    • 1/2 t salt
    • 1/4 t freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/3 C toasted, chopped walnuts
    • 1/4 C grated Parmesan

    Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the ravioli and cook, uncovered, at a gentle boil, 2 to 3 minutes, until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally. Drain ravioli.

    While the ravioli is cooking, in a medium sauté pan melt the butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally. When the foam subsides, and the butter begins to turn a golden brown, about 3 minutes, turn off the heat. Let cool for about 1 minute. Stir in the balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper.

    Transfer the ravioli to the pan sauté pan with the balsamic brown butter. Gently toss. Sprinkle walnuts and cheese over the top. Serve immediately.

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    Maple Syrup

    Before I start … dear friend, dear, dear friend, I can see you from here, pixie with the flame red hair, hanging your head and groaning. This certainly falls under the ‘Ernie Wonders Why!?’ category. Read on …

    Maine winters are tough. And long. And cold. Long and grey. Long and dreary. Did I mention long?

    This winter has been particularly harsh. Though, truth be told, the harshness started at the end of FEBRUARY! You know, that point in the winter season when snow should be melting, wistfully waiting for the first crocus to peer it’s little head out of the ground. This winter NOT SO MUCH.

    We have had nor’easter after nor’easter dumping FEET of snow at a time.

    This is the point in time when we look outside, seeing nothing but snow, we try to find some project to occupy ourselves. I’ve knit enough. I am cooked out (HA!), crafted out. The Dear One has made enough noise and dust in the shop and is at a stopping point in construction.

    We thought our salvation had come while running errands in Vermont a few weeks ago, we saw a maple syrup making kit. Light bulbs went off, eyebrows raised, glances shared, this may just be the thing to beat the winter blues. Did we buy it? NO! It was expensive. They didn’t have taps, just tubing, and we left that big box of hope on the shelf. Disappointment all around. The thought of tapping our own trees kept rolling in our minds on that quick 8 hour drive home.

    Maple Syrup. Maple Syrup. What did (maple syrup) you say, dear? Maple Syrup. What do we need (maple syrup) from the store. Would you like chicken (maple syrup) for dinner tonight? See?

    We finally had a (short) reprieve from the bitter cold … actually crawled up to 40! Hmmm … sap runs on warm days. Honey, says the Dear One, let’s give maple syrup a whirl! YAY!

    Off to the store I went and we purchased 1 drill bit, 4 pails for gathering the sap, 4 spiles (taps with hooks), 1 lid, 3 disposable lasagna pans, 1 very large steam pan, 1 5 gallon bucket.

    The Dear One built a fire pit outside for the fire, gathered some wood for the fire – we used various conifer trees that we had cut dow, surely we’re not using the wood for the wood stove for this! Just outside the front door there is a cinderblock base, with a piece of grating on top, a pan on top of that, an old chair from the elementary school, various coolers filled with varying amounts of sap. It looks like Appalachia out there … or a war zone …

    Ready, set, go!

    Or so we thought.

    We picked the 4 maple trees for their closeness to each other, the fire and the house. In hindsight, trees easier to get to in case you get walloped with 2 feet of snow is probably a good thing. 2 of these trees involved a short walk up the driveway, across a gully with a steep edge and slogging.

    The Dear One drilled the holes and we hung the pails. Sap started dripping into the buckets almost immediately. The lid in the above photo is not ideal, though it will happily be sold to you for ridiculous amount of money. The wind blows it open. Falling snow and ice shifts the lid. The disposable lasagna pans I bought can be moulded to the pail and stay in place much better – and they cost $1.99 for 3 of them.

    So, as the sap drips we kept an eye on the pails. We emptied the pails into the bucket – as you can see, Bob helped too!  As an aside, just as we were about to begin to boil – WHAM – snow. We poured the sap into 3 small coolers and one large cooler, put them in the shade in a snow bank and hunkered down – again!

    Next step – build a fire. You need dry wood. Lots and lots of dry wood. Lots and lots of dry wood. Our first attempt at fire didn’t work so well. So bad in fact, that sap was going to be dumped and things were being kicked around the yard. We decided to give up and be prepared for this next year. But just as I was about to start cleaning out ALL the coolers, buckets, pans, etc., The Dear One had a Wylie Coyote moment and found a cache of dry spruce and built a roaring fire. Well, perhaps we were off to the races after all!

    You pour the sap into the pan. It’s a little disheartening. It’s clear. It’s water. It tastes like nothing. I was hoping for a hint of something. A soupçon. Nope. Nothing. Sigh. You know you’re going to be feeding this fire for a long, long time, you just hope the end result looks and tastes more like maple syrup than this beginning.

    And you wait for a boil (and drink beer).

    And feed the fire.

    And wait for a boil (maybe Allen’s Coffee Brandy is better).

    And feed the fire.

    And wait for the boil (where’s the bourbon).

    Suddenly, in between your 3rd or 4th time of feeding the fire (and drinks) the sap boils! You start to do a dance around the fire reminiscent of Max and the Monsters in The Wild Things. It boils down, you add more sap, comes to a boil (dance some more), it boils down (feed the fire), you add more (sip of drink) sap, comes back to a (dance, dance, dance) boil, feed the fire (almost forgot that for a moment and the fire NEARLY went out), AND REPEAT many, many times (wait, check the pails some more)!

    You’re waiting – well, in our case, to use up the sap we had on hand – for a color and a certain viscosity and, truth be told, we have NO clue whatsoever what we’re waiting for – perhaps Godot).

    We punted. It was cold. It had been HOURS. All our sap was in the pan boiling. There were no more snacks or beer. The sun was setting. We made the executive decision that this was good enough. It most likely should have boiled longer.

    Now you pour the molten hot sap/syrup through a strainer that is really just a gigantic coffee filter and into a big pot. Did I mention hot? Hot fire. Hot pan. Hot liquid.

    Into the house now for the 2nd boil. You’re trying to get to a soft ball stage – or as one of Mr. Google’s friends said – 7 degrees above boiling water for your elevation. Really? Just give me a number, a temperature. I’m exhausted. At this point, I hate this project. I hate maple trees. I smell like Smokey the Bear. I’m nearly blind from the smoke and soot in my eyes. AND THERE’S STILL MORE TO DO!

    This sap/syrup needs to be boiled down more. You want that amber color. You want it to coat the back of a spoon. You want to watch it like a hawk – as the friends of Google instructed – because one second too long and your 8 hours of agony could be ruined. As with the outside boil, this probably should have gone on a bit longer as well.

    Not being able to stop myself, I made my toil linger. I decided once I reached the right temperature and thickness, I was going to then ‘can’ the syrup so it would last. I’m not sure I needed to do this and there are opposing views on whether this step was necessary, but I thought why tempt fate!? And besides, at this point I am delirious and I could have moved Cadillac Mountain to Canada as long as I could shower!

    In the end 20 gallons of sap made 3 pints of maple syrup. Sigh! Stop laughing, Ernestine.

    What we’ve learned:

    • Have lots of dry wood.
    • Make sure the Dear One has had plenty of sleep.
    • Make sure there’s a lot of beer and snacks.
    • Start early.
    • Get two chairs to sit by the fire – not that you can figure out where to put the chairs so smoke doesn’t go in your eyes.
    • More beer (a suggestion by the Dear One)
    • Build a sugar shack!
    • Let it boil outside longer
    • Let it boil inside longer
    • GO TO THE STORE AND BUY MAPLE SYRUP!!

    Yes, Ernie, I know. They sell real maple syrup in the store. Even my Dad said, have you heard of Log Cabin?

    Truthfully, nothing beats this taste! The flavor is totally worth the agony.

    We’re waiting for it to warm up a bit. We’re going to do this one more time. What can I tell you? It must be like child birth. You forget the pain and agony. If you didn’t why would people do these things more than once!

    Pistachio Dried Cherry Torrone ~ March Daring Bakers

    Done 3

    The March 2014 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Rebecca of BakeNQuilt. She challenged us to learn to make classic nougat and to make it our own with our choice of flavors and add-ins.

    It’s been a terribly long time since I’ve been able to join in any cooking or baking events. I’ve missed it.  I am so pleased to be able to join in BOTH Daring Kitchen challenges this month.

    I have had this Martha Stewart Torrone recipe on deck for a LONG time and made my own changes to it, but felt the base recipe was easy enough for me to handle!

    Done 2

    And you-know-who is screaming WHY? And in the same breath WHERE’S MINE??

    This was a bit fiddley. I was a bit hampered by not being in my own kitchen. I used a hand mixer that’s affixed to a bowl that turns, so it was a semi-stand mixer type piece of equipment … but not really.

    It needs to sit and ‘dry’ a bit more, but man oh man, this is tasty stuff!

    • 2 pieces edible rice paper, (9 by 13 inches each) wafer paper
    • 1 C sugar
    • 1/2 C honey
    • 3 T light corn syrup
    • 1/2 C water
    • 2 large egg whites, room temperature
    • 1 t pure vanilla extract
    • 1 1/2 C shelled salted pistachios, (about 7 ounces)
    • 1 1/3 C unsweetened finely shredded coconut, (about 4 ounces)
    • 3/4 C dried cherries

    Place 1 piece of rice paper in a 9×13-inch rimmed baking sheet; set aside.

    NOTE: I lightly buttered the sides of the baking dish. You’re going to trim them off anyway so it just makes removing the Torrone easier.

    Put sugar, honey, corn syrup, and 1/2 cup water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture just begins to simmer and sugar has dissolved, about 6 minutes. Continue to cook, without stirring, until mixture reaches 300 degrees on a candy thermometer.

    NOTE: Aside from the no stand mixer problem, I also suffered from a no CANDY THERMOMETER problem. 300 degrees is hard ball stage. Drop a tiny amount of the boiling sugar into a cup with cold water, when it becomes a hard, crunchy mass once in the water, you’re done.

    Meanwhile, put egg whites into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Raise speed to high. Pour hot honey mixture into egg-white mixture in a slow, steady stream, and beat until mixture has cooled and thickened and begins to stick to whisk, about 10 minutes.

    Ingredients

    Reduce speed to medium-low; beat in vanilla, pistachios, coconut, and cranberries.

    Working quickly, spread mixture into prepared dish. Place another sheet of rice paper on top; press down to flatten and spread evenly. Let cool on wire rack at least 3 hours, or overnight.

    Ready to cut

    Cut around edges of Torrone to loosen. Remove from baking sheet; transfer to a cutting board. Trim edges to be straight. Using a long, sharp knife, cut crosswise into 3/4-inch slices.

    Homemade PopTarts

    Ready

    One of my guiltiest pleasures from childhood is POP-TARTS. Cherry Pop-Tarts to be exact, even better when they added the frosting to them! Don’t even need them toasted. Just right out of the package, simply inhaled.

    I so related to Paula Poundstone and her thoughts on Pop-Tarts:

    Inside there are three pouches of two. This is what happens to me: I open the first pouch, and I eat one tart, and I enjoy it very much, as naturally I would. And then I feel, Well, I have to eat the second one or it will go stale. Well, now I’ve eaten two, and it’s no longer just a snack, it’s a meal. I figure I may as well eat two more. And then finally I’m just like, Well hell, I don’t just want two pop tarts hangin’ out in a box. I eat the last two just to tidy up, really.

    That’s exactly right! It makes absolute, perfect sense. And that’s pretty much what happened with the 9 that were baked in our house! Sadly, mostly by me … and Lisa … but not the skinny girl, who has ridiculous self control and loves to come into the kitchen to play with me!

    I didn’t frost these. I have no excuses. It may have been sheer exhaustion. But they were really very good. And with a really good helper, very easy to make!

    • 2 C Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
    • 1 T sugar
    • 1 t salt
    • 1 C unsalted butter, cut into pats
    • 1 large egg
    • 2 T milk
    • 3/4 C raspberry jam – or flavor of your choice
    • 1 T cornstarch mixed with 1 T cold water

    Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Work in the butter until the mixture holds together when you squeeze it, with pecan-sized lumps of butter still visible. Mix the egg and milk, and add it to the dough, mixing just until everything is cohesive.

    Divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a rough 3″ x 5″ rectangle, smoothing the edges. Roll out immediately; or wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

    While the dough is resting, make the filling. Mix the jam with the cornstarch/water in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, and simmer, stirring, for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, and set aside to cool. Use to fill the pastry tarts.

    Once the dough has been chilled, remove it from the refrigerator and allow it to soften and become workable, about 15 to 30 minutes.

    Place one piece on a lightly floured work surface, and roll it into a rectangle about 1/8″ thick, large enough that you can trim it to an even 9″ x 12″. Laying a 9″ x 13″ pan atop the dough will give you an idea if you’ve rolled it large enough. Trim off the edges; place the scraps on a baking sheet, and set them aside, along with the 9″ x 12″ rectangle of dough.

    Roll the second piece of dough just as you did the first. Press the edge of a ruler into the dough you’ve just rolled, to gently score it in thirds lengthwise and widthwise; you’ll see nine 3″ x 4″ rectangles.

    Beat the egg, and brush it over the entire surface of the dough.

    Filling

    Place a heaping tablespoon of filling into the center of each marked rectangle. Place the second sheet of dough atop the first, using your fingertips to press firmly around each pocket of jam, sealing the dough well on all sides.

    Crimping

    Press the tines of a fork all around the edge of the rectangle. Cut the dough evenly in between the filling mounds to make nine tarts. Press the cut edges with your fingers to seal, then press with a fork, to seal again.

    Gently place the tarts on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Prick the top of each tart multiple times with a fork; you want to make sure steam can escape, or the tarts will become billowy pillows rather than flat toaster pastries. Refrigerate the tarts (they don’t need to be covered) for 30 minutes, while you preheat your oven to 350°F.

    Sprinkle the dough trimmings with cinnamon-sugar; these have nothing to do with your toaster pastries, but it’s a shame to discard them, and they make a wonderful snack. While the tarts are chilling, bake these trimmings for 13 to 15 minutes, till they’re golden brown.

    Cooling

    Remove the tarts from the fridge, and bake them for 25 to 35 minutes, until they’re a light golden brown. Remove them from the oven, and allow them to cool on the pan.

    NOTE: Instead of jam you can fill the tarts with a tablespoonful of chocolate chips. Use seedless jam!

    Hard Crunchy Pretzels

    Done 2
    So what’s your favorite snack, I ask? I know my answer already ~ hands down, potato chips. I cannot even trust myself to buy them. On the rare occasion that I do I am either (a) really upset at someone or something or (b) just really, really wanting them! And then I buy the smallest bag I can find and stuff them all in my face at once ~ naturally washing it down with a Diet Coke to negate the calories!
    Not so for the Dear One. Pretzels. Those Hard Sourdough Pretzels are his absolute favorite snacking thing – well, next to Cheez-Its (and I made those again for him recently).
    So here I am in Maine, and bored, and waiting for him to come home and watching flight after flight be cancelled. I know! I’ll make hard pretzels to take to the airport – if he can EVER get on a plane and if it EVER stops snowing!
    Once I, I could hear Ernie shouting – BUY THEM! BUY THEM, YOU TWIT!
    I was a little wary about trying this recipe. Things raising, cutting them into strips, rolling it into long tubes, FORMING pretzel shapes, dropping them into a baking soda bath … YIKES … but once started, the fear washed away … a few sips of wine didn’t hurt … this was pretty easy to do.
    And they tasted great. Definitely to be done again – with a little tweaking.
    • 4 C all-purpose flour
    • 2 t salt
    • 1 t sugar
    • 1 C lukewarm water
    • 2 pkgs active dry yeast
    • 3 T butter
    • Coarse salt for sprinkling

    Soda Bath

    • 1/2 C baking soda
    • 2 quarts water

    Dissolve yeast in the lukewarm water.

    Fkour

    Mix flour and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Form a well in the flour mixture then add the sugar to the center of the well. Pour the yeast/water mixture into the well. Let it rest for 15 minutes before mixing.

    Add the softened butter to the mixing bowl and knead everything to a smooth dough.

    Dough

    NOTE: Use the dough hook for about 6 minutes on speed #2. If it’s too dry add about a tablespoon of additional water so you can gather all the dry ingredients. Remove the dough hook and let the dough rest for 30 minutes.

    Rolling

    Cut the dough into twelve equal parts, then roll each piece on the table (don’t flour the surface, you shouldn’t need it) to about 20 inches, tapered toward the ends.

    Knotting

     

    Shape pretzels.

    NOTE: Don’t make it smaller than 20 inches as it’s impossible to get a good shape with a short, thick rope of dough. The dough should not get too warm as you roll it out, or it might tear. The warmer it gets, the harder it is to roll. Also, my ropes were too thick. Made it harder for me to get that crunchy texture I was seeking.

    Place the pretzels without covering them in the fridge for about an hour. This helps build a skin that will absorb the dipping solution better and make a beautiful shiny crust.

    Preheat the oven to 400 F.

    NOTE: Pretzel recipes usually call for a lye solution, but baking soda is a perfectly acceptable and widely used substitute. LYE? Nope, not going there!

    Ready to boil

    Fill large stock or pasta pot 3/4 full and bring the water to a boil. Carefully and slowly add the baking soda to the boiling water. Add the baking soda a little at a time.

    NOTE: There will be a bubbling up reaction when the baking soda hits the water but it’s just for a moment and then it stops. Stand back a bit just to be safe.

    Boiling

    Using a slotted spoon, gently drop each pretzel into the bath for 10 seconds, then turn over for another

    Score the dough once like for a baguette with a razor blade or sharp knife.

    NOTE: This step may have been part of my mistake. I think scoring it made them softer for a longer period of time so they had to bake for a longer period of time to get the crunch factor. Well, that and my ropes were too thick!

    Ready to bake

    Sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake the pretzels for about 15 to 20 minutes (mine took almost 30 minutes for a nice dark crust), depending on how dark you like them.

    NOTE: I ended up baking them a second time because they were too soft in spots. Don’t let them touch when baking, those spots will be soft.

    Done

    Cranberry Juice

    Ready to drink

    I have COLD!

    I have SNOW!

    I have ICE!

    I have freshly picked cranberries in my freezer, thanks to my friend Lisa! So there’s been breads, and cookies, and thrown in with pork and stuffing, and, of course, cranberry sauce. But I want to try something different and this was just the ticket!

    I wanted healthy, virtuous even. It seems a lot of cranberries for not a lot of juice, makes about 1 quart and a half, but if you add vodka … or gin … a healthy squeeze of lime and some seltzer it stretches a long way!

    • 600 g (20 ozs) fresh cranberries (you can use frozen)
    • 6 cups water
    • 1 cup sugar

    Cranberries

    Place the cranberries and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium heat and cover loosely. Simmer 10 min. until the cranberries have burst.

    Straining

    Strain through a colander lined with cheesecloth.

    Draning berries

    Resist the urge to press on the fruit to extract more juices.

    Pour the strained juice back into the pot and add sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer for 3 minutes.

    NOTE: I added the sugar a bit at a time, starting with a 1/2 cup. I didn’t want this to be too sweet.

    Let cool to room temperature before cooling in the fridge.

    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.