Cheese Popcorn

There are hard-core cookbooks out there that have recipes for homemade cheese powder. But somehow, I haven’t gotten around to making my own. Actually, I think cheese powder is where I draw the line. People think I’m crazy enough already. If I made cheese powder from scratch I couldn’t tell anyone about it for fear of the looks I’d get, so what’s the point? It’s much more normal feeling to get really excited about King Arthur’s cheese powder. This stuff is the bomb.

I make about 8 or 10 cups of popcorn in our whirly pop and immediately sprinkle on a couple tablespoons of the powder along with a pinch of salt and viola! If you use an air popper, you might need to spray a little oil on the popcorn to help the powder stick.

King Arthur is not paying me for this. :(

Potato Skins with Crispy Cheese

When we rolled out of bed this morning the outdoor thermometer told us that it was -1 degrees. Minus 1. Having lived  in Connecticut for a while, I’m always a little shocked when it actually gets cold in January. We’ve had some warm spells and it was looking like we might have another mild winter. But apparently it was not meant to be. I am slightly comforted by the snowman recently built by my six year old.

Today was not a day to serve up the usual crudities after school. Today we are having soup for dinner while sitting as close to the wood stove as possible. Anything other than a warm snack was not an option. So I decided to put some leftover baked potatoes to use.

I’ve posted a  potato skins recipe before. But I’ve since been educated by the likes of America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook and Simply Recipes. These are better. They could be made in advance too and the glorious melting of the cheese could be saved for the last minute.

Potato Skins Recipe

This healthy (ha!) baked potato skin recipe is as good as its restaurant counterpart because of the crispy cheese. While your sprinkling the cheese on the potatoes to bake, don’t be sad if a big clump misses a potato. That’s the best part.

4 medium leftover baked potatoes
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 1/2 cups grated cheese such as mozzarella, cheddar, and/or parmesan
Fresh chives, for garnish

Preheat oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit.

When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them in half lengthwise and scoop out the majority of the inside of the potato. Set the potato insides aside for another use. Cut the potatoes up into child-sized pieces.

Arrange the potatoes on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Use a pastry brush to douse the potatoes with the melted butter. Bake the potatoes for 10 minutes or until they have browned on the edges. Sprinkle the cheese over the potatoes and bake them for another 5 – 10 minutes or until the cheese is properly melted.

Yield: serves 3-4 as a hearty snack
Prep-time: 10 minutes
Baking time: 20 minutes

 

Brocoli and Cheddar Pinwheels (and a Cookbook Giveaway!)

Don’t tell anyone, but did you know that people just give you new cookbooks when you’re a food blogger? And sometimes they even give you recipes to share. Even really good recipes. Take, for instance, these brilliant pinwheels from Parents Need To Eat Too by the lovely Ms. Debbie Koenig.

Oh, how I wish this cookbook existed when I was a new mum. I think my husband and I made quesadillas and spaghetti for many months. I vividly remember not being able to tackle any recipe that involved chopping of any sort until the baby was at least 6 months old. I’d read a recipe that called for peeling and chopping an onion and roll my eyes and mumble something like, “Yeah, like that’s ever going to happen.”

The author of Parents Need To Eat Too has been there and has amassed a stunning array of parent-friendly recipes that would have broken even me out of my quesadilla and take-out pizza rut. It includes exciting recipes for a variety one-handed meals such as these pinwheels, slow cooker delicacies, recipes broken down into stages so most of the work can be done during naps, as well as recipes that support breastfeeding.

If you’d like to win a copy of Parents Need To Eat Too, comment on this post and tell us how you keep yourself fed when you have a new babe in the house. I’ll pick a winner next Saturday, February 18th at 7pm EST using random.org.

Update 2-18-2012: And the winner is Christy! Thanks to everyone for your comments. 

Broccoli and Cheddar Pinwheels Recipe from Parents Need To Eat Too

1 pound prepared pizza dough, white or
whole wheat
2¹⁄₂ cups finely chopped broccoli, or one 10-ounce package of frozen chopped broccoli, defrosted and finely chopped
1 to 2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425°F. Line or grease a baking sheet.

1. Remove pizza dough from the refrigerator 30 minutes to 1 hour before you plan to use it.

2. Steam the broccoli until just tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Cool slightly, then combine broccoli with the Cheddar, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste.

3. Roll or stretch the dough on a floured work surface into a large rectangle, about 10 x 14 inches. Don’t worry if you can’t get those exact measurements, but take care not to stretch the dough so thin it rips.

4. Spread the broccoli mixture over about three-quarters of the dough, leaving an uncoated portion at one short side. Begin to roll the dough from the short side covered with the broccoli spread, and keep rolling until you’ve got a nice, neat log of dough.

5. using a serrated knife or a pastry scraper, cut the log into 8 equal pinwheels. Carefully lay the pinwheels flat on the prepared baking sheet, and bake until crust is golden brown and the cheese is melted, 15 to 20 minutes.

Yield: 8, easily doubled
Cooking time: 1 hour (20 minutes active)

Cheese Straws

[donotprint]Lord knows why, but I’d never made a cheese straw until recently. Since I’ve been wanting to make them forever and we were having a bunch of people over I decided to make three different kinds and see what we liked best. It turned out to be a crazy amount of work that I’m not anxious to repeat anytime soon. But once I’m rested, I assume I’ll be happy to have a promising cheese straw recipe under my belt.

I started with the Lee Brothers‘ cheese straw recipe which I believe Smitten Kitchen has taken a crack at. In fact, I made a batch a few days beforehand planning on storing them in the freezer, but they mysteriously disappeared so I was forced to make a second batch. This recipe is brilliant, easy, and simple. The dough handles relatively well. The red pepper flakes are perfect. But, in my opinion, they are a tad too rich.

Next, I tried a recipe from 101 cookbooks. I used spelt flour instead of the buckwheat flour that is called for. My youngest liked these cheese straws the best, probably because they’re flavored with thyme instead of cayenne or red pepper flakes. But I found them a tad weak on flavor and the dough was hard to work with. 

Last but not least, I tried the cheese straw recipe in the New York Times Cookbook. I was a little unsure about this one because bread crumbs are a major ingredient. But I dove in anyway because a) I couldn’t find any other recipes for from-scratch cheese straws in my humble cookbook collection and b) how could Craig Claiborne steer me wrong? The recipe turned out well and was happily gobbled up by all of our guests.[/donotprint]

Cheese Straw Recipe

Adapted from The New York Times Cookbook.

8 tablespoons (1 stick) of unsalted butter, softened
3 cups soft homemade whole wheat bread crumbs
2 cups coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 1/2 all-purpose flour
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cayeanne pepper
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
Dash of paprika
Grated Parmesan cheese

Combine all the ingredients except the Parmesan cheese in the bowl of a food processor. Process for until the dough starts to come together, about 30 seconds.

Remove the dough from the processor and form it into four equal-sized discs. Wrap the discs in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for at least one hour or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Farhenhiet.

Remove one disc at a time from the refrigerator. Unwrap it and set it on wax paper or a silicone baking mat. (I highly recommend the later.) Roll it out until it is about 1/8 inch thick. With a pastry cutter or pizza wheel, cut the dough into 1/2-inch by 6-inch strips. Seperate the strips slightly while transfering them to a parchment lined baking sheet (or you can use your trustly silicone baking mat). Sprinkle on the Parmesan cheese. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until light brown and slightly crispy. They should crisp up a bit more once they cool.

Yield: 4 dozen
Prep-time:  30 mintues

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Apple Turnovers with Cheddar Crust

Supposedly, back in the day, a piece of warm apple pie with melted cheese on top was the bee’s knees. I haven’t tasted it yet. But I feel like I read a whole chapter about it a couple years ago in John T. Edge’s Apple Pie and have been salivating ever since.

If you’re not in the mood to make dough from scratch, please just keep it simple and make an apple tower which could be almost as good if the cheese and the apple are excellent. But there’s nothing quite like pastry. And this filling is pretty awesome.

Dough Recipe

Adapted from The New York Times Cookbook.

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) of butter, softened
1 1/2 cups fine, soft homemade whole wheat bread crumbs
1 cup coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cayeanne pepper
Dash of paprika

Combine all the ingredients except the Parmesan cheese in the bowl of a food processor. Process for until the dough starts to come together, about 30 seconds.

Remove the dough from the processor and form it into a flattened rectangle about 1 – 2 inches thick. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for at least one hour or overnight.

Filling Recipe

2 medium apples, peeled and cored
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup applesauce
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch salt
1 egg
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farhenhiet.

Grate the apple with a box grater. Squeeze excess moisture out of the grated apple. (Save the juice for a little drink if you wish.) Place apple in bowl along with the sugar, applesauce, lemon juice, cinnamon, and salt. Mix well and set aside.

Roll out the dough on a well floured surface to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut dough into 4-inch squares with a pastry cutter or pizza wheel. Transfer the squares to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place a generous tablespoon of the apple filling in the middle of each of the squares.

Beat the egg in a small bowl. Paint a bit of the egg wash on the outer edge of each square. Fold each square over into a triangle and gently press the edges together with your fingertips. Seal the triangle with the tines of a fork. Paint more egg wash on the top of each triangle and make a small slit on the top with a serrated knife. Sprinkle each turnover with finely grated Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool slightly before serving. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 48 hours.

Yield: 10 turnovers
Prep-time: 1 hour
Bake-time: 35 minutes

[donotprint]Oh, and by the way, we just got a new puppy. He’s the sweetest little boy in the world. His name is Otter. He’s a mutt/rescue. Supposedly his mother was a Boxer/Lab mix.

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Cheese Crackers

I’m pretty sure that if it wasn’t for this blog and the whole healthy family snack thing that I’m supposed to be investigating, I wouldn’t be making crackers at all. But this is definitely one of those times that the genius of blogging shines through. I love these crackers.

Despite what you may think, these are pretty darn easy to make. The food processor makes blending all the ingredients a snap. The only tricky part is rolling out the dough after it’s had some time to relax in the refrigerator. But if you’re willing to take on that little challenge, you could have a batch of warm cheesy crackers fresh out of the oven. So completely worth it in my book.

I’ve gradually made a some relatively significant changes to the original recipe I posted a year ago. Things have changed enough that I’m thinking it’s about time I shared how I’m baking up cheese crackers these days.

Cheese Crackers Recipe

I highly recommend using a silicone baking mat for cracker-making. From what I gather, parchment paper will work. But the silicone baking mat is sturdier and is a lot less inclined to slide all over the counter while you’re rolling out the dough.

This recipe is easily doubled. My standard-size Cuisinart food processor seems a little cramped, but turns out a perfectly good dough with a double recipe. But unless you have a double oven, remember you’re looking at two rounds of cracker babysitting by the oven window.

1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dash ground pepper
3 ounces coarsely grated orange sharp cheddar cheese (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 ounce finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)
4 tablespoons cold butter, sliced into chunks
3 – 4 tablespoons water

Place the flours, cornmeal, salt, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse for a few seconds. Add the cheeses and pulse for 10-15 seconds.

Distribute the butter over the top of the flour mixture. Run the processor for 10 seconds or until the butter is mostly incorporated and the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Occasional larger chunks of butter are more than okay.

With the processor running, add the water one tablespoon at a time through the feed tube. Continue to run the processor until the dough starts to lightly clump up or form into a ball (about 30 – 60 seconds).

If you take a bit of the dough out of the processor and give it a squeeze, if it looks like this, you’re all set:

Give it a squeeze

If it doesn’t add a little more water and pulse until it does.

Remove the dough from the processor. Divide it in two and form into flattened rectangles and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Place the rectangles in the refrigerator for at least one hour or overnight. If you leave them in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight, let the dough sit out on the counter for 10 minutes or so to soften.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Remove plastic wrap and place rectangle in the middle of a non-stick baking mat. Roll the dough out evenly with a wooden rolling pin until it covers almost the entire (11 x 16-inch) mat. This takes a little muscle, but gets easier as the dough warms up. I find it impossible to roll the dough out completely evenly. But the closer you get it, the easier they will be to bake.

Cut the dough into 1″ squares with a straight edge, lattice cutter, or pizza wheel. Move the baking mat  onto a baking sheet. (The squares do not need to be spread apart as they shrink and puff up during baking and are easily broken apart afterwards if they do not separate on their own.)

Bake for approximately 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the dough, or until the bottoms of crackers are puffy and golden. Start checking on them often after 15 minutes. The crackers on the outer edge may brown more quickly. I’ve been known to remove some of the crackers from the baking sheet in order to save them from burning and put the rest back in the oven for a few more minutes. Check the bottom of the crackers to gauge how close they are to being done. They should be golden crispy perfection. They will crisp up a bit when they cool, but not much.

Transfer the crackers to a wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight container at room temperature or freeze.

Yield: 100 crackers
Prep-time: 30 minutes
Inactive prep-time: 1 hour to overnight
Bake-time: 20 minutes

Barbecue Chicken Quesadilla

[donotprint] 

The guy at California Pizza Kitchen who came up with the Barbecue Chicken Pizza should really get a medal acknowledging the greatness of his achievment. When my husband replicates the pizza it brings me great joy. But awhile ago I had to cheat and make this quesadilla because I couldn’t wait to get my fix.[/donotprint]

And miracle of miracles, the kids liked them when I made them for dinner the other night. It was a rare moment. We were all eating the same food which had been inspired by my cravings. And we all enjoyed it. Amen and hallelujah!

Barbecue Chicken Quesadilla Recipe

2 10-inch flour tortillas
1/2 cup cooked chicken, shredded
1 handful coarsely grated Monterrey jack cheese
3 tablespoons barbecue sauce
1 tablespoon purple onion, minced
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped

Place one tortilla in a skillet over medium heat. Evenly distribute chicken and barbecue sauce on the tortilla. Sprinkle on the cheese and then the onion and cilantro. Top with the second tortilla. Cook for 3 -5 minutes or until the tortilla starts to brown. Flip and cook the other side for a few more minutes. Transfer the quesadilla to a cutting board. Allow to cool for a couple minutes. Slice into quarters or sixths. Serve.

Yield: 4-6 wedges
Prep-time: 15 minutes

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Apple Sage Quesadilla

I’m feeling oh-so back-to-basics with this little bundle of dried sage hanging by my kitchen window. For a recent lunch, I used some of it in a quesadilla with apples and cheese. It was delightful.

2 8-inch flour tortillas
1 1/2 – 2 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, sliced thinly
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 small apple, peeled and coarsely grated
7 – 10 dried sage leaves, crumbled into bits

Place one tortilla in a skillet over medium heat and cover evenly with cheeses, apple, and sage. Top with second tortilla and cook until the bottom tortilla is golden brown and cheese is starting to melt (around 5 minutes). Flip the quesadilla with a stiff spatula and cook for a few more minutes or until the tortilla is golden brown. Transfer quesadilla to a cutting board and allow to cool for a couple minutes. Cut into 8 wedges with a large knife and serve.

Yield: 8 wedges
Prep-time: 5 minutes
Cook-time: 8 minutes

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Pizza On A Stick

I’ve decided we need to start eating more snacks on a stick.* The kids had a great time making and eating these.

We use pepperoni that is not pre-sliced. The pre-sliced stuff often looks a deeper shade of artificial and is too thin. But obviously you can make due with whatever is on hand.

Slices of pepperoni
Chunks of mozzarella string cheese
Canned sliced black olives
Grape tomatoes

Thread pepperoni, cheese, olives, and tomatoes onto bamboo skewers. Serve.

*Note: I’m guessing bamboo skewers should not be put in the hands of most children under the age of 3, possibly 4. I cut off the pointy tips after assembly. A safer option might be lollipop sticks; pre-punch holes in the food and let the younger ones assemble on their own.

Yield: variable
Prep-time: 10 minutes or longer if the kids are assembling

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Homemade Cheese Crackers

I believe I have achieved my own version of Cracker Nirvana. It all started with a Cheddar Crackers recipe mentioned by The Kitchn. The original recipe is exquisite, but the crackers are a tad greasy, especially after 24 hours. My version of this recipe keeps longer and I’m not as likely to eat them all immediately after they come out of the oven.

This is a huge post for me because crackers used to constitute a large part of our snacking diet. Over the past year and a half I’ve been buying crackers less and less. At this point, they are a genuine treat for us. Even though my preschooler still pines for Goldfish occasionally, it feels terrific to have reformed our snack diet so thoroughly. With this recipe, I know exactly what’s in there and we recognize them for the treat that they are.

The picture below is my latest batch without the paprika. While I love the color and taste the paprika imparts. I was getting the sense that my kids were not so crazy for it. It took me a while to figure this out because I was more than happy to eat them all myself!

Here’s what they look like with the paprika:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour or all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon fine salt, plus more for sprinkling on top
1/2 teaspoon paprika (optional)
Dash pepper
1 1/2 cups grated white sharp cheddar cheese (3 ounces)
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (1 ounce)
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
3- 4 tablespoons cold water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place the flours, cornmeal, salt, paprika (if desired), and pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse for a few seconds. Add the cheeses and pulse for 10-15 seconds.

Cut the butter into tablespoon-sized chunks and distribute over the top of the flour mixture. Run the processor for 10 seconds or until the butter is mostly incorporated and the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

With the processor running, add the water one tablespoon at a time through the feed tube. Continue to run the processor until the dough starts to lightly clump up or form into a ball (about 30 – 60 seconds).

When I first started making this recipe, it always formed into a ball without much hesitation. But lately, it’s more likely to look like the picture above. Maybe it’s the weather. Or the cumulative changes I’ve made to the recipe are having an effect. Regardless, if when you take a bit of the dough out of the processor and give it a squeeze it looks like this, you’re all set:

Give it a squeeze

If it doesn’t add a little more water and pulse until it does.

Remove the dough from the processor. Divide it in two and knead a few times. Form into flattened rectangles and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Place the rectangles in the freezer for 10 minutes (or thereabouts) or in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. If you leave them in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight, let the dough sit out on the counter for 10 minutes or so to soften.

Remove plastic wrap and place rectangle in the middle of a non-stick baking mat or sheet of parchment paper. The baking mat is much easier, but it can be done with parchment paper. Roll the dough out evenly until it is less than 1/8″ but more than 1/16″ thick – not paper thin but close. Miraculously, the dough doesn’t require any flour to keep it from sticking.

Cut the dough into 1″ squares. I use a lattice cutter, but any ol’ dull edged knife or pizza cutter will do. Carefully move the baking mat or parchment paper onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle the dough lightly with salt. (The squares do not need to be spread apart as they shrink and puff up during baking and are easily broken apart afterwards if they do not separate on their own.)

Bake for 17-25 minutes, depending on the thickness of the dough, or until bottoms of crackers are puffy and golden. Start checking on them often after 15 minutes. The crackers on the outer edge may brown more quickly if you rolled your dough unevenly like I always seem to do. Don’t stop baking until the outer crackers are shy of burning in order to be sure that the crackers in the center have a chance to crisp up properly. Check the bottom of the crackers to gauge how close they are to being done. They should be golden. I’ve been known to remove some of the crackers from the baking sheet in order to save them from burning and put the rest back in the oven for a few more minutes.

Allow crackers to cool on the baking sheet or on a cooling rack. Store in a airtight container at room temperature. They keep fine for at least 3 or 4 days.

Yield: approximately 100 crackers
Prep-time: 30 minutes
Bake-time: 20 minutes

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