cracking old-school crackers

We’re back to flipping through Great-aunt Helen’s recipe box, but this time we look outside of that box. Turns out there are two smaller recipe books in her collection as well and while they contain fewer recipes than the boxes, … Continue reading

diy saltines à la Chef Chuck

This gallery contains 4 photos.

One of the cost-saving decisions my family made a few years back was to cut the cable cord. We supplement basic channels with streaming and it seems to be enough. I don’t feel I miss much sans the umpteen-zillion channels … Continue reading

get crackalackin’ or DIY crackers

Though last week’s bacon jam has yet to meet a food it doesn’t improve, it was meant for a party and simply screamed to be partnered with goat cheese and homemade crackers.

ready to party

ready to party

Which meant I needed to bring my cracker-making A-game to the kitchen. Past experience with DIY crackers has yielded tasty results, though the baked crackers always seem softer than what you’ll find in stores. I wanted crisp, so this seemed perfect opportunity to give cracker making another shot.

The Homemade Pantry, Alana Chernila’s collection of all things DIY kitchen, was the book I turned to for my recipe. Her humbly named Wheat Crackers–basic and über-healthy–seemed just the thing to balance bacon jam. Ingredients were gathered and dough was made, rolled, and baked. I focused on rolling the dough to exactly the 1/8-inch thickness given in the recipe, as I’m guessing the softer crackers I’ve made hadn’t been rolled thin enough.

1/8 inch thick

1/8 inch thick

Using olive oil instead of butter also gave them a slight crunch and the uncooked millet added to the texture further. Because I can’t seem to do “pretty” or even “uniform” when baking, the crackers came out looking a bit disheveled. They were still delish and some would say their slightly ragged appearance adds to their charm. (You would say that, wouldn’t you? 😉 )crackers in bowl

Following Alana’s suggestion of adding garlic or rosemary to the dough would have given them more flavor; I’ll make this change next time. Still, these crackers were paired with that bacon jam, which has enough flavor for them both.

wheat cracker, goat cheese, bacon jam

wheat cracker, goat cheese, bacon jam

These were good crackers and making them reminded me of how easy a process it is. I’ve featured Homemade Pantry before along with Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese. These books deserve another shout-out as they’re fun reads (Reese is lol funny) and offer recipes for so many basics: pudding, bread, yogurt, pop-tarts (that’s a basic, right?), pasta, lemonade, Kahlua, fruit roll-ups, marshmallows, etc. You don’t need chef’s training to make any of it and food always tastes better–and usually costs less–when you make it yourself. (Excepting A-1 Steak Sauce and ketchup–I tried making both and am sticking with store versions.)

If you’re reading this, my guess is you’re already on the DIY bandwagon, but if no, I encourage you to pick something–anything–and give it a shot. (Butter, for instance, is nothing more than overwhipped cream. You can make butter; no churn required.) If you’re well versed in from-scratch kitchen arts, would love to hear your stories. Please share in comments!

Wheat Crackers

from Alana Chernila’s The Homemade Pantry

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat or spelt flour
  • 1/3 cup uncooked millet
  • 1/3 cup ground flax seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
  • 5 medium cloves garlic, minced and 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary, if desired
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Freshly ground pepper

Heat oven to 350°F. In medium bowl, combine flours, millet, flax, baking powder, salt, and garlic and rosemary, if using. Add oil; mix with fork. Slowly add water, mixing with hands as you go. Add more water (up to 1/4 cup) as needed until dough holds together.  Knead in bowl 2 minutes or until smooth and workable.

Turn dough out onto floured surface; press into flat disk. Roll with rolling pin until 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch thick. For square crackers, use pizza wheel or sharp knife to cut dough into 2-inch squares. For round crackers, use 2-inch biscuit cutter. (Or to make it food for fun-style, attempt to cut diamond shapes with sharp knife, realize it’s not going so well, but transfer dough to baking sheet anyway.)

Transfer dough to ungreased baking sheets with spatula; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake 20 to 22 minutes, rotating baking sheets midway through, until crackers are hard to the touch. Transfer to wire rack to cool. Makes about 50 crackers.

easy cheesy DIY

Doing It Yourself is all the rage these days. Reality TV is ripe with programming devoted to folks doing their own pretty much everything. I’m not a fan of reality TV and you’ll never catch me sewing my own clothes, making my own (or anyone else’s) jewelry, or refurbishing anything in my house. I’m just not crafty like that.

But I have always been a fan of cooking and baking from scratch. Homemade bread? DIY. A batch of cookies? DIY. A pot of soup or broth? DIY.

With the proliferation of do-it-yourselfers, the bar has been raised for what can be done in the kitchen. The food section of this week’s local paper headlined with a piece on grinding your own meat. I’ve also been seeing more about homemade butter (it’s as simple as overwhipping cream), yogurt, and cheese. And then there’s the wave of home brewers and wine makers.

A new cookbook that speaks exactly to this point was also featured in a recent newspaper story. The Homemade Pantry: 101 Things You Can Stop Buying & Start Making by Alana Chernila got my attention. This is my kind of book. Make your own foods so 1) you know exactly what’s in them and 2) you aren’t spending hard-earned dollars on foods you can easily make yourself.

I made the recipe offered alongside the newspaper article as it mimicked one of my oldest daughter’s favorite snacks–cheese crackers. I buy them occasionally, but consider them little more than junk food. If I made my own (and they passed her taste test), I could offer her my version of Cheez-Its. They’d contain “real food” ingredients–no additives, preservatives, etc. Also, I’d be paying for ingredients, but not the manufacture, packaging, and marketing that goes into processed foods.

My Cheez-It fan and I whipped up these crackers tonight. The dough took only a few minutes to make and I froze it for only 10 minutes instead of refrigerating for 2 hours. It still rolled out perfectly. I cut the crackers with a crinkle-cutter, but a knife or biscuit cutter would have done just as well. The dough baked up beautifully and the resulting crackers were pretty and tasty–salty, rich, savory, exploding with cheese flavor. I used the Cheddar called for in the recipe, but it’d be fun to change it up depending on your mood or your family’s preferences: mozzarella for pizza lovers, pepper-Jack for those who like it spicy, sharp Cheddar for an extra punch. A teaspoon of dried herbs would also add distinction.

Though these crackers aren’t as crispy as what you find in that red box (might need to fry ’em up for that), my daughter gave them a rating of “good to great” which is high praise from her. I’ll probably buy the book as I’d love a collection of such recipes all in one place. The article mentioned homemade pop-tarts which sounds like a delicious project. Definitely a DIY I would Do.

Homemade Cheese Crackers

adapted only slightly from The Homemade Pantry: 101 Things You Can Stop Buying & Start Making by Alana Chernila

  • 3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 6 ounces grated Cheddar cheese
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons vinegar
  • 1 ice cube

In mixing bowl, use paddle attachment to beat together butter, flour, mustard, and salt 30 seconds or just until crumbly. Add cheese; beat on low speed 30 seconds longer or just until mixed.

In small bowl, combine water, vinegar, and ice cube; let stand briefly to chill. Add 6 tablespoons vinegar mixture to cheese mixture; beat on low speed until liquid is absorbed. Beat in vinegar mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time, just until dough forms a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 2 hours. (I froze the dough for 10 minutes.)

Remove frozen dough to counter 15 minutes before baking.

Heat oven to 325°F. On lightly floured surface, roll dough 1/8-inch-thick. Cut into small squares or rounds. Place on baking sheet. Bake 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on wire rack. Makes about 40 (2-inch) crackers. (I cut them smaller, so got about 60 (1 1/2-inch) crackers.)

crinkle-cut dough

ready to bake

in the oven

cup o’ DIY cheese crackers