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.

campy food and more

My husband and I both camped when we were younger and want to enjoy these trips with our family as well. Yet, it went so poorly with babies that we set those plans aside a few years until our daughters were at a better age for travel. Last year we hit South Dakota and it went amazingly well–we wanted another week of camping this summer. So we headed to Minnesota’s North Shore, which offers miles of gorgeous Lake Superior views.

Hiking, shopping, tenting–all good. But my favorite part of camping–and travel in general–will always be the food. Memories of childhood camping include my mom planning menus and packing food in crates and coolers. Mom is far more organized than I, so my planning and packing efforts pale in comparison, but just the same I love to think through meal possibilities and pack accordingly.

Then there are meals out, which I like having at one-of-a-kind stops along the way. (Though there’s compromise as kids and husband appreciate the Taco Bells and Subways of the road.) I armed myself with a ripped-out feature from a local paper titled Destination Duluth: Where to eat right now, circling the places I wanted to hit. And…

toasting

toasting

Breakfast

Many of my husband’s family’s friends gave us camping gear as wedding gifts, most likely with the hope of taming the “city” in his “city girl” bride. One such gift was a camp-stove toaster, which toasted sourdough English muffins for egg sandwiches. We’d also brought an Italian-spiced bacon from a favorite meat market and I’m already planning a return trip for more.20130816_081949

Lunch

Typical drive-in food at A & Dubs.

Chicken basket, fries, cole slaw. The butterscotch malt? Already gone!

Chicken basket, fries, cole slaw. The butterscotch malt? Already gone!

The Duluth Grill makes a great case for going your own way. Originally partners in the Ember’s chain, the owners tell of the day they ran out of pancake mix. Choosing to make their own ‘cakes from scratch–which tasted better and cost less–was a light-bulb moment. Their partnership with Ember’s eventually flamed out and they now have vegetable and herb gardens (the server’s shirts read “Veggies fresh from the parking lot.”) and serve imaginative fare–some out-there, some more down-home–all of it made onsite using local and organic ingredients. My one regret was not having room for the When Pigs Fly sundae: vanilla ice cream topped with cherrywood-smoked bacon, pecans, homemade caramel sauce, and Hawaiian red sea salt.

buffalo tofu strips

buffalo tofu strips

bison burger with homemade onion rings

bison burger with homemade onion rings

ratatouille over polenta sprinkled with goat cheese

ratatouille over polenta sprinkled with goat cheese

beet lemonade--surprisingly tasty!

beet lemonade–surprisingly tasty!

20130813_113627While not technically a lunch stop, I enjoyed wandering a downtown outpost of the Duluth Farmer’s Market. My favorite find: curry coconut granola.

Supper

My oldest daughter likes to have her night as head chef to serve up Girl Scout Gumbo (no scouts were harmed in the making of this dish, haha). A hearty mixture of potato, ground beef, bell pepper, alphabet soup, and onion, it goes over especially well when camping.

girl scout gumbo with a side of veg

girl scout gumbo with a side of veg

Hobo dinners are another childhood camping memory, so these fire pit-roasted beef-and-veggie packets were on our list. We changed it up by using chorizo instead of beef and I’ll never go back. The chorizo’s spices (and fat) gave the veggies immeasurable flavor and tenderness.

hobo dinner chorizo-style

hobo dinner chorizo-style

I’d read earlier about cooking breadsticks over a campfire, so had made up a ziploc of dry mix at home and added the liquids at the campsite. They were tricky to cook on a stick, as they tended to droop with the heat and fall into the fire. And cooking too close to the flames left them charred. What finally worked? Laying them in a skillet and turning them often.2013-08-12 18.37.09

Dessert

banana boats with c chips, mini 'mallows, and cut-up caramel pieces

banana boats with c chips, mini ‘mallows, and cut-up caramel pieces

Banana boats and s’mores. Typical campfire treats, but the s’mores were extra special this year as I’d made graham crackers à la Smitten Kitchen before leaving home.

gimme s'more!

gimme s’more!

skidmarks on my heart

skidmarks on my heart

Positively Third Street Bakery: This tiny gem’s cookies sold out quickly. We never made it before noon in our two visits (to go back twice in five days says something about how badly we needed these cookies), so only had a few to choose from. Handwritten labels listed basic ingredients such as butter and sugar, but each variety had an extra “something.” Adventure, perhaps. Or Joy, Love, Good Times. Our favorite is the Skidmark: deep chocolate, hit of espresso, chocolate chips, etc. And the “special ingredient”? Burnt rubber–what else?

Betty’s Pies is state-famous (though the website claims world fame) for its North Shore location and crazy good pies. Just as fun is the kitschy blue-and-white checker decor.

apple, coconut cream, 5-layer chocolate a la Betty

apple, coconut cream, 5-layer chocolate à la Betty

Another bit of culinary fun my oldest brought to the trip was ice-cream-in-a-bag. In a 1-quart ziploc, she combined 1/2 cup milk (didn’t seem to matter if it was full-fat, skim, chocolate, nonfat half-and-half–everything worked), 2-4 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and pinch of salt. After sealing the bag, she put it in another ziploc and surrounded the sealed bag with rock salt and ice. Five or so minutes of tossing the bag from one hand to another (wrapping it in a towel makes it easier to handle) turned out top-notch soft-serve ice cream. Because we’d picked up malted milk balls at a candy shop that day, we crushed a few and mixed them into the ice cream for a bit of texture and extra flavor.

ice cream in under 10 minutes, better than DQ

ice cream in under 10 minutes, better than DQ

Northern Waters Smokehaus came highly recommended from multiple sources. A quick-order sandwich shop, they also smoke and sell their own meats and if I lived in Duluth it would be a regular stop. Their sandwiches are inventively named (my bahn faux mi layered Berkshire Ham, paté, carrot, cabbage, cilantro, quick pickles, hoisin, chili sauce, and butter–can you even imagine?); I beg you to click on the above link for a taste of their creativity.

a really good sandwich

a really good sandwich

Just for Fun

PhotoGrid_1376430421888Fizzy Waters focuses on sodas of all kinds–vintage and craft especially–as well as a smaller selection of old-fashioned candies. My daughters enjoyed a turn at the make-your-own-soda fountain and I’m giving my youngest the prize for most innovative with her version of Chocolate Sprite.

Duluth Coffee Co. is said to be the antithesis of Starbucks and I can see why with its dark and spare space. As a non-chain fan (see above), I adored it. This coffee is served all around town for good reason. Roasted in-house, it’s fragrant, well-balanced, deep, and dark. I took home a bag–despite the steep price tag–as I need that coffee magic every morning in my own kitchen.

We were glad to come home to warm beds and indoor toilets, but there is so much more food to be enjoyed that we’ll be back. I anticipate a Duluth Dining II post (camping optional) sooner rather than later.

pop! goes the cocktail

Last week’s food for fun post brought you ice cream to beat the heat. Seeing as how this week is hotter than last–at least here in St. Paul–I’m still searching out foods to cool me down. Which is why the following headline caught my eye: “Cocktails-on-a-stick look like kid’s food, but boozy treats are for adults.” A bit wordy, perhaps, but I was all over the concept. Cocktails on a stick? Sign me up!

The article appeared in a recent St. Paul Pioneer Press, but was originally written by Jill Wendholt Silva for the Kansas City Star. It introduced me to Laura Fyfe’s Poptail and though I’d seen a version of this frozen treat at Attempts in Domesticity, I’d not yet realized it was a trend in the making.

Silva mentioned that “plenty of folks are getting on the poptail bandwagon,” talked of the poptail’s popularity on Pinterest, and cited Food & Wine‘s July issue’s Mojito-Watermelon pops. Clearly poptails are the next cupcake and it’s a trend I couldn’t wait to follow. Setting my sights on the Gin Zing, I made a batch tonight.

1 1/4 cups chopped baby cucumbers

1 1/4 cups chopped baby cucumbers

Pureeing 1 1/4 cups diced cucumber and 1/2 cup St. Germain with a stick blender (though the recipe suggests a food processor), I then strained it through a fine-mesh sieve.cucumber puree

Half of the solids left behind were stirred back into the strained liquid and 1/4 cup gin was stirred into that.Straining

I had cut the recipe in half, so was set up to make three poptails (oh, how I love that word), but I used shot glasses and was able to fill six and still have enough left over for a chef’s sample. (It was way too sweet unfrozen.)

ready to freeze

ready to freeze

I popped the poptails into the freezer and checked back an hour or so later, when the mixture was frozen just enough to hold the (half) popsicle stick upright. Another hour and they were frozen enough to unmold. The recipe called for a seven-hour freeze, though I wasn’t patient enough to let it go that long.

single serving

single serving

They were pretty little things and also quite tasty and refreshing. Sweet was the first hit on the taste buds, but booze was a close second as was the fresh green flavor of the cucumber. Next time (because there most certainly will be a next time), I’ll stir in a few grindings of black pepper or a teaspoon or so of freshly grated gingerroot for extra kick. But even as-is, these simple poptails are the bee’s knees.

Gin Zing poptails

Gin Zing poptails

Which brings me to Silva’s other flavors: Bee’s Knees (!) containing honey, whiskey, and ginger beer and The Jaliscito with lime zest and juice, watermelon, tequila, and Grand Marnier–both must-makes in my book.

Silva recommends using wooden craft sticks instead of plastic popsicle mold sticks as wood grips the softer ice mixture better than slippery plastic. She also cautions against using too much alcohol lest the mixture fail to freeze completely. Though should that happen? Silva notes that these poptails easily morph into an adult snow cone or slush. And I won’t argue with that, especially in this heat.

special ed.: funny names in food and super sweet

Food for fun is veering off schedule a bit to send out a Special Edition as it has two separate pieces of news, neither or which seemed to fit into regularly scheduled programming.

Piece of News #1: Many moons ago (ok, last January), the folks over at The Blog of Funny Names asked me to write the occasional guest post. Honored by the request from such a distinguished and talented bunch, I signed on. Note that I am not being even the slightest bit tongue-in-cheek when I say “distinguished and talented.” The blog’s creators are are bright (and hilarious) young men on ambitious career paths that include (but are not limited to) writing, filmmaking, medicine, entrepreneurial start-up, and law.

My initial draw to their blog was that it made me laugh and was completely unrelated to food. Anyone who has spent time at food for fun knows that working with and writing about food is my profession as well as my obsession. So it’s nice to have the occasional outlet that steers clear of all things edible. (The irony of my BoFN posts being food-related is not lost on me.) My first BoFN appearance was referred to in an earlier food for fun post (cornbread!) and today I link you to my latest on BoFN, where I introduce folks to savvy food businesswoman, Gesine-Bullock Prado. Would love it if you’d click over for a read, then (please) come back for Special Ed. part 2 🙂

Piece of News #2: The Perky Poppy Seed has honored food for fun with a nomination for a Super Sweet Blogger award. Thrilled, I must admit I am also at a bit of a loss when it comes to award nominations. They’re much-appreciated pats on the back from other like-minded bloggers and I love that someone enjoys food for fun enough to give me such a (sweet) shout-out. But nominating others always stumps me–not because there aren’t other deserving blogs out there, but because there are so many deserving blogs and they’ve already received the awards. What’s a stumped blogger to do?

In the interest of paying it forward, I do want to link you to a Baker’s Dozen of 13 (make that 15) blogs I enjoy. If you’re linked and want to make the Super Sweet award official, you can circle back to Perky’s post to put your plan in action. But there’s no obligation here–it’s just me telling others that I love what I’ve found in your space. (That said, it’s not an all-inclusive list. Just like all of you, my list of blogs enjoyed is seemingly endless and always growing.) A huge shout-out and thank you much to Perky Poppy Seed. If you’ve yet to visit her blog, you must head over. She even has a Foodie Movie page! Others for clicking…Seal_LLC (2)

And that, food for fun friends, completes this inaugural Special Edition. Thanks for coming by 🙂 You can now join the regularly scheduled programming already in progress…