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.

partying like ponies and an awesome birthday cake

Loving any excuse to maffick (follow the link as this is a word you will want to know and use), I take great joy in throwing parties. Two young daughters give me a twice-yearly excuse to invite friends and family over for birthday celebrations. A fair amount of planning goes into the food for these parties.

Knowing my youngest’s seventh birthday approached and her family party was on the calendar, I laid awake one night wondering what to do for the cake. (My husband notes that many folks buy birthday cakes at bakeries–Costco cakes are indeed divine–or whip them up with cake mixes, but for many reasons, that folk is not me.) While I very much enjoy making from-scratch cakes for family birthday parties, I am not known for my cake decorating skills. Exhibit A: These cat cupcakes taste good, yes, but they also look a wee bit scary.

birthday treats--yes, they're supposed t

birthday treats–yes, they’re supposed to be kitty cats

While effort has gone into improving my cake decorating skills, I’m still better with ideas than implementation. As I lay there contemplating cakes that night, keeping in mind my daughter’s request for a pink and purple Little Pony cake, I envisioned baking the batter up in 13×9-inch, 11×8-inch, and 8-inch square pans. If the cakes were stacked bottom-up from largest to smallest, then filled and frosted, could we call it a hillside on which to place a few of her precious Little Ponies?

three cake layers ready for baking

three cake layers ready for baking

When I posted the above photo and idea on deLizious facebook and got an enthusiastic response, I knew I was on to something. A friend who commented offered the services of her daughter, who has taken multiple cake decorating classes and is also a friend of my eldest. Knowing I had help, I fully committed to my hillside pony cake. The day before the party, I made a crazy-good batch of French buttercream (from Rose Levy Beranbaum‘s Cake Bible) and gave the birthday girl free rein with the icing colors. I was wowed by her sense of color.

vibrant hues

vibrant hues

Lexi came over the morning of the party, pulling her extremely large decorating kit behind her, and along with my older daughter, filled, frosted, and ponied up one of the most amazingly fun homemade birthday cakes I’ve ever seen. (Crack-me-up comments like “I trust no ponies were harmed in the making of this cake” and “I think there’s room for one more pony” greeted its fb debut.)

could there be any more ponies?

could there be any more ponies?

This cake made my seven-year-old happy. It made the decorators happy. It made party guests happy. It made me happy. And this, in the proverbial nutshell, is why I love parties and celebrating: They make folks happy. There’s so much sadness and tragedy and even just general annoyances in life that I choose to live by words I remember my mom saying more than once: “You have to celebrate the good stuff.” (This was an order from my mom, mind you–she used the words “have to.”)

Because the party was all about ponies, I served up a spread of grazing foods–popcorn, cheese, crackers, fruits, carrots, hummus. (My oldest pointed out that horses don’t actually eat most of these foods, but as hay wasn’t an option I stuck with my original plan.) So in addition to the cake making folks smile, there was plenty of finger food to munch on as well. (And we musn’t forget the fruit-infused water: I subbed in a sliced apple and handful of blackberries for the more-often used lemon or cucumber slices.) It gave me great joy to see friends and family visiting and laughing and eating the foods I’d had so much fun putting together (with help from others, yes).

party spread for grazers

party spread for grazers

apple-blackberry water

apple-blackberry water

This led to a bit of pondering and the realization that foodforfun, while always about cooking and baking and food and drink, is at its core really about wanting to share happiness. (same goes for deLizious facebook) We all have our vehicle–some love movies, some music, some gardening, some sports. But in the end, we’re all sharing happiness. I like that thought a lot and put it out there even in the wake of what seems like so many recent tragedies. I’m going to remember and honor the sad things, yes, but will focus on celebrating the good (thanks, mom) and I raise a glass of fruit-infused water and invite you to join me.

Victory Part 2-1

Why is Ryan Gosling here? This is why.