Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Homemade Graham Crackers, Now These are the Real Deal

I feel like my whole life I have been living a lie.  These so-called crackers that come in a box advertising such flavors as "honey" and "cinnamon" are sooooo misleading.  I can't even properly describe the difference.  What I do know is that once you try a homemade graham cracker, you will realize that those things from that box you once thought we're graham crackers are nothing more that cinnamon and sugar sprinkled corrugated cardboard squares.  Seriously.  Your world is about to be turned upside down.  Make these, you will see!

I made these for the kids' snack day back in November.  I found they were plenty sweet, but if you want them extra dessert-y, you can sprinkle them with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar before baking.  Also, to make them fall-themed, I used a leaf cookie cutter.  You can cut them into any shape you want, including just using a knife or pizza cutter to make the traditional squares.

Homemade Graham Crackers
Makes ~24 (but it really depends on what size you cut them to)
105 cals / 4g fat / 17g carbs / 2g protein

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup plus 1 TB milk (or water)
2 tsp vanilla

1.  Combine the flours, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in the bowl of a food processor or mixer.  Cut the butter into small cubes and add to the flour mixture, pulsing until blended in and the mixture resembles coarse corn meal.

2.  In a separate bowl, combine milk, honey, and vanilla. Pour into flour mixture and mix until dough comes together (it will still be very sticky).  Sprinkle wax paper or plastic wrap with flour, and turn dough out onto wrap.  Pat into an even disk using floured hands, wrap up tightly and chill for at least 20 minutes. 

3.  Heat oven to 350.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Remove dough from fridge and roll out onto a really generously floured surface until thin (~1/8 to 1/4 inch thick).  Cut into desired shape, place on prepared baking sheet and prick with a pick or a fork to get the "traditional" holes.  Bake u tip golden, 15-18 minutes.  You can continue to re-roll and cut any of the leftover scrap dough until it is all used up.

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Pancakes

Breakfast is so awesome.  It is the only meal where it is socially acceptable to eat dessert as your meal.  And also, it is the meal where bacon is found the most.  What's not to love?

These pancakes started out as a copy of some pancakes at one of my favorite breakfast spots (that is now closed...sad!).  The original version is actually cranberry oatmeal pancakes with a honey pecan syrup.  They are also are also quite delicious, and I will probably share that version at some point.  But I was feeling the need for something chocolate-ey, since wine is not allowed at breakfast like I do at pretty much any given time of the day.

These are somewhat similar to my Chocolate Chip Cookie Pancakes, although not quite as sweet and cookie-tasting (just in case you were looking to tone down that whole dessert for breakfast plan).

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Pancakes
Makes ~8 pancakes
170 cal / 5g fat / 28g carbs / 5g protein

1 cup flour
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
3 TB brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 egg
2 TB melted butter
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup chocolate chips

1.  In a food processor, combine flour, 1/2 cup of oats, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.  Pulse until mixed and oats are powdery.  Place in a large bowl.  Add remaining 1/2 cup oats and stir.

2.  In a separate smaller bowl, beat milk, egg, melted butter, and vanilla until combined.  Add to te dry mixture and stir until just mixed.  

3. Heat a pan or griddle over medium heat, and spray with cooking spray or lightly oil or butter. Pour 1/4 cup batter into circles and sprinkle with chocolate chips.  Cook until edges bubble, then flip pancakes and cook until other side is browned.

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Biscuits So Good Your Great Grandma Will Be Jealous

I am fortunate to have a history of long-living women in my family.  In fact, my Great Grandma passed away just a few years ago.  It makes me feel like time is on my side, you know?  I am also fortunate that I was able to experience her cooking.  You see, Flora came from a tiny town in the middle-of-nowhere Tennessee.  And as was the case with most southern women, she prided herself on her cooking.  And in her case, that pride was justified.  Her chicken and dumplings and chocolate pies are some best things I have ever eaten, and I have never ever tasted their equals.

Her biscuits were also amazing, but I am proud to say that not only have I equaled them, I am pretty sure I have surpassed them.  That probably has Flora squirming in the grave, but you know what?  She was also kind of a bitch, so....oh well.

A few notes about biscuits...you have 3 options when it comes to fat: butter, shortening, and lard.  All butter...the taste is great, but in my esteemed biscuit opinion, the texture is off. They are too dense and heavy.  All shortening...the texture is perfect, but then the flavor suffers.  My resolution...lard, with a little butter too for the flavor.  If lard freaks you out, sub with shortening, but you really should give it a go.

Also...the less you handle the dough, the fluffier these will be.  After cutting the first time, I will re-form the dough and cut more, but these second-pass biscuits will not be quite as tender as the first.  And skip the third pass....those guys will be worthless.  Or you could just avoid this problem by going rogue and making square biscuits.  Also, make sure everything is really cold, it really does make a difference.

Sometimes I like to add in some flavor crystals, just to kick things up a notch.  In this case I added lots of cracked black pepper and fresh rosemary.  Other ideas are sliced green onions and cheddar cheese, blue cheese, lemon zest and thyme, or just plain old fashioned awesome biscuits.

Better Than Flora's Buttermilk Biscuits

2 cups flour (all-purpose or cake flour)
1 TB baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 TB lard
2 TB I salted butter (plus more to melt and brush on the top)
1 cup cold buttermilk

1.  Heat oven to 450.  Cut butter and lard into small chunks and put them in the freezer to make sure they are really really cold.  Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Add butter and shortening, and using a fork and a knife, cut them into the flour until incorporated into the flour and the mixture looks like tiny crumbs or gravel.  Add buttermilk and stir until just combined.

2.  Turn the dough out onto a really well-floured surface and roll until about 1/2 - 1 inches thick, fold the dough in half on top of itself and press/roll it lightly so it sticks together.  This dough is going to be really sticky, so be generous with the flour.  Cut dough into rounds using a floured biscuit cutter or a glass (don't twist the cutter, push is straight down and pull it straight up).  Or use a sharp knife and cut the dough into squares.  Repeat if desired with any excess dough.

3.  Place biscuits onto ungreased baking sheet. Lightly brush the tops with melted butter.  Bake until the tops are golden brown, ~18 minutes.

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Bake It: Sugar Cookies

Iced sugar cookies are without a doubt my favorite cookie.  Or is it chocolate chip?  Ok...maybe there is a little doubt, but who can hate on a cookie.  Except oatmeal raisin.  Everyone can hate on those, blecchhhh!

Anyways, the kids' school held an ice cream social and bake sale fundraiser for the family of a 5th grade student diagnosed with Ewings-Sarcoma brain cancer.  I wanted to help out (besides of course, eating the ice cream), so I decided to bake up a batch of sugar cookies.  Perfect for the sale, and perfect for the chance to share them with you before the holidays.

The original recipe can be found here.  I don't know who Ella is, but I do know she is a sugar cookie genius.  I love this recipe for so many reasons.  It is simple, it rolls out like a dream, the dough doesn't puff or spread when baking, it doesn't change color, the texture is perfect, and of course they taste great without being too sweet.

Also, you can flavor these however you want.  I prefer almond, so that is what I am listing, but you can sub in all vanilla or lemon or orange zest or extract in its place.

Sugar Cookies
Makes about 30 average-sized cookies
106 cals / 6g fat / 11g carbs / 1g protein

1 cup butter (2 sticks), at room temp
1 cup powdered (confectioners) sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups flour

1.  Cream butter in a large bowl until lightened and fluffy.  Add powdered sugar and cream until well-mixed and fluffy, 2-5 minutes.  Add the egg, almond, and vanillas extracts and mix until well blended.  Add the flour and salt and beat until fully incorporated and dough is smooth looking, but sticky.

2.  Turn dough out onto wax paper and using floured hands, flatten into an even disk.  Wrap in wax paper and refrigerate at least 30 minutes, and up to 1 week.

3.  Heat oven to 375.  Remove dough from fridge (if dough is too cold/stiff let it sit out for 10-15 minutes and try again) and turn out onto a well-floured surface (use lots to prevent sticking), roll dough out to desired thickness (1/4 - 1/2 inch thick) and cut into desired shapes*.  Bake cookies on a greased cookie sheet 8-10 minutes, cookies should not brown.  Cool and decorate with icing,

*You can keep reforming and rolling and cutting the excess dough until you have used as much as you can.

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Monday, November 11, 2013

Roasted Vegetable Stromboli

Don't be scared...stromboli is just a fancy-pants eye-talian word for hot pocket.  Hot Pocket.  There, let that sink in.  Feel better?

Seriously, these things are easy-peasy to make, super yummy, and popular with the kiddos.  And they are a great way to use up some of that homemade pizza dough (in case you are sick of pizza).  If you don't have homemade dough on hand, or just don't feel like making it, it's cool.  Just buy the frozen version or the bag mix (powder, like a cake mix).  But stay away from the stuff in the can...it doesn't stretch as well. 

Making stromboli is super easy, and can be customized to whatever fillings suit your fancy.  In this version, I used a mix of roasted veggies and a little bit of cheese, but seriously, just throw together whatever you like.  I like to serve them with a little marinara on the side for dipping, but again, it's whatever suits you.

Roasted Vegetable Stromboli
Makes 6 servings
212 cals / 8g fat / 23g carbs / 10g protein

1 pizza dough, thawed if frozen (I use this one)
2 heads broccoli (or about 3 cups florets)
2 zucchini
1 red pepper
1 small red onion
1 TB olive oil
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 cup low-fat shredded mozzarella cheese
2 TB grated parmesan

1.  Pre-heat oven to 400.  Dice the red onion, zucchini, and red pepper, cut the broccoli into bite-sized floret pieces.

2.  Toss veggies with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Lay in a single layer on a large baking sheet and roast until softened and slightly browned, stirring once about half-way through, 30-45 minutes.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool slightly.

3.  Roll dough out on a lightly floured surface into a large rectangle, about 9x15 and about 1/4 inch thick. Spread mozzarella down the center and top with roasted veggies, leaving 2-3 inches of dough on each side.  Close dough up however you want (I tried to do a fancy braid-thing...it didn't turn out so pretty, but pictures are below...you get the idea), pinching any seams to seal, and cutting vents on top if needed.  Sprinkle top with parmesan, transfer to a baking sheet coated with cooking spray or parchment paper and bake until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes.

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Monday, November 4, 2013

Crock Pot Ham and Beans (and Meal Plan Moday too!)

I've never been especially boastful or cocky, but I don't think I am out of line when I say that I seriously make the best ham and beans ever.  I mean, I always thought they were gross....at least until I gave it a go.  Now I think they are delicious, and so warm and hearty.  And I want to share them with you, because I am so kind and giving (and fine....maybe a liiiiittttle boastful, but whatever).

But first, meal plan Monday is here.  My plan for this week includes:
 - Shrimp and Grits, Roasted Broccoli
 - Healthified Swedish Meatballs, Egg Noodles, Carrots, Cranberries
 - Chicken Tostadas, Black Bean Salad
 - White Bean Ragout, Homemade Ciabatta Toasts, Endive Salad

There are 3 new recipes for me on the menu for this week.  Super exciting stuff, when you don't really do much that is exciting.

Now, back to the ham and beans....a few notes:
  • I have used both navy beans and great white northern beans.  I like the navy beans for the smaller size, but they take longer to cook and aren't as creamy as the northerns.  I would stick with great white northern beans.
  • Some people like to use ham hocks, but I prefer a ham steak (sacrilege, I know), with a smoked neck bone thrown in for flavor.  Smoked neck bones are usually easy to find at the store.  I keep mine in the freezer, and just toss one in the crock pot with the beans.  No need to thaw.
  • These go great with cornbread.  I like to try and keep it low-fat, but I like it all.
  • Do the overnight soak for the beans.  Don't do the quick-soak method.  I don't trust it.
  • I like mine more stew-like than soup-like.  If you want it like soup, just add more broth at the end.
  • Don't be chintzy with the salt.  Seasoning is key.

Crock Pot Ham and Beans
Makes 8 servings
195 cals / 2g fat / 42g carbs / 23g protein

1 lb Great White Northern beans, dry
1 1-lb ham steak, bone-in
1 smoked pork neck bone
2 small onions
4 cloves garlic
2 TB fresh thyme leaves
2 TB brown sugar
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
3 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1/2 tsp salt (or more)

1.  The night before you are going to make these, pick through your beans and throw out any super shriveled beans or rocks.  Rinse the beans and place them in a large bowl, covering them with about 6 cups of cold water.  Let the beans sit out and soak overnight, 8-12 hours.

2.  The next morning, drain and rinse the beans.  Place them in your crock pot.  Chop the onion, garlic, and thyme leaves, and add those to the beans.  

3.  Cube the ham steak, removing fat where you can, and add the cubed ham, along with the round bone to the beans.  Add the smoked bone, brown sugar, bay leaves, nutmeg, cloves, broth, water, salt and pepper and stir.  Cook on low for at least 8 hours.  Remove the bones and the bay leaves, season if needed, and serve.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

No-Fail Homemade Simple Pizza Dough

With "Spooky Pizza Day" (a.k.a. Halloween) quickly approaching, I thought I would share my favorite recipe for homemade pizza dough.  If you haven't tried making your own crust, you really should.  the flavor and the texture is so different from what you can get pre-made.  The dough itself is easy enough to make, but even better is the fact that you can make it ahead of time, and either freeze it for later or keep in the fridge for up to a week.  It makes those last-minute dinners a snap.  Also, I strongly strongly recommend you go with the bread flour (or even 00 if you have it).  The extra gluten is what makes this dough a no-fail one.

The nutritional info is for the entire recipe.

No-Fail Simple Pizza Dough
Makes 2 thinner crust pizzas or 1 thick crust pizza, about 14" each
1015 cals / 13.5g fat / 180g carbs / 32g protein

3/4 cup warm (not hot) water
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
2 cups bread flour (plus more for dusting)
1 TB olive oil
1 tsp salt

1.  In the bowl of a stand mixed fitted with a dough hook, combine the water, yeast, and sugar.  Let sit until foamy (about 5-10 mites).  Of just use a regular bowl if you are doing this by hand.

2.  Add the flour, oil, and salt.  Mix until the dough pulls away from the sides and forms a ball.  Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times.  Form into a ball and place in an oiled bowl, turning to coat the dough with oil.  Cover with plastic and let the dough rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours, until doubled in size.

3.  Divide dough in half, kneading each half into smooth balls with floured hands.  Roll out to desired thickness, and cook as desired.  Or...cover tightly with plastic wrap and store in the fridge or freeze until ready to use.

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