Parmesan-Rosemary Crackers

Let me tell you a short story about mi amor, Danny. He’s up for trying just about any food now, but he was a picky eater when he was younger. He wouldn’t eat spinach. No way. Not until his dad started calling it Iowa leaf.

He wouldn’t eat cheese on pizza… until his dad called it topping.

Names are important, apparently.

    

    

You could call these homemade Cheez-Its if you wanted to. They taste similar to those addictive crackers thanks to an intense cheese flavor, though these Parmesan-Rosemary Crackers are more tender, aromatic, and buttery. Cream adds richness to these crackers, which are a bit more grown-up than the familiar store-bought squares. Plus, no preservatives! I bet these wouldn’t be left around too long anyway, and another batch is really quick to turn around.

This was my first time making crackers at home, and it’s something I’ll definitely do again. Especially for a party.

Next time I’d play around with rolling the dough out thinner for crispier crackers. They puff up a bit when baked. Rosemary and Parmesan are great together, but play around with the types of cheese and herbs. This recipe comes from Mark Bittman, who usually offers up basic recipes to be adapted in a number of ways. I bet a little cayenne pepper would be good. Work with what’s in your kitchen.

parmesan-rosemary crackers

I loved the combination of Parmesan cheese and rosemary, but this is definitely a recipe you can tweak according to what you like or what’s in your kitchen. Try different combinations of cheeses, spices, and herbs.

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup cream
freshly ground pepper
sea salt
1 sprig rosemary, stem removed and leaves chopped

Heat oven to 400°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a food processor, add flour, salt, cheese, and butter. Pulse until flour and butter are combined. Add 1/4 cup of cream a little at a time, continuing to pulse until the dough comes together. Add more cream if needed, but not so much that the dough gets sticky.

Form the dough into a ball, and roll it out onto a lightly floured cutting board until 1/2-inch thick or thinner for crispier crackers. Use a wine bottle if, like me, you don’t have a rolling pin. Roll the dough back around the wine bottle or rolling pin, and then roll it out onto the baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Lightly run a pizza cutter across the dough, creating a grid of squares. Don’t cut the dough all the way through. Sprinkle freshly ground pepper, sea salt, and rosemary over the dough. Lightly press the rosemary into the dough.

Bake for about 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on a rack. Pull the crackers apart and enjoy. Crackers will keep in a container for a few days, but they are crispiest the day they’re made.

Note: My food processor was a bit on the small side for this job. I plopped the dough onto a cutting board and formed it into a ball before rolling it out.

Makes about 60 crackers. Adapted from Mark Bittman via The New York Times.

Five Things

    

(1) Gifts in the mail. In the first picture is the latest Birchbox, giving me generous samples of all kinds of “natural” makeup, a cute postcard, and even fancy green tea from France – Thé des Alizés. Danny got me a subscription to this service as a Valentine’s Day present (after I dropped some serious hints/guidance) and I love the perfectly curated box every time it shows up at the front door.

The second item is a Scrabble game with chocolate tiles sent by Danny’s mom, Kathy. She steadily maintains the chocolate supply around here, sending all kinds of delicious, creative bars of dark chocolate. Awesome.

This most recent gift looks fun, but I also realize it’s a nudge to make my move in Words with Friends. We’ve got three games going. She is usually kicking my butt.

   

(2) “The sweetness and generosity and politeness and gentleness and humanity of the French had shown me how lovely life can be if one takes time to be friendly.” — from “My Life in France” by Julia Child

Julia — adorable, honest, and funny — certainly created a lovely life for herself. The love for Julia is something better understood after spending some time with her through her memoir. She starts off so humbly, asking Paul what a shallot is during their first meal in Paris and not long after she declares she is 37 years old and still discovering who she was. She starts cooking and soon decides she will be serious about this and somehow make it a career. And in the end, her advice is this: “Learn how to cook – try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!”

Julia writes about moving around the first few years after college, not being sure what to do. Julia Child! Naturally, I find comfort in knowing even she felt that way, too. She is frank about the disconnect between her parents, mostly her father, and herself. Her constant curiosity for cooking and the friends she meets along the way made this an interesting read.

I love learning the idiosyncrasies of her relationship with her husband, Paul, because that’s the most interesting part about two people being together, isn’t it? Remember that scene in Good Will Hunting? Sean (Robin Williams) explains to (Will) Matt Damon he needs to open up to others and accept everyone’s quirks and faults. The little things that only you know from spending your life with someone are what makes a relationship special. Example No. 1, Sean’s wife farted in her sleep. One time she farted so loud that she woke herself up, though he graciously told her it was the dog. Hysterical.

Julia and Paul buy a new car and promptly name it La Tulipe Noire. A busy schedule makes them reconsider a trip to visit friends until they remember one of their favorite phrases — “No one’s more important than people!” — and off they went to have a wonderful time with friends. After a dreamy few years in Paris, she and Paul move to Marseille, a port city which she describes as having a “salty-sparkly charm.” How can you resist her?

If you ever borrow a book from me, then you’ll probably see writing in the margins. There are exclamation marks next to some paragraphs and definitions next to words that are new to me or phrases in French. I underline especially good lines, hoping that I’m more likely to remember it or that by doing this a great line becomes mine and a part of me. Am I alone? My sister definitely likes to keep her books looking closer to pristine, and she certainly wouldn’t write in them. For me, writing in a book is like breaking in a new pair of shoes. I must.

(3) This Q & A with Gabrielle Hamilton, author of “Blood, Bones and Butter”

When asked about her favorite writer, she said, “That’s impossible to nail down – the whole perfection of a book is when you find it and it finds you, just as you are ready to receive its brilliance. I tend to read pretty happily within the great books of the western canon.”

(4) A list of 10 essential spices from Food 52. Our spice rack is missing cloves and cardamom, according to this list. My paprika isn’t smoked, does it count?

(5) Speaking of Julia, she’s available to watch on Hulu with Jacques Pépin!

Grilled Cheese with Poached Pear

Oh, pear, you poor unloved fruit. Can’t even remember the last time I bought one, but now pear gets to live it up in this grilled cheese.

Nights spent at The Independent in Seminole Heights include beer, and usually a grilled cheese and pear sandwich. The Indie serves their version on rye bread with a side salad of greens, blue cheese, walnuts, grapes, and poppy seed vinaigrette. It’s good, and quite a departure from the standard cheesy sandwich.

Our version is different, straddling the line between fancy bar food and the sandwich you know. We used Gruyère instead of gouda, and a crusty white bread cut into slices so thick that this sandwich was enough of a meal on its own. A dab of good mustard gives it some tang.

The pear is spiced and sweetened. As water bubbles in a pan and the pear softens, it gives off an aroma that’s more reminiscent of December than the upcoming summer. Blame it on the cinnamon. The poached pear slices are good on their own and would probably be really good served with some whipped cream.

Whipped cream or warm cheese – can you go wrong? No. But I’d say go for the cheese first.

grilled cheese with poached pear

makes 2 sandwiches, inspired by the grilled cheese at The Independent

  • 2 pears, peeled and sliced lengthwise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • nutmeg
  • 4 slices of crusty white bread or rye, sliced about a 1/2-inch thick or closer to an inch if you’re hungry
  • half a stick of unsalted butter should have you covered
  • 4 to 5 ounces Gruyère cheese, sliced thinly
  • grainy mustard

Heat oven to 400°F.

Add 3/4 cup of water, pear slices, a cinnamon stick, a tablespoon of honey, and a few grates of a fresh nutmeg to a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, and then bring the heat down to about medium and let the pear simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until the biggest pieces are pierced easily with fork. It will smell like Christmas. Remove pear slices and place on a plate.

Bring a cast-iron skillet to medium heat. Throw a 1/2 tablespoon of butter into the skillet and swirl to coat the pan. Spread chunks of butter one one side of each slice of bread. Place the bread in the skillet with buttered sides down, and let cook until the bread browns. You may need two skillets or pans to fit the bread.

Place a layer of cheese on one slice of bread in the skillet. Top with a layer of poached pear, and another layer of cheese. Spread grainy mustard on another slice of the bread  and place on top of the sandwich, leaving the browned side facing you. Repeat with the rest of the cheese, pear, and other two slices of bread. Use a spatula to press each sandwich down a bit. Let them cook for about five minutes in the skillet.

Move the skillet with the sandwiches into the oven. Give it a few minutes in there, about five, or until the cheese melts. Remove sandwiches from oven, and cut each one in half to serve.

Pulled Pork and Pancakes with Bourbon Syrup

The pretty strawberry tiramisù I pictured turned out dry and too sweet. A caramel meant to hold together pieces of bacon and fresh popcorn completely failed. Completely. Failed. My first caramel bubbled like a beast, going from a light brown to an ugly maroon before it could be saved. Luckily, we had a party to go to that night, a very good excuse to escape the sad smell of burnt caramel. At least we learned something: Pull the caramel before you think it’s done.

But let’s not cry over spoiled mascarpone and sugar.

Bold attempts in the kitchen can be the most rewarding. We’ve had brilliant meals of crispy, saucy tofu and spiced eggplant with pomegranate seeds. We faced raw squid and conquered. Bested a pork shoulder weighing nearly eight pounds.

And now? A most glorious use of leftovers – pulled pork and pancakes with bourbon syrup.

Yep, shreds of tender pork cooked for more than 18 hours layered between oatmeal pancakes. Also, bourbon for breakfast. Sort of.

Right about now this may be sounding a little crazy. Or fantastic. If you’re in group two, I like you, and you should make this for yourself and the skeptics. Don’t be scared. Weekend mornings can’t all be French toast and strawberries and rainbows. Think of this as an alternative to fried chicken and waffles, another awesome combination.

You can use any pork and pancakes and run with this idea, but I really like this specific pairing. The pork cooks slowly in a bath of maple syrup and beer, a happy match for the sweet, vanilla flavor of the bourbon syrup. A spike of fennel adds a savory kick for good measure. Mini oatmeal pancakes are crisp enough to stand up to the pork, and small enough to make this totally satisfying without overdoing it.

Bold and brilliant.

    

pulled pork and pancakes

We put this together with leftover pork and our go-to pancake recipe. I’d say go ahead and make a bunch of pancakes and freeze the rest for later or serve more pork and pancake stacks to friends or yourself, although one small stack per person was plenty indulgent and filling.

a cup or so of pulled pork, warmed, we used leftovers from this recipe for maple and ale pork
6  small oatmeal pancakes, fresh or warmed
half of bourbon syrup recipe below

Place a small pancake on a plate, and cover it with some of the pulled pork. Layer another pancake on top, and add pork on top. Repeat with one more layer of pancake and pork to create a stack. For a second stack, repeat with the other three pancakes and the rest of the pork. Drizzle bourbon syrup over the pork and pancakes stacks.

Serves 2. Inspired by i am a food blog, who got it from The Red Wagon

bourbon syrup

Serve with pancakes.

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/8 cup sugar
1 ounce bourbon
1/4 cup water

Bring sugars, bourbon, and water to a boil in a small saucepan. Turn the heat down to medium low, and let the syrup bubble gently until it starts looking like a syrup, about 5 or 6 minutes. Keep an eye on the syrup so it doesn’t burn, and stir occasionally. Don’t worry, it won’t turn on you like caramel.

Let the syrup cool for 5 minutes, and it will continue to thicken. Serve immediately.

Makes enough for 2 servings of pulled pork and pancakes. Recipe from i am a food blog .

Five Things

Ta – da! Here is the first installment of a new feature on a little saffron would make this!

Five or so things that have made me happy lately. Expect little bits of life that were recently great or links to interesting things online that I thought you might also enjoy.

So, enjoy! And feel free to share links to what you love lately.

(1) Pandebono, my favorite Colombian treat, with café con leche. We usually get them for a $1 each at Mi Pueblito Bakery on North Armenia Avenue in Tampa. Have you tried one? It’s a small, round bread usually made of cornmeal, cassava starch, cheese, and eggs. Pillows of cheese.

(2) Photographer Lauren Fleishman is creating a book about couples in New York who have been together for more than 50 years. Here’s a video about the project and some pictures of the couples. So sweet. I love reading the stories of how they met, especially so many years ago.

(3) I love lists. I keep a small, hardcover Moleskine planner to write daily lists and check off tasks. How else would I remember to do anything? I make grocery lists all the time. Usually they get left behind on the fridge. But! writing it down still helps me remember. Here’s a blog featuring all kinds of to-do lists.

(4) Booklovers, how do you organize your shelves? By color? By genre? Check out this Sorted Books project. They sort through book collections and create clusters of books so that the reading the consecutive titles will mean something.

A couple of possibilities from my bookshelves:

Jump Up and Kiss Me + Plenty

The Road + Where the Sidewalk Ends

(5) Watch the video below. This little girl is the best. Future daughter of mine, won’t you be this ecstatic about life? I should try to start my days like this.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=qR3rK0kZFkg]