Sunday, November 24, 2013

Cheese Crackers with Almond Flour

Last year I started making homemade cheese crackers and they instantly became my favorite savory treat to serve during the festive fall and winter months.

A long-time fan of Cheez-It crackers, I was delighted to be making a healthier version with real cheddar cheese and whole wheat flour. For most of 2013, though, I’ve been baking gluten-free so these homemade cheese crackers have not appeared and I’ve missed them. I enjoy the tastes, textures and nutrition in other flours such as coconut, almond and buckwheat and find I feel much better eating them. So, with the holiday season approaching quickly, it’s time to recreate these cheesy nibbles!

I pulled out my hand grater and a started grating cheddar cheese. The cheese went into the food processor along with some almond flour, turmeric, a bit of cayenne pepper, butter, salt and an egg. After pulsing a few times, I dumped the rough dough out and wrapped it up to chill. At this point, you can keep the dough in the fridge for a couple of days until you’re ready to bake.

After rolling out the dough, I started cutting different shapes. This week, we are celebrating both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah (they won’t overlap again for 79,000 years!) so in honor of this I cut out turkeys and dreidels. You can also cut the dough into the more “traditional” Cheez- It square shape. But no matter what shape you choose, be sure to sprinkle the tops with a healthy pinch of flaky sea salt before baking. That salty punch is just delicious and one of the reasons I can’t stop eating these once I start.

I’ve also rolled, cut and frozen the dough ahead of time, making it easy to pull out and pop into the oven for a quick appetizer. This is especially helpful when prepping ahead for Thanksgiving. Early in the morning, before the turkey goes in the oven, just bake the frozen dough (add a minute or two to the baking time) and you’ll have a great snack to hold hungry guests over until the big feast is ready.

Happy Hanukkah and Happy Thanksgiving!

Cheese Crackers with Almond Flour
Quantity depends upon what size cookie cutter you use or size of squares you cut

2 cups freshly grated cheddar cheese (I used sharp cheddar)
2 cups finely ground, blanched almond flour
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne or Aleppo pepper (optional)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into smaller bits
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Flaky sea salt for sprinkling

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the cheese, almond flour, egg, turmeric, cayenne, butter and kosher salt together until a rough dough forms. Remove the dough, shape into a ball and wrap in plastic. Chill the dough for at least an hour and up to 2 days.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide the dough into quarters. Place one quarter of the dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper and roll out into 1/2 inch thickness. Cut into squares or use your favorite cookie cutters. Place the cut outs on the prepared pan and sprinkle a pinch of flaky sea salt on top of each. Bake until crispy and just beginning to brown, about 12-15 minutes. Remove and let cool. Repeat with the remaining dough. You can also roll and cut the dough, then freeze on a baking sheet. When baking, add a minute or 2 to the baking time.

The crackers are lovely on the day they’re baked or keep well overnight at room temperature in a well-sealed container.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Chocolate Cherry Granola

We had our first snowfall of the season last week! We woke up to the hush of snow-blanketed ground and it was just beautiful. Of course, it also meant the chickens’ water was frozen so I needed to get one of those warmers to put their water container on, and Bob hung a heating light in their coop so they can be toasty warm for the winter months. We’re still adapting to living full-time in the valley!

One of our dogs, Boots, found the warmest spot in the cabin to spend her day. I think she’ll be spending a lot of time there!

The snow was a reminder that winter is nearing and, since we could easily be snowed in for days at a time, I’ve been filling our shed shelves with staples such as beans and grains for those snowy days we can’t make it out.

It’s also time to start thinking about holiday gifts, especially since Hanukkah begins the night before Thanksgiving this year. I like to give (and receive!) homemade gifts, and a jar of granola tied with a festive ribbon is always welcome. Granola is also something that can be made with those pantry staples, so I plan to keep a jar ready on the counter all season.

I’ve made many batches of my Blueberry Maple Granola, but this last time decided to mix it up a bit and made a chocolate version. I stirred together honey, coconut oil, vanilla, cocoa powder and a big pinch of flaky sea salt before mixing in oats, cacao nibs and chia seeds. After baking, a handful of dried cherries finished it off.

A scoop of chocolate granola is hard to resist for breakfast and I don’t expect it to last long. We’re expecting more snow this weekend so I may be making another batch soon!

Chocolate Cherry Granola
Makes about 4 cups

1/3 cup raw honey
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup chia seeds
1/4 cup cacao nibs
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt
3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1 cup dried cherries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the honey, coconut oil, vanilla and cocoa powder until smooth. Add the chia seeds, cacao nibs and salt and mix in. Gently fold in the oats until just coated. Spread the mixture out evenly on a rimmed baking sheet.

Bake the granola for 9 minutes, stir the edges to keep from burning bake for another 8-9 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Stir in the dried cherries and store the granola in a sealed container at room temperature.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Delicata Squash and Apples with Cider Vinaigrette

Crisp air, sunny skies, vibrant leaves and beautiful squash...the autumn season is truly splendid. Remember when I mentioned I was picking up forty pounds of squash from Farmstr? Well, I now have a gorgeous variety of winter squash in my shed to dig into! Time to indulge in some festive fall cooking.

The first squash I grabbed was delicata. Delicata squash are marvelous and quickly emerging as my favorite. This squash is quite pretty with its green and yellow stripes (important football colors in our family these days with the Oregon Ducks and Liberty Bell Mountain Lions!).  Unlike other types of squash such as butternut, there’s no need to peel delicata, making it quick and easy to prepare. Just cut it in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, slice into half-moons and roast until it’s sweet and delicious.

To top my roasted squash, I made a vinaigrette by simmering apple cider until it reduced (filling the kitchen with fall coziness) and whisking in maple syrup, cider vinegar, Dijon and olive oil.

We’ve had boxes of apples stacked in the kitchen for applesauce, so when the squash came out of the oven I tossed some apple slices on the roasting pan and popped it all back in. It turns out that when roasted, the apples caramelize and are irresistible. I could eat an entire pan of them! I may have to try a batch of applesauce with them next.

I tucked roasted apples in with the cute little squash slices and finished the whole thing with a drizzle of cider vinaigrette and a sprinkle of fresh parsley. We had friends coming for dinner and we gobbled it all up – always a good sign. With Thanksgiving coming, I’m adding this to our menu. And now back to the shed for more squash!

Delicata Squash and Apples with Cider Vinaigrette
Serves 4-6

3 delicata squash, sliced in half lengthwise, seeded and sliced into 1/2 inch half-moons
3 medium sized apples, cored and sliced into eighths
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Flaky sea salt
1 cup apple cider
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Scatter the squash slices evenly in one layer, sprinkle a pinch of flaky sea salt over and roast for about 20 minutes, until soft and nicely browned. Remove the pan from the oven and use a spatula to gently move the squash to a serving plate. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil on the pan and scatter the apple slices in an even layer. Roast until soft and browned, about 15 minutes. Remove and let cool.

While the squash and apples are baking, make the vinaigrette. Bring the cup of apple cider to a boil in a small sauce pan, lower the heat to medium and let simmer until it reduces by almost half, about 10 minutes. Let cool. Whisk in the cider vinegar, Dijon, maple syrup and remaining tablespoon of olive oil.

Gently tuck the apple slices in among the squash slices. When ready to serve, drizzle some of the cider vinaigrette over and scatter the parsley. Serve room temperature.