My thoughts on the Cracker Challenge – yep, that sounds slightly weird. Geh.

After the 2012 cracker challenge, I decided to make the ultimate cheese cracker – my own version. I took the following things into consideration: ingredients on hand, time to mix, log or flat, dough handling, time to chill, spice. nuts. flavor, crispiness, cost to make, and it all culminated in an all around winner which was – Parmesan Rosemary Walnut Shortbread.Will make that again, because I really love them. Because growing fresh Rosemary is simply easy – just put it in the garden in a place  that gets lots of sun, but not too much water – read: no sprinkler system.

D&D_1476That said, I took the best qualities from the 5 recipes I used and developed this. I think this just might be my first real recipe on my own – although with a little help. I do freelance in cooking, but baking is a completely different animal.

The cracker challenge sat for a while (until 2016), but now we are going to make my ultimate cracker and see if/how it measures up. I am not growing Rosemary – damn it. But we shall manage. Will soldier on. That is what I do. It is June 2016 and I cannot sleep, so this is what I decided to do. I’ll wear it proudly. It is June 2016 and I cannot sleep, so this is what I decided to do. I’ll wear it proudly.

6 ozs all-purpose flour – yes, we are measuring by weight – why else do I have the damn scale? Thank you Ruhlman.
2 ozs grated cheddar – plus just a bit because that is what I do.
2 ozs finely grated Parmesan – it really seems like a lot but in reality it is not, mostly.
1/2 tsp cayenne – I think next time – more, yes, please – more.
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped, but not too finely
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 ozs (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2” pieces
1 egg yolk, with just a smidge of cold water

First thing, I chop the walnuts in the food processor and since everything else is going to be mixed in there, it is no big deal. Remove the walnuts.

To the food processor, add the flour, and cheeses, cayenne, walnuts, pepper and whir around a bit. Then add butter. Once that is combined, add the egg and water to the top of the dough and just pulse until it comes together. Then add the walnuts back in. Will not be long to come together.

Dump out on waxed paper and press together and then shape into a couple of logs. Chill overnight or up to three days.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment. Cut the logs in 3/4 inch slices or there abouts. Just try to make the slices very similar to each other. That way they bake the same way. It takes about 12 minutes to bake them, but you need turn them half way through. You want the edges slightly gold and the same with the bottom. That really is as far as you want to go in the baking these cheese crackers.

Hood got a bit of cheese, but the cracker rolls are in the fridge and ready to be baked and in my head, they will be good because the dough was not damn bad.

Nota bene:That is something I have learned – if the dough does not taste good, neither will the cookies or crackers.



Chicken Salad


Simple Chicken Salad

I seem to keep failing at chicken salad. I am not sure why, but this time, I really thought I got it. But to be honest, chicken salad is so pedestrian. I mean, pretty much any idiot can make it. That just makes me feel like a bit of an idiot because it does not seem to work for me.

All that said, this was pretty damn good chicken salad. Too bad I could not enjoy it like I wanted to.

I have no idea how my mom made chicken salad. One of the million of things I did not ask her – this seems to be a theme. Guess that is what happens when someone you love dies unexpectedly. So you just have to forge you own way in the world. Suck it up and deal.

I poach a chicken breast or two* – usually two and then add the usual suspects: celery, peeled of course and then minced, a few (3) chopped boiled eggs, some shallots – minced, parsley also minced, a little Duke’s Mayonnaise, Dijon mustard. And if I am feeling really frisky some sweet pickle relish. None of this is anything my mother EVER did. But this is pretty cool in the grand scheme of things.

My lovely mother-in-law makes great chicken salad and it is just the way I like it – with grapes and nuts, but the MotH does not care for that. Either way, this one is pretty damn good.

I guess this is another one of my non-recipe recipes. I do seem to have quite a few of them. But when I think of it, that does not seem to me a bad thing

*I could have poached the chicken with bay leaves and peppercorns and garlic, but I save the chicken water for Hood, so I go simple so I can give him a treat. What dog does not love chicken water? Um, none.



2015 Butter Usage (by month – June)

1 June 2015 – 8 Tbs – Lemon Buttermilk Poundcake

2 June 2015 – 2 Tbs – Lemon Glaze

11 June 2015 – 3 Tbs – Pasta with asparagus and mushrooms

11 June 2015 – 8 Tbs – Banana Nut Bread – for Fred. Love my Dad!! And his name is not Fred, it’s just what I call him.

25 June 2015 – 16 Tbs – Sugared Lemon Cookies with Lemon Glaze

37 Tbs = 4.625 sticks = 1.15625 pounds


Lemon Buttermilk Pound Cake

Sugared Lemon Cookies with Lemon Glaze


Sugared Lemon Cookies with Lemon Glaze

I’m a lemon person – I guess that’s what happens when you are not a chocolate person. I just can’t help my self and lemon is just one of my favorite things and it will always be. And I’ve tried pretty much every lemon recipe that I can. It’s just a thing for me. This recipe is pretty amazing, especially since the glaze really makes it special.

Yield 24
For the cookies:

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 large egg

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

juice of 1/2 lemon

white sparkling sugar, for rolling the cookies (I used raw sugar for more crunch)

For the glaze:

1-1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1-2 tablespoons milk (didn’t really need this and didn’t use it)

juice of 1/2 lemon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda & powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar until well combined, about 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and stir until incorporated. Add lemon juice and give it a quick stir.

Slowly add dry ingredients into the wet and stir until combined.

Form cookie dough into balls, about 1 1/2 tablespoons each. Pour sparkling sugar into a bowl and roll each cookie dough ball in the sugar until completely covered. Place onto prepared baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes or until set. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat.

Prepare the glaze by combining the confectioners’ sugar, milk and lemon juice. Glaze should be slightly runny and easy to drizzle over the cookies (it will harden after a couple of minutes).

20 November 2014  – v.g. – next time add a little lemon extract to the batter. cookie is good w/o glaze, but more lemony with it.

25 June 2015 – 11 minutes was perfect. Really like the glaze.

Fusilli with asparagus and mushrooms


Fusilli with mushrooms and asparagus

This is a recipe that I’ve been making for several years and was based on a recipe by Giada de Laurentiis. It’s quick, and to me, a very spring kind of pasta. Make it when the asparagus are at their best.

8 ozs. Fusilli
Olive oil
2 Tbs unsalted butter
8 ozs mushrooms, button or cremini, sliced
1 bundle of asparagus, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 ozs mascarpone
Parmesan, for serving

Heat a pot of boiling water, add asparagus and cook until bright green and crisp tender – kind of the al dente of asparagus. Remove asparagus from water and set aside. Once the asparagus is finished, add the pasta and cook until al dente.
In a sauté pan, melt butter and add a little olive oil. Add the sliced mushroom and sauté until they’ve released their juices and most of that liquid evaporates. Add garlic and sauté for another minute more.
Add the asparagus to the mushrooms. Then add the container of mascarpone cheese. Stir until it is melted and coats the vegetables. Add a handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and stir again.
Serve with extra Parmesan for serving.

Banana Nut Bread – one of my mom’s legacies

My mom always made Banana Nut Bread for Christmas – kind of an assembly-line thing because so many people expected it – no really lots of people – including me. Thankfully, I did get the recipe from her, but never made until after she died. It’s an odd kind of connection because when I smell it and taste it, it’s like nothing has changed. But I know it has.
I make it every Christmas and also anytime when I go to see my Dad because no one else makes it. I do think he enjoys it, but I wonder if it’s bittersweet for him because it’s not for me. It really makes me happy. It is one of those recipes that I thought to keep to myself, but I think sharing it is a better thing to do.

Funny thing – I don’t like or eat bananas (I so want to say this like a Minion – totally) – but I love this bread. Strange? Totally, but there it is. And here’s the big secret – what you have to do is this: bake the bread – stash half in the fridge and the other half in the freezer for later (in foil of course) and then when you’re ready for some breakfast, turn the broiler on and toast the bread till the edges are crunchy and the middle is toasted and then the best part – slather it with salted butter. Amazing. That is how my mom served it on Christmas morning. Every Christmas morning. And I still do that, but sometimes in June it is so amazing because it’s been about six months since Christmas and you have all the ingredients handy with the exception (for me) of bananas.


Banana Nut Bread – my mom’s thing

This month, I made some for my dad since we went over last week and since I had to slice the loaf in half, I didn’t think anyone would notice if one slice went missing. Damn, it was so good.

Oh, and recipe note – the bananas need to be really ripe (read: pretty much brown all over). Easy, buy bananas and just wait. Usually it takes about 3 regular-sized bananas.

The only problem I have is the temperature and time, which I have kept futzing with but I have still not come up with one that is perfect. So, depending on your oven you may just have to mess with this part – I do. But it’s worth it – no, really, it is. Still haven’t figured it all out yet, but when I do  – I just might be a little bored. meh.

8 Tbs unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs

1 1/2 cups mashed bananas

3 cups sifted all purpose flour

3 1/12 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp baking soda

1 1/2 cup chopped pecans (I upped this – my mom only used 1 cup)

Grease and line a 9 x 5″ loaf pan with wax paper and spray again with baking spray.  Sift the flour with the baking powder, salt and baking soda – typically, I do this on a piece of waxed paper. In the stand mixer, blend the butter and sugar together. Then add the eggs, one at a time until blended. Add the mashed bananas and blend until combined. Mix in dry ingredients. Add pecans and mix well.

Turn into loaf pan and bake at 300 degrees for 1 hour and increase temp to 350 degrees for 15 minutes.*

* totally not working for me, but I’ll add all my notes below.

* Notes: So my oven is calibrated correctly, and here’s the closest that I’ve come, but I would still advise that you check with a skewer.
300 degrees for one hour, than 340 degrees for about 25 minutes. This is the best I’ve gotten and it works pretty well.

Baked Chicken with Parmesan-Garlic Crust


Baked Chicken with Parmesan-Garlic Crust – Cook’s Country

Baked Chicken with Parmesan-Garlic Crust

1 cup fresh breadcrumbs – two slices pulsed in the food processor until small crumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese or Pecorino
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp of table salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts – cut in half and pounded to about 1/2 inch thick
1/4 cup Duke’s mayonnaise
zest of one lemon
juice of half a lemon
Lemon wedges, for serving

Preheat over to 425 degrees. Lightly spray a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with cooking spray.
Combine breadcrumbs, chees, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper in a bowl.

Dry chicken with paper towels and arrange in baking dish leaving room between each piece. Combine mayonnaise, lemon zest and juice in a small bowl. Top each piece of chicken with the mayonnaise mixture. Then top with breadcrumb mixture, pressing to make sure they adhere.
Bake until crumbs are golden and thermometer in thickest part of chicken is 160 degrees about 20 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges

My modifications on a Cook’s Country recipe.
25 March 2009
28 April 2009
16 February 2010
12 April 2010
28 August 2012 – Hurricane Issac
3 June 2015 – great left over the next day. Think they would make a good sandwich too, esp. when pounded thin.