March 23, 2012

Whole Wheat Crackers with Poppy Seed and Thyme

Around here, we love snacking on crackers.  For all the things I insist on making from scratch, it wasn’t until recently that I even realized I could make crackers at home. 


I came across a cracker recipe in one of my cookbooks, Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads, and decided to give it a whirl.  I was surprised at how easy and relatively quick it was to make crackers at home.


As always, one of the things I love about cooking from scratch is that I get to control the ingredients. A lot of crackers are too sweet or too salty, and many contain ingredients that we'd rather not eat.  These contain healthy oils, local honey, and organic whole wheat flour. As is generally the case with homemade food, they’re much less expensive to make than to buy in the store.

These crackers were inspired by the recipe in Whole Grain Breads. In my opinion, they’re just about right: crispy; not too sweet, not too salty; plenty of flavor on their own but still go well with cheeses and dips.

Whole Wheat Crackers with Poppy Seed and Thyme
printable recipe
Makes 14 servings (about 14oz of baked crackers).

2 cups whole wheat flower
¾ cups water
¾ teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons honey
6 tablespoons olive or grapeseed oil
1 ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons poppy seeds

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.  Stir until ingredients come together and begin to form a cohesive mass.  Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 3 minutes until smooth.

Cover with plastic wrap or a damp, lint-free towel and allow to rest for 20 minutes.

On a clean work surface, drizzle a few drops of oil and spread in a thin layer.

Roll out dough with a rolling pin until about 1/16 inch thick.  If the dough shrinks back, allow it to rest for 5 minutes, then roll again. 
Cut the dough into strips using a pizza cutter. Carefully lift each strip of dough and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place strips about 1/4-inch apart. When the pan is full, cut the strips cross-ways to create squares.

Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until the crackers begin to turn golden.  (Cooking time will vary depending on dough thickness and they can go from just underdone to burned quite quickly, so check early and often.)

Place pan on a cooling rack.  Crackers will crisp as they cool.

Enjoy plain, with cheese, hummus, or however you like!
March 20, 2012

Kale Love

The first time I tried kale, I was pretty sure it wasn't for me. I had seen a post claiming that baked kale chips were perfect for people who don't like kale.  Since I didn’t know whether or not I liked kale, I thought the recipe would be a good introduction and a good use of the kale we had gotten in one of our weekly produce boxes.  We were more than a little disappointed.  Maybe I overcooked them (it's tough to tell when a dark green leaf starts to turn brown), but the chips tasted like burnt popcorn.

It was a couple months before we tried kale again, but when we did, we went for the other extreme: raw kale salad.  I was pleasantly surprised by how much I (and the rest of my family) like it, and I started making a point of looking for kale whenever I was at the farmers market. 
Two years later, kale has become a staple around our house. It's one of my favorite greens and one we've practically survived on this winter (our first back in Arkansas without the luxury of the year-round Dupont Circle Farmers Market).  Even when local produce was scarce at our co-op and the pickings slim at the small winter market, there was always kale.  (And now that it's spring, we’re still seeing plenty of it.)

I've made this dish at least once a week over the winter. It's quick, and the ingredients are fairly easy to keep on hand.  If I don't know what to make for dinner or don't feel like spending the evening in the kitchen, I make this.  We’re still surprised at how good it is every time we sit down to a bowl of pasta with kale and carrots.
It's also a forgiving recipe. Have another vegetable on hand? Add it to the pan! Love lots of garlic in everything? Throw that in too! Veggies starting to stick to the pan but the pasta's not done? Deglaze with some white wine and keep them going until you’re ready to add the kale.
Pasta with Kale and Carrots
printable recipe
Serves 4.
8 oz. dried short pasta (whole wheat or regular; we love farfalle)
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil (or other sautéing oil)
2 medium carrots
½ red onion (optional)
2 small or 1 large bunch kale (we've been using a locally grown black kale)
2 ounces freshly grated parmesan
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Bring a 4-quart pot of water to boil.
Wash kale, remove tough ends of stems, and roughly chop.

When water is boiling, salt generously and add pasta.
Heat about a tablespoon of oil over medium heat in a 12-inch skillet.  Peel carrots and slice about ⅛ inch thick.  Chop onion if using.  Add onions and carrots and cook until softened and just beginning to brown, stirring occasionally.  Add kale when the pasta is almost done and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.
When pasta is al dente, reserve ½ cup cooking liquid and drain pasta.

Add pasta, half the cheese, and about half of the reserved pasta cooking liquid to the pan of vegetables.  Toss over medium heat about 2 minutes.  If it looks dry, add a bit more cooking water or extra virgin olive oil.

Serve immediately topped with remaining parmesan cheese.
Variation: This dish is also great with roasted tomatoes—not enough to make a sauce, but just enough to color the dish and add some extra brightness and flavor. Add them to the pan a couple minutes before adding the kale.  (Of course, I recommend using tomatoes preserved from last summer, but I’m sure a jarred store-bought variety would also be good.)