Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sundays With Sparky: Cheez Fish? Gold-Its?

When you bring a group of boys into your house, the chances that you'll find a cooking project to satisfy everyone is...well, slim at best.  It needs to be a project easily set aside for multiple rounds of mayhem, to have an element of danger to it, and, most importantly - a tasty end result.  By tasty, for most boys, I mean predictable: while they love adventure on the virtual battlefield, adventurous palates are not really the hallmark of the free-range schoolboy.

Therefore, I had to do some serious research.  I knew there were two camps of cheese-cracker kids: the kids who eat the fishy ones, and the kids who eat the square ones.  After googling a recipe or two, I knew I was on the right track (special thanks to Do It And How for the DIY goldfish cutter!)  Then I realized I really ought to look up the ingredients of the actual crackers...and it turns out, there IS a difference!  Goldfish are seasoned with garlic powder, and Cheez Its are seasoned with paprika, but other than that they are basically the same.

Note: while it's a lot of fun to make these crackers yourself, they really aren't better for you than the packaged kind.  While the ingredients lists look scary, they are all basically made with flour, cheese, fat (though theirs is palm oil and ours is butter) and annatto color; most of the scary-sounding ingredients are actually vitamins, some of which are in your flour, too.  Basically, once there's enough fat in something not even giant food conglomerates need to manipulate it much for a long shelf-life.

I decided we'd mimic the two store brand's recipes and then make a wild-card version like the Rachel Cooks recipe, flavored with mustard.

005First, Dr. Lasergonapus and Sparky drank some root beer.  As you can see, only the finest for my boys!  While this looks like just another opportunity for them to mug for the camera, the soda will become important later in the recipe.


1 tsp annatto seeds
4 tbsp butter

8 ounces white extra-sharp cheddar cheese
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup flour (we used Atta or Chapati flour; it's whole-wheat but very finely ground)

1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp yellow mustard


Kitchen shears
used soda cans
food processor (you can also use a cheese grater and knead by hand.)
parchment-lined cookie sheets

007For the first step, Sparky and his good friend Dr. Lasergonapus measured the annatto seeds into the butter, and we heated it on medium-low heat on the stovetop until the butter fizzled and slowly became shockingly orange.

011Then we strained it into a ramekin and stuck it in the freezer while the boys played a round of mayhem.  This is how most orange-colored foods are dyed, and if you want some color in your Mac and Cheese, it's a good way to go.

018When the butter was frozen solid and the universe was safe, the boys came back to the kitchen.  We cut the cheese (tee hee) into strips, and pulverized it in the food processor with short, quick pulses. (Note me Hitchocking in this photo.)

025Once the cheese was completely broken up, we added the flour, salt and frozen butter and blended it until it came together in a bright-orange ball.

026We wound up with a lump that looked and felt like play dough, which we divided into three parts.  Each separate part went back into the food processor for a whirl round with one of the three flavorings, and then each was seperately wrapped and stuck into the fridge while the boys made cookie cutters.

015Made cookie cutters? You heard me - thanks to Krisgo (where you can get specifics,) this turned out to be incredibly easy and far less dangerous than I'd imagined.

016I rinsed out the soda cans and cut them into circles using kitchen shears, and the boys used the strips and tape to shape different tiny cutters (I did make a fishy one just to identify the Goldfish flavor crackers.)  Surprisingly, the edges were not dangerously sharp - but cutting through metal with scissors provided that element of suspense and risk that this project desperately needed!

028If you have smaller children or sensitive fingers you may want to cover the top edge with more tape. 

At this point, we were joined by another of Sparky's buddies, Mr. McAwesome, who helped us to go from dough to crackers.

034So, we rolled out each type of dough to about 1/8 inch, cut it with the cutters and put it on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.

As you can see, we used the fish cutter for our "Goldfish" flavor, and the random shapes for our mustard-flavored crackers.


Cheez-its are just squares cut with a pizza cutter,


and then we used a fork to crimp the sides, and a skewer to poke a hole in the middle (if you have a pastry wheel, you can skip the crimping.)

043We baked the first two batches at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes...which gives them a kind of "frico" flavor and texture.  Baking at 300 degrees for 15 minutes produces something more like a packaged cracker.

After cooling, we munched!  Crispy baked cheese...Mmmmm! IMO, the three flavors weren't really substantially different, but it was definitely fun having all the different shapes!





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