June 21, 2011

cheddar and polenta crackers

Zach informed me this weekend that he is sick of bread. And cheese. Uh oh. He told me this on the train as I was unpacking our picnic breakfast that consisted solely of bread and cheese. Eager to get to Ascona he had set his sights on the 6:09am train on Saturday, this is of course, after I arrived on Friday and was completely jet lagged and desperate for sleep. By our 5am wakeup I figure I had managed to toss and turn for about four hours and sleep for one hour. I did a whirlwind packing job, evidenced by the six pairs of underwear and two bathing suits that I brought for a two day/one night trip, took a quick shower, and quickly gathered our typical weekend-away snacks - bread, cheese and a couple of apples. And then I learn, as the train zips into the alps, that Zach no longer likes bread or cheese. For all of the people who shun bread or regard cheese as a deadly fattening curdled mess you might not understand the gravity of this announcement. We live on bread and cheese. We have been known to only eat bread and cheese for days on end. Dinners recently have consisted of a board of cheese, surrounded by bread, broken up by a few gerkins and some slivers of salami. Hmm, funny to think actually that as I write this I'm beginning to understand why Zach might be sick of bread and cheese, but still, who gets sick of bread and cheese?!?!?! He says pasta is okay and so are cake and cookies, it's just plain bread that is currently giving him the heebie jeebies. What about crackers? And what if hidden in those crackers was 1/2 a block of cheddar cheese? Can Zach possibly turn down anything with cheddar cheese? I don't think so. These polenta-cheddar crackers are hopefully a stepping stone towards Zach embracing bread and cheese again. Hopefully!
We love Ticino - the Italian part of Switzerland. We've already been three times this summer and I'm guessing we will go back at least four more times before the cooler days of fall arrive. This weekend was a special trip because Zach's friend Jeehae, a professional women's golfer, was playing in a European tour tournament in Ascona. Unfortunately the weather was not very cooperative this past weekend. Fridays round was cut short by rain and Saturdays round was completely rained out. We trekked to the course in the rain on Saturday when we arrived, hung out with Jeehae in the players tent until we learned they wouldn't be playing, and then headed back into town for the afternoon. We waited out the rain at a little restaurant with the company of a pizza, a prosciutto salad and a bottle of Ticino merlot. Thankfully the rain stopped around six and we were able to take a walk around town and then up into the hills. I've spent a lot of time complaining about the lack of cheddar in the land of cheese. The funny thing is that I never really looked for it. It's true that they don't sell Cracker Barrel or Cabot in the cheese section, but I did find some in the speciality cheese section of Globus. Cheddar a specialty cheese? Certainly not in the states. I wonder if they have American cheese, each slice individually wrapped in plastic, hiding somewhere in the speciality cheese case.
Once you get hooked on a good thing it's hard to try something else - once again this is a recipe I found on 101cookbooks. I adapted it slightly, replacing cheddar for parmesan and using 1/2 whole wheat 1/2 white flour, but the guts are still pretty much the same. The recipe called for a food processor or blender, neither of which we own yet, so I used my hand and an immersion blender when I could.

- 1 cup bread flour (this is where I used 1/2 cup whole wheat, 1/2 cup white flour)
- 1 cup instant polenta (2 min cooking time was the quickest cooking time I could find here so I used that)
- 3/4 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 cayenne pepper, seeds removed, finely diced (I would recommend using the entire thing actually - the crackers could use a bit more spice)
- 1/2 cup cheddar cheese (or cheese of your choice) finely shredded
- 2 1/2 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into smaller pieces
- 3/4 cup buttermilk, shaken to blend

preheat the oven to 375F

In a large bowl mix the flour, polenta, salt, baking soda, cayenne pepper and cheese. The recipe calls for you to blend in a food processor, but I mixed with a spoon first and then used an immersion blender to mix/chop. Add the butter. If you aren't using a food processor use your hands to blend the butter butter using your fingertips to integrate, like you would with tart dough. Dough is ready when it no piece is larger than a coarse grain of salt. Add the buttermilk and mix until the dough forms a ball. I found that at this stage I had to add a good amount of flour because the dough was very sticky. I tried to add just enough flour so that when it was rolled out later it wouldn't be too hard to cut. Once the dough is ready, place it in plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Remove the dough from the fridge and from the plastic wrap and cut into four equal size pieces - this will make it easier for you to roll out. Lightly flour your work surface and roll 1 of the quarters until it is roughly 1/16" thick. Cut the crackers out with a cookie cutter or glass (I used both so I could have different sized crackers) and place them on a baking sheet. If you want you can use a fork to make indents in the cracker. Bake for roughly 12-15 minutes, but start checking at about 8 to make sure the crackers aren't burning. You want them to be lightly toasted in color.
Zach hasn't tried these crackers yet because he was at a work dinner last night, but I have. I tried about twenty of them. They are delicious. My favorite part about them is the crunchy polenta, it really gives the cracker an extra bite. I wish I had used more cayenne pepper because they could definitely use a bit more of that type of bite as well.
I poured myself a glass of Ticino merlot in honor of our trip to Ascona. I'm not one to buy merlot or order it in a restaurant, but both Zach and I really love the merlot from the Ticin. I wouldn't be surprised if you couldn't buy it outside of Switzerland, but if you see it it's definitely worth a try.
I've never been to Hawaii, but Ascona had the humid-jungle quality that I imagine Hawaii to have. The rain brought in a heavy, wet air that settled over the town and made everything glisten under the low, rolling clouds. On our walk up the hill we walked through what could certainly be considered jungle-like overgrowth. We came across this little house on our way back down to town. Wonderfully jungly and summery and perfectly suited for a glass of merlot at sunset.

Here's to hoping that Zach likes the crackers and that they are a bite on the way back to plain bread and cheese. I spent a good chunk of the morning wandering around gluten-free sites, like this one, and contemplating what life would be like without my beloved bread - not pretty, but perhaps do-able?


  1. Hi Talley,
    You can use your Kitchen Aid mixer for this recipe. There should be a funny looking attachment (not the wisk) that works.

    Sounds like you two are having fun, rain or shine, which is great!

    xx Sarah

  2. I used the dough-hook at the end, but it really seemed like the recipe called for blending with a blade, perhaps for the chunks of pepper and cheese and maybe even to break up the polenta a bit? I do love my kitchen aid though!

    we are certainly trying to take any opportunity we have to travel! - speaking of, I'm off to the bookstore to buy a guide book for Istanbul, we are heading there on Thursday for a long weekend

  3. Yummy yummy. please take more pictures of you and zach together.


  4. So I picked a good day to send you a bread recipe?????? Who hates cheese and bread? I'm glad he's only discovered this recently. I might have objected to the wedding.

  5. Criminey. Has anyone ever told you that you live in a Hemingway novel? (I mean that in a good, jealousy-biting way) Although if Hemingway had written about bread and cheese, I would've been far, far more interested.

  6. Judi - a Hemingway heroine! Too funny, but also quite flattering. You just gave me a boost in my sometimes down moments of 'what the heck am I doing living in Zurich?' Thank you for commenting, especially since it directed me towards your incredibly creative blog - I love it!

  7. These crackers look ah-mazing. Trade you 3 crackers for 3 tortilla chips?

  8. Oh, I loooooooooooooooooove Switzerland. You lucky girl living there I am so envious. The photo's are fabulous thanks for sharing.