Cheese “Crackies”

Cheese Crackers

I’m going to date myself. Do you remember that 80s Faberge Organics Shampoo Commercial where Heather Locklear says she told two friends about this fab shampoo, and they told two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on . . . ? (What, you weren’t born yet? Then click here and see the giggle-worthy commercials that us oldies grew up with.)

Anyway, this is how things went with my mom recently. She tried these cheesey, sorta but not quite crackers, at a friend’s place and couldn’t stop talking about them. Her other friends were intrigued. Then they tried them. Now a few of mom’s friends have requested the recipe and so did I.  Your (rotary dial) phone line was busy, so I thought I’d be all new age and post the recipe here so that you can check them out. Then you can tell your friends, and so on. Get the idea?

The source of this cheesey kinda cracker-like recipe is mom’s friend Raymond, who goes to her church. Apparently Raymond has been making these cheesey bites for about 40 years and it’s one of his most requested recipes. Raymond is someone who really knows his way around the kitchen and has catered countless dinner parties over the years. While I’ve never met Raymond, my mom raves about his cooking abilities, so he’s got my vote of confidence.

I hope that Raymond doesn’t mind, but I’ve adapted his recipe–mostly because his secret ingredient, MacLaren’s Imperial Cold Pack Cheddar, is only available in Canada. I’ve also renamed them “crackies” because I’d describe them as a cross between a cracker and a cookie. And, I’ve spiced them up with rosemary and a sprinkle of fleur de sel, even though I usually make half the batch plain to keep the ponytails happy. My oldest daughter likes to take them for her school snack.

Rosemary Crackies

Cheese “Crackies”

Yield: approx 50 crackers

1/2 cup vegetable oil + 1 tbsp olive oil

1 cup flour

2 cups tightly packed grated old cheddar (orange)

1 tbsp Worchestershire sauce

t tsp dry mustard

2 cups rice crispies, crushed

2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary + a few unchopped rosemary sprigs

fleur de sel for sprinkling

Pulse all ingredients in food processor until mixture is smooth and well mixed; roll into balls the size of a quarter and flatten with a fork dipped in water. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes.

Place one small sprig of rosemary and a pinch of fleur de sel (or sea salt) on top of each “crackie” after it has been flattened with a fork.

The crackies freeze beautifully. Reheat at 350 degrees for 8 minutes.

Raymond’s Original Version:

Imperial CheeseFollow the instructions noted above, except replace the 2 tightly packed cups of grated old cheddar with one container of MacLaren’s Imperial Cold Pack Cheddar and do not add one extra tablespoon of vegetable oil (total amount of vegetable oil will be 1/2 cup) or the chopped fresh rosemary and fleur de sel.

NOTES:

  • For crispy crackies, be sure to press them down well with a fork dipped in water until they are quite thin.
  • To retain the crispness, they are best stored in a tin container, rather than plastic. Mom likes to freeze any uneaten crackies and crisp them up again in the oven before serving.
  • If you live in Canada, I recommend trying this recipe using the Imperial cheese. Just eliminate the extra tablespoon of vegetable oil. The rosemary and fleur de sel are optional.
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A Charcuterie Platter With The Easiest Bread Ever

This time of year can be very overwhelming. Our to-do lists are bursting at the seams and there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day. It’s definitely the time when you need a few good entertaining options at the ready.

Look no further than the charcuterie platter for an appetizer that has something for everyone. One of the greatest things about this appetizer is its simplicity. It really is just a matter of arranging a selection of prepared items on a platter or cutting board–making sure to include a mix of textures, flavours and colours.

Charcuterie is the French word for cured, smoked and preserved meat products, such as pate and sausage, as well as the butcher shop that sells them.

It is also standard fare to add a few other items to your charcuterie platter, including spiced nuts, cheeses, pickles, mustard and bread or crackers. Cornichons and gherkins are a popular way to add a bit of acidity to the platter. I usually have a second platter or plate with the cheeses, but it really is a matter of personal preference.

Here’s a list of things that you can include on your platter:

  • Mix of several meats — cooked and cured (I usually use three such as salami, bresaola and pastrami)
  • Gherkins/cornichons
  • Mustard — a good dijon and/or whole grain mustard
  • Chutney or jam, such as onion or fig (I love to use camelized onion chutney)
  • Cheeses – For example, 2 soft cheese and 2 hard cheeses, including mix of flavours and textures. I always include either brie or camembert, since they are a crowd favourite.
  • Nuts – I like to use my paprika-smoked almonds
  • Fruits – grapes and dried apricots are popular choices
  • Bread/crackers – I like to have at least one type of bread and one type of cracker, but sometimes I include a couple of each. I usually have either a bread or a cracker with raisins. There so many great arisanal crackers to choose from these days.
  • A good red wine — I think this is an ESSENTIAL ingredient to a good charcuterie platter!

If you want to elevate things a little bit, you can try your hand at making your own bread. I’ve started to make the Irish Soda bread below, which just happens to be the easiest bread in the world. You mix it up in less than five minutes, and it cooks in about 20 minutes. This is the first and only bread I’ve ever made and it amazes me how simple this is every time I make it.

No-Knead Raisin Soda Bread

Recipe from Cookery School at Eckington Manor

  • 1-1/2 cups flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1-1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup raisins

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Place flour, salt and baking soda in a mixing bowl and stir together. Fold in buttermilk and raisins.
  3. Turn dough out onto a well-floured work surface and roll around to lose stickiness; form into a ball. Cover baking sheet with parchment paper and then add dough. Score a deep X on the top to allow steam to escape and bake for 17-20 minutes.

NOTES:

  • For a buttermilk substitute, you can add 1 tsp of vinegar to 1 cup of milk. It is recommended that you let this sit for 15 minutes to allow the milk to sour.
  • Here is the original recipe for the Raisin Soda Bread. However, I did make this without the raisins as the recipe suggests once, but I found it too sticky and added an extra 1/4 cup of flour to the mixture. In both cases, I did not add the cinnamon. I really prefer the version with raisins though.
  • The charcuterie platter is very kid friendly. One of my girls needs to be watched because she will eat ALL of the salami . . . and they are both very BIG fans of the paprika-spiced nuts.

Cookbook Giveaway

I’m pleased to report that Barb Bamber of Just a Smidgen is the winner of my cookbook giveaway. My eldest ponytail drew the winning entry. I’ve just heard from Barb and she’s selected Ina Garten’s new cookbook Foolproof. Congratulations Barb! A special thanks to everyone who left a message or signed up for email updates.


Scallops Wrapped in Kataifi (aka “hairy scallops”)

Would you like to hear more about the appetizer that my eldest ponytail called “a hairy scallop?”

Okay, call me a proud cook, but this description really doesn’t do the Scallops Wrapped in Kataifi (pronounced kah-tah-ee-fee) justice. I prefer to say that the kataifi looks like Shredded Wheat Cereal.

If you’ve never tried kataifi, it is essentially a Greek pastry that is like shredded phyllo, although apparently it is in fact spun and not shredded, and the dough that is used to make it is slightly different than phyllo dough (made with wheat and flour). 

I was inspired to make this dish because my brother-in-law and sister-in-law were visiting from Edmonton this weekend and I wanted to make something special for them—something that they wouldn’t have every day. The Scallops Wrapped in Kataifi with Lemon Aioli and Balsamic Reduction did the job, as neither of them had tried anything like this before. Best of all, they liked it!

My sister-in-law Janet helped me make these, and I have to say it was so nice to spend time with her in the kitchen this weekend. As Janet can attest, these are super easy to prepare even though they are made with an ingredient you may not be familiar with.

Essentially you just keep wrapping the kataifi around the scallops like you were rolling a ball of yarn, until each scallop is nicely covered. Then you add a bit of melted butter to the top before baking, which is what gives the kataifi its lovely golden colour. Once baked, we garnished them with lemon aioli and balsamic reduction, which we all felt went really well with the scallops.

Kataifi is available in specialty food shops (particularly middle eastern) and in some grocery stores (I read on Chowhound that it is available at Longos in Toronto). I buy mine at Ararat, my favourite local specialty store. If you can’t find kataifi, you could make a substitute by rolling thawed phyllo dough into a log and then slicing it into thin rounds. This wouldn’t be an exact substitute for the kataifi but a number of people posted comments on this recipe at Epicurious (which was my inspiration for my version) stating that they used this approach successfully.

A Note My Blogging Buddies: I haven’t been able to leave comments on the WordPress blogs that I follow for six days now. For some reason WP’s anti-virus solution Akismet has blacklisted me, and so all of my comments end up in the spam folders of the WP blogs I comment on. I’ve stopped commenting until I get this issue resolved, which seems to be taking quite a while. I can assure you that I haven’t been leaving inappropriate remarks on other sites! Although I guess I’m in good company, as a woman on the news last night revealed that her first invitation from the Queen to participate in the Diamond Jubillee festivities landed in her spam folder!

Scallops Wrapped in Kataifi With Lemon Aioli & Balsamic Reduction

(Serves 4; one scallop per person as an appetizer)

  • 4 extra large sea scallops
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ¼ lb kataifi phyllo (approximately)
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted

 Balsamic Reduction

  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar

Lemon Aioli

  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • ½ tsp grated lemon zest
  • 3 tsp lemon juice
  • ½ clove of garlic, finely grated
  • Pinch of salt and pepper

 Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, simmer the vinegar over medium heat until syrupy, about 30 minutes.
  2. Prepare aioli by mixing together the mayo, lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper.
  3. Heat oven to 450°. Season the scallops with salt and pepper. Wrap each scallop in some of the kataifi phyllo. Arrange the scallops on a baking sheet and drizzle with the melted butter.
  4. Bake the scallops until just done, about 15 minutes.

 Serve scallops with balsamic reduction and lemon aioli.


Tapas: More Than Just Appies

Empanadas, White Bean Vinaigrette, Aged Manchego,
Olives with Orange & Lemon, Meatballs in Almond Sauce and Romesco Sauce

There’s nothing quite like a tapas-filled evening. Some people think that tapas are just appies—but they are in fact so much more than that. I read one definition of tapas that stated they could be any type of food, as long as the dish is small and served with a drink. Now there’s a definition I can really get behind—a type of food that requires a drink in order to be legitimate. No wonder I consider tapas to be the perfect food.

Based on their definition, you’d think an evening of tapas would go something like this:

Small plates + Small portions = Eat Less (and drink more?). Sounds right, doesn’t it?

Not quite, in my case. It goes more like this:

Small plates + small portions; repeat again and again = Caloric count in the stratosphere (including drinks)

But that’s what a tapas feast is all about, in my opinion. Lots of drinks (to legitimize the tapas) and lots of refills for those small plates.

Eva's Delicious Italian (Easter) Cheese Bread

Last night Eva (of KitchenInspirations) and her husband JT joined us for a tapas night that certainly lived up to its name—as each tapas was in fact served with a drink! It was loads of fun and our dinner went late into the evening. We had the appies and second course with the ponytails (as I made sure there were some kid-friendly items), and then finished course #3 (and dessert) after the girls went to bed. Eva brought several different dishes (see below) and they were all amazing.

Even if a tapas night isn’t up your alley, you could make most of these versatile dishes as appies, sides or mains. They are a great way to add some zip to a favourite go-to meal–at whatever stage you decide to add them.

Here’s our tapas menu:Appies:

Course #2

Course #3

Paprika-Spiced Almonds

  • 1-1/2 tbsp coarse sea salt
  • ½ tsp smoked sweet Spanish paprika (or hot paprika, according to taste)
  • 1 lb blanched almonds; approx 3 cups (I used unblanched)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 400°. Place the sea salt and paprika in a mortar and grind with the pestle to a fine powder. Alternatively, use a coffee grinder (designated for spices). Place the almonds on a baking sheet and toast for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden and fragrant. Watch after 7 minutes because they can burn quickly. Pour into a heatproof bowl. Drizzle over olive oil and stir to ensure all the nuts are lightly and evenly coated. Add extra oil, if necessary. Sprinkle with the salt and paprika mixture and stir again. Transfer to a small bowl and serve at room temperature. (NOTE: I halved this recipe and it was the perfect quantity.)

Olives with Orange and Lemon

  • 2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1-1/4 cups black olives (225 g/8 oz)
  • 1-1/4 cups green olives (225g/8 oz)
  • 2 tsp grated orange rind
  • 2 tsp grated lemon rind
  • 3 shallots, finely chopped
  • Pinch of ground cinnamon
  • 4 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp orange juice
  • 1 tbsp each chopped fresh mint and parsley

Place the olives, orange and lemon rind, shallots, cinnamon and seeds in a bowl. Whisk the vinegar, olive oil, orange juice, mint and parsley together in a bowl and pour over the lives. Toss well, then cover and let chill for 1 to 2 days before serving. (NOTE: I didn’t add the shallots, as I was stretched for time; still tasted great.)

White Bean Vinaigrette

  • 19 oz can navy beans
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 small gherkin, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • Pinch sugar
  • Salt and pepper
  • Snipped fresh chives to garnish

Drain the beans and rinse well with cold water, then drain again. Place the beans, celery and gherkin in a bowl.Whisk the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, mustard, parsley and sugar together win a bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the vinaigrette over the bean mixture and toss well. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with the chives. Serve at room temperature. (NOTE: I’ll definitely make this again as a side for sandwiches and burgers this summer.)

Roasted Asparagus with Serrano Ham

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 slices serrano ham
  • 12 asaragus spears
  • pepper

Preheat oven to 400°. Place half the olive oil in a roasting pan that will hold the asparagus spears in a single layer and swirl it around to cover the base. Half each slice of serrano ham in half lengthwise. Trim and discard the coarse woody ends of each asparagus spear, then wrap a slice of ha around the stem end of each spear. Place in the prepared roasting pan and lightly brush with the remaining oil. Roast the spears in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the asparagus. They should still be firm so that you can pick them up with your fingers. (NOTE: This would make a a super easy and tasty side dish for countless dishes.)

Source: Recipes above (some adapted) from Perfect Tapas by Parragon.

Romesco Sauce

NOTE: Next time I will definitely halve this recipe when using for tapas–even though it would be great with chicken.

Empanadas

NOTE:

  • I adjusted the spices in this recipe (reduced the chili powder), omitted the egg and mixed in the olives to the meat mixture.
  • I also tried to make some with only mozzarella cheese (to be kid-friendly), but all of the cheese spilled onto the pan and the empanadas were empty! I definitely need to improve my fork crimping technique!!!
  • You could use puff pastry as a time-saver!