And now for something completely different: In place of the wine-friendly main course or hearty side dish usually featured here, let's devote today's outing to a tasty snack, something I threw together at the last minute with guests expected for a holiday feast, when I suddenly realized there were no potato chips, pretzels or other munchies around.
I thought briefly about whipping up a batch of gougeres ("goo-zhair"), a Burgundian treat, airy and truly addictive puffs of Gruyere cheese and egg, but decided that these require a little too much attention. I needed a crunchy, salty treat that I could make in a hurry and get out of the way in order to focus on other last-minute kitchen chores.
The result? An extremely simple cheese cracker that bore a reasonably close resemblance to a somewhat upscale version of the familiar commercial snack Cheez-It.
They require fairly close attention during the brief baking period, but the entire process shouldn't take more than 30 minutes of your time at most.INGREDIENTS: (Serves four to six as a pre-dinner snack)
1/2 cup grated cheese (see below)
1. First, consider your options. Sharp Cheddar cheese will come closest to replicating the commercial product, but there's plenty of room for crativity (or for using up loose ends in the cheese drawer). I went with a mix of Cheddar and Gruyere and just a taste of Parmigiano. You can also vary the final result by adding various spices. I put in a dash of cayenne to add gentle piquancy. Black pepper, cumin, curry powder or even garlic powder come to mind as interesting alternatives.
2. Preheat the oven to 400F. Put all the ingredients except the water in a bowl and mix to blend, adding just enough water, a little at a time (1 or 2 tablespoons should be plenty), to make a workable dough.
3. On a floured board or counter top, roll out or pat the dough into a thin sheet, about 1/8 inch thick. (There's no need to be finicky about precision here, but you want to end up with thin and crispy snacks.)
4. Cut into small squares, 3/4 to 1 inch on a side, and line them up on a greased cookie sheet. Sprinkle a little coarse salt on the tops if you like. If you want to make them look more like the commercial product, poke a hole in the center of each square with a toothpick. I got bored with this procedure about halfway through, and can't say that it made any discernible difference.
5. Bake in the 400-degree oven for 5 to 7 minutes, taking care to give them enough time to get crisp without starting to scorch. It's OK, but probably not necessary, to turn them over midway in the process. Allow to cool briefly, then put them in a bowl and serve. (Warning: I wrapped them in a cloth napkin while still warm, with the result that they lost some of their crispness. Next time I'll leave them open to the air until fully cooled.)
WINE MATCH: Any aperitif-style wine would work well with this kind of pre-prandial snack, but I find that dry sparkling wine works spectacularly well with salty snack foods, from popcorn to, well, Cheez-Its.
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Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.
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