CHEDDAR CHEESE CRACKERS

Today I finally share a recipe made for a very special reception hosted at our home a few months ago.  These are simple to make in the food processor and have great texture. You know when you bite into a cracker and it feels kind of hard, but in 2.5 seconds it dissolves in your mouth releasing all sorts of enticing flavors? These are exactly it.  The recipe I used was inspired by two sources, Fine Cooking and America’s Test Kitchen, you can certainly adapt it to your own taste. They are a bit spicy, so if you prefer to take the crackers into a different path, omit the cayenne, go for cumin or even some curry, that could be wonderful too. Most important thing is to use good quality Cheddar and Parmigiano cheeses because their flavors will be quite prominent in the crackers.  I guarantee you will have no leftovers at the end of your party…

Cheddar Crackers22

CHEDDAR CHEESE CRACKERS
(inspired by ATK & Fine Cooking magazine)

1 cup extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 + 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
8 tablespoons butter, cut in pieces and kept cold
3 tablespoons water

Process cheddar, flour, cornstarch, salt, cayenne, and paprika in food processor until combined, about 30 seconds. Add butter and process until mixture resembles wet sand, about 20 seconds. Add water and process until dough ball forms, about 10 seconds. Transfer dough to counter and divide in half. Roll each half into 10-inch log, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour.

Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Unwrap logs and slice into ¼-inch-thick coins. Place coins on prepared sheets, ½ inch apart. Bake until light golden around edges, 22 to 28 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking. Let coins cool completely on sheets before serving.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

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Comments:
It is easy to open several boxes of crackers to serve alongside cheeses and spreads. But nothing takes a cocktail party to another level like homemade crackers. And homemade bread, of course. These keep very well at room temperature inside a can, so you could prepare them in advance and impress that special group of friends stress-free.  Wait for the question “What brand of crackers are these? They are so good!”.  To that you follow with a short pause… and say as nonchalantly as possible… “These? Oh, these I made myself…”   A little bit of Hollywood never hurt a cocktail party, trust me on that…
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I shared these photos before, but I must say it gives me some pleasure to look at them again, thinking about the marathon of preparation I went through before the party… 
Cheddar Crackers
Make a batch, and you will be hooked!
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COXINHA DE GALINHA: A SAVORY BRAZILIAN DELICACY

You know how some recipes adapt ingredients to make an overly heavy dish lighter and “healthier?”  Maybe  using cauliflower instead of potatoes, baking instead of frying? Well, this recipe is not it. This is authentic Brazilian cooking the way it was meant to be: substantial, loaded in carbs, and to make matters worse, breaded AND deep-fried. My advice? Enjoy it with a tropical smile, then go for a Spartan life-style for a couple of days. Totally worth it.  This is the type of finger food that Brazilians grow up enjoying at parties and street markets.  It originated in São Paulo, in the 19th century.  It turns out that Imperial Princess Isabel had a son who loved to eat chicken, but he would only eat the thigh meat.  One day, the cook ran out of chicken thighs and decided to shred the meat of chicken breasts, and hide it in a dough shaped as a drumstick.  The boy loved it, and from then on coxinhas were a regular item in the Imperial kitchen. Imagine the thrill of that cook if he knew that 200 years later his creative recipe would be featured in a Bewitching Kitchen 6 thousand miles away!

Coxinhas de galinha

Before getting in the gastronomic aspect of this delicacy,  I must give you a little lesson on Brazilian Portuguese. I promise it won’t be too painful. Ready? Ok, in Portuguese you can turn almost any word into a diminutive form by adding the suffix “inho” or “inha” depending on the gender of the word. Masculine words get “inho“, feminine gets “inha“.  A few examples:

Casa (house) –> Casinha (little house)

Gato (cat) –> Gatinho (kitten)

Chuva (rain) –> Chuvinha (very light rain)

Linda (beautiful) –> Lindinha (more appropriate to describe a young girl or baby)

So, that brings me to the title of this post, “coxinha de galinha.”   Sounds like two diminutives put together, right?  Not so fast, dear students!  The first part is indeed a diminutive. It derives from “coxa” (thigh), so coxinha is a small thigh. Now, moving to the second part: galinha… that is not a diminutive per se, it is a real word that means chicken. The word for rooster is “galo.”  So, in Portuguese a male rooster gets a beautiful word, but the female is defined by its diminutive form. How sexist is that?

All jokes aside, let’s make sure you can pronounce the words correctly. The “inha” component might be a bit tricky, be patient, listen carefully and repeat after me…

Sheila

Sheila, a Brazilian graduate student from our department…

COXINHA DE GALINHA
(adapted from From Brazil to You)

For the filling:
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, finely minced
1 celery rib, finely minced
3 cups cooked (or rotisserie) chicken, finely shredded
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
A pinch of red pepper flakes
¼ cup cream cheese, softened
3 Tablespoons minced green onions
minced cilantro leaves to taste

For the dough:
3-1/3 cup chicken stock
A pinch of salt (enough to taste)
¼ teaspoon annatto or turmeric
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour

For dredging and frying:
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 eggs, whisked with a tablespoon of water
2-3 cups breadcrumbs
enough vegetable oil to fully immerse the coxinhas

Prepare the filling: In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent. In a large bowl, place the finely shredded chicken and stir in the cooked onion and celery mixture, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes , the cream cheese, green onions, and cilantro. Set aside. It can be made a couple of days in advance, keep refrigerated.

Prepare the coxinha dough: In a large, non-stick saucepan, place the chicken stock, salt, annatto or turmeric, and olive oil, and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. When the stock is hot, add the sifted flour all at once while stirring very well. It will get more and more difficult to stir but continue to stir vigorously for about 1 minute or so until obtaining a uniformly lumpy dough.

Remove from heat and transfer the coxinha dough to an electric mixer fitted with a hook attachment. Knead dough at low-speed for about 5 minutes or until it becomes soft and smooth. Scrape dough from mixing bowl onto a well-floured surface with a dough scraper or spatula, and knead a little bit more by hand. Shape the coxinha dough into a flat disk and let rest for 10 minutes at room temperature.

Using a rolling-pin, roll out the dough onto a well-floured surface until it is about ¼ to ⅛-inch thick. Using a 3-1/4-inch round cookie cutter, cut out disks of dough and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (a metal spatula can be useful to help pry the disks from the rolling surface). Aggregate the dough leftovers, re-roll, and cut out more disks. You should have between 30 and 35 disks.

Form the coxinhas: Scoop about 1 tablespoon of the chicken filling onto the center of each disk. Lightly oil your hands and shape the filled disks into drumsticks by folding the dough up and around the filling into a beggar’s purse shape, forming the neck of the coxinha between your encircled index finger and thumb, and gently press the filling down into the center as you close. Pinch and seal the edges. Pull the dough at the top out slightly so that it resembles a drumstick. Use a moist towel to clean your fingers off each time they touch the filling. Make sure the dough has no cracks; if it does crack, wet your fingers in water and pinch the dough together. Flatten the rounded bottom of the coxinhas very minimally with the palm of your hand (just enough that they will be able to rest upright), and placed shaped coxinhas on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Dredge and fry the coxinhas: Prepare three separate bowls for the all-purpose flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs. Pass the fritters through each bowl (flour, egg whites, and then breadcrumbs), shaking off any excess.  Pour enough vegetable oil into a frying machine or heavy-bottomed pot. Heat to 350 degrees F. Fry the fritters in batches. Please, do not place too many coxinhas or chicken fritters in at the same time because this will lower the temperature, making the fritters oily. Make sure to turn all sides while frying the fritters so that they will brown evenly. Transfer coxinhas or fritters to a baking sheet lined with a double sheet of paper towels to absorb any excess oil. To serve coxinhas warm, keep the finished batches in a warm oven until serving.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

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Comments: I won’t sugar coat the pill,  this is a pretty involved culinary project.  If you have a couple of friends to join in the fun it will be a lot easier. In that particular Sunday I had two friends over, Cindy, who has been a regular in our kitchen since the days we lived in Oklahoma, and Sheila who wanted to introduce Brazilian cuisine to her friends  on campus. We made the full recipe, ending up with 33 coxinhas, more than enough for us to enjoy and share. Perfect!

Shaping takes some practice, but even if you don’t hit it perfectly it will taste great, it’s all about the crunchy outside, the soft dough, and the flavorful meat inside.

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Nothing better than biting into one of these babies….. The turmeric gives the dough a characteristic yellow color, but you can definitely omit it. The same dough could be used to enclose all sorts of goodies, you can even opt for a vegetarian filling, but if you do, please don’t call them ‘veggie coxinhas,” and don’t worry about the shaping, go for a simple round or oblong fritter. I am so glad Sheila asked me to dive into this culinary adventure!  I hope you enjoyed this post on a super traditional Brazilian delicacy. It was a great weekend, actually, because the day before Cindy and I made French macarons for the second time together. You will read all about it soon…

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CHEDDAR AND FENNEL SEED CRACKERS

Cheddar Fennel Crackers
These crackers were part of the appetizers we served at a small dinner get-together.  I’ve always wanted to re-visit crackers, as my first experience with them was pretty awesome. But way too long ago, this blog was just a baby back in September 2009.  Fun times. These are completely different creatures, thick and flavorful, they stand by themselves without the need of any spread.  The fact that you can make them ahead of time, then slice & bake is an added bonus. I am all for making my life easier when entertaining. Let me rephrase that. I am all for making my life easier. 😉
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CHEDDAR AND FENNEL SEED CRACKERS

(adapted from the blog Lemons & Anchovies)
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¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 ounces sharp cheddar cheese (grated with a Microplane)
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 + ¼ cups all-purpose flour
zest of 1 lemon
Pinch kosher salt
A pinch or two of freshly ground black pepper
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Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter for about one minute. With the mixer on low-speed, add the cheese, salt, pepper, lemon zest, and fennel seeds just until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.  With the mixer still in low-speed add the flour,  and turn off the mixer once the mixture is in large crumbles, about one minute.
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Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface, press into a ball then roll it into a 9-inch log. Wrap it in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes before slicing and baking.
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When ready to bake, heat your oven to 350℉. Slice the dough into roughly 3/8-thick rounds and lay them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You can sprinkle more fennel seeds on top of the rounds if you wish.
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Bake for 20 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through the cooking time, until very lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack and serve at room temperature. They keep well in an airtight container for a few days.Makes about 24 rounds.
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ENJOY!
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to print the recipe, click here
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Comments: 
At first I had some trouble shaping the log of dough, and had to add a little more flour, but finally it all came together smoothly.  These crackers have a shortbread feel, they crumble as you bite into them, and their flavor gets more and more pronounced as you chew them. The lemon zest definitely adds a lot, even though fennel and cheese are strong components in the overall taste.  The basic recipe could be taken in many different directions with different cheeses and spices…  I think that an experiment with a little bit of dried lavender could be quite interesting, but it might be tricky to pick the right cheese to go with it.
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This was my first time baking this type of cracker. After slicing it would have been nice to smooth out the surface gently with the tip of the finger, particularly the edges.  Something to consider for next time. Bake and learn, my friends, bake and learn…
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INTO THE LIGHT AGAIN

In our department at KSU one of the secretaries organizes a lunch potluck to celebrate the birthdays of the month.  The email to announce the monthly event ends with “Remember, simpler is better”, but you may find a spread containing spaghetti with homemade meatballs,  very elaborate curries, and fantastic snickerdoodles made from scratch (that was the case last week, and I was unashamed of sitting by that platter and turning them into 80% of my meal).

For last week’s potluck, I made a slightly different version of  the Mediterranean Skewers  posted last year.  They are light, refreshing, fun to eat and won’t weigh you down before a substantial meal. Or a tantalizing spread of 10 different dishes offered at your next departmental party!  😉

MEDITERRANEAN SKEWERS WITH BALSAMIC DRESSING
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

30 skewers
mozzarella mini-balls (like these)
sharp Cheddar cheese, cut in cubes
pitted black kalamata olives
pitted large green olives
15 red grape tomatoes, halved
15 yellow grape tomatoes, halved

for the dressing:
2 Tbs olive oil
2 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp ground fennel
2 tsp balsamic vinegar (white, if available for you)
salt and pepper to taste

Line your ingredients, and have some fun:  form the skewers starting and ending with a cut tomato, with the cut side facing towards the center of the skewer. Alternate the cheeses types and olives, so that you end up with many variations in composition and colors.    Arrange the skewers on a serving platter.

Make the dressing by whisking all the ingredients in a small bowl, drizzle over the skewers half an hour before serving. White balsamic has a nicer color for this type of dish, but if you don’t mind the brownish hint given by the regular balsamic, you can definitely use it.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

The possibilities for this type of appetizer are pretty much endless… Mozzarella and tomatoes with a pesto drizzle on top would make a nice “Caprese on a Stick”,  a small bunch of Romaine lettuce squeezed between pieces of  sharp cheese and grilled chicken, and voila’:  Chicken Caesar on a Stick!    Just make sure they are user-friendly, because if the skewers are too big, they can be awkward to eat. These ones I made were right at the limit.  😉

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