When you have your hands full with shopping, baking, and entertaining during the holidays it is nice to have a few easy appetizers tucked away in the cupboard for guests to munch on while dinner is being prepared. I love both cheese straws and spiced pecans. In the past I have made cheese straws using puff pastry and although they are good, they tend to be kind of airy and do not hold up well. I have tried many spiced pecans also, but find the ones made with whipped egg whites retain a powdery film that is not appealing to me. So I was pleased to find these two wonderful recipes in The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook. The cheese straws are substantial and crunchy. They can be made ahead of time and stored in a sealed container. The spiced pecans are full of flavor and roasted slowly with a coating of butter, honey and spices. The batch I have just made will be stored in the freezer and served at Christmas. I feel like I have just crossed two more things off of my never ending list and the larder is full. Now I just have to figure out how to transport all of this to North Carolina.
1 1/2 cups (about 4 ounces) grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 4 pieces
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon half-and-half
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. In a food processor, combine the cheese, butter flour, salt, and red pepper and process in five 5-second pulses until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the half-and-half and process until the dough forms a ball, about 10 seconds.
3. On a lightly floured surface, using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough into an 8-x-10-inch rectangle that is 1/8 inch thick. With a sharp knife, cut the dough into long, thin strips, 1/4 to 1/3 inch wide (dipping the knife in flour after every few inches ensures a clean cut). Gently transfer the strips to an ungreased cookie sheet, leaving at least 1/4 inch between them. The dough will sag and may break occasionally in the transfer, but don’t be concerned – just do your best. The straws can be any length, from 2 to 10 inches.
4. Bake the straws on the middle rack for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the ends are barely browned. Remove from the oven and set the cookie sheet on a rack to cool.
5. Serve at room temperature. Cheese straws will keep in the refrigerator, in a sealed container, for at least 2 days.
Makes 3 cups; enough for snacking for 8 to 10 people
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cayenne
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground mace or nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon honey
3 cups shelled raw pecan halves (about 3/4 pound)
1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.
2. Combine the spices, salt, and sugar in a small bowl and shisk to blend. Set aside 1 teaspoon of the blended mixture.
3. Melt the butter slowly over low heat in a small saucepan. After the foam subsides, turn off the heat and skim the white milk solids from the butter. Whisk the spice mixture into the butter in a slow stream. Whisk the honey into the spiced butter in a slow stream.
4. Put the pecans in a medium mixing bowl and pour the warm spiced syrup mixture over them. Toss the mixture with a spatula or wooden spoon.
5. Spread the pecans evenly on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake on the top rack for 45 minutes. The syrup should look dry (it will still be slightly sticky) and the pecans will have darkened to the color of mahogany. Remove the sheet from the oven and sprinkle the reserved 1 teaspoon spice mixture over the pecans.
6. Serve the nuts as soon as they have cooled, or store them. Stored in an airtight container, roasted pecans will keep 2 weeks.