Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Cheese Straws

Before the warm weather really kicks in, I've been spending quite a bit of time in the kitchen. (After those hot days finally arrive, you're more likely to find me out on the patio with my laptop and a cold adult beverage.) The past year has been full of new experiences, but cooking as a cooperative effort has been one of the most memorable. Typically, such endeavors have involved people getting in my way (the reverse can easily be said, especially since I am left handed), or the whole timing part of cooking being thrown off completely due to individual preparation rates and subjective senses of time (yes, I know most kitchens have at least one clock). Ultimately, the little culinary projects would end up with one or the other person pulling out a recipe for politics and sausage and pointing a stern finger in the direction of the entrance to the kitchen, commanding the other person to help by doing anything other than assisting in the cooking process.

Last week, we dug out a recipe for cheese straws. For those unfamiliar with this little snack, it's a small stick of baked dough packed with the flavor of an entire wheel of cheese in each bite. They are tasty and very dangerous - making the average person theorize that "one" as a quantity may be an imaginary number after taking the first bite.

The recipe is very simple, but before I go into the details, it should be noted that vegans can easily find substitutes for three of the items listed below, in order to give you an equally delicious and unhealthy snack - but with a conscience. Also, you might want to cut the recipe in half, so that you don't end up having to make 5-7 baking sheets worth of cheese straws.

First, let's start out with the basic ingredients:
  • 2 C. Flour
  • 2 C. Cheese - Any kind will do, just make sure it is grated so that it mixes well. For our experiment, we used smoked Cheddar. Vegan alternatives, such as Sheese, work just as well.
  • 3/4 C. Butter - This is a lifestyle choice. Some people may prefer to use a vegan alternative, while others prefer to make things that taste good.
  • 1 Tsp. Baking Powder
  • 1/2 C. Buttermilk - If you want an alternative, try vegan sour cream, or a combination of soy milk and vinegar.

Mix everything together thoroughly, until you have a very dense dough. The next thing you want to do is take a handful of the dough and spread it over a flat surface (a clean counter top, a cutting board, or the baking sheet itself) so that it is no more than 1/4-inch thick. Now comes the most time consuming part of the recipe - cutting the dough into strips and placing them on the (ungreased) baking sheet. I prefer my cheese straws to be narrow, but remember that the wider you cut them, the longer they will have to bake. 

Tip: To make cutting uniform strips easier, trim off the edges of the dough so you are left with a rectangle of dough to slice. 

Preheat your oven to 400°

Now that the strips of dough are on the baking sheet, all you need to do is pop them in the oven for about 5 minutes, or until they reach a deep golden-brown color. You can do additional things, like sprinkling extra seasonings on them before you bake them, or (as we did) brush them with garlic olive oil we made a month prior to this experiment. It's really about personal taste.

After all is said and done, this is the result:
So easy, even a bachelor can make them.
This is a very basic recipe, and it can be modified in almost any way. Change up the cheese flavors, if you want. Add crumbled bacon. Make a sauce for dipping. Each cheese straw probably contains a billion calories, so anything else you add really won't make a difference. In fact, the most difficult thing about making cheese straws is not eating the first batch before the second is done.

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