Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Food Gift For A Friend

I love having friends who are really into cooking and food. There's something nice about being able to tell someone that the toro at Z Sushi changed your life without having them look at you like you're nuts. We food lovers understand the impact that a great meal or a beautiful glass of wine can have on our lives, so it's always nice to have like-minded people around to talk food to.

Have you ever seen a lovelier cheddar?

D is one of those people, and we work together. He's the one who took me for a lovely Lucques lunch, and we've vowed to treat ourselves to at least one gourmet lunch a month in the coming year. Today is his birthday, so I wanted to create something yummy. After all, he got me an autographed copy of the new Bon Appetite cookbook for Christmas!!!

Grated in all its glory....

Although I thought to make something out of the cookbook, another idea hit me. My parents gave me a one pound chunk of the best cheddar cheese I have ever tasted - Hook's 10-year Cheddar- for Christmas. Although I'd love nothing more than to consume the entire brick by myself (J is out of town for a month), my metabolism would probably stop dead in its tracks and I'd be calling Jenny Craig. I remembered a post I read about cheddar crisps recently and couldn't wait to try my hand at the little crackers.

Oh NOW you're all nice and neat!

I have to say one thing- thank goodness for Cuisinart! I grated 12 ounces of the cheese in a nanosecond, thanks to the grater attachment (no, I don't work for them!). The rest of the ingredients were simply tossed in with the mountain of cheese, blended together, then thrown onto wax paper to be rolled into neat logs. This is the part where I had some trouble since the dough was very sticky and soft. I made two logs (one with cracked black pepper, the other plain) and put them into the freezer.

Looks like butta.....

While waiting for the rolls to harden, I started on what I thought would make a nice accompaniment to the sharp flavor of the crackers. You now know of my love for onions, and I felt that a sweet onion jam would work well with cheddar. I simply sliced six large sweet onions (thanks again, Cuisinart!) and started on the long, slow process of caramelizing them. After adding about a tablespoon of sugar, I just let them do their thing in a bit of butter and olive oil. The entire house smelled amazing! After about 2 hours, the onions had cooked down to a deep, golden brown and I finished it off with a splash of good balsamic and some thyme leaves. After a few pulses in the food processor, the chunky jam was done.

Fluffly, sliced onions........

Beginning stages of browning.....

The cheese logs were now ready to slice and bake. They were very easy to manage now, and I got lots of crackers out of just half the batch (the rest will be saved for this weekend!). After 10 minutes in the oven, the crisps came out golden on the edges and smelling of salty cheese. For the sake of quality control, I tried one (well, maybe more than one) and WOW. When Molly said to use a cheddar that you really like, she was right. The crisps were as good as the cheese. They were, quite honestly, some of the best crackers I had ever tasted. The black pepper ones were even better! Combined with the sweet onion jam, they would make the perfect compliment to a slightly sweet wine, which I also added to the gift.

Freshly baked crackers

I think I'll have to put these crackers into regular rotation in my kitchen. Next time, I will probably chill the dough a bit before trying to form them into logs. The onion jam is something I'll have to make more of as well- I think it would be fantastic with some good ham and gruyere on a sandwich, or even stuffed in a pork chop. I'll include the "recipe" here although I'm sure you could make a batch using any herbs you like, or even a splash of red wine.

Sweet Onion Jam
(makes about 1 1/2 cups)

6 large Vidalia, Maui or other sweet onion
2 TBS butter
1 TBS olive oil
1 TBS brown sugar
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
Splash of balsamic vinegar

Thinly slice the onions. Set aside.

In a large, stainless sauce pan (don't use Teflon- you won't get good caramelization), heat the butter and olive oil until melted. Add the onions, add the sugar and sauté on medium-low heat until they turn a nice golden brown. Add a splash of balsamic (it will sizzle) and stir well, finish with thyme leaves. Pulse in a food processor a couple of times until you get desired consistency. Spread on anything, enjoy!

Happy Birthday D!!!!!!!!!!!


carlyn said...

What a great birthday gift!!!! The cheese crisps look delicious and the onion spread is something I'm going to try this weekend as I have a large bag of onions waiting for me.!!!! Looks wonderful!!!

red sun said...

what a delicious idea! you've inspired me to bake these for a sports watching-gathering this weekend. these snacks probably go great with beer!

Chubbypanda said...

I wanna be your friend. =)

- Chubbypanda

EILEEN said...

What a wonderful birthday present. I wish I am your friend, too. ^^