Cheese straws and cheesy olives

Serving suggestion
Serving suggestion... martinis or negronis work well. Sweet drinks, not so much.

Lee, Matt and Ted Lee, While the Bird’s Still Stuffed, But Before the Guests Are, F1, New York Times, Nov. 27, 2002. Did you know your library has old newspapers online – with recipes in them? Handy, huh?

This is actually one recipe with two applications. The brothers Lee wrote up the no-cookie-press-needed cheese straw recipe and I recognized the pastry as quite similar to what my mother used to wrap olives in for hors d’oeuvres. Yes, it was the seventies, what’s it to you? First the Lee’s faux cheese straws:

Cocktail party-to-be
Cheese, butter and flour - it's pretty simple to make tasty savory apps
Double the recipe
I don't clean the food processor for single batches - double the recipe

Since this is just cheesy pastry, it makes sense to do it in the food processor like any other pâte brisée – it’s fast and foolproof. It also means all those fiddly processor bits to clean, so I never do this unless I’m at least doubling the recipe. (If you do more than double, you have to do it in batches – even our new 11 cup processor won’t do more than a double batch well.)

Parts list:

  • 4 oz. extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 4 Tbsp. butter, softened and cut into 4 pieces
  • 3/4 c. flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper (this is the right amount, but reduce if you don’t like even a little heat)
  • 1 Tbsp. half-and-half

Grate the cheese in the processor, switch to the steel blade, then pulse cheese, butter, flour, salt and red pepper until you’ve got clumpy sand or coarse crumbs. Add the half-and-half (or milk or cream), and process until dough forms a ball – it should only take a few seconds, depending on temperature and moisture in your cheese.

I think a rest/chill for 15 minutes or half an hour is helpful at this point, but it’s up to you. The Lees’ say one recipe makes a rectangle 8 by 10 inches and 1/8 inch thick. To make the straws, cut dough into thin strips, 1/4 to 1/3 inch wide. Gently transfer each ”straw” to an ungreased cookie sheet, leaving a 1/4-inch space between them, and bake 17 minutes, or until the ends are barely browned. Let cool.

If you’re doubling the Lee’s recipe to use 8 oz., you can probably buy a block in just that size at the store. Otherwise, it’s handy to have a scale. We buy the plain sharp cheddar in the giant two pound blocks and cut it up.

Cheese straws in the making
Cheese straws in the making - pizza cutter or paring knife makes short work of the pastry.

You can use a pizza cutter or a fancy pastry cutter, though I usually just use a paring knife – dip it in some flour if it sticks. If you have a roulpat, do be extra careful not to cut it when cutting your pastry – it would be best to move your rolled dough to another surface to cut (but I live dangerously).

Cheese "straws"
Cheese "straws" without the cookie press.

Once baked off, the straws cool quickly and remain crisp for a few days, but they’re best warm. I’d suggest keeping some dough in the fridge and baking them when folks drop by so they’re fresh and warm. Unless you don’t want to encourage that sort of behavior.

Now, about that part that I added… the olives. People will have strong feelings about these, one way or the other. Either they’ll love them and pester you for them on a regular basis, or… not. I live with an anti-olive person. That’s fine… more for me.

Cheesey olives
Cheesy olives are spicy, cheesy, salty - and freeze wonderfully. You have no excuse not to have an impromptu cocktail party.
Any olive will do
Any olive will do - jalapeño, pimento or peppered.

Cheesy Olives is a nice additional use of the cheese pastry. Just roll it out and cut into squares or triangles to wrap around the olives of your choice. The only trick it to make sure that your olives are really well drained. I drain in a colander then press them gently in a paper towel.

Once you have the olives wrapped in the pastry and put on a baking sheet, they can be frozen. Once frozen on the sheet, put them in resealable freezer bags and store for a spur of the moment party.

To bake, just put on a small pice of foil (no dishes!) and pop in the oven or toaster oven for about 15 minutes (the “everything bakes at 350F and burns at 450F” rule holds here). If you’re doing a real batch – not just for yourself – a little butter on the foil or the cookie sheet will surely keep them from sticking, but it’s usually not a problem for me. The worst that happens is you get a little tear in the crust. Smaller olives might bake faster – once the pastry is set and starts to brown a tiny bit, they’re done.

Oh, and these will be about 10,000,000F internal temperature when they come out of the oven. Give them five minutes at least. You’ve been warned.

Cha Siu, Bow

My mom took some Chinese cooking classes from a neighbor when I was a kid, and we were treated to some dishes that haven’t been matched in any restaurant since. This is a particular favorite.

Cha Siu:
2T chicken stock
2T soy sauce
1/2 T. salt
1 T. dry sherry
2/3 c. sugar
garlic powder & ginger
2# boneless pork

Cut pork into 2” strips. Lay strips flat, and cut them in half lengthwise. Mix the first 6 ingredients in a shallow pan and add the pork. Beat mixture into the pork by stabbing the pork with a fork. Turn often.

Marinate 3 hours or overnight if possible.

Preheat oven to 350. Hang pork strips in oven from top rack, over a large pan of water. Roast 45 minutes.

Turn heat up to 450 and roast 15 minutes more.

Cut strips paperthin, and serve hot or cold.

Cha Siu filling for Bow:
2T oil
1# Cha Siu, finely chopped
1T sugar
2T soy sauce
2T cornstarch in 3T water

Heat oil until it smokes, add Cha Siu, and fry quickly.

1 package instant dry yeast
1 3/4 cups warm water
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
6 1/2 cup all purpose flour

Dissolve 1/2 yeast cake with sugar in warm water. Add baking powder and flour. Knead about 20 minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic.

Place in mixing bowl, cover, and leave in a dry, warm, draft-free place until dough doubles in bulk (about 3 hours).

Punch down dough and knead about 5 minutes.

Knead 5 minutes more and it’s ready to be stuffed. Divide Cha Siu filling and dough into 24 portions. Flatten each dough ball, roll out into a 4” circle, leaving centers thicker than the edges. Place filling in center of each, wrapping the sides around the filling, twisting dough to close.

Place on a 2” square piece of wax paper, twist-side down.

Allow to rise in a warm place until doubled. Brush with egg wash (1 beaten egg white, 1 t. water, 1/4 t. sugar).

Steam 15 minutes or bake in a preheated 350 oven 20 minutes.