Homemade Cheddar Cheese Straws

Friday, December 12, 2014

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As a little girl growing up, these were a common sight at my nana's house. She made cheese straws all the time because she knew everyone loved them. She did that often. She spent hours in her kitchen, humming songs under her breath that I am sure she learned by listening to her mother and grandmother hum those same notes so many years ago. Along with lemon bundt cake and homemade chex mix, these cheese straws were on a constant rotation on her kitchen counter. I can still see the old, rectangular Tupperware container in my mind. She layered the straws in wax paper ( wrinkly and thin from the last time she made a batch. She was an avid recycler long before it was the cool thing to do ;) ) and you could see the deep orange straws through the container and we all knew what she had done all afternoon. She knew it made us all happy and she  baked these with love every time . In the later years of her life, she still made them. Only my papa would step in and help her. He would pipe them onto a cookie sheet while she watched. The visual in my mind of the two of them together, working their old, tired hands in the dough, will forever be a part of me.  When I grew up  , married and moved away, they both knew that my kids had developed a love for them as well, and they would trek to their home town an hour or so away and they would pick up  a half block of aged cheddar cheese from the country store that has supplied my family with nourishment for decades. From cheese to sausage to old fashioned candy, the store holds as many cherished memories as the food itself. I still remember climbing in their big old Cadillac , all the grandkids in the back seat, and taking a road trip to that old homestead and the old store on the way back home. So when they got word we were on our way, they would go on a cheese run. And my kids learned quickly what that old Tupperware container held and they appreciated it and looked forward to them each and every time we would venture home. I havent had any cheese straws in many months. My nana passed away  a few years ago. Needless to say, that is also when my heart shattered into a million pieces. I haven't made a batch of cheese straws since she left us. So today I woke up, got the kids ready and off to school, and made a batch of her cheese straws. I didn't have her cheese. I don't have the same container to put them in. But they are made. They are waiting on the counter for my babies to enjoy when they walk in the door. And I know when they see them, they will smile. And their bellies will be full. Not just food full, but soul full. And for that I am thankful. So here is her recipe. With a twist. I hope she is looking down today and smiling.

Cheddar Cheese Straws
2 c all purpose flour
2 c shredded sharp cheddar cheese (the sharper the better)
3/4 c unsalted butter, very cold and cubed
black pepper to taste ( I use about 1/4tsp)
whole milk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with aluminum foil and lightly spray with cooking spray. Set aside.
In a large bowl, add the flour, cheese, butter  and black pepper.Using your hands, mix together, adding milk by 1 T as you work. Knead until you get a dough, using more milk as needed.
When you get a smooth dough, press a bit of dough into a cookie press fitted with the star shaped disk. Pipe the dough into straight lines on the cookie sheets.
Repeat until all of the dough is used.
Bake until lightly browned, @ 20 minutes ( depending on your oven. Keep an eye on them) Let them cool on the pans. Carefully remove off the pans and store in an airtight container.

* You can use a food processor or mixer to mix the dough if you prefer. I do it my nana's way , by hand. If you choose to use the processor or mixer, add all ingredients except the milk and slowly add the milk to form the dough.
** If you  do not have a cookie press you can roll aout the dough and cut strips with a pizza cutter or sharp knife. Or you can make small cookies. Just flatten slightly and adjust the cook time.

Maple Cinnamon Pecans

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Pecans are one of my family's favorite foods. I like to have them on hands for snacks, salads and baked goods. During the holidays I like to make these sweet pecans for munching and to use as gifts. I love how they are very simple to make, using ingredients that are always in the pantry!

Maple Cinnamon Pecans

 1 egg white
2 T real maple syrup
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 lb pecan halves
parchment paper

1.Preheat oven to 300* . Whisk egg white until frothy in a large bowl. Whisk in maple syrup, brown sugar and ground cinnamon. Add pecans, stirring to coat all of the pecans.

2.Place pecans in a single layer on  a parchment  lined jelly roll pan. Bake at 300* for 20-25 minutes, or until pecans are toasted and a crunchy crust forms on them. Stir halfway through the cooking time.Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container when completely cooled.