Thursday, December 29, 2011

Party Crackers for New Year's Eve

Are you a big party person on New Year's eve? I've never been. Somehow, even though I know it's supposed to be a big deal, December 31 never feels like an ending and January 1 never feels like a new beginning. Maybe it's because we have Chinese New Year coming up in a month or so. Or maybe it's because I spent the better part of my life as a student, and now, as a teacher, I feel like year-ends and beginnings fall according to the academic calendar. September is a beginning and June is an end. July and August we don't count because we're too busy sleeping in, going on camping adventures and eating watermelon (or .. cough .. taking courses .. which .. I .. have .. yet .. to do .. yeah so whatever... cough .. New Year's resolution #1 .. cough)

Well this year, we have 2 dinner parties to go to around New Year's eve -- it makes me feel like January 1st, 2012 might feel like a beginning .. just maybe. One of the parties will be my best friend's annual post-Christmas pre-New Year's gathering, and the other is -- a post-Christmas turkey dinner at my sister's. I was told for this one that I shouldn't bring anything as the free-run turkey in question is 14 pounds -- no extra leftovers will be appreciated. But I always feel like you have to go to party offering something, so I baked up some of these crackers. They're cheese and olive oil crackers to be precise, and they're studded with chopped walnuts and sweet tart dried cranberries. You can use any combination of cheese, dried fruit and nuts that you think go well together. I used a dutch kantennar cheese which is nutty and rich and so flavourful -- it's also a lighter cheese so it's easy on the calories and sodium. Total bonus in my books. Sharp cheddar would be really good, or Parmesan of course. Don't skip the dried fruit -- it gives these savoury cheesy bites a burst of sweetness that sends them over the edge -- think of a cheese and fruit plate. See what I mean?

Make them. They're totally addictive and cheesy and sweet and rich without being bad for you -- spelt flour, cornmeal and only 2 tablespoons of oil. I'm not going to lie and tell you they were totally easy -- they're kinda hard to roll out if your dough is cold like mine. They're actually easier to work when the dough is room temperature. But the delicious smell coming from my oven made it worth it. They'll be a hit at your New Year's Eve party -- if that's your thing. But still make them if you're like me and will be staying in on New Year's Eve and possibly going for a midnight skate at the community centre .. possibly .. I said possibly. In any event, I'll be eating lots of crackers.

Happy New Year (and back to the grind for any of you who aren't in education .. I have another week off! Woo hoo! What a way to start 2012!)

Cheesy Cornmeal Crackers with Walnuts and Cranberries
adapted from The Pastry Affair with help from Vanilla Sugar and Savoring Time in the Kitchen
(makes about 3 dozen little star-shaped crackers -- double the recipe if you're making them for a big gathering)

1/2 cup of spelt flour
1/2 cup of cornmeal
1 big pinch of salt
a few good grinds of black pepper
1/3 cup of grated cheese
1/4 cup of walnuts chopped up really small
1/4 cup of chopped dried cranberries
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/4 - 1/3 cup of cold water

1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, salt, pepper, cheese, walnuts and cranberries. Stir so that everything is well dispersed.

2. Add the olive oil and half the water. Stir to combine. Keep adding water a little at a time and stirring until you form a nice soft dough. It will be really sticky. Don't worry.

3. Let the dough rest, covered at room temperature for about 30 minutes. The cornmeal needs time to soak up all the water and get nice and doughy.

4. On well-floured surface, roll your dough in batches to about 1/8 of an inch. Here's where you can play .. or not. Use little cookie cutters to cut out your crackers, or simply cut out strips. Place them on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 until their golden brown and crispy. Would they go well with champagne??

5. Happy New Year!

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