Something old and something new, these sweet and savory pecans have been a favorite of mine for decades, while the accompanying cheese wafers are a more recent addition (as well as my answer to the much loved Southern cheese straw).
I think it may be the case everywhere in the South, but it is certainly true where I live in Baldwin County, Ala., that everybody's grandmother made cheese straws, and everybody's grandmother made the best ones. If you're unfamiliar, cheese straws are savory, two- to three-bite, log-shaped shortbreads made with butter, sharp cheddar, flour, salt, cayenne and sometimes additional spices. They are incredibly nostalgic because they were likely served at your christening, your wedding and your funeral (and probably every social gathering in between). Like cornbread and Thanksgiving dressing, every family makes them a little bit differently, yet all are remarkably similar. Most of my friends hold a very old and beloved recipe by which they measure and judge all other cheese straws. They are consumed with gusto and discrimination at nearly every party you might attend south of the Mason-Dixon Line, and although oblong and a bit thicker, they're sort of the grown-up version of a Cheez-It.
Neither of my grandmothers nor my mother made cheese straws, so maybe that's why I don't have a connection to them or a deep fondness for them like others do. The truth is I've always found them to be kind of….average, lacking in some way or another, since the first time I ever tasted one. I guess my position is I can take them or leave them, but flavor-wise, they're simply never as satisfying as I wish they were.
I hate that I feel that way about them because it is just so incredibly un-southern of me to not love cheese straws, but I don't.
Now these cheese wafers on the other hand are everything I wish traditional cheese straws were—punchier, unpredictable and far easier to make since there's no cutting the dough into thin rectangles or twisting it into spirals or piping it out with a pastry bag. I roll out my dough and use a small cookie cutter or shot glass to make uniform disks, but you can also form the dough into a long, 2-inch diameter, log before chilling in the refrigerator then slice into wafers when you are ready to make them. However you choose to construct them, they bake up beautifully every time and are much more flavorful and interesting than regular cheese straws.
The first time I baked these wafers, I was a little scared (and my husband was more scared) of the blue cheese called for in the recipe because neither of us have a big love for it outside of a good homemade salad dressing. But I had a nice Italian Gorgonzola on hand, and I was up for the challenge. I believed in the "stinky cheese;" believed it was going to help me create something wonderful. I was ready for a change, ready to walk on the wild side, ready to make a version of a spicy, cheesy, crispy hors d'oeuvre about which I could get excited.
And I did!
These cheese wafers are delicious with just the right amount of zing, and so far have been just right with every glass of wine I have put to the pairing test. Because of all the different types of blue cheese, you can customize them to your preferences. They are stand alone worthy but are even better served with slices of sweet fresh fruit like ripe pears, or with sweet dried fruits like apricots, figs and cherries, or alongside jams, compotes or honey-drizzled walnuts.
Don't be scared of the stinky cheese; in fact, the stinkier, the better, I say! You're going to love them.
This recipe for "party pecans" has been in my family for decades. There are so many different recipes and so many different ways to make truly delicious seasoned, baked pecans — but as you'd expect me to say, this one's the best.
I appreciate a rosemary- and olive oil-roasted pecan, and others with more of a sweet and savory batter-like coating, and still others sweetened with cinnamon and other warming spices, but for me, these I'm sharing with you are my all time favorite. These are the ones of which I never tire and always want more. Not too sweet, not too salty, a little bit earthy and so perfectly seasoned that you can't put your finger on exactly what flavors you're tasting (spoiler alert: it's cumin), they will become your new addiction.
It is always a testament when you are constantly asked for the recipe, and these tick that box as well.
They are very easy to make. Unfortunately, the cost of pecan halves can make them a bit prohibitive to turn out batch after batch, but they do make great gifts. People love receiving them, particularly when added to a basket with some homemade cheese wafers and a nice jar of jam, preserves or compote.
I always include them on my charcuterie boards and try to keep them on hand for impromptu gatherings. They are rich and delicious and taste like they came from a fancy shop. They keep well in an airtight container, if you can stay out of them, but good luck with that.
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With the holidays behind me, I have enjoyed staying out of the kitchen more and more these last few weeks. Dinners have been much more laid back and pared down, which is nice after all the feasting. Having homemade nibbles like these spiced pecans and cheese wafers can make an otherwise boring kitchen-foraging "meal" substantially more satisfying, especially when you find and open a nice bottle of "special occasion" wine that you forgot you even purchased for one of the many holiday gatherings in all the chaos that was November and December.
I like to think of those bottles as end-of-the season-gifts to myself for all my hard work. As I fight through the overwhelm of cleaning up and putting away the mountains of holiday stuff, I open one of my found-bottles to toast a job well done. I take a moment to sit by the water and dismiss any regret I feel for what I didn't manage to accomplish or for what didn't go as I had hoped or planned. I take time to enjoy the peace and quiet of it all being over. Despite all the fun and togetherness of the season, it is a lot.
And as much as I enjoy it all, I get sentimental and sad, missing those who are no longer here. I guess the older I get, the longer that list of who is no longer around will grow. So I take a minute to slow down and enjoy a nice glass of wine while I spend time remembering the good times from years and years of holidays past.
Hope the new year brings you peace, joy and time. Time to do all the things you love, and time to be with all the people, pets, plants, gardens, mountains, sandy beaches — time for everything you love. Life is short (at least that's what every older generation tells me). Find time for what's important. Here's to love, happiness, good food and good cheer!
7 to 8 ounces of blue cheese
1/2 cup of unsalted butter, softened
1 1/3 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Beat blue cheese and butter until light and creamy with an electric mixer.
- Combine flour and cayenne, then add to butter-cheese mixture. Mix just until well combined. Taste and add salt if needed.
- Form into log shape to slice or split dough in half and form into balls.
- Refrigerate dough 2 hours or until you are ready to bake.
- Preheat oven to 350
- Slice log into thin, 1/8"-1/4," wafers, or roll out dough and cut into wafers.
- Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake until golden brown, about 10 to 13 minutes.
- Cool on a rack.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
2 tablespoons brown sugar or coconut sugar (or regular sugar for a sweeter result)
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups pecan halves
In a small sauce pan, melt butter and add seasonings
Pour over pecan halves and mix well to cut every pecan half. I use disposable gloves and massage the mixture onto the pecan halves.
Spread onto a baking sheet in a single layer and bake 25 to 30 minutes at 300 degrees, tossing pecans around a bit occasionally.
Cool and enjoy.
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