Cheese Straws

My first attempt at making these cheese straws was a learning experience. If the dough mixture is too thick it’s a nightmare to get through a cookie press. If the dough mixture is too thin the straw will flatten out as they bake and you’ll end up with a pan full of sadness. But, I did finally get it just right and oh, man, are these cheese straws more than just a little addicting! Crunchy and packed with cheese flavor you can’t eat just one handful.

Cheese StrawsI dusted the baked cheese straws with cayenne and smoked paprika, but you could try other flavors too. Italian seasoning for example, for a more savory approach. Or perhaps a little Ranch dressing mix.

I think you could also try other cheeses, specially something like a Monterey Jack or Swiss.

Cheese Straws

Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Total Time30 mins
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: American
Servings: 16 -20 sticks

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter plus 1-3 more tablespoons softened
  • 2 cups shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese divided
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne plus more for dusting
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika plus more for dusting
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

Instructions

  • Preheat your oven to 375 F.
  • Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • Place 1/2 cup of the butter in a mixer with the paddle attached.
  • Add 1 cup of the cheese and mix for 5-7 minutes until smooth, scraping down the sides as it goes.
  • In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt, cayenne, smoked paprika, black pepper and garlic powder.
  • With the mixer still running, slowly add the flour mixture.
  • Add the remaining cheese.
  • Test the consistency of the batter. If it is really thick it might not go thru your cookie press or dessert decorator. If it is too thick, add another tablespoon of the softened butter and mix. Continue until just thin enough to press but not thin and runny.
  • Spoon mixture into your cookie press with a large star tip on the end.
  • Pipe out onto the parchment paper.
  • Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Remove from oven and dust with cayenne and smoked paprika, then transfer to a cooling rack.

Balsamic Pretzel Bites

My goodness. Putting a bowl of these balsamic pretzel bites in front of me requires me to exercise self-control like I’ve rarely been forced to do before. Balsamic pretzel bites are a totally different take on the usual salty, often cheesy, tasty morsels. The balsamic glaze takes about 20 minutes to make, but it’s so worth the effort. You want the glaze to be a bit thick, thick enough that it sticks to the back of a spoon. The tart sweetness of the balsamic vinegar works perfectly on pretzels.
Balsamic Pretzel BitesYou can use any glaze actually. You don’t have to use ‘just’ balsamic. I’m contemplating trying some of the same glazes I use even on the grill, such as peach mango habanero, or sweet and spicy apricot. It often pays to think outside the box!

Balsamic Pretzel Bites

Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Total Time30 mins
Course: Snack
Cuisine: American
Servings: 4 cups

Ingredients

  • 4 cups pretzel bites
  • Balsamic glaze divided, from below
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning

For the balsamic glaze

  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar

Instructions

  • Place the pretzels in a large bowl.
  • Drizzle 3 tablespoons of balsamic glaze over the pretzels.
  • Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of the cheese and seasoning and toss to coat.
  • Serve drizzled with remaining glaze and sprinkled with the remaining cheese.

For the balsamic glaze

  • Combine vinegar and brown sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat.
  • Whisk until the brown sugar dissolves.
  • Reduce heat and let simmer until reduced by half, about 20 minutes.
  • Let cool slightly before using.

Andean Popcorn

I love Andean popcorn. It’s somewhat similar to the popcorn we enjoy here in the states in that it has a fantastic flavor, even a hint of a butter. The kernels, though, are different. They do not explode and puff up like popcorn has been grown to do here. Instead, they kinda… just go… pop. No big explosion. No fluffy white insides. The kernel is thin, and very crunchy. You just pop (no pun intended) the entire thing into your mouth and enjoy.
Andean PopcornI recall street vendors up in the mountains of Peru, in the city of Huancayo, selling bags of popcorn along the street on market day. I think a bag was 10 soles which then was less than a US nickel. Well worth the price! They were fried in screaming hot oil then salted. That’s it. You did (and do) have to be careful of the kernels when they first come out of the fryer, though. They are very, very hot. So let them cool a bit before diving in!

I popped the cancha in the same popper I use for ‘regular’ popcorn. It takes a bit longer as the heat needs to get really good and hot, but it’s well worth the wait. If you can’t find cancha in a South American market near you you can order it using the Amazon link at the bottom of this post. It’s great stuff!

Another favorite Peruvian-inspired appetizer of mine is aji amarillo chicken wings.

Andean Popcorn

Cook Time10 mins
Total Time10 mins
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: Peruvian
Servings: 6 servings
Author: Mike

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried cancha corn
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Sea salt

Instructions

  • Add the corn and oil to your popcorn popper and let pop until completely done.
  • Remove and immediately add salt. Do not be shy with the salt.
  • Let cool slightly before serving. The kernels will be very hot directly out of the popper.