Dennis Patillo is a committed foodie and chef. He has spent a lifetime studying foods from around the world as well as regional cuisines.

Janey’s Elegant Cheese Rounds

Janey’s elegant cheese rounds

It’s hard for me to believe, but we are hurtling toward a new year. Before we reach the new year, we pass through the holiday season.

The holidays mean something different to everyone, but there is one denominator that is common to everyone – food.

At family gatherings, office parties, friends’ open houses, food is always present. Many times, we want to bring something to the party, and here’s the dilemma; what do we bring? I always believe that something we prepare is more appreciated than something bought.

We want the food we bring to be unique but approachable. We want something that everyone will like and something that goes with everything. We want to bring CRACKERS!

“Crackers?” you say. “Nobody brings crackers.” Exactly. That’s why we want to bring crackers. Homemade crackers are as easy as sin to make, they don’t take much time, and they will taste better than anything you can buy in a store.

I got this idea from Janey Lack. Janey is a remarkable human being, and I’m sure she will scold me for saying these things about her. She is kind and thoughtful to a degree that I could never achieve. She’s also just brilliant. She’s a Harvard graduate and was the first woman hired by McKinsey & Company, the blueblood of all consulting firms.

She brought the most amazing homemade cheese crackers to a gathering of friends. Everyone who had one loved them. They loved them so much that not everyone got to try them. I knew right then that this was a recipe I had to have, and I had to share it with you.

“Janey’s Elegant Cheese Rounds” begin with all-purpose flour combined with white cheddar cheese and Pecorino Romano cheese in a food processor. Cold butter is added to form coarse crumbs. Then an egg yolk, finely chopped pecans and sesame seeds are added with a touch of cayenne pepper, kosher salt and a couple of tablespoons of cold water. When everything is mixed and kneaded for a minute or two, the dough is divided into thirds and shaped into logs and chilled for a few hours. The logs are then sliced into rounds about ¼ inch thick and baked in a 375-degree oven. This dough can easily be frozen for future use, so make multiple batches. These rounds absolutely melt in your mouth.

If you want to make this recipe your own, you might play with the cheeses a little, but make sure that you stick with the hard or semi-hard cheeses. For instance, you could substitute the Pecorino Romano cheese with asiago or Parmigiana Reggiano. You could try some of the many different kinds of cheddar cheeses. You could substitute the walnuts, cashews or pistachios for the pecans. You could swap chia seeds for the sesame seeds. I believe the hallmark of a truly great recipe is its adaptability.

How about a cracker made with only one ingredient? Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Take a couple of tablespoons of shredded Parmesan cheese place in mounds in the skillet. Gently spread the mounds into rounds about 2 inches in diameter. When the edges start to turn golden (this will just take a minute or so), turn with a thin spatula and continue to cook for a few seconds more. Remove from skillet and place on a rack to cool. These Parmesan crackers are crunchy and delicious.

I like to drape the still flexible cracker over a dowel to cool. This makes a perfect holder to pipe in some great fillings like cream cheese with roasted garlic and bacon. Pepperoni that you have fried crispy and combined with caramelized onions is also delicious. You can make bigger rounds and shape them into a cone. Then you can pipe in some sour cream mashed potatoes and top with a little green onion, cheddar cheese and bacon for an elegant side dish.

While not technically a cracker, cheese straws are an incredibly easy crowd-pleaser, and you don’t even have to make the dough. Simply buy a package of puff pastry, roll it out to about 1/8 inch thick, gently press some Parmesan cheese and maybe so poppy seeds or sesame seeds into the dough.

Refrigerate it for an hour or so, cut into strips, twist and bake.

I hope this gives you some ideas to try. I promise that you will be the hit of the party.

Dennis Patillo is a committed foodie and chef. He has spent a lifetime studying foods from around the world as well as regional cuisines. His passion is introducing people to ingredients and techniques that can be used in their home kitchen. He and his wife, Louise, own The PumpHouse Riverside Restaurant and Bar.

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