petizers and hors d’oeuvres are my weakness. Trays full of delicious, petite sized snacks are enticing and I’m usually the girl at the party standing by the displays with a plate full of shrimp tails and used toothpicks. Though I have my favorites, I don’t discriminate: everything from dips to cheese platters to nuggets is fair game.
Last week, I catered an Open House at a beautiful three bedroom home at 2310 Susquehanna Avenue. Thankfully, I have a wonderful place to live and am not looking to pack my belongings to move around the corner, but the capabilities this house had for entertaining caught my eye and were straight out of a home cook’s daydream.
The spacious living room and classy kitchen were a selling point alone, but the rear room of the house, which lead to the large backyard, featured cabinets and countertops with separate beer and wine fridges, a dual stainless-steel sink, and a cable hookup for a flat screen television. Like I said, I’m not in the market for a new home but I couldn’t help but picture myself showing Phillies games on the flat screen while I served family and friends cold ones from the fridge and burgers and dogs from the grill out back.
To highlight the back room I decided to make some Clean Plate favorites and add a few chic additions. For the new recipes, I turned to my Barefoot Contest cookbook. Ina Garden has become a respectable culinary figure due to her show on the Food Network, and thank God she’s allowed the rest of the world in on her tips and tricks for hosting anything from an elaborate dinner party to stylish cocktail party. These blue cheese and walnut crackers added simple elegance to the Open House spread.
Blue Cheese and Walnut Crackers
Adapted from Ina Garten’s How Easy Is That?
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
8 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 extra-large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water for egg wash
1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts
In a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream the butter and blue cheese together until smooth. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour, salt and pepper and mix until it’s in large crumbles, about 1 minute. Add 1 tablespoon of water and mix until combined.
Dump the dough onto a floured board, press it into a ball, and roll into a 12-inch long log. Brush the log completely with the egg wash. Spread the walnuts in a square on a cutting board and roll the log back and forth in the walnuts, pressing lightly, and distributing them evenly on the outside of the log. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cut the log into slices ¼ inch thick with a small, sharp knife and place the crackers on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes until very lightly browned. Rotate the pan once during baking for even cooking. Cool and serve at room temperature.
You really can’t buy boxed crackers at the grocery store that look and taste this fancy. The cracker takes on a faint blue tint from the cheese, almost as if it were giving you a heads up about the flavor packed inside the crunchy snack. Not that you needed a warning; throughout the baking period, the heat from the oven helps the strong, pungent yet rich cheesy scent travel throughout the house. The texture of the finished biscuit is neither too dry nor too moist and is perfectly crisp. The outside layer of walnuts adds a nutty flavor that breaks down the strength of the blue cheese, and even will have people wondering how you found the time to make homemade crackers.
Next time you’re invited to a cocktail party, or hosting one of your own, consider making your crackers instead of buying a box. They look beautiful on a tray with fresh grapes and sliced pears, and the sweetness of each fruit is a great compliment to the saltiness of the savory baked cracker. Blue Cheese and Walnut Crackers were certainly a hit at the 2310 Susquehanna Ave Open House, and I had a lot of fun designing a menu for the interested home buyers that came to have a peek. Perhaps the lucky new neighbor wouldn’t mind me coming back to use that back entertaining room for my own cocktail party?