Cheese Straws (Chicago, December 13, 2011)

Returning to Chicago is always wonderful but I never fail to overestimate the amount of stuff I can do while I’m here. The problem is that it’s hard to check off a to-do list when there are so many great people around, so many favorite bars and restaurants to visit and so many sites to see again.

Even though I’ve spent the majority of the last five months away, Chicago is still my home base. I wonder how long that assurance will last. If I do the traditional job-search this time in two years, I’ll be applying to positions in all sorts of places other than Chicago. I tell myself I’m ready for that, but then I come back and fall in love with my favorite things all over again: the things that make me feel grounded and stable. Such is the lot of an itinerant academic.

I’m not trying to sound bleak- there are plenty of people in my field who adopt a fatalistic attitude. I’ve been guilty of that myself at many points, but the more I speak to people both in and outside academia who are satisfied, the more I realize that these people have decided that they are capable of fashioning their own fate. For me, this means being between two cities at the moment and trying to do it in a way that is least disruptive to the non-research-related aspects of my life. In the future, it might mean taking serious stock of what really counts. What is most important at the end of the day?

Doing this blog has confirmed, at least, the importance of cooking – I’ve said this before but it’s good to put that in writing as much as possible.

Today it’s cheese straws. Truth be told, these are more twists than straws and they don’t resemble the cheese straws my mom makes – those are more dense and complex. This recipe, taken from the Canal House Cooking series, is shockingly easy to make though, and the payoff is absolutely satisfying. Cheese straws are a party food and December is a party-food kind of month, so the next couple of posts will be devoted to them.

Cheese Straws (recipe adapted from Canal House Cooking, Volume 2: Fall and Holiday)

Ingredients (for about 30 straws)

2 cups parmesan cheese, finely grated

2 sheets puff pastry, defrosted

Cayenne pepper

Directions

Preheat your oven to 375.

Clean and clear a flat surface on your counter. Dust the surface with a few sprinkles of the cheese and place the unfolded puff pastry on top. With a rolling pin, begin to roll out the puff pastry, flipping it every now and then and sprinkling the top with cheese as you go along. You want to work the cheese into the dough this process, and for each sheet you should end up using about one cup of the cheese. Continue rolling and incorporating the cheese until the dough is a mere 1/8 inch thick.

Next, use a pizza slicer or knife to cut the flattened sheet into strips about 1/3 of an inch across. Take each strip and twist either end so that it forms a cork-screw shape (see photo above). Then take these and arrange them on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper or lightly greased with butter.

Repeat the process with the other sheet of puff pastry and remaining cup of cheese.

Bake the straws in the oven until just golden, around 10-12 minutes, then open the oven and dust them with cayenne pepper and bake again for 1-2 minutes. Let the straws cool for a few minutes and then serve or stash. They’re best if used within a day.

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