Cheese Straws

Cheese Straws are a very light, tasty, airy, crispy snack that are super easy to throw together. There is, of course, the make-the-dough-from-scratch kind of cheese straws, but I personally don't have time for that right now. The versions below are a corner-cutting way to the nirvana of cheese straws without much hassle. (And minimal dishes to wash after). I've included recipes for two kinds:  Cheddar Straws and Italian Straws.

I want to take this opportunity to apologize for my, um, hiatus from blogging as of late. I won't bore you with too many details, but life's been hella busy since the first of the year. Some things are great and some things, not so much. First and foremost, and most importantly, my sweet, darling 19-month old niece was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease called Aplastic Anemia, which has resulted in multiple transfusions, and incredibly large amount of medicines and drugs and poisons, and a bone marrow transplant. Luckily my nephew was a match so he's our hero right now. I never realized how important a bone marrow transplant could be to save the life of a child until this happened to our family. I immediately registered for the Bone Marrow Registry, and I wish you would too. Seriously. It's good karma.

Our son will be starting college next year (prepare to see me in a straight jacket in a padded room when that happens) so all my spare time at home has been doing research and making phone calls. I don't know how anyone does this while working full time. Holy shit. Thus, I've been working more in order continue to fund the college account, which has, unfortunately, much less than the average cost of one day at any damn school he's interested in. You need books? Sorry 'bout cha. Need a place to live? Your car is pretty cozy.  Tuition? Mom's gonna start hooking.

Sadly, our 19-month old dog Vera died suddenly. She literally collapsed and died instantly in front of my daughter, husband, and me. It has taken a toll on the overall happiness level in our family because puppies don't just die, do they? The kids are having a really hard time, but our friends and family have been super supportive and kind during this.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to be a judge at the Winchester Beer Cheese Festival. That was a blast! They had games for the kids, loads of food trucks, and lots and lots of beer cheese. I was a judge in the commercial beer cheese competition, and there are some damn good beer cheeses out there. My personal favorite was Steve's Ready to Dip, followed closely by Ashby's. Both were outstanding. Two perks to being a judge? I got to sit in the mayor's chair while judging and I consumed an ice-cold Ale-8 after judging.

Enough about me.  How 'bout a snack?

Cheese Straws
Makes 32

1 pkg. puff pastry (both sheets)
1 egg

Cheddar Straws:
Chili powder
Cheddar cheese - shredded, about 1 cup

Italian Straws:
Garlic powder
Italian seasoning
Mozzarella cheese - shredded, about 3/4 cup
Parmesan cheese - shredded, about 1/4 cup

Thaw puff pastry on the counter for about an hour or overnight in the fridge.  Preheat oven to 375°.  Line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, beat egg with 1 tablespoon water.

On a lightly floured surface, roll one sheet of puff pastry into a 10x12 rectangle.  Brush with egg wash.  Sprinkle seasoning over egg washed surface.  Sprinkle cheese.  Using rolling pin, gently press cheese into dough.

Using a pizza wheel, cut dough into 16 - 12" strips.  Twist and place 8 on each sheet pan, gently pressing ends onto sheet pan to prevent uncurling.

Bake for about 18 minutes.  Cool on sheet pan. Repeat with second batch.


Greek Rice Salad

I realize it's been a month (more!) since I've posted and I feel like a right loser. However, Christmas, sickness, work, and the multiple snow days have hindered my ability to cook, take photos, edit photos, and post any recipes. It's a long and involved process, you see. This recipe for Greek Rice Salad is one of my favorites. It's refreshing and easy as hell to make. And it stores well so you can eat it all week long. It is vegetarian but not vegan, although it can be adapted easily.

I have also started a new "diet," which has me cooking things a little differently than I'm used to (I will expand in another post). I've started eating a completely plant-based diet with no added oils or artificial ingredients. Basically, I'm eating no animal product at all like a vegan. But I'm taking it one step further and not cooking with oil or butter, not eating anything processed or prepared other than canned tomatoes and beans, and using only natural sweeteners such as maple syrup and dates. It's the Forks Over Knives way.

Why am I doing this? First and foremost, I need to lose weight. And I don't want to starve. This way of eating allows you to eat until full (which I'm still learning how to do) and not count calories. Secondly, I do believe it's a very healthy way to eat. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, animals are treated horribly and the less I contribute to that the better.

That being said, I miss my cheese. So I can't say I'll do this forever. But for right now, it's working for me.

Greek Rice Salad

1-1/2 c. instant brown rice
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 small red onion, chopped
8 oz. feta, crumbled
10.5 oz. cherry tomatoes, halved
7 oz. jar Kalamata olives, pitted and rough chopped
1/3 c. olive oil
1/3 c. red wine vinegar
1 T. oregano
1 garlic clove, minced
salt & pepper

Cook brown rice according to package directions.  Cool.

Toss cooked rice, cucumber, and next 4 ingredients in a large bowl.

In a 2-cup measuring cup, whisk the oil, vinegar, oregano, and garlic.  Season with salt & pepper.  Pour over rice mixture and toss.  Season to taste.  Serve at room temperature or cold.