- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2003

I’m not a snob. The bright orange color, crisp texture and salty, sharp flavor of the classic processed-cheese crackers are irresistible. One handful is never enough.

I’m also pleased that I can make a pretty tasty version at home. Although the flavor and texture vary with the recipe, I’ve never made a cheese cracker that wasn’t delicious. Three factors determine the outcome:

• Amount of fat in the recipe.

• Thickness of the dough.

• Type of cheese used.

The more butter you use in the recipe, the richer the taste. A high proportion of butter also makes the crackers spread so they’re more crisp.

The thinner the dough is cut, the more delicate the crackers are. If you want crackers with the thick consistency of a cookie, slice or shape the dough to at least a quarter-inch thickness (half that for wafers).

Cheese crackers are only as good as their distinctive cheese flavor. I’ve experimented with cheddar, Parmesan and Asiago cheeses. However, my current favorite, Parrano cheese, is the one I recommend for the following recipe.

If you haven’t come across this cheese yet, Parrano tastes like an aged Gouda with a hint of Parmesan thrown in. It’s slightly sweet and nutty, but not salty.

Grated, Parrano cheese falls into fine, tender shreds that are easy to work into a cracker dough. You’ll find the cheese sold by the wedge, in slices or shredded, in supermarkets or natural-food stores.

For the recipe that follows, I wanted cheese crackers with the consistency of a melt-in-the-mouth shortbread. The combination of butter and cheese achieves that in an easy preparation.

Make these crackers as an hors d’oeuvre to go with dry sherry or as an accompaniment to the marvelous smoked turkey soup that follows. You’ll find chunks of ready-to-dice smoked turkey breast in most supermarket meat cases during the Thanksgiving season.

Smoked turkey soup

2 small new potatoes, quartered

2 cups small baby carrots, halved

Salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

1 shallot, minced

4 ounces sliced wild mushrooms, about 1 heaping cup

1 tablespoon flour

1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with jalapeno chilies, undrained

1 10.5-ounce can chicken broth

8 ounces diced smoked turkey breast

1 bay leaf

teaspoon crushed, dried oregano

Freshly ground pepper

Combine potatoes and carrots in a small pot with 1 teaspoon salt and water to cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium high, and cook 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a medium-size pan. Add the garlic, shallot and mushrooms, and saute over high heat 2 minutes or until mushrooms are limp and lightly browned. Add flour and stir to blend in. Add tomatoes and stir up browned bits in pan.

Add chicken broth, turkey, bay leaf, oregano and pepper to taste. Season to taste with salt. Simmer 5 minutes. Add potatoes and carrots, and heat through. Remove bay leaf before serving. Makes 2 entree servings.

Cheese-cornmeal shortbread crackers

1 cup grated Parrano cheese

cup ( stick) unsalted butter

cup sugar

1 egg

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour

⅓ cup yellow cornmeal

Salt

teaspoon baking powder

Beat the cheese, butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until well blended. Add egg and beat. Stir together flour, cornmeal, a dash of salt and baking powder. Add flour mixture, cup at a time, to form stiff dough.

Form into 1-inch balls. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten balls to 3/8-inch thickness with tines of fork. Bake in 375-degree oven for 12 to 14 minutes or until the crackers are golden and firm. Makes 24 crackers.

Note: Leftovers freeze well.

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