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Snack Upgrade: Cheese Straws Go to Finishing School

These cheese straws are pretty heroic: rich, crispy, and totally cheesy. Think turbocharged Cheez-Its. They’re the perfect thing to bring along to a dessert-centric after-dinner birthday party like the one Mr. T and I are off to this evening. I’ve found with years of throwing parties of all sorts of permutations that even the sweetest occasion needs some savor. These play well with drinks of any variety, are compulsively munchable, and will provide a welcome salty contrast to things like birthday cake.

The original recipe, from The New York Times‘ Kim Severson, calls for orange cheddar, and I’m sure they make for an excellent cheese straw.  However. I am both enough of a snob to look slightly askance at orange cheddar and enough in the thrall of Julia Child to know that Gruyère can make anything better. As for the Parmesan, well… because Parmesan! Honestly. Along with a more varied slate of cheeses, I also bumped up the supporting cast of spices, all of which add focus and depth to the different strands of cheese flavor.

The dough is simple and short and comes together quickly. The critical issue here is temperature. The original calls for either extruding the straws with a cookie press or rolling them by hand. The former is fine, IF you’ve got a cookie press, but the latter seems to me a recipe for melty frustration and sticky disaster. Thus, we borrow a temperature management technique from the perfect sugar cookie recipe and pop the rolled dough into the freezer for a few minutes.

This makes all the difference in the world and enables the production of long, slender wands of cheesy deliciousness that won’t put the baker completely round the bend trying to get them onto baking sheets.

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Better than the Bulk Aisle: Crunchy Sesame Sticks

Those little crunchy, salty sesame sticks one can buy in the bulk bins at health food stores are absolutely one of Mr. T’s very favorite snacks. While undeniably tasty, however, they’re probably the least healthy thing one could buy in a health food store. So oily, so salty, so probably full of preservatives. Problematic. Of course, I tend to view anything that doesn’t really seem to have a homemade analogue that is superior as something of a challenge.

So, obviously, I’ve been mulling how to make these at home for some time, and that time ended up being last weekend. Several thousand sesame seeds and five versions later, I am quite happy with what we came up with.

No preservatives, less oily but still crunchy, and still salty but not throat-searingly so. Still not health food, but better. And with a more pronouncedly sesame taste, what with the tahini, sesame oil, and two kinds of sesame seeds. Imminently nom-able with your favorite bevvy, and perfect for whatever sport you’re watching this fall.

As you’ll see, the mix of plain and black sesame seeds adds a bit of visual interest. Black sesame can be found in Asian markets, particularly those catering to Indian and Japanese clienteles. In the former, though, be sure you’re getting black sesame and not kalonji/nigella, which looks very similar. Squeezing the sticks out onto the gets a little wrist-breaking after a while, particularly as the batter stiffens, so it might make sense to do batches of this size one at a time if you want to make lots.

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