Friday, October 31, 2014

Sea Salted Peanut Brittle

The pre-packaged Halloween cookies and candy are ready and waiting for the tricker or treaters. And hopefully they will be out braving the wintery weather tonight (a most terrible trick played by Mother Nature this year). A part of me that wishes these were 'Little House on the Prairie Days' where the Halloween treats were homemade instead of store bought (although back then a store bought treat may have been more coveted and treasured than one homemade). Years ago in the neighborhood I lived in my treats for the kids in my immediate neighborhood were actually homemade. The year I did not have the warm chocolate chip cookies waiting for them when they came to door and instead had a tray of pre-packaged cookies and candy was one where I think at least one of them considered egging the house. Needless to say, the homemade chocolate chip cookies returned the following year. Had I been making candies back then, the adult neighbors accompanying their children on this annual candy collecting trek would be given a bag of peanut brittle.

Peanut brittle is an American confection originating in the South or so some would like to believe. One legend attributes its' creation to a Southern woman who in 1890 mistakenly added baking soda instead of cream of tartar to a batch of taffy. Instead of a chewy taffy, the mixture became a crunchy brittle. Another version of its' origin is grounded in Southern folklore. The fabled hero Tony Beaver (a cousin of Paul Bunyan) is alleged to have saved a town from a flood by pouring peanuts and molasses into the river (it must have been a hot, raging river). This ingenuity not only prevented widespread damage to the town but resulted in the creation of brittle. Whether or not peanut brittle was actually created as a result of a mistake or a legendary save of a fictional town, this is one delicious sweet-salty-crunchy confection.

There is something rather addictive about peanut brittle. A sweet salty combination, made very slightly more salty with the finishing touch of sea salt isn't as hard to make as I had thought. Being more of a visual learner, watching someone make peanut brittle at a cooking demonstration one day had me thinking 'and why did I think was so hard'. Isn't it funny how we sometimes make things more difficult than they really are? 

When shopping for the ingredients I couldn't remember if I needed raw Spanish peanuts or roasted salted Spanish peanuts (this is why I shouldn't be trying new recipes without having a list with me). I ended up buying the roasted salted Spanish peanuts and fortunately still had pretty good results with the brittle. Reading Fine Cooking's article on Putting the Buttery Crunch in Peanut Brittle I learned raw peanuts not only contribute to enhancing the flavor of the peanut brittle, but they can be added in early in the cooking process. Roasted nuts should be added in at the end of the cooking time as they are subject to burning and giving the brittle a bitter taste. If using any other nuts (cashews, walnuts, pecans) when making the brittle, they should too should be added near the cooking process or when the candy thermometer reaches 290 degrees.

The brittle fairies must have been watching over me because I added the the Roasted Salted Peanuts at the beginning and not at the end of the cooking process. Not wanting to take any chances these fairies won't be around the next time I make this brittle, I will make two changes: Buying and using the raw Spanish peanuts or adding the roasted salted Spanish peanuts at the end of the cooking process.

When the butter, vanilla and baking soda are added when the candy thermometer reaches 300 degrees, the entire mixture will foam up. The entire mixture remains on the heat until all the butter has melted (another lesson learned in this brittle making process). If you don't have a heavy saucepan (am a big All-Clad fan), the brittle and the caramel recipes are just two reasons why you should have (at least) one.

This recipe calls for using not one, but three baking sheets (buttered or sprayed with Pam). The brittle poured into narrow (about 4 inches) lines and divided equally between the three baking sheets. This results in a thinner versus thicker brittle. Once cooled the brittle is broken into pieces. To keep the brittle fresh store in a tightly sealed container or package in cellophane bags. A warning to my friends: Expect to see peanut brittle on the holiday cookie/candy trays this year!
Sea Salted Peanut Brittle (slight adaptations to a recipe shared by Sharon Wussow)

2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 cups raw Spanish peanuts (or roasted salted Spanish peanuts)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
Sea salt for sprinkling
Butter and/or Pam spray for cookie sheets

1. Butter or spray three bakings sheets. Set aside.
2. In a medium-sized, heavy saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, water and salt. Heat until sugar dissolves.
3. Add raw Spanish peanuts and cook over medium-high heat stirring frequently until candy thermometer reaches 300 degrees. Notes: (1) Cooking time will range from 20 to 30 minutes and (2) if using Roasted Salted Spanish peanuts add at the end of the process or if using cashews add when candy thermometer reaches 290 degrees.
4. Immediately add in baking soda, vanilla and butter. Stir until butter has melted. Note: Mixture will initially foam up.
5. Remove from heat and pour brittle in narrow (4 inch) lines or a U-shape design (with 4 inch sides) on the prepared baking pans. Immediately sprinkle with sea salt.
6. Using a fork, gently pull down any piles of peanuts in the brittle. Note: when edge of brittle is slightly firm, gently pull edges with a fork to thin out the brittle.
7. Carefully turn brittle over on pan and allow to cool to room temperature.
8. When cooled, break into pieces. Store in an airtight container.

Wild turkeys in the woods in Rockford, Illinois and along the Salt Creek Trail in Oak Brook, Illinois.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Maple Glazed Mini-Pumpkin Doughnuts

With the bathroom remodeling project now behind me, the desire for rearranging rooms, shifting furniture, and reorganizing collections has reared its' ugly head. Not at all ugly for me mind you, just for a certain someone who doesn't always view these 'projects' of mine as fun and as exciting as I do. Mostly because one change leads to another to another, and more often than not they end up being far from just simple changes. To further add to someone's angst, I often make adjustments and changes to my 'preliminary' plan as what it looks like doesn't always match with what I thought it would. The process of doing and undoing may be energizing for me, however, it's a process of coming slightly, temporarily unglued for someone else. Since it is highly unlikely I will ever stop coming up with rearranging, shifting, and reorganizing ideas, I have learned the value of timing. Bribes are good things too.

As I was looking for and comparing baked pumpkin doughnut recipes, all I kept hearing in my head were the words from a childhood game, 'One potato, two potato, three potato..' Most of the ingredients listed in the recipes for pumpkin doughnuts were the same with the only significant difference being in their amounts. I wanted to make a doughnut that was both moist and dense. So I focused on the ratio of liquid to dry ingredients in each of the recipes. Some had one egg, some had two eggs, and some had three eggs (hence why the childhood song was resurrected from my memory). After a process of elimination, I settled on the recipe calling for two eggs. Having no basis of comparison, the Maple Glazed Pumpkin Doughnutss (a two egg version) were everything I wanted them to be and then some.

After I finished making the Maple Glazed Mini-Pumpkin Doughnuts, my first thought was they were almost too pretty to eat. My second though was, no, these doughnuts are the kind of 'too hard to resist' pretty. It is almost impossible to eat only just one of them (even for those who pride themselves on self-control). Not because of their size, but because of their flavor and texture. If you are someone who loves the flavor of pumpkin and spices as well as prefers a doughnut with a cake-like texture, you will be delirious after tasting this doughnut (almost the kind of delirious that if someone asked you rearrange, shift or reorganize somethings, you might not even be phased by the requests). Is there anyone who does not like cake? I prefer to live in the fantasy world of 'everyone loves cake', so please don't burst this bubble for me. I don't think I could comprehend someone not liking cake.

If there was another reason to hoard canned pumpkin (besides for making pumpkin pies, pumpkin squares and pumpkin bread), this doughnut would be that reason. But these doughnuts shouldn't have 'another' hoarding reason status, they are so insanely delicious they could be the 'only' reason. Eggs, dark brown sugar, buttermilk, granulated sugar, melted butter, spices, salt, baking powder, salt and canned pumpkin mixed together create a beautiful thick, delicious batter (I am all about predicting the outcome of a baked good based on the taste of the batter). Note: The inspiration recipe called for using both pumpkin spice and cinnamon. Rather than buy pumpkin spice, you can make your own. The recipe for making pumpkin spice is provided in the ingredients list below.)

Whether you use a stand mixer or hand mixer, the batter comes together quickly and easily. These are kind of doughnuts you could make on a Saturday or Sunday morning and not feel you have just lost several hours of your life to baking in the kitchen when you have a full day of errands, activities, and events planned.

Whether you use a pastry bag or a ziplock bag to pipe the batter into the lightly oiled doughnut mold won't really matter. Just don't use a spoon (it is just too tedious and this is supposed to be easy). In a preheated 350 degree oven the doughnuts bake for 13 to 15 minutes (my baking time was 14 minutes) or until the doughnuts spring back when pressed on lightly. This recipe made 18 mini-pumpkin doughnuts.

Once baked the doughnuts remain in the pan for 2 to 3 minutes before unmolded and placed on a cooling rack. They need to be cooled completely if icing them with confectionary sugar. Note: You can choose a cinnamon-sugar finishing option for these doughnuts.

Confectionary sugar, whole milk, maple syrup and cinnamon create a scrumptious glaze. The marzipan leaves are optional, but the sprinkles create the visual 'wow' factor to these doughnuts. India Tree is just one of the companies offering a wide variety of sprinkle shapes and colors (or if you are really ambitious you can make your own) which can make it hard to choose (which is why you will be making these doughnuts more than once).

The cooled doughnuts are dipped in the glaze and placed on rack to set. The glaze sets up quickly so be ready to add your sprinkles as you go (a lesson learned making them).

These are the kind of doughnuts everyone will think you bought at a bakery or the farmer's market or that you slaved hours over making them. They are the perfect start to a fall or winter morning (as well as a great mid-afternoon or late night snack). Not only are these doughnuts 'mini' size, they are also baked. Both factors which might lesson any guilt you feel over consuming them. Besides, there are more important things to feel guilty about. Have I told you how addictive these doughnuts are yet?

I had baked these doughnuts the morning the marble guy and plumber were here to do the installations of the counter, sink, faucet and toilet in my bathroom remodeling project. Installing the toilet wasn't part of their original plan (it was part of my plan), so it may have helped to have the fragrance of cinnamon on a cool autumn day hit them as they walked in the door (I waited for them to be in the house for a few minutes before asking if they could do me the favor of installing one more thing). The platter of doughnuts was waiting for them when they finished. If they were experiencing any angst over the change in plans for their morning, you wouldn't have been able to tell once they tasted the Maple Glazed Mini-Pumpkin Doughnuts. I am beginning to develop a theory about these doughnuts. Will have to test it again next weekend when I need some help moving furniture.

Maple Glazed Mini-Pumpkin Doughnuts (slight adaptation to a recipe found on All Recipes)
Makes 18 mini-donuts

2 cups all-purpose flour (recommend King Arthur)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon
2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice (you can make your own: 1 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (recommend Maldon)
2/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/4 cup buttermilk, room temperature
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted, cooled slightly

Maple Glaze
1 1/2 cups confectionary sugar, sifted
1/4 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon of pure maple syrup (Grade A or Grade B)
At least 2 Tablespoons of whole milk (if too thick add additional milk, 1 teaspoon at a time) - I used 2 additional teaspoons

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray mini-doughnut pan with oil.
2. Sift flour, baking powder, spices, and salt in a medium sized bowl. Set aside.
3. Whisk buttermilk and melted butter in a small bowl. Set aside.
4. Using either a stand mixer or hand mixer, combine brown sugar, sugar, pumpkin, and egg. Mix on low speed until combined.
5. Alternating between the flour and buttermilk mixture, add each to pumpkin batter in 5 additions (beginning and ending with dry ingredients) until well combined.
6. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a round tube or a ziplock bag with a corner cut, pipe batter into the prepared doughnut pan (each mold will be slightly more than half-full).
7. Bake 13 to 15 minutes or until they spring back to the touch (my baking time was 14 minutes).
8. Allow doughnuts to rest in pan 2-3 minutes before unmolding and cooling on a cooling rack.

1. Whisk together the confectionary sugar, maple syrup, milk and cinnamon until mixture is smooth, creamy, good dipping consistency. If glaze is to thin, add more confectionary sugar. If too thick, add additional milk one teaspoon at a time.
2. Dip each doughnut into the glaze, returning to the wire cooling rack. Add sprinkles to glazed doughnuts before the glaze sets (dip 2 or 3, then sprinkle).
3. Allow glaze to fully set up (approximately 10-15 minutes). Transfer doughnuts to a platter and serve.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Chicken Liver Pate with Pickled Shallots

I have shared my love of reading here on blog before. What I have not shared is how I come to select the fiction and non-fiction books lining the bookshelves and sitting in stacks in various rooms in the house. Like most everyone I anxiously await books written by my favorite authors, read book reviews, and get recommendations from friends. But I also choose books (written by unfamiliar authors) with covers I find interesting. That old adage 'you can't judge a book by its' cover' isn't always true, because sometimes you really can. The method of selecting a book by its' cover and reading the book jacket has worked more often than not. Recently I came across A Boat, a Whale and a Walrusa new cookbook written by Renee Erickson, a chef from Seattle, and someone who I was not familiar with (gasp). However, in the last month I have bought four new cookbooks (excessive even for me) and decided this was enough for awhile. But this was a book cover and title I was finding hard to resist. Without even skimming through the book or looking at the table of contents, it became the fifth cookbook purchased this month. After finally sitting down to read a few pages of the well written narratives and leafing through the beautiful photos, I thought 'this may be one of the best cookbooks I have bought all year'. Then I made her Chicken Liver Pate recipe. And let's just say it is going to a very long while before I make (or rather if I make) any of the other pate recipes I have made (and loved) over the years.

The discovery of this cookbook and chef is just one example of the incredible, almost 'higher power had a hand in' discoveries (and rediscoveries) made in the last couple of weeks. Every October for the past forty years, there has been an annual fall antique show here attracting dealers from across the country. It also attracts some serious and some not so serious collectors. Living away for the past several years had kept me from what had become an annual antique show tradition (no not for the past forty years, although I wish I had discovered this show forty years ago).

Generally when I am at a really good antique show I see nothing but the antiques on display in the booths. Brad Pitt, George Clooney, or Harrison Ford could be standing right in front of me and I wouldn't see them (I would only be wondering why the noise level around me was elevated). But something made me look up as I was walking down an aisle and standing almost in front of me was a friend I had not seen in a very, very, very long time, you might say, too long. In spite of time (and distance) we were both immediately thrilled to have rediscovered one another. After a short reconnection we made tentative plans to get together before each continuing the search for treasures (she is the more serious collector, one with a really great enviable eye).

Later on in the day I stopped to engage in conversation with a handsome, young antique dealer. After making a small purchase from his booth, I asked where he got his love and eye for antiques. He shared he grew up with them but had learned the most from two antique dealers from New Hampshire. Before I could say anything he asked if I wanted to meet them as they had a booth at the show. Well much to his surprise no introductions were necessary as I had known these two dealers for more than 25 years (but had not seen in a very, very long time). In less than two hours, my path crossed with three friends I had let life get in the way of staying connected with. What are the odds of this happening?

Finding a great antique pewter platter at the antique show paled in comparison to finding these friends. This turned out to be one of those great 'the stars were aligned' kind of days.

Putting the platter and cookbook to good use were my priorities once I got over the incredulousness of reconnecting with friends on the same day, in the same place (although I haven't really gotten over it yet). Whenever I buy a new cookbook I generally like to start with some of the simpler recipes. Because if the simple ones turn out to be amazing, then almost always the more complex ones will as well. By now you should have figured out my logic on most things follows its own path.

The Liver Pate with Pickled Shallots not only sounded delicious, but with ingredients like butter, port and currants, it was one of those irresistible recipes. As someone who happens to love a really good pate, I have been on a quest to find the 'perfect' one for years. My quest has now ended.

There are at least nine different kinds of port. This recipe calls for a tawny port or one with more aging in the barrel time before being bottled. As a result an aging process lasting anywhere from 3 to 40 years, a tawny port develops a dry nutty flavor with raisin overtones and causes the port to take on a more red-brown versus red-purple color. Real tawny ports are marked with its' age. It is not necessary to use the most expensive tawny port in this recipe, just one you would also love drinking.

In almost every pickled onion or pickled shallot recipe I have come across, the vinegar, sugar and salt are heated before the sliced vegetables are added. But not this one.

Thinly sliced shallots need to marinate in champagne vinegar, some sugar and some salt for at least two hours. The result is a crisp, flavorful pickled shallot. However, continuing to marinate over night in the refrigerator further developed the flavor of the shallots. The pickled shallots will last in the refrigerator up to two months in a sealed, covered jar. They won't last more than a couple of weeks here.

Once the chicken livers, finely diced onions, finely diced garlic, salt and port are cooked in a large sauté pan, they need to cool slightly. The recommended cool down time was 5 minutes, but I waited about 10 minutes before transferring the mixture to the food processor. After briefly pulsing the liver/onion/garlic mixture, the remaining ingredients were added. In order to get the mixture as smooth and creamy as possible process for at least two minutes. To add to its' creaminess the mixture is pushed through a fine mesh strainer. Now here is where I wasn't either patient or strong enough. After pushing the half of the processed mixture through the strainer, I decided (rationalized) a little bit of texture to the pate would be a good thing. So I mixed what was left in the strainer with what had been strained.

Lining a 4x6 or 4x8 inch pan with plastic wrap, the mixture is poured in, covered and allowed to chill overnight in the refrigerator. This pate sets up beautifully. 

Toast or grill a hearty bread or baguette brushed lightly with extra-virgin olive oil to go with the pate. 

And thick slices arranged on a plate with the pickled onions, grilled bread or baguettes, and some cornichons make for either a perfect starter to a meal or the perfect accompaniment for cocktails only. The creamy texture of the pate, the pickled onions, and grilled bread is a combination hard to resist, even for those who claim not to be big fans of pate (this pate will make converts of them, seriously it will). Hahn Vineyard's Meritage or Pinot Noir would pair perfectly with this pate, but serve whatever is your favorite red. 

Chicken Liver Pate with Pickled Shallots (inspired by Renee Erickson's Boat House Chicken Liver Pate recipe shared in her recently release cookbook A Boat, a Whale and a Walrus)

Pickled Shallots
1 pound shallots, peeled and cut into circular, slightly less than 1/4 inch, slices 
2 cups champagne vinegar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 pound chicken livers
3 Tablespoons of a tawny Port (one at least 10 years old)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup dried currants
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 Tablespoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
Sea salt for finishing (recommend Maldon)
Grilled sourdough bread or baguette toasts
Cornichons, optional 

Pickled Shallots
1. Toss the sliced shallots with kosher salt and sugar in a small bowl. Add champagne vinegar and stir. Allow the mixture to marinate for two hours (stirring occasionally) before serving. Note: Would recommend allowing the marinate overnight in the refrigerator (after first marinating at room temperature for two hours).

1. Melt one stick of salted butter in a large sauté pan. Add finely chopped onions and garlic (sauté for 3 minutes stirring often).
2. Add livers, port and salt. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes (stirring often) or until the livers have cooked evenly and the livers are no longer bleeding (my cook time was 8 minutes). Remove from heat and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes.
3. Transfer liver/onion/garlic mixture to a food processor. Pulse briefly to break up the livers before adding additional ingredients.
4. Add remaining stick of butter, currants, cream, dry mustard, freshly grated nutmeg, and Aleppo pepper. Process for at least 2 minutes or until the mixture is completely smooth.
5. Push mixture through a fine mesh strainer set over a large bowl, using a rubber spatula to press mixture through. Note: I strained half of the mixture, then combined the strained mixture with what was left in the strainer. 
6. Line a 4x6 inch or 4x8 inch pan with plastic wrap. Pour mixture in pan, gently knock pan on counter to release air bubbles, smooth top with an off set spatula, and cover with plastic wrap. Chill overnight.
7. Unmold pate onto a cutting board. Using a knife that has been run under hot water, cut thick slices of the pate and serve. Sprinkle each slice with (Maldon) sea salt .
8. Serve with toasted or grilled bread or baguettes.

Harbor views in New Bedford, Massachusetts and Vineyard Haven on Martha's Vineyard (September 2014).

Monday, October 20, 2014

Pounded Cheese with Port Syrup and Walnuts

For the past several weeks I have been preoccupied with making shades of gray color decisions for a bathroom remodeling project, a project that was supposed to be a simple one. When will I learn that no remodeling project in a seventy year old house is simple? Probably never. But that probably isn't the right question anyway, however, the answer would still be the same. Laboring over color decisions is due in part to once selecting a bedroom wall color that took on very different hues during the day and at night. After three coats of a relatively expensive wall paint painstakingly applied in a relatively large room, I woke up one morning to a bedroom that felt like it was lined with harvest gold refrigerators. Let's just say that wasn't a good feeling on so many different levels. If it was possible for someone to be burned at the stake for spending an unnecessary fortune on paint and making someone spend countless hours painting (and repainting), that someone would have been me. 

It wasn't much of shock (at least to myself) when I decided to make a recipe out of Amy Thielen's "The New Midwestern Table" cookbook. Her recipe for a pounded cheese with a port syrup appealed to me for a variety of reasons. In her book, Amy shared pounded cheese recipes have been found in 'books of early American cookery'. Having an affinity for centuries old things, making a century old recipe was one I couldn't resist. In addition to antiques, I also love wine and especially port. My sister, the wine expert in the family, introduced me (or should I say permanently spoiled me) to the Cabernet Sauvignon Port from Napa Valley's Schweiger Vineyards years ago. While it was probably unnecessary to use a port with such depth of flavor in this recipe, I thought it might make a incredible port syrup (it exceeded even my expectations). And lastly, a recipe calling for an aged Wisconsin cheddar cheese (one at least three years old) was also irresistible. The state of Wisconsin holds a special place in my heart as it was the place of my childhood family vacations. Thankfully I had a sorority sister friend on a girl's weekend  trip in Lake Geneva brought me back a great aged Wisconsin cheddar (it is great to have friends, even greater to have friends on Facebook who read my pleas and posts).

The Pounded Cheese with Port Syrup and Walnuts is one that epitomizes Throwback Thursday. Why? Because it sort of visually reminds one of those cheese spreads they would serve in the restaurants way back when. Only the flavor in this one is in a league of its' own. Maybe I should have waited to post and share this recipe on Thursday, but it would have been a crime (maybe not a burning at the stakes kind of crime) to delay sharing it with you.

This is one of those recipes using simple, quality ingredients and having simple, non-complicated 'invest hours in' directions. If there was ever a dish where its' flavor and beauty in presentation rivaled its' simplicity, this would be the one. If you live within a hundred mile radius of Wisconsin, it would be worth the drive to buy the aged cheddar cheese, unless of course you lucky enough have friends who are there frequently and are willing to do some of your grocery shopping. And if neither of those are practical options, it is likely you can find at least a three year aged cheddar at your favorite cheese shop (or in the cheese section at Whole Foods). Does the aged cheese absolutely need to be from Wisconsin? No, it doesn't. There are some amazing cheeses coming out of Vermont and the Hudson Valley. The only deal breaker in this recipe in the age of the cheese. Just remember, buy one that is at least three years old.

The modern convenience of a food processor makes making this pounded cheese incredibly easy. Imagine the arm strength that went into pounding the cheese with a wooden spoon in a wooden bowl more than a century ago!  After the softened cheddar cheese is processed until pureed, the (salted) butter, dijon mustard, Aleppo pepper and black pepper are added. Scraping the bowl several times, all of the ingredients are processed until reaching a smooth and creamy consistency. If you are not serving the cheese immediately, it can be refrigerated but needs to be brought back to room temperature before serving. I found that whipping it with a hand mixer just before serving restored it back to the right consistency.

The original recipe for the port syrup called for simmering 1/2 cup of port and one tablespoon of light brown sugar for approximately three minutes. Whether I did something wrong here or not, my mixture was not maple syrupy in consistency after three minutes. Not wanting to waste the Schweiger port (this would be a real crime), I increased the tablespoons of light brown sugar to two and simmered for about 15 minutes. The result was a velvety, intense-in-flavor port syrup. The syrup can be made early in the day or the day before as it should be at least room temperature or chilled before drizzling over the pounded cheese. Note: This port syrup would be also perfect served over a beef tenderloin.

No throwback 'deconstructed cheese ball' recipe would be truly throwback unless it was served with Ritz crackers (a cracker first introduced in 1934). The pounded cheese seems to call for a buttery cracker or sliced pretzel rolls. Choose whichever crackers or breads are your favorites. And oh, lest I forget, the Pounded Cheese with Port Syrup and Walnuts pairs well with wine, beer or martinis.

If only choosing paint colors was as easy as making the big life decisions or deciding which recipes to try. I think I will need to remind myself of this thought when I labor over what to make when having some friends over for dinner in a couple of weeks. But at least I already which know which appetizer I will be making. You get one guess.

Pounded Cheese with Port Syrup and Walnuts (very slight adaption to Amy Thielen's Old-Fashioned Pounded Cheese with Walnuts and Port Syrup recipe shared in her book The New Midwestern Table)

Port Syrup
1/2 cup port wine (recommend Schweiger's but choose a port you really like to drink)
2 Tablespoons light brown sugar

7 ounces of at least 3 year old aged Wisconsin Cheddar Cheese, at room temperature 
6 ounces (3/4 stick) salted butter, cool but not cold
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (recommend Maille)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch of Aleppo pepper (or can use cayenne pepper)

1/2 cup walnut halves, toasted
Crackers (recommend Ritz crackers) and/or sliced Pretzel Rolls

1. For the syrup, combine port and brown sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir until sugar has melted. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce has thickened to the consistency of a maple syrup (approximately 12-15 minutes). Remove from heat, allow to cool to room temperature. If not using immediately, cover and place in the refrigerator.
2. For the cheese, cut the cheddar cheese into chunks, place in food processor and process until pureed. Add butter, mustard, Aleppo pepper, and black pepper and process until whipped and smooth (scrape down sides of bowl several times during the processing).
3. Arrange cheese on a shallow dish, drizzle port syrup over top and sprinkle with toasted walnuts. Serve with crackers or sliced pretzel rolls.
Note: Pounded cheese and syrup can be made one day ahead (wrapped separately). To serve, bring cheese to room temperature and whip with hand beaters to restore to its' creamy consistency before serving.