I read a piece of advice for people trying to make friends in a new place: say yes to every invitation. My immediate response to that was: no, thanks. It’s hard enough for an introvert to say yes to any invitation, but accepting all invitations? Impossible. Still, I recognized that the author had a point—in a new environment, the more you can get out and experience different things and meet different people, the more likely you are to find a way to feel connected. With that in mind, I try really hard to say yes to stuff. When a friend invited Ed and me to attend a painting night to learn more about the Springfield Art Association, my first thoughts were, strangers? painting (I’m terrible)? No. Can’t. Won’t. The friend also said—unprompted, which I appreciated—that I shouldn’t worry about not being a good painter and we’d know at least a couple other people there. That was just enough to tip the scales. I said yes.
One other thing: I’d need to bring an appetizer to share. That part I liked. I rifled through my mental cookbook thinking of what I could make that would fit the bill. It couldn’t be hot (no way to heat it), it couldn’t be weird (I was feeding strangers), and it couldn’t stress me out (I’d be anxious enough). Through the fog emerged one of my favorite homemade snacks, one I hadn’t made in years: cheese straws. They met all of my criteria: they’re served at room temperature, as safe as a Cheez-It, and simple to make.
They’re also irresistible. They’re mainly cheddar cheese, with a little bit of flour, butter, and milk as a binding. The dough comes together in a food processor, then it’s rolled and cut into strips and baked until crisp. I think the addictive quality comes from the extra-sharp cheddar cheesiness. And the saltiness. And the crunchiness. And the spiciness.
At the paint night, I set up my straws in little glasses on the communal snack table, grabbed a few for myself, and turned my back on them, hoping others would enjoy. The evening flew by. Ed and I painted horribly and no one cared, we met some great new people, and got to hang out with people we already knew were great. As the night was ending, I was in line to clean my palette when Ed motioned me over to the snack table. He had encountered a huddle of women crunching and delighting in the cheese straws. Ed introduced me as the maker and the kind ladies peppered me with questions and compliments: what’s in these, how do you make them, they’re so good! It was the perfect ending to an already good night. I left feeling welcomed, flattered, and very happy that I’d said yes.
I highly recommend these snacks for sharing with friends (old and new) at a Super Bowl party, a pot luck, or just for fun.
adapted from smitten kitchen
Choose an extra-sharp cheddar cheese. I prefer 1 cup extra-sharp Tillamook and a ½ cup of 20 month aged white cheddar.
If you don’t have a food processor or would rather do a slice and bake style cracker, check out Jessica’s cheese wafers. (We’re gals who really love cheddar crackers.)
These are best the day they’re baked, but will keep for a day or two in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.
Makes about three dozen 8-inch straws.
1 ½ cups, packed (6 ounces) grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into four pieces
¾ cup all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon whole milk (or heavy cream or half-and-half)
Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (optional).
In the bowl of a large food processor, add the cheese, butter pieces, flour, salt, and red pepper flakes. Combine in five 5-second pulses until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. Add the milk and process for about 10 seconds or until the dough comes together in a ball.
Lightly dust the countertop and rolling pin with flour. Turn the dough onto the flour-dusted surface and roll into a rectangle approximately 8 inches by 10 inches and 1/8-inch thick. Using a floured pizza cutter or floured knife, slice the dough into thin 8-inch strips, about 1/4-inch to 1/3-inch in width. I use a kitchen ruler or other straight edge to help make straight cuts.
Carefully place the strips on the prepared baking sheet, leaving at least 1/4-inch space between them. If the strips crack or break, pinch them back together. Don’t worry too much, though, because they’re delicious at any size.
Bake on the middle rack for 10 to 12 minutes or until the ends are just barely browned. Remove from oven and place baking sheet on a rack to cool.
Once cooled, serve immediately or store in an air-tight container. Keep refrigerated if not serving the day they’re made. Bring to room temperature to serve. Will keep for up to two days.