Cheese Sandwiches

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This joke - which I first heard in high school - still breaks me up.

Guy’s at work; lunchtime whistle blows. He eagerly opens his lunchbox and peers inside, but then becomes crestfallen. “Geez-oh-pete, cheese sandwiches.” He takes a desultory bite.

Next day, same thing. He hopefully opens his lunchbox, and then utters a dejected sigh. “Geez-oh-pete, cheese sandwiches.”

Next day? You guessed it: same scenario plays out. “Geez-o-pete, cheese sandwiches.” His exasperated co-worker blurts, “You go through this every day. Why don’t you ask your wife to make you something else?” Replies our guy, “I’m not married. I made them myself.”

This joke resonates because we are often a victim of our own culinary limitations. We eat the same things time and time again. Habits set hard, even as we become frustrated by our own lack of variety. (I rotate the same three breakfasts 90% of the time.) We buy the same things at the grocery store, go to the same restaurants, and order the same dishes. (See New York Times, 3/31/19, “What’s the Best Restaurant if You’re Over 50?”)

My challenge to you - to break this rut - is to resolve to make something new. In homage to this column’s theme of cheese sandwiches, I offer this recipe for homemade cheese crackers, also from the Times. If you’ve ever hungrily scraped the toasty cheese that spills over onto the baking sheet when you melt something under the broiler, you’ll like this very simple take on a cheddar and pecan cocktail cracker, from Gabrielle Hamilton.

Ingredients

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup loosely packed grated Cabot Farms Vermont white Cheddar (about 3 ounces)

2/3 cup loosely packed grated pecorino Romano cheese (about 1 ounce)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1 large egg yolk

1/3 cup pecans, finely chopped (about 3 tablespoons)

3 tablespoons untoasted white sesame seeds

2 tablespoons ice water

Preparation

1. Add the flour, both cheeses, salt and cayenne to the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until combined.

2. Scatter the cold butter chunks on top, and pulse again to form coarse crumbs.

3. Add egg yolk, pecans and seeds, and pulse to combine thoroughly, yielding a coarse grainy meal.

4. Transfer mixture to a large stainless-steel bowl. Sprinkle the ice water on top, and knead briefly to bring the dough together, as you would a pie dough.

5. Divide the dough into thirds, and roll each into a neat, 8-inch-long cylinder that is about the width of a silver dollar. Wrap each log in plastic wrap, and twist the ends tightly in opposite directions, forming a perfect and compact torchon. Refrigerate until well chilled and completely firm; overnight is ideal.

6. Heat the oven to 375. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking mats. Unwrap the dough, discarding plastic wrap, and slice the logs into thin coins, each about the width of a pencil.

7. Arrange the coins in neat rows on the prepared sheets, making sure they’re not quite touching one another. This dough won’t expand or flatten after baking.

8. Bake until golden at their centers and just starting to toast at their edges, about 20 minutes. Check them midway through baking, and rotate sheets if your oven bakes unevenly.

9. Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks to cool. Once they are fully cooked, transfer coins to an airtight container, where they will keep for up to 3 weeks.

Don’t overcook them; don’t worry if they’re a little crumbly; and don’t be scared off by fancy terms like “torchon.” Your friends and family will love these addictive crackers, and you can proudly say, “I made them myself!”

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel, PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. Follow him at @nickroumel.

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