When it comes to snacks for a crowd watching a big game, generally someone volunteers to man the grill, someone will bring the guacamole and queso. And if you don't like to cook, the stores are full of what looks like hundreds of ready-made snacks.
These oven-crisped saltines are also spicy-hot.
For something a little different, add these items to lineup.
The recipe for Spicy Toasted Saltines
was inspired by some we crunched at Lambert's Downtown Barbecue in Austin. They serve "fancy" barbecue at Lambert's, and apparently that extends even to Saltines.
Our version here are toasted in the oven, then sprinkled with hot pepper flakes. Set a basketful of them down with a crock pot of chili or serve with homemade carne guisada.
A package of Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry from the freezer section at the supermarket (usually where the frozen rolls, pie crusts and so forth are kept) will get you started on the other two recipes -- the Sausage and Mustard Seeds in Puff Pastry
and the Pistachio-Jalapeño-Cheese Puffs
Spicy Toasted Saltines
6 tablespoons melted butter or olive oil
1 small clove garlic, sliced in half
1 sleeve Saltine crackers
Red pepper flakes
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put the melted butter or olive oil (or a mixture of both) in a small saucepan and warm it up over medium heat. Put the garlic clove in the oil and let it gently simmer for a few minutes to infuse the oil. Lay the saltines out on a cookie sheet. Discard the garlic from the oil. Brush the flavored oil or butter over the saltines. Put them in the oven and let them get just a little bit toasted (they'll darken slightly in color, but you'll want to take them out when they are golden brown.) When you take them out, sprinkle over red pepper flakes to taste. Serve them hot.
Pistachios and cheese melted into flaky puff pastry.
1/4 cup shelled, unsalted pistachios
1 small clove garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon (or more, to taste) chopped fresh jalapeño
1/4 cup grated Gruyère, Monterey Jack, Emmenthaler or white cheddar cheese, or other semi-hard cheese
2 teaspoons mayonnaise
Pinch or two of salt
Salsa (optional garnish)
Take a sheet of puff pastry out of the box and return the rest of the pastry to the freezer for future use. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Put the pistachios, garlic and jalapeño into a small food processor and pulse lightly so that the ingredients are minced together well. (Don't process to a paste -- you want the crunchy texture of the nuts. You also could chop these ingredients by hand.)
Put the pistachio mixture in a bowl, add the cheese, mayonnaise and pinch of salt. Stir these together well.
Lay the puff pastry out on the counter. You can cut a dozen small rounds of pastry with a cookie cutter or 9 larger rounds. Put each on a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Top each with some of the nut and cheese mixture. With a spatula, put the pieces on the cookie sheet, leaving space between them. Put in the oven and let cook for about 15 minutes. Check on them -- the cheese will melt and the puff pastry will puff up and get lightly browned.
Take the puffs out of the oven and serve right away. A fresh tomato salsa is good with these.
From Bonnie Walker
Sausage and Mustard Seeds in Puff Pastry
We used one of the new Taste Elevated products for this recipe as a garnish. These Sweet & Spicy Mustard Seeds are good on just about any meat, from burgers and hot dogs to barbecued brisket and prime rib. They are available in a number of places locally, including GauchoGourmet and Central Market.
2 links smoked sausage or another type of sausage, cut into rounds (See Note 1 below)
2 sheets puff pastry, thawed but cold
Taste Elevated's Sweet 'n Spicy Mustard Seeds
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the two sheets of puff pastry into 9 pieces each (each sheet of pastry folds into thirds, so it's easy to cut three equal size squares on each third.)
Put the squares on a lightly oiled cookie sheet. (See Note 2 below)
Top each with three of the sausage rounds. (If you know this is a sausage that is especially fatty, you can heat it ahead of time and let some of the fat drain. But, don't cook it all out. Drain it and let it cool to room temperature before slicing it and putting on the puff pastry. )
Put the cookie sheet in the oven and bake until the pastry has puffed up and is browned and the sausage is starting to sizzle. Take them out of the oven and put a dab of the mustard seeds on top.
Note 1: if you are using fresh, uncooked sausage, such as chicken and feta, we suggest you cook it first, drain off fat and cool to room temperature before slicing.
Note 2: The squares of pastry that don't fit on the cookie sheet you can put on another sheet, top with the sausage and keep in the refrigerator. Bake them after the first batch. Or, use the first sheet after you've taken the puffs off -- but let the sheet cool before you put the fresh pastry squares on it.
By Bonnie Walker
Photos by Bonnie Walker