Spicy Cheese Bites

  These are not your mother's thumbprint cookies! Spiced up with the hot pepper powder I make by grinding my dehydrated home-grown jalapenos and filled with hot pepper jelly, these are crispy, zesty and satisfying. They were a hit with my Christmas guests who were my guinea pigs for this new creation.
    This is my variation of a recipe from my friend Sandra, who shows my paintings in her art gallery. The original recipe called for crispy rice cereal, which typically includes sugar, salt, vitamins, and other ingredients I don't want added to my food. Substituting rice crackers which have just 3 ingredients: rice, oil and salt, makes for a healthier treat. Next time, I'll go one step further... instead of the crackers I'll try using brown rice flour and a small amount of coconut oil - and eliminate the salt, since the cheese provides plenty. I make these gluten-free by using GF flour also, but regular wheat flour can be used. I used a hot pepper jelly made by the nearby Menonnite community and it is yummy!

Hot Pepper Cheese Crackers {Gluten-free}
Recipe type: Appetizer
Cuisine: Gluten Free, Vegetarian
Makes: About 3 dozen
NOTE: Ingredients in red type are detailed on the "Ingredients" page of this blog

rice crackers*, enough to make 2c of crushed cracker crumbs
4 c grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 c all purpose gluten-free flour
1 c softened unsalted butter
1/2 t ground pepper
1 t paprika
1 t hot pepper powder or chile powder (adjust to your taste)
hot pepper jelly

To crush the crackers, place them in a zipper bag and roll with a rolling pin until crushed into small pieces. Whirl the cheese in a food processor to make it finer then gradually add all other ingredients except the cracker crumbs and jelly. Dump into a bowl so you can mix in the cracker crumbs - I found my hands to be the best tool for this step.

Shape dough into 1" balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet lined with baking parchment, placing them 2" apart. Press to flatten slightly, then push your thumb into the center just enough to make a small indent.

Bake at 350°F for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, and spoon a small dollop of hot pepper jelly in the center of each. Bake an additional 10-13 minutes, until crispy and golden.

Alternately, if you don't want the hot pepper jelly filling, you can flatten the balls of dough with a fork before baking, then bake for a total of 25-28 minutes... see the photo below.

Remove to a rack to cool.

* I used Nabisco Poppy & Sesame Seed Rice Thins, whose ingredients include: white rice flour, safflower oil, millet, poppy seeds, salt, mustard flour and sesame seeds. The poppy seeds show up as the black specs in my photos of the dough and baked crackers. You can use Nabisco GF Original Rice Thins for fewer ingredients. Watch out for added sugar in other brands of rice crackers. It took a little less than 2 boxes to make 2 c of crumbs.


Eat Real Food

Just by chance, we caught the premier of a PBS documentary titled "In Defense of Food" at the end of December. It came at the perfect time - just as we were feeling the negative effects of holiday overeating and too much of the wrong foods. So the message really hit home!

The program is based on a book by the same name by journalist Michael Pollan. If you too are trying to get onto a healthier eating regiment as this new year begins, I highly recommend you watch this show. If you can't find being repeated on your local PBS station, you can watch the whole program online. The messages and tips are simple, easy to adopt, and make sense.

The bottom line, as summarized into 7 words by Pollan, is "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." The program has good tips like "Eat plants, not food made in plants," and "Don't eat anything your great-grandmother would not have eaten." Pollan suggests ways to help us all get back to eating "real food," versus the highly processed offerings so prominent in the contemporary Western diet. He shows how people automatically eat less simply by using smaller plates, without feeling like they've reduced their portions. The messages are great, and the presentation is excellent.

For continued good advice from Pollan, like the In Defense of Food Facebook page and start your own path to getting eating healthier today!