Oh my goodness. Has it seriously been NEARLY A MONTH since I told you about sweet potato latkes? My friends, it appears December has gotten the better of me.
No no, it's not that I haven't been cooking! It's the holidays; I most certainly have been cooking, and I've done a LOT of baking. I made these sweet, sharp, unstoppable ginger chocolate chip cookies no fewer than four times. Those cardamom pistachio cookies over on The Wednesday Chef? Twice. They're subtle, mysterious, and a great foil for the in-your-face combo of peppermint and white chocolate we are often assaulted with this time of year. I've made at least five loaves of dill bread. I made three panettone: one for my Sicilian landlord, one for my mom, and one for my Nonna. I made a blueberry pie for Christmas dessert, and we ate it with my mom's homemade chocolate chip ice cream. For Christmas dinner, we had a big, gorgeous prime rib roast and I made eggy, sky-high yorkshire puddings.
In the non-carbohydrate arena I've been less successful. I tried a riff on this warm rice salad from the New York Times, but I couldn't find smoked duck so I used smoked turkey. Way too much smoked turkey. It was a heavy, greasy mess, but we ate it anyway. These little appetizers I'm about to tell you about fall into the carbohydrate category I suppose, and perhaps that's why they work so well, but they are the savoriest little buggers and wonderful for parties. Like, say, that party you're going to on Thursday?
Start with some small green olives stuffed with pimento. These little Manzanilla olives are just the right size, no bigger than my thumbnail.
Grate up a flurry of cheddar cheese - I always double the original recipe because these things fly out of the bowl and 24 just isn't enough. I usually use Cabot extra sharp, and half a block is about enough (a block is 8 ounces) The tiny little shreds from a microplane make the dough cohesive; you don't want to use pre-shredded cheddar here or the big chunks will make the dough lumpy.
Smush that together with a cup of flour, half a stick of softened butter, and as much cayenne as you can handle. I use about half a teaspoon here - more than the original recipe, but not enough to overpower the brine with heat. I also add a splash of the olive juice from the jar to bring the dough together, but you might not need it. Also keep in mind that the olives will still be a little wet and that will help he dough hold.
Break off a small chunk of dough. It's easier to start with too much and tear the excess off.
Squash it flat.
Make a little pocket with your thumb. The heat of your hands helps the dough go from crumbly to smooth.
Pop an olive in there, and begin to close it up.
Fold two sides together, then pinch the ends closed.
Pinch the holes closed or roll it gently to make it a smooth-ish ball.
Lay the olives out on a baking sheet lined with parchment.
And bake! Don't worry if the dough splits away from some of them, they'll still be delicious and you can just eat those ones in the kitchen before anybody sees.
Baked Cheddar Olives
adapted from Gourmet, January 1991
48-60 small green pimento stuffed olives such as manzanilla, drained (from a 7 ounce jar, you will have extras)
4 ounces finely grated sharp cheddar cheese (a generous 2 cups)
2 ounces (four tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Preheat oven to 400F.
Combine butter and cheddar in a bowl, and add the flour and cayenne. Smush it together with a wooden spoon or your hands until it starts to come together as a crumbly dough. You may need to add a little of the olive juice to make it go from crumbs to dough, but do so sparingly, start with a couple of teaspoons and add it slowly.
Break off a small chunk of dough, press it in your palm into a sheet, and wrap it around an olive, rolling and pinching to surround the olive completely. Repeat with remaining olives, and lay them on a parchment lined baking sheet. These freeze beautifully at this point - stick the whole sheet in the freezer for an hour, then take the individual frozen olives and put them in a freezer bag. You can bake them all or just a few straight from the freezer, they just need an extra couple of minutes.
Bake olives for 15-20 minutes, or until the pastry is golden. If you think of it, turn them over once, but it's not completely necessary.
Makes 4-5 dozen olive poppers.