This is inspired by two guilty pleasures here in the South: pepper jelly and cheese straws. These two things are ever-present at any gathering of merit. I, of course, had to put my spin on it. Pepper jelly is typically served with cheddar on plain crackers. Cheese straws are just for snacking. I made an unholy marriage of the two.
This pepper jelly is different than most you'll find around these parts. I borrow a few ingredients from Asia: rice vinegar and sambal*, sriracha's chunkier cousin. The result is what my wife says is "the best pepper jelly I've ever had -- and I've had some pepper jelly." She also told me to use the natural pectin present in citrus peel as the gel in this concoction. To my surprise, it worked.
The cookies are the perfect vehicle for the jelly. Serve this at your next gathering and see if your guests don't think you are the sweetest thing they've ever seen.
Sambal Pepper Jelly
(Makes a half-pint)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup minced red bell pepper (1 small)
1 tablespoon sambal
peel from one lemon
Place the sugar, vinegar, red pepper, sambal, and lemon peel into a small saucepan over low heat. Stir constantly as you gradually increase the heat until you bring the mixture to a boil. Continue to stir as it boils for two minutes. Pour mixture into a half-pint jar. Stir occasionally to distribute the chopped pepper as it all starts to cool and gel. Keep refrigerated for up to a month.
Savory Cheddar-Pecan Cookies
(Makes about 2 dozen)
1 cup pecans
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon smoked salt, cracked black pepper
1 cup shredded cheddar
2 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons water
Place pecans, flour, and smoked salt in the work bowl of your food processor. Turn it on and let it run until the pecans and the flour are indistinguishable from one another. Add the cheddar and the butter and turn it on again. Drizzle in the water one tablespoon at at time until the dough forms a ball and rolls around inside of the work bowl; know that you may not need all the water.
On your work surface, roll the dough into a seven-inch log. Place the log on a plate in the freezer for thirty minutes to harden so you can slice it. While it's in the freezer, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Remove the dough and slice into 1/4-inch slices. Place onto a 12 x17 parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for twenty-five to thirty minutes or until lightly browned. Allow cookies to cool before serving.
* Sambal can be found in most grocery stores now. I know it's available at Whole Foods.