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Fancy Snacking With Garnished Fresh Goat Cheese & Crackers

August is National Goat Cheese Month, so this past weekend, we grabbed a log of goat cheese and crackers for our guests. Although a log of fresh goat cheese is spreadable, it’s also crumbly. For the sake of neatness, we decided to pre-spread the crackers.

Then we had a tray full of boring-looking, white-topped crackers. We decided to get to work decorating them with whatever we had at hand.

We thus turned “goat cheese and crackers” into “hors d’oeuvre” to accompany cocktails, wine, and beer.

Whether you decorate the cheese-spread crackers in advance, or create a DIY, garnish-your-own option with ramekins of different toppings, it’s a tasty and fun snack.

Here’s what we had in our kitchen. We went overboard; you can choose just a few of these:

  • Blueberries, other berries, or a mix
  • Cherry tomatoes, halved, plain or marinated
  • Dates, pitted and sliced
  • Fresh chiles, sliced (or a shaker of crushed red pepper flakes)
  • Fresh figs, sliced
  • Fresh julienned basil or thyme leaves
  • Grapes, halved
  • Honey Bear for drizzling
  • Jam: apricot, blueberry, mango, peach, or whatever you have
  • Nuts
  • Olives, sliced
  • Peppadews
  • Prosciutto or other cured meat
  • Roasted red peppers (pimentos), sliced
  •  
    Plus:

  • Your favorite crackers
     
    > The history of cheese.
     
     
    THE HISTORY OF CRACKERS

    Crackers are made of flour, water, and salt. Some have other seasonings, but unlike bread, there is no leavening. There are different shapes of crackers—ovals, rings, rounds, squares, and triangles.

    And there are many styles, including cheese crackers and rice crackers for snacking; oyster crackers and saltines for soup; biscuits, cream crackers, crispbreads, and others to serve with cheeses and spreads; taralli and other cocktail nibbles; sweeter types like graham crackers; and so on.

    In American English, the term “cracker” typically refers to flat biscuits with a savory, salty flavor, as opposed to a cookie, which may be similar in appearance but is made with sugar.

    In the U.K., cookies are called biscuits and crackers are either crackers or savory biscuits.
     
     
    The First Crackers

    Long before crackers, the first flatbreads were made from ground grains mixed with water and cooked on hot rocks or griddles over fires. How soft or hard they were cooked, we do not know.

    Before “crackers” appeared, there were larger, crispy flatbreads like matzoh, lavash, and other soft flatbreads that were baked to a crispy texture.

    Matzoh dates to at least the 13th century B.C.E., when the Israelites fled Egypt with their unleavened bread. We don’t know how crisp it was or was not.

    Today’s hard, crisp, thin matzoh seems to have developed sometime in the 17th century, largely because the soft variety, like all fresh bread, would get moldy quickly, and the hard-baked form had a long shelf life [source].

    In Medieval times (1100–1200 C.E.) in central and southern Sweden, rye flour was baked into crispbread (knäckebröd, “bread which can be broken”)—also for a long shelf life. The rounds were baked with a hole in the middle so that they could be threaded over a beam and stored suspended from the ceiling. These flatbreads and crispbreads were baked only once or twice a year and kept dry in a storage chamber [source].

    For similar reasons, the modern cracker was invented close to the turn of the 19th century, in New England.

    A small, crisp bread alternative, the first cracker-like product was made in 1792 by John Pearson of Newburyport, Massachusetts, who mixed flour and water into “pilot bread” [source].

    The long shelf life was popular with sailors, who called it hardtack or sea biscuits.

    Years later, Pearson sold his business to the company that became Nabisco. Crown Pilot Crackers from Pearson’s recipe were made and sold in New England up until early 2008 (photo #2), and served with traditional chowder recipes.

    A big moment in the life of the cracker came in 1801 when another Massachusetts baker, Josiah Bent, burned a batch of biscuits in his brick oven. The crackling noise that emanated from the singed biscuits inspired the name “crackers.”

    Bent was a cracker visionary. Beyond selling the dry biscuits to sailors and other travelers, he saw the product’s snack food potential. By 1810, his Boston-area business was booming, and, in later years, Bent sold his enterprise to the National Biscuit Company, which now does business under the Nabisco name.

    Soda crackers, later known as Saltines, were described in The Young Housekeeper by William A. Alcott in 1838.

    In 1876, F. L. Sommer & Company of St. Joseph, Missouri began to use baking soda (a.k.a. bicarbonate of soda) to leaven its wafer-thin cracker, initially called the Premium Soda Cracker. They were later renamed Saltines because of the baking salt* component.

    The formulation quickly became popular and Sommer’s business quadrupled within four years [source].

    Cracker trivia: Certain types of crackers contain tiny holes, known in the trade as docking holes (photos #2, #3, and #4). They are punched into the flat dough to stop large air pockets from forming in the cracker while baking.

    The Somer company merged with other companies to form American Biscuit Company in 1890. In 1898, after further mergers, American Biscuit Company became part of the National Biscuit Company, which changed its name to Nabisco in 1971.

    Nabisco lost its trademark for “Saltine” in 1907 after the term began to be used generically to refer to similar crackers. The word “saltine” appeared in the 1907 Merriam Webster Dictionary defined as “a thin crisp cracker usually sprinkled with salt” [source].

    Then, the brand began to call itself Premium crackers. Following a recent redesign, the current boxes are now labeled “The Original Premium Saltine Crackers.”

    Over the decades, cracker manufacturers have brought out creativity along with the crunch. Some of America’s favorite crackers (in alphabetical order): Carr’s Table Water Crackers, Cheez-It, Goldfish, Keebler Club Crackers, Mary’s Gone Crackers, Ritz, Toasteds, Town House, and brands we’ve never heard of, like Chicken in a Biskit [source].
     
     
    ________________

    *Baking soda, a chemical compound with the formula NaHCO₃, is a salt composed of a sodium cation and a bicarbonate anion.

  •  


    [1] Fancy snacking: a box of crackers, a log of goat cheese, and assorted toppings (photo © Roth Cheese | Facebook).

    Crown Pilot Crackers, descendants of the original cracker.
    [2] Crown Pilot Crackers (discontinued since 2008), descendants of the original cracker (photo © Doc’s Apple Market).

    Nabisco Saltines Crackers
    [3] Nabisco saltines, an American favorite. The term “saltine cracker” appeared in 1876 after F.L. Sommer & Company renamed its Premium Soda Cracker (photo Sternb23 | Wikipedia).

    Water Crackers Or Water Biscuits
    [4] Water biscuits have long been a favorite to serve with cheese, although these days there are fancier crisps (photo © Pantry Packer [permanently closed]).

    Raincoast Crisps Dried Fruit & Nut Crackers For Cheese
    [5] Artisanal crackers like these Raincoast Crisps, with different combinations of dried fruits and nuts, are now fashionable to serve with cheese (photo © Standard Market).

    Lavash Crispbread
    [6] Today lavash is made in rectangular strips, but originally the large flatbread was broken by hand (photo © Hot Bread Kitchen).

    Knackbrod Swedish Flatbread
    [7] Knäckebröd, Swedish crispbread. Here’s an easy recipe (photo © True North Kitchen).

     

     
     

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    The History of Sweet Tea For National Sweet Tea Day

    A glass of sweet iced tea, a.k.a. sweet tea.
    [1] Sweet tea with a lemon wedge (photo © Melissa Doroquez | Wikipedia).

    Pure Leaf Sweet Tea
    [2] Pure Leaf sweet tea (photos #2 and #3 © Pure Leaf).

    Peach Sweet Tea
    [3] Popular sweet tea garnishes: peaches and mint.

    Bottles Of Gold Peak Sweet Tea Zero Sugar
    [4] Gold Peak produces sweet tea along with sugar-substitute sweet tea. The sugar substitute is a combination of aspartame and acesulfame potassium—see the different types of noncaloric sweeteners (photos © Gold Peak).

    A Glass Of McDonald's Sweet Tea
    [5] Sweet tea has moved from a southern specialty to national prominence. It’s even at McDonald’s (photo © McDonald’s).

     

    August 21st is National Sweet Tea Day. For those who haven’t had the experience, sweet tea, also known as sweet iced tea, is more than an iced tea with sugar. It’s iced tea with lots of sugar.

    It’s a staple drink in the southern U.S. A 16-ounce glass of sweet tea has 42g to 44g of sugar. Let’s compare that to regular iced tea.

    A typical heaping teaspoon of sugar is 7.5 grams. If you added three heaping spoonfuls to a glass of plain iced tea—and that’s a lot of sugar*—it’s still just half the amount of sugar as in sweet tea.

    You can have your sweet tea plain, with a wedge of lemon, or accented with mint, peach, or raspberry. But no matter how you like it, nutritionists recommend that you have sweet tea as a special occasion drink, not your everyday, all-day beverage.

    > The history of tea.

    > The different types of tea.
     
     
    THE HISTORY OF SWEET TEA

    The oldest known recipe for sweet tea was published in an 1878 community cookbook called Housekeeping in Old Virginia by Marion Cabell Tyree.

    Sweet tea could easily have been in fashion for numerous decades before then, but sugar was pricey. A regular lump or two in a cup of tea was elegant enough.

    Sweet tea began as a luxury item: tea, sugar, and ice were all expensive (ice was possibly the most costly of the ingredients since it had to be stored and shipped from afar) [source].

    A little pre-sweet-tea history:

    Tea was introduced to the Colonies by the Dutch—first-class world traders—in the late 1640s.

    By the time Dutch East India Company Director Peter Stuyvesant arrived in New Amsterdam in 1647 to become the city’s governor, serving tea—an expensive product—had become an established ritual in upper-class households.

    The British took control of New Amsterdam in 1664 and renamed it New York. As in England, tea continued to play the same important social role.

    Most people will be surprised to know that green tea was the predominant variety consumed in Colonial America. It was imported from China and Japan, both green tea cultures (even today, Japan produces only a handful of specialty black teas; China expanded into numerous styles of black tea).

    So it was mostly green tea that was dumped into Boston Harbor in 1773. (What you learned in school about the Boston Tea Party may not have been accurate. Here’s the real scoop.)

    But before then, in the 1760s, American colonists were drinking more than 1 million pounds of tea per year during the 1760s.
     
     
    Black Tea Becomes Prominent

    In 1839, which was the beginning of Britain’s Opium Wars with China, the British began to grow their own tea in India (American ships continued to bring green tea to the U.S.).

    Black tea† was the more popular style in India, and British tea merchants brought back Assam and Ceylon black teas to Europe and the U.S.

    By the first part of the 20th century, Americans were evenly split between green tea and black tea, drinking around 40% green tea, 40% black tea and 20% oolong† tea [source].

    World War II cut off trade with Japan and much of the tea—producing regions of China were occupied. The alternative was black tea from India and Ceylon.

    After the war, Americans continued to drink almost solely black tea: upwards of 99% according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine [source].

    While green tea reemerged in the U.S. with awareness of its antioxidant qualities some 20 years ago, America remains a black tea country to this day.

    (We love all varieties of black, green, and oolong teas, but truth to tell, we think milk and sugar taste a lot better in black tea.)
     
     
    ________________

    *The American Heart Association recommends an added-sugar limit of no more than 100 calories per day (about 6 teaspoons or 24 grams) for most adult women and no more than 150 calories per day (about 9 teaspoons or 36 grams of sugar) for most men [source].

    †Black tea is green tea that has been oxidized by fermentation for two to four hours, to a black color. The tea is then fully oxidized (oolong is half-oxidized) and dried slowly over a low heat charcoal fire, called panning or roasting. Black tea is the most common form of tea drunk worldwide (and tea is the second-most beverage drunk worldwide, after water). See more in our Tea Glossary.

     

     
     

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    The History Of Hawaiian Pizza For International Hawaiian Pizza Day

    We first encountered Hawaiian pizza in a Brookline, Massachusetts pizzeria, way back in our college years. Scanning the menu, we found the concept of a cheese pizza—crust, tomato sauce and mozzarella—topped with ham and pineapple to be “fun.” We ordered a slice.

    Fun it was…but we went back to our “usual,” bell peppers, mushrooms, onions, and sausage. They went far better with tomato sauce and mozzarella. We don’t think we’ve had Hawaiian pizza since.

    Barbecue chicken pizza, goat cheese pizza, white pizza, whole wheat crusts, and the rest of what we consider “modern” and “artisan” pizzas were decades away.

    But Hawaiian pizza endured, and there is actually an International Hawaiian Pizza Day, August 20th, celebrating the pizza that originated in…Canada.

    It became popular locally and eventually became a menu staple of pizzerias worldwide.
     
     
    THE HISTORY OF HAWAIIAN PIZZA

    Sotirios “Sam” Panopoulos, a Greek-born Canadian, created the first Hawaiian pizza at the Satellite Restaurant in Chatham, Ontario, Canada in 1962.

    He owned the restaurant with his brothers Elias and Nikitas. They offered typical American items fare like burgers and fries, bacon and eggs, grilled cheese, club sandwiches, spaghetti and meat sauce, pizza, American Chinese dishes, and more—a full breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu, served daily.

    In New York, we call this style of restaurant a Greek diner.

    Some of the Chinese dishes mixed sweet and savory flavors. Inspired by the sweet-and-savory pairing, Panopoulos experimented with adding pineapple, ham, bacon, and other toppings to the pizzas.

    “We just put it on, just for the fun of it, see how it was going to taste,” Panopoulos told the BBC. “We were young in the business and we were doing a lot of experiments” [source].

    Hawaiian pizza also capitalized on the mid-century tiki trend, which popularized Polynesian-style cocktails, food and decor in North America.

    By the way, the name “Hawaiian” for the pizza was not a tribute to the Hawaiian Islands, which became America’s 50th state three years earlier. Rather, it was the brand name of the can of pineapples Panopoulos used.

    The Satellite Restaurant, still going strong today, proudly calls itself “Home of the Hawaiian Pizza.”

    Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a fan of the dish.

     

    The original Hawaiian Pizza from the Satellite Restaurant in Canada.
    [1] The original Hawaiian pizza from the Satellite Restaurant in Canada (photo © Satellite Restaurant).

    A Hawaiian Pizza For International Hawaiian Pizza Day
    [2] This Hawaiian pizza, modernized by Jacqueline Mearman, chef/owner of Kitsch Café  in Baltimore, elevates the classic ham and pineapple with the addition of pickled jalapeños and spicy barbecue sauce (photo © Kitsch Café ).

     

     
     

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    It’s National Hot & Spicy Day: Why Hot & Spicy Foods Are Hot

    Sliced Jalapeno Chile Peppers
    [1] Chile peppers contain capsaicin, a chemical compound that burns (photo of jalapeño chiles © Good Eggs).

    Black and White Peppercorns
    [2] In peppercorns, the heat chemical is piperine (photo iStock Photo).

    Yellow Mustard Seeds In A Scoop
    [3] Yellow mustard seeds. When mustard seeds are crushed, the heat is released (photo © Hillshire Farm | Facebook).

    A Bag Of Yellow Onions
    [4] Yellow onions have the most sulphur, and thus the most burn (photo © Good Eggs).

     

    August 19th is National Hot & Spicy Day. What makes foods hot and spicy? Why do some people temporarily cough, sneeze, sweat, or even tear up?

    The heat comes from specific chemical compounds that bind to special receptors on the tongue, lips, and other parts of your mouth. These activated sensory neurons then send signals to your brain saying you’ve encountered something burning…and voilà, you experience heat or a burning sensation.

  • In black pepper, the compound is piperine.
  • In chiles, a.k.a. chile peppers, the chemical compound is capsaicin.
  • In ginger, it’s gingerol, which tastes hot when you have it fresh at a sushi bar, although it’s only about one thousandth as hot as capsaicin. The heat mellows a bit when cooked, but becomes more intense when ginger is dried.
  • In mustard and horseradish, it’s a compound called sinigrin which is a glucosinolate, a sulfur-containing compound found in cruciferous vegetables.
  • In onions, that eye burn is caused by sulfur. Yellow onions have the highest sulfur content of all the onions [source]. Just as different chiles have different levels of capsaicin, different onions have more heat than others.
  •  
    All of these compounds elicit a sensation of burning pain by selectively activating sensory neurons that convey information about noxious stimuli to the central nervous system.
     
    If consuming these foods causes pain, then do people continue to eat them?

    First, different people have different sensitivities to the compounds, and some enjoy the burn.

    Second, the painful sensations on the tongue cause the brain to release endorphins and dopamine, which are “feel good” chemicals can that give a feeling of exhilaration. At least, that’s what this source says. Personally, we’ve never felt exhilaration—only burn.
     
     
    What if you want to eat hot and spicy foods but don’t want the pain?

    Federica Genovese, a neuroscientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, says that you can train your body to temper these reactions by eating spicy food more often [source].
     
     
    Would you rather have an antidote to the heat?

    Don’t grab a glass of water! Because capsaicin is oil-based, drinking water will just spread the capsaicin around your mouth, creating even more burning.

    Capsaicin and other heat-mongers are hydrophobic, fat-soluble compounds that dissolve in fat and oil.

  • Have dairy products. Yogurt is the best, followed by sour cream and cottage cheese. They are acidic, and milk-based foods also contain a protein called casein, which can help break down the capsaicin. (Plant-based milks don’t work here.)
  • Drink something acidic. Capsaicin and other heat-generating compounds are alkaline molecules that can be neutralized with an acid: lemonade, limeade, orange juice, or tomato juice.
  • Have some peanut butter. The oil acts as a salve to the burning. If you’re headed to a spicy meal, you can bring a small amount of PB (it comes in squeese-packs) to dull your pain. At home, can also swirl some olive oil or other culinary oil around your mouth.
  •  
    If there’s nothing else, grab some bread. It’s not nearly as good as the other options but can help to suck up some of the capsaicin in your mouth [source].
     
     
    > 18 Ways To Spice It Up

    > The different types of chiles.

    > The different types of peppercorns.

     

     
     

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    Goat Cheese & Potato Pizza Recipe For National Goat Cheese Month

    We adore fresh goat cheese, and finally, for National Goat Cheese Month (August), we made this delicious pizza recipe.

    We had it for lunch with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, but a beer or a light red wine (Beaujolais, Pinot Noir) would be equally fine.

    The thin crust and toppings create a very light pizza, so you can even serve it as a first course at dinner.

    Thanks to Janet Cooper-Bridge, The Army Mom, and the Idaho Potato Commission for the recipe.
     
     
    > The history of pizza.
     
     
    RECIPE: GOAT CHEESE, POTATO, & ONION PIZZA

     
    Ingredients

  • 3 Idaho® russet potatoes
  • 2 Idaho® red potatoes
  • 1 can (13.8 oz.) classic refrigerated pizza crust
  • ½ small red onion
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced shallot
  • 1 clove fresh garlic, minced
  • 4 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 8 springs fresh thyme, leaves removed from stems, divided
  • 3 ounces goat cheese (or more as desired—we used double that)
  • Cornmeal
  • Optional extra toppings:sliced prosciutto, crispy pancetta, blanched asparagus*
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 425°F. Lightly sprinkle a 12″x15” rectangular baking stone or baking sheet with cornmeal. Unroll the dough onto the baking stone or sheet.

    2. ROLL the dough to your desired preference. The example in photo #1 is rolled very thin for a very crisp pizza.

    3. LIGHTLY BRUSH the pizza crust with two tablespoons of olive oil and dot with the minced garlic and 1/2 of the fresh thyme leaves. Bake for 5 minutes. Remove the crust from the oven and set it aside, leaving the oven on.

    4. SLICE the red onion into thin, round rings beginning at the root tip and set aside.

    5. SCRUB the potatoes under cold running water. Cut lengthwise into very thin slices using a mandolin or knife.

    TIP: When cut potatoes cannot be used quickly, add fresh or concentrated lemon juice to the water, 1 teaspoon per gallon, to prevent discoloration.

    6. ARRANGE the cut potatoes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, sprinkle with sea salt, and immediately cover with cold water (since the slices are thin, not much water will be needed). Bake for 10 minutes.

    7. CAREFULLY remove the baking sheet from the oven and carry it to the sink, draining the hot water. Transfer the potatoes to a bowl of cold water until ready to use. Then…

    8. REMOVE the potato slices from the cold water and place them onto paper towels. Pat both sides of the potatoes dry and immediately arrange them onto the pizza crust, overlapping the edges slightly in a shingled pattern.

    9. ARRANGE the red onion rings over the potatoes and sprinkle with the minced shallot. Dot the surface of the pizza with chunks of goat cheese.

    10. BAKE for 12-14 minutes or until the crust is a deep, golden brown. Remove the pizza from the oven and drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Sprinkle with remaining thyme leaves, cut into squares and serve.
     
     
    ________________

    *Add these to the pizza before it goes into the oven (step #9).

     

    Recipe For A Goat Cheese, Potato & Onion Pizza
    [1] Goat cheese, potato, and red onion pizza (photo and recipe © Idaho Potato Commission).

    Plain and chive-accented fresh goat cheese logs.
    [2] You can use a plain goat cheese log or a flavored one, such as chive or pepper (photo © iGourmet).

    Basket Of Fresh Russet Potatoes
    [3] Russet potatoes, also known as baking potatoes (photos #3 and #4 © Potato Goodness).

    Raw Red-Skinned Potatoes
    [4] Red-skinned potatoes, often called red potatoes for short..

    2 Shallot Bulbs
    [5] Shallots also come in a red-skinned variety, red French shallots. Do these remind you of garlic bulbs? That’s because they’re members of the same family (photo © Good Eggs).

     

     
     

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