I’m going to come clean: I love those buttery round crackers named after a pricey hotel chain. I love their cheerful golden color. I love their crispy, flaky layers. I love the way they taste with cheese. I eschewed these crispy crackers for years because of their relatively high fat content, but about two days after we began our March self-quarantine, I rediscovered their comfort content.
Our family often enjoys something we call a “living room picnic,” meaning we break out a buffet of fun snack foods to eat, plus some healthy fresh fruit and vegetables to gaze at, like a Dutch still life. Invariably, the coffee table holds a plate of Ritz crackers, which pair so beautifully with, well, everything. Cheese? Check. Peanut butter? Check. Spicy-sweet spread made with cream cheese with mango chutney? Double check.
There are plenty of sweet things to do with these versatile round crackers, such as sandwiching them with peanut butter then dipping them in melted chocolate, or making cracker toffee with butter, brown sugar, chocolate and pecans. I thought I’d feature three savory dishes (adapted from www.tasteofhome.com) because I eat what I make and one serving of cracker toffee has 3,462,697 calories, depending on how many pecan pieces you get.
Meatballs in Honey Pepper Sauce
These are wonderful as an entree with rice or pasta, or as a hearty appetizer with veggie sticks. You could also bring them to your neighbor’s Christmas potluck, this year to be held safely outside with attendees sealed into plastic pods with individual air filtration systems. No one will be able to eat, but they’ll have a great time waving to each other and looking at the food. Aren’t the holidays wonderful?
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine about 15 crushed crackers with 2 large eggs, half a lightly sauteed chopped medium onion, 1/4 cup milk, 4 teaspoons brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder or 1-2 cloves minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more or less, depending on your spice tolerance), 1/4 teaspoon paprika and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Mix in a pound and a half of ground beef, pork or veal or any combination thereof, or try ground turkey or chicken. Shape into 1 1/2 -inch balls and bake on a foil-lined pan for 15 minutes.
While the meatballs are cooking — don’t they smell good? — combine 1/2 cup honey, 1/4 cup packed brown sugar, 1/4 cup apple cider or red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger or ginger paste, red pepper flakes to taste, and 4 tablespoons total of any of the following: orange marmalade, apricot or peach jam, or mango chutney. Whisk together in a saucepan over medium heat. (I will not lie: this is essentially a hot, tangy, extremely tasty sugar sauce.)
Transfer meatballs to a slow cooker and cover with sauce. Cook on low for about two hours or until the meatballs are cooked through.
This is a great way to use up the zucchini or yellow squash that might still be lurking in your garden; use any kind of sliced squash you want. If you’re feeling sarcastic while you make this, you could call it a Sass-Squash Casserole.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a saucepan containing 1 cup water with 1/2 teaspoon salt, steam 2 cups sliced yellow summer squash with 2 cups sliced zucchini (aim for quarter-inch slices) and half a medium chopped onion until everything is tender but not mushy. Drain and set aside.
In a separate bowl, combine 1 can cream of chicken or cream of mushroom soup, 1 grated carrot, 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1 drained jar (2 ounces) pimientos, 1/2 teaspoon sage, 1/4 teaspoon lemon pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Gently mix in the squash.
In yet another bowl, combine 2 cups crushed crackers with 1/4 cup melted butter and spread half the mixture into a 1 1/2 quart baking dish. Spoon the squash mixture over the crumbs and top with 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, then top with the remaining crumb mixture. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes.
Parmesan Chicken Bites
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with greased foil. Cut a pound of boneless, skinless chicken breast into 1 1/2 -inch pieces. In a bowl, mix 1 cup crushed crackers, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans (optional), 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 1 teaspoon dried basil, 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper.
Dip the chicken pieces in 1/4 cup melted butter, then in the cracker mixture. Place on the pan and bake for 25 minutes until golden brown. Serve with marinara sauce.