Sometimes I do like to fix a little something before dinner, though, if we're sitting around and getting a little hungry but not so hungry that I feel like cooking yet. My favorite thing to have in these cases is cheese and crackers. On the cracker front, I am pretty flexible. I can certainly appreciate a fancy cracker (I like those thick-cut olive oil and sea salt ones) but I can also throw down on some Triscuits. I am a little pickier when it comes to cheese. One I really love is d'Affinois, a French double-cream cow's milk cheese similar to Brie. I was introduced to this cheese about six years ago and since then have always preferred it to Brie. It's incredibly creamy and has a lovely, fresh flavor.
My favorite cheese, though, hands-down, is Cowgirl Creamery's Mount Tam. If you have never had Mount Tam, stop reading this silly blog and get thee to the creamery. Or if you don't happen to live within driving distance of Pt. Reyes, you can find this delightful cheese at Whole Foods. I love this cheese so much I don't let myself buy it unless I have the excuse of company coming over. Otherwise I go a little crazy. I also like their Red Hawk, but it's a little pungent.
But when there's no Mount Tam to be had, I bake some pita chips and whip up a little puree of cannellini beans. The chips are super simple--cut some pita bread into whatever shapes you like, toss with olive oil, coarse sea salt, and pepper (the key is to press the salt into the pitas) and bake for 18-20 minutes at 375 or 400, tossing once. I do them on convection, because it gets them nice and crispy.
The puree is easy too. I struggle with what to call this--bean dip is reminiscent of the weird peel-top refried stuff that shows up at Super Bowl parties, and hummus doesn't do it justice. I think hummus is OK, but often I find it a little on the gritty side, and too garlicky. Cannellini beans make a much creamier dip, and I vastly prefer the flavor. Garbanzo beans always taste like can to me, no matter how many times you rinse them.
What I do is rinse two cans of cannellini beans really well. Then I throw them in the food processor with some chopped rosemary and pulse it a little. After that I add the juice of two lemons, olive oil, and lots of salt and pepper. You can add as much or as little of anything as you like. I try to lean on lemon more than oil, but I never skimp with salt. Salt makes or breaks the puree.
Of course, you could add anything you like to this--garlic, or other fresh herbs. I tend to make it the same way because I always have lemons, oil, and fresh rosemary on hand. I like that in spite of its humble ingredients, this emerges a rather elegant snack, one I often serve to guests. What they usually say is, "Did you make this hummus? It's amazing!" I always want to correct them and say it's not hummus, it's a white bean puree. But I suppose that's not being a very gracious host. So I just load up a pita chip with the creamy, herb-flecked puree and nod and smile. Who cares what it's called, anyway? If it tastes good, that's what matters.