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A world of flavor

As the new year dawns, trend experts look into their crystal balls and give us their predictions. After reading some forecasts on what to expect with food during 2008, I'm feeling quite trendy.

As the new year dawns, trend experts look into their crystal balls and give us their predictions. After reading some forecasts on what to expect with food during 2008, I'm feeling quite trendy.

It is predicted that during the next 12 months, American consumers will express a growing desire for ethnic flavors with an emerging willingness to try exotic ingredients.

At my house, we've gotten a head start on the ethnic flavors. Between Christmas and the start of the New Year we prepared and consumed Scandinavian meatballs, two varieties of Hungarian sausage, Mexican enchilada soup, Polish pierogies and Hungarian pancakes.

And then there were the international foods I devoured that were prepared by others, including Italian porketta roast, homemade pizza, spaghetti and meatballs and Armenian cracker bread.

My tastebuds have traveled around the world and I never left Minnesota.

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One of the international taste treats I enjoyed over the holidays was prepared with lahvosh (lah-VOSH), an Armenian cracker bread, very thin and very crispy. After a couple of hours of snowshoeing along the Superior Hiking Trail, my hungry partners and I discovered the Gunflint Tavern, a cozy little pub in Grand Marais, Minn. It didn't take long for us to choose a couple of appetizers from the menu to quell our hunger pangs.

Wedges of oven-baked lahvosh, with warm cheese oozing over the edges topped with a drizzle of dark balsamic syrup looked more like a fancy dessert placed on our table than a tummy-warming appetizer. The deliciously different cracker bread disappeared from the serving platter in no time.

This wasn't just the typical lahvosh appetizer, topped with mild and creamy Havarti cheese. This large sesame-topped crisp cracker held four cheeses, bits of sun-dried tomato and, a little touch of the exotic with pine nuts and a balsamic syrup.

Pub-Style Armenian Cracker Bread is my attempt to recreate the delectable treat I enjoyed in Grand Marais.

Large rounds of cracker bread, or lahvosh, can be found in the bakery or deli section of most supermarkets. It's actually made of honey-sweetened yeast dough that is rolled paper-thin and then baked. There are usually three large rounds in one bag.

To begin making Pub-Style Armenian Cracker Bread, a mix of four cheeses is generously sprinkled over the top of the lahvosh. I used asiago, mozzarella, smoked provolone and parmesan, but if you have a variety of cheeses left from holiday celebrations, just grate them and use them to top the cracker bread. You'll have best results if you use a couple of soft cheeses that melt easily. A scattering of sun-dried tomatoes adds great flavor. A sprinkle of toasted pine nuts and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar that has been reduced, or cooked down, to sweet-tart syrup and spiked with a bit of raspberry jelly bring a touch of the exotic.

This warm, cheesy treat is delicious with a bowl of hot soup or alongside a salad of fresh greens and vegetables. It also can stand alone, enjoyed with sips of wine or hot cider as you visit with friends.

You'll be feeling very trendy as you nibble on ethnic and exotic flavors of Pub-Style Armenian Cracker Bread.

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And if you ever get to Grand Marais, I encourage you to visit the Gunflint Tavern.

Pub-Style Armenian Cracker Bread
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 to 2 teaspoons seedless raspberry preserves
1 (14- to 15-inch) round of Lahvosh Cracker Bread
4 ounces (1 cup) grated mozzarella cheese
8 ounces (2 cups) grated smoked provolone cheese
2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons freshly grated asiago cheese
2 tablespoons finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pour balsamic vinegar into a small, heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Once vinegar begins to boil, it won't take long for it to reduce by half, so that you have about 2 tablespoons of liquid remaining. Remove from heat and stir in seedless raspberry preserves. The vinegar mixture will thicken to a syrupy consistency as it cools.

In a large bowl, toss all four cheeses together. Distribute the grated cheese mixture evenly over cracker bread. Sprinkle with sundried tomatoes and pine nuts.

Place prepared cracker bread on a pizza pan or large baking sheet covered with aluminum foil. Bake cracker bread at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes, until cheese is melted and edges of cracker bread are dark brown.

Transfer cracker bread to a cutting surface. Use a pizza cutter to slice the warm cracker bread. Using a teaspoon, splash the balsamic vinegar mixture over the sliced cracker bread. Serve immediately.

Tips from the cook

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--To toast pine nuts, place them in a small, heavy skillet over medium heat. Stir them until they begin to turn golden brown. Watch them carefully, as they will burn quickly. Immediately transfer the browned pine nuts to a plate to cool.

--Mozzarella and provolone cheeses are quite soft, making it difficult to grate them. Soft cheeses are easiest to grate when they are taken right from the refrigerator and are still cold. I like to use my food processor with the grater blade.

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