The holidays are my favorite time of the year. I enjoy the gatherings of family and friends, holiday parties, festive decorations, seasonal music and, of course, special holiday food.
When I think about holiday entertaining and menu ideas, appetizers head the list. They are the perfect cozy touch to welcome drop-in guests and can buy time when you are trying to finish dinner preparation or help take the edge off a hungry teenager’s appetite.
If you are looking for an easy, make-ahead appetizer, look to a cheese ball. Cheese balls have graced many a table over decades; actually, this appetizer never goes out of style. I remember my mom making this popular party treat back in the 1960s, especially around the holidays.
A cheese ball is simple to prepare, budget friendly and one of those recipes that is better to make ahead so that the flavors can mingle. The most important part of a cheese ball is -- you guessed it -- cheese. Classic-style cheese balls are usually composed of cream cheese and cheddar cheese. However, you can give your cheese ball an updated flair by replacing the cheddar with brie, goat cheese, Mozzarella, blue cheese, feta or your favorite cheese.
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The easiest way to make a cheese ball is in a food processor. It will save time and effort however, if you don’t own one, no worries, as stirring by hand isn’t all that hard.
Adding wine to your cheese mixture also creates an elegant updated flair to the “yesteryear” cheese ball. Use red, white or even champagne for an added sparkle. Not into wine? Then try a good beer or liquor, such as brandy, sherry or amaretto. Other add-ins that can turn an ordinary cheese ball into extraordinary, is fresh or dried fruit, chutney, bacon, smoked salmon, pineapple, olives, scallions, roasted red peppers. Spice it up with Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, horseradish, lemon juice, ranch dressing and your favorite spices. Any of these ingredients are excellent mixed with a good cheese.
The typical crust for a cheese ball is crushed nuts, such as almonds, walnuts or pecans. It is nice to keep the crunchy crust, however you can give the exterior a new twist by using crushed wasabi peas, pistachios or hazelnuts. Create other flavorful crusts with chopped dried fruits, like cranberries or raisins, or fresh herbs, such as parsley, basil, thyme or sage.
For another fun change, make mini cheese balls (use a mini ice cream scoop) for individual servings or mold in holiday-themed festive shapes.
Cheese balls are used as a spread for crackers, bread and vegetables however for a change of pace, try serving breadsticks, pita chips or vegetable chips.
The following are some additional appetizer ideas that are easy, quick and simple. By the way, to help prevent the spread of illness (colds/flu) and discourage double dippers, I am placing a serving spoon in all my dips (bowls of nuts also) and a knife in my cheese ball. Everyone can spoon a portion onto a plate instead of dipping into the bowl with his or her chip or cracker.
Mom’s Cheese Ball
One 5 ounce jar Kraft Blue Cheese
One 5 ounce jars Kraft Old English Cheese
Two 8 ounce cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon chopped onion
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 cup chopped pecans, divided
1/2 cup chopped parsley, divided
Let the cheese stand at room temperature and then cream all three together. Then add the chopped onion, Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 cup chopped pecans and1/4 cup parsley.
Mix all together thoroughly and form mixture into a ball. Roll in the remaining pecans and parsley. Chill until firm.
Hot Cheese Balls
1/2 cup margarine
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1-1/4 cups sifted flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Cream margarine and cheese. Sift flour, salt, and paprika together. Gradually add the flour mixture to the margarine and cheese mixture. Shape into marble size balls and bake at 400 degrees for 12 minutes. Serve warm!
Cheese Balls Three Ways
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3 packages cream cheese
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
5 dashes hot sauce (such as Tabasco)
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
Put butter, cream cheese, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, salt, and pepper into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until combined.
Divide equally among 3 bowls; however, if not using immediately, refrigerate each ball up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month.
Cheddar And Cranberry
8 ounces sharp orange cheddar cheese, finely shredded
2 tablespoons store-bought chutney
3/4 cup dried cranberries, finely chopped
Water crackers, for serving
Stir cheddar cheese and chutney with the base mixture in the first bowl. Form into a ball.
Roll cheese ball in cranberries to coat before serving.
Serve with crackers.
Roquefort And Walnut
6 ounces Roquefort cheese
1 shallot, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
2 teaspoons brandy (optional)
1 cup toasted walnuts, coarsley chopped
Vegetable chips (such as Terra Chips Sweets & Beets) for serving
Stir blue cheese and shallot with base mixture in second bowl; add brandy, if desired. Form into a ball. Roll in walnuts to coat before serving. Serve with chips.
Goat Cheese And Scallions
8 ounces goat cheese
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions
1/3 cup fresh curly-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 English cucumber, cut into 1/8-inch thick slices, for serving
Stir goat cheese and scallions with base mixture in remaining bowl.
Form into a ball.
Roll in parsley to coat before serving.
Serve with cucumber slices.
Source: Martha Stewart Living