Friday, January 02, 2009

A Tale of Two Cheese Balls

Update: I made a correction to yesterday's artichoke spinach crab dip. I left out the 8 oz cream cheese. Thanks Mom for catching that!

I spent New Year's Eve at Weedhopper and Wife of Weedhopper's lovely house surrounded by a group of their friends and family. It was a nice evening and I not only got the chance to cook some great food for them (along with sampling some of Weedhopper's tasty cooking as well) but I met some really cool people whom I hope to see again very soon.

When Weedhopper and I were discussing the menu for the evening, we decided that retro party food from the 50's through the 80's would be the order of the evening. To me, nothing says retro party food more than cheese ball. You know those balls of cheese and sometimes other ingredients rolled in a ball shape and then often re-rolled in chopped nuts, crushed cereal, or even dried/fresh herbs. Both my mother and my mother in law (MIL) have given me recipes for their "go to" cheese balls over the years and since both are really good, I decided to bring them both to the party.

Both cheese balls are from the late 50's/early 60's, when both Wren and my parents were sans children and in their young hip couple party stage of their marriages. My mother in law's cheese ball is from the Bristol Tennessee Country Club Ladies Cookbook, where my father in law was the golf pro and she was on the Ladies Committee. My mother's cheese ball is courtesy of the "Betty Crocker Hostess Cookbook".

Betty Crocker Hostess Cookbook

While both cheese balls are rolled in chopped nuts they are very different in the taste spectrum. My mother in law's is from the salty-sweet side of the cheese board while my mother's is definitely on the savory - pungent side of the cheese board. My MIL's only calls for two types of cheese while my mother's calls for four.

My mother's is easier to put together but is very pedestrian in presentation. My MIL's is a bit more fussy but can be more versatile as it can be made in a ball form or used as a spread for canapes. I can't say that one is more of a favorite of mine than the other.

I grew up eating my mother's the day after she and my father would entertain or at family functions. I loved to sneak bits of the cheese mixture from the bowl when I didn't think she was looking when she prepared the party food on the afternoon before my folk's parties.

When Wren first took me to meet his parents in 2001, my MIL had prepared an impressive spread of finger food to be served with the afternoon cocktails in the sun room. One of my first food memories with the family was having her cheese ball and thinking how wonderful it paired with the gin and tonic I was sipping while being regaled with family lore.

When ever I make either of these cheese balls, they are hits with my guests and this past Wednesday night was no different. If I had to say with Weedhopper's guests which one was the favorite, I would have to say my mother in law's was a bigger hit. Probably because when I told people what was in the cheese ball most people responded with, "I would never have thought that combination would work together".

Either way, I'll be making both of these for years to come. And with apologies to Madam Chow, who I promise lighter fare is on it's way, here are both recipes.

After all, both of these would make really fine additions to your Inauguration/End of "TWPE!" Term party spread!

Note: When I made my MIL's cheese ball on Tuesday evening, I rushed the prep and didn't squeeze enough of the liquid from the pineapple so it was definitely more spread like than cheese ball.

My Mother in Law's Cheese Ball

Party Cheese Ball
(My Mother In Law's)

2 8oz packages of cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup finely chopped green pepper
2 Tbsp minced onion
1 16oz crushed pineapple, drained and with excess liquid squeezed out
1 cup shredded mild cheddar cheese
1 tsp seasoning salt
1 cup ground pecans, for rolling the cheese ball

Combine cream cheese, green pepper, minced onion, pineapple, cheddar cheese, and seasoning salt until smooth. Form into loose ball, cover and chill for at least 8 hours. (Overnight is better as it allows the flavors of the ingredients to really marry)

Form chilled cheese ball into tight ball and roll in ground pecans. Garnish with spring of rosemary. (My mother in law uses a piece of plastic holly for the cheese ball, all year round!)

Serve with Ritz crackers.

For Canape spread: After combining ingredients including the chopped pecans, don't form in loose ball. Refrigerate overnight and allow to come to room temperature before spreading on top of bread crusts.

Mom's Cheese Ball (Three Cheese)

Trio Cheese Ball
adapted from the Betty Crocker Hostess Cookbook
(My Mother's Cheese Ball)

1 8oz package cream cheese, softened
1/4 lb blue cheese, crumbled (about 3/4 cup)
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup shredded swiss cheese (added by my mother, not part of original recipe)
1 small onion, minced
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup chopped pecans (my mom uses these to roll the cheese ball in. Original recipe says to add to cheese mixture and roll cheese ball in finely snipped parsley)

Beat cheeses in mixer bowl on medium until fluffy. Beat in onion and Worcestershire sauce. Cover and chill for 3 - 4 hours.

Mold cheese mixture into ball and roll in chopped pecans. Wrap in wax paper and plastic wrap and chill over night before serving.

Serve with variety of crackers