Thanksgiving is hitting me right in my tender feels this year, friends. I'm always grateful for family and friends in that general, distracted way that most of us are--glad they're around, but in need of a holiday-themed reminder to actually stop and take account of how precious our loved ones are. This year (at almost nine months pregnant, to date), the gratitude is unavoidable. I am surrounded by warmth and kindness from loved ones offering to take me shopping or to lend a sympathetic ear, shower us with baby gear, to fill our freezer with goodies, or just to take a simple walk around the lake in our local park. This year, amidst so much turbulence in the world, "thankful" doesn't even begin to cover what I'm feeling. But it is a start.
Other little things I'm grateful for?
Cooler fall weather.
My sweet little dogs.
The ability not only to do a job that I love, but to do it from home, giving me time to get our little nest ready for the whirlwind of changes that are coming.
Hair elastics, which have allowed me to continue wearing jeans (at nearly thirty-six weeks, all my zippers are laughing at me).
YES, I said cheese balls! Let's talk about cheese balls for a second, shall we? This year, I'm on a mission to rescue the humble cheese ball from jokey punchlines and mid-century obscurity. These holiday classics get seemingly no respect, when in fact they deserve adoration. Creamy, rich, dense or fluffy, liberally sprinkled with sweet or savory mix-ins like toasted almonds, caramelized onions, fresh sage, pistachios and juicy pomegranate arils....cheese balls are a vintage-inspired treat that belong on every holiday table this year. When the master cheesemakers at Wisconsin-based Roth Cheese reached out to me about creating a recipe perfect for holiday entertaining, my first thought was.....here it comes, this is the cheese ball's moment in the spotlight. WELCOME TO THE YEAR OF THE CHEESE BALL.
Of course, the kind folks at Roth were kind enough to send me a wide array of cheeses to sample, including 3 Chile Pepper Gouda (mellow sweetness meets peppery heat), Horseradish Havarti (full of chives, horseradish and mustard seeds), Prairie Sunset (whose golden, nutty sweetness is truly addictive), and Grand Cru Reserve (an aged, Alpine-style cheese that reminds me of Gruyere). Inspired by so much delicious variety, I decided to create a holiday cheese plate spread that would allow all of them to shine, accented by other savory and sweet treats. Pairing the mellow butterscotch notes of Prairie Sunset with rich, caramelized onions, fresh sage and golden toasted almonds was an easy decision; while the nutty flavor of Grand Cru seemed destined to blend with pistachios and jewel-like pomegranate seeds.
What to serve alongside such holiday riches? I like to set out an array of rustic bread and crisp crackers (the perfect vehicle for delivering creamy bites of cheese), along with a contrasting variety of other spreads that make friends easily with cheese. This year, I chose a truly decadent, sweet compound butter (blended with juicy dates and maple syrup) and a surprisingly spicy cranberry chutney to cut through the richness of so much delicious cheese. Fresh winter fruits like slices of citrus and pomegranate not only look beautiful, but make for easy snacking between bites of those addictive cheese balls. Finish the cheese plate with a few small bowls of nuts (in this case, smoked almonds and whole pistachios), and you've just created the centerpiece of your holiday appetizer table.
One more entry on my "things I'm thankful for" list goes to Roth Cheese, for sponsoring this post. Find out more about them, including where you can pick up these cheeses locally, by following the link to their site. Happy holiday entertaining season to one and all!
This recipe was lightly inspired by one from How Sweet It Is, whose "jeweled", pomegranate-studded cheese ball is a true masterpiece.
1 cup grated Grand Cru Reserve cheese
6 oz. whipped cream cheese
1/4 cup chopped pistachios
1 teaspoon milk
pepper, to taste
1 cup fresh pomegranate arils
Combine the first four ingredients in a large mixing bowl, mix thoroughly. Taste, and add pepper as needed. Gather cheese mixture into a ball shape, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes. Remove and unwrap, roll cheese ball in pomegranate arils until covered. Rewrap cheese ball and store in fridge for up to a day, or serve immediately.
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup diced white onion
1 cup grated Prairie Sunset cheese
6 oz whipped cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon minced sage
1 teaspoon milk
3/4 cup toasted sliced almonds
Heat a skillet over medium heat, add butter and onions and cook, stirring regularly, until onions are brown and caramelized. Set aside and let cool. Combine grated cheese, cream cheese, sage, milk, and 1/4 cup of the toasted almonds in a large mixing bowl, mix thoroughly. Gather cheese mixture into a ball shape, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes. Remove and unwrap, roll cheese ball in remaining almonds until covered. Rewrap cheese ball and store in fridge for up to a day, or serve immediately.
8 tablespoons butter
8 Medjool dates
1 tablespoon maple syrup
pinch of salt
Place butter, dates and maple syrup in the bowl of a food processor, blend into a creamy paste. Taste, add salt according to preference. Serve immediately, or chill in refrigerator for later use (serve warmed to room temperature for better flavor & spreadability, if not serving immediately).
1/4 cup cranberry juice
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger (or ground ginger)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper
1 teaspoon orange zest
Place cranberries, cranberry juice and sugar in a saucepan, bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until cranberries have softened and burst, about 9 minutes. Add ginger, red pepper (feel free to adjust this amount up or down depending on the level of heat you prefer) and orange zest, cook for another minute, then remove from heat and let cool.