Cook's Exchange: For a festive party, just add cheese balls, meaty dip

December 18, 2013 

Christmas Eve has a myriad of celebrations and traditions. Friends of ours take their 20-something daughters to Bellingrath Gardens in Alabama each year. Others without children or those with older children open gifts. Still others host family and friends with a party or open house.

New Orleanians host awesome reveillon dinners after Mass in the old Creole tradition. Restaurants in that city also do the multi-course dinners.

My family continues a tradition that I have enjoyed since a child. We have a Christmas Eve snack supper that's a way to chill out and enjoy the true meaning of Christmas. The church that my family and I attended always had Christmas Eve Communion, so we would attend and come back home for snacks.

Allen and I always have hosted on Christmas Eve. Now the celebration has become more intimate with just our daughter, granddaughter and us. It's a great family time that we all enjoy.

Elyssa and I prepare the snacks, while Allen works on the gumbo for Christmas at his dad's. Cheese is always on our menu because even our picky granddaughter loves cheese. We make the '50s favorite, Mexican cheese dip; cheese balls; and brie topped with either cranberries and nuts or a praline topping.

I also like to make crab puffs, which are savory cream puffs filled with a mixture of crab meat and cream cheese, and spanakopita (spinach and phyllo dough), plus cookies and a birthday cake for Jesus. We have done the birthday cake since Elyssa was 3.

Today, I thought I would share some new and old ideas for last-minute Christmas parties. Ace party hostess Paula April of Biloxi. Miss., serves a version of Mexican cheese dip that is so good. It is a little bit different that the normal tomatoes and chil

es and Velveeta cheese. Hers can even be served over baked potatoes for an easy supper with a side salad.

Folks from the Betty Crocker kitchen also share how to turn one basic cheese ball recipe into five ethnic cheese balls. These around-the-world cheese balls are a red-hot trend for the holidays and for those New Year's Eve parties, too.

Last January, I shared what experts and I thought would be the top food trends of 2013. One of which was the growing love of ethnic foods, especially Asian, Mexican and Middle Eastern. That trend is still growing and these cheese ball recipes attest to that.

Please note that some of the ingredients are available in specialty food stores or in major supermarkets.

BASIC CHEESE BALL

2 packages (8 ounce each) cream cheese, softened

1 package (10 to 11 ounces) chèvre (goat) cheese, softened

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/4 teaspoon kosher (coarse) salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In large bowl, beat basic cheese ball ingredients with electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment on medium speed until combined. Divide mixture into 5 medium bowls; use 1 bowl to make each of the flavors.

If you want a French flair, here are the flavor stir-ins and coating for a French flavor. This one is a favorite of mine.

FRENCH CHEESE BALL

1 basic cheese ball recipe with these additions:

1 cup crumbled Roquefort cheese

2 teaspoons honey

1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons finely chopped Marcona almonds

In one of the 5 bowls of Basic Cheese Ball, stir in Roquefort cheese, 2 teaspoons honey and the shallot. Drop mixture by teaspoonfuls on cooking parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Refrigerate about 30 minutes or until set. Shape each into 3/4-inch ball. In small bowl, stir together parsley and almonds. Roll balls in mixture to coat before serving. Serve with toasted baguette slices.

MEXICAN CHEESE BALL

1 basic cheese ball recipe with these additions:

1 cup crumbled queso fresco (cheese)

3/4 teaspoon ancho chile powder

2 teaspoons chopped chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (from 7-ounce can)

2 tablespoons chopped green onions (2 medium)

3/4 cup finely chopped pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

In one of the 5 bowls, stir in queso fresco, ancho chile powder, chipotle chiles and green onions. Drop mixture by teaspoonfuls on cooking parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Refrigerate about 30 minutes or until set. Shape each into 3/4-inch ball. If not using immediately, cover and refrigerate up to 3 days, or freeze up to 1 month. Roll balls in chopped pepitas to coat before serving. Serve with tortilla chips.

Here's another favorite of mine, the Middle Eastern cheese ball.

MIDDLE EASTERN CHEESE BALL

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves

1- 1/2 teaspoons za'atar seasoning blend (za'atar is a blend of sumac, sesame seed and herbs)

3/4 cup finely chopped pistachio nuts

In one of the 5 bowls, stir in feta cheese, mint leaves and 3/4 teaspoon of the za'atar blend. With moistened hands, shape into 3/4-inch balls; refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. (If not using immediately, refrigerate up to 3 days, or freeze up to 1 month.) In small bowl, stir together remaining 3/4 teaspoon of the za'atar blend and the pistachio nuts. Roll balls in mixture to coat before serving. Serve with pita crackers.

INDIAN-FLAVORED CHEESE BALL

1 cup finely shredded paneer cheese (cheese with a slightly chewy texture and mild flavor, similar to queso blanco)

2 teaspoons fresh grated lime peel

1- 1/2 teaspoons curry powder

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

1/2 cup finely chopped roasted salted cashews

In one of the 5 bowls, stir in paneer cheese, 2 teaspoons lime peel, the curry powder and 1 tablespoon of the cilantro. With moistened hands, shape into 3/4-inch balls; refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. (If not using immediately, refrigerate up to 3 days, or freeze up to 1 month.) In small bowl, stir together remaining1/4 cup cilantro and cashews. Roll balls in mixture to coat before serving. Serve with naan bread.

KOREAN-FLAVORED CHEESE BALL

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1 teaspoon Korean chili paste

1/3 cup finely chopped mild kimchi, a spicy condiment made with Napa cabbage

2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions

1 teaspoon fresh grated lime peel

3/4 cup black sesame seeds

In one of the 5 bowls, stir in cheese, chili paste, kimchi, green onions and lime peel. Drop mixture by teaspoonfuls on cooking parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Refrigerate about 30 minutes or until set. Shape each into 3/4-inch ball. If not using immediately, cover and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month. Roll balls in sesame seeds to coat before serving. Serve with rice crackers.

Note: These cheese balls can be made a head of time. Refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to a month. Thaw the cheese balls, and roll in the coating the day of the party.

-- From Betty Crocker kitchens

HOT MEAT DIP

Brown together:

1- 1/2 pounds hamburger

1 package Jimmy Dean sausage (hot or regular)

1 finely chopped onion

1 teaspoon garlic

Add:

2 pounds Velveeta cheese (cubed; regular or Mexican)

After melted and mixed well, add:

1 can Ro-tel tomatoes

1 can cream of mushroom soup

Serve in slow cooker with large corn chips on the side for dipping.

This may be frozen in small quantities and reheated as needed.

Note: This is great over baked potatoes.

-- From "Paula's 2001 Christmas Cookbook"

Christmas is a week away, and I am not the least bit ready. The above recipes are so quick and easy that they will take some off some of the stress.

May your holiday parties and Christmas Eve celebrations be merry and memory-making.

Andrea Yeager, who can be reached at ayeager51@cableone.net, takes contributions or requests at Cook's Exchange, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535-4567.

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