Thursday, December 31, 2009


The cheese ball is something that you either love or hate. I know of few people who kind of like cheese balls, but I do not doubt that such an animal exists. I've made this cheese ball for over 10 years and count on this humble party food staple to stretch my snack table without breaking the bank. The flavor is creamy and savory with the added benefit of chopped pecans that enrobe the pale yellow delight. I like this served with crackers, pretzels, pita chips, or bagel bites. I've even seen some folks put this on an apple and eat it, but don't count on me to confirm whether or not this cheese ball is good on an apple! Let's get started and we'll talk about some really cool and different ways to present this cheese ball. Well, ok, you can use my ideas for your cheese ball recipe if you want--I guess.
Here's what you will need to pull this thin off, the ingredient list is super easy:

16 oz. Cream Cheese

16 oz. Cheddar Cheese (I usually use a cheese blend)

One onion

1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce

1 teaspoon seasoned salt

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Rough chop the onion and place it in the bowl of a food processor. Add one block of the cream cheese and seasoned salt. Pulse until the mixture is smooth and combined. You do not have to have a food processor to make this cheese ball. I like to use a food processor because it really gets the onion minced up. If you don't have a food processor I would suggest that you either grate the onion, or chop the dickens out of the onions to make them super minced and mushy. Your goal is to have a creamy and smooth mouth feel.

After you have pulsed the onion, half of the cream cheese, and seasoned salt together, go ahead and add in the Worcestershire sauce and give it another pulse. This is what gives the mixture it's pale yellowish brown appearance. Once you have pulsed together these four ingredients, dump it into a large bowl, we will have to go manual from here on out.
This set of Pyrex mixing bowls is close to my heart. I'm writing this post from my Mom's house in Missouri, which explains the better quality of my cell phone photographs because she has fluorescent lighting. Anyway, these bowls have been with me my entire cooking life. I learned to cook using these, and many other tools that Mom still has. We won't talk about the can of cloves that she has in her spice cabinet that has a date stamp of 1972!
So, after your little trip down memory lane. Dump the mixture you've pulsed into the sentimental Pyrex mixing bowl (that mushroom design is really ugly, what were they thinking?) and add the other 8 oz. of cream cheese and the grated cheese blend. Get busy with a sturdy spoon of silicone spatula and mix until the cream cheese is completely combined and smooth. If you food processor bowl is large, you can do this step in that bowl. Mom's is only a 2-cup processor.

If you like to get your hands dirty and want to skip this next step feel free. Who am I to judge. I like to get a small bowl and place some plastic wrap in the bowl, then dump the mixture into the bowl so I can form the cheese ball into...well a ball shape. It's really much easier to me.

This is what the mixture looks like when you get it into the bowl. Just fold over the plastic wrap and press lightly to form the cheese ball into a dome shape. From this point you can place the bowl in the fridge and keep it until ready to use, or you can peel off the plastic wrap and flip the cheese ball onto a plate, peeling the plastic wrap off. Use that spatula or spoon to smooth over the rough places. Press in the chopped pecans.
This cheese ball is really at it's best flavor once is has a few hours to recover and pull itself together. The Worcestershire sauce and onion really love each other and come to the flavor party big time, they are somewhat cocky and try to take over, but never fear the cheese is the true star of this show.
Ok, now for the ideas I promised:
  • You can roll this cheese ball in other things. You could use sliced almonds and "tile" your cheese ball, which would be really sharp. Paprika or parsley are other toppings that make this cheese ball really delicious.
  • Place your plastic wrap on the counter, and lay the mixture out in a log. Roll the plastic wrap up around the cheese ball. Using your hands shape the cheese log into it's long log form. Then roll in whichever topping you wish to use.
  • This doesn't have to be a cheese ball at all! Mix the chopped pecans into the mixture and place the entire mixture into a container with a tight fitting lid and you have a super spread that you can pull out for a snack, or super casual card or game party. This will keep for a week or more (it won't last that long, trust me.)
  • Substitute hot sauce for the Worcestershire sauce and everything changes. This mild mannered little cheese ball becomes a super spicy whippersnapper.
  • Finally, here's the best idea. Cheese ball pops! Use a spring loaded scoop, and drop the mixture onto a waxed paper lined cookie sheet. Chill for 30 minutes to let the cheese pops set up, then remove from the fridge and roll in pecans or the afor mentioned toppings. Finally poke in a pretzel stick and viola you have a cheese ball pop. Place these on your serving platter. This idea is really cool, because it takes the humble cheese ball to a whole new level and totally impresses your guests.

Give this yummy, yummy treat a try I think you'll agree its super good.

Monday, December 21, 2009

THE Holiday Cookie aka. NICU cookies

Have you ever taken a bite of something and immediately known that, "this" would be in your life forever? I have to say that after one bite of this cookie, almost 15 years ago, I knew I would love this cookie forever. Our friend, Donna Layton, makes these every holiday and has forever. They are soft, buttery, fruity, and just delicious.

My daughter, Emma, was born premature (29 weeks) and spent 42 days in the NICU of St. Francis here in Tulsa. She was born November 30th, which meant a different kind of Christmas for my family that year. The staff was amazing and touched us in a way that is still fresh in our hearts to this day. I'm not sure we will ever be able to repay the love and appreciation we have for their care of our daughter. One expression of our gratitude was a batch of Raspberry Thumbprints I made and took in a Red toile tin. Dr. Anderson, Emma's Neonatologist, just happen to love these cookies as it reminded him of his home, "up North." And so began my commitment to the staff that the red tin would always be full of cookies for them. Kendra or I one would bring that tin home, empty, and take it back full. We made double batches (7 dozen total) of these cookies every three or four days for 42 days. Everyone knew what that red tin meant when they walked into the break room. We took that same tin back at Emma's one and two year "anniversary" of her dismissal and plan to do the same for this her, third, anniversary (coming up in February).

For the dramatic and beautiful end result, there really isn't an easier cookie to make. Five ingredients in the dough, some jam, and a glaze is all that comes to this cookie party. There are really two stars that shine in this cookie, butter and almond extract. The cookie dough is really a shortbread that is light and buttery. The almond extract is there, not obnoxious or showy, but does indeed make itself known. As far as jam, the world is your oyster. I've used seedless blackberry, red raspberry, raspberry, and apricot, but you could use any kind of jam you love. I think the hardest thing for me is making the perfect indention for the jam to rest in while baking. I have a coffee scoop that is dome shaped, and it works like a charm, so that is what I use. Consistency is the key. Also, trust the timer on this cookie, because the will not brown, at most on the very outer edge if at all, they just burn.


1 Cup butter, room temp
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
Jam (maybe a 1/2 cup)

Preheat oven to 350. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add sugar and butter. Mix on medium speed 3-5 minutes or until light and airy. Add extracts and flour. Mix until just combined. Using a small spring loaded cookie scoop, place balls of dough on cookie sheets (2 inches apart). Make an indention with your thumb and add 1/4 teaspoon of jam to each indention.

Bake for 14-18 minutes. Remove from pan and let rest on cookie sheet for one or two minutes. Remove to a wire rack and cool completely. Drizzle with the following glaze.

1 cup Powdered Sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon Almond extract

In a medium bowl add powdered sugar, milk, and extract, whisk until smooth. Add drops of water or milk to thin to your specific taste.

  • If you want the cookie, end product, to be smooth you can roll the dough in your hands to kind of knock out the scoop marks. It is pretty, but a step I can afford to live without, trust me rolling almost 100 dough balls is not my idea of fun.
  • The indention is tricky. Too shallow and the jam spills over the side, too deep and it ruptures out the bottom. My trick is to push just until the dough spreads, you want the indention to be about the depth of a 1/2 teaspoon and no more.
  • When the cookies come out of the oven, let them rest. You will not be able to transfer them to a cooling rack immediately out of the oven because they will fall apart, trust the voice of frustrated experience.
  • I use two cookie sheets and alternate. It gives each sheet time to cool down before you drop more dough on the sheets. The dough is delicate and will start to melt while you are filling with jam.
  • I use one of my daughters old baby spoons to fill--it's perfect!
  • I've made these cookies bigger and don't really love the end result.
  • The glaze is good on a flip flop. Seriously, it's just a wonderful glaze that is pure white and smooth, it hardens to a shiny bright beautiful result.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Chicken pot pie in Biscuit bowls

With winter being right here in our lap, I can't help but feel drawn to warm, cozy, creamy suppers. Potato soup, Chicken and noodles, casseroles, all just warm inside and out. That coupled with the baking we do during the holidays makes for a warm home and hopefully warm memories. Speaking of memories, can I just tell you I love Chicken Pot Pie! I was an adult before I had a homemade chicken pot pie, but as a child I loved the Swanson Chicken Pot Pies. Mom always had plenty of frozen pies in the freezer so I could bake them up anytime I wanted.
I had a very methodical and meticulous way of eating them, too. Go figure. I ate the top crust first, then the filling, saving the bottom crust for was just delicious.

These biscuit bowls are fun to make, and super delicious. There are a ton of shortcuts that will fit just about any time crunch, and I think your family will love them. You can substitute turkey for the chicken, of course and add another bullet to the chamber of leftover shotgun suppers.

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion (about 1 small onion)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped celery (about 4 ribs)
  • 1 cup diced red bell pepper (you can use one small pepper)
  • 1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1 (10 3/4-ounce) can condensed cream of chicken soup
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 2 1/2 cups chopped cooked chicken
  • 1/2 (16-ounce) package frozen peas and carrots, thawed
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

  • Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add 1/2 cup onion, 1/2 cup celery, bell pepper and 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms, and sauté 2 to 3 minutes or until tender.Whisk in cream of chicken soup, 1/2 cup milk, and 1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon; cook over medium-low heat 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 1 cup Cheddar cheese, stirring constantly, until cheese melts. Stir in cooked chicken, peas and carrots, diced pimiento, salt, and pepper. Cook over low heat, stirring often, 10 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

Spoon warm chicken mixture evenly into Biscuit Bowls.

Chicken Pot Pie in Biscuit Bowls: Substitute 1 (10-ounce) thawed package frozen mixed vegetables for peas and carrots. Add 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme and 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning. Omit tarragon, sliced mushrooms, and pimiento. Proceed with recipe as directed.

Biscuit Bowls

  • 1 (16.3-ounce) can refrigerated jumbo flaky biscuits
  • Vegetable cooking spray

Roll each biscuit to a 5-inch circle.

Invert 8 (6-ounce) custard cups or ramekins, several inches apart, on a lightly greased baking sheet. Coat outside of cups with cooking spray. Mold flattened biscuits around outside of custard cups, and bake at 350° for 14 minutes. Cool slightly, and remove biscuit bowls from cups.

If you don't have custard cups, you can use your muffin tins, no problem. Just be sure to use plenty of spray so they won't stick.