Cheese Ball Pops!

There are recipes that get passed down from generation to generation and others that get passed around from friend to friend. The latter was the case with this cheese ball recipe. My friend Rosie brought a delicious blue cheese ball encrusted in toasted pecans to a dinner party. I loved it and called her the next day for the recipe. She promptly emailed a recipe that had been forwarded to her by her friend Trudy, whose friend Paula had forwarded it to her. Trudy’s request to Paula went like this, “My husband cannot stop talking about your cheese ball…” It was that good.

At the dinner party, Rosie shared with us a story about how a cheesemonger at the grocery store scoffed at her when she mentioned she was looking for blue cheese to make a cheese ball. A cheese ball? Without her even asking for his permission or advice, he went on to recommend other, more high brow cheeses. He cheese-shamed her!

Perhaps you have your doubts, too?

The Original Recipe

Paula’s recipe was perfect and easy: “Combine eight ounces each of blue cheese, mozzarella, and cream cheese. Add a tablespoon of flavorful port or sherry. Shape into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, chill until firm. Toast and chop about ¾ cup of pecans and roll the cheese in the nuts to cover.”

Playing with Add-Ins

Ever since I wrote last week’s post, A Cake for All Seasons, I’ve been thinking about ways to use flavor-building add-ins like herbs, spices, and fruits to see how they would change the way foods taste. It’s a personal journey. Last year’s journey was about self-actualization. This year, it is about pushing my limits creatively.

With that in mind, I considered what fruits and herbs I could add to an already delicious cheese ball to change it up. I love dates stuffed with blue cheese and nuts, so I started there. I tried various nuts and herbs in the empty cavity of the dates, thinking one would be especially good. They were all good! For this recipe, I stuck with the pecans and added dill.

About dates, the food, that is.

Cooks often use dates as a natural way to sweeten foods, especially desserts. Many recipes tend to call for Medjool or Deglet Noor dates. Medjools are sold fresh and can be found in the produce section, while Deglets can be found in the aisle with dried fruits. Both varieties are very sweet, low in fat, and high in potassium, iron, and fiber. Medjools are larger, softer, and moister than dried dates. Deglets have a more delicate flavor, are firmer, and are a little less sweet.

Dates grow on date palm trees in warm climates. They are labor-intensive to grow, and their priciness reflects that.

Reasons to Make a Cheese Ball at Your Next Party:
-The cheeses can be blended 2-3 days ahead if needed. The flavor improves overnight. However, don’t add the toasted nuts and herbs until ready to serve. We want the nuts to remain crunchy and for the herbs to stay bright green.
-The recipe can be cut in half. Or, you could make two small cheese balls and freeze one (but don’t add nuts until ready to serve).
-It can be shaped into a ball, a log, or single-serving cheese pops.
-It may be a good way to use up stray cheeses in the refrigerator. I would make a small bite-sized sample of whatever cheeses you plan to put together to make sure their flavor profile works.

Ingredients:

1 cup pecans, chop and then toast
10 pitted dates, chopped (only 7 if using the large, unpitted Medjools)
2 heaping tablespoons, minced dill leaves, from 8 sprigs or 1 package
8 ounces blue cheese (I tried Gorgonzola and would not recommend it)
8 ounces mozzarella
8 ounces cream cheese, cut into 1-inch chunks for easier mixing
1 tablespoon port or flavorful sherry. I used a tawny port
Serve over crackers, pretzel sticks, or ginger snaps (sweet, but delish!)

Mise en Place:

Instructions:

Chop pecans into small crumbles and toast in a 300º oven for about ten minutes. Watch closely, so they don’t burn. Set pan of toasted nuts aside.

Chop dates into small pieces. Set aside.

Mince dill leaves. Set aside.

Place cheeses and port in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until well mixed. Add the chopped dates and pulse 2 or 3 times more until cheese, port, and dates are just combined. Do not purée!

Use a spatula to scrape the cheese mixture onto a sheet of parchment paper. Wrap the paper around the clump of cheese and shape it into a ball. Refrigerate for an hour.

Remove cheese from the fridge and decide how you want to serve it: one ball, two balls, a log, or as cheese pops. I made about a dozen cheese pops and a traditional cheese ball.

I used a small cookie scoop to shape the balls and then rolled them in the pecan and dill mixture. I used thin pretzels for the sticks.

I formed the remaining cheese into a  ball and rolled it in the nuts and dill. I love the colors and texture!

You haven’t lived until you have spread this cheese on a ginger snap. Oh, my goodness! It could be a dessert.

The pops would be a great appetizer to pass around at a party on a tray, while the large cheese ball would be perfect set out on a table for a Super Bowl Party. Check out other party snacks here.

Thank you, Rosie, Trudy, and Paula for sharing the original recipe! xo

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© 2014-2020 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Mary’s Award Winning Chocolate Chip Cookies

Last winter, I was on a mission to find a chocolate chip cookie recipe to love. Don’t get me wrong, I love the queen of all chocolate chip cookie recipes, the one I have known by heart since I was ten, the venerable Nestle’s Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie. But I was looking for something thicker and a little less crunchy.

It turns out, I was looking for Mary’s chocolate chip cookies, all along. But that’s jumping the gun.

Did you know that back in the 1930s when Toll House Inn owner, Ruth Wakefield, first published her famous cookie recipe, she called it Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie? Ruth meant for her cookies to be crunchy.

I tested many recipes during my search for a chewier cookie.

In the end, I couldn’t find a favorite and instead wrote a post about cookie scoops, Cookie Scoops as a Unit of Measure.  Who knew the tiny numbers on cookie scoops described the number of scoops of dough in a one-quart container?

During my research, I learned a nifty way to scoop and freeze cookie dough before storing it.

My kids went home with bags full of frozen cookie dough every time they stopped by to visit; tasty rejects from the recipes I tested.

Ultimately, I realized my favorite cookie was the one my dear and funny, food-styling, recipe-developing friend, Mary Carter, sold back in the summer of 2011 at Nashville’s 12South Farmers Market. By the way, Mary is an artist, as well.

Her best selling cookie at the market was Pecan and Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt. She submitted the recipe to Southern Living Showhouse’s  “Ultimate Southern Cookie” contest and took home first place.

What is not to love here?

Many years ago, I tried making her recipe, but my cookies didn’t come out as well as hers. Last week, she came over to my house so we could bake them together to see what went wrong. I learned I was cooking them too long, mixing them too long, and not using the right amount of flour. To come up with a reliable amount of flour to use, I weighed each cup as she added it. The cookies came out perfectly under her tutelage.

A few words on measuring flour:

When I write recipes, I envision my boys making them and add the specific chopping or measuring instructions I think they might need. IF they were to measure flour, they would stick a measuring cup into the flour bag, use their finger to level it off, and dump it into the batter.

So, that’s what I did. I measured 4 cups of what is ultimately packed flour, poured it into a glass bowl, and measured the weight of the flour (having first zeroed out the weight of the bowl). The flour weighed 21 ounces.

Compare that to the way I learned to measure flour (in Junior High Home Ec) where you lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup and use the backside of a knife to level it off. Measured that way, 4 cups of flour weighs only 17 ounces! Scooping flour directly into a measuring cup can result in using more flour than the recipe writer may have intended. This discrepancy in amounts has become more common and is the reason many recipes now include a weight measurement in parentheses. Here’s  a video from King Arthur Flour that shows how to properly measure flour.

Pro Tips

Before we get started on the recipe, here is a list of baking tips I learned from Mary our afternoon together.

  • Do not overbeat the fat, sugar, and eggs. A soupy batter leads to pancake-like cookies. When Mary makes these cookies at home, she dumps all the ingredients at once into her favorite mixing bowl and mixes them by hand. I always use my beloved Kitchen Aid.
  • Mary uses self-rising flour when developing recipes. Cup for cup it has the correct proportion of flour to baking powder and salt, making it easy to increase or decrease flour as she makes up new recipes.
  • One level cup of self-rising flour weighs 4.25 ounces and is comprised of:
    1 cup of all-purpose flour
    1½ teaspoons baking powder
    ½ teaspoon salt
  • Bake cookie less than seems right. She bakes them until they just start to tan on the edges and are still quite pale in the center. She leaves them on the pan to cool completely.
  • Placing pecans on top of the cookie allows them to toast while cooking. This makes them so much more flavorful.
  • Place 3 chocolate chips on top of each cookie before baking; that’s a food-styling tip.
  • For whatever reason, this cookie dough doesn’t taste as good raw as Toll House cookie dough. We decided that was a good thing:-)
  • As soon as the cookies come out of the oven, Mary uses the tip of a spatula to smush the edges that have spread out too far, back inward. It makes the cookie rounder and taller. Here is a video of her demonstrating.

 

Mary’s Southern Pecan and Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt

Yield: 24  3-inch cookies

Ingredients:

½ cup (1 stick) salted butter, at room temperature
½ cup vegetable shortening
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large (4 ounces) eggs
3¾ cups (16 ounces) self-rising flour (I use unbleached King Arthur’s)
2 cups (12 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips (I love Trader Joe’s chips)
½ cup chopped pecans (optional)

Topping Ingredients
1 tablespoon sea salt flakes or fine sea salt
¼ cup semi-sweet chocolate  chips
1 cup pecans

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350º.

Add butter, shortening, sugars, salt, vanilla, and eggs into a mixing bowl.

Blend together for one minute on medium-low speed. Halfway through mixing, turn mixer off and scrape down sides and bottom of bowl. Don’t let batter get soupy.

Add flour and mix on slow speed until flour is just incorporated into batter, about 45 seconds. Fold in chocolate.

Using a #30 (2-ounce) cookie scoop, place dough on a parchment-lined or ungreased, insulated cookie sheet.

Gently flatten the top of each cookie with the palm of your hand.

Sprinkle each cookie lightly with sea salt flakes or fine salt, three pecans, and a few extra chocolate chips.

Bake for 14-17 minutes, or until cookie edges start to tan and center of cookie is still fairly pale. In Mary’s oven, that’s 14 minutes, in mine, it’s 17 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately use a spatula to adjust the outer edges as described in video. I’ve noticed the cookies appear a little darker a few minutes after they get out of the oven.

Leave on baking sheet until cookie is completely cooled. Enjoy!

Some readers might remember a story I wrote about Mary and a food-styling job she brought me on, Food Styling with Mary Carter.

Thanksgiving is coming up. Take a look at THIS page for a list of tried and true recipes, especially Foolproof Make-Ahead Gravy, my Mom’s Pumpkin Pie, and my Grandmother’s (killer) Cranberry Chutney.

Related Posts
Cookie Scoops as a Unit of Measure
Stocking Stuffers: Tools for the Cooking Life
Home Ec: How to Measure Ingredients Properly
Pecan Picking in Mississippi (and recipes to go with them)

If you enjoyed this post, please share it with a friend and become a follower. When signing up, be sure to confirm the subscription on the follow-up letter that will be sent to your email.

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Always check my blog for the latest version of a recipe.

© 2014-2020 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

TNFP’s 3-Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies

Recently, I was cooking at The Nashville Food Project with my friends when I spied Catering and Events Manager, Katie Duvien, pulling out sheet pans of peanut butter cookies from the oven.

They smelled so good, I had to have a taste. Just a smidge, as my mother would say. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one breaking off smidges.

“They only have three ingredients: one egg, one cup of peanut butter, and one cup of sugar,” said Katie. This easily-remembered recipe makes them perfect for scaling up in the commercial kitchen or at home.

After she recited the ingredients, I was already thinking about adding crunch by using crunchy peanut butter. I made my first batch that evening while another super-quick recipe, Sheet Pan Supper: Italian Sausage, Peppers, and Potatoes, roasted in the oven.

My friend, Vesia, who has been making these cookies regularly since I posted the recipe, uses brown sugar for half the sugar. She said it makes them moister. I agree.

Ingredients for One Dozen

1 egg
1 cup crunchy or creamy peanut butter
1 cup sugar (half white and half brown)

To Scale It Up:

To make 6 dozen cookies, follow this recipe: 6 large eggs, 6 cups sugar (I use ½ white and ½ brown) and 6 cups crunchy peanut butter (a 3-pound container)

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350º

Mix eggs and sugar, add peanut butter. Use a spatula to scrape ingredients from bottom and sides of bowl and mix again.

Add cookie dough by the spoonful (or use a #40 cookie scoop) to a baking sheet.

Use a fork to make the traditional crisscross pattern on the top.

Bake for 12-15 minutes. Do not over bake. As soon as the cookies have spread and turned light brown, they are ready. When making multiple batches, rotate baking sheets after eight minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Wrap after they cool so they don’t dry up.

Other Darn Good Cookies:
Mary’s Award-Winning Chocolate Chip Cookies
Italian Sesame Seed Cookies
Italian Ricotta and Lemon Cookies
Oats, Sorghum, Ginger, and Cranberry Cookies
My Favorite Rollout Butter Cookies

Other fun recipes from The Nashville Food Project:
Oven-Roasted Strawberry and Rosemary Jam

Outrageous Roasted Rosemary Cashews
 

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Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

Always check my blog for the latest version of a recipe.

© 2014-2020 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Sheet Pan Supper: Italian Sausage, Peppers, Onions, and Potatoes

Last fall, my friends, Ann Shayne and Kay Gardiner, asked if I would develop quick and easy dinner recipes for their readers at Mason Dixon Knitting. Specifically, they wanted recipes for sheet pan suppers.

The first one I created was called Sheet Pan Supper Italiano. Here is a link.

Their introduction to the new column was generous and kind.

Knitters, we bring help. In the quest to increase time for knitting, we proudly present a new series devoted to cooking. Simple cooking. Beautiful cooking. Cooking that you can pull together faster than you can drive through the Burger Weenie. Cooking that cleverly requires a one-hour oven time so that you have a built-in hour to knit while your delicious dinner is roasting away.

Who is our guide to this life-altering way to cook? Our adored gardener, food blogger, and maker: Judy Wright.
—Kay and Ann

Ann and Kay know how to make people feel good. They do it every morning with a daily, upbeat post. It’s one of the reasons their blog/e-commerce website is so popular. You never know what they are going to write about. Take a look at this country music parody they co-wrote and starred in called Pardon Me, I Didn’t Knit That for You. They are a crack up!!

Ann and I are neighbors and have had a lot of fun cooking together at The Nashville Food Project, too!

The first recipe I wrote for their website was a spin-off of the Italian Sausage and Peppers I grew up eating. It was served over pasta at the dinner table and in an 8-inch crusty roll at cookouts and street festivals.

At the time I wrote the sheet pan version, I was on Whole30, a nutritional “reset” diet. To make the recipe Whole-30 compliant, I switched out the pasta with white and sweet potatoes.

This recipe is also a good one for feeding a crowd. I once quadrupled the ingredients and served it at Room in the Inn, a winter sheltering and hospitality program in Nashville. The men paid me the ultimate compliment when they exclaimed, “You put your foot in it!” When they saw me look a little disheartened, they laughed and said that was a good thing. Those men made my day.

Here’s how the piled high and deep ingredients looked when tossed together and spread out into four sheet pans. The key to getting the ingredients to cook evenly is to chop the potatoes into smaller, bite-sized pieces.

Yield: Serves 4
Prep time: 15 minutes   Roasting time: 1 hour

Ingredients

3-4 sweet bell peppers (1 pound)
4-6 potatoes, a combination of sweet and white (2 pounds)
1 sweet onion (½ pound)
1 medium head of garlic (1-1½ ounces)
4 or 5 whole Italian sweet sausages (a 1¼ pound package) Do not pierce.
1 teaspoon fine salt
½ teaspoon ground pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400º.

Prep peppers: Remove pepper cores and seeds. Cut into 1 to 2-inch chunks. Add to parchment-lined sheet pan.

Prep onions: Remove the outer layers of skin. Trim off root. Slice thickly. Add to sheet pan.

Prep potatoes: Scrub potatoes. Do not peel. Cut into bite-sized chunks. Add to sheet pan.

Prep garlic. Smash the whole head with a meat mallet and remove outer layers of skin. Then smush each clove with the flat edge of a knife and peel off the loosened fine skin. Add to pan.
 

Sprinkle mixed vegetables with salt, pepper and olive oil. Toss together in the sheet pan. Add sausages and toss again. Spread ingredients uniformly. Place roasting pan in oven and cook for 30 minutes. Remove pan from oven and turn ingredients with a spatula, including the sausages, for even browning. Roast for 30 minutes more.

Since there are only two of us in the house, I often have leftovers to scramble up with eggs for breakfast the next morning. Yum!
 

You can find instructions on how to roast various vegetables by clicking on one of these links: eggplant, cauliflower, beets, tomatoes, zucchini, butternutpatty pan, pumpkin, and spaghetti squashes.

Other Dinner Ideas:
Judy’s Mom’s Meatloaf
Yummy Shepherd’s Pie
Baked Ziti with Roasted Eggplant, Mozzarella, and Marinara Sauce
A New Take on Chicken Marbella
Chicken Cacciatore
Pot Roast with Herbs and Root Vegetables
Brooks’ Pork Tenderloin with an Amazing Marinade

Apples are in season and this is my absolute favorite apple pie recipe. The crust is made of crumbled cheddar cheese, butter, and flour. It is incredible. The recipe is from my mother.  Here is a link.

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Always check this website for the most up-to-date version of every recipe.

© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.