Sunday, June 28, 2009

Amy Sedaris' Cheese Ball

I attended a party last night, to which guests were asked to contribute an hors d'oeuvre. Scrambling for ideas at the last minute, and inspired by a store-bought cheese ball I tasted at a BBQ the night before, I decided to try my hand at this classic party dish.

Over Christmas, I read funny lady Amy Sedaris' book on entertaining, I like you. It was a hilarious yet practical book, throughout which she mentioned several times that her cheese ball recipe has made her famous among her friends. I decided to use her recipe, "L'il Smoky Cheese Ball," as inspiration for my own.

The smoky flavours in this cheese ball come from plenty of smoked Gouda cheese, and a little bit of steak sauce (although I used some bold barbecue sauce, since it's what I had on hand). The recipe couldn't be easier, but the results are outstanding. Aside from the flavour in the cheese, what really makes this cheese ball is the outside layer of toasted walnuts. It is to die for; in fact, I think a nice way to present this dish would be to make many individual cheese balls that could each be spread on a crostini, which would increase the walnut-to-cheese ratio.

The cheese ball was a hit at the party, and I received a few requests for the recipe. As I was hoping, the smokiness of this appetizer is really appealing; a friend of mine even thought there was bacon in it. If you ask me, it's never a bad thing for a dish to taste like bacon!

I think I've found my go-to appetizer for entertaining, and for potluck-style parties. It's great to have a recipe that you can count on, that is easy, and always pleases; so, I'm happy to add this one to my collection. I must warn you, however, that the word "l'il" in the name of this dish is very misleading (although, duh, the two packs of cream cheese listed in the recipe should have tipped me off to its size.) This cheese ball is gargantuan! Halve the recipe for small gatherings, and you'll still have leftovers.

Oh, leftovers. Sigh. If only I had hosted the party, and had been privileged to keep L'il Smoky's remaining deliciousness...

I would have had a wonderful breakfast today.

Amy Sedaris' L'il Smoky Cheese Ball: The recipe

Amanda's notes: I don't have a mixer with paddle attachment, so I used my regular hand-held mixer to blend the butter and cheese together, and then mixed everything else in by hand.

I used salted butter and added in freshly cracked pepper. I substituted an equivalent amount of smoky barbecue sauce for steak sauce, and threw in some basil and oregano for a little extra colour.

Since I decided to make this cheese ball at the last minute, after forming the mixture into a ball, I put it on a cookie sheet and froze it for about 45 minutes to get it firm enough to coat with the walnuts. After coating, I sat it in the freezer for a couple of hours, and then let it thaw to room temperature before serving. I served this with crostini, but it would also be good on your favourite cracker.

To toast walnuts: spread 2 cups walnuts on a cookie sheet, and toast at 350C for 8-10 minutes, shaking the pan halfway through, until nuts are lightly browned and fragrant. Set aside to cool, then chop. You can't skip this step! It makes the cheese ball.

"2 cups shredded smoked Gouda cheese, room temperature
2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons steak sauce
1 cup toasted chopped walnuts or pecans
Crackers, for serving

Place Gouda, cream cheese, butter, milk and steak sauce in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix until well combined. Transfer mixture to refrigerator. Let chill overnight. Roll cheese mixture into a ball. Place nuts in a shallow dish. Roll cheese in nuts to fully coat. Serve with crackers."

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Anything Goes Chicken Salad

I'm one lucky gal, because my boyfriend makes the best chicken salad in the world. Like with his marinades, Jeff follows no recipe; he just goes with the flow and follows his instincts, and the results are always delicious. He has such a talent for these things.

Some elements never change: he always shreds his cooked chicken with two forks, rather than cubing it, which I find makes a big difference when it comes to the texture of the salad; it contrasts nicely with the chunky vegetables and fruit that he also throws in. He never uses anything other than Hellmann's mayonnaise and whole grain dijon mustard to make the dressing, and he always adds his favourite chicken salad herbs to the mix: rosemary and thyme. Kosher salt and plenty of freshly cracked pepper are also required, of course.

What makes his chicken salad different every time he makes it, are the additions. Once the base of his salad is made up, he adds in any combination of the following:

-diced celery stalks
-chopped cucumbers
-chopped green onion
-cubed apples
-cubed pears
-dried cranberries
-halved grapes

The more, the better!

His big secret is to let the chicken salad sit for at least several hours, or overnight if possible. It is so hard to resist (I'll admit that I steal bites from it every time I walk by the fridge; sorry, honey!) but it allows all of the flavours to meld together beautifully.

This particular version was made from charcoal-grilled chicken breasts, and contained apples, cucumbers, celery, and walnuts.

Although delicious over spinach greens, my favourite way to eat Jeff's chicken salad is on a multi-grain baguette.

I usually eat this chicken salad sandwich open-faced, to ensure the maximal filling-to-bread ratio. It might be messy, but it's so good that I can't be bothered.

Since Jeff is mine and you can't have him, you'll have to try out this amazing culinary experience yourself. It's easy; shred up some left-over chicken, load on the dressing, then open up your fridge and see what happens with the ingredients you have on hand. I guarantee that you can't go wrong.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Dad's Prime Rib with Garlic Crust

My mother and brother are always raving about a prime rib that my father cooks on the barbecue. Although I've never been fortunate enough to be visiting when he's made it, they've each described it to me several times: Slow-cooked over indirect heat, this roast is covered in chunky garlic paste that eventually becomes a mouth-watering crust. I knew I was missing out on something special.

A little envious, and not the type of people who wait for a dinner party invitation to try a special dish, Jeff and I picked up a prime rib roast from the farmer's market and decided to make it ourselves.
We found out that we were already in possession of the recipe, since we own the same Weber's Real Grilling cookbook (from which my Dad, Master Griller, says that he gets 90% of his recipes, FYI. A good investment.) The paste is full of fresh flavours: the aforementioned garlic, as well as rosemary, basil, and dijon mustard. It looked amazing spread on the roast before it hit the grill.

The hardest part was waiting for the roast to finish grilling, while its tantalizing smell filled the air. You won't want to leave its side.

After 1-2 hours of grilling and about another half hour of resting, we finally sliced up the roast with anticipation. This prime rib is outstanding! The meat is perfectly tender and juicy, its level of doneness decreasing with every slice, and the outside crust is just beyond description. The recipe as written suggests serving it with a blue cheese dressing, but you should do the same as we did, and just ignore it. It needs nothing more.

Thanks for the inspiration, Dad! You're my grill hero.

From Weber's Real Grilling by Jamie Purviance

"1 bone-in standing prime rib roast, 5 to 6 pounds, trimmed of excess fat
6 large garlic cloves
1/4 cup lightly packed fresh rosemary leaves
1/4 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3/4 cup heavy cream
1 medium garlic clove, thinly sliced
6 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Allow the roast to stand at room temperature for 30 to 40 minutes before grilling.

2. In a food processor finely mince the garlic, rosemary, basil, salt, and pepper. Add the mustard and olive oil, and process to form a paste. Smear the paste all over the top and sides of the roast.

3. Grill the roast, bone side down, over
indirect medium heat (350°F to 450°F). with the lid closed, until cooked to desired doneness, 1-1/2 to 2 hours for medium rare. Transfer the roast to a cutting board and remove the bones. Loosely cover the roast with aluminum foil and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes. The internal temperature will rise 5°F to 10°F during this time.

4. Meanwhile, make the dressing. Place the cream and garlic in a medium saucepan. Bring the cream to a boil over medium-high heat, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook until the cream coats the back of a spoon, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the cheese, stirring to help it blend into the cream. Season with pepper to taste. Carve meat into slices. Serve warm with the dressing.

Makes 6 to 8 servings"