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"It's so beautifully arranged on the the plate – you know someone's fingers have been all over it." – Julia Child

Posts from the Easy Recipes Category

I have been remiss… It always happens that I get bulldozed with work and other distractions and I allow the blog to gather dust, much to the more diligent Tara’s annoyance. This post, along with a surprise guest-starring one coming up soon, begs to be paid attention to as the summer goes bipolar between summery hot flashes and incoming fall’s feverish chills.

This salad is actually something I hope to drag into the cold with certain variations in ingredients – it’s a salad that leaves those plastic bowl, carry-out, romaine chopped things in the dust with a robust smoky backbone of flavor. Oh, and, granita! I make a lot of granitas, for desserts and cocktails mostly, but a few months ago at one of my favorite restaurants (Blood & Sand in St. Louis) I had a lovely English pea and pea shoot tangle topped with a buttermilk frost that was divine in a very delicate sort of way.

This granita is salty lime and mint, and melts into the salad and its drizzle of olive oil for a refreshing and surprising twist on vinaigrette. Look out for some MacGyver action in this recipe, too: grilling, indoors!

CHAYOTE AND ROASTED POBLANO SALAD
Serves 4

For the Lime Granita
1 ½ cups water
¾ cup fresh lime juice (from about 6 limes)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ cup packed mint leaves
Salt

- Stir 1 cup water and lime juice together in an 8- by 8-inch metal baking dish or other similar-sized vessel.

- Bring the remaining ½ cup water, sugar, mint, and ½ teaspoon salt to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Stir mixture into the lime mixture and adjust seasoning to taste.

Place dish in the freezer and scrape with a fork once every 45 to 60 minutes, until mixture is completely frozen and has the consistency of a slushy. Reserve in freezer until needed.

For the Salad
5 chayotes
Salt
4 poblano peppers, scrubbed
10 scallions
Olive oil oil
6 radishes, scrubbed, tops and bootoms trimmed, thinly sliced
½ cup (about 2 ounces) queso fresco or other Latin American hard cheese, crumbled
½ cup packed cilantro leaves

- Peel the chayotes, cut them in half, scoop the seed out with a metal 1-teaspoon measure or melon baller, and cut into thin matchsticks. Prepare an ice bath by combining 3 cups of ice and 3 cups of cold water in a large bowl. Set up a strainer in the sink. Bring a large bot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the chayotes and cook for 2 minutes. Drain them and immediately plunge them in the ice bath. Once cool, drain them again. Line a baking sheet with paper towels and spread chayotes out in an even layer to dry.

- If you have a gas stove, char the poblanos over an open flame, turning with tongs occasionally, until their skins are black and blistered. Wrap them in foil and allow to cool about 10 minutes. Remove the stems and tear out and discard the ribs and seeds, then slice the poblanos thinly (lengthwise), and place them in a large bowl.
If you don’t have a gas stove,  heat a large dry skillet or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the poblanos until black and blistered and follow steps above.

- Again, if you have a gas stove, toss the scallions with olive oil, then lay them on a metal gridded cooling rack over an open flame and cook them until charred. Otherwise, cook them in the same skillet as the poblanos. Transfer them to a cutting board, trim off and discard the root end, then coarsely chop and transfer to bowl with poblanos.

- Add the radishes, cheese, and cilantro and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and drizzle with olive oil.  Plate the salads and top with granita. Enjoy immediately.

Tostones

Tostones

Tostones

Tostones

 
I will never turn town a potato chip or a French fry, the starch, the grease-slicked fingers, the lips split by the salt as if they had enjoyed a long night of kissing…but a fried plantain can be a scene-stealer. Fried until crisp in long, thin strips until the color of marigolds, they look like sleek surfboards. Cut into chips, they become edible coins from a slot machine, completely addicting. And of course, the double-dip method in which the plantain is fried twice is a favorite preparation.

Tostones begin by being cut into thick pieces, fried in vegetable oil, then flattened with a tostonera (see image) or the back of a small skillet, and returned to the frying pan. When finished, tostones resemble an exploding gold bloom. Seasoned with salt and served as an accompaniment to many meals, tostones can also be served as a “boca” or “botana” (appetizer) with crumbly or creamy Latin American cheeses like cotija and quesillo, refried beans, and vinegary cabbage slaws.

This is a basic method for making tostones. On average, each plantain will yield about 10 tostones; make as many or as few as you’d like. I’d recommend making more because the crunchy exterior and starchy, satisfying bite of the interior of the tostón calls for gluttony.

TOSTONES

Fun fact: plantains in Mexico are called “plátanos machos”!

Green plantains
Vegetable oil
Salt

- Cut off and discard the ends of each plantain. Cut the plantain crosswise into 4 pieces. With a paring knife, score the skin, cutting just enough to reach the flesh of the plantain. Use the knife to pry off the skin. Cut each plantain quarter crosswise into 1- to 1 ½-inch pieces.

- Line a baking sheet with paper towels. In a large skillet, heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat until shimmering and reaches 350°F. The oil should be about ½-inch deep in the skillet.

- Fry a batch of the plantain pieces (don’t overcrowd the skillet) until golden, turning once halfway through frying, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer pieces to prepared baking sheet and repeat procedure with remaining plantain pieces.

- Using a tostonera or a small skillet, press down on the plantain pieces until they are flat. Fry the tostones once more, until crisp and golden, turning once halfway through frying, about 3 minutes per side.

- Transfer tostones to prepared baking sheet and immediately season with salt. Serve immediately.

And, for ongoing food pics, follow us on Instagram!  Tara: tstriano and Maria sacasastylist

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Sandia

 

Sandia Drinks

 

It’s begun to sizzle and we’re starting to feel a trickle of salty sweat pooling in the nest of our lower backs. It sounds risqué, but it’s just plain hot and sticky, and all we can think of is: Cabana boy!!! Where’s my cocktail?

During the summer, watermelon and cucumbers are some of the coolest and most quenching of snacks. I usually keep big bowl chilling in the fridge, eating them plain, or adding salt, lime juice, and dried chile powder to the cucumbers. The combination is a great salad base, too – try them with a light lemon-lime-cilantro vinaigrette and cubes of seared haloumi.

And, naturally, the temptation to turn the duo into a cocktail proved irresistible. This refresher starts with muddled cilantro, mint, jalapeño, and sugar for a vibrant, herbal base with a sharp prick of heat. Watermelon and cucumber are pureed with ice into a slushy-like juice, and finally, fiery, floral pisco is stirred in. One sip and you’ll beat the heat.

WATERMELON-CUCUMBER REFRESHER
Serves 2

Note: If you prefer a cocktail with less heat, scrape out and discard the seeds and ribs from the pepper.

I always like a hit of salt to balance out sweetness; if using cucumber spears as garnish, lightly season them prior to serving.

Pisco is a potent grape brandy popular in Perú and Chile. I love it for its fiery burn and floral notes, but, this cocktail can also be made with your choice of spirit. I recommend tequila blanco, light rum, Hendrick’s gin, or vodka. Or, leave the booze out altogether and enjoy this as a summery smoothie.

¼ cup packed fresh cilantro leaves, plus sprigs for garnish
¼ cup packed fresh mint leaves, plus leaves for garnish
½ jalapeño pepper, chopped, plus rings for garnish
3 tablespoons granulated or raw cane sugar
Salt
2 cups (½-inch) dice watermelon (about 12 ounces)
¼ English cucumber, cut into ½-inch dice, remainder cut into spears for garnish
3 to 4 ounces pisco
Crushed ice, to taste

- Chill 2 (12-ounce) glasses by filling them with ice water and swirling them around for 2 to 3 minutes. Drain and discard the ice water and dry the glasses.

- Muddle the cilantro, mint, jalapeño, sugar, and pinch of salt in a shaker (use either a muddler or the back of a wooden spoon). The leaves should only be bruised, not completely smashed.  Divide the mixture between the two glasses.

- In a blender, pulse the watermelon, cucumber, and pisco until completely puréed. Add crushed ice and pulse once again to combine. Divide mixture between glasses and stir to gently combine. Garnish with cilantro sprigs, mint leaves, cucumber spears, and/or jalapeño rings. Serve immediately.

Fennel 101

Fennel 101

Working on photo sets is often a battle of the bulge: catering and craft services sometimes don’t offer enough healthy choices, or, tempt you with enough treats and goodies that you ignore the more healthful options. Opting for the iceberg salad (hold the dressing) over the gravy-smothered mashed potatoes requires an iron will, and sometimes ours is more feathery in composition.

On evenings at home and during the weekends, we try to go back to our smart eating ways and make food that is both good for our bodies and our palates. We’re both firm believers that eating a salad doesn’t have to be a punishment or a “diet” menu item, but rather an opportunity to take advantage of great fresh produce and put something in our bellies that won’t  make them expand.

This salad has quinoa, a grain that will satisfy your complex carb craving and deliver protein. It’s lightly toasted to enhance its naturally nutty flavor, then cooled down and tossed with crisp fennel, tart Granny smith apple, buttery avocado, fiery serranos, and a simple vinaigrette that ties it all together.

FENNEL, APPLE, QUINOA, AND AVOCADO SALAD

Serves 4

For the Quinoa
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove minced
1 cup red or white quinoa, or a combination of both
1 teaspoon salt
Water

- Heat the oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan until shimmering. Add the shallot and cook, stirring, until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until softened and fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer to small bowl.

- Increase the heat to medium-high and cook the quinoa, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and toasted, about 5 minutes. Return the shallot and garlic to the pot, add the salt, and add enough water to cover the quinoa by about 2 inches. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 15 minutes. Drain the quinoa, return it to the pot, cover it, and allow it to sit for 10 minutes. Cool completely. (To speed up the cooling process, spread the quinoa out onto a rimmed baking sheet.)

- The quinoa may be prepared up to 2 days in advance and stored in an airtight container, refrigerated.

For the Dressing
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice from about 2 lemons
1 tablespoon honey
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

- Whisk the mustard, lemon juice, honey, and garlic together in medium bowl. While constantly whisking, drizzle in the olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Allow dressing to sit for at least 30 minutes at room temperature to allow flavors to meld. Whisk dressing to recombine prior to using.

For the Salad
Juice of 1 lemon
1 fennel bulb
1 Granny Smith apple
1 firm but ripe avocado, peeled and sliced
1 to 2 serrano peppers (to taste), ribs and seeds removed, thinly sliced

- Fill a medium bowl with cold water and add the lemon juice. Trim off and reserve the fennel fronds, thinly slice the stems, trim and discard the bottom of the bulb then cut it in half and thinly slice it. Place the fennel pieces and slices in the acidulated water to prevent it from oxidizing.

- Cut the apple in half, remove the cores (use a 1 teaspoon measure for easy coring) and thinly slice. Drain the fennel thoroughly, add the apple and avocado, and drizzle with come of the vinaigrette, gently tossing to combine. Add the peppers and quinoa and additional vinaigrette to taste. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with reserved fennel fronds.

Fennel 101

We’re no strangers to stiff drinks and bubbly, and admittedly, once in a while, the party goes on longer than expected and the next morning finds us with pillow-creased faces, raccoon eyes, and The Dreaded Hangover.

Usually, a greasy diner breakfast egg on a roll with extra bacon and half-bottle of ketchup plus a full pot of coffee (Mexican Coca-Cola on ice is my go-to) helps smooth us out, but a stronger antidote is sometimes absolutely necessary: enter the michelada, a spiced and seasoned Mexican beer cocktail.

The drink’s base is always a chilled pale lager, like Corona, Pacícifo, Sol, or Modelo Especial – you want something refreshing and light, save the hoppy dark stuff for the pub. The bracing backbone is provided by umami-dense Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce (Cholula and Valentina are our favorites), and a good amount of freshly-squeezed lime juice. A “cubito Maggi,” a bouillon cube made by Maggi (pronounced Ma-ghi) is a common addition and adds extra seasoning. You can skip the cubito, but do rub a lime around the lip of your glass and rim it with coarse salt, pepper, and if available, powdered red chili. And always, always, always pack your glass with crushed ice.

And, while we’re talking about getting pickled, I recently made Paula Deen’s pickled shrimp and thought they’d make a great side to the michelada. Our version has hotter-than-hell Serrano peppers, impossibly fragrant kaffir lime leaves, toasty fresh curry leaves, spices, and a hit of tequila.

Note: Of course, the michelada is also perfect for any sweltering day, not just a fuzzy morning. Try it this summer, and, for the condiment-phobic, mix up a chelada: salt rim, lime juice, ice, and beer.
¡Salud! And ¡Happy cinco de mayo!

MICHELADA

Serves 1

Note: For an extra frosty drink, chill your glass prior to assembling. For a quick cool-down, fill a glass with ice and water, swirl for 1 minute, then drain.

¼ cup fresh lime juice, plus lime wedges for garnish
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Worcestershire sauce, to taste
Hot sauce, such as Cholula or Valentina, to taste
½ Maggi bouillon cube (optional)
Crushed ice
1 (12-ounce) bottle of pale lager such as Corona, Pacífico, Sol, or Modelo Especial, chilled

- Rub a lime around the rim of a pint glass or equal capacity glass. Combine 1 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper in small plate and dip rim in mixture, turning glass until rim is coated.

- Add lime juice, Worcestershire, hot sauce, and (optional) bouillon cube to glass and stir to combine. Add crushed ice, pour in beer, gently stir, and drink. Refill glass with beer as needed.
PICKLED SHRIMP

Makes 2 pints

Note: Kaffir lime leaves and fresh curry leaves can be found at specialty Middle Eastern markets or online. They keep well frozen, so stock up and store them in zipper-lock bags.

You will need 2 (1-pint) mason jars for this recipe.

24 – 30 large cooked, peeled, and deveined shrimp (tails on)
½ cup white vinegar
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
8 garlic cloves
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons white tequila
4 serrano chiles, halved lengthwise
12 kaffir lime leaves
4 sprigs fresh curry leaves

- In small saucepan, combine vinegar, water, peppercorns, coriander, salt, and garlic. Bring to boil over medium-high heat and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Stir in lime juice and tequila.

- Pack the shrimp, serranos, kaffir lime leaves, and curry leaves into 2 (1-pint) mason jars. Pour in the vinegar mixture, adding water if needed to fully submerge the shrimp. Seal the jars and chill for at least 8 hours and up to overnight prior to serving.

Home Made Doughnuts

The dog ate our homework. And our set food.

Actually, we have a very good excuse for having left C&S to gather dust, mold, and hairballs: we were working on a BOOK! Our very first, and we are oh-so-thrilled and in that pinch-us-till-we-bruise-because-we-can’t-believe-it phase.

Due out this fall, our first collaboration in print will feature original recipes perfect for the chilly months, so get ready to cozy up with us because we will make it very much worth your while. Guaranteed, or your money back.

For the past few months we’ve been meeting and talking and researching (the research is still classified, but the nature of it will be vodka-clear come fall) and plotting and stressing and sprouting more grays etc. etc. etc. But, finally, in recent weeks, everything came together: I handed in a manuscript with recipes I’m sure will make you giddy, and we got to shooting.

Our shoots began in a Brooklyn brownstone that prop stylist and all-around fabulous girl Emily Rickard has outfitted with her incredible taste and unique style. You must visit her site and blog AppleKetchup for inspiration on how to live.  In the brownstone we shot several of our chapter openers: light, airy, and inviting, Emily’s hand helped us add a touch of welcome and celebration to our images.

Next, we packed, unpacked, packed again, and shot our tabletop images at Good Light Studio in Midtown. We’ve both shot at numerous studios around town, but this is one of our favorites: generous daylight, a too-comfortable kitchen (I was in the depths of despair when I got home to my Lilliputian-sized one), and incredible studio managers. An average of 14 shots a day—in photo speak, that is almost twice as many as are normally accomplished on a normal shoot day—made possible by having two sets going at the same time, as well as the invaluable help of digitech Geraldine Pierson and friend and chef Dean Sheremet—if you haven’t already, do check out his site for recipes and food tips that you shouldn’t be carrying on without.

We realize that this post has turned into an acknowledgments page of sorts, but we really couldn’t have made the shoots and book happen without our crew. Speaking of which, Penelope Bouklas, prop styling goddess, brought us countless surfaces, linens, glasses, plates, and an array of dreamy utensils (one of which I pocketed) that made our lovely book that much lovelier.

Phew. OK, here are some outtakes from the shoot. I’m a ham, so I’m the nerd with the glasses behind the quince branches willing to be photographed. The shot with the grape tomatoes is a peek at one of our juicy double-page spreads, and the doughnuts… Well, you’ve suffered through our Oscar-winner-ish thank you’s so you get a sneak peek recipe. You’ll love it and it will make you the most popular gal or dude at the party. Srsly.

Behind the Scenes

Bloody Mary

CHEATER DOUGHNUTS

Toss the doughnuts in simple cinnamon sugar, or add some extra zing with citrus or vanilla bean sugar, dip them in warm maple syrup (give your guests a small bowl), make them savory with sugar, pinch of salt, pinch of cayenne pepper, fried sage crumbled

1 tin store-bough biscuits
8 cups vegetable oil

Heat oil in a Dutch oven or large skillet with high sides over medium-high heat until temperature registers 350°F. (Oil should be 1- to 1 1/2 inches deep). Add half of the doughnuts and half of the doughnut holes and fry until the bottoms turn golden brown, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes small doughnuts and 2 to 2 1/2 minutes for large doughnuts. Using chopsticks or the handles of 2 wooden cooking spoons, turn the doughnuts and holes and fry for until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes longer.

Transfer doughnuts to a paper towel-lined plate and allow to cool slightly, 1 to 2 minutes before dipping in glaze or coating in sugar. Serve warm.

SPICY SAGE SUGAR
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup sage leaves
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes

Melt butter over medium heat in small skillet. Add sage leaves and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to paper towel-lined plate.

Crumble sage with fingertips and combine with sugar, salt, and Aleppo pepper in large plate. Toss warm doughnuts in sugar and serve immediately.

PLAIN JANE GLAZE
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place confectioners’ sugar and salt in medium bowl. Whisk in melted butter, milk, and vanilla extract and whisk until smooth. Dip doughnuts and serve immediately.

CHOCOLATE GLAZE
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
¾ cup milk

Place confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in medium bowl. Whisk in milk and whisk until smooth. Dip doughnuts and serve immediately.

BROWN BUTTER GLAZE
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4  teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup milk

Melt the butter over medium-high heat in a small stainless steel saucepan. Cook the butter until browned, 5 to 8 minutes, swirling the pan occasionally. The butter will begin to foam; the subsiding foam is an indicator that the butter is almost done.   Once the solids are caramel brown the remove the pan from the heat and immediately pour it into a medium bowl, scraping in all the solids. Add the confectioners’ sugar, salt, vanilla extract and whisk until smooth. Dip doughnuts and serve immediately.

Makes 8 to 10 doughnuts, depending on biscuit tin contents

Time to make the doughnuts: I use Pillsbury® biscuits for this recipe. One roll of “Buttermilk” biscuits yields ten small (about 2 1/2-inch inches in diameter) doughnuts and ten tiny doughnut holes. You’ll need a 1/2-inch round cutter to punch out the holes. One roll of “Grands Homestyle Buttermilk” biscuits yields 8 large (about 3 1/2 inches in diameter) doughnuts and eight doughnut holes. You’ll need a 1-inch round cutter to punch out the holes.

Jolly Holidays

We are surely not the only ones baffled at how the holidays crept up on us, but really, here so soon? Again, no tree or twinkle lights, and many a holiday gift has turned into an IOU. At least in my case…Tara pulled it together in a much more civilized fashion.

What I have to offer: quick and festive recipes that will give you at least an air of hostess/host with the mostes’/most.

More importantly, Cookin’ and Shootin’ wishes you the warmest and jolliest of holidays, full of friends and family, gifts and goodwill.

Champagne Pomegranate Cocktail

PICKLED APPLE AND POMEGRANATE GRANITA

Champagne and prosecco bring sparkle to holiday festivities, but we also like to add color and punch to the bubbles. This granita is tart, sweet, and reddest red—it doesn’t get any more jolly than this.

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 teaspoons whole allspice
2 teaspoons cloves
4 cinnamon sticks
2 tablespoons finely grated zest plus ¼ cup juice from 2 blood or regular oranges
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 cups pomegranate juice

Chilled champagne or prosecco, for serving

Combine apples, vinegar, peppercorns, allspice, cloves, and cinnamon in medium saucepan. Rub orange zest into sugar until sugar is damp and no zest strands remain. Stir sugar into apple mixture and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar is completely dissolved. Reduce head to medium-low and simmer about 15 minutes or until apples are completely soft.

Strain mixture into a 13- by 9-inch metal baking pan, pressing apple chunks through with a spoon. Discard solids. Whisk pomegranate juice into mixture and place pan in freezer. Freeze granita for at least 1 ½ hours, scraping every 30 minutes until a frozen, slushy consistency is reached.

Spoon granita into champagne glasses and pour in champagne. Toast!

Appetizers

SPICED CHEESE STRAWS

16 short straws

Aleppo pepper, za’atar spice, and sumac are available in the spice aisle of specialty markets or online. If you can’t find them, substitute with your favorite blend of spices and herbs such as oregano and rosemary.

1 1/2 cups (3 ounces) finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh marjoram, chopped
2 teaspoons za’atar spice
1 teaspoon sumac
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes
All-purpose flour for dusting work surface
2 frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed according to package directions
1 large egg
1 tablespoon heavy cream

Adjust 2 oven racks to upper middle and lower middle positions and preheat to 375°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine cheese, salt, pepper, marjoram, za’atar, sumac, and Aleppo pepper in medium bowl. Lightly dust a clean, dry work surface with flour. Roll out 1 puff pastry sheet to about 12- by 10-inches. Whisk egg and cream together in small bowl and brush over pastry. Sprinkle half of cheese mixture evenly over pastry and press in gently.

Cut the sheet in half lengthwise, then crosswise into eights to yield 16 rectangles. Carefully twist each rectangle to form a curl and arrange on prepared baking sheets about 1 inch apart. Repeat entire procedure with second puff pastry sheet.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until puffed and golden. Using a spatula, turn the cheese straws over and bake for an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer trays to cooling racks and cool about 5 minutes before serving.

HOLIDAY CHEESE BALLS

Makes about 6 2-inch cheese balls.

Cheese balls are a little bit funny and retro, but after the slightly raised eyebrows have returned to the horizontal position, everyone admits to loving them. The great thing about cheese ball recipes is that they’re simple to make and lend themselves to any number of additions. Here are some festively flavored and decorated ones, but do feel free to take the recipe and add your own personal touches to them—anything from chopped nuts and herbs to fancy preserves and caviar are fair game.

Serve the cheese balls with crackers, good bread, or crudités.

An ice cream scoop with spring release is a perfect tool for easy cheese ball shaping.

Master Mix
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon finely grated shallots
2 teaspoons dry mustard
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
4 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, grated or 4 ounces crumbled blue cheese
2 teaspoons finely grated zest plus 2 tablespoons juice from about 2 lemons
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Additions and Coatings
Finely chopped pitted green olives
Fresh marjoram, finely chopped
Fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
Fresh dill, finely chopped
Green peppercorns
Pink peppercorns
Aleppo pepper

Melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in shallots and dry mustard and  cook for 1 minute. Transfer mixture to large bowl. Add cream cheese, cheddar, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Stir together until smooth and season with salt and pepper.

To flavor cheese mixture, stir in green olives and/or herbs to taste. Shape into approximately 2-inch balls and roll in peppercorns or Aleppo pepper. Refrigerate cheese balls until ready to serve.

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