Day 14: Holidays and Apple Cinnamon Cheeseballs

Mom, Dad, Matt, and Me on Thanksgiving
Too much turkey.

 Hello! How was your Thanksgiving? Did you celebrate?

While we have this rich U.S. history of coming together, sometimes the underlying history of Thanksgiving is hard to swallow (hierarchy, etc.). So I find more meaning in celebrating Thanksgiving by giving thanks for the amazing people, places and things that I’m able to come into contact with in my life. This year, I’m looking at the great ribbon that connects Thanksgiving themes to Valentine’s Day. Puzzled? On Valentine’s Day, we traditionally show love for others in a special way. At Thanksgiving, we can give thanks for all of those who have brought joy and love to us throughout the entire year. It’s about appreciating life, seeing the joy in little things and unlikely situations and giving thanks to those who bring that joy. I thank God for people and creatures who make life just worth it. And Thanksgiving is also a special reminder for me that food brings people together. Big groups or small gatherings, food is this sacred instrument that allows us to give and receive love in a spicy curry, juicy burger, in bright red salsa, freshly baked apple pie. Beautiful.

Drive-through lights at the Portland Raceway…8 Maids a Milking–for our awesome cheeseball

Now let’s talk about food. My parents visited, we have friends stopping by here and there both locals and out of towners (Pearl Jam NW leg of their tour), and we have more family coming in a few weeks. There has been more food in this house than I can devour. So let’s talk about it.

Cheeseballs. That word can either make someone really excited or really grossed out. I remember seeing those packaged hunks of dairy disguised by sliced almonds at holiday parties as a kid, and I never liked them. But the cheese cubes were always appreciated. My husband likes anything cheese-related (who doesn’t?), so I try to incorporate it here and there. I like cheese, but not TOO MUCH creamy, rich gloppy stuff. In saying that, I did sell gourmet cheeses at a deli in grad school. I learned a lot and ate a lot of cheese. My cholesterol went up. When I quit that job, my cholesterol was at a healthy level. Funny. So I like to eat little bits of cheese that pack a lot of flavor. One plus to that job:  I learned to make cheeseballs that were actually quite tasty.

Fresh ingredients. Great recipes. 10 minutes. That’s all it took. So I’ll share one of those secret recipes with you. Granted, I made 20-30 cheeseballs at a time, so I’ve scaled back the restaurant-size recipe, tested it, simplified it, and here it is for you.

Apple Cinnamon Cheeseball

This refreshing take on the cheeseball is simple, delicious and not-too-heavy. Serve with water crackers, butter crackers or even on bagels for a delicious, cheesy appetizer. Leftovers from your party? Spoon 1 tablespoon into your hot oatmeal for a creamy, warm cinnamony surprise.

8 oz lowfat cream cheese, softened (set on counter for 45 minutes)
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup dried apples, chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Step one: Combine cheeses, apples, cinnamon and nutmeg. Blend until incorporated all together. Roll into a ball the size of a baseball.
Step two: Roll into the chopped pecans, coating all sizes. Store the cheeseball on a dish, covering with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.

The cheeseball can be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days and, if you want to have an appetizer on hand at all times, actually freezes pretty well, wrapped in plastic wrap and foil (thaw in the fridge).

How to make dried apples-the quick way:
Step one: Slice 2 apples very thinly (use knife or mandoline). Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
Step two: On a baking sheet or rack, lay apple slices as a single layer. Let bake for 2-3 hours, flipping once an hour. The more hot air touches the apple surfaces, the better (so I use a cooling rack).
Step three: When they’re ready, they’ll be dry yet soft and ‘bendy.’ Store them in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. 
A thought: If you slice your pecan halves across the middle, you get these awesome little pieces that look like “M”s or the Batman symbol.

Happy post-Thanksgiving. Don’t overshop but do enjoy the lights, food, festivities and people/animals around you. Happy, happy weekend. 🙂



Day 5: Fall Football Queso

Matt and I have a lot in common. A deep-rooted love for football is not one of them. He is really sweet to walk away from games and hang out with me on the weekends, but I know he could easily watch five games straight and be happy as a clam. What we DO have in common is QUESO. And I’ll eat queso in front of a football game any day, any time. Even if it means I have no idea how the game works. It’s time to share Matt’s super awesome, super creamy “y’all come” queso. We are Texan, after all, and a y’all is in order.

Fall Football Queso
For the record, every time my husband [Matt] makes queso, it is good. However, he rarely repeats the same recipe…okay, he never repeats the same way twice. But this one was worth writing down. Here goes.
1 pound ground pork
Chipotle taco seasoning packet (1/2 of one)
2 t. Chipotle Tabasco (5 shakes)
1/2 t. granulated garlic
Dash of cayenne pepper and black pepper
1 pound loaf of lowfat Velveeta, cubed
2 cans Original Rotel, drained
1/4 cup diced green onions
1/2 cup chopped cilantro 

Step one: 
Brown the pork in a pan. Drain it and add the seasoning packet (1/2), Tabasco, garlic, and 2 peppers. Cook on low-medium heat for a few more minutes, so the seasoning will be absorbed better.


Step two: Turn the Crock Pot (we used a 4-quart) onto High. Add the remaining ingredients, as well as the pork. Cover with lid and keep it on High until the cheese is completely melted. Stir every 20-30 minutes. 

Step three: Once the cheese is melted, turn the heat down to Low and let simmer for 2 hours (or until you’re ready to serve). The longer you let it simmer, the better. 🙂 

Enjoy with chips, veggies, or any other favorite dippers.

Happy football and eating!


Lowfat Stuffed Shells

I’m a sucker for pasta. Pretty much every kind I’ve tried. There’s something really wonderful about Italian food…

  • homey, hearty
  • rustic with simple ingredients
  • beautiful dishes, yet not TOO pretty to eat
  • a little mysterious (I didn’t grow up with an Italian grandmother sharing all of her secrets)
  • and, best of all, it is meant to be shared!

 So let’s share some shells…
Stuffed shells were a treat in college. Living in Boston and having a tight budget, ordering Italian takeout was a treat. It was especially good because I don’t think I ever had REAL Italian until moving to Boston. And there are a ton of great Italian places in the city…mmm, it makes my mouth water just thinking about it. One of my roommates turned me on to stuffed shells. They were humongous, full of melted cheese and had this amazing sauce. The flavor was spectacular! 

So here’s my first shot at making the home-version, which has a LOT less fat but hopefully is full of flavor still. This one uses jar marinara but, if you have time/access, I strongly recommend fresh sauce and fresh basil. Yummm.

Lowfat Stuffed Shells
serves 8 (4 shells each)

32 shells + 2 quarts water + large pot + dash salt
step one: In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Let pasta cook according to instructions on package. Once the shells are cooked, drain the water and lay the shells out in one layer on a dry towel. Set aside.

1 TB olive oil + large saute pan + 4 garlic cloves, chopped + 1 bell pepper, chopped + 1 onion, chopped
step two: Heat the saute pan on medium-high, adding oil. Saute bell pepper and onion and cook for 3 minutes. Then add garlic and saute for 2 more minutes. Set pan aside. 

large bowl + large spoon + 1 pint fat free cottage cheese (or ricotta) + 1/4 cup parmesan cheese + 16 oz. chopped spinach (if using frozen, thaw and squeeze out water) + sauteed veggies from pan + 1 TB Italian seasoning (or 3 TB fresh chopped basil) + 1 egg + 2/3 cup Italian breadcrumbs
step three: Combine all of these ingredients in a large bowl. This is your “stuffing” for the shells.

3 cups marinara + 9X11 baking pan + 8X8 baking pan + non-stick cooking spray
step four: Spray each baking pan with spray. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread 1/2 cup marinara in the bottom of each baking pan. 
step five: Using a spoon, stuff 2 TB of cheese mixture into each shell and place opening-down in each pan. Repeat the process until all of the shells are stuffed. [20 shells fit in the large pan and 12 fit in the smaller pan!]

1/4 cup parmesan + 1 1/2 cups ‘Italian blend’ shredded cheese [use mozzarella, more parm, pecorino romano, or your favorite cheese blend] + 1/2 cup Italian breadcrumbs [optional]
step six: After all of the shells are stuffed and arranged in the pans, pour the remaining 2 cups marinara over the shells. Sprinkle cheeses over the top and breadcrumbs [if you want a little extra crunch]. Bake for 30 minutes.

Adapted from: Recipe Girl, Live Better America

There you have it, stuffed shells! Serve with steamed veggies or a giant salad on the side. Enjoy the flavor without all of the takeout guilt. 🙂


Happy eating!

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