Monday, November 24, 2014

Friends Thanksgiving: Holy Cheeseballs!

Warning: This is a noshtalgia & potluck post all in one. 

This weekend we had our annual Friends Thanksgiving Potluck ~ a vast array of totally vegan seasonal delights. It was a totally wonderful evening. I came home with my heart-o-meter totally full to the max. So many sweet conversations -- from heart-felt, to funny, to engaging... I feel so lucky to have such awesome, smart, and kind friends. I am also lucky because my friends happen to be quite skilled in the kitchen!

As soon as we set the date for Friends Thanksgiving, I knew exactly what I wanted to make: Somer's Extra Sharp Raw Vegan Cheddar Cheeseball. Gentle readers, I have had my eye on this recipe since Somer first posted it a year ago. Spoiler alert: HOLY BALLS THIS IS GOOD. 

Here's the thing. Back when I was a wee tot, we had a relative who we saw once a year at Thanksgiving. Many people found her company a bit difficult to enjoy, but my grandparents were especially kind-hearted people, and so they always had a good rapport with her. She had a long drive, 2 hours or so, to arrive at my grandparents' house for the holiday, and every year she would bring a cheeseball. I recall feeling some hesitation and discomfort at the prospect of seeing this relative again each year... but I also remember feelings of great pleasure and joy around those bright orange cheeseballs covered in crunchy chopped nuts and with a vague boozy flavor. Ahh. 

My brother Jeremy and me, staying close to the cheeseball

Well, apparently, there was one year when Baby Me parked myself next to that cheeseball and ate the whole damn thing. I was a kid! I didn't know that you were supposed to be gracious and pass it around or whatever. I knew this: it was yummy, and I was gonna get some. I don't actually have memories of this particular offense (since I didn't deem it as such), but I do remember what happened the next year:

The next year, Said Relative arrived at the door - cheeseball in hand! - and made a pointed and snippy remark that I had better not eat the whole thing this time. It's one of those odd things, how this comment has stuck with me all those years. I recall feeling quite a sting, quite hurt by her tone. I was always trying to be a good kid (perhaps trying too hard!), and I felt unjustly accused. Poor Said Relative, this feeling of hurt is my strongest memory of her.

But fortunately, my memories of her are also eternally tied to the joys of a Holiday Cheeseball. Since becoming vegan 15 years ago, these loving cheeseball memories have been unavailable to me. NO MORE.

cheeseball #1, covered in sliced almonds

cheeseball #2, covered in chopped pecans, sage, and thyme

You guys. It's really important that you understand how amazing and delicious this recipe is. You must make it. It was a hit with everyone at the party. Mr VE&T was completely confused that I had personally made something this tasty and rich. (should I be insulted?) He kept asking "You made this??"

As you can see, I used the goop to make two cheeseballs, and used both of Somer's suggestions for coating. I couldn't decide, so I did both. Each of these balls was larger than a baseball - so all together it would have made one ginormous cheeseball. I think I preferred the pecans and herbs, but both variations were good. The recipe is packed with coconut oil and cashews - so this is pure decadence at its best. Somer is some sort of food genius, because the flavor is absolutely delicious and brought back all my happy cheeseball memories as soon as I tasted the goop. It was a bit of a challenge, even with my trusty Vitamix, to blend up all the goop until it was smooth (there's not a lot of extra moisture or liquid in the recipe), but sakes alive, it was worth all that blender wrangling. 
I experienced the sweet joy of Cheeseball Redemption.
I can eat as much as I want, and I can also graciously share the bounty of my cheeseball.
I can make my own cheeseball and bring it to the party.
I can write cheeseball affirmations.

Boozy Baked Penne with Caramelized Onions
I also made this totally delicious casserole, from Julie's newest book "Vegan Casseroles." So far, I have really been enjoying all the recipes I've tried from VC. This one used a cashew-based cheesy sauce that had pale ale in it. The beer flavor wasn't at all dominant, but added to the overall umami yum of the dish.

Miyoko's Smoked Farmhouse Cheese
I wasn't the only one thinking about cheese! Our charming hostess used our party as a valid excuse to buy more Miyoko cheese. A wise decision. I was happy she did because I hadn't tried this flavor yet. It's smoky and a little dry (not in a bad way, just not creamy like a cream cheese). I really liked this flavor - in fact, I think everyone did! It's a totally legit cheese-and-crackers kind of cheese. The vegan cheese revolution is finally upon us!!

Leek Pie
Our hostess also made this beautiful Leek Pie with loads of leeks and Beyond Meat Chicken Strips and some sort of mustardy gooey gravy of goodness inside. It was delicious and the crust was pure flaky glory. I went back for seconds. I never buy stuff like Beyond Meat, but lately I'm realizing that the meat replacement products have really evolved a lot and I feel like I should check in with some of them... just to know what's available out there! I loved this pie, and I also loved the beautiful decoration that she did on the crust. <3 p="">

Butternut and Kale Galette with Pumpkin Seed Truffle Pastry
Ooooh yeah, you read that right. Ms A brought two of these beautiful galettes - the recipe is from Bryanna Clark Grogan's book "World Vegan Feast." The crust was light and she said it was also really easy to work with - a rare combination of pastry virtues! There's no denying that there was a lot of beige food going on at our Friends Thanksgiving this year - but hidden inside these galettes were lots of bright butternut cubes and kale. So there.

Green Beans and Caramelized Pearl Onions
Of course there were actually veggies. We aren't monsters, after all. Ms. S brought these super tasty green beans and pearl onions. Pearl Onions are fun! Did you know that you can buy them frozen and pre-peeled at Trader Joes? I did not, until Ms S told me so. Now I feel compelled to include pearl onions in my diet more often.

Brussels Sprouts with Shallots and Pecans.
It is against the law to hold a vegan thanksgiving without Brussels Sprouts. We dared not violate this sacred mandate. Luckily, Mr J came to our aid and made these green orbs of tastiness. These were very delicious. I ate many of them.

Sourdough Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread
Mr. M showed up with two loaves of freshly-baked Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread. You know, really, this could have been the whole party and I'm pretty sure we all would have been content. It was so good. One day at the farmers market, Mr. M (who is not actually a vegan) was eating a not-so-mini loaf of cinnamon raisin bread, which he had just bought from one of the bakers at the market. Of course it was not vegan. But I couldn't stop talking about it and making eyes at it and talking about how I can never find vegan cinnamon raisin bread. Well, I didn't mean it as a hint - but Mr. M is quite a skilled bread maker, and look what he brought! I was overjoyed. He even let me take some of the leftovers home. I had a piece for breakfast this morning, with great appreciation.

Apple Grumble
Ms A brought this apple crumble, but when she was writing it down, she accidentally made the "C" look more like a "G," and we all decided that we liked the name Apple Grumble. In fact, this recipe was totally dynamite! Apparently it's from "How It All Vegan" (an oldie but a goodie!), but I don't remember the exact name of the recipe. Apple crumbles are always good, but I must say this one was quite particularly special. Ms. A used a mandoline to really thinly slice the apples and I loved how this made the apples so tender and soft! I've always cut my apples in chunks, but I think this one recipe has converted me to the mandoline method. Also the topping was substantial and not at all skimpy. I really loved this a lot. 

Ms S brought this delicious pie! Underneath it all was a really good chewy cookie layer. Maybe it was gingerbread? Then there was the sweet potato pie filling, and this glorious Brazil nut crunch on top. I don't think I have ever made a sweet potato pie in my life, but I totally loved this one. In my family, we've always had pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving and Christmas... but maybe I'll branch out one of these days!

The table full of vegan glory and goodness!
On the right, hiding in that crock pot is a giant batch of Ms. A's amazing vegan gravy. She made it last year too, and it is so good. It deserves a mention for sure! 

What a wonderful evening. Cheeseballs, vegan feasting, dear friends, lively kiddos, good conversation... much to be grateful for indeed. I hope you have a wonderful holiday this year, whatever you're up to. My family will be gathering at my parents' house, and I'm really looking forward to it. Quite a lovely change, compared to last year's holiday at the hospital. I'll promise a post about that feast too! 

ps. make the cheeseball


  1. What a spread, and what a great post! Of course I loved the cheeseball backstory! Poor Kay. She tried, but she was always kind of prickly. In her defense, she did have a very tough childhood ... but she shouldn't have taken it out on poor little you. Will you bring a cheeseball to our feast? You can have as much as you want. xo

    1. Sure, I'll bring a cheeseball! <3 I have forgiven Kay - fully and without reservation. :)

  2. p.s. make the cheeseball - hehehe <3

    1. <3 thanks for laughing at my joke! <3

  3. susan6:08 AM

    Holy smokes I love that cheeseball. When I posted I made it Somer suggested a food processor may be easier to work with rather than trying to dig it out of a vitamix. Your feast looks amazing.

    1. yeah, when I make one for this week's gathering, I think I'll try the food processor. Even if it takes a little longer, it will probably be less maddening.

  4. It's funny, reading your post brought back a really sharp memory for me of a family reunion when I must have been, I don't know, 7 or 8, and an always somewhat sharp relative made a really pointed comment to me about the way I was hovering around a certain food item... 20some years later, I STILL feel self-conscious if I find myself next to a table of food at a party. Likely not what she was going for, but it's interesting how these little things can stay with you.

    Though, I didn't feel self-conscious at all about hovering by your cheese ball because it was amazing and eradicated all feelings of unease in my mind. Mmmm. Cheese ball.

    I always love your party recap posts by the way! Happy Thanksgiving!

    1. It's amazing how these little barbs can have such lasting impact. I'm so glad that you were able to feel comfortable with your innate hovering around the cheeseball. The cheeseball has healing powers and invites us all to hover in its presence. Happy Thanksgiving!

  5. Oooh, what a great potluck!!! Everything looks amazing. And man, I LOVED me some cheeseballs when I was a kid. I must try this recipe! Also, that smoked farmhouse is my fave Miyoko cheese!! I've tried them all except the black ash one.

    1. Bianca, you must try it. I am already planning on making it again for Thanksgiving with my family this week! Your cheeseball-loving inner child will thank you!

  6. You have the best potlucks, that all looks absolutely amazing!!
    So sad that a snippy comment from someone can stay with us all our lives, but I am glad you were able to reclaim the glorious feeling of Cheeseballs!

    1. Susan - someday maybe we can have a potluck together!!! <3

  7. Anonymous3:30 PM

    I've never had sweet potato pie or cheese balls - I'll have to make them for x-mas dinner this year. Thanks for the tip on using a food processor instead of the vitamix, scraping the blender out is a test of patience.

  8. Amey, I followed your advice and made the cheeseball! I didn't grow up with cheeseballs... and nor did my vegan husband... but Somer's recipe looked so good and your review was so glowing that I had to try it.

    I brought it to my (Nebraska! Omnivore!) family Thanksgiving, and people were so excited about it. We gathered around the cheeseball and chowed down. It was amazing! And because the recipe made so much, I now have a bonus ball in my freezer for future cocktail hours.

    So, thank you for your ringing endorsement. Vegan cheeseballs --> happiness.

  9. Oh wow, I didn't realize how much I missed those cheeseballs until I started reading this. Maybe for Christmas. Yours look perfect.

  10. Oh Amey! I love this story so much! As a kid, I was always hovering about some coveted food item at holiday feasts. See, I had 8 siblings to contend with, plus all the other guests! I don't think I ever got into trouble, but I've probably eaten a whole cheeseball to myself at some point. Then, I worked at a grocery store deli where I made the cheeseballs for the store. I could never stop sampling the extra bits!

    I'm so pleased I was able to help you recreate the pleasant part of those holiday memories! People always say the cheeseball is huge. I wanted it that way, so that there would be plenty to share! ❤️❤️❤️

  11. that is one amazing spread! I made a spread version of the cheeseball last year (blender and me were both getting antsy, so we thinned it out a bit), and the whole big bowl of it was gone!). i still have miyokos cheeses in the freezer right now from this years cheese haul!


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