First things first. I just spent an hour this morning drinking coffee, looking at the ocean, and watching this guy surf in front of my house. Hailing from Chicago, I don’t think I’ll ever stop getting a kick out of things like surfing on Christmas Eve Eve.
But, on to more pressing issues, namely food. In case you haven’t noticed, this is not a food blog. I like food. I have a considerable amount of affection for it, even. But the preparation of said food is not, at this juncture anyway, my gift to the universe. At the homestead, I do some prep work when it comes to dinners, and I do have a few dishes I make on occasion, as well as a handful of breads, appetizers and of course chocolate desserts that I specialize in. Other than that, cooking’s pretty much LCB’s thing in our family.
So, An Island Mom does not have any real plans to set the food blog world afire anytime soon. In fact, no one would want that, as people generally read food blogs for tips on improving their food. Who’s going to read a blog that gives tips for making your food stunningly mediocre? If I had a food blog, even LCB wouldn’t read it.
But, I have developed a small arsenal of what I call “Bang for your Buck on the Road” recipes. These are recipes that I’ve gotten generous amounts of positive feedback from, that are easy to make with limited resources on hand.
Plus, it’s the holidays, so from what I can tell, everyone and their chihuahuas are posting recipes at the moment.
Over the years, we’ve spent many holidays, Christmas and otherwise, away from home, whether it’s been at relatives’ houses or in temporary housing or even extended-stay types of places due to business obligations. So, when it comes to preparing food, I often don’t have a smorgasbord of ingredients or special cooking gear and the like at my disposal. With a little planning, then, I’ve made certain things into a trim process, with recipes that require limited ingredients and cookware to make.
This year, we are at the old house, which is now also a house sometimes used by tenants, so I can’t leave a boatload of ingredients sitting around, nor do I want to buy and throw away loads of food each time we’re here. For Christmas, then, I’m using two of my “Bang for Your Buck on the Road” recipes.
Some of you may be in similar positions, even if you are just on vacation or at your in-laws’ beach trailer, trying to cook with limitations, so I thought I’d share my two recipes.
The first is a cheese ball I found on allrecipes.com that only uses four ingredients. It’s obnoxiously simple compared to many cheese balls, but I’ve probably had a dozen people ask for the recipe.
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 (1 ounce) package ranch dressing mix
2 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
In a medium size bowl, mash cream cheese. Mix dressing mix and Cheddar cheese into the cream cheese. Shape the mixture into a ball. Roll the ball in the chopped nuts. Refrigerate covered until ready to serve.
I will say, this makes a rather large cheese ball, so I generally half the recipe if it’s for a smaller group. I swoon when I see the words “aged 24 months or more” on my cheddar cheese, so I use generally use sharp cheddar cheese. In keeping with some of the recommendations on allrecipies.com, I sometimes half the ranch dressing mix amount, depending on my crowd, because it still has plenty of flavor with half the mix. I also use either pecans or walnuts, whatever I have on hand at the moment. And finally, for flavor purposes, I do recommend letting it sit overnight before serving if possible, but this is not an absolute.
My other recipe is a recipe I got years and years ago from my mom for a French Silk Pie. This recipe has six ingredients, including the store-bought crust I’d recommend using if you are aiming for minimal leftover ingredients.
2 stick butter
1 ½ cups sugar
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 pie crust
Cream butter and sugar. Set aside. Melt unsweetened chocolate and cool. Add vanilla and chocolate to butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating mixture for five minutes after each egg is added (at high speed). Cool for 4-5 hours before serving.
For perspective, this does not have as rich of a chocolaty taste as the Brownie Cookies I shared with you a few days ago, but there’s definitely a respectable level of chocolate involved. I’ve toyed for years with the idea of bumping the chocolate up a notch, but the overall flavor is so rich that I always wimp out in the end. Like the cheese ball, this tastes best if it has been refrigerated overnight first. And, since it isn’t baked, I use pasteurized eggs when I make it. When I’m on the road without access to a stand mixer, I also reduce the beating time of each egg down to 3 minutes an egg, which has yet to lead to any disastrous results.
Note: I highly recommend not letting a speck of artificial sweetener anywhere near this pie (unless you have dietary restrictions, of course), particularly if you are making it on Christmas Eve, when all the stores on your small island are closed and there’s no hope of repairing your damage in time for Christmas, and it’s your only reasonable source of chocolate until the stores reopen after Christmas, which drives you to both insanity and run-ons. Just by way of a hypothetical example.
For what it’s worth, I bring the necessary amount of nuts, ranch mix, vanilla and unsweetened chocolate from home, so I only have to find cheese, eggs, butter, sugar and a crust when I get to my “temporary” location.
This is so not Julia Child, saying Happy Holidays and Bon Appetit!