Last weekend was my future nephew’s ninth birthday – which is completely crazy given I met him when he was five! He’s grown into an actual person, someone who you can have a conversation with, and is a little boy who’s very into the Patriots.
Given that, he decided that his birthday party was going to be tailgating themed during the Patriot’s game and everyone had to wear their Patriots gear. Now I have no Patriot’s “gear.” But I knew I would be teased (all in good fun, of course) by my fiancé’s Massachusetts-residing, Patriots-loving, “gear”-wearing family (particularly by the newly-minted nine year old or the recently-turned six year-old nephews). A Pats t-shirt over a dress and a red necklace from Paris and Patriots-tailgating-birthday party here I come.
For the actual party, when I offered to make something, the now nine-year-old’s mom asked for a savory appetizer. Savory is something I struggle with and football is something I struggle with even more. However a theme and baking – that I’ve got. Therefore: a football-shaped cheeseball and homemade crackers!
Both the cheeseball and the crackers are completely customizable which also makes this so fun. For the cheeseball, you could fold in any kind of white cheese (pepper jack, american, LIMITLESS!), different spices (cumin, rosemary, ANYTHING!), endless kinds of coatings (pecans, tortilla chips, Doritos for extra cheesiness, THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER!).
And the crackers – don’t get me started. I like this recipe for two reasons: first because it has olive oil and no butter which makes me feel better about eating it because it’s not as caloric (right?), and second because it’s so versatile. I ended up making three kinds: one with chia seeds for crunch, thyme, and fresh cracked black pepper; one with garlic powder and salt; and one with just kosher sea salt.
The cheeseball is creamy and cheesy with a kick of the sharp cheddar, it’s the perfect spread. The buttered nuts on top complement the smoothness of the cheese adding a crunchy element to give it texture. And the crackers – man oh man. They couldn’t be easier to make and the crunch when you bite into this classic appetizer is elevated because everything is made from scratch. Trust me, this appetizer is no field goal — it’s without a doubt a TOUCHDOWN!
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup almond flour
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup water
Optional toppings: chia seeds, sea salt, thyme, garlic powder, cayenne, anything!
2 8-ounce packages of cream cheese
8 ounces of white shredded cheddar
3/4 teaspoon hot sauce
3/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 shallot, minced
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 1/4 cup walnuts
1 piece white string cheese
To Make the Homemade Crackers:
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Then fold in and stir until it forms a soft (very sticky) dough. Divide the dough into three balls.
Shape the first ball into a rectangle with your fingers and place it on a floured sheet of parchment paper (this step is critical!). Using a rolling pin, roll the rectangle into 1/8-inch or less. Any thicker and crackers will turn out to be more chewy than crispy.
Once it’s been rolled out, using a pastry brush, brush the top with water and then sprinkle the toppings evenly across (the water will help the toppings stick!). Then take a pizza cutter, or very sharp knife, and cut squares. Last, take a fork and prick each square once, which will prevent them from puffing up like pillows.
Carefully slide the parchment paper with the dough onto a baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Once they come out of the oven, cool for five minutes, and break the crackers apart. As they cool, they’ll crisp up.
Repeat for other two balls of dough.
Yield: 70 crackers
To Make the Football Cheeseball:
Combine the cream cheese, cheddar, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, onion powder and shallots in a large bowl and mix until thoroughly blended. Transfer the cheese mixture to a large sheet of plastic wrap and cover with a second sheet of plastic wrap. Form the cheese into a football shape. Wrap in the plastic and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Combine the butter thyme in a small bowl.
Toss the walnuts with thyme butter and arrange on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Cool completely, then finely chop.
Unwrap the cheese ball and cover completely with the walnuts. Transfer to a serving dish. Separate the string cheese into strands and arrange them to look like the laces on a football.
Yield: feeds 12 people