Kickin’ Sausage Cheese Balls

Many of you may have seen these little gems before, as they are a popular party food item. I certainly know better than to try to claim originality with the base of this recipe. Yet, I also wanted to make it worth your time to give my post a read, so I really thought about the reviews I’ve read on Ms. Crocker’s website as well as my own opinions on improvements and amendments. You’ll see the changes reflected in the recipe below. My goal was to give them a bit more kick and maybe make them a wee bit healthier. I served these at an appetizer party I had recently, and they got lots of compliments; I was quite pleased!


Kickin’ Sausage Cheese Balls (adapted from here)

Ingredients
3 cups Bisquick HeartSmart®
4 cups cheese: I used 2 cups sharp cheddar and 2 cups Jalapeño Jack, pre-grated for convenience.
1 lb light pork sausage
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup milk
2 medium Anaheim peppers
up to 1 tsp garlic powder
up to 2 tsp fresh minced rosemary or 1 tsp dried rosemary (optional)

Steps
1. Pull the sausage out of the fridge to come to room temperature. Your hands will thank you for this later. Measure your milk, and let it also come to room temperature while you are working on the other steps.
2. Finely mince the peppers and rosemary (if using).

3. Combine your Bisquick®, cheeses, garlic, pepper, and rosemary (if using) in a large, roomy bowl.

4. While not mandatory, I recommend donning the gloves I suggested you invest in, previously. It will make life easier in just a few moments. I’ve done this without gloves, and I don’t really recommend it.
5. Slice open the package of sausage and scrape it into the bowl.
6. Add the milk.
7. Using your best kitchen tools, aka your hands, get in there and begin mixing it all up. You will work it all together, kneading it, squishing it, and making sure it’s all mixed together. Remember how I said your hands will thank you later? Well, now it’s later. Hopefully your sausage has warmed up a bit because working with ridiculously cold sausage makes your hands hurt!
8. Once it’s all come together in one large lump, use a tablespoon to scoop out each piece. Repeat until all the mixture has been shaped into balls.

9. For freezing, place close together on a cookie sheet (I can fit 48) lined with parchment paper. Place cookie sheet in freezer until they are frozen. They’ll keep for quite a while in a zip-top bag. Happily they defrost fairly quickly.

10. To bake, pre-heat to the ubiquitous 350 degrees. Use either a parchment paper-lined pan or a greased, foil-lined pan. If you have a pizza stone, you can cook them directly on the stone. Defrosted, they’ll take 15 – 17 minutes. When I’ve cooked mine frozen, they’ve taken 25 – 30 minutes.

If you have the time, I recommend making and baking a few balls (I like 4) before you commit to freezing or baking all the rest. This lets you have an idea of the flavor and if you want to make any adjustments. Honestly, sometimes I do this and sometimes I don’t. When I used the peppers, I did because pepper heat varies so much from one to the next. However, if I’m using just the rosemary and not the peppers, I don’t taste test as often because I’m more certain of the flavors. Time for true life confession: Below in the ingredients picture, you’ll see the rosemary, and it’s listed above in the ingredients list. However, I didn’t actually put it in these because this is the first time I’ve added the peppers and I was uncertain about pepper plus rosemary flavor. As these were for a party the next day and not just me, I didn’t want to make a fatal error. I promise before too long, I will make some with both rosemary and peppers and report back.

When I was assessing the heat level, I was not knocked on my heels by the heat, which I actually enjoyed. It was noticeable, but still subtle. By the time I’d eaten my four taste testers, the heat had accumulated just a bit so my nose had a bit of sniffle, but not a full-on run. Again, as I was preparing for a group of people with varying heat tolerances, I felt that was a good balance. Now, if I was making these for some of my family members, I probably would have added another Anaheim and maybe even a jalapeño. I am certain that a few more peppers would have turned out just fine for those who tolerate spice well.  If I used 4 cups cheddar instead of the two cheeses, I would have definitely tossed in a few jalapeños. Now that I’ve broken the heat barrier, I feel like it’s a whole new world. I will probably experiment with fresh garlic, onion, and various kinds of peppers. If you beat me to the experimentation, please do tell.

These are good for a party as they are still tasty even when they are not right-out-of-the-oven warm, and they are good for the single gal (or guy!) because they do keep so well in the freezer. Plus the batch makes a ton! This last go-round, I made 58 of them. I reserved some for breakfast the next few weeks and STILL had plenty for the appetizer party. How great is that?!?! If I forget to take them out of the freezer the night before, I’ll pull them out while the oven is pre-heating and I’m in the shower. By the time I’m ready to put them in, they are partially defrosted and are usually done in about 20 minutes because I like mine fairly browned.

I hope you enjoy the addition of some heat and a bit of a nod to your health with the light sausage and the Bisquick HeartSmart®. I am firmly convinced that neither one adversely affects the flavor or texture of the final product. Happy eating!

Nutritional Information – 1 ball
Calories: 74
Fat: 4 g
Carbs: 4.5 g
Protein: 4.6 g
Calcium: 7.2%

If you are a diligent reader who clicked through to Ms. Crocker’s website and examined her nutritional information against mine, you may also be startled to see her sausage cheese balls check in at 40 calories each. A closer examination reveals she suggests making 1 inch balls. I surely did go measure mine, and they are 1.5 inches. If you make yours with a smaller measuring spoon, you might be able to get 102 out of the recipe, as she says it makes. If this is the case, then the nutritional information will change. While the nutritional information technically isn’t “healthier” than that of Ms. Crocker’s, I still believe using the healthier mix and sausage is a good thing for my body.

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Roasty Toasty Red Salsa

I love chips and salsa above all other foods out there, nearly. If we are in a fight and you want to send me a reconciliation gift, chips and salsa will be a guaranteed winner. If I am sick, chips and salsa will make me feel better. If I’m grouchy, I would like chips and salsa to the rescue, please! I will almost always pick the restaurant with free chips and salsa over the one without, or heaven forbid, the restaurant that charges for them. Those places are evil and might should be boycotted, in my opinion. Ahem. So salsa pretty much rocks my socks. If you pop over to the Food Memories page, you’ll see that I grew up with salsa and came by my affection for it honestly. My dad makes homemade salsa, and one day, I decided I was going to make my own homemade salsa, too. Oh boy! It was the start of a beautiful thing. At first, it was a more chopped up version of pico de gallo, made in tiny batches in my wee food processor attachment on my blender stand. Since then, I’ve graduated to an adult food processor and have been experimenting all over the place. I’ve learned that I love to roast my salsa ingredients. I have learned that kiwi salsa is delicious. I’ve learned that homemade salsa is for sharing as I cannot eat (or at least, should not eat) the whole batch. I suppose you could cut the recipe in half to make a smaller batch, but why deprive a friend of your culinary delights??  Have your friends over for game night, and let them marvel when you serve them homemade salsa. I won’t judge if you don’t put it all out so you can have some the next day; that’s only good sense.

DELICIOUS!

There are many more salsa recipes to come, but this is the most recent edition to come from my kitchen. Don’t be frightened by the surprise herb – it actually provides quite a pleasant taste. Thanks, Rick Bayless, for the inspiration!

Roasty Toasty Red Salsa (adapted from Salsas That Cookby Rick Bayless)

Ingredients*
1 lb Roma tomatoes (sometimes also called plum – the ones that are more oval than circle)
6 ounces poblano chiles (probably 2 regular-sized ones)
1/2 red onion (or to taste)
4 – 6 med-lg garlic cloves
1/2 cup tomato puree
2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped (recommended, but optional for those who are not cilantro eaters – not a deal breaker)
1/4 – 1/2 cup water
dash of salt

Steps
1. Set your oven rack near the top of your oven, and turn on the broiler. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, and lay out the tomatoes and peppers. Broil (maybe 5 – 8 minutes) until the skin is charred and blistered. Flip everything over to roast the other side. Continue this process until all sides are well blackened. Don’t be afraid of the char. You are likely to hear the skin sizzle and pop; don’t be afraid of that either. When everything is charred, pull the pan out of the oven and let cool.

2. Put the peppers in a plastic bag, and wrap with a towel. They won’t melt the bag, and it will help the skins come off later. Leave the tomatoes on the pan to cool.
3. While the tomatoes and peppers are in the oven, slice the onion into slices. Err on the side of thicker rather than thinner. Aim for a quarter to half inch slice. As much as possible, keep them uniform so they’ll cook evenly. That’s probably more important than width of the slice. Peel the garlic, leaving the last layer of papery covering (this will keep it from burning). On another foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet, lay out the onion and garlic. Roast them until the onions are soft, there is some char on the edges, and the garlic is soft when pressed. Stir a few times while they are roasting. This may take 15 minutes or so. Let cool on the pan when you take them out.

4. Using tongs, a knife, and/or your hands, peel the skins off the tomatoes, and pull the flesh off the core. I have yet to roast them long enough for the core to get soft – so get rid of the hard feeling middle. Do all of this on the pan so you don’t lose any juices. Leave the flesh on the pan to cool a bit before you go back to them in step 9. Discard the skin and core.

5. Using the same tools, over the same sheet of tomato pulp, if possible, pull off and discard the skins from the peppers. The blacker the skin is, the easier it will just peel right off. Tear open the peppers and scrape out the seeds, if you want a milder salsa. More seeds = more heat. Your call. Please don’t rinse them – you’ll lose flavor. They will likely drip juice into the tomatoes, which is okay. That’s why you are peeling them over the tomatoes in the first place.
6. Chop the peppers into small, bite sized pieces. They won’t get any smaller later in the prep, so dice away. Scrape the pieces and the juice from the cutting board into a clean serving bowl.

7. Chop your thyme and cilantro, and toss into the serving bowl.
8. Pulse your roasted onion and peeled garlic cloves in a small food processor to finely chop them. Add some of the tomato if the mixture needs some liquid to help facilitate the job. Scrape into your bowl with the peppers.
9. In the same food processor bowl, put the cooled tomatoes and their juices and whir away. Dump into the serving bowl where the peppers and herbs are waiting.
10. Stir in the tomato puree, and slowly add the water to get to the consistency you want. Go slowly with the water because you can’t take it back out. Season to taste with some salt, but go easy as your chips will likely also be salty.

*Notes about ingredients: I had ginormous Roma tomatoes so it only took 3 to make a pound. It would probably take 5 – 7 regular-sized Roma tomatoes for a pound. I was also using poblano peppers that my dad brought me which were WAY smaller than store-bought poblanos. My four were 6 ounces which is why I suspect 2 regular-sized ones would be sufficient. I don’t usually measure my herbs – I just chopped what looked good to me. I like lots of cilantro, so it’s possible I had more than 2 tbsp. I recommend not going overboard with the thyme until you are certain you’ll like it. I will probably add a bit more next time. Also, if you don’t have enough poblanos, I think Anaheims would be a good addition which will also decrease the spiciness.

Large Romas and Small Poblanos

I’m nervous about giving you a recipe with 10 steps. Please don’t be intimidated as many of the steps are simple. Plus I’m overly detail-oriented sometimes. 🙂 Many of the steps can be accomplished while items are either roasting or cooling. I promise you that it’s totally worth 10 steps! This salsa will be a little saucier because of the water and puree. Once, I thickened mine up using my immersion blender to chop it all up into smaller pieces. It’s delicious either way. Rick Bayless encourages you to use it in place of tomato sauce with fish or pork or even mac and cheese.

I watch a lot of “Good Eats” on Food Network, and Alton Brown frequently uses latex gloves (medical style) when dealing with peppers. At first I laughed at him, just a little, and thought it was sort of wimpy. But then…one unfortunate day, I got pepper juice in my eye. It came from my finger which had been washed, at least twice. There are hardly words to describe how terrible the experience was. I promptly went to buy rubber gloves, and now I’m a convert. It makes it easier to use your hands to seed the peppers, and then the gloves come right off into the trash without threat to your sensitive parts. I encourage you to try it, also. Safety first, people.

What is your favorite kind of salsa? Keep your eyes peeled for more salsas coming soon to a food blog near you. Happy eating!

Nutritional Information – 1/4 cup (This may be the best part!!!)      
Calories: 18
Fat: 0.2 g
Carbs: 4.1 g
Fiber: 1 g
Vitamin C: 27%

Mexican Quinoa

Quinoa is baaaack! When we were in Abilene, my dad brought a copy paper box FULL of different kinds of peppers to share with us. I brought back poblanos, Anaheims (red and green), jalapeños (green and purple!!), and banana peppers. I’m about to have to freeze several of the jalapeño and Anaheim peppers to keep them from spoiling because I brought home that many. Last week, I got very creative in my meals trying to use them up. You will see a few recipes from those endeavors in the next few weeks. This particular recipe has a shameful inspiration, actually. Many people out there have guilty pleasures in the form of various TV shows; I have guilty pleasures in the form of various questionable food items. There is no need to reveal them all in one fell swoop, but one of them is a certain Mexican TV dinner that came with cheesy Mexican rice. When contemplating a bunch of peppers and thinking of quinoa, it all came back to me in a flash. Cheesy-peppery Mexican quinoa, it is!

Mexican Quinoa

Ingredients
1/4 cup quinoa
1/2 cup water
2 tsp lime juice (not pictured because it was added last minute, on a whim)
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 diced Anaheim peppers – I used 1 red and 1 green because I had both.
1/4 ish cup chopped red onion
1 med-lg sprig of thyme
2 tbsp liquid from salsa (no solids) or tomato sauce (optional)
dash or two of salt

Steps
1. Chop up the peppers into your preferred bite size. I seeded mine; you go with your personal heat preference.
2. Combine quinoa, lime juice, salsa liquid, salt, and water in a saucepan. Cook on high heat (6 or 7 on the dial) until it is boiling.
3. Add peppers and give it a quick stir. Cover and simmer on low (1 or 2 on the dial) for 15 minutes.
4. When 15 minutes is up, remove from heat and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes.
5. Finely chop the thyme. Grate the cheese.
6. Stir in thyme and cheese until cheese is melted.
7. EAT!

Isn’t that ridiculous easy? Yes, I thought so as well. My friend was over for dinner, and she went back for seconds on the quinoa. I was pleased to see she enjoyed it. I enjoyed it for lunch leftovers the next day, myself!

For variations, you could substitute any variety of peppers or use Monterey Jack cheese. Oooohhh! I bet a jalapeño jack would be quite delightful and add a bit of kick. I did seed my peppers, but I might leave some seeds or possibly the ribs in next time for a little extra heat. Garlic might also be a positive addition to this dish. If you prefer a crunchier onion or pepper, wait until you are letting the quinoa sit for 5 minutes to put them in. You’ll get a light steam but still have plenty of crunch.

A note about adding herbs: When using fresh herbs, it’s better to add them at the end of the cooking/heating process, so they retain more of their flavor. If you added the thyme in with the quinoa at the beginning, it would boil away the tasty flavor and leave you with a bitter, unfortunate flavor in your dish. Fresh herbs are more delicate than dried, so you can, and probably should, add your dried herbs earlier in the cooking process. This allows the herbs to rehydrate a bit and flavor the entire dish. Your recipe should tell you when. When I wing my recipes, I usually add the dried herbs in prior to any boiling or simmering.

Happy eating!

Nutritional Content – divide recipe into 3 servings – approx 1/2 cup each
Calories: 167.8
Fat: 7.4 g
Carbs: 18.8 g
Fiber: 3.4 g
Protein: 7.8 g
Calcium: 15%