Cheese Ball with Pecans and Dried Cranberries

January 14, 2015

When she has the kitchen all to herself, Phyllis Grant of Dash and Bella cooks beautiful iterations of what solo meals were always meant to be: Exactly what you want, when and where you want them.

Today: A gift for a neighbor, a party snack, and an excuse to bring the retro cheese ball back. 

cheese ball

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I open the front door and step onto the porch in all my sick mama glory: plaid pajama bottoms, pink cashmere socks, cooking clogs, a grandpa sweater, a Sriracha t-shirt, two scarves. My nose is so red that it shines through the green papaya enzyme mask I put on my face an hour earlier. My pockets are filled with dirty tissues. My hair is in a tangled top knot. I look left. I look right. All clear.

You got the drugs?

Ten-year-old Jacob gives me the codeine and a spoon. I hand him the cheese ball with strict instructions. Jacob, your mother thinks she's not going to like this so you need to give it the hard sell. Three different cheeses, butter, mayonnaise, cream cheese, garlic, shallots. And then I rolled the whole thing in fig jam, chopped pecans, and dried cranberries. Tell her to scoop it into her mouth with the buttery crackers.

Six-year-old Eli stands back, watching my every move. He looks concerned.

Eli? I'm not going to die. I promise. I just need some drugs. And your mom is my supplier.

The night before, Eli’s neighbor, Marietta, was whisked off on a stretcher. She never came back.

Eli, Marietta was old. 

Just 20 minutes before he was sobbing in his mother's lap, worried that I was going to die too.

Sweetie, I am young.

Eli doesn't look convinced. 

Well, I'm young-ish. 

I tousle his hair. 

And I'm super healthy.

He smooths his hair back down.

Plus, I've been eating a cheese ball for two days straight. I think it's killing my virus.

cheese ball

I was at Eli's birth. There was this terrifying moment during labor when his heart rate dipped. 

I will be here tomorrow. 

They flipped the scary lights on. Doctors and nurses rushed in.

I promise, Eli.

To try to loosen the cord around his neck, they turned his mama onto all fours and had her drop down to her forearms.

Trust me.

I held her until the amplified boom boom boom of his heart filled up the room again.

Okay, Phyllis. See you tomorrow.

I watch the boys carefully walk the cheese ball home to their mom. Within 5 minutes I get a text: I take it back -- this cheese ball is fucking delicious.

I decide my work is done for the day. I get in bed and listen to my kids navigate the mama-free kitchen. A knife is pulled. A glass is broken. Someone squirts someone else with the honey bear. I am dizzy with the flu. And then I overhear the most beautiful words in the world.

Let's tuck mom in.

They pat my pillow, pull the covers up to my chin, give me 100 kisses good night.

I lie in the dark, imagining the ants crawling in the honey and the shards of glass on the floor. I take a teaspoon of codeine. I will be here in the morning to clean up the mess.

Cheese Ball with Pecans and Dried Cranberries

Makes 4 large cheese balls

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 to 5 large shallots, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and grated or finely chopped
1 teaspoon creamy Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons apricot jam (any large chunks removed or chopped up)
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Champagne vinegar
1 to 2 tablespoons Sriracha (or Tabasco), to taste
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
5 cups grated cheddar cheddar (I recommend a combination of mellow and sharp)
1/2 cup creamy blue cheese (I use Mountain Gorgonzola)

To roll one large cheese ball: 

1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1/3 cup dried sweetened cranberries, chopped
2 tablespoons fig jam

See the full recipe (and save it and print it) here.  

Photos by Phyllis Grant 

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Phyllis Grant is an IACP finalist for Personal Essays/Memoir Writing and a three-time Saveur Food Blog Awards finalist for her blog, Dash and Bella. Her essays and recipes have been published in a dozen anthologies and cookbooks including Best Food Writing 2015 and 2016. Her work has been featured both in print and online for various outlets, including Oprah, The New York Times, Food52, Saveur, The Huffington Post, Time Magazine, The San Francisco Chronicle, Tasting Table and Salon. Her memoir with recipes, Everything Is Out of Control, is coming out April 2020 from Farrar Straus & Giroux. She lives in Berkeley, California with her husband and two children.


Rebecca @. January 23, 2015
This looks delicious...I want you both as neighbors...
Angela C. January 20, 2015
I just became a member here so I could tell you how much I love your posts. They absolutely make my day, and the food part looks pretty good too. You should write a book! Or a series of hilarious rants with photos.
Phyllis G. January 20, 2015
you made my day. i'm working on a book! slowly but surely. nice to hear your support. and there's something so appealing about the structure of rants with photos. thank you!
Angela C. January 20, 2015
That is great news, about the book. And slowly is much better than not at all!
Paige B. November 19, 2015
I totally agree, Angela, LOVE THIS CHICKAS BLOG!! And I wish we all four were neighbors!! I'll give codeine! For this awesome sounding cheese ball?? Hella Yeah!
Rebecca @. January 19, 2015
Wow this is quite the recipe! I don't think I ever had all these ingredients on hand at the same time.

While I was reading this, I was thinking it'd be great if the pecans were lightly toasted to add a little caramelized crunch to it. Thanks for sharing!
Phyllis G. January 20, 2015
yes! toasting the pecans is a fabulous idea.
Cynthia January 16, 2015
Can you substitute the blue cheese and what would you recommend?
Phyllis G. January 16, 2015
you could use a creamy and fresh goat cheese. or more cheddar. or for a bit more intensity, you could grate in some gruyere. avoid any cheese that's dry. otherwise, pretty much anything goes!
DelicateFlowah January 14, 2015
This sounds fucking delicious. I am making it this weekend!
Phyllis G. January 16, 2015
DelicateFlowah November 19, 2015
This is insanely good. I've made it half a dozen times since you posted it. Interestingly enough, 3 friends have used the exact words your neighbor used to describe it.
Phyllis G. December 23, 2015
judy, thank you so much for reporting back. i haven't made a cheese ball since last winter. it's time!
Maria January 14, 2015
Your post is pure poetry! I am going to make this cheese ball (I LOVE cheese balls and have been making them since the early 80's and never stopped!) and I know I will love it. My 24 year old baseball player/coach son has his own specialty he makes for get-togethers with friends. Who would have thought? I look forward to reading your other articles.
Phyllis G. January 16, 2015
maria: hanks so much for writing. the word poetry always stops me in my tracks. in the best way. tell me more about your cheese balls. and your son's. nice to have variations.