Cranberry Walnut Goat Cheese Ball

Cranberry Walnut Goat Cheese Ball (perfect for Christmas and the New Year!)

Tangy, with crunchy walnuts, savory shallots, and sweet cranberries, this goat cheese ball is perfect for the holidays! It is easy to whip together, can be made days in advance (or even frozen) and makes a lovely addition to a cheese platter or to serve along side celery sticks or rich whole grain crackers. Or give it as a food gift (or hostess gift.)

Personally, I am putting together some snack-y hors d’oeuvre to have out for Christmas day/afternoon when we are together as an extended family. Smoked salmon ( #affiliate link  here is a lovely example), this cheese ball, and my favorite liver pate (served with home pickled onions) with some gluten free and regular crackers will make a special but nourishing addition to the usual holiday fun.

Freezing cheese balls

I have never tried freezing a cheese ball before, but Martha Stewart says you can freeze cheese balls for up to a month, which is perfect for my plans of pre-making as much of the food as I can. This cheese ball is now nestled in my freezer well wrapped, waiting for Christmas cheer and magic to happen. But I admit, it may be a little smaller after we all had a few samples of it. ;-)

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Notes on Ingredients

You can use raw, soaked and dehydrated or toasted walnuts. To toast, stir constantly in a cast iron pan over medium heat until the nuts are starting to brown.

I love these Organic Apple Sweetened Cranberries (affiliate link) for projects like this one.

Cranberry Walnut Goat Cheese Ball - A delicious appetizer, party food, or food gift!

Cranberry Walnut Goat Cheese Ball
 
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
 
Tangy, with crunchy walnuts, savory shallots, and sweet cranberries, this goat cheese ball is perfect for the holidays! It is easy to whip together, can be made days in advance (or even frozen) and makes a lovely addition to a cheese platter or to serve along side celery sticks or crackers! Or give it as a food gift (or hostess gift.)
Ingredients
  • 8 ounces of chévre goat cheese (look for the soft goat cheese logs)
  • 1-2 tablespoons fat of choice (such as avocado oil, home rendered fats, etc).
  • ¼ cup chopped shallots
  • ⅓ cup finely chopped walnuts
  • ⅓ cup dried, sweetened cranberries (I used fruit juice sweetened), roughly chopped
  • ¼-1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Instructions
  1. In a small pan, over medium heat saute the shallots in fat/oil of choice until softened and starting to brown (about five to seven minutes). Make sure you stir almost constantly to prevent burning.
  2. In a medium bowl, using a hand mixer, mix the goat cheese with the cooked shallots, ⅓ cup walnuts, and cranberries.
  3. Using a spatula, scoop into a rough ball, and then use your hands to pat into a ball. Cover the surface with the extra chopped walnuts.
  4. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 3 days. Or freeze up to one month, well wrapped.
  5. Serve with crackers, crudités, cucumber slices, or celery sticks!

 

Slow Cooker Mashed Potatoes (Dairy Free Tested!)

Slow Cooker Mashed Potatoes (the dairy free version tastes wonderful as well!). One less dish on the stove is a win!

These creamy mashed potatoes are so easy to make, and take one thing off of your stovetop! Plus, dairy free friends, be glad, they worked so well when made without cream of milk. This Thanksgiving, I am trying to make as much as I can beforehand so that I am not running around like crazy finishing five dishes all at once. For example, my Grain Free Caramel Apple Tart is going to be made the day before Thanksgiving.

One of the dishes often made at the last minute are the mashed potatoes, so I was so excited when I saw this method of making slow cooker mashed potatoes. I knew I had to make a test run of it to see how it went (I especially wanted to do a test run as I was adapting the recipe to be dairy-free!).

The technique is simple: You cook cubed potatoes in broth, garlic and seasonings for 3-4 hours, and then you mash them with melted butter and milk of choice (I used coconut milk, and no one even noticed the coconut flavor, even my coconut hater of the family). Then it can keep warm for even hours in the slow cooker. Because I used my roasted “Hearth” broth (so good!), and then these potatoes are slow roasted  (since they aren’t boiled) the mashed potatoes had a lovely roast-y flavor.

One thing that I noted was that the color was perfect when first mashed, but after being kept warm for 3-4 hours after mashing it, it started to turn slightly brownish, so for Thanksgiving, I am planning on not leaving it for hours on warm, but mashing it closer to when we serve it. I cooked mine on hot at first, so it cooked fairly quickly (at 3 hours they were well cooked), but if you wanted to cook them more slowly, you could certainly try it on low for longer.

Slow Cooker Mashed Potatoes (the dairy free version is delicious as well!). One less dish on the stove is a win!

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Note on Ingredients

If you’d like to use coconut milk, make sure you use full fat. If you’d like to use another dairy-free option, I’d recommend homemade almond “cream” (a thicker almond milk).

Simple Almond Cream Recipe

Let 1 cup of almonds soak for 1-8 hours in warm water with a couple pinches of salt. Rinse, and then blend in a high power blender with 2 cups of filtered water. Pour through cheesecloth or a nut milk bag, and squeeze gently to remove all of the liquid. This makes a very rich almond milk, perfect for savory and sweet dishes

We tolerate butter just fine, so I use butter. Those only a little sensitive can often tolerate ghee fine. But for truly dairy free mashed potatoes, I have been surprised at how lovely a very mild olive oil tastes in mashed potatoes. I mention that in this stove top dairy free mashed potato recipe.

What potatoes to use? There is a lot of debate on this issue. I tested this recipe with russet, but some love Yukon for mashed potatoes as well.

Tools

I definitely recommend using a potato masher (such as this one) to get the right texture. This is the large and inexpensive slow cooker I use.

Slow Cooker Mashed Potatoes (Dairy free tested!)
 
Author:
 
Makes enough for 8-10 servings
Ingredients
  • 5 pounds russet potatoes, or potatoes of choice, peeled
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced (optional)
  • 1½ cups broth of choice (such as Hearth broth, or chicken broth)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • ½ cup melted butter or ⅓ cup mild olive oil (plus extra for oiling slow cooker)
  • ½ cup canned full fat coconut milk, homemade almond milk (see above), or whole milk, cream
  • Extra milk or broth for thinning down as needed.
Instructions
  1. Oil the sides of the slow cooker. Cube the potatoes into ½- 1 inch pieces (uniformly). Place in slow cooker, and add the garlic cloves, if using, and the broth of choice. Salt with about 1 teaspoon unrefined salt, and a generous sprinkle of pepper.
  2. Cover, and put slow cooker on low, and cook for 3-4 hours, or until the potatoes are soft.
  3. If there are any potatoes on the side that browned at all, you can remove with a spoon, if desired, for a very smooth texture. Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes to desired texture (smooth or slightly chunky).
  4. Heat the butter and liquid of choice, and mix thoroughly into the mashed potatoes. If you want them thinned out at all, simply add more to taste/texture desired.
  5. Now keep the potatoes on "keep warm". I tested this for about 3½ hours on "keep warm". The texture near the end of that time started to get a little dry, so I would recommend adding a little more hot liquid before serving if you do. It also will start to turn a little less white as time goes on, so personally, I plan on keeping on "warm" just until serving, but not keeping it on warm for hours.

 

Easy Pan-fried Cabbage and Apples

Delicious vegetable sides are easy to make, such as this simple Pan Fried Cabbage and Apple dish.

Delicious vegetable sides are easy to make, such as this simple Pan Fried Cabbage and Apple dish.

Green or red cabbage is gently cooked with apples in this simple, but delicious side dish. I find that when you are eating cabbage (or cauliflower) when they are freshly picked from the fields, they are especially sweet and flavorful. Here, I add some sliced apples to continue to sweeten and flavor the cabbage as it cooks. It is a lovely side to go with roasted meats or sausages.

This is an example of how easy it is to vegetables in a lovely way without much work!

I love this easy side dish and have made it several times in the last couple of weeks. I think I could eat the whole pan of it myself! I first tried it out because I was looking for a way to gently encourage my youngest (she just turned four) to eat more of her vegetables. While she wasn’t happy to see her small serving of cabbage on the plate at first, once we got her to try it, she seemed to happily eat the rest of it. I believe that is because of the magic of the apples, which give a delightful sweetness to the dish.

Two additions I am tempted to try is adding either caraway seeds, as they would add so much flavor, and are traditionally used with cabbage dishes, or, to take things in a different route, to add fresh ginger. I think that the cabbage, apples, and ginger together would make a lovely medley of flavors.

I’ve been making good use of my cast iron pans lately, and they served me well in this recipe as well. If using cast iron, I would cook at medium heat or below. If using stainless steel pans (try to use a thicker pan for better heat spread) use medium to medium-high heat.

Other Vegetable Side Dishes:

Easy Pan-fried Cabbage and Apples
 
Author:
Serves: 4 servings
 
Ingredients
  • ½ head of large green or red cabbage
  • 2 small, 1 large tart/sweet apple (green, Pink Lady etc.)
  • 2 tablespoons fat/oil of choice
  • Unrefined salt
Instructions
  1. Core the cabbage, and very thinly slice it. Peel the apples, and very thinly slice it.
  2. In a large saucepan, heat fat/oil over medium heat if using cast iron, and medium-high heat if using stainless steel. Add one piece of cabbage to the pan. When it starts to sizzle a little, add the rest of the cabbage and apples, and sprinkle with a generous pinch or two of salt.
  3. Cook, stirring often, for about ten minutes, or until the cabbage and apples are soft to desired texture. If using a cast iron pan, you can also allow the soft cabbage and apples to brown slightly at the end for a lovely flavor.

 

Quick Miso Stir-Fry and “The 5 Tastes” (or is it 6?)

Quick Miso Stir-Fry and "The 5 Tastes" (or is it 6?)

Crisp-tender vegetables are sauteed in a lively and savory miso-ginger stir-fry sauce that is so out-of-this world you are going to want to eat it with a spoon. If you are stocked with basic Asian ingredients you might even be able to make this tonight!

The 5 Tastes

One thing I love about this dish is that it includes all of the 5 tastes. The 5 tastes refers to the collection of flavors we are able to distinguish. For each of these tastes we have a designated gustatory receptor – or unique section of the tongue that picks up the flavor.

  1. Sweet (bell peppers and, to an extent, sauteed onions and garlic)
  2. Sour (rice wine vinegar)
  3. Salty (tamari)
  4. Bitter (greens)
  5. Umami (miso, tamari)

I find that the more tastes that are represented in my meal, the more satisfied I am and the better I digest the food.

The more elusive tastes – Bitter & Umami

Bitter

Years ago, when I was reading up on Swedish bitters, I learned that the absence of one or more of the five tastes are thought to lead to a digestive imbalance. While sweet, sour and salty abound, the bitter taste is sorely lacking in the typical American diet. This is one reason that many people experience immediate relief from heartburn or bloating with Swedish bitters. This herbal concoction has medicinal qualities as well, but there is often a shift that happens as soon as it hits the tongue or is swallowed.

I’ve personally experienced this when taking Swedish bitters or having a sip of Becherovka (a famous digestif made in Czech Republic) after a heavy meal.

As my diet has become more balanced over the years, I have naturally included more bitter foods.

Quick Miso Stir-Fry and "The 5 Tastes" (or is it 6?) - The Nourishing Gourmet

Lacinato Kale

Here is a list of common bitter foods:

  • kale (lately I’m loving lacinato kale!)
  • dandelion greens
  • bitter melon
  • radishes
  • eggplant
  • dill
  • arugula
  • coffee
  • dark chocolate

Umami (as I best understand it)

 Umami, officially identified  in the early 1900’s, is described as a delicious savory flavor and it can not be made by simply combining any of the other four tastes. It is unique. Umami foods have a common denominator – the amino acid glutamine.

Glutamine is found naturally in many foods, including meats, dairy (especially aged cheese), tomatoes and seaweed.

When food is prepared in certain ways such as microbial fermentation and grilling, the amino acids can get rearranged and some of the glutamine can separate from the other aminos and become free glutamate. This can make food taste really good! And many of these foods have fantastic health benefits. But they might cause issues for some people if eaten in excess.

When the processing gets more severe (even so-called natural processing using enzymes or extremely high heat) the amount of free glutamate increases. When it binds to sodium in the food it becomes mono-sodium glutamate (MSG).

The most common source of umami in the American diet is probably MSG. But for many people, MSG can be unhealthy or even dangerous. When Kimi wrote about the food and behavior connection in children, she mentioned MSG as a chemical to which many children are sensitive. I definitely agree.

When my kids are eating more foods that contain MSG (it slips in from time to time), their appetite gets whacked and they begin craving processed foods. And since MSG can cross the blood brain barrier it can definitely affect behavior, in some people more than in others. A little while back, I wrote about MSG and the blood brain barrier as well as who is vulnerable and how to avoid it (it’s not as easy as scanning the label).

When trying to make a move away from processed foods, finding natural sources of umami is critical for success. The umami taste is so alluring that unless it is in the diet, we might be tempted to seek it out in unhealthy ways.

Here are some good natural sources of umami:

  • seafood
  • sea vegetables
  • miso
  • shiitaki mushrooms
  • savory broths
  • cultured foods such as sauerkraut
  • anchovy paste
  • hard cheeses
  • ketchup (here’s a good homemade one)

A sixth taste?

Now it looks like the 5 Tastes may be bumped up to 6. Good news – the newbie is fat! Research shows that we may have a taste receptor for fat (and I’m pretty sure that mine is disproportionately large).

Why is spicy not considered a taste?

Spicy is not actually a taste – it’s a sensation. A pain sensation. This makes me question my obsession with jalapenos!

Quick Miso Stir-Fry and "The 5 Tastes" (or is it 6?) - The Nourishing Gourmet

This sauce isn’t spicy. It includes a good dose of ginger, but it mellows as it cooks. I like to add crushed red peppers to my own serving.

Pictured above are fresh ginger ice cubes. (The bowl was made by my brother’s lovely girlfriend and artist Maria Lucia Londoño – isn’t it pretty?)

I had a bunch of ginger that was showing signs of turning, so I peeled and roughly chopped it and threw it in the blender with just enough water to cover it, then liquified it and poured it into an ice cube tray to freeze. I happen to have baby food trays with a lid, but regular ice cube trays would work just as well if you transfer the cubes to a freezer bag or Pyrex container once they are frozen.

The last time I made this stir-fry I just popped one of these ginger ice cubes into the pan right before adding the sauce. They also come in handy for green smoothies and soups. For a quick ginger tea you can drop a couple into boiling water and if you have time add a little raw honey and/or lemon.

I also use this technique for saving fresh herbs before they go bad.

I hope your family gets to enjoy this dish soon! Here’s a tip for getting kids to eat it: chop the vegetables small, mix them into rice and call it fried rice.

Quick Miso Stir-Fry (And How to Freeze Garlic, Ginger & Herbs)
 
Author:
Recipe type: Stir-Fry
Cuisine: Asian
Serves: 2-4
 
This quick & simple miso stir-fry is a perfect for a busy night.
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons miso (red or white)
  • 1 tablespoon tamari
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar or umeboshi plum vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 clove crushed garlic
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • ¼ cup warm water
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced into strips
  • 1 medium onion, quartered and sliced
  • 5 cups of greens (lacinato kale is pictured here)
  • 3 carrots, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or coconut oil for sauteing
Instructions
  1. Whisk together the sauce ingredients (everything except for the vegetables and olive oil).
  2. Heat the olive or coconut oil a large pan over medium heat.
  3. Stir-fry the pepper, onion and carrots, stirring occasionally until "crisp tender" (about 10 minutes).
  4. Add the greens and saute until tender to the bite.
  5. Add in the sauce and allow it to heat through gently (about 1 minute).
  6. Serve over rice or quinoa. Add chicken, shrimp or steak if you'd like!
Notes
I like to use olive oil when sauteing vegetables, but oftentimes I'll add a little water to the pan first (1/4 cup or so) to temper the heat since olive oil becomes unstable at high temperatures.