Friday, November 27, 2015

American Ingredients Explained

Bill the Butcher obviously wins Comment of the Week for his response to my annual posting of my grandma's Sweetheart Balls recipe:

In case I need to remind you, Bill is from goddamn India, which somehow has managed to inherit both the sophistication of British culture and Britain's loopy and charming ignorance of how things operate in the Colonies. Plus, something about thousands of years of its own culture, yada yada. Whatever, we're talking about 'Murica here.

So for the benefit of Mr. The Butcher and any other dirty foreigners who read this blog (I seem to have a large contingent of Ukrainian readers/spammers), let me break down the ingredients for Sweetheart Balls, which apparently are much more uniquely American than I ever dreamed.

Cream cheese. Um, this is a tangy, soft, white cheese that is sold in three- or eight-ounce blocks. Essentially the only brand is Philadelphia, although you can buy some crappy generic or store brand if you hate America. Cream cheese is used to make dips, pies, frosting for carrot cakes, and of course, Sweetheart Balls. Comes in many different flavors, the better to be spread on bagels.

Please do not make me explain bagels and cream cheese.
Maraschino cherries. I guess the Rat Pack never made it to India. You can NOT have an American holiday of any stripe without these. Essentially, they're cherries that are "pickled" in a brine of sugar syrup and red food coloring. Here in the civilized world, we put them in cocktails, on cakes and cookies, on pineapple upside-down cake, on glazed hams, and on ice-cream sundaes. They're sold in jars, and the juice can be used to flavor your favorite drink and/or ice cream syrup. Read about their history here.

Graham crackers. Seriously? Every child in America eats graham crackers in kindergarten. I can't imagine an American citizen not smiling at the mention of graham crackers. They are crackers made of graham flour, frequently flavored with honey and/or cinnamon.

Literally everyone in the U.S. knows and
loves these.

Graham crackers can be eaten straight out of the box, or they can be made into S'mores (don't even start, foreign devils), or crushed to make graham-cracker pie crusts or, of course, Sweetheart Balls. Graham crackers are everything that is good and pure about America. How dare you not be familiar with them, you terrorist bastard.

Canned pineapple. Since we are God's Chosen Nation, we can of course obtain pineapple in myriad forms. We can buy them fresh, frozen, canned. And not just canned: We can buy canned pineapple chunks, rings, tidbits, and in crushed form. The latter is useful for baking applications (mmmmm, my mom's pineapple cake), as well as Sweetheart Balls. Fun fact: Dole is the dominant pineapple brand in America, and the Dole family is mostly responsible for destroying the native Hawaiian culture on the islands where pineapples originate. Enjoy!

So there you have it. If you're a freaking Godless terrorist foreigner like Bill the Butcher, I hope this post has been edifying and helpful. If you're a true-blue, red-blooded American patriot, I hope your freedom-loving heart grew three sizes today. Bill: Convert or die, baby. I see no other options.

Someday I will make you Sweetheart Balls, and you will fall to your knees and sing "God Bless America." Get ready for that, you heathen terrorist bastard.

I love you.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Sweetheart Post 2015

Those of you who have been around here awhile know that every Thanksgiving I share my grandma's recipe for Sweetheart Balls. If you're new here, you don't what the hell I'm talking about. But you will in a minute.

This year I have much to be thankful for. It's been a tough freaking year, not gonna lie, but I've arrived in a pretty good place just in time to be grateful as shit to my family, my friends, and my beloved Drunkards. Today I remember Gran on her birthday and share my annual post with all of you in her honor.


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Maybe you're one of those perfect people who has had all their side dishes prepared for three days, along with charming little placard holders shaped like baby turkeys, and now you're just waiting to fire up the chainsaw to create the ice sculpture of Miles Standish that will adorn your perfect dining room table.

Well, fuck you.

SORRY. That is not in the spirit of abundance and gratitude, is it?

OK, to make up for it, I have a gift for you. This is my secret weapon, the reason I have no fear about creating a successful Thanksgiving dinner. I give it to you because it's one of my favorite things in the whole world besides monkey art.

This is my grandmother's recipe for Sweetheart Balls.

Last year's batch.

I always think of Gran this time of year. Her birthday was on November 25, just one day after Precocious Daughter's. In fact she missed PDaughter's birth by just a few months, passing away literally a week before I found out I was expecting. I remember her best in the kitchen, making holiday meals with a charming apron tied around her waist. I especially remember Sweetheart Balls. They're the best thing ever.

This recipe not complicated, it's not fancy. It's simply not Thanksgiving without it. My grandmother's Sweetheart Balls always graced our holiday tables as far back as I can remember, and in recent years I've happily won converts among the next generation and many friends. And to honor Gran, I'm going to share her recipe with you. Because it's so yummy, and so easy.

Let me emphasize: You can make this recipe. I don't care if you're a complete culinary idiot, if you can't melt butter, if "peel back film to vent" constitutes extensive preparation in your vocabulary. You can make Sweetheart Balls. You can serve them as an appetizer, a side dish, or a dessert, and they will make you look good. This is my gift to you. Even if you don't make them on Thanksgiving, make them sometime. You'll love them, and I'll love that people are enjoying my grandma's special treat.

So Happy Thanksgiving. Count your blessings, appreciate your riches (especially the ones that aren't actually monetary), and if you are so fortunate, eat 'til you burst.

Sweetheart Balls

8 oz. cream cheese
1 small can crushed pineapple
10-12 maraschino cherries (more or less)
1 sleeve (give or take) of graham crackers

Let the cream cheese sit out for 30 minutes or so to soften but not get too gooey. Drain the pineapple (save the juice*). Cut each cherry into about a dozen small bits - don't worry if they're sitting in a small pool of cherry juice. Put the graham crackers into a plastic zipper bag and use a rolling pin or tall can to crush them into coarse, not quite powdery, crumbs.

Combine the cream cheese, pineapple, and cherries with a spoon or your hands to make a lumpy, pasty mess. Hands are way more fun, but make sure they're clean, people. The cherry juice should turn the mixture a very pale pink, or add more juice to taste. Pinch off enough of the mixture to form into a 1-inch ball, then roll in the graham cracker crumbs. Place on a plate and repeat until you have used up all of the cream cheese (this recipe should make about three dozen balls and of course can be doubled or tripled or whateverpled). Crush additional graham crackers if you run out of crumbs before you run out of cream cheese.

Cover with plastic wrap and chill for a couple of hours or overnight. To serve, set the plate out and encourage indiscriminate indulgence.


*Bonus recipe: When you drain the pineapple, reserve the juice. Add a little bit of maraschino cherry juice and a few drops of vanilla extract. Pour into a glass of any size you wish. Fill with vodka. Drink.