Before we get started, I hope everyone had a frightful, delightful Halloween! Here is the jack-o’-lantern I carved for us. I made the mouth smaller than I had drawn it to maintain the shell’s structural integrity. Turns out there was a bit of rot inside. We can’t have Jack collapsing in on himself!
Now on to food matters. The cocktail hour is my favorite part of the day. Glen is almost always home by then and we can relax and catch up on how we’ve each spent our time since he left for work. If I’ve already made a start on dinner, it’s baking in the oven or simmering on the stove. We’ll put our feet up and sit back with a highball or something a little more special I’ve mixed up. (And thanks to The Daughter’s cocktail-themed birthday presents, those somethings are getting even special-er!) We’ll usually have some nibblies too, to tide us over until we have dinner at 7:45 or so.
An aside: I love the word "nibblies." I first came across it years ago in a Dan Brown novel, of all places, and was charmed by it. My phone had never heard of it and neither had Microsoft Word, but it's approved by dictionaries such as this one:
I like the example they give, too. It’s as if they know me!
So far I’ve shared quite a few recipes for cocktails with you, but only two recipes for nibblies to accompany them: Savory Cheese Cookies and Jalapeño Poppers. Both of those are wonderful, but require a little planning, preparation and baking time. My Cheddar Spread, however, is quick and easy. Mix up the ingredients and you’re done. I invented it one morning before our dear friends Karen and Jim came over for an evening of Glen’s smoked brisket and spareribs. We’d be starting with a carefully curated selection of Jim’s sophisticated cocktails (does anything beat a guest who always arrives with an icy thermos in each hand and his own cocktail shaker?), and we needed something to nibble while imbibing. Et voilà.
This spread is delicious, with a bit of zip to it, and you won’t be paying ridiculous prices for tiny packages of seasoned cheeses with French names (at least one of which never came within 1,000 miles of France). So, for a little more variety at the cocktail hour, here is:
1 lb. grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
8 oz. softened cream cheese
½ c. good beer
1 ½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 generous Tbsp. prepared horseradish
2 tsp. Colman’s Mustard Powder
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 Tbsp. minced fresh chives (or a mix of green scallion tops and Italian parsley)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Mix ingredients in food processor and refrigerate the spread, covered, for an hour or two for flavors to develop. Before serving, soften it at room temperature for a few minutes until spreadable. Serve with your favorite crackers.
• Be careful not to over-salt, since most of these ingredients are well-seasoned just the way they are. I start with a ¼ tsp. of salt and cautiously increase the amount if I need to. This, of course, involves tasting the cheese spread (on the crackers I’ll be using, because their salt content makes a difference), possibly several times. Oh, darn!
• By “good beer,” I mean something with a more assertive flavor than America’s best-selling light beer. I’ve never gone so far as to make the spread with stout or porter, but who knows? Guinness, for instance, might be great in it. Personally, I’d be careful with IPAs, though. If you decide a beer is too bitter to enjoy drinking, chances are you won’t like it in your cheese spread, either.
• “Prepared horseradish.” There are a lot of brands out there. Atlantic, easily available at my grocery story, is the one I’m liking now, after years of trying various bland disappointments, some of which required me to use most of a jar to get that horseradish fire. Atlantic has a satisfying zing while still allowing you to breathe. Then there’s Atomic horseradish (available from Amazon), which is in a league of its own. Use it incautiously and it will light your hair on fire. A “generous Tbsp.” of that would be at least 1 Tbsp. too much.
• One more thing: This spread isn’t just for the cocktail hour. It’s also wonderful at breakfast time. Spread it on a toasted bagel or sturdy piece of bread and run it under the broiler until it gets bubbly.
Cracker, Jack? (hee!)