Onion Cheese Bites
Little bites of savory, cheesy goodness! A lovely appetizer in every sense as it tempts the appetites of our elderly parents, encouraging them to eat while providing good food.
‘Tis the season for food bloggers to write about entertaining. Recipes for family feasts, dinner parties, cookie exchanges, and office parties are cropping up all over the place.
At the same time, I’m looking at all the cocktail nibbles and small plates for ideas to tempt failing appetites. Rich’s mom, especially, finds a typical serving of most food to be overwhelming, but will try a nibble of this and a mouthful of that… She also no longer really tastes many flavors (a common problem for the aging) but enjoys sweet and spicy food – and party foods often emphasize those tastes. Meanwhile, I can give her cheese and nuts, sources of protein that still taste and feel like a treat, not something You Should Eat.
I’d seen a couple of mini cheese balls – and they looked wonderful! Perfect for a party (don’t you hate it when your cheese ball starts to look a bit too nibbled and sort of ratty?) great for a buffet (people don’t need to fuss with knives,) but also a lovely little one or two bite treat to pop in your mouth… And they all looked really delicious, but a bit more fussy than I can deal with right now.
But I’d made up a batch of my Onion Marmalade. If it sounds fussy, it’s really not – it takes time but not much attention until the end, especially since I made the vegetarian version, without bacon, this time. It freezes well, and it’s a great little homemade gift. And it is so delicious in dip, and served on crackers with cream cheese, that I thought it would be just as good in cream cheese. (If anything, even better, I discovered, because the flavors meld!) It tastes amazingly sweet, as well as all the umami flavor of the onions. If you have not made the marmalade – well, go ahead and make some, it’s terrific! But really, any caramelized onions will work, though the flavor is a bit less complex.
I didn’t want cream cheese alone. I wanted to add a bit more flavor and protein. These are not a major protein source, but right now with Mom I’m working on a few grams here and a few there… they add up. (And if I get her accustomed to eating and enjoying cheese bites, I should be able to vary recipes to increase protein.) When I made Roast Garlic Whipped Feta everyone else loved it, but the parents felt the feta was too dominant – so I used the same basic idea but reversed proportions. And for this, it worked perfectly. You don’t taste the feta as such, and the salt isn’t obvious, but it balances the sweetness of the onion marmalade perfectly.
Directions for Onion Cheese Bites
It’s super easy. Throw four ounces of feta in a food processor, whir a moment until crumbly. Add an eight ounce block of cream cheese. Now process until it all whips smooth, which may take two or three minutes – you sometimes get cheese clumping together and riding the blade, but it will smooth out. Now add the onion marmalade, and whir for another minute until it seems evenly distributed. I wouldn’t put it in earlier, you want a touch of texture, still, but this is enough to chop it up to spread smoothly.
Then scoop it all into a covered container, and refrigerate for at least an hour. Overnight is even better (and can be quite convenient, for the make ahead aspect.) The time helps the cheese firm up,and gives the flavor time to meld beautifully.
When you are ready to make the bites, chop pecans and put them in a dish. Make one to two inch balls of the cheese mixture – I use a cookie scoop to get them started. Then roll each in the nuts, and put them aside. I like to then give each ball another light roll with my fingers, to help firm it up a bit, and make the nuts stick better. Then put them back in the fridge until serving.
I do not recommend making the cheese bites more than a few hours in advance because the nuts soften a little and lose a bit of crunch. If you have to, though, you can… I made a double recipe to take to a potluck, but we had to cancel, and it took us a while to eat two dozen cheese bites… They still tasted good, but the crunch was missing.
I make them as finger food, but they are fairly soft. It’s not something I’d serve to walk around munching out of hand, and a toothpick will pull right out. You can, of course, also make larger balls and serve them with a knife to spread on crackers in a more traditional manner. (Even give each guest one slightly larger cheese ball with a cocktail knife and crackers on a plate…) But really, it’s all about the flavor – little bites of onion cheesy goodness!
Obviously the recipe contains both dairy and nuts. I used the vegetarian version of Onion Marmalade, but my base recipe includes bacon – if you use that version, make sure people know it includes pork.
I used full fat cream cheese. The parents enjoy the creaminess, and in their nineties, we’re more concerned with making sure they eat enough food than with possible long term results of fat consumption. If you cook for someone for whom fat is an issue (gall bladder issues, for instance) there are lower fat versions of cream cheese. The recipe has not been tested with them, but I think they should essentially work (though you will lose some creaminess.)
The bites are soft and moist, and both parents can eat them easily. (They do not have any issues with the nuts.)
Onion Cheese Bites
- 4 oz feta cheese
- 8 oz cream cheese
- 1/4 c Onion Marmalade
- 3/4 c pecans chopped
- Process feta in a food processor until crumbly. Add cream cheese, and process until smoothly blended. Add Onion Marmalade and pulse until onion is well distributed.
- Scoop into a covered container and chill in the refrigerator at least an hour.
- Chop pecans until they resemble breadcrumbs. Place on a dish.
- Form small balls of the cheese mixture. Roll in pecans to cover. Roll again, lightly, to press the nuts into the cheese.
- Refrigerate until ready to serve.