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Recipes: Cheese Please

These cheese-centric dishes are sure to make you smile

When you hear that a casserole or a dip is cheesy, that’s good. You happily pay more for extra cheese on a pizza. When someone wants you to smile for a photo, they tell you to say “cheese,” knowing that the word alone will bring such joy to your heart that it will shine through on your face. (And also, the way you must move your mouth to form the word forces it in the direction of a smile. But the word “fleas” would do the same thing, and you don’t hear photographers using that prompt.)

The point is, the word cheese and its variations are often positive. Until they’re not. If someone tells you a lampshade, television show, outfit or anything not food-related is cheesy, that’s negative. So how and when did this use of the word enter our lexicon?

A quick Internet search reveals several possibilities, but most trace its origins back to England in the mid- to late-1800s, when the word “cheese” moved from slang denoting wealth to a derogatory word for something or someone that was “showy” or “gaudy.”

Over time, its meaning has broadened. Folks today can use it as described above, but also as a synonym for tacky, sappy, inauthentic and more. And the term is highly subjective. What one person deems cheesy could just as likely be adorable, sentimental, fashionable or funny to someone else.

No matter what things outside of the food world earn the title “cheesy” in your book, when it comes to eating, we flip the adjective back to affirmative, so much so it’s a safe bet that most of us don’t just say “cheese, please,” but “more cheese, please.”

And as our taste buds know and some of our reader-submitted recipes show, you really can’t have too much cheese.


Cook of the month

Harper Reed, Tallapoosa River EC

Ten-year-old Harper Reed has always been interested in cooking, thanks to his family. “We have a small organic farm and grow a lot of our own food,” his mom Anna says. “And his dad does most of the cooking and always has the kids in the kitchen helping out.”

His Cheese Buttons are treats he developed while cooking with his grandmother, and they offer a fresh take (and shape!) on the classic cheese straw with the addition of Rice Krispies. “He just loves them, and we all love the crunch from the Krispies,” Anna says. “It’s different.”

Harper knew the recipe was a hit with his loved ones, but he didn’t think about submitting it until his mom suggested he practice his typing skills. “I thought he could type up some recipes to brush up, and if they were typed, why not send some in to the magazine.” So he did.

He was both surprised and thrilled to be named Cook of the Month. “He’s so excited,” Anna said. “It means a lot.”

Cheese Buttons

 

  • 1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated, at room temperature
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • ½ pound butter, melted
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper
  • 2 cups Rice Krispies
  • Sprinkle of salt
  • ¼ cup chopped pecans

Sprinkle flour on cheese and pour on melted butter. Add red pepper. Add Rice Krispies to mix, and knead by hand until well blended. Roll into marble-sized balls and place on greased cookie sheet. Flatten with fork. Sprinkle with salt and chopped pecans. Bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes. Cut oven off and do not open door for two hours. If they become soft they can be heated in a 200-degree oven for a few minutes.


Tangy Cheese Ring

Tangy Cheese Ring prepared by Allison Griffin
  • 1 pound grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • ¾ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon garlic juice or garlic paste
  • 1 small jar of strawberry preserves

Mix all ingredients and make into a circle and pour the preserves in the middle. Serve with your favorite crackers.

Jill Coale, Wiregrass EC


Stuffed Mushrooms

  • 1 package of mushrooms, stemmed
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 4 slices bacon, cooked and chopped
  • 1/3 cup mozzarella cheese
  • Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Clean mushrooms. Place them in a dish, cup side up, and drizzle with olive oil. Roast in oven 12 minutes. Microwave the cream cheese until soft and mix in bacon. Remove mushrooms from oven, sprinkle with salt and pepper, turn them over and salt and pepper again. Stuff mushrooms with cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and top with mozzarella cheese. Bake 5 more minutes.

Summer Watson, Cullman EC


Cheese Frenchies

  • 12 slices white light bread
  • 6 teaspoons mayonnaise
  • 12 slices cheese
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 package cracker crumbs
  • 2 cups cooking oil

Spread mayonnaise on six slices of the bread. Place two slices of cheese on top of the bread and top with the remaining bread slices. Cut each sandwich into triangles. In a mixing bowl, beat egg with milk. Dip each triangle into the milk-egg mixture and then dredge in cracker crumbs. Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. Fry each triangle until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

Julia C. Fleming, Southern Pine EC


Cheddar Salsa Biscuit Bites

  • 1 2/3 cups self-rising flour
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup salsa
  • ¼ cup margarine, melted
  • ¼ cup water

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Generously spray large cookie sheet with vegetable spray. In a large bowl, combine flour and cheese; mix well. Add salsa, melted margarine and water; stir until just combined. On a lightly floured surface, knead dough gently just until smooth. Press or roll out dough to 12-inch by 6-inch rectangle. With sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut into 2-inch by 1-inch strips. With thin spatula, place strips about ½ inch apart on greased cookie sheet. Bake 11-13 minutes or until light golden brown. Serve warm. Yields 36 biscuit bites.

Peggy Key, North Alabama EC


Three Cheese Fondue

  • 8 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 8 ounces shredded Swiss cheese
  • 8 ounces shredded Gruyere cheese
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • Dash hot sauce
  • 1 12-ounce bottle of good beer
  • Pinch of salt and pepper

For dipping:
Granny Smith apple slices
Soft German pretzels
Sourdough bread pieces

Combine all ingredients. Heat over low heat, stirring until melted through. Keep warm and dip apples, pretzels and bread pieces.

Kirk Vantrease, Cullman EC


Mini Pizzas

  • 1 six-count package English muffins
  • 2 cups shredded cheese, any kind
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped fine
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt

Slice each muffin in half and place on an ungreased, foil-lined baking sheet. In large bowl, hand mix the cheese, onions, garlic salt and mayonnaise. Evenly divide the mixture onto each muffin half. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until bubbly. Remove from oven. Cut each muffin into four pieces and serve.

Linda G. Morton, Pioneer EC


South of the Border Cheese Pasta

South of the Border Cheese Pasta prepared by Lenore Vickrey
  • 1 pound pasta (can use elbow, penne, ziti or your favorite macaroni)
  • 1 16-ounce jar cheese sauce
  • 2 cups tomato salsa (mild, medium or hot)
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, cover and set aside. In large saucepan, combine cheese sauce, salsa, and ½ cup Parmesan cheese. Heat through, stirring until well mixed. Add cooked pasta to cheese mixture, stir. Put in casserole dish and sprinkle with remaining ½ cup Parmesan cheese. Bake 15 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Janice Bracewell, Covington EC


Coming up in October…Pies!

Please send us your original recipes, developed by you or family members, and not ones copied from a book or magazine. You may adapt a recipe from another source by changing as little as the amount of one ingredient. Cook of the Month winners will receive $50, and may win “Cook of the Month” only once per calendar year.

Submit your recipe here.

Editor’s Note: Alabama Living’s recipes are submitted by our readers. They are not kitchen-tested by a professional cook or registered dietician. If you have special dietary needs, please check with your doctor or nutritionist before preparing any recipe.

The benefits of air source heat pumps

Question:

It looks like we’ll be needing to replace our furnace soon, and we’re wondering if a heat pump would help us save some money. Do you have any suggestions?

Answer:

An electric air source heat pump can be a good alternative to a furnace system that runs on propane or fuel oil. A heat pump is also a cost-effective alternative to electric resistance heat that is used in electric furnaces and in baseboard and wall units.

 

How heat pumps work

In the summer, an air source heat pump acts as an air conditioner (AC) that draws heat from your home’s air and transfers it outside. In the winter, the system’s direction is reversed so that heat is pulled from the outside air and moved into your home.

The heat pump has two major components: the condenser (also called the compressor) that circulates refrigerant through the system; and an air handler that distributes the conditioned air. Most heat pumps are split systems, with the condenser located outside and the air handler inside. A packaged system contains both components in one unit that is placed outside your home. Heat pumps usually distribute the hot or cold air through the duct system. Ductless mini-splits, which can serve as many as four rooms, will be covered in next month’s column.

In the past, heat pumps weren’t efficient enough to work in colder climates. In recent years, however, technology has advanced to make them viable in climates with long periods of sub-freezing temperature, such as the Northeast U.S.

If your old furnace has an air conditioner (AC) attached, replacing both the heating and cooling system with the all-in-one solution of a heat pump might produce significant cost savings. If you are currently cooling with window units, or have an older central AC, moving to an air source heat pump could reduce your summer energy bills.

Heat pumps not only reduce energy costs, they can also eliminate the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and problems that can occur with on-site storage of propane or heating oil.

Heat pumps must work harder to extract heat as the outside temperature drops. At some point the heat pump switches to resistance mode, which operates the same way a toaster or an electric baseboard heater works. If your area has very cold winters, you should consider a dual fuel system, which utilizes a heat pump along with a gas or propane furnace.

Selecting and installing

If you live in a cold climate, look for a unit with a higher HSPF rating, which measures heating efficiency; if you live in a warm climate, you probably want to focus more on the SEER rating, which measures cooling efficiency. The minimum standard heat pump is SEER 14 and HSPF 8.22. An easy way to compare options is to look for the ENERGY STAR® label. This indicates the unit is at least 15 SEER and 8.5 HSPF3. Visit www.energystar.gov to learn more about equipment, installation and qualified contractors.

How much can a heat pump reduce your energy costs? This depends upon the size and efficiency of your home, local energy prices and local climate. You can find calculators online that can help you predict energy savings. One entry with sample data found that the cost of heating in South Carolina, using a new heat pump and national average fuel costs, was less than half the cost of heating with a typical propane furnace or an electric resistance system. 

Energy auditors can predict energy savings with greater precision, and they can offer advice on choosing a specific brand and size of the unit. More importantly, energy auditors can suggest other ways to improve comfort or reduce energy use such as duct sealing or insulating the building envelope.

Your local HVAC dealer, if they have heat pump experience, can be very helpful. Many heat pumps are not installed correctly, so be sure to ask how they will ensure a quality installation. Contact your local electric co-op to find out what they recommend. They may even offer rebates, free audits or discounted rates for electric heat.

This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency.  For more information on heat pumps, please visit: www.collaborativeefficiency.com/energytips.

Patrick Keegan writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives. Write to energytips@collaborativeefficiency.com for more information.