Saturday, October 10, 2009

No-Frills Cheese Balls

One of my classmates in my Children's Literature class has been telling me to read Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes for a few weeks now, and I finally went out and picked it up at the library the other day.  I'm usually pretty wary of a book when people say that it's "one of my favorite books ever," mostly because it's rare that I'll actually enjoy it with such high expectations set.  But this book is an exception.  I love it.  The story is great, the characters are believable and fun, and the illustrations add a lot to the story.  That's one of the ways you know it's a great picture book: do the pictures take over the story and make the words unnecessary?  Can the words stand alone without any illustrations at all?  If the reading experience is richer with both pictures and words, they did a good job.

Anyway.  The story in Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse is fairly straight-forward. Lilly is a young mouse with a personality the size of Texas (a bit like Eloise or Olivia), and she loves school.  She loves her classroom and her building and the way the chalk squeaks and the way everyone gets their very own desk, and  mostly she loves her teacher, Mr. Slinger, who is the coolest teacher ever.  Without spoiling too much, I can tell you that Lilly is mean to her teacher and feels awful about it.  Along with an apology and a note from her parents, she brings her father's famous No-Frills Cheese Balls with her to school and gives them to Mr. Slinger.  Because she is sorry, all is forgiven.  And cheese balls don't hurt either.

I got the impression that the cheese balls were crunchy snacks, not soft balls rolled in nuts like you see at holiday parties.  I couldn't find a recipe for crunchy cheese balls, so I adapted a recipe for cheese straws to suit my needs.

No-Frills Cheese Balls
1/2 cup butter, softened
4 cups shredded cheese (I used a mix of cheddar and Monterey Jack)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup water (may not be needed)

1. Preheat oven to 400.  Bring the butter and cheese to room temperature. 
2. In a large bowl, cream the butter and cheese until it's a smooth mass.
3. Gradually beat in the flour and salt.
4. Add water slowly, as needed, until the dough is sticky and holds together.
5. Roll dough into 1-inch balls and place on a lightly-greased or parchment-paper-covered cookie sheet.  Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the tops are just brown.  They will continue to cook for a few minutes out of the oven, so you don't want to make them perfectly golden brown in the oven, or they will be overdone in the end.

The taste of these cheese balls is remarkably like Cheez-Its.  The original recipe said that a little cayenne pepper sprinkled on top would be a tasty addition, but considering that Lilly is a very young mouse, I decided to leave it off my version.  She might not like it spicy.  Besides, I wasn't sure if pepper would count as a "frill."

I had it in my head, with this blog, to start out with relatively well-known books and authors, but even if every single person asks me, "what's that from?", at least I know I'm spreading the word on a great book (and the cheese balls taste awesome, let's be honest).  Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse isn't exactly obscure, but it isn't (yet) a classic, so I was on the fence about posting this one.  Let me know what you think, though, because I have so many great ideas from books that people may not have heard of, either that have been recommended, or that I found on the shelf at the library, or that I've read here or there.

And incidentally, if you haven't read any of Kevin Henkes's books, I envy the fun you're going to have when you read your first one.


  1. post any you like-it will give people choices and fun new adventures. I'm always up for a good picture book and my youngest is almost 20!

  2. Thanks for bringing great children's books to our attention. I'm always at a loss as to what is "good" when I take the twins to the library so we end up grabbing any ol' book.

  3. I am a high school librarian in VA. Love your blog and recipes. I plan to try these cheese balls soon. Another librarian in our county passed your blog along to all of us.

  4. I love how this is getting around! A few people have asked me, "do you mind if I send this to a friend of mine?" Mind? No! The more the merrier!

    I'm glad you enjoy it... and I hope enjoy the cheese balls, too. :)

  5. Perfect! A recipe for no frills cheese balls! How wonderful! I am linking to you if it's okay. I love meeting new book loving friends.

  6. About how many cheeseballs does this make?