December 20, 2023

Sausage Balls and "Pimena 'N Cheese"

Sausage Balls and "Pimena 'N Cheese"

Growing up, we were fortunate enough to be able to spend every Christmas with both sets of grandparents. We would spend Christmas Eve with my dad's parents and then Christmas Day with my mom's parents. The Christmas Eve festivities on my dad’s side often started early; I would usually spend the night before because all of my cousins would be in town for the holidays…I wouldn't dare want to miss any action!

The main event was Christmas Eve dinner which was followed by gathering around the tree to open presents. I would wake up early with my grandmother who would immediately start cooking. We didn't have any proper meals per se until dinner. Instead, my grandmother would present an impressive tableau of snacks around their breakfast room table. There would be copious amounts of sweets like her homemade fudge and divinity, Martha Washington balls, cheese balls, "trash" (homemade Chex mix), plus so much more. Two of my favorites were perennial staples- sausage balls and pimiento cheese, or as we would say, "pimena 'n cheese."

Pimiento cheese was a year-round staple in their refrigerator. You could always count on being able to open the fridge and take out a tub of the homemade goodness to make a sandwich with, or snack. During Christmas, Mamaw would often stuff celery sticks with it, which provides a cool crunch plus creamy goodness. If you asked her for her recipe, she would say,

"Oh gosh, I have no idea. You know I can't tell you how much of anything I use. I just make it." That she did, and it was delicious.

It's funny, when I moved to New York from Mississippi, I assumed pimiento cheese was a staple in everyone's diet. Boy was I wrong. The first time I hosted friends I decided to make a batch to serve with crackers. I was stunned that I could not find jarred pimentos in any grocery store - no joke. I had to pivot to buying roasted red peppers. It's not the same.

As an aside, in the beginning, I was also not able to find Velveeta, Ro-tel tomatoes, Jimmy Dean sausage, and many other Southern staples necessary for a proper pantry. Times have changed there, and Southern food has become quite prevalent, so pimiento cheese is no longer a novelty, really.

Anywho, the other staple in our Christmas Eve daytime tableau was sausage balls. Sausage balls may be one of the easiest things to make and they are good, like really, really good. They have three ingredients - pork sausage (hot or mild), Bisquick and cheddar cheese. You just combine all three, roll them into balls and throw them into the oven for about 20 minutes.

Sausage balls are hard to describe - it's like a bready, cheesy meatball. And you can't eat just one or two, or five. You just keep going and going. They are great for breakfast, tailgating, cocktail parties, and every other occasion that requires food. My good friend Keith Meacham and her husband would host an annual Christmas cocktail party at their apartment in New York with a guest list that included many of the media elite, and she would always have sausage balls (and had Jimmy Dean sausage shipped from Mississippi!) and they were always scarfed up by the fancies.

This Sunday afternoon we had our annual street block party. I decided my contribution would be sausage balls and "pimena 'n cheese." Now being in Houston, I was certain everyone would be completely familiar with both. They weren't. I felt like I was back in New York all over again. Many knew of pimiento cheese, but they were fascinated by the sausage balls. I love when that happens, and I love that I could spend that day with some of the warm memories of Christmas Eve at my grandparent's house.

Below are the recipes for both. For the pimiento cheese, I really am like my grandmother. It's never the same each time I make it. I'm going to give some general guidelines of how I like it but feel free to alter it to your taste. For extra gluttony, try halving a sausage ball and spreading pimiento cheese on it. You won't regret it.

Pimiento Cheese

1/2 lb grated sharp cheddar cheese (block grated is best, but you can use bagged shredded in a pinch)
1/2 lb grated mild cheddar cheese
1 7oz jar diced pimientos
Hellman's Mayonnaise (or Duke’s)
Tabasco sauce
Worcestershire sauce
Garlic powder
Salt & Pepper, to taste

Combine cheeses and jarred pimientos. Some drain the pimientos before adding, but I add them with the juice. Then add mayonnaise. This is where I can't give you proportions. I just add until it becomes creamy. Some like a drier pimiento cheese and some more creamy. Add to your liking. Stir together until well mixed. I then add a few shakes of garlic powder, perhaps three to four dashes of Worcestershire sauce, and two to three dashes of Tabasco sauce, followed by salt and pepper to taste.

Voila! You've made "pimena 'n cheese." Serve with crackers, pretzels, celery or toast points. You can't beat a pimiento cheese sandwich either.

Sausage Balls

1 lb. pork sausage, hot or mild (preferably Jimmy Dean)
1 lb. grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 cups Bisquick

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all three ingredients and then get ready to get your hands dirty. Mix with your (clean) hands until all is completely combined. Line a cookie sheet with tin foil and then roll balls from the mixture to the size of a walnut. Place separately on a cookie sheet and then bake for 20-25 minutes.

Easy, right? You will love them. Some people like to jazz the recipe up by doing things like subbing Red Lobster Cheddar Bay biscuit mix for Bisquick or adding in parmesan cheese. I say don't mess with a good thing, but feel free to experiment.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays! I hope you love these delicious gems as much as I do.