In England a lot of socialising is done at venues where catering is provided. In Australia where homes and gardens tend to be large and gatherings also tend to be large, as well as very regular, the custom of Bring a Plate does make a lot of sense.
I do love this Aussie tradition, as much as I love the Aussie Sundowner, however, at this busy and social time of year I have had to call in a coping strategy. Here it is:
Cream Cheese Gems
The basic concept is that you add some flavour and spice, fruits, nuts, herbs and other artisan cheeses to a cream cheese base to make a cheese dip. The consistency of the dip is firm but soft and lends itself to being moulded into a shape. It is then good to coat with something rich in colour, taste and texture, such as nuts, dried fruit or herbs.
Balls are a great shape, but took me a while to master. Logs are much easier. A mound anyone should be able to manage. I have fantasised about hearts and stars…but haven’t got there yet.
I think having some fun with the presentation of food is part of the magic of a celebration. I particularly love how children react to surprising, colourful or playfully crafted plates.
The artisan cheeses are all from West Australia, but I’ve had trouble finding a West Australian cream cheese.
Cream Cheese Gems work really well with crudite. Crudite is the fancy pants term that I like to use for raw vegetables because I think raw vegetables are so fabulous that they need a fancy pants name.
Recipe for Cream Cheese Gems
This recipe makes 3 variations of 9 balls, perfect for 3 or more different bring a plate occasions. (The balls keep well in the fridge for about 3 days and on day of making can be frozen). Here in lies the real magic!
250g Cream Cheese
5 splashes of Tabasco sauce
1 tsp of Worcestershire Sauce
Salt and Pepper to taste
150g of unsalted butter
2 tbsp of lemon juice
Variation 1: 75g Red Leicester, 75g mature cheddar, 1 tbsp of sweet chutney (I used a delicious local loquat), 1 cup of dried cranberries chopped for coating.
Variation 2: 150g goats cheese, 1 spring onion finely chopped. 1 cup of parsley chopped for coating.
Variation 3: 100g blue cheese (softened), 1 shallot, 1 tsp of maple syrup or brandy (both optional). 1 cup of chopped walnuts for coating.
Method for Base Mix
Soften and combine cream cheese, butter, lemon juice, spices and seasoning.
Mix well until smooth.
*You can do this by hand or in an electric mixer.
Method for variations:
- Divide the mixture into three separate bowls.
- Mix in the remainder ingredients for the three variations, minus the coating.
*For the blue cheese variation I use a larger ratio of cream cheese.
Shaping into balls:
- Place each variation of the mixture into a small bowl or tea cup lined with clad wrap.
- Twist the end of the wrap and pop out the cream cheese. Mould the contents into the desired shape, using your hands.
- Roll around on a plate of the desired coating. Coat the ball.
- Place into the fridge for 10 minutes or so to stiffen.
This recipe makes about nine medium sized shapes, which can be served immediately, stored in the fridge for 3 day, or frozen. So making up a batch this size should do 3 occasions.
To serve –
Place on a platter with crackers of your choice. Red beetroot chips look very festive and taste great with the blue cheese gem. For Christmas in Australia we are lucky enough to have a rich bounty of salad vegetables in season. Cucumber and carrots sliced on an angle make a wonderfully nutritional alternative to a wheat or rice cracker. Raw vegetables are fresh, colourful, crunchy, healthy and delicious. Let’s celebrate the crudite this season!
This platter used delicious spray free , local vegetables from Denmark Organic & Wholefoods, Denmark WA.