One of the biggest challenges of writing my regular newspaper column is party food. That's mainly, I confess, because I'm a bit of a broken record when it comes to putting out a party spread. I butter a pound or two of pecans, toss them with salt and roast them; grate a pound or so of cheddar cheese and stir it into a batch of pimiento cheese; and make some sausage balls — or if I've been particularly proactive, I pull some out of the freezer to bake. Then I call it a day.
Coming up with a different menu that's clever and interesting and doesn't have any of those things on it is always a struggle. Know what I mean? Year after year, football season after football season, things get into a rut.
It's not that I mind cooking. In fact, I love it. But coming up with something new and inspirational leaves me in a quandary at times. It's so easy to stick with what you know people like and expect.
But I love gathering with friends this time of year. And while I have not, in more than 40 years of hosting and attending parties, tired of good pecans, pimiento cheese and sausage balls, at least one thing that's new and different is always welcome; and, as the weather cools, so is something warm. And nothing answers that quite like a golden-crusted, lusciously gooey baked cheese dip.
If you're looking for a great little addition to your fall party tables, look no further. This dip is loaded with calories, but it's worth every single bite. Make this dip all the more decadent by adding some crumbled bacon on top during the last few minutes of baking.
My motto when it comes to party fare: Walk off those calories tomorrow.
Baked Three-Cheese Dip
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
6 ounces (1 1/2 cups) extra-sharp cheddar, grated
2 ounces (1/2 cup) grated parmesan cheese
3-4 scallions, finely chopped
Dry mustard powder
Crumbled bacon bits, optional
Crackers, corn chips or pita chips
Sprinkle the minced garlic with salt and, using the flat side of a knife blade, rub it against the salt into a smooth paste. Whip the cream cheese with a mixer at medium speed. Set aside 1/3 cup of the cheddar, and fold the remainder into the cream cheese. Fold in the parmesan cheese, garlic paste and scallions. Add a pinch of mustard powder, and season it to taste with nutmeg, cayenne, paprika and a little more salt (if needed). Mix well.
Transfer the dip mixture to a small baking dish, smooth the top, and sprinkle the reserved cheddar and more paprika over it. Cover and refrigerate until at least 45 minutes before baking.
When ready to bake — an hour or so before you plan to serve it — put it on a rimmed baking sheet and let it sit at room temperature for 15-30 minutes while you position a rack in the center of the oven and heat it to 375 degrees. Bake until bubbly and lightly browned on top, 20-25 minutes. If you want to, add some crumbled bacon or bacon bits to the top during the last 5 minutes of baking. Don't let it bake too long or it'll just go oily and take on a harsh, sharp taste. Let it settle 5-10 minutes and serve it with crackers, pita chips or scoop-type corn chips.
NEW AT FRESH MARKET
While we're on the subject of party fare, The Fresh Market is offering its newest meal deal, The Party Meal, through the end of October. And the best part? No reheating required. Just unpack and serve.
The Party Meal, priced at $40, has several options: You can choose either a chicken salad slider tray or the ham-and-cheese slider tray. Then select either a tray of pepperoni pinwheels or Caprese appetizers. Also included with each orders are 16 ounces of Fresh Market guacamole, a 9-ounce bag of Zack's Mighty Organic Tortilla Chips and 18 chocolate chip mini cookies.
So your party is in the bag — literally. Order 24 hours in advance online at shop.thefreshmarket.com.
In addition, the specialty food retailer has six new meal kits that are perfect for two.
— Chicken Parmesan: A mouthwatering medley of flavors, from crispy parmesan-crusted chicken to sweet and savory marinara sauce.
— Creamy Gorgonzola Steak: Sirloin steak smothered in a blue cheese cream sauce.
— Madeira Steak: This take on a French classic features a rich pan sauce made exclusively for the grocer with Madeira wine and savory demi-glace.
— Miso Ginger Trout: A staple in Japanese cuisine, miso serves as the inspiration for the savory-sweet sauce on the rainbow trout.
— Spicy Pork Bulgogi Rice Bowl: This Asian-inspired rice bowl features a version of bulgogi, a classic Korean barbecue sauce with red chilies, ginger, soy and honey.
— Chicken Alfredo: The creamy Alfredo sauce with garlic and parmesan added to a classic bechamel base completes this comforting meal.
The Chattanooga Fresh Market is at 2288 Gunbarrel Road.