Sunday, April 14, 2013

"The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Sixties Cookbook" - Pimento and Walnut Cheese Ball (for AMC TV's Mad Men premier)

Date I made this recipe:  April 7, 2013 (Mad Men Season 6 premiere)

The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Sixties Cookbook by Rick Rodgers & Heather Maclean
Published by:  Running Press (
ISBN:  978-0-7624-4573-8
Recipe:  Pimiento and Walnut Cheese Ball – p. 32

I have to chuckle sometimes at the communication disconnect in my household.  For weeks, I kept reminding my husband that the TV show, Mad Men – Season 6, premiered on April 7th.  I even started hauling out cookbooks from the 60’s (when the show is set) weeks in advance. 

But in between all this, the NCAA basketball tournaments commenced and on Saturday, April 6th, the University of Michigan advanced to the Final Four tournament championship game against Louisville (KY).  The game was set for Monday, April 8th, and when I mentioned to my husband that I finally selected a recipe – a cheese ball – he said “Oh sure – for the game, right?”

Well bless his heart.  This man is not necessarily a sports fan but I can see how my enthusiasm for the game (which Michigan lost, by the way – damn it) overshadowed Mad Men’s premiere.  I won’t make the same mistake next year.

Now, I have a ton and a half of cookbooks written in the 60’s and in fact, one of them, with a very cool cover of a cocktail party, almost made it in to my own “finals,” but this newer book, written in 2012, beat them all to the punch because of the title.  I am nothing if not “Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad” for Mad Men.

For those of you who need a quick primer:  Mad Men focuses on the advertising world in NYC in the 60’s (the title “Mad Men” refers to the men who worked for advertising agencies located on Madison Avenue).  This series features the king of the “Mad Men,” Don Draper, the underbelly of the advertising world in which he inhabits, as well as the sorry state of affairs (literally) that make up his personal life.  A couple seasons ago, after repeatedly cheating on his wife, Betty, he married a younger, wannabe actress, Megan…and then of course, he cheated on her in the opening episode of Season 6.  Don, Don, DON!

So there I was, going through this cookbook filled with old-time favorites from the 60’s made new again, and I kept thinking to myself “WWBM?”  (What would Betty make?)  Faithful viewers will recall Betty’s Around the World-themed dinner – Season 2, Episode 8 – and I could have done a few things from that dinner but wasn’t in the mood.  I ruled out a few other recipes that, although good, just didn’t seem like something Betty would make, such as Sloppy Joes or Tuna Casserole.  (Not that Betty was all high-falutin’ in the kitchen but she didn’t seem like the type to make these two dishes).  And then I stopped to think “WWDE” – what would Don eat, and ruled out a few more as they just didn’t seem very “Draper-ish,” and I came up with this cheese ball.

For those of us who grew up in the 60’s, cheese balls were pretty much a staple item (along with Lipton’s “California” chip dip) at every cocktail party so I felt like I was sticking with the theme pretty well.  Now, Andy and I happened to be out to dinner earlier in the evening with his family (at Nye’s Polonaise, a total throwback to another era when supper clubs ruled the world.  There’s even a piano bar in this joint – LOVE.IT.) so we didn’t have this cheese ball until we got home and although it sat in the refrigerator for a couple of hours after I made it, I still think the recipe is best made way in advance and then left to “cure.”

Because folks, here’s the deal:  this is perhaps my second or third pimento cheese ball/spread and maybe it’s because I don’t have that inbred southern love for the thing, me being a northerner and all, but I don’t get it.  I don’t mean to insult people, but I don’t get it.  And it tastes (and this may get me killed) “okay,” not great.  Not even close.

And after a few rounds of making this dish, I just fail to understand why.  The ingredients are all there:  cheddar cheese, cream cheese, mayo (depending on the recipe, cheddar cheese may be the only constant), finely diced pimentos, Worcestershire Sauce and hot sauce.  And then for added “oomph,” add your finely chopped walnuts.  And yet…I dunno.  I just am not feeling the cheese love.  And I want you all to know that this bothers me greatly but there’s not much I can do except, well, not make it! Had I to do it over, I would found a recipe for and made my “mother’s” cheese ball with cream cheese, pineapple and walnut bits (and perhaps a few more ingredients but I’ve forgotten them).  Oh well, next season. (By the way, a while back, I heard southern food expert, John T. Edge, talk about pimento cheese and I love the way he pronounced it “Peh-mhennnn-toe chiz.” Totally precious.)

As to the show itself, the first episode (two hours, back to back), showed our characters celebrating Christmas and then New Year’s 1968.  The theme this year is all dark and brooding, focusing on death and loss and transition and although there were parts of the episode I wanted to move along, I have to say it set the mood for the times.  Just the other day, I posted on Facebook that April 4th marked the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination, and coming up in June, it will be the same anniversary for Bobby Kennedy, JFK’s brother.  These were not fun times, folks.  I do believe I spent most of 1968 glued to the TV set as one event after the other unfolded.  So I like it that Mad Men’s writers depict the year for what it was, even if some viewers were uncomfortable with it.  Well, life can’t be all sunshine and roses, kids.

So…if I were you (and I’m not but pretend I am), I’d go ahead and make this cheese ball and see what you think.  It’s not bad but it’s not what I am used to and maybe that’s the deal.  And then sit back and watch Mad Men or the Master’s Tournament (because b-ball is over, folks, over) and think about life as you know it.  And if you have a hankering for a 60’s cocktail to accompany your pimento and walnut cheese ball, then this book has several that should be just the ticket (Chapter 7 – p. 178 through 205).  I must say that the martini recipe include in this book fails because it calls for too much vermouth (as in any vermouth is too much vermouth) but several other cocktails brought back fond memories of my parent’s parties.  Enjoy!  

Pimento and Walnut Cheese Ball – makes 12 servings (Ann’s Note:  I made half the recipe)
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, well softened
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded sharp or mild Cheddar
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 (4-ounce) jar chopped pimientos, drained, rinsed, and patted dry
Hot red pepper sauce
1 ½ cups (6 ounces) finely chopped walnuts
Crackers, for serving

Mash the cream cheese, Cheddar, mayonnaise, and Worcestershire sauce together with a rubber spatula in a medium bowl.  Mix in the pimientos.  Season with hot red pepper sauce.

Scrape the cheese mixture onto a large sheet of plastic wrap.  Bring the wrap up to cover the cheese, and twist the ends together to shape the cheese mixture into a ball.  Refrigerate until chilled and firmer, at least 2 hours.  (The cheese ball can be prepared up to 5 days ahead.)

Just before serving, unwrap the ball and roll in the walnuts to cover.  Place on a serving platter.  Served chilled or at room temperature, with the crackers.

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