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No matter how highfalutin you want to make your party, you have to have a cheese ball, don't you? It's the sine qua non of holiday entertaining.

But while cheese balls are beloved by all, they are not especially fancy (though some may disagree). That is, if you're envisioning the store-bought, fist-sized ball of dubiously bright orange cheese rolled in chunky bits of rancid pecan. So DPaul was inspired to raise the humble cheese ball to new heights. By using only white cheeses, chopping the pecans very finely and rolling them into individual bites, the humble cheese ball became a dainty and elegant hors d'oeuvre.

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Housemade ricotta with Apician spiced dates and fig preserves

RicottafigTo read this blog, you might think that ricotta cheese is the root of all desserts: Cannoli, rosette and of course ricotta pie all call for it. So when I saw a recipe for housemade ricotta in this month’s Gourmet magazine, I knew I had to make it. It’s surprisingly easy, and yields a fresh-tasting ricotta with a tight, dry curd and a milky, lightly lemony flavor. In fact, for the purposes of this dessert, I had to reincorporate some cream to loosen it up a bit. (Pic is a little sloppy — I had already taken a bite, and it was late in the evening.)

This dessert was inspired by two things: In Bologna, we experienced a locally made cheese called squaquerone — it was similar to ricotta, with a fresh, milky flavor and somewhat loose texture, somewhere between ricotta and cottage cheese. They serve it for dessert with fig preserves. The Apician spiced dates we had at Lupa in New York. These stewed dates with almond "pits" were served on a disk of mascarpone, and we just loved them. (Plus, I seem to have a thing about stuffing things inside dates.) I decided to merge the two desserts into one. The fig preserves were store-bought; Whole Foods carries a nice Croatian fig spread in a squat little jar. Recipes for ricotta and Apician dates after the jump.

* Note: there’s another recipe for fresh ricotta at the always delightful Becks & Posh. Interestingly, this one does not call for any acid to get the curds going.

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