Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Classic Homemade Pimiento Cheese

THE AUGUSTA NATIONAL GOLF CLUB in beautiful Augusta, Georgia is hosting the most prestigious tournament in the U.S., The Masters, this week. My husband and I are not golfers but we have family that are crazy about the game. And we have family living in Augusta, including 4-year-old twin boys, Twin A and Twin B (as they were labeled on their ultrasound).

A & B at their first Masters

The Masters is famous for their food, especially the egg salad and pimiento cheese sandwiches, which at $1.50 each are cheap. At least something about the Masters is cheap. When we were in Augusta last month for the twin's 4th birthday, we paid about $100 per night for our hotel room. For that same hotel, during the Masters, the rooms start at $650 per night with a 4 night minimum.

Twin B "enjoying" an egg salad sandwich?

The chips seem to be a bigger hit

In honor of A & B's first Masters, I decided to make Pimiento Cheese, which like all Southerners, I love.

There are many variations on this humble spread. Everyone seems agree with the three main ingredients; cheese, mayonnaise, and pimiento. Then differences kick in. All types of cheese can be considered. The texture is up for much debate. Some use a mixer or blender to achieve a completely smooth product. More mayonnaise or less? Cream cheese? Then there are add-ins, onion, Worcestershire sauce, olives, jalapeno peppers, the list goes on.

Although I will tamper with the ingredients, depending on what I have on hand, I remain, for the most part, a purist. I don't enjoy mayonnaise, so I use as little as possible, and include the pimiento juice, along with some mustard for extra moisture. I insist that for the best finished product, good quality, extra sharp cheddar cheese must be used, and must be hand grated. If you have the cheese at room temperature before grating, you can get a better idea of the final texture, rather than working with cold cheese. I mix by hand, minimally, because I like the chunky, homemade look. If you want your Pimiento Cheese fluffier or creamier, go right ahead, add more mayonnaise and mix it more vigorously, it will still be delicious.

Classic Homemade Pimiento Cheese
16 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
4 oz. jar chopped pimiento, undrained
1 Tbsp. dijon mustard
1/4 c. to 1/2 c. good quality mayonnaise
Freshly ground black pepper or cayenne, to taste

Mix all ingredients together until desired consistency, starting with the lesser amount of mayonnaise.

A & B watching the putters

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Split Pea Soup

JUST BECAUSE IT IS SPRING DOES NOT MEAN it is warm. It took me a while to figure that out when I moved to these mountains years ago. In fact, on the first official day of spring, this year, we had snow. It is a time of year I don't plan too many meals in advance. I may want a salad for dinner or I may want a bowl of warming soup. I try to stay flexible.

I love split pea soup but I don't cook it that often because Pritchard Parker doesn't love it. He will eat it; he thinks it is OK. I made the soup this day for a couple of reasons, one being I had some leftover ham in the freezer I wanted to go ahead and use. Plus I had everything else on hand and wouldn't need to go out to the store.

To start the soup, I got out my soup pot, 2 medium-large potatoes, 2 carrots, 2 stalks of celery, a jumbo onion,the frozen ham, and a one pound package of green split peas. I looked at all this and asked myself, "How many people are you making soup for"? I replied, "Two, and one of them is not even that crazy about it". I exchanged my big soup pot for a smaller one, put away one of the potatoes, one carrot, and one of the celery stalks. I used half the onion, half the package of split peas, and half the ham.

Split Pea Soup
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 large onion, diced
1 stalk celery, sliced
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
1 medium-large potato, peeled and diced
1/2 lb. green split peas
3 ounces (approximate) ham, to taste (optional)
Salt and freshly grated black pepper to taste
1 bay leaf

Over medium heat, saute the onion, celery, carrot, and potatoes in the olive oil, until beginning to become tender. Add salt and pepper. Stir in the split peas, add the ham and bay leaf. Cover the mixture with water to about 1 inch above the vegetables. Bring to a boil then lower heat; cover and simmer for 2 - 3 hours, stirring occasionally and adding more water when needed.

Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Stewed Okra and Tomatoes

FOR THE RECORD, I LOVE VEGETABLES. All vegetables. I've never met one I didn't love.

At a recent gathering of immediate family, extended family, friends, and in-laws, the subject of food came up. (Imagine)!  The conversation drifted to vegetables and a discussion of likes and dislikes ensued.

Topping the "dislike" list were eggplant and mushrooms. At the top of the well loved list was greens--specifically the traditional Southern greens of collards, turnip greens, and mustard greens. A close second of the "like" list was beans. All beans, fresh, frozen, dried, and canned. The group was evenly divided on squash. My husband was the only one who doesn't like corn.

When okra was mentioned the group split into the "I only like it fried" side, and on my side, the "I like it all ways".  

Once home, I kept thinking about okra and needed to go ahead and cook some. Stewed okra and tomatoes is a regular item in our home; we both enjoy it very much. It is best, of course, in the peak of summer when garden fresh vegetables are available. Otherwise frozen okra and canned tomatoes make a fine substitute.

Stewed Okra and Tomatoes
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large, sweet onion, chopped
1 lb. okra, thoroughly rinsed, sliced if desired
3-4 large, ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
(or 1 quart canned tomatoes and their juice)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add onions. Cook until the onions are tender and turning golden. Add the okra and tomatoes along with their juice. Cover the pan and simmer gently for about 25 minutes, until the okra is very tender. Add salt and pepper.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Whipped Feta

AFTER SEVERAL ATTEMPTS AT ROASTING a whole cauliflower, I finally met success with this method which begins by simmering the cauliflower in a flavorful broth. Afterwards, save the savory broth as a fantastic cooking liquid for soup and especially for grains.

Whole Roasted Cauliflower
1 whole cauliflower, leaves removed and stem trimmed
2 1/2 cups dry white wine
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. Kosher salt
Freshly squeezed juice from 1 lemon
1 Tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. vinegar
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 bay leaf
8 cups water

Bring wine, oil, salt, lemon juice, pepper, vinegar, sugar, bay leaf, and water to a boil in a large pot. Carefully lower the cauliflower into the liquid. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Turn the cauliflower and simmer for another 10 minutes, until a knife can be easily inserted into the center.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 475 degrees and prepare the whipped feta.

Remove the cauliflower from the simmering liquid and drain. Place into a rimmed baking pan and roast for 30 to 40 minutes, rotating the pan half way through, until the orb is golden and beginning to char in places. If you want more char leave it longer or put under the broiler for a couple of minutes.

Transfer to a platter, drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Serve with whipped feta.

Whipped Feta
4 ounces feta cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup yogurt or sour cream

In a mixing bowl, mash feta with a fork until mostly smooth. In a separate bowl, whip cream until it is just barely holds peaks. Fold whipped cream and yogurt/sour cream into feta until combined.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Egg Salad

EGG SALAD IS NOT ON A REGULAR ROTATION in our home. Why? It has just never been part of our repertoire. I don't remember my mother ever making it at home. I don't remember it being served at school or anywhere else for that matter. My husband doesn't especially like it so we never think about it. Except at Easter--to make use of some of those Easter Eggs.

There are so many ways to make this simple spread, the most basic being chopped hard boiled eggs mixed with mayonnaise. All kinds of add-ins can help up the flavor. Pickles, dill or sweet, are popular, onion, scallion, or shallot are good, celery, peppers, cheese, bacon, anchovies, and more.

Mustard is often used and I pondered the various types I had in the kitchen--stone ground, Dijon, honey mustard, and yellow ballpark mustard. Ultimately, I decided to use some mustard powder and I'm so happy that I did. I loved the flavor it imparted and the inner warmth reminded me of wasabi. In fact, next time I think I will try using wasabi.

I served the egg salad on sour dough bread with alfalfa sprouts. Delicious!

Egg Salad
6 hard boiled eggs, chopped
1 rib celery, with leaves, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. finely chopped onion
2 - 3 Tbsp. finely chopped red bell pepper
1/4 - 1/2 tsp. mustard powder
1/4 - 1/2 tsp. paprika
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 - 3 Tbsp. mayonnaise (more to taste)

Mix all ingredients together to desired consistency. Chill before serving.