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.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Pasta e Ceci

PASTA e CECI IS NOT A FANCY DISH and I probably would not serve it for a dinner party. It did, however, make a perfectly delicious, healthful, and easy weeknight supper packed with flavor from olive oil, onions, garlic, anchovies, plum tomatoes, and fresh rosemary.

Rosemary is one of my favorite herbs but I must admit I don't enjoy pine needles in my food. There are a couple of ways to avoid this, one is to wrap it in cheese cloth to be removed after cooking. I prefer to chop it very finely, always using fresh.

I hope you will use the anchovies; they add such an unrecognizable depth of flavor, never fishy.

I used the adorable and tiny acini de pepe but any small pasta will work just fine. I loved the appearance and texture of the miniature pasta with the chickpeas. Because the pasta is cooked in the same pot, right along with the beans, the starchy cooking liquid helps to form a sauce. Not to mention this is a one pot meal making cleanup easy.

Pasta e Ceci
1 Tbsp.olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 - 6 anchovy fillets, chopped
4 plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped
3 springs fresh rosemary, or 2 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 can chick peas, drained and rinsed
4 cups broth or spring water
6 - 8 oz. small pasta
Salt and pepper to taste

Warm olive oil over medium low heat. Stir in onion, garlic, and anchovies, cooking until anchovies are melted. Add chopped tomatoes and saute for 10 - 15 minutes, until the tomatoes are fully cooked.

Increase heat and add can of chick peas, the broth or spring water, salt to taste, along with the rosemary. Bring to a healthy simmer and stir in the pasta. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is cooked per the package, or taste.

When the pasta is done, spoon into warm bowls. Drizzle with a little olive oil, sprinkle with freshly cracked black pepper, and garnish with shavings of Parmiigiano Reggiano.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Indian Lentil Soup

AN ERRAND HAD ME DRIVING TO A NEARBY TOWN in pouring rain. And I mean pouring. I had my wipers going as fast as they could go and still had to slow down to about 35 (in a 65) because of such poor visibility. Fortunately, other drivers were being sensible. Some had pulled over, but I kept pressing on. I ended up being in my car for about three hours.

When I got back home, I really wanted to cook up a steaming pot of soup. I knew I had all the ingredients on hand for one of my favorites--Indian Lentil Soup. I have made this recipe many, many times over the years and it is well loved by all who have tried it. I have posted it before but in case you missed it, here it is again. I served it with Naan and yogurt.

As we sat at the table, around six o'clock, enjoying our soup, I started noticing an unusual light coming in from outside. I commented on it and kept looking at all the windows. As a photographer, I am always observing light. I finally stopped eating and said I had to look out. I looked out the back door and reported my observation as a pale yellow sky. Then I walked to the front window, pulled back the sheers and gasped, "Oh Wow! It is a Huge Rainbow!"

We had to go outside to see the entire thing. It was the biggest and most intensely colored rainbow I have ever seen. What a blessing after that odious car trip.  Once it began to fade, we went back inside to finish dinner.

Life is good.

Cabbagetown Cafe Cookbook by Julie Jordan, 1986

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Mandarin Chicken Salad with Fresh Cranberries and Pecans

AFTER ROASTING A CHICKEN AND EATING IT for a couple of days, I decided to pick off the rest of the meat for a chicken salad. I knew I wanted fruit in it--maybe apples or grapes or both, neither of which I had on hand. Then I spotted the bowl of Clementines and thought, sure, why not.

I decided to add celery and scallions, and I knew I had some pecan halves leftover from Christmas baking. I also thought I would add some blue cheese and further thought I had some in the fridge, only to discover a little mouse (my husband) had eaten it. I did find a chunk of smoked Gouda so I used that.

After I got the ingredients together and dressed, I was stirring it and thinking how dull and colorless it looked. I was thinking, if I had some dried cranberries, I would add some for color as well as flavor. Then I remembered I had some homemade whole cranberry sauce in the refrigerator. Lovely. Perfect.

For serving, I garnished with additional tangerine sections and a dollop of cranberry sauce.

Mandarin Chicken Salad with Fresh Cranberries and Pecans
2 cups shredded or chopped cooked chicken
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup roasted pecan halves
2 Clementines/tangerines/cuties/satsumas (whatever the grower calls them, they are all Mandarin oranges) peeled, sectioned, and halved
3 oz. smoked Gouda, cut into small cubes
1/4 cup fresh whole cranberry sauce

1/2 cup mayo
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. sugar or honey
1 clove garlic, minced

Mix the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl and chill while preparing the rest of the ingredients.

Stir together the shredded chicken, celery slices, scallion slices, pecans, tangerines, cheese, and cranberry sauce. Pour over the chilled dressing and toss until evenly distributed. Chill before serving.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Children's Christmas Cookies

 HAPPY NEW YEAR!! I hope you have been enjoying your holidays. We sure have.

We actually still are. Have you taken down your Christmas Tree and put away your decorations? We haven't. In my world, the first day of Christmas is Christmas Eve (not the day after Thanksgiving). And the 12th day of Christmas is January 5th. Today is Epiphany and marks the day the wise men met the Christ child and bestowed Him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. After today, my Christmas season will be over.

I finally got my camera back from the shop and what is the first thing I photographed? Christmas Cookies. My camera had to have its aperture control unit replaced (for the second time) and I have only had it for two years. Meanwhile, it went on quite an adventure--two local places, then on to Arizona, then Connecticut, and finally back home. It now seems perky, clean, and ready to go.

(Phone photo)

Once our favorite girl was out of school for the holidays, she came and spent a few days with us so we could bake cookies. The first one was a basic sugar cookie. She did all the measuring and mixing, I just supervised. While the dough was mixing, we made a mixture of sugar and red sprinkles to roll them in.. I scooped out the dough, then she rolled it into balls and then into the sugar. Perfect job for little hands.

We made more cookies and goodies than what is shown here, but they have been eaten/given away by now.

She kept telling me she wanted to make shape cookies, so shape cookies it was. Once again, she measured and mixed and I supervised. We made a cookie dough which can be rolled out right away without needing to be chilled. We rolled it out on sheets of parchment (she is also getting quite accomplished with the rolling pin) and slipped the sheets onto the baking pan.

Easier cutting is achieved if the dough is chilled after it is rolled out. We just sat a pan of dough outside for a few minutes while we rolled out the next batch. Once the dough is chilled, it cuts beautifully, with sharp edges.

Shape Cookies
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3 cups flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat butter and sugar until creamy. Beat in egg, vanilla, baking powder, and salt until well combined. Add flour, one cup at a time, mixing until combined after each addition.

Divide dough into thirds and roll onto a piece of parchment paper to about 1/4 inch thick. No need to flour the parchment, but you may need to lightly flour the rolling pin to avoid sticking. Slide the parchment onto a baking sheet and chill 20 to 30 minutes for easier cutting.

Cut into desired shapes right on the sheet pan, then peel away the excess dough, which can be re-rolled. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes. The cookies will remain blonde but be set. Let cool completely before removing from the trays and decorate as desired.

Peanut butter cookies are my personal favorite. Once again, I scooped and she rolled into balls and then into sugar for a little extra sweetness and sparkle. She had a little trouble with the crisscross fork marks and asked me to finish. I suspect she was over it and wanted to get back to her Barbies.

Peanut Butter Cookies
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In mixing bowl, combine butter, peanut butter, sugar, brown sugar. Beat well until creamy. Add egg and vanilla and beat until well mixed.

Add flour and stir until combined.

Roll dough, by tablespoons, into balls, then roll in sugar. Place 2 inches apart on a parchment lined baking sheet. Flatten balls with a fork using a crisscross pattern.

Bake 10 - 12 minutes.