Pimiento cheese was an unknown in my world until I moved to Nashville Tennessee. A young picky eater, and native New Yorker: there was no way that I could have ever encountered that uncanny meld of grated cheddar, mayonnaise, and pimientos. A visit to a Nashville grocery in 1965 provided my first glimpse of the product, bilious orange, in a small tub.
To its credit, it was (and still is) locally manufactured under the Mrs. Grissom’s label. Grace Grissom was a smart businesswoman who launched a time-saving product for post-WWII housewives. It was well-loved by many, especially when spread on soft Wonder style bread.
I was not one of them. Mixing cheese and mayo together with those pieces of red peppers seemed wrong. Really wrong.
It wasn’t until I was an adult–a seasoned one, in fact—that I came to appreciate the very goodness of pimiento cheese. Not the Mrs. Grissom’s way. It took my catering staff’s insistence to try our own! Hard-formed thought-patterns are hard to break. But, made by hand with extra sharp cheddar ( at times, a combo of white and yellow sharps ) a dab of good mayo, garlic, red onion, and roasted sweet red peppers, pimiento cheese can be a veritable art form.
Evidently this is catching on beyond the Mason-Dixon line, as regional Southern food is becoming embraced all over the country. We’re hot! Recently, my daughter visited Point Reyes CA based Cowgirl Creamery’s outpost in Washington DC, where she purchased a small tub of their pimiento cheese. She brought it, along with other select farmstead cheeses, to our home. My-oh-my. Spread some of this onto a cracker! Swoon-able stuff, I tell you.
So when I discovered that my garden’s alleged yellow bell pepper plant was instead a pimiento pepper plant, what else could I do? I had to roast those ripe-red beauties, dice them, and fold them into some gourmet for real pimiento cheese.
Compared to red bell peppers that you usually find at the market, pimientos have a thicker, sweeter flesh, and a tetch more piquancy. They also have a rather endearing heart-shape. Dried and ground, this is what makes Paprika. If you can’t locate one, you can use a red bell in its place. Roasting intensifies the sweetness.
If you must, you may use a jar of prepared pimientos. The result will be good, certainly, but won’t have that same soulful tang.
As with most recipes that have very few ingredients, using the best will insure the best outcome. Key is a top-notch sharp cheddar. I’ve made this with Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheddar, a locally made sharp, and I’ve made it with Cabot Vermont Cheddar. Both are excellent. Successful, tamer versions can be made combining sharp cheddar with Monterey Jack cheese–but really, Sharp is what it’s all about.
If I were a true Southerner, I’d insist that you use Duke’s Mayonnaise. But, Duke’s isn’t available everywhere–and Hellman’s, my other mayo of choice, is. Use whichever you can, and carry on.
I like grate the cheese by hand. Once you’ve roasted and peeled the pimiento, it doesn’t take long to whip up a batch. The simplest way to enjoy it is, in down-home Southern fashion, spread onto humble sandwich bread. I prefer pimiento cheese tea sandwiches, (small bites!) or served with crackers, shown here. I set out condiment bowls of honey-tomato jam and red jalapeno jam to shake things up a bit.
You can get creative, like many chefs, and slather pimiento cheese onto a burger, fold it into grits casserole, or make a very decadent grilled cheese. All are fine ways to break up an old thought pattern, and savor this taste of the South.
FOR REAL PIMIENTO CHEESE
1 large pimiento or sweet red bell pepper: (roasted, peeled, and diced to make 1/2 cup)
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar (optional)
1 lb. sharp white cheddar (like vermont cheddar)
1 quarter of a red onion, minced (to make approx. 1/4 cup)
4 tablespoons Hellman’s or Duke’s mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Place pepper halves onto a baking sheet and brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast in a 450 degree oven until skin is blistered-about 15 minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove peels and chop. Place pieces into a small bowl and add a 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar. Set aside.
Shred the cheddar and place into a large mixing bowl.
Add mayonnaise, minced red onion, granulated garlic, black pepper and prepared peppers.
Fold the mixture until the pimientos are laced throughout the cheese, and the mayonnaise has moistened and helped bind the cheese.
Taste for salt and adjust as needed.
Serve with crackers, on finger sandwiches, or dolloped onto a burger. DEE-LISH.
A recipe can be deceiving. We’ve all experienced a seemingly daunting one with scrolls of ingredients, only to find that we can whip it up with panache. Conversely, there’s that recipe with, say, three ingredients that you’d think would be a breeze. And yet, it’s those simple ones that can be trickiest–and require practice. Like making pillowy-light gnocchi, or fluffy biscuits. Or creamy ricotta cheese.
I’d been wanting to make ricotta for a long time. Maggie and I researched and learned that it is, essentially, Whole Milk-Salt-Acid. Sometimes the milk is enriched with cream. The acid can be lemon juice, white vinegar or buttermilk, which is added to the milk-salt mixture after it is simmered to 180 degrees.
For our first foray into cheesemaking, we chose vinegar, as it is the most neutral in taste. We purchased a gallon of whole milk at our local Hatcher Dairy Farm.
Low and slow, the milk came up to a froth at 180 degrees. We added the vinegar, and almost immediately, the curds formed in big clumps, separating from the whey. I scooped them out and let them drain in Maggie’s floursack-lined colander.
The yield: 4 cups of cheese and 3 quarts of whey! (We saved the whey, which Maggie has since used in her breadbaking–with astonishing results. The flavors are enhanced Tenfold.)
Shortly thereafter, we spread the cheese onto toast topped with slices of Maggie’s garden tomatoes. The ricotta was a bit firmer than I had expected, but delicious nonetheless. It reminded us more of Paneer, that Indian cheese.
However, it became almost rubbery in texture, as it cooled. Had we overcooked it somehow?
I decided to experiment again, this time–a smaller batch, with added cream, and lemon juice as the acidifier.
As luck would have it, I had been asked to review a cookbook scheduled for release next month, JAM ON The Craft of Canning Fruit by Laena McCarthy. McCarthy is the founder of Anarchy in a Jar, making delectable, creative, and wildly popular artisanal jams, jellies, marmalades and preserves.
It’s a beautiful book. The photographs are stunning. Moreover, it is clear in guidance for novice and seasoned canners, and replete with fruit recipes in gorgeous combinations.
Tucked among her recipes for Grapefruit and Smoked Salt Marmalade, and Rhubarb Hibiscus Jam, I found her recipe for Homemade Ricotta. It was just as I had imagined: a small batch, made with whole milk and cream, salt, lemon juice. A-Ha!
I followed her recipe, and to my surprise, the result was almost the opposite of our previous trial. Curds were slower to form, tiny in size. McCarthy writes that this can occur with organic milk that has been ultra-homogenized. (I didn’t use my local milk this time, but Organic Valley brand.)
I let my cooked-and-curdled pot sit and cool to allow the curds to better separate. Then, I poured into my cheesecloth lined strainer. It would take some time–about a half hour—for the whey to drain off.
But what remained was lush ricotta cheese.
I cannot overstate the wonder of its texture and taste–like no other ricotta I have ever had. Rich and smooth, spreadable yet scoopable, as you can see on the spiced peach salad plate.
HOMEMADE RICOTTA from JAM ON by Laena McCarthy
3 cups Whole Milk
1 cup Heavy Cream
1/2 t. Sea Salt
3 T. fresh squeezed Lemon Juice (about 1 1/2 lemons)
non-reactive pan, candy thermometer
cheesecloth or floursack cloth, strainer or colander
In your non-reactive pan set on medium heat, bring milk, cream, and salt to a slow simmer. Stir so that the milk does not scorch or cook on the bottom. The temperature reading should be about 180 degrees F. Stir in lemon juice and reduce heat. Stir for about two minutes while cooking. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
When the mixture is cooled, you’ll notice a thickening. Pour into cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl to catch the whey. Let this drain for about an hour. Place ricotta into a clean container and refrigerate. Makes about one pint. Use within a few days.
There will be about 2 cups of whey, (much better ratio of cheese to whey than our first trial!) which some people discard. But it is terrific in breadbaking and soup making.
SIMPLE SPICED PEACHES
1 c. Cider Vinegar
1 c. Turbinado Sugar
1 inch length Cinnamon Stick
Strip of fresh Ginger
2-3 whole Allspice
3-4 whole Cloves
1/2 t. Kosher Salt
3 or more Fresh, Ripe but Firm Peaches–cut in half, pit removed
Bowl of Ice Water
Place all ingredients into a nonreactive saucepan set on medium heat. Stir well to dissolve sugar. Bring to a simmer.
Place peaches into mixture and allow to poach for about 4 minutes.
Remove peaches and plunge into ice water. The skins will come off very easily.
Drain peaches and refrigerate.
Continue cooking spiced vinegar solution until reduced by almost half. It will be syrupy.
Pour into a bowl and cool.
Place peach halves into syrup. Over the next several hours, refrigerated, they will absorb more of the sweet-sour taste. If you can wait, and let them soak overnight, they will taste even better!
(You could also make this in large quantities, put spiced peaches and syrup into mason jars and process in a hot water bath to preserve them.)
SPICED PEACH-RICOTTA SALAD (makes 4 individual salads)
4 oz. Fresh Arugula
4 oz. (or more!) fresh Ricotta
4 Spiced Peach Halves and syrup
handful of Marcona Almonds
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
Mound arugula on plates.
Scoop ricotta and place onto plates.
Slice each peach halve and arrange on plate, encircling the ricotta.
Drizzle syrup over the peaches, greens, and ricotta.
Scatter almonds over the salad
Season with black pepper.
Serve with a sliced of toasted crusty bread, if you like.
Paris, from Two Sides
The first time I visited Paris, I experienced it from its underbelly.
I was 18 years old, an exchange student living in Holland. My companion Jeff and I had planned to travel by train, making a two week loop through Germany and Switzerland before spending a week in the City of Lights. There, we were going to stay with a family, the Reliers, whom I had known in Nashville. At that time, they lived in Sevres, a Parisian suburb. I had mailed them a letter with details of our arrival. Impetuous youths, we embarked on our journey before getting confirmation from them.
Things went awry soon after we arrived at the Paris station, Gare de L’ Est. Immediately, we called the Reliers, but, alas, no answer. We made repeated calls–with the same empty result. It got late, and so we took a room at a youth hostel, simply called Auberge de Jeunesse. It was a cheap hotel, really. At 2 francs a night, it could be safely classified as a dump. We could stand it one night, we thought.
But, the next day proved to be more of the same: no Reliers. Where were they?
And, there was another problem. I had gotten a small burn on my index finger before we left Holland. As the trip wore on, that small burn showed signs of an infection. When I awoke that next morning in Paris, my hand looked angry and swollen. At the St. Louis General Hospital I was chided with a “Le petite boo-boo. C’est rien!” and given a prescription for antibiotics.
Days passed at the fleabag, with calls to the Reliers becoming a joke. My infection was worsening and money was getting tight. We spent our last francs at a doctor’s office, who took one look and immediately scheduled surgery. After my hand was lanced, drained, cleansed and wrapped, I was much better, but we were broke.
We wired home for extra cash. Jeff’s mom sent us a money order, via overnight air mail, to General Delivery at a Post Office near our humble quarters. In another twist, a strike by the French air controllers delayed the mail by several days.
Still, we managed during that bleak and strange week. We walked everywhere. We darted among the Notre Dame gargoyles. We sat on park benches, ate crusty baguettes and cheese. We cooked modest meals, and otherwise amused ourselves at the so-called Auberge de Jeunesse. Moreover, we discovered Travelers Aid, who lent us money until our special delivery arrived.
When I traveled to Paris over thirty years later, I was curious to experience the city from the Up side of life.
Bill, Madeleine, and I had been visiting friends in Amsterdam. From there, we planned to take the bullet train to Paris, (3 hours, 18 minutes from Amsterdam Centraal to Paris Nord!) where I had booked our room at a respectable hotel in the 6th arrondisement.
It was an unseasonably cool July in Holland, blustery with rain. But as that sleek train sped towards France, the skies began to lighten. By the time we emerged onto the streets of Paris, the sun shone brightly. The wind had calmed. The city was golden.
Before we checked into our hotel, we stopped for a bite at one of the hundreds of lovely sidewalk cafes.
I ordered a salad of mixed garden lettuces, scattered with sliced strawberries, dressed in a sharp shallot vinaigrette. Placed on top of the salad was this crisp disc of goat cheese, still hot from the skillet, beginning to collapse and melt onto the greens. The simple combination of sweet and tart, chilled and hot, creamy and crisp, left me speechless.
The sun warmed the air where we sat. Summer in Paris. A spectacular salad. Another adventure. Life’s sweet balance.
With strawberries and young lettuces aplenty at the market, it’s a perfect time to make the crispy goat cheese.
CRISPY HERBED GOAT CHEESE CROQUETTES
1 lb. Plain Goat Cheese/Chevre Log
1/2 c. All Purpose Flour
1/2 c. Panko crumbs
2 T. fresh Thyme leaves
1/4 t. Salt
1/4 t. Black Pepper
Olive Oil—for frying
Heavy duty Skillet
Cut chevre log into 16 pieces. Form each into a disc shape.
Place flour into one bowl, and egg beaten with a little water into another bowl. In a third bowl, mix panko with salt, pepper, and fresh thyme leaves.
Dust each disc in flour, then dip into egg, then dip into seasoned panko, pressing the crumbs lightly onto the goat cheese. Use the “wet hand-dry hand” technique. Use one hand to dip into flour, egg, and place in the bowl of panko—use the other hand to press the panko and remove.
Heat skillet on medium and coat bottom with olive oil. Cook goat cheese discs until brown (about 3 minutes) and turn over to brown on the other side.
Best served immediately over your assembled salad. Spoon over some Shallot-Honey Vinaigrette. Pretend that you are in Paris. On the Up side.
1/4 c. Shallots, cut into pieces
2 T. Honey
1/4 c. White Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 c. Canola Oil
1/4 t. Black Pepper
1/4 t. Salt
Hand-held immersion blender
Place shallots, honey, vinegar, salt and pepper into immersion blender and pulse until smooth. Slowly drizzle in the olive and canola oils. Vinaigrette will become a smooth thick emulsion.
There’s been quite a bit of buzz in our local food community about Whispering Creek Mushroom Farm. We’ve had limited access to exotic mushrooms, locally raised. Now and then, a few farms devoted primarily to raising vegetables have inoculated logs with shiitake mushroom spores, and sold the tasty results at the market. Even rarer, friends have foraged and found chanterelles they’ve been willing to share.
Now, we have great and frequent options.
Whispering Creek is our first Mushroom Only farm, located in Gallatin Tennessee, just north of Nashville. Back in the fall, I learned about their project. Over the winter, they began selling their goods to area chefs. Now, they are ramped up enough to sell to the public.
For the past two weeks, I’ve had the good fortune to buy their gorgeous Oyster Mushrooms through our Fresh Harvest Co-op.
Don’t these look amazing? Within the oyster mushroom family, Pleutorus ostreatus, there are many members–Blue, Golden, Phoenix, Italian, Pearl…
Each cluster is like a little village, with its own personality.
The elongated scallop shape of its cap, rather than its taste, gives the oyster mushroom its name. Although, preparing in butter with a little lemon and wine, releases a sweet, subtle anise essence and silkiness that you associate with the bivalve.
Most of the mushroom is edible, and I like to tear it into pieces, rather than use a knife. The woody bits can be made into a stock.
I should note that oyster mushrooms are packed with nutrients: zinc, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, folic acid, Vitamins B-1, B-2, C, and niacin.
Plus ergothioneine, a unique immune-boosting antioxidant.
There are so many good ways to showcase these beauties–in a risotto, entwined in ribbon pasta, scrambled into eggs, or sauteed and piled onto buttery toast. These mushrooms like stocks, fortified wines, and dairy. It’s an easy temptation to give over to dousing them in a pan of heavy cream.
For our Sunday brunch, I decided they’d be perfect cooked then rolled into a crepe.
I sauteed our oyster ’shrooms in butter, with some green onions, lemon zest, Marsala, and thyme. In the end, I tossed in a few knobs of cream cheese–a small but concentrated amount of dairy. It was just enough to melt into the mass and give it more body.
I resisted the temptation to make a sauce to top them. The mushroom saute was rich enough. In fact, it was hard not to grab a fork and just eat them out of the skillet!
Instead, I braised an array of greens, as a bed or base for the filled crepe. That slight bitterness brought balance, and another healthful element.
OYSTER MUSHROOMS IN BUTTER, LEMON, AND MARSALA
1/2 lb. Oyster Mushrooms, brushed clean and torn (or sliced into chunky pieces)
3 Green Onions, sliced
3 T. Butter
1 T. Lemon Zest
Juice of one Lemon
1/2 cup Marsala wine (cooking wine or sherry is acceptable)
1 T. fresh Thyme leaves
2-3 T. Cream Cheese
Melt butter in skillet on medium heat. Add mushrooms and green onions. Saute for 5 minutes–mushrooms will soften and brown on the edges. Stir in lemon zest and juice.
Season with salt and black pepper. Pour in marsala wine and stir well. Mixture will reduce. Sprinkle in fresh thyme leaves. Add the cream cheese, in small knobs, into the mixture. Stir and fold, so that the cream cheese melts away into a creamy mushroomy mass. Add more marsala, or water, if mixture gets too thick.
Remove from heat.
SAVORY CREPE MIXTURE
3/4 cup All Purpose Flour
3 T. Unsalted Butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 c. Milk
1 t. Salt
1 T. Butter–to grease the skillet
Place all the ingredients in a mixing bowl, or immersion blender container, and blend very well, for 3-5 minutes. The mixture will seem like cream. Cover and refrigerated for at least 30 minutes–although you can make this batter a day in advance.
Heat your skillet–a 6″ sized pan is ideal. Brush with butter. Ladle a small quantity-3 Tablespoons–into the center, and tip the skillet so it spreads thinly over the surface. The crepe should be thin-thin! It will set up quickly. When the edges are browned, flip the crepe and cook for a minute more. Slide out onto a plate and repeat the process.
if the batter gets too thick, dilute it with a little water–beat well.
This recipe made 10 large crepes (I used a 9″ pan) , but would make 16 small (from 6″ pan)
BRAISED SAVORY GREENS a bed for the mushroom crepes
1 cup Kale, deribbed and chopped
1 cup Baby Spinach, chopped
1 cup Swiss Chard, coarsely chopped
3 cloves minced Garlic
3 T. Olive Oil
1 t. Sea Salt
Red Pepper Flakes–a few pinches
Place all cleaned and chopped greens into a deep pot, along with garlic, olive oil, salt and red pepper flakes. Bring up heat to just under medium. Cover and simmer until greens are collapsed and tender, about 12 minutes.
Lay out cooked crepes onto a work surface. Place a few spoonfuls of mushroom mix at one end and roll. Place into a skillet or casserole dish. Repeat until you’ve used up all the mushrooms. Gently heat crepes in the skillet or in the oven.
Serve over warm bed of braised greens. Garnish with shredded pecorino romano.
Post-holiday drab winter funk settled in my kitchen…with an unsettling inertia. I’ve had as much resistance to picking up a knife and a whisk, as my market shopping bags. It’s been an odd feeling, uncharacteristic of my general passionate-about-food ways, but December left me shopped and cooked out. I’ve tried ignoring it, hoping that the malaise would lift. Now I’ve decided just to chop through it, and play my “use what you’ve got” game.
In my refrigerator, I found a container of ricotta, still in date. Part of a can of whole plum tomatoes in juice. Eggs. A stray scallion. A small wedge of parmegiano-reggiano.
A sealed bag of all purpose flour.
Could dinner lurk in some combination of these?
Indeed it could. Ricotta Gnocchi.
And, those creamy pillow-like dumplings couldn’t be easier to make.
Unlike other versions that use potatoes (also delicious, but have an extra step–cooking the spuds) the dough can be whipped up in a manner of minutes. In their purest form, ricotta gnocchi are simply ricotta-egg-flour. That’s a plain canvas, rife with possibilities. How you want to season them–herbs, bitter greens, nutmeg, other pungent cheese—
or sauce them—smoky beurre blanc with bits of pancetta, chunky pesto, rosy red pepper puree–is up to you.
Or what you’ve got on hand.
You’ve got plenty of time to make that decision! Mixing the soft dough takes moments. Then, you hand-roll pieces of the dough into long logs, dusting with more flour, and cutting into 1/2″ lengths. Or smaller, if you like.
The shapes are imprecise, rustic; the rolling and handling of them feels like child’s play, a delightful aspect to combat any kitchen inertia.
Line them up on a pan lined with parchment and place the pillows into the freezer to get firm. (If you double this recipe, you can keep the unused gnocchi sealed and frozen for up to 6 weeks—ready to use at a given moment.)
While the gnocchi are tucked into the freezer (or fridge) you can turn your attention to the sauce.
Based on my modest assembly of on-hand ingredients, I chose to cloak mine in a brilliant winter red sauce–little more than plum tomatoes cooked with onion and garlic in olive oil, and pureed. I do like to plunge in a sprig or two of fresh rosemary and thyme, snipped from yard, where they vigorously hang on through the cold weather months. They impart just enough piney aromatics to give the sauce a little herbaceous lift, plucked out before the immersion blender descends into the pot.
While the sauce simmers, bring a big pot of salted water to boil. Drop the gnocchi in. Very quickly, they’ll rise to the surface–indicating that they are almost done. Let them cook another minute. Remove them with a slotted spoon, and place the tender bites into a pool of red.
The color–a knockout that reminds you of summer—is vibrant and full-flavored dress for the gnocchi, enough to jar the drab winter funk out the door.
1 cup whole milk Ricotta
3/4 cup All Purpose Flour (divided)
1/2 c. grated Parmegiano-Reggiano (Pecorino Romano would be terrific, too)
1 Green Onion, sliced thin (optional)
1/2 t. Kosher Salt
fresh ground Black Pepper
Place ricotta, egg, cheese, scallion, and Half of the flour into a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and mix until a soft dough forms. Dust remaining flour on your work counter, and divide dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into 1/2″ thick log. Cut into pillow shaped pieces, placing each gnocchi on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Place the gnocchi in the freezer for about 15 minutes–long enough to set up and be firm.
Bring a pasta pot full of water to a boil. Season with salt. Drop in gnocchi. Cook over medium heat until they float to the surface. Cook for a about one minute more. Remove with a slotted spoon. Gently coat with sauce.
Serves 2 generous, or 4 first course plates
In early November, on one of those rare days when the skies roll out wide and blue and the sun shines with the strength of summer, Maggie and I took a day trip to Falls Mill. Located in Belvidere Tennessee, it’s about a hundred miles from home, and over a hundred years back in time.
There, in the bend of a creek, by a rushing cascade, sits a grist mill built in 1873. Outside, a great water wheel churns, powering a system of belts and pulleys that drive huge cutting stones inside the mill. From inside, emanate the slow, almost groaning sounds of the stones in deliberate rotation, a bass line to the melody of water rippling over rocks, falling in sheets from the mill buckets.
And, inside are bins filled with the results: unbolted yellow and white cornmeal and grits. In an adjacent room, a 19th century press is poised to print a stack of white sacks, soon to be filled with those prized grinds.
Jane and John Lovett own and operate Falls Mill, and have earned a reputation for their extraordinary milling. Sustainable practices–from the pure water-driven power to the sourcing of local, chemical-free grains, are part of what makes this so. The milling stones themselves hold the key. Unlike commercial steel rollers which smash the grain and adulterate it due to increased friction and heat, these stones slice the grain, leaving more texture, nutrients, and taste intact.
Chefs and cooks across the country who value that difference order from Falls Mill–especially the white corn grits. They are……..grittier! in the best possible way.
I’ve been having a lot of fun working with their products, baking wonderful cornbread and corncakes, buttermilk spoonbread, and rich grits casseroles. The difference in texture and taste is delightfully Huge.
Today I’m sharing a couple of easy recipes that together make a New Orleans-style dish, often enjoyed for brunch, but good anytime.
Toasted garlic, brown butter, white cheddar and pinch of cayenne combine with these pearly Falls Mill grits to make a luscious casserole.
And, then, the Grillades: (pronounced Gree-yahds)
The grillades are often made with a cheaper cut of beef, such as round steak—but it is acceptable, by NOLA standards, to use pork. Browned and then braised with tomatoes, spice, and the “Trinity” ( onions, bell peppers, celery) it’s a Creole take on stew: hearty and delicious with the grits.
There’s nothing new or surprising about the method. There’s a modest assembly of ingredients. The pieces of meat are pounded, dredged, and browned.
A saute of tomatoes and “The Trinity” form the foundation for the grillades to finish in a long simmer. To add some savory toasted depth, you can make a quick roux, using the leftover seasoned flour. Cook it in a skillet with a little butter and vegetable oil, stirring occasionally, as it acquires a medium brown sheen. Stir in water or broth, and add to the Tomato-Trinity saute.
Grillades, like stews, improve with time.
These fabulous grits, though, are creamy perfection, right out of the oven.
TOASTED GARLIC GRITS
2-3 cloves fresh Garlic, minced
1 1/2 T. Butter
2 cups Water
1/2 t. Salt
1/4 t. Black Pepper
dash or two Cayenne
1/2 cup Stone Ground Grits
1/4 c. Half and Half
1/2 c. shredded White Cheddar
Melt butter in a 2 qt. saucepan on medium heat and sauté minced garlic until it becomes toasty golden brown. Add water. Stir in grits. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Simmer for about 20 minutes—grits will become creamy. Remove from heat. Stir in half of the shredded white cheddar.
Beat egg with half-and-half. Beat mixture into cooked—and slightly cooled grits. Pour into a buttered casserole dish. Dust with remaining shredded cheddar.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven until puffed and golden, about 25 minutes.
1 lb. boneless Pork, cut into chunks, trimmed, pounded (the “grillades”)
Seasoned Flour Mixture: 1/3 c. All Purpose Flour, 1/2 t. Salt, 1/2 t. Black Pepper, pinch Cayenne, 1/4 t. Paprika, 1/4 t. Granulated Garlic
2 T. Vegetable Oil
1 T. Butter
1/2 c. each Diced Onion, Sweet Red Bell Pepper, Celery (aka “The Cajun Trinity”)
1 t. Fresh Thyme
1 can Tomatoes (whole or diced) and Juice
1 1/2 t. Worcestershire Sauce
1 t. Louisiana Hot Sauce
1-2 T. Quick Roux
1/2 c. Water or Broth (chicken or vegetable)
Dredge the grillades in the seasoned flour and shake off excess. Reserve unused flour mixture to make quick roux.
In a skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Brown the grillades well on both sides, a few at a time. Transfer the grillades to a plate. When finished, melt butter over medium heat in the same skillet, scraping any browned bits from the meat. Add the Onions, Bell Pepper, Celery, and Garlic and cook until the vegetables are soft. Stir in Worcestershire, Tomatoes and their juice, fresh thyme.
Make quick roux:
In a separate skillet, melt 1 T. Butter with 1 T. vegetable oil. Add the remaining seasoned flour mixture and stir well, dissolving the flour. On low heat, cook the flour mixture until it becomes toasty brown. Add water or broth and stir well, until thickened. Pour into the other skillet, and fold into the tomato-vegetable meld.
Return the grillades to the skillet. Cover and simmer for 1 hour or until tender. Taste for seasoning, and add a few dashes of Louisiana Hot Sauce to deepen the mild heat.
What good meal could you make for under five dollars?
Slow Food USA initiated this cooking challenge, one which meshed nicely with our Third Thursday Community Potluck this month. In a rough economy, and an ever-widening “food gap,” knowing how to prepare tasty, nutritious food at an affordable price is a crucial survival tool.
Calling it “The $5 Challenge,” Slow Food encouraged potluck gatherings to share “true value meals.” Last Saturday, 30,000 people allover the country came together to dine on these good dishes, all made with fresh ingredients, and costing less, per person, than an Abe Lincoln. Recipes from these events will be amassed and shared.
Informally, our Third-Thursday group did the same, although we kept our potluck on its given day, rather than the Saturday, as suggested by Slow Food. In the quest for community—and tasty affordable food—we didn’t think a couple of days mattered. It’s part of our monthly pursuit anyway.
And, serendipity, we had already chosen a “Breakfast for Dinner” theme. That meal provides plenty of hearty, nutritious, and inexpensive dishes: Omelettes, vegetable frittatas, mock souffles, noodle kugels, cheese grits casseroles, and the like.
We know that cooking seasonally, using of-the-moment produce, is far more cost-effective.
In Nashville, fall is in air. Bushels of apples and potatoes are plentiful at the market. With that in mind, I chose to make a batch of fresh applesauce, and my crispy potato pancakes. Both are ridiculously simple, and “cheap” recipes–short on ingredients, but long on satisfaction.
I hadn’t considered applesauce in a long time, although it’s something that I associate, in a pleasant way, with childhood. It was one of the acceptable things that this super-picky eater would deign to let past her lips.
We always had jars of Mott’s Applesauce on the shelf, something my beleaguered mother could count on to spoon onto my plate, and not be met with eyes of abject horror or disgust.
But nothing could be easier than making a pot a fresh applesauce. Core and rough-chop the apples–leave their peels on. Cook them down with a little lemon, brown sugar, and cinnamon–that’s really it. (This could be adapted to a slow-cooker–throw everything into the pot, and let it go all day, while you work.)
The peels mostly dissolve as the apples soften into a chunky sauce, providing flavor, nutrients, and needed pectin to thicken. If you want a smoother sauce, you can run the cooked mixture through the food mill.
Ginger Gold Apples, with their pale green skins tinged with rosy blush, proved to be a good choice. They have a bright, pleasing balance of sweet and tart.
Pommes-de-terre, Aardappelen, Potatoes are indeed the Apples of the Earth! We love potatoes in all iterations.
My potato pancake, or latkes, recipe is gluten-free. Years ago I would add flour, but learned later that there was no need; there’s enough natural starch in the potato to accommodate. Eggs add a little protein, and help bind the crispy shreds together.
What’s not to love about these little potato nests? Crunchy golden brown goodness, with a hint of sweet onion in the mix…they make terrific accompaniments to any meal, breakfast or not.
What I must note about the $5 challenge: it’s an easier one to meet, if you are cooking for a group. (And, likewise, if that group is sharing dishes, in the potluck spirit!)
My big batch of potato pancakes cost just about $5, and fed a crowd. Making 30, that’s almost 17 cents a cake. The applesauce cost less, around $4, and was delicious in its own right, or dolloped onto the potatoes.
But I think that we would all be hard-pressed to consistently create well-rounded meals for under $5 a person, especially if cooking for one or two. And many today have less than that to work with.
I lead a charmed life, and I am grateful for it. I am generally frugal, but have the where-with-all to buy, cook, and enjoy more expensive foods. And that’s fine. But access to basic, affordable good food should be a right, not a privilege. It’s important to share our knowledge, so that people can cook delicious meals using fresh food for themselves and their families.
Have you got a favorite inexpensive dish to share?
6 large tart green apples, such as Ginger Golds
1/2 cup Demerara Sugar
1 Cinnamon Stick
1 Lemon, quartered
Core and rough-chop apples. Place into a large saucepan on gentle heat. Add brown sugar, lemon quarters, and cinnamon stick. Cover and allow apples to cook on slow medium heat, for about thirty minutes. Stir occasionally. Covered, the natural juices will release, condense, and fall back into the apple mixture. The peels will mostly dissolve and add their natural pectin.
Remove cinnamon stick, lemon peels. Serve warm or cold.
Makes about 4 cups of applesauce.
POTATO PANCAKES (gluten-free)
4 lbs. Yukon Gold Potatoes
1 large Yellow Onion
4 large Eggs
2 t. Sea Salt
1 t. Cracked Black Pepper
2 t. Paprika
canola oil for frying
1 T. butter to season the oil (optional)
Shred potatoes (I used the food processor with the shredder attachment.) and place into a large mixing bowl. Finely dice the onion and toss in with the potatoes.
In a separate bowl, whip eggs, sea salt, black pepper, and paprika together. Pour over potato-onion mix. Toss well so that everything is well coated.
Heat a skillet and pour in canola oil, about 1/2″. Melt in a tablespoon of butter, if you’d like to flavor this neutral a bit.
With a slotted spoon, scoop up a small mound of shredded potato mix and place in hot oil. Repeat until the skillet is filled but take care not to crowd. (I fit 4 at a time.) Cook for about 3 minutes—look for crispy brown edges. Wait for the right “brown-ness” before flipping with a spatula.
Rotate in the pan, as needed, so that the ‘cakes brown evenly.
Place cooked potato cakes onto a metal grid to drain, (or paper towels).
Note: As the mixture sits, some of the water from the potatoes will release into the mixture. This is not a problem. Continually stir, lifting out each mound with the slotted spoon, leaving some of that liquid behind.
Makes about 30 crispy potato pancakes
I love my cast iron skillet. Sturdy, even-tempered, versatile: it does all the saute and fry work you need on the stove top, ( incomparable for crusty country-fried chicken) and it does equally well in the oven ( key to crisp-edged jalapeno-cheddar cornbread).
Or, as in the case of this frittata, it can pull double duty, moving seamlessly from stovetop to oven. And then, as a serving vessel, right to the table.
All it asks in return is to be kept wiped clean and well-oiled.
Maggie found this one for me at an antique/junk shop. It was in excellent condition–balanced, right heft in the hand, no warps, flaws, or rust. Although it had been long out-of-use, it was already seasoned. It didn’t take much to clean it up, “reseason” it, and bring it back to life.
Well-cared for, it could last a lifetime. Or two.
Sometimes, it gets lost towards the bottom of my pots-and-pans drawer, a mammoth hodge-podge of stainless steel, enamel, and glass. And I forget to use it!
But, I’ve put my trusty cast iron to work for today’s recipe: a frittata, versatile as the skillet in which it’s cooked.
For our brunch, I used swiss chard, green onions, and basil, all fresh-picked from my front yard garden. I wanted to include roasted potatoes, and thought they would make a tasty crust-like base for the dish.
It’s a simple plan. While your potato slices are roasting brown and chippy in the oven, you saute the chard and onions, and whip up your eggs. Once the chard is ready, you’ll line the bottom of the skillet with the potatoes, and layer the savory greens on top.
Pour the beaten eggs and scatter the caramel, nutlike gruyere shreds over the mixture. Begin cooking the frittata on the stovetop, but you’ll finish it off it the oven. In the time that the frittata sets, you can put together a zippy basil-green onion gremolata.
The Gremolata? It came almost as an afterthought. I had picked a few too many basil leaves, and had a couple of extra green onions sitting out on the counter. I had a lemon out for iced tea. All the ingredients were staring me in the face–waiting.
I didn’t want to make a full-blown pesto—just a bright, extra flash of flavor for our dish. With their combination of sweet herby greens and lemon zest, gremolatas accomplish that easily. You can imagine its versatility, too. (grilled fish, baked chicken, pasta, potatoes..)
When it comes to any style of eggs, Bill tends to be a ketchup guy. But, he was able to set aside his love of Heinz for the bright change-up that this brings.
SWISS CHARD-ROAST POTATO FRITTATA
1 large or 2 med. Baking Potatoes
1 bundle Swiss Chard, washed and chopped–stems and leaves separately
a few fresh Basil leaves, chopped
1 small Onion, diced
a shake of Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 cup shredded Gruyere Cheese
a few grindings of Black Pepper
9″ cast iron skillet (or one that can also go into the oven)
Slice potatoes thin. Brush with olive oil and lay out on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place into a preheated 375 degree oven and roast until slices are browned–about 12-15 minutes.
On medium heat, warm olive oil in your cast iron skillet, and saute chard stems and onions together, about 7 minutes. Stir in chard and basil leaves. Season with salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Saute another 2-3 minutes, until leaves collapse. Remove from skillet and place into a work bowl.
Potato slices should be brown. Remove from oven and arrange slices on the bottom of the cast iron skillet. (Keep oven on, however.) Spoon cooked chard over the potato layer.
Beat eggs well with a little salt and pepper. Pour over chard and potatoes in the skillet. Top with grated cheese.
Cook the frittata covered on the stovetop until almost set—edges will be slightly brown but the center a little wiggly–tis takes about 8 minutes.
Finish the frittata in the oven–another 5 minutes or so. The egg mixture will be set, and the cheese will be browned and bubbly.
BASIL-GREEN ONION GREMOLATA
1/2 cup Basil Leaves rough chopped
2 Green Onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 T. fresh Lemon Juice, plus 1 t. zest
Salt and Pepper to taste
Mound the chopped basil and green onions together on a cutting board, and cut them up together–just a few chops. Put into a mixing bowl and add olive oil, lemon juice, zest, salt and pepper. Stir well. Allow the flavors to develop and taste for acid and salt. Spoon over sliced frittata.
April’s first weeks ushered in a Nashville Spring with roller-coaster gusto: sunny days swinging to sweltering 90 degrees, followed by terrific tree-felling storms, a final chilling wintry blast, and moderating now into The Ideal.
Our world has turned new-green. Crumpled masses of peonies are unfurling. Shoots of chives poke up out of barren planters. Dogwoods are in profuse bloom, their white petals glow in the gathering shadows at dusk.
My cousin calls Spring the Optimist’s Season, the one that brings her the most joy.
I have to agree. I relish the promise of the new, and its vibrant energy. And, around our household, it’s been busy-busy with many projects: Preparing garden beds for vegetable and herb planting. Recipe testing for a magazine’s fall issue. Interviewing a chef for another magazine. Writing food-inspired poetry.
In the midst of such busy-ness, it’s been tricky to find time for My Cooking. So, today, in the face of April’s optimism , I want to share something delicious and easy. Something you can make in a blink. Something that holds those simple light flavors of springtime. I promise.
Gougères are savory cream puffs, traditionally made with gruyere, a semi-hard cheese valued for its rich, nutlike flavor. But other cheeses work well into the eggy dough. Soft goat cheese, cracked black pepper, and chives combine to make tangy puffs that have creamy centers under crisp shells.
The recipe comprises a terse list of common kitchen ingredients: flour, butter, eggs, salt and pepper, along with two less common, but readily available: chevre and chives. I found some local Belle Chevre at our market, and chives from a pot on my front porch.
You can add a little lemon zest, if you like, to further scent the paste.
In about 20 minutes, you can have puffs piped onto sheetpans, and into the oven.
The trick to making good gougeres is in the stirring. You will get a good upper arm workout, in the process….
Bring your seasoned water and butter to a boil.
Dump in a cup of flour and stir with vigor. As it cooks, it will form a ball-like mass, coming away from the sides of the saucepan.
Turn off the heat. Make a well in the mass and beat in one egg–quickly. When it is incorporated, beat in the next egg. Continue until 4 eggs are beaten into the dough. It will look a little glossy.
The soft goat cheese crumbles fold and melt into the dough easily.
The dough will be soft, smooth, maleable, not at all runny. It will pipe into pretty ridged rounds on a parchment-lined sheetpan. If you don’t have a pastry bag, you can spoon little mounds instead. If you want, you can brush them with an egg wash for an extra crisp and shiny surface—but this is not essential.
In 25 minutes, they emerge, puffed and golden.
Unlike gruyere-based gougeres, which have a big hollow, the goat cheese ones have light creamy centers. Perfect bites to share with friends, toasting a spring evening, before you put some fish on the grill, some asparagus in the steamer, some fresh greens in the salad bowl…
GOAT CHEESE-CHIVE GOUGERES
1 cup Water
8 T. (one stick) Butter, cut into pieces
1/4 t. Salt
a few grindings of black pepper
1 cup All Purpose Flour
4 Eggs, plus 1 Egg
5 oz. Goat Cheese, crumbled
Fresh Chives, snipped into little pieces
Maldon Salt, for dusting over the gougeres
baking sheet pan lined with parchment
pastry bag (optional)
Preheat oven to 375º.
Place water, butter, salt, and pepper into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and dump in flour. Stir vigorously, until it is well incorporated, pulling away from the bottom and sides of the pan, and becomes a mass. Remove from heat. Using a wooden spoon, beat in eggs–One At A Time– into the flour mass. This will be a terrific upper arm workout!! Then beat in goat cheese crumbles and chives.
The pastry dough–a savory pâte à choux—will be glossy. Scoop it into a pastry bag, and pipe little mounds onto your parchment-lined sheet pan. If you don’t have a pastry bag, simply dollop small spoonfuls on to the pan.
Brush each with egg wash–1 egg beaten with some water. This step is optional.
Sprinkle chives and maldon finishing salt over the tops.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until puffed and golden. Serve warm.
Once cooled, these can be frozen, and used whenever! Just reheat for a few minutes in a 350º oven.
Makes 30-36 tasty bite-sized puffs.
While I’m not big on resolutions, I decided to begin this year by making an effort to use up Good Things that I had in my pantry: Good Things, before they go Bad.
Too often I have been overly enthusiastic about a product, purchasing, for instance, too much stone ground wheat flour, only to have it turn rancid on the shelf because I didn’t do the bread baking I had envisioned. Or, I’ve been too protective of a product, like a spectacular bottle of reserve extra virgin olive oil, that I “saved” for special use, only to find it months later pushed to the back of the pantry, it, too, gone south.
So, when I was casting about my kitchen last week for a Sunday brunch treat for us, I realized that I had all the Good Things on hand to make this appealing strata:
Tomatoes from the 2009 canning season—–It’s 2011, what are you waiting for?
A bag of cubed bread in the freezer———No Time Like the Present
Fresh Mozzarella from a New Year’s purchase—Use It Now or Lose It
Summer Pesto——That’s why you put it up!
Stratas are simple. They are mock souffles, and lend themselves to myriad variations. The bread makes them somewhat sturdy, and therefore you can make rather sizeable ones. Once, one of our Third-Thursday Potluckers, Jen, brought a stunning Tomato-Goat Cheese Strata in an 10 qt. Le Creuset pot that was absolutely dreamy—deep, custardy, with a tomato essence that just tasted of summer. It was the hit of the wintertime potluck dinner!
On a chilling January afternoon, a taste of summer would be most welcome.
And, on this chilling January afternoon, my skillet filled with the tastes of summer. Ah, the acid-candy sweetness of my Brandywines and Lemon Boys. The peppery bite of Genovese basil.
I reminded myself that this is one of the true joys of canning tomatoes—-the first time you crack open the jar in winter. There, red-gold in your hand, are all those sweet aspects of summer-on-the-vine.
It transports you out of the winter drear into the tangle of an August garden.
I would have made my strata like Jen’s–with goat cheese. The tanginess that it imparted was terrific. But, some delectable Buffalo Mozzarella packed in liquid, stored in my fridge, was not going to remain delectable for long. It was begging to be used, and would be a creamy asset to this strata. Spoonfuls of my summer pesto would give the mild cheese pizzazz.
Very quickly, the baking vessel fills with glistening layers. You can even make the strata to this point, and refrigerate it overnight to bake fresh in the morning. It’s that easy!
But, the best part awaits you—-when it emerges puffed and beautifully browned from the oven. And, I promise, an airy scoop of this strata will bring last summer’s garden to this winter’s plate.
1 medium Onion, sliced thin
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 can (16oz) Tomatoes and Juice
3 cups Cubed Stale Bread
4-6 oz. fresh Mozzarella
4 T. Pesto
1 cup Half-and Half
Cracked Black Pepper
9×13 casserole dish or 1 qt. size souffle dish
Heat a skillet, add olive oil, and saute onions and garlic until translucent. Add chopped tomatoes and their juice and continue to simmer. Season with salt, black pepper, a dash of red pepper flakes, if you like. When the sauce has cooked for about 10 minutes, remove from heat and stir in the stale bread cubes. Stir until all the bread is coated with the tomato mixture.
In a bowl, beat eggs and half-and-half together until blended. Whisk in a little salt and pepper.
Coat a casserole dish or souffle ramekin with olive oil. Spoon in a layer of tomato-bread mixture. Top with a layer of sliced mozzarella. Spoon some pesto over the mozzarella. Repeat the layering.
Carefully pour the egg mixture over the tomato-cheese layers. You can poke through the strata with a fork, or even a chopstick, to make sure the mixture gets through the layers.
Place into a preheated 350º oven and bake until puffed and golden brown—about 30 minutes. Serves 4