September 30th, 2012

Pimiento Cheese, Please

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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FOR REAL PIMIENTO CHEESE
1 large pimiento or sweet red bell pepper: (roasted, peeled, and diced to make 1/2 cup)
olive oil
sea salt
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.

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Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Gluten Free, Recipes | 31 Comments »




December 29th, 2011

A Fine Beginning and Ending: Winter Salad and Trifle

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This is the composed salad that we serve every Christmas Eve. Tradition!

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This is the Chocolate Mousse Trifle that we served this Christmas Eve–destined to become a tradition.

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Hello Friends,

I hope that your holidays have been merry, and that good things loom on your horizon in the new year. As we make our exit from 2011, a bit of a roller coaster year in our household, I’ve been thinking about cycles: beginnings and endings. There’s a life to everything–relationships, jobs, homes—and when one cycle ends, it lays the foundation for a new, often better cycle. In the meantime, there’s that odd place “in between” where one cycle is ending and the other has yet to take hold. Uncertainty can be uncomfortable. It’s a great life lesson, likely to repeated again and again, recognizing endings, forging new beginnings, and surrendering to What Is, in the moment.

I don’t mean to wax all philosophical–this is, after all, a food blog. But we all experience changes–big and small—and life filters into the world of food! Bill recently had a health scare, potential cancer, and he lost his job of 23 years. That he learned both things side-by-side one recent afternoon (“You are cancer-free” from his doctor, post-biopsy, to “We need to discuss your departure date” in a voice message from his manager.) puts a stark perspective on what is really important, what is indeed a blessing.

With big change inevitable in 2012, I know that we’ll all land on our feet–just like our new cat, Sid. In the meantime, I’m sharing two recipes from our holiday dinner, a great beginning: Composed Winter Salad with Brown Sugar Vinaigrette and an amazing ending: Chocolate Mousse Trifle.

Come the new year, I’ll still be cooking, blogging, and staying connected. Always good things in the kitchen and the garden!

Best wishes to you all. As always, thank you for visiting Good Food Matters.

Nancy

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CHOCOLATE MOUSSE TRIFLE

12 oz. Bittersweet Chocolate
6 T. Strong Coffee
2 T. Vanilla
2 T. Creme de Cacao
2 T. Creme de Cassis
2 sticks Unsalted Butter, softened, cut into pieces
8 Eggs, separated
1/2 cup Sugar

1 package Savoiardi (firm Italian ladyfingers)
Heady Dipping Liquid: 1/2 c. Strong Coffee, 2 t. Vanilla, 4 T. Rum

Whipped Topping Garnishes:
2 cups Heavy Cream, divided
1/2 c. Confectioner’s Sugar, divided
1 T. Vanilla
2 T. Cocoa Powder

In a heavy 2 qt. saucepan under low heat, melt the chocolate and coffee together.
Whisk in the vanilla and liqueurs. Then, stir in the butter, one chunk at a time, until it becomes smooth and shiny. Remove from heat.
Using an electric mixer with a balloon whisk, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until the yolks become really pale yellow and thickened, almost triple in volume. This will take several (at least 5) minutes. The yolks will cling to the whisk.
Check your chocolate mixture; it should be warm, but not hot.
Beat it into the thickened egg yolks; the mixture will seem like chocolate mayonnaise.
Pour this into another large mixing bowl.
Clean and dry your mixer bowl and whisk. Beat the egg whites until stiff and glossy. Fold about ΒΌ of the whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, then fold in the remaining whites.

Select a pretty glass bowl. One by one, dip the ladyfingers into the coffee-rum mixture and line the bottom of the bowl. Spoon in a layer of mousse. Repeat with another layer of dipped ladyfingers, then more mousse until bowl is filled.

Whip one cup of cream with vanilla and 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar. Set aside. Whip remaining cup with 2 T. cocoa powder and 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar.

Smooth the vanilla whipped cream over the top of the trifle. Pipe rosettes with the cocoa whipped cream. Garnish with chocolate shavings, chopped toffee, hazelnuts, or berries, if desired.

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.

Serves a crowd! (12-16 servings)

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FESTIVE WINTER SALAD
Citrus Fruits: Clementines and Ruby Grapefruit
Strawberries
Avocado
Marcona Almonds
Maytag Blue Cheese
Assorted Lettuces

Brown Sugar Vinaigrette

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BROWN SUGAR VINAIGRETTE
(aka Southern Sweet-Sour Vinaigrette)
4 T. White Balsamic Vinegar
2 T. Grapefruit Juice
1 t. Celery Seed
1 t. Paprika
1/4 cup Demerara Sugar
1/4 piece of a medium Onion
2 t. Dijon Mustard
1 t. Salt
1/2 t. Black Pepper
1 cup Olive Oil

Place all of ingredients EXCEPT the olive oil into a food processor fitted with a swivel blade. Pulse until the onion is pureed into the mixture. While the processor is running, pour in the olive oil slowly. It will incorporate nicely into the vinaigrette. The dijon will keep the dressing emulsified.

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Sid is living the good life!

Posted in Chocolate, Desserts, Recipes, Salads | 23 Comments »