Pimento Cheese

When I moved to Ohio from Texas in the summer of 2005, I had no idea that I’d be leaving behind one of my favorite comfort foods.  According to Wright Bryan, an NPR producer who was raised in Georgia, “Pimento cheese is so ingrained in the lives of many Southerners that we don’t realize our passion for the stuff doesn’t exist outside the region.”

Amen to that.  After discovering that I couldn’t get a burger at Dairy Queen (no burgers!  AT DAIRY QUEEN!), I found myself taking inventory of things I simply can’t get here, and pimento cheese headed the list, closely followed by decent Mexican food, Dallas Cowboys paraphernalia and the Allman Brothers on the radio.

I had clearly fallen into the Midwest version of the Black Hole of Calcutta.  Civilization was but a distant memory.

Then, while I was in Chappaqua, New York I happened on a copy of Frank Stitt’s Southern Table.  I began to weep openly in the middle of Barnes and Nobles, for I saw that in spite of my Beloved-imposed banishment to the Great White North where all things are drowned in marinara sauce, I could still have my pimento cheese and eat it, too.  I will be forever grateful.

I wasn’t going to post the recipe originally – just about it – because of the copyright laws, until I found it on several other websites (which pretty much makes it public domain).  So I give to you Miss Verba’s Pimento Cheese – it is equally good on crackers, in a sandwich or stuffed in celery and shows up the stuff you buy in a tub at the grocery store for the pale imitation it is. Yum, yum, yum.

Miss Verba’s Pimento Cheese

  • 1 pound sharp yellow cheddar
  • 1/4 pound cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • 3 large red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 1/2 cup homemade mayonnaise or best-quality commercial mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Splash of hot sauce, such as Tabasco or Cholulu
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

Grind the cheddar in a food processor fitted with the grating disk, or grate it on the small-holed side of a hand grater. Transfer the grated cheese to a bowl, add the cream cheese, white pepper, bell peppers, mayonnaise, sugar, hot sauce, and cayenne, if using, and blend all together thoroughly. Refrigerate and serve chilled. (The spread will keep for several days in the refrigerator, but it usually disappears long before then.)

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Lynn over at After the Dust Settles is giving away free, hand-painted piggy banks!  Hop on over there and take a look.  This lady is so talented and her piggy banks are just adorable.  She’s got two contest going on, and one of them requires a bit of creativity, so go take a look and have some fun!

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I’d also like to welcome Duchess Omnium to my midlife blogroll.  I thought she was in (and from) New Zealand, but as we all know I can’t tell my left from my right (or count to 100), so it’s no surprise that she’s American by birth, spent the majority of her adult life in England and now resides, albeit temporarily, in Alaska.  She’s a wonderful writer and her blog is just great – and she’s gorgeous, too.

Dutch Baby, Baby

Sunday BrunchOne of the consequences of having a “Sunday Brunch” feature is that I feel the need to come up with a different dish every week to write about. What a bummer.

Not.

I’ve run across recipes for Dutch Baby quite often, but I’d never actually made one before. In fact, I’d never eaten one before. If I’d known what I was missing out on, I’d have been making them on a regular basis for years. Not only did I love it, Beloved devoured it, going back for seconds.

It’s sort of a cross between a pancake, a soufflé, and a crepe – it’s eggy and delicate, puffing up beautifully while cooking and deflating quickly the minute you remove it from the oven, so you must serve it immediately. We ate ours drizzled with pure maple syrup, but it would be fine with just a touch of high-quality preserves, some fresh berries or just a dusting of powdered sugar. There’s certainly no need to serve it with extra butter, since it contains ample amounts.

The real beauty of this recipe is that not only is it delicious, but it is extremely simple and is made with ingredients that you most likely already have on hand.

Dutch Baby

serves 2 – 4

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

2 large eggs, at room temperature.

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter.

Preheat the oven to 425F.

Whisk together all of the ingredients except the butter until smooth; mixing them in the blender or food processor for a few seconds would probably be perfectly acceptable.

In a 10-inch ovenproof skillet (yes, preferably well-seasoned cast iron), melt the butter over medium heat. Tilt the pan so the butter coats the sides, then pour in the batter and cook, without stirring, for 1 minute. Place the skillet in the oven and bake until it is puffed and golden, 12 – 15 minutes.

Serve immediately.

Shorter of Breath, One Day Closer to Death

There’s a lot I like about being middle aged – I know who I am, I know what I want, I know my mind. The kids are almost all grown. While our debt could be less, I don’t live paycheck to paycheck like I did when I was younger. I have time to indulge my hobbies (at least some of the time). And I’ve finally decided I like me…a whole lot.

However, being middle aged brings about a new state of being: paranoia. You begin to worry about things like the state of your heart, liver, pancreas and kidneys. You spend ridiculous amounts of time researching canola oil, because you can’t seem to find a definitive answer on whether it’s actually good for you or not. You find yourself having very serious discussions about the state of your eliminatory functions – sometimes with complete strangers. You avoid McDonald’s like the plague, not only because Big Mac’s are no longer palatable, but you can’t eat one without visions of your arteries clogging and finally exploding like Michael Ironside’s head in Scanners.

My paranoia is compounded by the fact that my mother died at a young age – 51 – and that it could have been prevented if she’d taken better care of herself. So, I’ve decided to go on a di….di…DIET. Blech. I know, I know – it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle change. However, knowing my problems with follow-through, I’d best stick with a diet for now.

In the past, all of my diets consisted of head-long, all-or-nothing excursions into extremity and often entailed giving up entire food groups and radical exercise programs, while I weighed myself 12 times a day and obsessed over every ounce consumed (or not consumed) and every pound lost (or not lost). Have I mentioned I never stay on a diet very long? This time, though, I think I’m going to take a more moderate approach, since one of the many benefits of being my age is that I can now recognize and exercise moderation, a little something I’ve had problems with in the past. So I think I’ll eat what I want, in reasonable amounts, and exercise on a regular basis, but in reasonable amounts.

Hmmm, maybe I haven’t left the radical approach behind after all. I’ll keep you updated.

But What Am I Supposed to EAT?

The recent exposé of the inhumane treatment of cattle in a California slaughterhouse and the subsequent request by the FDA for the company to recall it’s beef, much of which is sold to school lunch programs, has caused quite a stir. It’s no surprise; the video is gruesome and heartbreaking. Vegans and animal rights activists, as well as those who eat meat but are anti-CAFO (contained animal feeding operations), are up in arms – again, no surprise.

As a result, there is one helluva a debate going on. Vegans are using the scandal as an opportunity to do a lot of self-righteous finger-pointing, as are the anti-CAFO folks, while vegetarians and meat-eaters who are stuck with shopping at the local grocery store out of necessity are put in the awkward position of having to defend themselves.

Falling resoundingly in the last category, I have a question for the vegans and “locavores” (people who think everyone should eat only locally grown, seasonal produce, meat, eggs and cheese – a group I wasn’t even aware existed until very recently): Just what the dickens am I supposed to eat? Because, no matter what I eat, I’m going to piss someone off. I’m already on the bad side of the raw food nutjobs by doing the unthinkable and cooking my food.

I like to think I’m a good parent, and I’ve already acquired an extensive list of what we can’t eat and how much we can’t eat of what we do eat. We rarely eat out and never eat fast food. Preservatives and trans fats are all but verboten in my home, and when I can bring myself to allow my long-suffering family something that is full of refined sugar and flour, it’s something that I’ve made from scratch – not from a box. Quite frankly, I don’t want to give up meat. As a human being I reside, quite happily, at the top of the food chain, and I really and truly do believe that people are omnivorous. We have evolved to eat meat. My youngest son is convinced of this – getting him to eat anything that isn’t meat, milk, cheese or a chocolate chip cookie takes an act of congress.

That being said, I also understand that there are things I can feed my family in place of meat. This is assuming, of course, that they’d actually eat it. I don’t care how cheap something like textured vegetable protein or soy milk is, it’s going to get pretty damn expensive in a big hurry if no one will consume it. And then there’s the anti-soy people who would probably gladly eviscerate me for even thinking about feeding a growing child – and a growing, male child, at that – soy products.

As for the “support the small, humane farmer” faction, I have this to say. In light of the recent scare-mongering involving the presence of hormones and antibiotics in my poultry, meat and dairy products, I decided I’d try to buy as much local, organically-raised food as I could. It only took one look at boneless, skinless chicken breasts at $16 a pound to put an end to that. I’m sorry, but when eggs from inhumanely treated chickens cost $2 a dozen I’m already in enough shock at the grocery store. I’m not going to consider $10 for a pound of ground round, even if it does come from a cow who is fortunate enough to have spent its life eating what it’s supposed to be eating – grass. I have a finite amount of money, people, and some of it needs to be used for things other than food, believe it or not. It won’t do us a bit of good to eat wild, pacific salmon (assuming it doesn’t have unacceptable levels of mercury in it) if we’re living in a cardboard box under a bridge somewhere.

Then there’s those of you who feel we should eat only locally grown, seasonal produce. Where do you people live? It must be somewhere warmer than where I am, because every bit of vegetation in a 200 mile radius of me is buried under half a foot of snow; it has been for about 3 months and will continue to be for at least another four weeks. The only thing locally available here are the squirrels that have broken into the bird feeder and the rabbits who are intent on ruining what is left of our landscaping. Of course, I could solve two problems quite neatly by killing and eating the squirrels and rabbits, which are both local and free-range, but that takes me back to square one and I’ve pissed off the vegans and animal rights activists again.