Gourmet Unbound: Pimento Cheese Toasts For The New Year

pimento cheese toasts

Jeff has a new obsession with pimento cheese.  He discovered it last month at Hungry Mother in Cambridge, MA (a wonderful little restaurant, by the way).  And he’s been after me for weeks to make it, but I’ve been resisting.  Not because the pimento cheese at Hungry Mother wasn’t wonderful (it was), but because every other version I’ve ever encountered has involved a mushy processed flavorless spread that sticks to the top of your mouth. 

But since (even after feasting on every family favorite in the last week) Jeff hasn’t let up on the pimento cheese, I decided to give in.  Well, sort of.  In my search for a decent pimento cheese recipe, I found these Pimento Cheese Toasts in the January 2008 Gourmet Magazine.  This recipe will also be part of Gourmet Unbound’s January collection.

pimento cheese breadThese toasts are lovely.  What’s not to adore?  The spread is gooey, the toasts are crisp, the cheese is tangy.  No mush, and no lack of flavor here!  And so simple.  Insanely simple.  Which makes them perfect for a New Year’s Eve hors d’oeuvre. pimento cheese toasts

And since the cheese can be grated and the spread mixed a day or two in advance, they’ll only take about 10 minutes to make on Thursday night. Use really good cheese and you’ll have  great toasts.

Pimento Cheese Toasts

4 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

1/8 teaspoon cayenne (I used hot paprika and added an extra pinch or two)

3/4 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup diced roasted red pepper, well drained

salt to taste

1 baguette, sliced crosswise on an angle

Preheat the broiler.  Mix together the cheese, cayenne, mayonnaise, red pepper and salt.  Arrange the baguette slices on a baking sheet and place under the broiler for one minute.  Remove the bread, flip over each slice and spread the untoasted side of the bread with the cheese mixture.  Return to the oven and broil about two minutes until the cheese is bubbly and starting to brown.

pimento cheese toasts


Hanukkah Latkes – Finally!

Cooking Latkes

It’s not Hanukkah without at least one batch of latkes.  Crunchy on the outside and creamy inside, they are awesome with a bit of applesauce and, ideally, a big plate of brisket. 

When it comes to heirloom recipes, like my Nannie’s latkes, there is a fine line between improvement and disaster.  And, in my experience, the only way to find that line is to experiment.  A few years ago I tried adding blue cheese to Nannie’s latke recipe, which sounded wonderful but turned out to be a gooey mess.  And last year I thought that since apples are so tasty and healthy as a topping for latkes, they would be good in the latkes.  But while the apples upped the nutritional profile of the latkes, they kept them from getting  crispy.  So this year, I decided to just go for the real deal – Nannie’s latkes.  But once I looked at her recipe again and realized just how much oil it called for, I knew that I had to figure out a way to get perfectly crisp latkes without the grease overload (and without the greasy scent that fills the house).

And I think I got it.  It’s pretty simple, actually. Just use a nonstick pan, less oil, and then crisp ’em up in the oven.  Which is excellent, because the first batches of  latkes inevitably have to go in the oven anyway to keep warm.  As Nannie always said, the key to perfect latkes is draining the potatoes.  If there is too much water in the potato mixture, the latkes will be soft and soggy instead of brown and crisp. So be sure to press all the liquid from the potatoes.


Hannukah Potato Pancakes

Nannie’s Latkes (the lower fat version)

Serves 4-6

4 medium baking potatoes, grated

1 tablespoon grated onion

2 tablespoons flour

1/4 teaspoon salt (plus more to taste)

2 eggs, beaten

2 tablespoons canola oil

sour cream and applesauce to serve

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Put the shredded potatoes in a colander lined with cheese cloth.  Press on the potatoes to remove as much liquid as possible (do not rinse the potatoes with water).  In a large bowl, mix the drained potatoes, onions, flour, salt, and eggs. Heat half of the oil in a large nonstick skillet. Drop the potato mixture by the heaping tablespoonful into the pan, and press down with a spatula to form patties.  cook on one side just until brown, about 5 minutes.  Flip and cook another 3-5 minutes.  Transfer latkes in a single layer to a baking sheet.  Repeat with remaining potato mixture, adding more oil to the pan as needed, and using multiple baking sheets if necessary.  Put the baking sheets in the oven until the latkes are fully browned and crisp, about 30 minutes.  Sprinkle the latkes with additional salt, if desired, and serve with sour cream and applesauce.

Published in: on December 18, 2009 at 8:25 pm  Comments (4)  
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Pierogi Secrets

The way Grandmothers cook is just amazing to me. It’s not the lack of recipes that gets me (I am guilty of that one too), it’s actually the lack of tools. I suppose that finding a good French knife or a handy garlic press was pretty much out of the question fifty years ago.

My Nannie’s one wooden spoon got quite a workout, and when I spent a day making pierogis with Jeff’s Bopchi, I witnessed pots doubling as mixing bowls and a poor teaspoon doing quadruple-duty.

finished pierogis

After that day of pierogi-making, I profiled Bopchi for my latest mothly column in the local papers, and I wanted to share a couple extra photos and point you to the yummy recipe here.

Published in: on December 15, 2009 at 6:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Oodles and Oodles of Pork Noodles

udon noodles

Did you ever find out that your grandmother’s special chocolate chip cookie recipe was actually right off the Tollhouse morsels bag? Or that her super secret amazing brownie recipe came straight from the Hershey’s cocoa box?

Don’t get me wrong, my Nannie was a truly gifted cook, with plenty of creativity and more than her fair share of unique creations. And because everything that came out of her kitchen was so wonderful, we all came to assume that every recipe we loved was all-Nannie. I never told her how disappointed I was to learn about those brownies, and while I know that it was a bit silly of me to be upset, I was truly shocked.

And because I don’t want my someday-grandchildren (should I have any) to feel the same way, I’m going for full disclosure well in advance. Now, in fact, before I even have kids, let alone grandkids.

chopped fresh ginger rootI just know that this fabulously warming yet subtle dish is going to end up being known as Grandma Katie’s Special Noodles. And in the interest of, 50 years from now, giving credit where credit is due, I want my grandkids to know that Grandma Katie is no Morimoto. Although I’ve substituted a few ingredients and changed the amounts of others, this recipe is really adapted from Masaharu Morimoto’s The New Art of Japanese Cooking, which is truly the most beautiful cookbook I have ever seen.

scallions and cilantro

If you’ve never worked with miso, give it a shot. And if you think you don’t like miso, this is a great dish to change your mind. Jeff always thought he hated miso because he’s not a fan of the ubiquitous (and often uninspired) miso soup. But he asks me to make these noodles just about every week, and actually threatened divorce if I stop making them (it was a joke… I think). This is a great weeknight supper – fast, easy, healthy. And the leftovers are yummy for lunch too!

udon noodles with ground pork

Pork Noodles (liberally adapted from The New Art of Japanese Cooking)

serves 4

1 12 ounce box udon noodles

1 heaping tablespoon peeled and chopped fresh ginger

1 heaping tablespoon chopped garlic

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1/2 pound ground pork

1/4 cup chopped bamboo shoots

1/3 cup chicken stock

1/4 cup red miso paste

1/8 cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons vodka

2 teaspoons sesame oil

pinch of red pepper flakes

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/4 cup diced seeded cucumber

2 tablespoons chopped scallions

Cook noodles according to package directions in plenty of boiling water.

In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, add the oil and saute the ginger and garlic until fragrant. Add the pork and cook, breaking up the pork, until no longer pink, about 10 minutes. Stir the bamboo shoots into the pork. In a small bowl, wisk together the chicken stock, miso paste, soy sauce, sugar, and vodka. Add the miso mixture to the pork and stir. Cook another 5 minutes to reduce the liquid slightly.

Toss the noodles with the oil. Add the pepper flakes to the pork mixture. Arrange the noodles in four bowls, and spoon the pork mixture on top. Sprinkle the cilantro, cucumber and onions on top of each dish.

morimoto's pork noodle jumble

Published in: on December 10, 2009 at 10:51 am  Comments (2)  
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Gourmet Unbound: All-Year Blueberry Corn Muffins

Who doesn't love blueberry muffins?

Since I’ve been housebound by the snow all day (ok, housebound by my lack of desire to dig out my car), I have managed to get about a million chores done.  I even cleaned out the freezer, and in doing so found a bunch of blueberries that we had picked from my parents’ yard in RI in August.  Something about summer berries during the first snow of the winter seemed just right to me.

A bit of summer from the back of the freezer.

These muffins, adapted from Gourmet magazine’s December 1992 issue, are lovely and simple – just like so many of Gourmet’s recipes.  They have a great crumbly texture, and just enough sweetness.  Whether featuring the basics or something more complicated, the folks at Gourmet never forgot that cooking is a pleasure for all of the senses. Although I am certainly still mourning the loss of Gourmet, I, and many others, prefer to do so with abundance and celebration.  At Gourmet Unbound you’ll find posts about recipes from this month, every month, throughout the history of Gourmet, in a tribute to culinary tradition.

I have loved Gourmet since the summer I was 21 years old and an intern at the RI Community Food Bank.  Sara Moulton (the executive chef at Gourmet for 25 years) was the keynote speaker at a spectacular fundraising gala at the end of the summer.  She was so understated, yet so inspiring in her conviction that all people should have access to fresh, healthy, delicious food. 

All-Year Blueberry Corn Muffins (adapted from Gourmet December 1992)

Makes 10 muffins (per Gourmet, it makes 12, but I only got 10)

1 cup buttermilk

2 eggs

1/4 cup melted butter, cooled (the original recipe called for oil, but I went for butter)

1 cup corn meal

1 cup flour

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

11/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

pinch of salt

1/4 tsp cinnamon (this is my addition – I always love cinnamon in blueberry muffins)

2 cups frozen blueberries (the magazine called for 12 oz, which is probably slightly less than 2 cups)

2 tbsp turbinado sugar (also my addition)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Grease a muffin pan very well, or line the cups with muffin papers.  Wisk the buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter together in a medium bowl. Stir in the sugar.  In a large bowl, sift together the corn meal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.  Add the blueberries and toss to coat (this will help prevent the blueberries from sinking to the bottom of the muffins).  Stir the buttermilk mixture into the cornmeal mixture just until the dry ingredients are moist.  Don’t overmix.  Spoon the batter into the muffin tins and sprinkle the tops with the sugar to create a crunchy crust.  Bake 25-30 minutes until slightly brown.

Avoid overmixing or the muffins will turn blue.

These muffins are, in my opinion, best when served with a bit of maple butter.  Just stir 1 part real maple syrup into 2 parts soft whipped butter.  With this lovely spread, the muffins remind me of the blueberry corn pancakes my step father makes in the summer, when we have more blueberries than we can handle.

Columbia U. Chili

There's nothing better than chili and a corn muffin!

Tonight I made my first pot of chili since April.  That, combined with the fact that the plow trucks are out on the roads, must mean it’s really winter.  And while I dread the idea of trudging through icy slush and fear my ever-rising heating oil bill, I’m actually a bit excited.  I love snowballs, throw blankets, flannel PJs, hot cocoa and cozy, winter foods.

This warming chili’s great texture makes it especially hearty.  Don’t be afraid of all the chiles, they add amazing layers of flavor.  Award-winning flavor, in fact! When I was in graduate school, the Texas students club hosted a chili cook-off.  My friend Helen and I spent a full week testing chili recipes (and foregoing exam review sessions).  My roommates ate chili seven nights in a row – but it was worth it!  And I have the three-foot plastic chili trophy to prove it.  Well, ok, the chili trophy has been buried in the attic for years, but you get the point.

Anyway, in all of that testing, we learned a few surprising secrets.  First of all, we expected that a mixture of ground pork and ground beef would have produced the tastiest base for our chili.  But it turns out that the texture of ground pork just doesn’t hold up, and lean beef is actually the way to go.  We also decided that we loved the addition of beer to the chili, and we assumed that the darker the beer, the more flavorful the broth.  But, as it turns out, just about any beer will do fine, and this is really no time to break out the pricey stuff. And most importantly – chocolate.  The addition of just a bit of dark chocolate cuts acidity, adds richness, and rounds out the flavor of the chili. In this case, however, quality counts, so splurge on a bit of good chocolate with as high a cocoa content as you can find.

Chocolate really makes the chili

Katie and Helen’s Award Winning Chili

Serves 4

1 fresh poblano chile pepper

2 tsp vegetable oil

1/4 cup chopped onion (about 1/2 medium onion)

2 tbsp chopped garlic (about 5 cloves)

1 cup chopped green bell pepper (about 1 medium pepper)

1 tbsp chopped fresh jalapeno chile (about 1/2 chile pepper)

1 lb 90% lean ground beef

1 tbsp ground cumin

1 tbsp chili powder

1 chipotle chile in adobo, chopped, plus 2 tsp adobo sauce

1/2 tsp salt

1 28 oz can diced tomatoes

1 15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 12 oz can beer

1 8 oz can corn kernels, drained

2 tbsp chopped dark chocolate

Preheat the broiler.  Cut a small slit in the poblano and place the pepper on a piece of greased foil on a baking sheet.  Broil the poblano pepper about 5 minutes, turn over, broil about 5 minutes more, and then remove from oven (the pepper should be slightly blistered).  Wrap the foil around the pepper and set aside to steam.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onion, garlic, bell pepper, and jalapeno and saute until softened, about 10 minutes.  Unwrap the poblano and peel off and discard the skin.  Discard the seeds and stem, chop the poblano, and add it to the onion and pepper mixture.  Add the beef to the pot and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until the beef is browned, about another 10 minutes.

Sometimes good things come in cans

Add the spices , the salt, and the chipotle in adobo and cook about 5 minutes, stirring.  Add the tomatoes (undrained), the beer, and the beans. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for about an hour.  About 10 minutes before serving, add the corn, and then stir in the chocolate.  As soon as the chocolate melts, dish the chili into bowls and top with cheddar cheese, sour cream, chopped onions – or whatever you like.

Spicy, chunky, and wonderful!

Poached Pears and The Cookie Monster

This time of year, in between holiday feasting and party noshing, I occasionally get the urge for light, simple food. A soft-boiled egg at breakfast, a baked potato topped a sprinkle of Gorgonzola and chives for dinner.

But, with my ever-present sweet tooth and frequent desire to munch, holiday cookies call to me. And since I bought two adorable snowmen cookie tins, I feel the need to keep them full, and therefore have found myself baking constantly. And Jeff is of no help! No matter how beautifully a batch turns out, my resident critic tells me that the cookies could be lighter, or chewier, or softer, or sweeter, or more fragrant, or more chocolaty. So, of course, I bake more! And then I eat more.

But earlier this week, I decided that I had to halt the cookie cycle before it gets out of hand. I needed a replacement – something healthy, but so lovely and tempting that it would trump my cookie hankering. I remembered my grandmother (who also had quite a sweet tooth but later-in-life became very diet conscious) poaching fruit to satisfy her dessert cravings. She would poach just about anything, top it with a bit of vanilla yogurt, a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar, and call it a sundae.

Pears Poaching With Plenty Of Orange Zest

So I peeled a few pears, dropped them into some simmering simple syrup with a cinnamon stick and some orange zest, and 30 minutes later, my cookie crisis was solved! These pears are so luscious, comforting, and sweet that I am content to leave those snickerdoodles packed away tightly in their tin. And my grandmother was on to something – they are actually quite wonderful topped with a dollop of thick Greek yogurt, a drizzle of honey, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. You could, of course, use any flavorings you like in your poaching liquid – vanilla beans are always welcome, as is star anise or cardamom. But I happened to have cinnamon and orange, so that is what I used.

So Sweet And Simple!

The best part is that these pears keep in the refrigerator for days, so any time I have a sweet craving I can dish out a pear and dig in – no guilt necessary. And if you find that you have too many leftover, these pears are wonderful chopped up in a baby spinach salad with some toasted almonds and balsamic vinaigrette.

Cinnamon Orange Poached Pears

Serves 6

4 pears

6 cups water

2 cups sugar

1 cinnamon stick

the zest of 1 orange

Peel the pears and gently slice in half and remove the cores with a melon-baller. Bring the water, sugar, cinnamon and orange zest to a simmer in a large pot, stirring occasionally. Slide the pears into the liquid and cook, simmering, for about 30 minutes, until very tender. Remove the pears with a slotted spoon and serve hot or chilled with a drizzle of poaching liquid, if you like.

Published in: on December 2, 2009 at 8:01 am  Comments (3)  
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