Sunday, February 25, 2007

Not "Pimento" Cheese: a great party food

Pimento Cheese is a Southern food, and in grocery stores south of the Mason Dixon Line, you can buy it in great tubs from competing purveyors.

I'm not entirely sure that Pimento Cheese was part of my childhood, although my Mother was fond of cream cheese and stuffed olive sandwiches. Nonetheless, I claimed the taste memory at my 35th high school reunion (Northwestern High School, Hyattsville, MD, Class of '67.) At a small gathering during the weekend, Pam Zirkle pulled out a big bowl of her Mom's Pimento Cheese that had been hand-delivered from Virginia. I couldn't get enough, but, uncharacteristically, didn't ask for the recipe.

Armed with the taste memory and determination to make this one of My Party Foods, I found a recipe in the ever-reliable Jean Anderson's American Century Cookbook. Traditionally, of course, traditional Pimento Cheese contains actual jarred pimentos, however, I couldn't find them in the grocery store, and again, uncharacteristically, failed to ask. I settled on roasted red peppers and have never looked back.

This is great party food. Make it two or three days in advance. Set it out in bowls surrounded by Wheat Thins (my favorite) or vegetables, and voila! It will disappear.  

Pimento cheese makes wonderful sandwiches, it thins to sauce pasta, and it gives new life to tomato soup.  Lacking roasted peppers, I have made it with jarred hot giardiniera.

Not "Pimento" Cheese, adapted from American Century Cookbook, by Jean Anderson, p. 353.

1 pound 16-month old Cabot White Cheddar (or the white or yellow sharp cheddar of your choice)
1 8-ounce jar of roasted red peppers, rinsed and drained.
3 T minced fresh onion or 1 T dried onion
2/3 cup light Miracle Whip (or the mayo-like product of your choice)
2 tsp brown mustard
1/2 tsp (or more) fine ground black and cayenne pepper
4 tsp (+ or -) milk or cream (non-fat milk to cream, your choice)

1. Grate the cheese. Remove it to a large bowl.
2. Process the remaining ingredients EXCEPT the milk.
3. Return the cheese to the processor and add enough milk to make a thick paste.
4. Chill overnight.
5. Serve at room temperature with Wheat Thins, in celery sticks, as a sandwich spread or on pasta. Spread on split or small rounds of baguette and broil.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Indian Spiced Cauliflower & Potatoes

When you've clipped a recipe and made it enough that it is tattered, a sensible cook find a more permanent place. For more than a decade, mine was a lovely little paper notebook, a gift from my cousin Joanne. I used it for recipes from friends and family, newspapers and magazines, and for original recipes that I worked out through trial and error. And on one sad day, I tossed it out with newspaper recycling. I still sigh -- especially for the Thai Chili Noodles -- but never mind. I replaced it with an 8-1/2 x 11 leather-bound book. It will never go out with recycling. One of its treasures is Indian Spiced Cauliflower and Potatoes.

This dish calls on your chopping skills -- or it will give you an excuse to practice on cheap ingredients. And please, get a good knife and take care of it. If you're unsure about your knife skills -- practice. Years ago I took a terrific "Knife Skills" class at the St. Paul Cooks of Crocus Hill. I was cranky after the class because I wanted to chop for three hours instead of watching, listening and getting the basics. The teacher was right, though. Like all skills, this one requires practice. I took that class in the Spring, and that summer my Onion Relish won a blue ribbon at the Minnesota State Fair. Why? Because it tasted great and because after chopping more than 20 pounds of onions, the pieces were perfect.

I have adapted this traditional Indian dish, offering the option of adding of  very untraditional onions and carrots and increasing the spices. This dish has it all: it is good hot, cold or at room temperature; it is astonishingly low in fat, and amazingly intense in flavor. Add these spices to your spice rack -- you'll use them often. If you have a very sturdy stainless steel roasting pan, this is the time to use it!

This is a two-part recipe: roast the vegetables in the oven, then add them to a spicy mix on top of your stove.  

Adapted from Gourmet (Feb. 2004, p. 135)

1 head of cauliflower, cut in 3/4" florets
1-1/2 # potatoes (Idaho or Yukon), cut in 3/4# cubes)
1 medium onion, cut in 1# chunks (optional)
1/2# carrots, cut in 1# chunks (optional)
3 T vegetable oil
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp salt

1. Preheat the oven to 475. Preheat the roasting pan at the same time.
2. Toss the cut vegetables with 3 T oil and 1/2 tsp cumin seeds and 1/4 tsp crushed red peppers.
3. When the oven is hot, put the vegetables into the hot roasting pan. Bake for 20+ minutes, stirring every ten minutes, until the potatoes are tender and the cauliflower has brown spots.

2 T vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (or dried minced garlic)
2 tsp minced fresh jalapeno (or serrano for more heat) peppers with seeds
2 tsp minced fresh ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (optional)
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 cup water

1. In 2 T oil, cook the onion, garlic, jalapeno (or serrano) peppers and ginger for 8-10 minutes.
2. Add the cumin, red pepper (optional), coriander, turmeric and cayenne, and cook for 2 minutes.
3. Stir in the water, add the vegetables from the oven. Stir well, and cook covered for 5 minutes. Stir once or twice, and serve with lemon wedges.