21 October 2013

Pimento Cheese

As is so typical of my food saga stories, this one began with a craving, continued months later with a disgruntled me complaining of the mass-produced, store-bought version prompting a lengthy internet search for recipes followed by lots of testing, and ending--FINALLY--with a recipe I love and can call my own.  Of course, this all happened about a year ago too.  *smile*

Pimento cheese.  I honestly didn't know it was such a nostalgic southern thing until I started reading people's stories that went along with their recipes.  Memories of their grandmothers making dainty "pimenta cheese" sandwiches on white bread with the crusts cut off.  Hey now.  We'll have none of that here.  I wanted a good, stiff pimento cheese (not the kind dripping with mayo!) that could talk back to a crust and leave you wanting more no matter what side of the Mason-Dixon line you grew up in.

And here it is folks.  Oh, just a note about the peppers.  I know this is called pimento cheese, but I kinda cheated and used plain ol' red bell pepper.  Even at $1 a piece, it beats paying for a tiny jar of pimentos, and I thought it tasted just as good.  I made this with fresh, raw peppers as well as roasted ones.  It was delicious both ways. 

Pimento Cheese (and cheese ball--read to the end!)

2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese (may use 1/2 Monterrey Jack) about 1 lb.  1/2 lb. total

4 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 TBSP minced onion
6 TBSP mayonnaise
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup red bell pepper, chopped (usually 1/2 a pepper)

Place everything except 1/2 of the shredded cheese and the bell pepper in a food processor and blend until smooth.  Add the remaining cheese and red bell pepper and pulse until incorporated.  (I like my pepper pieces and some of the cheese to remain intact rather than  blended into one orange mess--see picture below)  Alternatively, place all the ingredients in a bowl and stir together until they're thoroughly mixed!  Tastes better after a day or two in the fridge.  If it lasts that long.   It will stiffen up in the fridge (which makes it a great pretzel dip!) so get it out to warm a bit if you want to spread it for sandwiches.  Other ways to eat it: as a veggie dip, on a burger, in a grilled cheese sandwich, tossed with mac n' cheese, or just straight off your tasting finger!

 the texture I like

size of onion mince vs. chopped pepper

To make this into a cheese ball, just add less mayonnaise (I used 4 TBSP instead of 6) and form it into a ball after it has been refrigerated.  The one below I rolled in a mixture of chopped parsley and toasted sliced almonds.  Use a small knife or cheese spreader to serve this.

20 October 2013

Hummus, My Way

As if we all needed another recipe for hummus.  But after so many times of  randomly throwing hummus together and getting such varied results I finally started keeping track of what I did and got the recipe down the way I like it.  By the way, I costed this at about $1.65, most of that being the chickpeas.  If you cooked your own from dried beans, it would be even less!

Anita's Hummus
(servings:  ummmm . . . depends on the day!)

 1 16-oz. can chickpeas (1 1/2 cups), drained with juice reserved
1 clove garlic
2 TBSP tahini
2-4 TBSP lemon juice (towards the higher end if using fresh lemon)
1/2 tsp salt
pinch of cumin, pinch of black pepper
1 TBSP reserved liquid from chickpeas


Place all ingredients except for the reserved liquid into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the standard chopping blade and whiz it smooth.  This is one food I can't seems to make the way I like it except in a food processor. With blenders, I seem to have to add too much liquid to get the texture I really want.  In the food processor I pulse and scrape, pulse and scrape a few times, and then let it whiz for quite a while until it is very smooth.  If you add too much liquid early on, the chickpeas will always stay a little lumpy/grainy, which is fine if you like that texture.  I like mine creamy, so I add the extra liquid (usually about one TBSP as written) at the end just to thin it a little.  You could also add olive oil to loosen it up if you like.  I like my hummus creamy and pretty thick, so that it is easy to scoop up on a pretzel.

Taste and correct the seasonings as you like it.  I like a bright lemon flavor, which is why my recipe has such a wide range of acceptable amounts.  Since it's cheaper and easier to always have on hand, I often use the bottled juice (forgive me!) which seems to take less to get the brightness I like.  Also, not all tahini is created equal.  I start with 2 TBSP and then add more if I have a mild tahini.

Speaking of tahini, it is the reason I costed my recipe.  It can be pretty pricey but if you tend to use it just for hummus, it will last a long time and the cost per batch isn't too bad (about 50 cents).  

I like to serve our hummus swirled about with olive oil and za'atar (a Mediterranean blend of herbs, salt, and toasted sesame seeds--I found a great source at Ten Thousand Villages in downtown H'burg) and scooped up with mini-pretzles (since Gibbles has been sold my new favorite is Utz Wheels) or flat bread.  YUM! 

p.s. and if you've figured out how to make thick, creamy hummus in a blender, let me know!