pimento cheese; it’s a southern thing

having lived in the south for a while, i have come to appreciate many “southern” foods.  sorghum has to be pretty close to the top spot on the list.  how can you not love hummingbird cake or homemade chess pie?  didn’t think i could but when they are homemade using a good, handed down from generation to generation recipe, both are hard to pass up.  never mind the stuff that is mass produced and sold in the grocery store; we won’t even talk about what they sell in the mini mart at the gas station…
where am i going with this?  pimento cheese, that’s where.  for years, i would see the tubs of bright yellow/orange goo in the cheese section of the grocery store and wonder who could eat that-why would they eat that?  then i had my first taste of good homemade pimento cheese.  those of you who have lived in nashville longer than i have will most likely remember a little shop in green hills, clayton blackmon.  two ladies owned the shop, it grew out of their successful catering business, and if you ask me, they made the best pimento cheese, ever.  by using a blend of freshly grated cheeses, possibly mild cheddar or colby and monterey jack, and mixing it with pimentos and mayonnaise, it was amazing.  and until recently, i didn’t think i could ever find something close to it.  
when my coworkers and i went to the beard house in february, we served the guests at the event pimento cheese made from a family recipe of one of our team members that had been handed down several generations.  that started me on a quest to find the recipe to make pimento cheese like the one that lives in my memory…

this batch was made from the recipe we used at the beard house.  it produces a spread that is almost like a dip.  it is dangerous-you can spread it on crackers or bread and before you know it, you’ve eaten the whole batch…to make this for yourself, visit the loveless website for the recipe.  to see pictures from the trip to new york city and the dinner, part 1, part 2.

being who i am, i had to try my own take on this recipe.  first stop was the deli counter in the grocery store; i had them hack me off a thick slab of the american cheese that they sell by the pound.  it is the american cheese i grew up with.  my mother never bought the stuff that comes wrapped by the slice.  then i grabbed a piece of smoked gouda.  first i shredded the cheese and then by using the food processor and pulsing it carefully to combine it with the buttermilk, i was able to get a chunky consistency.  while it isn’t as creamy at first, it does soften and almost liquefy as it sits because the buttermilk does that to the cheese.  it was just as deadly to my waistline and cholesterol count as the previous batch.

then i made an open face grilled cheese sandwich with it.  need to step away from the cheese!  try making the recipe by substituting the amounts ounce for ounce with your favorite blend of cheeses.  you will not regret this, trust me.

like many others, once i get started on something, i cannot stop.  when i go to the monthly pot luck dinner held by the master gardeners, i asked a fellow member for her recipe.  she frequently brings pimento cheese sandwiches to the dinners and i almost always grab one.  katherine’s recipe is rather simple.  half a pound of shredded mild cheddar cheese, a little minced raw onion, a small jar of diced pimentos with the juice and enough mayonnaise to hold it together which ends up being a few tablespoons.  mix it all up and let it sit a while.  then spread it on fresh bread for wonderful snacks or put it on crackers.  be warned, you may have to step away from the counter to prevent it from disappearing.

for my version, i went with some white cheeses; medium white cheddar and gruyere.  a jar of roasted red and yellow peppers from trader joe’s came in handy since my garden was lacking bell peppers and  i used some unsweetened mayonnaise to hold it together.  this stuff was awesome and i am no longer wondering how they made it-now i have a small arsenal of recipes and a plethora of cheeses available to try out.  this could get dangerous…

katherine’s pimento cheese 
8 ounces shredded, mild cheddar
1 (4 oz) jar diced pimentos,  not drained
1 tablespoon minced onions
1/3 cup mayonnaise
stir together just to combine.  serve with crackers or spread it on bread for sandwiches.  keep refrigerated, providing it lasts that long

valentine’s day at the beard house

it has only taken a week but i think i may have finally caught my breath and gotten some sleep.  after a 17 hour bus ride up, two jam packed-action filled days and another 17 hour bus ride home, i can truly say i have had a real career moment!  at times, it was a little overwhelming-to just think about where i was and who else had been there.  at others, it was just plain fun; we were so well prepared that everything went off without a single hiccup.  however, since i was a little busy, i didn’t take many photos-but i have a link to lots of them at the bottom of this post.  these are a few of the photos i took.

the front door to the house doesn’t look like much, i expected something a little grander.  perhaps some stairs leading up to the door.  but in the end, this made loading in a whole lot easier.

 the kitchen, this is the backside of the pass.
 the view into the kitchen from the far side of the pass.

 the line.  it should really be called the tunnel-as short and thin as i am, i felt a little large in this space.

 red velvet cheesecake brownies.  as a parting gift for all of the guests, i baked up 4 pans (see them lined up on the pass in the photo above?).  need the recipe?  click here.

we were unbelievably lucky; our event was on 2/14 and there were not any events scheduled on the day before.  we were allowed to load in and prep the day before.  that meant we were not as rushed and had a little time to wander the area.  when we finished prepping on 2/13, a few of us hit the streets and headed to chelsea market on foot.

 like moths, we were drawn to the light…

i do not envy the person who had to attach all of those little lights.
we pigged out on gelato and sorbetto

 then we headed up to the high line for a nap.

 the old rail line that was converted into the high line park
 love the way the building is staddling the raised railway, as if it is stepping over it
 14th street-the meat packing district

 it always amazes me that the roads are still cobbled in some of the neighborhoods of manhattan.

the uneven sizes and angles of the glass on this building made wonderful reflections.  i could have spent hours photographing the building and the reflections.  we headed back to the house so that we could go to dinner as a group.

after a lovely dinner at mc cormick and schmicks, we walked to times square.  having grown up in new jersey and spending many, many days and nights as well as working in new york city, i must say that times square at night is always impressive.  a little overwhelming but always an adventure.

 and then it was time to head back to the hotel-we had a busy day in front of us…

to see tons more pictures of all the food and the beard house, follow this link.  and congratulations to tara(in the photo above)-she travelled with us and took all of the photos on the cafe’s website.  didn’t she do a great job?

macarons: how to relax and reload…

if you live in nashville, then you know where i have been.  last week, a few of my coworkers and i made a 17 hour bus trip to new york city to prepare a special valentine’s day dinner at the james beard house.  don’t worry, at some point this week, i will post pictures and links to all of the clips and coverage.  but after a three day whirlwind trip and another 17 hour bus ride home, i needed to recharge and reload.  and since more than a couple hours of sleep was not an option, i decided to do what comes naturally-bake cookies.

 in december, i participated in a book release event for the bouchon bakery book.  and on friday morning, in a half hungover-half adrenaline overloaded state, i went for a walk on the streets of new york city.  in my wanderings, i passed bouchon bakery and then later in the day, found myself on the bus watching my coworkers sample macarons from bouchon.  so many pretty colors and enticing flavors.  it dawned on me that i had never tried making that type of macaron.  i had to reconcile that…

 well it was close to valentine’s day
 my technique needs work…

 i need to get some red color-fuschia didn’t cut it, they look like i flavored them with pepto bismal…

all filled and ready for a close-up.  i plan to make these again.  this time, i used the recipe from the bouchon bakery book.  the recipe is out there on the internet but as a cookbook author, i suggest you buy the book or at least borrow it from a library or friend.  and if not, i found it on the making of a foodie blog, but beware, sebastien rouxel works his recipes in grams and ounce conversions are tricky so your best bet is to work from his recipe in the book using the gram amounts rather than the ounce conversions on the blog page i linked to.  good luck and may the force be with you…now, i’m off to catch up on some sleep.

that next big thing…

some people have jobs, some have careers.  some work because they have to and others work because they cannot imagine not working; it’s more of a “calling” than a job.  for those of us who have careers and callings, we are lucky to also find ourselves in love with what we do.  our lives become punctuated by big moments and accomplishments that more often than not, include our professional occupations.

in the restaurant world, there are few things to dream of.  the work is hard, it is stressful and physically demanding.  most of us do not get many benefits and quite often the pay scale isn’t very rewarding either-especially if you are a woman.  even so, we get up at odd hours and work our asses off even when we are sick or have cut/burned/bashed ourselves to a point that would make others cry and give up.  in the back of our minds, we dream of the day that…i know, it’s no different than any other career path but in our profession, at least the food is good.

so where am i going with this?  after 30 years of busting my ass, after countless burns and bruises and cuts, after writing 2 books, and on and on i could go, i finally found myself facing what could be considered a dream come true.  a bonafide career defining moment.  an honor so great that it is one that i simply cannot put into words so that it sounds like anything less than bragging.  so instead, i bring you pictures.

it all starts with a simple sweet potato
 and potato chips
 onions tossed in seasoned flour by hand

crispy fried onions
 the start of a casserole
 tomme cheese made with milk from a cow named eileen
(honestly, i’m not making that up, her name really is eileen)

 carrots mashed by hand
 our own smoked pork loin
 chicken breaded and fried 
 freshly fried chicken made from our secret recipe
 squash ready for the casserole

 profiteroles awaiting their filling
bittersweet chocolate
 freshly shaved

can you feel the love?

as we worked in the kitchen, the tables were set.  it’s almost showtime!  the tension builds and we are ready.  this is just a dress rehearsal, but we took it every bit as seriously as we will in two weeks.  we are headed to the big city, about 900 miles northeast of nashville.  yes, that big city, the big apple.  we’re packing up our recipes and our knife kits and heading to manhattan.  we’ve been invited to throw a little dinner party for valentine’s day.  you won’t find us in a restaurant or hotel kitchen.  this isn’t a pop-up dinner and there won’t be any tents.  we will be taking over a house in the village-greenwich village to be exact.  and whose house is it, does it even matter?  yeah it does, it belonged to a man named james beard-ever heard of him?

and all tongue and cheek aside, none of the attitude or arrogance, i am honored to have this chance and even with all of the preparation we have done, a little nervous too.  the james beard foundation put a nice bit up about us on their website, and we have even more up on cafe website.  our local paper covered the rehearsal dinner and here is what they had to say about it.  wish us luck, and stay tuned for more photos.