Friday, July 25, 2014

Zesty Pimiento Cheese with Ham

One of the most difficult things about being a family cook, or I guess I should say, yet another of the difficult things about being a family cook, is using up the bits and pieces of food not fully utilized in the creation of another dish. I recently re-worked an old favorite (more about that later) and ended up with a small piece of ham. Sure, I could have diced it into yet another chef salad, or sautéed it and added it to another omelet, but I wanted something new.

I ground up the ham in my mini food processor, hoping for enough to make a nice, spicy ham spread, but in looking at the meager half cup yield, I decided it definitely needed pairing with something else. Hmm. We had rye bread. What goes good with ham and rye? Cheese, of course.  Hey, how about cheddar cheese?  How about pimiento cheese?  How about spicy pimiento cheese with ham?  And thus a recipe was born.

I love pimiento cheese, so whipping up a batch is something I think I could do in my sleep. Each time it's a bit different depending upon the level of heat I want at the time. This was a mild version into which I stirred my leftover ham. Delicious!  Even Mr. O-P lapped it up. Now there's a recommendation for you.

Zesty Pimiento Cheese with Ham

1/2 cup ground cooked ham (just toss a chunk into a blender or food processor)
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
1/3 cup Hellman's mayonnaise
Pinch of cayenne (or more, I like more)
Few grinds of black pepper

Place all of the ingredients into a medium mixing bowl and stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Refrigerate for 3-4 hours to blend flavors. Serve in a dish with crackers, or slather onto bread for a tasty sandwich. 

What are you cooking today?

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tarragon Chicken Salad with Champagne Grapes

For me, there are about ten must grow herbs in my deck potager, all of which are ready to harvest right about now. My weekly meal planning is designed around the use of these herbs, one of which is tarragon, one of my favorites in the group of must grows.  It's a pleasant looking little herb with thin leaves on long, graceful stems, making it a nice fill in plant in pots of flowers. It seems to enjoy very much being paired with the zinnias. 

Tarragon goes amazingly well with chicken.  I have a number of recipes combining these two, all of which are warm dishes. The other day I got to thinking that, in the same way in which it enhances a hot chicken dish, tarragon would similarly enhance a cold one, and thus added it to a batch of chicken salad. Oh my, was it good! A touch of sweetness from the champagne grapes (their small size allowing them to thoroughly intersperse with the chicken) made it darned near perfect. Heap it on a fresh croissant for a tasty sandwich, or mound it in a lettuce leaf for a light supper. Either way, you're going to love it. 

Tarragon Chicken Salad with Champagne Grapes

2 cups cubed cooked chicken
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves, finely chopped 
Juice from half of a small lemon
1 cup celery, diced small
1/2 cup
Melissa's Champagne Grapes
Pinch of Old Bay Seasoning
Freshly ground pepper and salt to taste 

Place the mayonnaise, tarragon leaves, lemon juice, celery,  and seasonings in a medium bowl and mix until combined. Fold in chicken and grapes. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours to blend flavors. Serve. 

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Salmon with Pistachio-Basil Butter

As I've mentioned before, Mr. O-P is the fish cooker in the house, at least he used to be until he decided that he was going to pass that torch to me. Always up for a challenge, I accepted, and have been happily accumulating recipes to try ever since. With the basil plants at an all-time high, some of them slapping themselves against the windows, begging for attention, I was pleased to find this recipe for grilled salmon with basil pistachio butter in the current issue of Midwest Living magazine.

Basically, it's an easy meal. I made the butter early in the day and refrigerated it to allow the flavors to blend. While the salmon was cooking, I reheated it on low and then spooned it on top of the steaming fish. I thought it was sensational!  In fact, I liked it so well that I kept thinking it would be wonderful instead of pesto on warm pasta, or absolutely sinful slathered onto a split loaf of crusty French bread. Nothing beats the taste or aroma of fresh basil, but add the peppery bite of freshly harvested garlic, the nutty goodness of toasted pistachios, and a bit of zip from the juice of a key lime and, well, sublime.

As I sat at the table, breathing in the wonderful fragrance of this fresh, summer meal, savoring every mouthful, I turned to Mr. O-P and asked him what he thought, ready to pat myself on the back for my clever selection and perfect execution of this tasty dinner. The rather grim look on his face pretty much said it all, but to emphasize he added, It didn't hit me.



Hit him.


At that moment, a scene from an old Jimmy Cagney movie (The Public Enemy, 1931) where he picks up a grapefruit and smashes it into his wife's face at the breakfast table came to mind. Oh, the temptation. But I just smiled and promised to leave all future fish cooking to him.

So be forewarned. If you happen to live with someone who thinks the sun rises and sets with creamy Dijon sauce atop a piece of grilled salmon, then this may not be the recipe for you. But if, like me, you savor freshly harvested herbs, juicy garlic, and toasted nuts, then you owe it to your sophisticated self to give this a try.

Grilled Salmon with Pistachio-Basil Butter
Midwest Living Magazine

1 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves*
1/3 cup toasted pistachio nuts
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 tablespoons butter (no substitutes), melted
Dash salt
Dash pepper
6 6-ounce skinless salmon fillets, 1" thick
1 tablespoon cooking oil
Salt and pepper

In a food processor bowl or blender container, combine basil, pistachio nuts, lime juice, garlic, butter, and the dash salt and pepper. Cover and process or blend until basil and pistachio are finely chopped, stopping to stir as necessary. Transfer to a container; cover. For a picnic, transport along with salmon in an insulated cooler with ice packs. Cook salmon within 1 hour.

Brush both sides of the fish with the oil. Season fillets with additional salt and pepper. Grill, uncovered, directly over medium coals for 4 to 6 minutes per 1/2-inch thickness or until fish flakes easily with a fork, turning once. Serve with the Pistachio-Basil Butter. Makes 6 servings.

*If you don’t grow your own basil, then buy it, and buy organic.  I recommend Melissa’s.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Return to Oma's Barn

It's not often that I become obsessed with something. Well, okay, it IS, but it's not often that it follows me around quite as much as did this stack of suitcases that I saw on my first visit to Oma's barn, mentioned here. I'm not quite sure what my decorating style is in the entry hall and living room, but I guess you could call it seasoned traveler, and these just seemed to fit right in. 

For some time I have been struggling with the drabness of the entry hall, but I didn't really know what it needed. Once I saw these, I knew immediately what it needed, these suitcases! So, yesterday I was enjoying our beautifully cool, unseasonable weather, and back at Oma's wandering both in and out of the Barn. It's not air conditioned, and the last time I visited it was in the 90s, so not particularly conducive to browsing. This week, in the 70s, it was perfect for browsing, and boy did I; I could have come home with a lot more than just suitcases!
What you don't see here (and what I didn't notice the first time) is that these are on a table, so not nearly as high as I thought. The second one was gone, but a small one was underneath the table, so I got it, and the top one, and third and fourth ones in this picture. The great news is, they are NEW, they just look vintage (Read: not stinky, and don't you honest-to-goodness vintage people get after me here. I have had no end of trouble trying to get the mildew-y stink out of a bird cage that I bought, and I just do not have time to re-line and de-funkify a stack of suitcases, so this was a relief.).  Also, I spent about $50 less than I was expecting, also a relief. Mr. O-P loved the place and bought a pillow that featured a frontispiece from an18th-century book, perfect for him as professor emeritus of 18th century British literature. 
It was a great day and I have to admit that I am pretty excited. See that basket-y looking thing on top of the suitcases? It is a lantern. Very cool! It has a glass insert and when you burn a candle you get the look of a basket lit, and sort of glowing, from the inside. That's next on my wish list.
Here's a look at the exterior of Oma's where you can also buy live plants and fresh eggs!

Shopping was followed lunch at McGurk's Irish Pub, dining in the patio garden and enjoying bacon wrapped shrimp on cheese grits. Grits were a first for me, and I loved them. If you've not tried them before, give them a whirl. 
Cheese Grits
Slightly adapted from Alton Brown

2 cups whole milk
2 cups
homemade chicken stock
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup coarse ground cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ounces sharp Cheddar, shredded
4 ounces smoked Gouda, shredded

Place the milk, stock, and salt into a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Once the milk mixture comes to a boil, gradually add the cornmeal while continually whisking. Once all of the cornmeal has been incorporated, decrease the heat to low and cover. Remove lid and whisk frequently, every 3 to 4 minutes, to prevent grits from sticking or forming lumps; make sure to get into corners of pot when whisking. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes or until mixture is creamy.

Remove from the heat, add the pepper and butter, and whisk to combine. Once the butter is melted, gradually whisk in the cheese a little at a time. Serve immediately.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Modern Snickerdoodles

I like cookies, love them, in fact. Cookies, as you all should know by now, are my favorite dessert. But when it comes to Snickerdoodles, I can pretty much take them or leave them. Not so with Mr. O-P who considers them among his favorites. But despite the fact that they are high ranking in his cookie-loving world, I seldom make them because, well, they're trouble. I like a cookie that I can scoop and plop on a cookie sheet and shove into the oven. Rolling into balls and dipping in sugar is for Christmas and other cookie-centered holidays, not for an ordinary weekday like today.

A recipe in Beach House Baking (my new favorite cookbook) has changed all of this. Author Lei Shishak has come up with a simple method for making them that makes the old way obsolete. She has replaced tedious with this I-can't-believe-I-didn't-come-up-with-it-myself method that will make Mr. O-P a happy, and perhaps, pudgy man. Instead of all of the rolling and dipping, her version is made the same as any other drop cookie, but these are coated with the cinnamon sugar mixture after baking. Easy!  And boy are they good, thanks to the addition of cinnamon in the dough. My only complaint is that the recipe only makes a baker's dozen. This is a recipe that needs doubling, tripling, perhaps quadrupling. I also found that there is way too much cinnamon sugar mixture* for the small amount of cookies, so I'd suggest cutting this in half unless, like me, you store it away for the next batch.

Modern Snickerdoodles
From Beach House Baking by Lei Shishak

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground Indonesian cinnamon (I used Vietnamese)
1/4 teaspoon salt

Cinnamon Sugar*
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground Indonesian cinnamon (ditto on the Vietnamese)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper.  Set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Add egg and mix until incorporated. Scrape bowl. Add the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Mix until combined.

Scoop the dough onto the prepared trays (I use a 1-ounce ice cream scoop), and bake for 12-14 minutes, or until the cookies feel firm when pressed gently on top. Remove from oven and let the cookies cool for 10 minutes (I only allowed 5) on the cookie sheet.

Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Toss the warm cookies in the mixture. Let cool completely on a wire rack.

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