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Pimento Cheese


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I have the luxury of having a July birthday.  When I was in elementary school this seemed like a tragedy at first.  Not having a birthday during the school year where everyone could celebrate me was horrible.  Until I realized the trick of it.  I learned that if I began celebrating my birthday in May, before school ended, I could continue celebrating all summer long.  And because my family is so spread out, as we made our summer travels to visit everyone, I could celebrate over and over again.

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One of the nice things about birthdays is that you can ask people to do certain things for you, and because it’s your birthday, they always do.  The same concept applies once you’ve left the nest.  Everytime I visit home, my parents make my favorite foods, something that used to be confined to my birthday.  I ask for certain things from each person for my birthday (or now, visits home).  My mother makes me lemon chicken and her delicious mashed potatoes.  My father makes me brunswick stew, or chili, or oysters during the winter and a tomato sandwich from home grown tomatoes during the summer.  My grandmother used to make me two things.  First, she would make me a blueberry mountain pie.  Second, she would make me my very own tub of pimento cheese, that I didn’t have to share with anyone.

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Pimento cheese is one of those foods that is inherently southern.  The appeal is hard to explain to people who don’t grow up eating it, and a lot of the time people just don’t like it.  There are variations (and I beg you never to try the store bought stuff), but essentially it includes extra sharp cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, and pimentos.  Some people add garlic, horseradish, dill pickles, and even mustard.  But I’m a pimento purist.

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When I was a kid, pimento cheese was also one of the things that I could help make.  These days a lot of people will throw the ingredients in a food processor and call it a day.  But making pimento cheese is an experience, like snapping green beans, that promotes relaxing and story telling.  My grandmother would combine the ingredients in a plastic bag and then let me sit on the counter and squish them with my fingers while we talked and she cooked other things.  Or while we sat on the front porch of the Swamphouse.  It’s a fool proof system, you can’t over-combine the ingredients.  And the benefits of passing on a tradition will completely outweigh the time saved with a food processor.

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Pimento Cheese

2-3 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

4 ounces diced pimentos (in a jar)

2 tbsp mayonnaise (or light mayo)

Begin by grating your cheese.  I recommend a medium size grate, not the smallest, but not the big chunks.  Start with two cups of cheese, and add the last cup as you mix it, depending on what you like.  I like my spread cheesy, so I use the full three cups.  It’s really your preference.  After you’ve shredded your cheese, dump into a gallon ziplock bag.

Partially drain the pimentos and add them to the bag.  Scoop in the mayonnaise and zip the bag- make sure you get as much air out as possible.

Use your hands to roll the ingredients between your fingers until it’s totally incorporated.  Add in extra cheese as you need it.

When you’re done, snip the corner off the bag and squeeze the spread out like it’s icing in a pastry bag.  Serve with crackers, on a sandwich, or on cold uncooked veggies.

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Turkey Chili

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This is my least favorite part of the year.   By Valentines Day I’m wintered out, and it feels like the stretch between now and 80 degrees is an eternity.  Not to mention that the weather keeps teasing us with sporadic 70 degree days, and then going right back to cold.  It’s not fair.  I’m at that point where I just want to make like the first lady and bare arms.

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I know that by most people’s standards the measly amount of snow we’ve gotten this winter was nothing but disappointing, but I am tired of it, sick of it, and ready for spring.  Snow is refreshing and fun in December.  I love the thrill of fall.  But now I find myself staring forlornly at my sundresses and pouting around the apartment.  So, on Thursday night when they called for more snow, I wanted to scream and flee south.

Instead I made turkey chili because well, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

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Turkey Chili

1/2 lb ground turkey

2 tomatoes, chopped

4 oz crushed tomatoes

1 can black beans, drained

1 tbsp cayenne pepper

1 tbsp cumin

1 tbsp coriander

1 tbsp herbs de provence

Salt and pepper

4 tbsp olive oil

4 cloves fresh garlic

Heat two tbsp olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat.  At the same time, heat the remaining olive oil in a pot over medium heat.  Chop your garlic and divide it equally between both.  When the garlic has browned, add the turkey to your saute pan, and  the chopped tomatoes to your pot.

Drain your black beans and add them in with the tomatoes.  Add half of the cayenne pepper to the turkey, and add the rest of the spices and herbs to the pot.  Stir the turkey every few minutes.  It will need to cook about twenty minutes before it is done.

When the turkey is cooked, add it to the pot.  Stir in crushed tomatoes, and let boil over medium heat for thirty minutes.  Then let simmer for at least an hour, or until you’re ready to serve it.

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Dan’s Fire in Your Hole Sandwich

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About once a week, Dan makes a honey glazed chipotle rubbed chicken that we usually put ontop of a mixed green salad.  It’s delicious, healthy, and a totally original Dan recipe.  As I mentioned in my last post, Dan and I spent all of this past Sunday figuring out how we could go about opening our cafe “On the Water” in Morehead.  It’s a seven hour drive from Morehead back to Takoma Park, so we had a lot of time to brainstorm, and even went so far as to come up with a menu.

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We wanted to include the chicken I’d been calling “fire in the hole,” but didn’t think that the salad was a menu-worthy recipe.  We’re really only putting our top contenders up there, and the salad wasn’t cutting it.  So, we decided to adapt it into a sandwich.  Because the chicken is heavily glazed, we needed a thick bread.  I hate when the ingredients in a sandwich dissolve the bread and it all sort of spills out.  So we chose french bread.

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We also needed to do something to cut the spicy.  See, the way that this chicken operates is that when you first put it in your mouth, all you taste is the sweetness of the honey.  Then, as the honey glaze dissolves, the kick of the chipotle hits you, and your mouth is on fire.  So we wanted to add a creamy cheese, something that could compliment the chicken but take away some of the after-effects.  We juggled a few options, and decided on havarti.

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Finally, we wanted to add something leafy that would bring a freshness to the table.  We’re big fans of the way that cilantro plays on other flavors, bringing a sweetness and a freshness into dishes that you can’t find in other fresh herbs.  If only cilantro weren’t such a pain to grow, we’d grow pots and pots worth of it to keep it fresh around the house all the time.  It really does do great things for this sandwich.  In fact, the next time we make it, FiYHS 2.0 if you will, I think I’m going to add more cilantro.

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This sandwich really is delicious.  For a 1.0 version, it’s top notch.  I would make a few changes.  It was a little cheesy and a little bready.  I think I would hollow out the roll a little so it was just a tad less bread, and use one slice of cheese per sandwich instead of two.  I would also, as I mentioned, add a little more cilantro.  I really do think it’s going to be a big hit.

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Dan’s Fire in Your Hole Sandwich

1 chicken breast

2 tbsp chipotle chili powder

1 tsp garlic powder

4 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp hot sauce

1/2 french bread loaf, cut in half both ways

1 tsp cinnamon

6 tbsp honey

6 tbsp fresh cilantro

4 slices havarti cheese

Salt & pepper

Pat your chicken dry on both sides and rub with chipotle, salt and pepper, and cinnamon.  Heat 2 tbsp oil.  Stir in garlic powder and hot sauce.  Place your chicken in the pan and cook five minutes.  Flip and cook a additional five minutes.

Remove your chicken from the pan and slice into chunks.  Return the chunks to the pan and cook an additional two minutes.  When your chicken is fully cooked, pour honey into the pan.  The honey will melt, and then sizzle.  Allow the honey to reduce.

While the honey is cooking, slice your bread.  Top with havarti and cilantro.  When the honey has completely reduced, place the chicken into the sandwich and serve.

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