Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Discovering the Everyday

 Got the March Food and Wine Magazine last week. I often have to laugh, when reading my gourmet mags, as they are continually discovering or rediscovering nutritious edibles vegheads have long cherished, like chia seeds, yogurt, or kale.

 There's a smart group of food-savvy people that have always known about kale-- around these parts, we call them Southerners, and when we're not busy wishing we had the 'nads to use as much butter and sour cream in our pound cakes as they do, we sometimes notice how very veg-focused their cuisine can be. This is true of Southern food from the most down-home dishes to the hoity-toitiest. Southerners  ''know from" beans, potatoes, greens, tomatoes, squash-- you name it, Southern Living has recipes for it: mashed, creamed, baked with other veggies under a crumbly topping, or cooked on the stove with seasonings till there's pot liquor to die for. Or shredded raw and served in a slaw.

 That's why, a few years back, I jumped at the chance to own Frank Stitt's Southern Table, a hardcover cookbook heavy with the weight of all the good vegetable recipes it contains. Still wrapped in plastic, it was priced at a mere $2 at a thrift store where the staff clearly had no idea of real value. It was a find, but after opening it, and reading Stitt's heartfelt and well written homages to his local ingredients and their purveyors, I'd have considered it a bargain even at $30. At Stitt's Alabama restaurant, the Highlands Bar & Grill, he takes familiar dishes and serves them up with a refreshing twist. From the Watermelon Margarita  to Pea Cakes with Tomato Salsa, the menu makes for a tantalizing read.

 One of my first favorite recipes from Southern Table was Miss Verba's Pimiento Cheese. I had only vague childhood memories of some bright orange jarred horror version of this delicacy, but the loving way Stitt described it, I knew I had to try making it fresh for myself.

 Love at first bite. Then, I skewed the recipe for my own palate, making it tangier and maybe less creamy by adding dijon mustard, garlic, and more hot sauce. Here it is, for you to try, if you haven't already. A cheese dip with veggies, that kids might actually eat!

Miss Verba's Pimiento Cheese,  from Frank Stitt's Southern Table
(slightly adapted by Mari)

1 lb. sharp yellow cheddar

1/4 lb cream cheese, softened

3 large red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded & chopped

1/2 C homemade mayo, or best quality commercial mayo

1 tsp sugar

1 clove garlic, minced fine (optional)

1 heaping Tbsp dijon mustard, or more to taste
Splash of hot sauce, such as tabasco or cholula ( I used Frank's)

1/8 tsp cayenne, optional

 Grind the cheddar in food processor fitted with grating disk, or grate on the small-holed side of a handheld grater*. Put grated cheese into a large bowl, and add all other ingredients. Blend together thoroughly. Refrigerate and serve chilled. Keeps several days in fridge, covered.
Best with crackers like saltines, or crisp vegetable strips-- carrots, celery, peppers, cukes.  Also makes a mean grilled cheese, and is delicious on any burger or sloppy joe type of filling. Or just spread it on a thin slice of baguette and munch.

*Note-- it really has to be hand-grated cheese to taste right. The FP makes it too creamy, and pre-grated cheese in a bag doesn't have the flavor-- I know, I tried it once.

 Now that we're being fooled into thinking Spring is here, why not have some Pimiento Cheese with crackers and a glass of cool white wine? Maybe we can't sit outside with it, yet, but we can think about a garden dinner. And planting an herb patch, soon.

 Peace, Mari

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