Saturday, October 8, 2011

Not'cho Mama's Pimiento* Cheese Sandwiches

For those readers who are not from the south and/or are unfamiliar with this traditional southern finger sandwich, it is an old-school, almost ubiquitous element of any party, tea or luncheon menu.  Traditionally served between two slices of white bread with the crusts cut off, this pinkish-orange spread imparts a delish creamy, cheesy, sweet, and slightly peppery flavor making it an almost universal crowd-pleaser.  After gracing southern tables for around a century**, the pimiento cheese sandwich has achieved a status akin to the beloved southern grandmother who is always seated at the head of the table (regardless of whose house it is) and is always offered (and politely refuses) the first serving of everything.  Like our darling grandmothers, the pimiento cheese sandwich deserves the occasional makeover, a chance to get all dolled up.  As I was mulling this idea over in my mind the other day I recalled a gougère recipe I made two years ago for Thanksgiving that used Gruyere cheese and herbs, and decided this just might be the perfect reincarnation of the pimiento cheese sandwich.  And so was born the pimiento cheese and scallion gougère, affectionately called not'cho mama's pimiento cheese sandwich.  In the following recipe I elected to make my own pimiento cheese because I'm one of those people who prefers it to be a little less mayo-ey than the traditional spread, but feel free to substitute whatever prepared variety you prefer if you feel so inclined.

*I know some of are probably saying, "Rachel, it's pimento cheese, not pimiento," but it's one of those things that really bugs me for some reason because the pepper is Spanish in origin and is actually called a pimiento pepper, so I think it's kind of annoying that they change the spelling for the cheese.

**I did a little bit research into the history of pimiento cheese out of sheer curiosity and my inherent nerdiness, and found this website helpful, so take a look if you'd like to learn a little about the history of this spread.

Pimiento Cheese & Scallion Gougères

for the Pimiento Cheese:
1 cup each grated extra sharp yellow cheddar and extra sharp white cheddar
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup mayo
4 oz. diced pimiento peppers, drained
1/2 tsp each of onion powder, garlic powder, and paprika
1/4 tsp each of cayenne pepper and white pepper
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium bowl mix cream cheese and mayo until thoroughly combined, stir in seasonings until evenly incorporated, then stir in grated cheeses and peppers.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, cover and chill in fridge for about an hour so flavors can marry.

yield: approx. 2 cups of spread; for the gougères you will only need 1/2 cup

for the Gougères:
just under 1/4 cup each of milk and water*
3 1/2 Tbs salted butter, cut into pieces*
2 eggs
1/2 cup AP flour
pinch of salt and pepper
1 scallion thinly sliced (I recommend just using the green part, which has a milder onion flavor)
1/2 cup pimiento cheese spread

*I have slightly reduced the liquid and butter quantities from my normal gougere recipe due to the increased moisture of the pimiento cheese spread compared to the straight up grated cheese traditionally used.

Preheat oven to 400 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium saucepan over med/low heat combine milk, water, and butter, stirring until butter is melted.  Slowly sprinkle in flour while stirring constantly until evenly incorporated, turn heat to low and continue stirring for another minute or so.  Remove pan from heat and add eggs one at a time, stirring until thoroughly incorporated after each addition. Season with salt and pepper then stir in pimiento cheese and scallions until just incorporated.  Drop spoonfuls of dough (approx. 2 Tbs worth) onto baking sheet about 1 1/2 in. apart and bake 25-30 minutes until golden and puffed up.

yield: about 15 gougères 
For the sake of comparison...
 Mama's and Not'cho Mama's...
For the record, all evidence of this photo shoot disappeared about 5 minutes after it was taken due to the irresistible deliciousness and lack of will-power involved.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Springtime Yearnings

 As the opening weekend of our local farmers' market is finally visible on the open page of my weekly planner, it seems that its approach is slowing to a crawl because I'm so excited at the prospect of beautiful fresh produce after these long winter months of squash, potatoes, and worst of all tasteless tomatoes.  Besides all the fresh fruits and vegetables, the opening of the farmers' market is one more step in the process of officially ushering in Spring, and with it beautiful bouquets of fresh cut flowers, street corner musicians, and the simple joy of whiling away a Saturday morning sipping coffee and enjoying all the merriment.  Being the lover of food and photography that I am, naturally I've compiled a ridiculous number of pictures of food and flower markets at home and abroad and have developed a habit of periodically perusing these pictures to refresh my memory and fill the void during the long, cold winter.
Included here are a few pictures of a charming little farmers' market my mom and stumbled across in a small town in Provence.  The entire scene was straight out of a movie with all the cute, little french grandmeres wheeling their little market buggies amid the umbrella-shaded stalls.  But a word of warning: don't be deceived by the outwardly cute and sweet appearance of the little old french ladies, these are a determined bunch of women who will not be deterred in their efforts to gain the attention of the vendor, especially not by a naive looking, albeit rather taller, american girl.  Despite the somewhat surprising aggression (for lack of a better word), I did manage to purchase a carton of delicious fresh cherries for us to snack on as we wandered throughout the market and surrounding shops.  Memories and pictures such as these will have to suffice just a little bit longer as this week slowly approaches opening day.  To those of you with similar Springtime Yearnings, I hope these pictures and similar ones from your own collection help to tide you over as you wait.