PIMENTO CHEESE

For some strange reason, I developed a craving from my childhood – a pimento (an alteration of the Spanish word for pepper, pimiento) cheese sandwich. Interestingly enough, since then I have become aware that pimento cheese is popping up on more and more restaurant menus. The delicacy is borne of the Great Depression. It made a good substitute for PB&J and was cheap. Besides that, it came in little glasses stenciled with colorful embossed designs so that over time you could accumulate a whole set of juice glasses. In the South, pimento cheese sandwiches were the stuff of ladies luncheons. I have also heard that they are a tradition at the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, but obviously less iconic than the green jacket.

For my lunch bag, the cheese was spread between two slices of white sandwich bread. For the fancy version, the crusts are removed and then the sandwiches are cut into fancy shapes and often garnished with watercress. Except in the South, all of that is of the 40s and 50s. The little glasses are still available, but they have lost their colorful embossing. In my local grocery store, one 5 ounce glass was priced at nearly five dollars. In the South, and probably other places, you can still buy pint containers from the chilled  dairy section at the super market.

All of that is mostly of historical interest. It is easy to make your own, and it is guaranteed to be tastier. On top of that, you can doctor it up any way you please.  The basic recipe calls for three ingredients: Cheddar cheese, bottled pimentos, and mayonnaise.  I’ve added chopped “snacker” peppers for crunch. These cute little peppers have only recently been showing up in my local market. I’ve also added sour cream and Spanish hot paprika.

Once you have your pimento cheese spread, you can keep it in the refrigerator for a while.  As well, if you get tired of sandwiches, you can use  the spread for stuffed celery – another 1950s classic – or whatever you can dream up including twice baked pimento cheese potatoes. You’ll have to find your juice glasses elsewhere.

RECIPES

Pimento Cheese Spread

Ingredients

  • 1 pound sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
  • ½ pound Monterey jack cheese, grated
  • 3 miniature eating peppers, seeded and diced finely
  • 4 ounces (1 jar)  diced pimento, drained
  • 1/3 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/3 teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon hot paprika
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 2/3 cup sour cream

Method

  1. In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients
  2. Mix thoroughly so that the cheese is evenly distributed
  3. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or more

Twice Baked Pimento Cheese Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 1 large russet potato
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • pimento cheese spread
  • 2 green scallions, slices, including green tops
  • 2 slices bacon, fried until crisp, crumbled

Method

  1. Pierce the potato in several places with a sharp fork. Coat with the butter, and bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 350° F for 75 minutes.
  2. When the potato is baked, remove from the oven and cool on a baking rack.
  3. Cut the potato in half lengthwise and scoop out the potato flesh, leaving a ¼ inch shell and being careful not to break the skin of the potato.
  4. In a small bowl, mash the potato flesh until smooth. Add an equal amount of pimento cheese spread and mix to combine.
  5. Stir in the scallions and bacon.
  6. Divide the mixture in half and pack into the potato shells.
  7. Return the stuffed potatoes to the middle of the oven at 400°F for 15 minutes. Then turn on the broiler and continue to broil the potatoes until the tops are well browned – about another 2 minutes or so.
  8. Serve immediately while still warm. Serves two.

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EATING MY WAY THROUGH SAN FRANCISCO – b. PATISSERIE

It is hard to say enough good things about the b. Patisserie. This French-style bakery has been open only a short time , but it has already collected a lot of awards and a big following. It is located in Pacific Heights/Laurel Heights at 2821 California Street. The chef/owner, Belinda Leong, a friend of Sarah and Evan, is an experienced pastry chef with many awards. She is formerly the pastry chef at the Michelin-starred Manresa in Los Gatos, CA and has also spent time in the fabled Parisian patisserie, Pierre Hermé.

The main attraction of b.’s is, of course, sweet pastry in the French style, but there is also a wide selection of granolas, mousses, quiches, and tartines so you can enjoy a nice lunch or snack with dessert. There ae pln†y of tables inside as well as some comfortable chairs outside. If you prefer, you can have it all packed in a box to take home, but then you have to forego the very interesting people watching.

There is a wide selection of croissants from plain (Is there such a thing as a “plain” croissant?) to a completely decadent chocolate, banana-almond version that is filled with a velvety banana cream.

The kouign amann is a wonder. Made of a light dough (I think it is puff pastry) and shaped like an opening flower bud, the outside is a caramelized brown, crisp and glistening with sugar crystals, reminiscent of a palmier. Break open the petals and the inside is filled with a nectar from the transformed sugar inside. You will need extra napkins even if you eat it with a fork.

The passion fruit-flavored bostock is redolent of almonds and the wonderful scent of passion fruit. The creamy little cake is so elegant and so flavorful.

When we visited, it was lunch time, so I ordered a muffuletta tartine. If you have been to New Orleans, you probably have had a muffuletta from the Central Grocery in the French Quarter where it is said the sandwich was invented more than a hundred years ago. The original is served on a giant Italian bread roll with provolone, salami and cappicola. The thing that really makes it a muffuletta and different from other subs, heroes, and po’boys, though, is the unique “olive salad” rich with garlic, olive oil, chopped olives, and pickled vegetables.

Belinda’s muffuletta nails the flavors of the original, including the olive salad. But it is so much more: served on a thin slice of flavorful toasted French bread slathered with olive salad, covered with Black Forest ham, Genovese salami, and mortadella topped with provolone melted under the salamander. Only one word: delicious.

To help you make your own muffuletta, either like the original or as a tartine, I am providing you with one of our family secrets, a recipe for olive salad that we collected when we lived in Louisiana and have subsequently included in our family cookbook.

RECIPE

Louisiana Olive Salad

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup chopped green olives
  • 2/3 cup chopped black olives
  • 2/3 cup chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup chopped pimiento
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 anchovy filet, mashed
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice

Method

  1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients
  2. Let stand over night at room temperature.
  3. Use a generous serving when making a muffuletta.
Louisiana olive salad

Louisiana olive salad

 

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SCRAPPLE

Scrapple is a great family favorite that comes from my wife’s heritage. Although she grew up in Texas, she was born in Wilmington, Delaware where many of her family still reside. Wilmington is on the edge of the scrapple epicenter which lies in the Pennsylvania Dutch communities of southeastern Pennsylvania and extend into nearby New Jersey and Delaware.

One of our favorite family breakfasts remains scrapple fried in butter (nothing else will do), sunny-side-up eggs so that the scrapple can be sauced with runny egg yolk, and ketchup. (You may want to take an extra dose of your cholesterol medication that morning – just kidding, of course.)

The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink (Oxford University Press, 2007, page 529) has a comprehensive treatise on scrapple. The dish is the descendant of European pork puddings. What makes it American is the use of cornmeal, but grits and buckwheat may also be used.  The Pennsylvania Dutch  called it pawnhas before it was called scrapple, and the origin of the word “scrapple” remains cloaked in mystery and controversy. For a long time it was a regional specialty, but more recently it has been distributed throughout the country.

There is also some discussion about ingredients. Traditional recipes call for pork neck bones cooked until the meat is ready to fall off, or pig knuckles, and other pig parts. I discourage you from reading the ingredient list on packages of commercial scrapple; it is reminiscent of the ingredient list for Mexican chorizo. If you can’t find commercial scrapple, it is easy to make a close semblance of the real thing in your own kitchen.  If you have a favorite sausage recipe, you can make the scrapple even better by using your home-made sausage. After you have eaten your fill of freshly made scrapple, you can freeze any extra and use it whenever you have a craving for fried eggs and scrapple with ketchup.

A technical note: I used two large (9×5 inch) bread pans but medium (8½x4½ inch) would also work.

Ingredients

  • 2½ quarts water
  • 1 pound sausage, homemade or commercial
  • 2 cups cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground sage
  • red pepper flakes (optional)
  • additional salt and pepper to taste
  • butter for greasing bread pans

Method

  1. In a large pot, bring the water to a boil. Break up the sausage into chunks and drop into the boiling water. Return to the boil, and with a wooden spoon break up the sausage into fine lumps as it cooks. Fat will float to the top, but don’t worry. It will get incorporated into the mixture and help it to hold together when it cools and when it is fried.
  2. When the sausage is cooked and well-dispersed, whisk in the cornmeal very slowly . With a wire whisk, whisk vigorously to prevent lumps from forming. Reduce heat to the simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until the mixture has thickened and the cornmeal is well cooked.
  3. Add salt, sage and optional red pepper flakes. Adjust seasoning and remove from the heat.
  4. Pour the slightly cooled mixture into two buttered bread pans ( large or medium will do)
  5. Completely cool the scrapple-filled bread pans. Cover with plastic wrap, and chill overnight in the refrigerator.
  6. The next day, run a knife around the edge of the chilled loaves of scrapple to remove from the pan. Cut into blocks to be wrapped in plastic film and aluminum foil for freezing.
  7. Use fresh, or thaw the appropriate amount when you are ready to use. Cut into ½ inch slices. Fry in melted butter until browned on both sides.
  8. Serve while still hot with fried eggs and ketchup.

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THE PRESIDIO SOCIAL CLUB

The Presidio is one of the jewels of San Francisco. It is hard to believe that it was once an army base; it is easy to believe that it was one of the most sought-after postings in the army. Several of my military friends were stationed there, and they describe a wonderful life.

Now the Presidio has been taken over by the National Park Service. The apartments for enlisted men and NCOs have been substantially upgraded and are now available for rent. Many of the officers’ homes have been converted into boutique offices or upscale housing. The base hospital has been turned into very stylish apartments. I have been told that the base commander’s home now rents for more than $30,000 per month. From the outside it is a grand house, and the views of San Francisco Bay are amongst the best in the city.

There are tennis courts, a beautiful golf course, and miles of walking and biking trails woven amid great stands of eucalyptus and pines as well as huge beds of native plants.. All of this is left over from army days. Not hard at all to see why the Presidio was such a choice assignment.

Some of the administration buildings have been converted to tourist attractions. These include an interesting Walt Disney museum, George Lucas Productions, a bowling alley, and a conference center. The Crissy Field airstrip has been turned into a waterfront mall of dark green lawn, perfect for flying kites or for outdoor events.

Walt Disney Museum in old administrative buildings

Walt Disney Museum in old administrative buildings

The scenery is spectacular. The Golden Gate Bridge is right there; the Marin Headlands are a beautiful view; and the imposing cliffs of Land’s End rise from the other direction. I forgot to mention Baker Beach, popular with the whole city.

With all of this activity and the wonderful attractions, there are not many places to eat. Fortunately, there is the Presidio Social Club near the Lombard Street Gate. During the Second World War, a barracks building was converted into clubhouse for enlisted men and women. Over the years, it had become a bit shabby and then with the imagination of the Park Service the place was refurbished and opened as a charming restaurant and bar.  The walls are covered with images of people from past days having a good time. The rooms are furnished with old-timey lights and spare-but-trendy chairs and tables. There is a nice but limited selection of wines, and it is a good place to get that old San Francisco classic, the Negroni. The food is well-prepared and includes some creative takes on comfort food – deviled eggs, meatloaf, grilled cheese, and chicken salad – as well as some more substantial offerings.

More famous San Francisco restaurants like Greens are not too far away, but the Social Club is definitely a great place for a break during your visit to the Presidio.

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SHAMELESS

We are back in San Francisco awaiting the birth of our new grandchild. It will be Sarah’s second child, and she is more than ready for her pregnancy to be over. While we wait, we are trying to give her a hand as well as helping our son and his family in Silicon Valley. This seems like an opportune time to visit Rich Table. Sarah is not going in, and Evan is working full throttle. The three-year-old will soon learn he is not the center of the universe.

Last night we had a wonderful feast with delicious offerings from the menu.

Rich Table is well known for its inventive, modern cocktails, but we settled on traditional standbys – an Old Fashioned and a Manhattan. Both were very well made, and they were even better with a few  sardine chips (potato chips with sardines woven into slits and served with horseradish creme fraiche) and radishes with toasted fresh yeast. The radishes seem appropriate as the Rich Table menu is festooned with a red radish drawn by Evan’s father.

For starters. we both chose the chilled spring onion soup sever over bay shrimp and green strawberries that had been lightly pickled. Who could believe that a green strawberry could taste so good.

Chilled spring onion soup, bay shrimp, green strawberries

Chilled spring onion soup, bay shrimp, green strawberries

For my pasta course I chose cappellacci (full name: cappellacci dei briganti – literally, brigands’ hats – shaped like little caps) with beef tongue, escarole, and sun dried tomatoes. Rich with butter, the dish was delicious and everything worked together so well. The tongue was tender and flavorful.

Cappellacci, beef tongue, escarole, sun-dried tomato

Cappellacci, beef tongue, escarole, sun-dried tomato

Susan chose black onion chitarra, a sort of pasta made with a form of tight, parallel wires nicknamed a chitarra or “guitar”. The pasta was dark with the black onion and served with manila clams, almond, and spinach. Another delicious dish.

Black onion chitarra, manila clams, almond, spinach

Black onion chitarra, manila clams, almond, spinach

For my main course, I ordered glazed pork cotechino (a traditional Italian sausage) served with asparagus diamonds, sour orange, and a sunchoke coulis. Susan had the swordfish with artichoke and seaweed barigoule, and fava greens.

We could not pass up dessert; we didn’t really try. My choice was panna cotta with a burnt sugar sauce. Susan chose white chocolate cheesecake with fennel and pomegranate  seeds. We both got California creamsicles as an amuse bouche, and Susan finished off with Rich Coffee containing house made Irish Cream!

No shame with any of that. Here that comes. Sarah and Evan are in the running for Food and Wine’s Best New Chef contest. They are in the list of California contestants. You can vote early and often by logging in to the website and casting your vote. Here’s the link:

http://www.foodandwine.com/blogs/2014/03/24/the-peoples-best-new-chef-california-chefs 

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HORSERADISH MAYONNAISE AND PUFF PASTRY EMPANADAS

The other evening we were invited to a dinner party. It was a little bit of a pot luck, and we were asked to bring a light appetizer. I decided to use some puff pastry from the freezer to make empanadas, but that seemed a little bland, so I also made some mayonnaise as a dipping sauce.

Mayonnaise is so easy to make, and it tastes so much better than the bottled kind, that it seems crazy not to make your own. Especially when you have a fool-proof recipe (so far at least) from one of the world’s greatest chefs. Michel Roux of the Michelin-starred, much-honored Waterside Inn in England, has written a beautiful little book simply called “eggs” (John Wiley and Sons, 2005) filled with amazingly creative, not-so-classic and classic egg recipes including, of course, mayonnaise.

I doctored up the basic recipe using some tricks from Sarah and Evan. The additions of freshly grated horseradish and finely chopped chives or green scallion tops make a great dip that perks up the empanadas.

I filled the empanadas with hearts of palm, parsley, and grated Parmesan, but you can let your imagination run wild: tiny button mushrooms, little shrimp (is that redundant?), water chestnuts, olives (seed removed, of course), cubes of cheese, dolma filling, etc., etc., would all be good. I don’t know, but maybe a little oyster would work.

This recipe makes 20-24 appetizers depending upon how big you make the empanadas

RECIPES

Horseradish Mayonnaise

Ingredients

  • 2 egg yolks, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup peanut oil, room temperature
  • juice of ½ lemon, more if needed
  • ¼ cup freshly grated horseradish
  • ¼ cup chopped chives or green tops of scallions

Method

  1. Put the egg yolks, mustard, salt and pepper in a small mixing bowl with handles and/or on a towel or other non-slip surface. Combine with a balloon whisk until smooth.
  2. Whisking continuously, add a few drops of oil. When the oil is completely incorporated, add more oil, repeating the process  until the mayonnaise thickens. You may then add the oil in a more continuous stream, but pause occasionally to make sure the oil is fully incorporated before adding more.
  3. When all of the oil has been incorporated, whisk for another minute or so until the mayonnaise is smooth. Then add the lemon juice. The mayonnaise will become visibly less yellow. Adjust with more lemon juice, salt, and pepper to suit your taste.
  4. Stir in the horseradish and chives or scallions. Add more of either to suit your taste.
  5. Refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap, until ready to use. This should hold for several hours.

Puff Pastry Empanadas

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, freshly and finely grated
  • 1 sheet commercial frozen puff pastry, thawed according to directions
  • 1 14½ ounce can hearts of palm, drained and cut into ½ inch coins
  • 1 egg, beaten well with 2 tablespoons water

Method

  1. In a small bowl, combine the parsley and Parmesan cheese. Set aside
  2. On a lightly floured work surface, open the thawed sheet of puff pastry. With a lightly floured rolling pin, flatten the pastry to about 1/16 inch thick
  3. Using a 3 inch circular cookie cutter (a 2½ inch biscuit cutter will do) cut circles in the flattened pastry dough. Working quickly, place a palm coin and about ¼ teaspoon of the parsley/Parmesan mixture in the center of each circle.  Paint the edges of the circles with the egg mixture, using a small pastry brush.
  4. One by one and using your hands, stretch the dough gently to cover the palm disk. Pinch the edges of the half-moon empanada closed with your finger and then seal with the tines of a dinner fork
  5. Arrange the empanadas on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper
  6. Paint the tops of the empanadas with the egg mixture, trying not to let it drip onto the parchment.
  7. Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 400°F for 15 minutes or until puffed and lightly browned.
  8. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack to cool.
  9. Serve with the dipping mayonnaise either at room temperature or gently rewarmed.

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LYTRO CAMERA, PART TWO – ASPARAGUS AND PESTO BUNDLES

I’m still learning to use my new Lytro light field camera. It has several features that make it absolutely unique. Most importantly you can focus any part of the image while it is still in the viewfinder, and unbelievably you can focus again once you upload the image to your computer (As long as you have the provided software installed). You can make images of something very close to the lens and something in the background. Then you decide which you want to emphasize or bring everything into focus. The camera is especially useful for ultra-close-ups.

I decided to play around with the camera for images of a dish to go with the shrimp, mushroom and artichoke mac and cheese from my most recent post. Actually, I had some fresh asparagus in the fridge and some puff pastry I needed to use up. I added a little pesto from the freezer, and I wound up with something easy and  a little different. The way I did things, I was only able to make three servings, but very easily – and undoubtedly better – you can make six servings by just cutting more of the stem off of the asparagus spears. The crowns are the better parts anyway.

When basil is in season and plentiful. you can make fresh pesto, but we often make extra and store it in the freezer for later use. It is also readily available in jars or frozen so that you don’t need to take the somewhat laborious extra step of making fresh pesto.

RECIPE

Asparagus and Pesto Bundles in Puff Pastry

Ingredients

  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed according to directions
  • 9-12 fresh asparagus spears, trimmed of the woody ends
  • 1 cup fresh, frozen, or bottled pesto
  • ¼ cup pine nuts, lightly browned in a dry skillet
  • 1 whole egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water

Method

  1. On a lightly floured surface, carefully unfold the thawed puff pastry and roll with a lightly floured rolling pin until it is about 1/16 inch thick
  2. Divide the rolled dough into three strips along the fold lines.
  3. Place 3 or 4 asparagus spears in the center of each strip ( If you wish, you can divide the dough into 6 strips and use only enough of the asparagus crowns to fit the strip.)
  4. Spread a generous tablespoon of pesto over each of the asparagus bundles.
  5. Sprinkle the toasted pine nuts on top of the pesto.
  6. Paint the edges of the dough strips with some of the egg and water mixture. Fold the dough over the asparagus and pesto. With your fingers, seal the edges of the envelope. Then finish sealing, using the tines of a dinner fork and gentle pressure.
  7. Arrange the bundles on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Paint the tops of the bundles with egg and water mixture, trying not to let the mixture run down onto the parchment where it is likely to burn and may stick the baked bundles to the parchment
  8. Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 400°F for 15 minutes or until the bundles are golden brown.
  9. Serve while still warm. A little Hollandaise couldn’t hurt if you like.

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