PIMENTO CHEESE STRAWS

4th February 2016

cheesestraws-words

I blinked and then it was February. We were recently discussing our upcoming move to North Carolina and how we’ll have to learn about basketball to fit in – we come from Friday night football country – and then we realized, oh, it’s the super bowl this weekend. Which led to us thinking about food, specifically game-day foods, and then beer, and then things that pair with beer, and then our thoughts turned back to the south and southern food, and then we found ourselves at cheese straws. Pimento cheese cheese straws.

cheesestraws-1 cheesestraws-5 cheesestraws-14

Game-day or not, beer or not, pimento cheese straws are a welcome snack in our house. A bit like a cheez-it, but more refined somehow. The pimentos – and additional chile flakes if you’d like – add a much need bit of pep. A fluted pastry cutter adds a bit of southern drama, but you can easily make do with a sharp knife or a pizza wheel.

cheesestraws-6 cheesestraws-7

pimento cheese straws
makes about 4 dozen

1/2 cup pimentos, patted dry and finely diced
1 1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 heaping teaspoon mustard powder
2 1/2 cups Cheddar cheese, freshly shredded
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
salt for sprinkling

In a large bowl toss together the pimentos, flour, salt, and mustard powder. Set aside.

To the bowl of a food processor add the cheese and butter and blend until almost perfectly smooth. Gradually add the flour mixture until the two are fully incorporated and resembles orange playdough – fun! Form dough into a rough flat rectangle, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about one hour.

Set the oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Sandwich the dough between two pieces of parchment paper and roll into a large rectangle about 1/8-inch thick. Using a fluted pastry cutter (with the crinkly edges) or a pizza wheel, cut the rectangle into long thin straws, about 1/8- to 1/4-inch wide. Carefully transfer the straws to the lined baking sheet, sprinkle with sea salt, place in the middle of the oven, and bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until the crackers are set and the bottoms have just begun to brown. Cool on a wire rack and serve with a crisp beer, or not.

 

cheesestraws-16 cheesestraws-8

Happy snacking, y’all.

GREEN MIGAS WITH CHORIZO FOR TWO

14th January 2016

migaswords

One of my unofficial resolutions for this new year is to eat more eggs. It’s not really a difficult resolution or one that even involves any particular effort; I like eggs and they aren’t hard to come by. I guess this resolution is more about being creative with eggs, changing things up a bit, and essentially finding more ways to stop ordering take-out when I complain that we don’t have anything in the house for dinner.
So I resolve to eat more eggs and how!

migas2emptybar3migas1 migas10 migas11

First up, migas. The timid man’s omelette. The Texan’s impatient frittata. Or this lady’s favorite excuse for salsa. There’s really no way to mess up migas or to make them wrong, so they’re a good start to my 2016 eggs-as-a-meal campaign. These green migas are a bit unorthodox as tomatillos replace tomatoes and handfuls of dinosaur kale add heft and up the health rating. Of course, that is immediately cancelled out with a generous portion of perfectly greasy and spicy chorizo and stringy Oaxacan cheese.
Oh well. At least one resolution was met.

migas7 migas9 migas8

Start with two eggs per person (increase as needed) and pair with black beans or a fresh green salad on the side.

green migas with chorizo for two
olive oil
2 tomatillos, finely diced
1/4 onion, finely diced
one clove garlic, finely diced
1 to 2 oz Spanish style chorizo, finely diced
small bunch Lacinato or Dinosaur kale, ribs removed and cut into fine ribbons
4 large eggs
splash of milk
4 corn tortillas, two of them cut into fine ribbons
salt and pepper to taste
2 ounces Oaxacan cheese, shredded or pulled into thin strings
crushed red pepper

In a medium cast-iron skillet set over medium high heat, add a bit of oil and heat through. Add the tomatillos, onion, and garlic, cooking until the tomatillo has softened slightly and the onion is translucent.

Add the chorizo and cook for a minute more. Add the tortilla strips, stirring so they soak up all the pan drippings. Add the kale, bit by bit, until it just begins to wilt. Remove the vegetable-chorizo mixture from the heat and spoon onto a plate.

Return the skillet to the burner. Whisk together the eggs and milk and pour into the hot skillet, stirring until scrambled to your liking – I prefer them a bit on the creamy side. Turn off the heat. Add the vegetable-chorizo mixture to the eggs and fold to combine. Salt and pepper to taste. Divide between two plates, top with Oaxacan cheese strings and crushed red pepper, and serve with an extra tortilla for scooping.

 

migas5

SOUTHERN MILK PUNCH AFFOGATO

23rd December 2015

southermmilkpunchtitle

I think I’ve learned more about southern food in the past few years living “abroad” than I ever did growing up there. When I was little, I dreamed of foreign spices, fine French recipes, and all the delights that the larger metropolitan cities of the North were boasted to have. And now, having found these dreams wanting, I’m eager to learn more about a cuisine I once ignored. Good thing I’m about to start a PhD in such stuff back south in North Carolina – where I hear biscuits grow on vines right next to honeysuckle buds.

One of these little southern dishes I never knew existed is milk punch. An old school southern take on the classic holiday eggnog, just without the egg. Traditionally served chilled, it can also be served warm like a cup of cocoa. The punch-style recipes call for heavy half and half and powdered sugar so it dissolves fast. Bourbon and lots of freshly grated nutmeg – everyone used to carry their own nut and grinder back in the good ol’ days – round out the tipple. A very simple drink for a much simpler time and mine is even simpler. Because it’s made with ice cream.

milkpunch-13 milkpunch-1emptybar3milkpunch-3 milkpunch-15 milkpunch-6 milkpunch-14

To add a nod to the historic Italian population up here in Boston – and to keep the fingers warm on chilly New England evenings – I’ve turned this even easier southern milk punch into an Italian-style affogato by drowning it with strong, dark coffee. Now it’s a holiday beverage, an after-dinner digestif, and a dessert.

southern milk punch affogato

vanilla bean ice cream
bourbon
strong, dark coffee or espresso
nutmeg

Scoop ice cream into small punch cups or bowls. Spike coffee with bourbon. Pour over ice cream and top with lots of freshly grated nutmeg.

Cheers to the holidays.

 

milkpunch-12

Happy merry, y’all.

MINI CRANBERRY & CACAO NIB SCONES

20th December 2015

cran_scones-10

Avery is the porcelain doll I never had. Her little clothes, while absent of excess frills, are pretty damn delightful and dressing her seems more like a game than a chore. And though she’s nowhere near the age to even contemplate solid food, I find myself wanting to throw her little tea parties complete with all the tiny little baked goods her clumsy hands can hold. For now, I’ll do all the baking – and eating – and she can just join along for the butter-scented ride snuggled warm in her wrap, the occasional dusting of flour falling on her little nose.

cran_scones-1emptybar3cran_scones-6 cran_scones-16

Although I came up with these miniature cranberry & cacao nib scones while daydreaming about future mother-daughter baking sessions, they happen to be the perfect little bite to have hanging around for the upcoming holidays. An easy make-ahead breakfast, a nibble between holiday cooking, or even a lovely little hostess gift. And there’s something about cacao nibs that make everything seem a touch more decadent. A modern day doily, if you will.

cran_scones-9emptybar3cran_scones-8 cran_scones-17

mini cranberry cacao nib scones
makes about 2 1/2 dozen mini scones

2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/2 cup fresh cranberries, roughly chopped and some left whole
1/4 cup cacao nibs
1 cup cream plus extra for brushing
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
coarse sugar for sprinkling

Set the oven to 400 degrees. Line two or more baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Using two forks or your finger tips, cut the butter into the flour mixture until only small pea-size pieces of fat remain. Add the cranberries and cacao nibs and toss to coat in the flour mixture.

In another bowl, mix together the cream, egg yolk, and vanilla. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the liquids to it, stirring with a wooden spoon until a loose, shaggy dough forms.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead into a single mass. Divide into four equal pieces. Using the pads of your fingers, flatten each piece into a disc, about 1-inch thick. Cut each disc into 8 equal little wedges and spread out between the baking sheets.

Brush the tops of the little scones with the leftover cream and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Transfer the baking sheets to the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes or until the scones are set and just begin to brown on the edges. Cool on wire racks and store leftovers in an airtight container.

 

cran_scones-12

SPICY GINGERBREAD CACTUS COOKIES

17th December 2015

gingercacti-17

While plenty of people imagine Texas as a giant desert – void of mountains, rivers, and trees – the majority of the Lone Star State is not, in fact, idyllically dotted with Saguaro cactus and traveling troubadours on painted ponies. At least not my part of Texas. And despite the fact that my hometown is nestled in a little forested valley of piney woods and several choice Christmas tree farms, the cactus just seems a more fitting symbol when homesickness kicks in. So a standard pine tree and even the classic gingerbread man wouldn’t cut it for Christmas cookies this year. And to be entirely honest, I couldn’t find my tin of cookie cutters. I’m not sure how I ended up having cookie cutters in the shape of a cactus, an outline of Texas, and a longhorn so easily on hand – they were literally already on my baker’s rack – but I ran with it.

gingercacti-1

The cookie cutter selection called for a slightly spicy recipe adjustment as well. A dash or two of chile powder – San Antonio blend shipped in from home – cozies up nicely with the classic gingerbread spices and adds a little finishing kick. And if ever a cookie called for a liquid accompaniment, this one sings the loudest and to the tune of a from-scratch cup of hot chocolate. I topped it off with a Apotheker’s Kitchen honey-sweetened marshmallow to mellow the heat of the cocoa and the chile powder just a bit more.

gingercacti-7 gingercacti-9emptybar3gingercacti-13 gingercacti-14

Blame it on the baby or maybe the lack of picture-perfect snow up here in New England, but I’ve been missing my Southern home a bit more than usual this holiday season. The queso craving is stronger than ever and I’m thinking of swapping the traditional Christmas turkey for a plate of fried chicken. These spicy gingerbread cacti were just another way to feel a bit more like home. They will, of course, taste just as good in any other tree or plant shape, but there’s something a bit more magical about a snow-dusted cactus.

gingercacti2

spicy gingerbread cactus cookies
recipe adapted from this one by King Arthur Flour
makes about 3 dozen cookies

3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
3/4 blackstrap molasses
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons chile powder
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 large egg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 1/2 cups flour
royal frosting (I like this easy one also from King Arthur Flour)
sanding sugar
sugar pearls

In a large bowl, add the melted butter, sugar, molasses, salt, and spices, and stir to combine. Let the mixture cool slightly, then beat in the egg.

In another bowl, whisk together the baking powder, soda, and flour. Add the dry ingredients to the wet to create a dense dough. Divide the dough in two, form into flat discs, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Set the oven to 350 degrees. Remove a piece of dough from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes or more so it doesn’t crumble when rolled.

Flour a work surface, rolling pin, and dough. Alternatively, sandwich the dough between two pieces of wax or parchment paper. Roll the dough to desired thickness and cut out cacti or other shapes with cookie cutters – I made a batch of thin ones and another batch of slightly thicker ones. Transfer cookies to an ungreased cookie sheet and bake until they are just slightly browned around the edges, about 10 minutes. Let the cookies cool completely before decorating.

To decorate, pipe a thin line of royal icing around the outline of the cactus then sprinkle with plain sanding sugar. Other cookies can be dotted with royal icing which acts as glue for the white sugar pearls. Let the icing harden overnight before eating or packaging.

 

gingercacti-6 gingercacti-11 hotcocoa

You can find the saguaro cactus cookie cutter I used here and a similar Texas-shaped one here.