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Pimento Cheese

Posted on: Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Pimento cheese is a southern staple and to me, a new-found delicacy. I was first introduced to the pleasantly rich cheese dip a few years back while visiting my now in-laws in Richmond. The blend of grated cheese, chopped pimiento peppers, and a little mayonnaise will add a touch of southern charm to any gathering. Some people add their own spin with ramps or pickles, but I like to keep my variation fairly simple with a solid kick. While my take may not be the most traditional approach, it’s approved by my Virginia-born husband and trusted critic.
Paired with crackers or veggies, this is a quick and easy appetizer for any Memorial day potluck.

Pimento Cheese (adapted from Sean Brock’s in his Heritage Cookbook)

4 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 c mayonnaise
1 t hot sauce (I like Frank’s)
1/4 t granulated sugar
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1/8 t paprika
salt and pepper throughout
4 c grated cheddar cheese
1 12 ounce jar pimento peppers, chopped
your favorite sturdy cracker (Patrick and I choose Triscuits)

In a large bowl, add the cream cheese and mayonnaise and combine with an electric mixer. Add the hot sauce, granulated sugar, cayenne pepper, paprika, large pinches of salt and pepper and blend further. With a wooden spoon, fold in the cheddar cheese. Fold in the chopped pimientos, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least a few hours. Serve with crackers.

Pimento cheese is also absolutely delicious spread atop a burger straight off the grill too!

Strawberry Rhubarb for Mother's Day

Posted on: Thursday, May 7, 2015

When I think of spring I think of the intriguing rhubarb plant. Growing up in Manchester by the Sea, the little plant would pleasantly emerge each May in front of our house. While Kara and I ran around our yard with our eight-year old imaginations running free, I remember our yiayia pruning flower buds and trimming the bitter stocks from the rhubarb plant. Soon after, she’d call us inside for an afternoon sweet treat. As we walked into the aromatic kitchen, we’d marvel over a tiny cauldron of tart rhubarb and sweet strawberries bubbling away on the stove. Yi would spoon the rosy compote over big scoops of vanilla ice cream for us to enjoy on the porch.
After enjoying Kara’s epic Chocolate Banana Peanut Butter Pie last weekend, I was inspired to make my own pie with Yi’s rhubarb compote in mind (and Mother’s Day around the corner!). For the base, I created a custard similar to key lime pie but a bit lighter with Greek yogurt. I also incorporated the addition of orange - a favorite flavor of our mom’s. For the topping, I combined rhubarb, strawberries, and a bit of sugar. With a sprinkling of salty pistachios to finish before serving, this pie was the ultimate combination of creamy, tangy, sweet and pretty.
Strawberry Rhubarb Cream Pie

1/2 c shelled pistachios, toasted and ground (I pulverized them in a plastic bag, or you could do this in a food processor), plus more for garnish
1 1/2 c graham cracker crumbs
1/4 c granulated sugar
pinch of salt
5 T unsalted butter, melted

3 large egg yolks
1/2 c plain Greek yogurt
14 oz sweetened condensed milk
1/4 c fresh orange juice
1/4 c fresh lemon juice
1/2 t vanilla extract

3 stalks rhubarb, chopped in 1/2-inch pieces
2 T water
1/4 c granulated sugar (use more if you would like it sweeter)
1 lb strawberries, hulled, quartered and sliced
1 T lemon juice
1 t vanilla extract
pinch of salt

For the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small bowl, combine the pistachios, graham cracker crumbs, sugar and salt. Stir in the melted butter and mix well. Press into the bottom and sides of a greased 8-inch springform pan (or 9-inch pie pan). Bake until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Let cool.

For the filling: With an electric mixer, whisk the egg yolks, Greek yogurt, sweetened condensed milk, orange juice, lemon zest and vanilla together in a large bowl until incorporated. Pour into the prepared pie crust and bake for 20-22 minutes until set. Remove from oven and cool for 30 minutes. Place in the refrigerator and cool for at least 1 hour.

For the compote: While the pie is cooking, in a medium saucepan, add the rhubarb, water, and sugar and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the strawberries, lemon juice, cinnamon, vanilla and salt. Reduce heat to medium low and let simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally until the rhubarb breaks down slightly and the sauce thickens, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat, pour into a bowl and cool in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Pour the compote evenly atop the surface of the pie filling. Sprinkle pistachio seeds on top. Return to the refrigerator and let cool for 20 more minutes. Slice and serve. Serves 8-10.

With Mother’s Day around the corner, I encourage you to try this delightful blend of rhubarb, strawberries and citrus.

This pie.

Posted on: Monday, April 27, 2015

With spring starting to bloom, I invited some of my best city girlfriends down to Pomfret for a weekend retreat. After a day of wine tasting at Taylor Brooke Winery and shopping at Periwinkles and Martha’s Herbary, we sat around my porch sipping cucumber cocktails and nibbling on grilled flank steak with arugula, watermelon and feta salads.
To end on a sweet note, I found inspiration from Marni’s last visit to the countryside. She brought down with her a delectably decadent Mississippi Mud pie from one of her beloved neighborhood bakeries, Petsi Pies. This time, I wanted to replicate another one of the shop’s irresistible classics for dessert. This pie is the ultimate indulgence.
Petsi’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Pie (adapted by Cooking Channel)

Chocolate Cream Filling
4 large egg yolks
2/3 c granulated sugar
1/4 c cornstarch
1/2 t salt
3 c whole milk
6 oz semisweet chocolate, melted
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 T plus 1 t unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 t vanilla extract

Chocolate Cookie Crust
1 1/4 c Oreo cookie crumbs (cream filling removed)
3 T granulated sugar
5 T unsalted butter, melted

Peanut Butter Filling
1 c creamy peanut butter
8 T unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 c sifted confectioners' sugar
2 bananas, peeled and sliced

Chocolate Ganache
4 oz semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 c heavy cream

Chocolate Cream Filling: Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch and salt in a heavy saucepan until well combined, then, while whisking, slowly pour in the milk. Warm the mixture over medium heat until a few bubbles burst at the surface, reduce the heat to low, and gently simmer while whisking until the mixture thickens, about 1 minute. Turn off the heat and whisk in the semisweet and unsweetened chocolates, 2 tablespoons butter and the vanilla until well combined. Lightly grease a sheet of waxed or parchment paper with the remaining 1 teaspoon butter and press it flush against the surface of filling. Set the filling aside to cool completely, about 2 hours.

Chocolate Cookie Crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine the cookie crumbs, sugar and butter in a small bowl and stir until the crumbs are well moistened. Pat the mixture firmly and evenly into the bottom and all the way up the sides of a 9-inch pie pan.  Bake the crust until firm, about 5 minutes. Remove the cookie crust from the oven and set aside to cool.
Peanut Butter Filling: Beat the peanut butter and butter with an electric mixer at medium speed until well combined. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the confectioners' sugar. Once it is all added, increase the mixer speed to high and beat until the peanut butter filling is smooth and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes.
Chocolate Ganache: Add the chocolate chips, heavy cream and instant coffee to a medium heat-safe bowl and set it over a medium saucepan filled with 1 inch of barely simmering water. Whisk the mixture occasionally until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth and warm.

Pie assembly: Arrange the sliced bananas over the chocolate cookie crust. Add the chilled chocolate cream filling and use a spatula to spread it into an even layer. Top with an even layer of the peanut butter filling, then drizzle with chocolate ganache. Refrigerate until serving (I recommend refrigerating the pie overnight to let it set). Serves 10-12.
An irresistible treat for my irresistible amigas!

Dulce de Leche Macaroons

Posted on: Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Sometimes you just feel like baking cookies. They are such a universal treat. While the all-American chocolate chip cookie always excites, it is fun to think of other favorite cookies and their origins. I love coiled Greek koulourakia around Easter, Italian biscotti with my morning coffee or an Argentinian alfajor whenever I can find it in the States. I remember my instant attraction to the soft buttery cookies sandwiched around creamy dulce de leche while on a trip to Buenos Aires a few years back. If Kara had to choose her favorite, the coconut lover would most likely think back to her time in Paris where she tried her first coconut macaroon.
Yearning for that freshly-baked cookie smell in my apartment, I decided to create a cookie merging Kara's and my favorite kinds. I made a light macaroon base with a decadent spoonful of thick and sticky dulce de leche in the center. Dulce de leche is a delightfully thick caramel spread made from cooking down milk and sugar. Many people make their own dulce de leche by slowly boiling a can of sweetened condensed milk. In this instance, I popped into my favorite artisan grocery, Formaggio Kitchen for a jar of La Salamandra. The super sweet bites with a salty kick sprinkled on top were a lovely balance of flavors and textures. I was excited to see share them with Kara.
Dulce de Leche Macaroons with Sea Salt

Macaroon Base (adapted from Martha Stewart)
2 large egg whites
3/4 c granulated sugar
2 1/2 c unsweetened shredded coconut
1 t vanilla extract
1/ 4 t salt

1 c dulce de leche (I used La Salamandra)
sea salt for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, beat the egg whites for 2 minutes until frothy. Add the sugar, coconut, vanilla, salt and beat for 2 more minutes until combined. 

Spoon tablespoons of the batter into dampened hands and form into a tight ball. Place the ball on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, placing the mounds about 2-inches apart. 

With the back of a teaspoon, gently press down the mounds to create a thumbprint in the middle. Use your fingers to form perfect rounds, if need be.

Place the pan in the oven and bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the baking sheet and transfer the macaroon thumbprints to a wire rack to cool completely.

Spoon the dulce de leche into a plastic freezer bag. With scissors, snip a small hole in the corner of the bag and squeeze the dulce de leche towards it. In a spiral motion, squeeze the dulce de leche into each macaroon’s thumbprint indentation. Wet a knife to smooth tops, if need be. Sprinkle each macaroon with the sea salt and enjoy. Makes 20-22 cookies.

These cookies also keep for over a week if sealed in the fridge!

Lamb Jam

Posted on: Monday, April 13, 2015

What better way to celebrate Greek Easter than at a local celebration of all that is lamb?
This past Sunday, I drove up to Cambridge to join Marni at the New England Lamb Jam, a tasting event/competition which brought together 24 New England chefs to compete for the title of “Best Lamb Dish.” Each chef prepared lamb-focused bites alongside local brewers and winemakers serving sips. The event was part of the larger American Lamb Jam where top chefs in 5 US cities compete. The winner of each competition goes on to compete at the finale for the honor of being named “Lamb Jam Master.”
As we walked through the packed space with beer goblets in hand, we traveled from the Middle East, to Latin America, to Asia, to the Mediterranean by way of lamb dishes. Here are some of our favorites:

Middle Eastern
Lamb Shoulder Confit with Za’atar, Muhummara and Lebne - Gracie’s (Matthew Varga)

Barbacoa de Borrego - La Brasa (Daniel Bojorquez)

Tamarind Braised Lamb Shank Empanada with Plantain, Huitlacoche and Mole Ketchup - Russell House Tavern (Thomas Borgia)


Slow Cooked Shoulder Steamed Bun with Chinese-Style Lamb Sausage and Smoked Vegetables - The Salted Slate (Ben Lloyd)
Banhi Mi Flatbread - Cook & Brown Public House (Nemo Bolin)

Baby Back Lamb Ribs Slow Braised with Coriander-Citrus Honey Glaze with Herb Roasted New Potatoes, Garlic, Capers, Preserved Lemon and Spiced Olives - Emilitsa (Niko Regas)
Jamison Farm Lamb Belly with Flavors of Spring - also Lamb Jerky and Lamb Fudge (lamb fat and white chocolate) - Brasserie 28 (Matt Morello)
Winner?? The lamb ribs from Emilitsa were our favorite and proved to be victorious in the Mediterranean category! Gracie’s won the Middle Eastern Category, Russell House Tavern won the Latin American, and Sweet Cheeks Q won the Asian as well as Best in Show with their spicy Chengdu lamb dumpling dish. Tiffani Faison of Sweet Cheeks Q will go on to compete in the National Lamb Jam in New York.

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