Pimiento Cheese

IMG_1714    On last week's episode of "Better Call Saul" (which, if you haven't watched it yet, is great–but watch "Breaking Bad" first), Mike Ehrmentraut calls pimiento cheese "the caviar of the south." Having just made pimiento cheese for a dinner party, I thought this description very apt–with a similarly salty but creamy–and much lower price point–pimiento cheese is makes an excellent appetizer for your next party (seriously, it will be the first thing to disappear). IMG_1712

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It's traditionally served with saltines, but pretty much any cracker will do, or I've also known people to spread it on bread for a pretty ridiculous take on grilled cheese. Just don't tell anyone what's in it.IMG_1711

Side note: Ari (my darling boyfriend) is currently trying to raise money through Kickstarter to fund the next season of his podcast, Off Campus, which focuses on graduating from college and navigating the real world. Check it out (and donate) here, if you feel so inclined.IMG_1713

knife / board from Paris (similar) / bowl

Pimiento Cheese (adapted from Southern Living)

4 cups freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon grated yellow onion
1 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 (7-oz.) jar whole peeled pimiento, drained and roughly chopped
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Entertaining: The Perfect Cheese Plate

mg_9276Though I sometimes love making complicated appetizers, when hosting a dinner or holiday party you can't ask for an easier (or more crowd-pleasing) option than a cheese plate. Of course, cheese plates are nothing new, but putting a little thought into it can take a mediocre plate of cheddar and turn it into an impressive spread.mg_9273 mg_9270

For starters, choose a variety of cheeses (the advised amount is about 2 oz of cheese per person–unless you're just planning on having cheese for dinner, in which case, it's at your discretion. Not that I've ever done that.) I like to go with something soft (such as Camembert or the very lovely Jasper Hill Harbison), something hard like Manchego or Comte, and something funky or blue like Époisses or this super creamy Gorgonzola Cremificato. If you want more than three types, you can branch out from there–just try to keep a balance between textures and how strong the flavors are. (Note that this is in no way sponsored by Murray's, I just find them to be an excellent resource when looking for cheese.)mg_9268

After that, I like to add a few varieties of pickles and jams (I usually go for pepper jelly), like mini cornichons and if you're feeling ambitious, watermelon rind pickles. Then just add toasted baguette slices and a couple of kinds of crackers, and serve with wine (obviously). Perfect for holiday entertaining or a fancy night in.

Pete Zaaz

Imagine this: pizza smothered in crème fraîche, thinly sliced potatoes, green onions and, of course, bacon.  Sounds like a dream, I know. But it's real! I promise. And you can find this, and several other types of non-traditional pizzas at Pete Zaaz in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. I am of course always excited about new and good food within walking distance of my apartment, and Pete Zaaz certainly does not disappoint. I have now been there a few times and the baked potato pizza is a clear winner so far, but pretty much everything I have tried has been great. Many of their pies have rather outlandish combinations (like the current "Pretzel Parm" with garlic béchamel, smoked gouda, and fried chicken) but they absolutely work. On our last visit, we also tried the Reuben Stromboli, a smart take on the Reuben sandwich with corned beef, spicy mustard, and sauerkraut stuffed inside a stromboli.

Though they don't have a wood-fired oven, each pizza is made to order and still ends up nicely charred in their convection oven. The other great part about Pete Zaaz is their garden in the back -- since the interior is rather narrow and has limited seating, the back provides a lovely and more open setting to enjoy your pizza. And it's BYOB -- so really, what more do you need? Word is that they are going to start having movie nights during the summer as well, which would really just put it over the top. And I'll let you in on a little secret: instead of grated parmesan or red pepper flakes to add to your pizza, Pete Zaaz has instead created its own spice blend, consisting of a few herbs, spices, and -- crushed Cheeze-its. Genius.

 

On a side note -- I am FLOORED by all of the wonderful comments on my previous post on my grandmother's rhubarb pie recipe. THANK YOU all for your incredibly kind words -- I love sharing recipes with all of you, and it has been so lovely to "meet" new people and discover new blogs.

Homemade Ricotta

Ohh ricotta. I could eat it every day, smothered on toast or with strawberries and sugar, mixed into a simple pasta sauce or tossed with salad. The first time I ever made ricotta was a couple of years ago and believe me, it sounds impressive, but it's dead simple. You basically bring a pan of milk and cream to boil, and then let it drain for a couple of hours. That's it! As long as you have a couple of hours on your hands and some cheesecloth, you are pretty much set to go. Other ricotta recipes I have made used only whole milk, rather than a combination of milk and cream (the traditional manner), but I actually think that this recipe came out much creamier and produced a lot more curds as well. Fresh Ricotta (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

3 cups whole milk

1 cup cream

Juice of 1 lemon

1 baguette, thinly sliced

Honey

Heat milk and cream in a large saucepan. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan, and heat to 190 degrees, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Let sit for five minutes.

Line a colander with cheesecloth and place over a large bowl. Pour in milk mixture, and let drain, 1 hour for runnier cheese and two hours for firmer cheese (what I did). Discard the whey and transfer to a container. Store, covered, for 3-4 days.

To serve: preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place baguette slices on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Let cool. Spread 1-2 tablespoons of ricotta on each slice, then drizzle with honey. Serve immediately.

The Greene Grape

For those of you who live in Fort Greene or Clinton Hill, The Greene Grape is probably already familiar to you. However, even if you don't live nearby, I think it's worth a trek from elsewhere in the city. Their provisions store has a good selection of organic produce, fancy packaged foods (many from Brooklyn), and one of the better cheese selections I have seen in the area. My particular favorite so far is toma della rocca, an excellent goat, sheep, and cow's milk cheese that is runny and soft and has just enough tang to make it interesting. The Greene Grape also has a wonderful meat counter, and all of the employees are extremely helpful. Ari and I bought some ground beef from them the other night to make hamburgers, and they were quite delicious if I do say so myself, even though they were made on the stove instead of the grill. The meat and fish is also all organic, and locally raised when possible.

Luckily, they also have a wine store by the same name just down the street. Though small in size, they have a great selection of wines in many price ranges. One of my favorites over the summer was the 2010 Laurent Micquel Syrah Rosé, affordable at $9.50 while also being a lovely, dry summery wine. They also have have hard-to-find Aperol, one of my favorite spirits from Italy (particularly when mixed with prosecco over ice to make a Spritz). In addition to a great wine selection, they have tastings at least once a week, and the last time I was there they had a bottle open for people to taste for themselves.

I love the informal atmosphere of both of their stores, but the people that work there are always ready and willing to help if you need it. You could easily buy ingredients for an entire dinner there, but my favorite is to ask for a cheese recommendation, grab a baguette (and some wine, in a paper bag of course), and picnic in Fort Greene Park a few blocks away. Doesn't get much better than that.