Entrees

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Sometimes, my dinners aren’t well-planned as they are created from the necessity of using what’s in the fridge or pantry that needs to go.

A couple of weeks ago, I realized that I still had some Rancho Gordo rice beans (they’re small, white beans that look like fat grains of rice) that needed to be finished up. I cooked them for dinner (in the Crock Pot) but I just didn’t love them. Despite hours of cooking, they were still a bit tough for my taste. So I put the leftovers in the fridge while I tried to figure out what to do with them. And that’s when I remembered that the texture was similar to garbanzo beans, so I figured I could substitute them in a white bean puree (like a hummus) recipe. So there was my base.

I also had some organic spring asparagus in the refrigerator leftover from my mom’s visit. We didn’t eat it and it was not going to last much longer, so then I had my side dish.

Now, what to serve as the main? What would go great with that rice bean puree? Hen of the woods mushrooms! I picked some up at the local international market (Whole Foods carries them, too; they are also known as maitake mushrooms or signorina) and I had my meal planned and got to use up what I needed to from the refrigerator.

I wasn’t really planning on sharing this, but the picture I posted on Instagram got quite a few interested comments, so here it is! Though for the puree, I suggest using cannelini beans rather than rice beans. First, you can find canned cannelinis fairly easily and second, even dried rice beans are difficult to find. The really important part of the puree—in my opinion—is the thyme. It gave it a really nice flavor. I also used it for the mushrooms and they only needed a light sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Here's the recipe for white bean puree (but use vegetable broth! I like Better than Bouillon) and also the instructions for cooking the hen of the woods mushrooms. For the asparagus, just lightly coat the cleaned springs in olive oil and roast at 400F until just tender (check after 5 minutes; don't overcook because no one likes a shriveled sprig!). Finish with a light sprinkle of salt.

Here's the not-very-good photo of the result. It was far more delicious than it appears!

henofthewoods

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I realized the other day that even though I've had this blog for almost seven years, I've never written a post about pimento cheese (update: I did; I just spelled it "pimiento cheese"--ha!). Which is kind of crazy since it's one of my favorite things. Pimentos (or pimientos) are mild, sweet, and small red peppers. Adding them to cheese and mayonnaise is a southern tradition, though I have no idea why. It just is. I always--always--have the ingredients on hand so that I can make it whenever I need to.

pimentocheese

Of course, a big part of it is that I don't have a recipe. I just add some mayonnaise and a jar of diced pimentos to shredded cheese and add a little seasoning and that's it. It's never occurred to me to share a recipe, I guess. But thinking about the recipe made me curious about what a pimento cheese recipe looks like and I was surprised to find a lot of variations, many of which had ingredients lists longer than just three or four items. Cream cheese, onions, Worcestershire sauce, jalapenos, cayenne pepper, garlic...um, no. You really don't need anything but cheese, mayo, pimentos, and a little pepper.  I did recently start adding a little smoked paprika to mine, but it's strictly optional. So what I have here is just a basic recipe that's very easy and very good.

But be sure to use good cheese and good mayo. Actually, Mr. Eats prefers his pimento cheese with Miracle Whip, but I do not keep Miracle Whip in my house, so he has to settle for my Hellmann's-made "salad" (spread?). A lot of people around here like Duke's, but it lacks the sweetness and a bit of the tang that Hellmann's has. And though I also like Kraft mayo, Hellmann's is thicker and sturdier, so I prefer it for my salads. I also use Sargento's already-finely-grated sharp cheddar for my pimento cheese. I like the finely grated cheese because it blends better and stays together better, particularly if you're going to make a grilled pimento cheese sandwich. And you should. So good. I also like it on "not dogs" (I like Smart Dogs), crackers, or as a vegetable dip.

Pimento Cheese
serves 4-6

2 cups finely-shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/3 to 1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 four ounce jar diced pimentos, drained
pepper to taste
smoked paprika (optional)

Combine the cheese, mayonnaise, and pimentos in a large bowl. Add a few twists of fresh ground pepper (to taste). For a little extra flavor, add about 1/4 teaspoon of smoked paprika and stir again.

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Even though we've had a few nice days, it's still really cold and wintry here in Nashville. So I still want soup. And, actually, to me, it will still be soup weather well into May. If it's not warm enough for flip flops, it's cold enough for soup.

spiced_squash_bisque I found the recipe for this soup on the Woodchuck Cider website. I was looking for something interesting to make with it, though I was really going for a bread. But I already had some mashed butternut squash in the freezer, so I thought I'd give this a go.

I made a number of changes to it and I think it turned out great. The smell of the cumin is a little heavier than I'd like, but the taste isn't overpowering. I also made other changes to make it vegan (even though I served it with cheese biscuits; hey, I'm trying). If you don't like a bisque consistency, just add another cup of water to get it where you want it; it won't change the taste too much at all. You may want to add a little salt, though.

whole_wheat_cheddar_biscuits

The biscuits were a real experiment. I didn't change much of the recipe (cut back on the amount of butter, added mustard) and my first bite didn't impress. But they kind of grew on me (and Mr. Eats, too). By the end of the first biscuit, I decided I liked them. However, they would definitely be better with white flour. And they're perfect with this soup.

Spiced Squash and Cider Soup
adapted from the Woodchuck Cider recipe page
serves 4 - 6

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
1 teaspoon ground cumin (or a bit less)
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of ground clove
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups cooked, mashed butternut squash* (or a 14-ounce can pumpkin)
1½ cups Woodchuck Hard Cider (1 12oz. bottle or can)
1 cup vegetable broth
½ cup water, plus additional for thinning
¼ cup red wine vinegar
Smoked paprika for garnish

*See this butternut squash recipe for cooking instructions. (If you can't find a whole butternut squash to roast, just check the freezer section at the grocery for frozen butternut squash. Bonus: already peeled and chopped! And doesn't require as long to cook.)

Cook oil and onions in a large saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until onions are soft and caramel colored, about 25 minutes. Stir in spices and garlic, cook 1 or 2 minutes more, then stir in squash, Woodchuck Hard Cider, broth, water, and vinegar.

Cover the pan and cook 35 to 45 minutes or until flavors are well blended and onion is very soft. Puree the soup in a blender or processor and return to the pan. Reheat, adjust salt to taste, and stir in additional liquid if necessary. Ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle with paprika.

Whole-Wheat Cheddar Garlic Drop Biscuits
adapted from 100 Days of Real Food
makes 12 biscuits

1 cup whole wheat flour
1¼ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
1 cup grated cheddar cheese* (4 oz of chunk cheese grated)
¼ cup (½ stick) melted butter
½ cup milk

Preheat the oven to 375F. In a medium size bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, garlic powder, and mustard. Stir in the grated cheese using a fork. Stir in the melted butter and milk (also with a fork) until well combined, but not over-mixed.

Drop 12 heaping spoonfuls of the mixture onto a large ungreased baking sheet (evenly spaced). Bake until lightly browned, about 20 minutes.

*Use good cheese with this recipe. Just like with the cheese straws, the quality of cheese greatly affects the taste of the biscuit. I'd suggest Cabot cheese or what I used for this one, the Sargento 4 State Cheddar blend.