Entrees

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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.

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I am suddenly a huge fan of soups with lemon in them. I got the base recipe from Petit Foodie, who remarked that it was great for summer, but it really works as a winter soup, too. It's not heavy, but it is comforting. I made a meal out of it by serving it with an arugula and goat cheese flatbread. Because I used a Stonefire flatbread instead of homemade, this whole meal took less than half an hour to make. And it was all delicious! And clean-up was easy as well. What's not to love about a quick, easy, and tasty meal?

lemon_garlic_orzo_soupOne quick note: this soup made about four big servings, so I had half of it leftover and I noticed that it actually tasted better after sitting in the fridge for a few days. The flavors mixed better and it had a deeper lemon flavor (probably from the release of all the oils from the zest).

Lemon Garlic Orzo Soup
adapted from Petit Foodie
serves 4-6

1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup chopped or matchsticked carrot
6 cups vegetable broth
½ cup orzo
½ lemon, zest and juice
1 tablespoon dried basil
salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste

In a large pot, heat olive oil on medium low. Add onion and garlic and sauté until translucent (about 5 minutes or so). Add carrot and sauté for another 3-4 minutes. Add broth and raise heat to medium high until it starts to boil. Reduce heat to low and add orzo, lemon juice, zest, and basil. Cook until orzo is tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Arugula and Goat Cheese Flatbread
serves 2-4

1 Stonefire Italian Artisan Pizza Crust (Multigrain)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 ounces goat cheese
1-2 ounces fresh arugula

Pre-heat oven to 400F. Brush the flatbread with olive oil and sprinkle with salt (evenly). Bake the flatbread on a pizza stone (or directly on rack; see package directions) for 8-9 minutes. Remove the flatbread from the oven and sprinkle with crumbled goat cheese and a heavy layer of arugula. Return to oven for about 2 more minutes or until arugula has wilted slightly. Serve warm.

Sorry, no pictures of the flatbread. There were no leftovers. 😀

Note: it will look like too much arugula before it's cooked, but the leaves shrink as they wilt.