Saturday, August 23, 2014

Light Summer Foods

Homemade Pimiento Cheese and Cream of Tomato Soup

There are things I will not buy already-prepared. Mayonnaise and salad dressing (of any kind) have long been at the top of that list, along with bread, canned soups and store-bought chicken. Pimiento cheese recently joined those ranks. I was in Texas for a wedding and was stuck in the city for a couple of days. Now you’d think being in the heart of DFW, there would be plenty to eat – nice restaurants, good grocery stores, even fast food if one was desperate; but fact of the matter is, you get used to REAL food on a farm and there just is not much of that to be had while traveling. Normally on trips like that, I take along hard-boiled eggs, cooked bacon, bread, yogurt, hard cheese, decent fruit and a few other slow-to-perish treats, but I neglected to do that on this trip and regretted it almost as soon as we hit the city.

I hadn’t had pimiento cheese in years, but I found a decent selection of crackers and it sounded good at the time. The jalapenos were a nice touch and it was pretty spicy and a decent brand and I would have purchased it again here in Oklahoma, but could not find it. I tried two different brands after returning and both were so sweet with corn syrup I could not even finish them. So I went in search of a recipe and much to my surprise, the first one I tried (with a little tweaking!) turned out so delicious I will never buy it again. It is great as a dip on crackers, cold on sandwiches, or heated like a grilled-cheese sandwich.  Best of all, it uses fresh peppers from the garden and slathered on a thick piece of Italian bread, goes great with a bowl of Cream of Tomato Soup (with fresh basil), also from the garden. This has become one of my favorite summer meals ever!

Fresh Pepper and Sriracha Pimiento Cheese Spread

*1 pound extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
*1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese (slightly warm for easy stirring)
*3/4 cup (approximate) mayonnaise (preferably homemade, simple recipe to follow)
*1/2 cup (or more to taste) any sweet red pepper, finely chopped
*1 hot pepper (or more to taste), seeded and finely chopped (optional)
*1-2 cloves garlic (minced or grated)
*1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce
*1 tablespoon cumin or caraway seeds, freshly crushed
*2 teaspoons sweet paprika powder
*1 teaspoon onion powder
*1/2 teaspoon salt and white pepper, or to taste
*Dash of Worcestershire
*a little sugar if your mayo isn’t sweet, maybe as much as a tablespoon, to taste

--Just stir it all together and adjust the seasonings as you go. Go easy on the mayo until it is the right consistency for easy spreading.

Homemade Mayonnaise

Seriously, don’t make this difficult! Use a hand-held mixer with a single whisk attachment (not both) or an immersion blender and make the mayo in the container you plan on storing it in – a pint-sized wide-mouth Mason jar or even a clean container that previously held sour cream or other dairy. Place in the container:

*2 egg yolks
*1 tablespoon white vinegar
*1 teaspoon stone-ground mustard
*1 tablespoon sugar (if you want it sweet)
*a pinch of salt and white pepper

--Blend with the mixer while slowly drizzling in a neutral-flavored oil. I use sunflower, grape seed or extra-light TASTING olive oil (do NOT use extra-virgin olive-oil – it will taste terrible!). Of course you can also use canola or regular vegetable oil if you so choose. It should take a little less than a cup before it starts to thicken. The only thing there should be to clean up afterwards is your whisk!

Cream of Tomato Soup

Those who know me know I don’t go strictly by recipes much. The original recipe calls for 1 small onion, 1 small carrot and a 28-oz can of tomatoes. But really, it’s best with fresh, dead-ripe tomatoes (about 4 cups, peeled and diced). If you have lots of tomatoes from the garden, of course you can make it with your own canned tomatoes or you can make up the soup base and water-bath it by the pint or quart that way, adding the butter, cream and herbs just before serving.

The soup base amounts are approximate -- it's 1 small onion, 1 small carrot and some garlic -- chopped and sautéed in a little olive oil. Add about 3.5-4 cups of blanched, peeled, cored, diced tomatoes (juicy tomatoes are best). I liked to use some chicken bouillon granules instead of salt because it adds some richness to the soup. Grind in a little white pepper and let it simmer 15-20 minutes. Whether or not you plan on canning it, add some lemon juice -- about 1.5 T. per batch -- the acid will ensure it's safe to water-bath and the lemon will give it a nice, fresh, bright flavor.

Let cool a bit before running it thru the blender or food processor (!) and take the opportunity to measure/blend it a quart at a time if you're canning a large batch so you'll know how many jars to get ready. Bring the whole batch back up to a gentle simmer, then ladle into hot, sterilized jars If canning. I'd water-bath it for no more than 20-25 minutes. (Remember there's a tiny bit of olive oil in the recipe and you don't want to boil it so long it forces any oil residue thru the seal.)

When you get ready to eat it, add 2-4 T butter and 1/2 cup cream per quart batch. I used Thai Basil in this one, but any variety basil or rosemary or chives or parsley -- whatever you have --- is also good. This soup is also delicious with Indian flatbread (Naan) and fresh hummus.