May 26, 2009

When Did Cheese Stop Being My Friend?

In my family, we have any number of recipes that are handed down generation to generation. These are the recipes that I should know by heart, but I don’t make them often enough to not consult a written recipe for a reminder or three on ingredient quantities or oven temps.

However, there are some odd recipes that aren’t among my family’s repertoire. Corn casserole, for example. I love it, but it wasn’t until I was watching Paula Deen while on the elliptical that I “found” a recipe for it. I memorized it while getting in another mile and then immediately rushed to the store to buy the ingredients and make it for myself. Heaven.

So this weekend, when I was making “Bobby’s Pimento Cheese” from Paula Deen’s “The Lady & Sons” cookbook I expected to be wowed. After all, pimento cheese is a classic Southern recipe loved by many. Plus, it’s made with cream cheese, two kinds of shredded cheese, mayonnaise, the obligatory pimentos and some seasonings. I mean, seriously, how could this be anything less but fabulous?

I made two batches.

The first one came out like crap because I accidentally put too much salt in it. Okay. Fine. My fault. I could fix it by not eyeballing the seasonings.

The second time around, I followed the directions for “Bobby’s Pimento Cheese” verbatim.

Still bad. And by bad, I actually mean, I hated it. Really, seriously hated it.

I feel like a traitor to the South, but it was gross. Too salty and a huge waste of cheese. The only thing I could do with either batch was to feed 'em to the garbage disposal. Poor garbage disposal, it didn't do anything wrong...

When I called my Mom and Dranny to discuss this failure, they could only laugh and tell me that, had I asked them, they could have told me how much I would not like pimento cheese. Then they laughed some more.

Fortunately, my weekend cooking also included making a batch of Baked Beans from my family’s recipe to take to a Memorial Day/House Warming/Surprise Birthday Party (efficient, no?). We make our baked beans with four cans of Van Camp’s Pork & Beans; a ½ pound to a ¾ pound of bacon, cooked and crumbled; an onion and a bell pepper chopped and sautéed; a ¼ cup or so of brown sugar; a ¼ cup or so of ketchup; ½ tsp to 1 tsp of dry mustard; and 2 or so tablespoons of white vinegar – all mixed together and baked at 325 for an hour or so. (Can you tell that we don't believe in exact recipes in my family?)

The Baked Beans turned out just like they were supposed to. Delicious!

So delicious that there were no leftovers. Isn’t that the best compliment any cook or chef can receive?

Oh... Who am I kidding?

There were no leftovers. I wanted leftovers for me. And there were none. I could have cried.

May 16, 2009

It Started With Some Simple Cheese Straws...

Last weekend started with a simple idea: “Let’s make Cheese Straws!!!” In fact, I’m pretty sure that after I saw the recipe for the Cheese Straws in “The Savannah Cookbook,” I immediately began to imagine just what a smashing success I’d be with my co-workers when I brought them in. Because, I mean, who doesn’t like Cheese Straws?

Since the Cheese Straw recipe looked pretty straight forward, I picked out a couple of other recipes. Crab Tassies and Corn & Chicken Chowder.

For a few reasons though, I wavered about making the Chowder. Mostly because I realize that I’ve been making a lot of soup-y dishes, and it felt like I was either bending my “try-something-new” rule or possibly even breaking it. Ultimately, when I made up my grocery shopping list, I left off the Chowder ingredients. I reasoned that this was a good thing since I need to focus on trying new things and, besides all that, fresh corn on the cob isn’t in season.

This well thought out plan was blown to pieces though when I walked into Whole Foods and saw loads and loads of corn on the cob. I was a goner. I went from a reasonable amount of cooking project-ness to a level of cooking that really ought to have come with a sous chef. Not that I thought about that sort of thing *before* I started cooking. No. That would have been smart of me.

Anyhow, the day started out with me looking around my apartment and realizing that my couple of weeks of traveling and craziness at work had done no favors for the cleanliness of my place nor the level of laundry in the hamper. By the time I’d dealt with that nonsense, it was the middle of the afternoon and I was, finally, ready to get a cookin’.

Looking at the timing of things and what needed to be made when, I decided to tackle the Crab Tassies first. Crab Tassies are, essentially, crab cakes in cream cheesy pastry shells. In other words, they are freaking awesome! I really don’t know what else to say about these except that I loved them. LOVED THEM!

Even better, they were relatively easy. Make the pastry dough, roll the dough into even-sized balls and refrigerate them. While the dough is chilling, make the filling. When dough is chilled, press it into the muffin tins. The recipe called for making 24 mini-muffin tin sized Crab Tassies, but I only had normal-sized muffin tins. Once you have the pastry pressed into the muffin tins, fill it with the crab mixture. Bake. Eat. And eat. And eat.

Seriously, the biggest challenge for me with this recipe was stopping myself from eating all of the Crab Tassies.

Anyhow, once the Crab Tassies were out of the oven and I’d managed to clean up some of the resulting mess, I moved on to the Chicken & Corn Chowder. I manage to justify this as new-to-me in a sideways manner because I followed the recipe’s direction to use fresh corn on the cob and to cut the corn kernels off instead of cheating and using frozen corn.

This may not seem revolutionary to some of y’all, but it is to me. I mean, seriously, I used a sharp knife to slice off corn kernels off the cob – without supervision or medical assistance on call. Brave. Very brave. And messy. Unbelievably messy. It took me two of the five corn cobs to kinda, sorta master the art of cutting off the corn kernels without having corn juice squirt all over the place. Whatever though. It was fun.

Unfortunately for me, by the time I had the Corn & Chicken Chowder ready to sample, I was stuffed. I had had one too many Crab Tassies. I don’t regret it though. Chowder is always better the second day. And I was right. I will say though, that next time I make this Chowder recipe, I’ll go with my initial gut reaction and decrease the chicken from two cups to one cup, and add more corn.

Then I started in on what I had deemed to be the easiest of the recipes. The Cheese Straws.

That’s when I realized that these little buggers are lying, deceptive bastards! Easy? Oh no. Not at all. Not even close. And I didn’t even finish making them.

Let’s start with the fact that the recipe calls for softened butter and lots of cheese. Okay. That’s fine. But softened butter does not like to mix with grated cheese. And my mixer was not up to the task of forcing them into submission. Maybe a food processor would have worked better, but I don’t have one and I just soldiered on.

I’ll be honest. By the time I started making these, it was later than I anticipated and I was more tired than I expected because of the morning spent cleaning and the making of the other two recipes.

So when the Cheese Straw dough refused to work for me, I gave up. What I wound up with was a too dry hunk of expensive cheesy flour. It’s still in the fridge. I’m wondering if maybe I can salvage it some way. I doubt it though.

That’s okay. I’ll consider it a lesson learned of some sort. We’ll see how well I remember it down the road.

Now, two closing notes for important people in my life.

One: “The Savannah Cookbook” is Christmas gift from my Mom. And it’s one of my new favorites. Thanks Mom!!!

Two: My friend Troy called when I was about to start this particular cooking adventure. He asked if I was going to mention him in my blog. Troy, I guess you’ve got your answer now, dontcha?