Archive for November, 2010

Pimento Cheese

Having moved around quite a bit in my life I’ve had the opportunity to experience a variety of American regional food specialties. This lively cheese spread, from the Southern states is one of my favorites.

Pimento cheese, or “pimentacheese” as I often heard it pronounced, most frequently shows up as a sandwich filling on soft white bread for school lunches. When I crave it, it’s usually as a topping for bagels, a filling for an omelet, or my favorite, as a substitute for sliced cheese on a thick, juicy grilled burger.

When it’s football season, especially around the holidays when I need to take something to a party, I make a batch of this and serve it as a spread for crackers or bruschetta instead of the usual cheese ball or guacamole.

Each household in the South has their own variation of the recipe for pimento cheese, some use cream cheese or Velveeta cheese. This version is often found in older Southern cookbooks and is my favorite. You may recognize the first six ingredients in this recipe for something very close to Miracle Whip.

Pimento Cheese
1 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. vinegar
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 egg, beaten
1 Tbsp. butter
½ lb. grated sharp cheddar cheese
¼ lb grated American cheese
¼ lb grated Monterey Jack cheese
1 (4-ounce) jar chopped pimentos, undrained
2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
2-3 dashes hot pepper sauce (Frank’s or Texas Pete)
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine first six ingredients in a small saucepan; cook over low heat until thickened, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and set aside to cool until still warm, until a finger can be poked into the mixture comfortably. Pour over cheese and mash to blend ingredients. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Place in a bowl and chill well before serving. Store in refrigerator.


Cream Of Mushroom Soup

Cream soups from scratch bear no resemblance to the canned supermarket varieties and for the most part aren’t much of a bother to make. When a holiday recipe like the all-American green bean casserole calls for a can of cream soup, using made-from-scratch soup will transform it into something special.

Half-and-half or whole milk make the most luxurious cream soups, but reduced fat milk may be used to make them more diet-friendly and produces an equally delicious soup. Don’t like mushrooms? Substitute any sliced or diced fresh vegetable for an outstanding bowl of cream soup that will turn you off canned soups forever.

I’ve used the common white mushroom here, but any type of fresh mushroom works well in this recipe. When a recipe calls for a can of cream of mushroom soup, make this as directed reducing the amount of chicken broth to one cup and use as directed in your recipe.

Cream of Mushroom Soup
4 tablespoons butter
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced (any kind of fresh mushroom)
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups rich chicken broth
½ cup dry sherry
1 cup milk or half-and-half
Salt & pepper to taste

Melt the butter over medium high heat in a large saucepan. Add the sliced mushrooms and sauté until any liquid the mushrooms exude have evaporated, about 5 minutes.

Stir the flour and continue to sauté for about a minute to coat the mushroom with the flour & butter. Add the broth, sherry and milk and continue to stir until soup comes to a boil and thickens.

Taste for seasoning and add salt & pepper to taste. Serve hot. Makes 2 servings.

Prime Rib Chili

Prime Rib Chili
With all of the holiday entertaining, dealing with leftovers can be a challenge. Rib roasts are often a good buy during the holidays. I like to take advantage of those bargains, using up all of the leftovers makes a rib roast an even better bargain.

When we’re tired of roast beef sandwiches and roast beef hash, my next choice is chili. This version is easy and delicious. Best of all, if you are dealing with a large amount of leftover roast beef, chili freezes extremely well. I don’t mind having a bag or two of chili in the freezer for those winter nights when I don’t feel like cooking.

Any kind of leftover roast beef works extremely well for this. I also do this when I have leftover London Broil or Tri Tip that we’ve grilled outside. That bit of outdoor grilled flavor makes an amazing bowl of red. This recipe is versatile; it’s also a clever way to use up those opened jars of salsa in the fridge. I’ve used black beans here, but any variety of canned beans will do just fine.

2-3 cups leftover roast beef cut into very small cubes
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 eight ounce jar salsa (find a fire roasted type if you can)
1 28 ounce can fire roasted, diced tomatoes
1 15 ounce can plain tomato sauce
2 beef boullion cubes
Chile powder (or your favorite package of dry chili mix seasoning) to taste
1 can black, pinto or kidney beans, undrained
3 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil

Heat the oil up over medium high heat and brown the beef cubes. Add the onions, garlic and boullion cubes and cook until the onions are transparent.

Add the salsa, canned tomatoes or tomato sauce and enough water to cover the meat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer about and hour or until the beef is tender.

Taste and add the chili powder to taste. Simmer for 5 minutes and add the can of beans. Stir well and continue to cook another 10 minutes.

Serve with your favorite chili toppings (cheese, chopped onions, sour cream, sliced black olives, sliced pickled jalapenos, etc.). Serves 4-6 people.

To freeze any leftovers, cool and pack into quart freezer bags.

Scrambled Eggs with Salmon

Ever wonder what to do with that little bit of salmon filet you brought home in a doggie bag last night or the smoked salmon or lox from a party? This dish, with less than a handful of ingredients, is an elegant way to turn that tasty bit of leftovers into one of my favorite breakfast dishes. It’s also perfect for lunch or dinner served with a green salad.

Leftover cooked salmon filet works very well as does a bit of smoked salmon or lox for this recipe. The dish takes less than 5 minutes from start to finish which makes it a handy choice for entertaining. To keep the scrambled eggs soft & fluffy make sure to cook over medium (not high) heat, as scrambled eggs tend to dry out and toughen when cooked over high heat. Another tip, let the butter brown slightly before adding the other ingredients, the nutty flavor of the browned butter really adds a special touch to the dish. I do this for any kind of egg cookery.

For one serving:

2 eggs
2-3 oz salmon (flaked cooked salmon, smoked salmon or lox)
1 tsp milk
1 tsp butter
Salt & pepper to taste

Beat the eggs with a fork with the milk. Heat the butter in a small non-stick skillet over medium high heat until it just begins to turn golden brown and smells nutty. Turn the heat down to medium and add the salmon. Cook until just heated through and pour the eggs over the salmon. Let the eggs begin to set before gently flipping the eggs and salmon over with a spatula and cook just until the eggs are set.

Turn out on to a plate and serve right away.

Pecan Graham Cracker Crumb Crust

This variation of the plain graham cracker crust is quick and easy. It is an excellent alternative to the classic flour based piecrust and is perfect for any filling that doesn’t require baking after filling. I use this crust for key lime pie, cream pies and no-bake type cheesecakes.

4 oz graham cracker crumbs
1 cup chopped pecans
4 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Using a rolling pin or food processor crush the crackers to make small crumbs. Coarsely chop the pecans. Combine all four ingredients in a bowl and blend well to coat everything evenly with the butter.

Pour in to a pie can and with the back of a spoon or bottom of a glass firmly press the crumbs into the pan to an even thickness.

Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes, or until edges begin to brown. Remove from the oven, cool completely and fill as desired. Can be made a day ahead and filled when needed.

Makes enough for an 8 or 9 inch pie pan.

Wines We Like For Under $10.00 (under $5.00, too!)

I appreciate pricey bottles of luscious French Bordeaux or an elegant Alsatian Riesling as much as the next wine lover, particularly with a special meal or dining out but I’m a practical wino and I’m always excited when I find a bargain bottle of wine that is every bit as good as some costing over $25 per bottle.

Wine is such a subjective thing and as with food, everyone has their own valid opinion about what a good wine is. The dishes I love to cook (and eat) tend to be well seasoned meat and seafood. Highly seasoned dishes are common on my menus so the wines I tend to pick are those that can stand up to my style of cooking. And since we enjoy wine with most meals as well as our drink of choice while entertaining we’re mindful of our wine budget.

Las Vegas is a great wine town. Specialty wine shops with well informed staff to help with wine selections dot the valley. Our two wine & liquor mega-marts, Lees and Total Wine & More are gold mines for high quality wines and I can spend hours browsing the massive aisles of labels in these places. But sometimes I know exactly what I want and with limited time, I’m a power shopper who appreciates running into a store and back out in under five minutes. For these reasons Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets get a good portion of my wine budget. With stores all over Las Vegas (and one two blocks from my home) Fresh & Easy has become my source for some very nice bargain bottles of consistently good wine that are perfect for holiday entertaining as well as everyday consumption.

Fresh & Easy Wine Aisle

These four bottles, a white, red, rosé and a sparkling wine, are my go-to wines that pair well with my style of cooking and the tastes of our friends and family. The white, Ogio pinot grigio from Northern Italy is fruity with the perfect acidity to go with seafood, chicken and cream sauces. The Ogio rosé, is a zinfandel from Puglia and is my favorite with the flavor profiles in Asian cuisine or just for general sipping by the pool or while watching TV. The red, Saludas, is a bold, fruity red Spanish wine that is absolutely perfect with grilled meats as well as Italian dishes and cheese plates. The beauty of all three bottles is they are each priced under $5.00 per bottle and are as good or better than some other well-known labels costing much more.

The fourth bottle is Montcadi Cava, a very fine traditional method Spanish sparkling rosé wine priced at an unbelievable $7.99. We drink this with everything. Seriously, we do. It’s fruity, not too dry and refreshing. This bottle would be worth its price at twice the shelf price. It’s an absolutely gorgeous sparkling wine and received many compliments when we chose to serve this at a recent wedding reception in our family.

Exploring new wines in the various Las Vegas wine shops can be great fun, to be sure. But let’s face it, having a selection of affordable wines on hand during the holidays (and the rest of the year as well) makes entertaining sense. A good bottle of wine does not need to be expensive, but please invite me over when you open that Mouton Rothschild you get for Christmas, I love the expensive stuff, too. And I’ll bring the cheese!


With all the dietary land mines on the Las Vegas Strip you may eventually find yourself craving something your cardiologist might approve of. That can be a tough to find unless you stop at IcePan.

IcePan, located inside Harrah’s, is a revolutionary way to make ice cream. You select the flavor and the base is mixed to order. Your custom made base is then frozen on an Asian inspired, super-cold, flat pan right in front of you.

Flavors range from the usual vanilla, chocolate and strawberry and range all the way to more exotic red bean, mochi and green tea with new flavors added as the seasons change. You then chose between whole milk, reduced fat, fat free or soy milk as the base.

The blended mixture is poured over the “ice pan” then flipped, chopped and bashed for a couple of minutes until your dish of super creamy ice cream with no additives is scooped into a serving dish.

How do they manage such a creamy result, you may ask? An all-natural seaweed derivative with loads of nutritional benefits is also an emulsifier, giving the ice cream a rich, creamy mouth feel. It also means a ½ cup serving can have 25% to over 30% of the USDA requirement for dietary fiber.

I’m not sure I need to get 30% of my daily requirement for fiber in a ½ cup serving of ice cream but the ice cream is delicious and the process is really fun to watch. The show is as entertaining as anything else you’ll find in a casino and at $5.95 won’t break your gambling budget.

IcePan, open from 11:00AM to 1:00AM, is located on the second level of Harrah’s