Pimiento Cheese {Ten Years in New York}

Pimiento CheeseAs of today, I have been a resident of New York City for ten years.

TEN YEARS.

A decade.

Long enough that I can officially call myself a New Yorker without anyone trying to argue with me. (There are rules.)

Pimiento CheeseI’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—living in New York is not for the faint of heart. If you want to live here, prepare to work all the time and spend all your money on rent for an apartment that would be sub-$1,500 anywhere else. And for that matter, prepare to feel like you are never in that expensive closet that you call home. Prepare to have moments where you wonder why you ever thought it would be a good idea to move here.

But also, prepare to meet some seriously amazing people.

Photo by Arnab Chatterjee.
Prepare to end up doing work that is far beyond your wildest expectations.

Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Victor Ochen.
Prepare to have moments where you just stop in your tracks and go “Oh my gosh—I get to live here.” Ten years in, I still have those.

Most of all, prepare to appreciate your roots. I couldn’t wait to get out of Texas ten years ago. I had decided that I was *done* with all things Texan (beyond family and friends, of course). But a funny thing happened when I moved to New York—I developed Texas pride.

Ten years out, I have a collection of “Don’t Mess with Texas” t-shirts. I am a diehard Texas Rangers baseball fan. If I find out that there’s another displaced Texan in the room, I want to meet them—I need someone to commiserate with about the lack of decent barbecue in this city.

Pimiento CheeseSpeaking of barbecue, I had no idea how much I would miss the cuisine of my native state. As you may have noticed, I’ve spent ample time making salsa, guacamole, and the best damn Enchiladas Suizas you’ll find in Downtown Brooklyn. But I didn’t grow up on an all-Tex-Mex diet.

Pimiento CheeseToday’s recipe, Pimiento Cheese (pronounced “puh-men-uh cheese”), was a staple in my house growing up. My mom put it on tea sandwiches and stuffed it into celery with great frequency…and I totally hated it. Pimiento Cheese is made primarily of cheese and mayonnaise, two things I refused to eat as a child. But as I have grown up, I’ve developed a taste for this southern staple. Unlike Texas, Pimiento Cheese is not available in grocery stores up here, but that’s totally fine by me. Homemade is always better.

Pimiento CheesePimiento CheeseMy Pimiento Cheese recipe calls for minced serrano peppers in addition to the requisite extra sharp cheddar, mayonnaise, and sweet pimientos. This spicy addition, along with some garlic and a hefty dose of cracked black pepper, brings this classic dip over the top. It’s just…everything. Literally. I mean, it’s salty, spicy, creamy, sweet, great on crackers or stuffed into celery, and makes a killer sandwich spread. I’m pretty sure it’d be great in an omelet, too.

Pimiento CheeseBasically, I’m saying that Pimiento Cheese is the perfect food. And while I may officially be a New Yorker now, I have no intention of giving up this little part of Texas.Pimiento Cheese

Pimiento Cheese
makes about 2 cups

8 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese
1 4 ounce jar pimientos* or roasted red peppers
1 clove garlic
1-2 serrano peppers, seeded (if desired)
1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
1/4-1/3 cup (4-5 tablespoons) mayonnaise

For Serving:
celery
crackers

Grate the cheese on the large-holed side of a box grater. Transfer to a small mixing bowl.

Drain the pimientos and blot with paper towels. Mince pimientos, followed by garlic and serrano pepper(s). Transfer to the mixing bowl. Add black pepper and 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) mayonnaise. Use a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to fold it all together. If desired, add more mayonnaise by the tablespoon until the desired consistency is reached.

Transfer to a serving bowl and press plastic wrap to the surface. Refrigerate for about an hour before serving with celery or crackers. Pimiento Cheese may also be used as a sandwich spread.

Leftovers will keep covered in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Note:

I find pimientos with the shelf-stable pickles or on the international/Goya aisle at my grocery store.

Chicken Noodle Soup

Chicken Noodle SoupJust about everybody has a Chicken Noodle Soup recipe in their arsenal. It’s the classic American cure-all. No matter if it’s your grandma’s recipe or if it comes out of a can, it’s guaranteed to comfort and bring you back to life a little bit.

I had a little cold this weekend. It wasn’t bad enough to warrant going to the doctor or calling in sick, but it did mean I needed Chicken Noodle Soup. I dragged myself out of bed and into some yoga pants and a sweatshirt, and less than two hours later, I was tucking into a big bowl of homemade soup and binge-watching The Mindy Project. I’m not going to say that this soup cured me, but I will say that I woke up the next day feeling much more like myself.

Chicken Noodle SoupMy Chicken Noodle Soup starts with bone-in skin-on chicken. The soup pictured was made with chicken thighs, but white meat works too, if that’s what you like. The chicken is simmered in store-bought stock until cooked through, about 40 minutes. Then, the chicken is removed to cool and carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and herbs go into the pot to simmer for 30 minutes. A little dijon mustard is added for depth, but you can skip it if it’s not your thing.

While the vegetables are cooking, the chicken should cool enough for you to handle it. Discard the skin and tear the meat into bite-sizes pieces. Put the chicken and any large bones back in the pot to simmer for another half hour. Then remove the bones and stir in some peas, parsley, and black pepper. Let that cook for five more minutes before ladling it over egg noodles and digging in to a warm, filling, nutritious meal.

Chicken Noodle SoupThis soup is delicious, y’all. The broth is rich from the combination of bone-in chicken and store-bought stock, and the chicken and vegetables are full of protein and nutrients. Where the noodles in many recipes become overly soft from being submerged in the stock for an extended period, the noodles in my recipe are cooked separately and stay al dente. This also means that the soup will keep well for days. The flavors meld over time; it’s even better on day three than it is on day one!Chicken Noodle Soup

Chicken Noodle Soup
makes 6-8 servings

2 pounds bone-in skin-on chicken pieces (white, dark, or both)
8 cups low-sodium chicken stock (I like Better than Bouillon)
2 cups carrots, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
2 cups celery, washed and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 large white onion, diced (about 2 cups total)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1 tablespoon prepared Dijon mustard
2 cups frozen sweet peas (optional)
1/2 cup Italian parsley, chopped
1/4-1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt, optional
1 teaspoon freshly-cracked black pepper
12 ounces egg noodles, prepared according to package directions

Combine chicken pieces and stock in a large soup pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Allow pot to simmer 35-40 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken pieces to a plate to cool.

Add carrots, celery, onion, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and mustard to the stock. Cover pot again and allow to simmer 30 minutes.

Let chicken cool until you can handle it. Discard skin and reserve any larger bones. Tear chicken into bite-sizes pieces. Add chicken and bones back to the pot and simmer for an additional 30 minutes.

Remove chicken bones from soup. Stir in peas, parsley, salt, and pepper. Cook an additional 5 minutes before removing soup from heat.

To serve, place 1/2-1 cup of noodles in the bottom of each bowl. Ladle in the warm soup. Enjoy!

Soup and noodles will keep in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to five days.

Olive Oil Marinated Broccoli

 Let’s take a sugar break. It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on the real food side of things, and I’ve honestly overdone it with all the treats lately. But who can blame me? There were Peanut Butter Cupcakes with Oreo Buttercream to be had! I don’t care to admit how many I ate in three days…

It was seven. I ate seven cupcakes in three days 😁

So, let’s eat some broccoli. Really good, crunchy broccoli coated in a salty, spicy, garlicky marinade. 

This recipe is a riff on a side dish that an old boyfriend’s dad used to make all the time. We had dinner with his parents every Sunday, and while everything they served was good (I still dream about the arroz con pollo), the marinated broccoli was always my favorite. And while that boyfriend didn’t last, my obsession with this side dish has continued for years.

Yes, I get psyched up over vegetables. His dad also made the best peach pie I’ve ever had, but that’s a story for another day. 

 This broccoli is super easy and so good it’s ridiculous. There’s hardly any cooking involved. All you have to do is warm up some olive oil with garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes, and then pour it over a ton of broccoli florets. Toss it all together, cover it in plastic wrap, and let it sit for 2-4 hours at room temperature. That’s it–barely even a recipe. The broccoli softens just slightly and its raw bitterness fades as it soaks in all the salty, spicy goodness from the marinade. 

This recipe makes a lot. Like 8-10 servings a lot. But that means your vegetable side is done for at least two days, depending on how many you are feeding. Also, like soup and stew, the longer this sits, the better it will be. It’s great on day one, but the leftovers are *amazing.* The broccoli pictured only sat for two hours, and it was good, but when I went back for more later that night it was truly fantastic. 

Marinated broccoli is great with chicken, pork, fish, beef, tofu, mac and cheese…it literally goes well with any main you can imagine. I’ve been known to eat a giant pile of it with a hunk of bread and some cheese and call it dinner.

This is the kind of side dish that will make you want to eat your vegetables. I made some for my nine year-old friend last week and she went back for seconds. Of broccoli. Her main dish that night was pizza, so that’s practically a miracle.

Olive Oil Marinated Broccoli is a great side for weeknight dinners, and is great in packed lunches. I’ve served it at casual dinner parties and am planning to bring it to picnics in Prospect Park all summer long! Add this to your list of easy side dishes–it’ll be a favorite in no time! 

 Olive Oil Marinated Broccoli
makes 8-10 servings*

8 cups broccoli florets (about 5-6 crowns), raw*
2 cups extra virgin olive oil*
10 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and sliced in half
1-1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher or sea salt, or to taste
1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Place broccoli florets in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.

Place olive oil, garlic, salt, and crushed red pepper flakes in a small pot. Heat over medium-high heat just until the oil starts to bubble and the garlic begins to sizzle. Remove pot from heat. Pour oil mixture over the broccoli, using a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to scrape any remaining spices from the bottom of the pot into the bowl. Use a large spoon to coat the broccoli in the oil mixture. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to sit 2-8 hours at room temperature, tossing occasionally.

Use a slotted spoon to serve. Broccoli is best served at room temperature.

Cover and refrigerate leftovers in marinade for up to four days, bringing them back to room temperature before serving.

Notes:

1. This recipe halves easily, should you like to make a smaller amount.

2. If you aren’t into mostly-raw broccoli, you may blanch it in boiling water for one minute, and then shock it in ice water to stop the cooking. Proceed with marinating as written.

3. Yes, 2 cups is a lot of olive oil, but it really does require this much. Serving this broccoli with a slotted spoon helps to leave a lot of it behind.

Everyday Cassoulet

 Living far away from home means that when I get a call from friends or family, I “play the hits,” if you will. I tell them all about the big things going on in my life–a new apartment, the awesome kid I take care of, the brown and white spotted schnauzer I saw yesterday (I really love a schnauzer). But in all the fuss of sharing my life and hearing about theirs, I can let amazing things go by the wayside because they might seem mundane if the person on the other end of the phone call is not directly involved.

Take for example this Everyday Cassoulet. It’s rich and delicious and one of my favorite meals to make at home, but at the end of the day it’s *just* dinner. Everybody eats dinner. It’s not really a “call your mom down in Texas to tell her about it” kind of thing. 

 We all have our go-to meals though. My best friend, Emily, asked me a few months ago what I had been making for dinner lately, and this was the first thing I told her about. Mind you, I’ve been making this for five years. When I found the original recipe, I still lived in Manhattan! I was still working office jobs! The only thing I had ever baked from scratch were Ina Garten’s brownies! And while all of those things have changed, my go-to dinner has not.

Some of you may be wondering: what is cassoulet? It’s a slow-cooked meat and white bean stew from the south of France. Cassoulet is traditionally baked in a dish called a cassole. The fanciest versions contain things like goose, lamb, and duck confit. But this is a weeknight version of the classic French dish, so it’s been pared down. Don’t worry though, it’s still every bit as good and comforting as the real deal!

  This Everyday Cassoulet is made with Italian sausages in place of any specialty meats. Traditional white beans are baked with grape or cherry tomatoes, pearl onions, crushed garlic, and fresh herbs. Nothing has to be sliced or diced–you only need a knife to crush the garlic! Everything is drizzled with a simple mixture of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and Dijon mustard, and baked for an hour in a regular casserole pan–no need for specialty dishes here! 

And oh my, is it delicious. The sausages get super crispy, and the tomatoes burst and create the most wonderful sauce with the balsamic mixture. The beans soak in all the flavors and get super tender. This is fantastic served with crusty bread. I forgot it when I took these photos, but trust me, you’ll need it.

Put this Everyday Cassoulet on your list of weeknight dinners! It’s easy as can be, but sure doesn’t taste like it! Your family and friends will definitely ask for the recipe 😊 

 Everyday Cassoulet
adapted from Quick Cassoulet by Julie van Rosendaal
makes four servings*

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2-4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, rinsed
1 cup peeled pearl onions (fresh or frozen)*
2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 lb. raw Italian Sausages*
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Preheat oven to 425F.

In a small bowl, use a fork to whisk together balsamic vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper. Set aside.

In a small casserole dish, combine garlic cloves, tomatoes, and pearl onions. Top with rosemary and thyme sprigs, followed by sausages. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar mixture. Bake for 40 minutes.

Remove sausages to a plate. Stir cannellini beans into tomato mixture. Place sausages back on top of vegetables. Bake for an additional 20 minutes.

Remove dish from oven. Let cool a few minutes before serving in shallow bowls.

Leftovers keep covered in the refrigerator for up to four days.

Notes:

1. This recipe doubles easily in a 9×13″ pan. The bake time is the same.
2. If you don’t care for onions or simply don’t want to use them, they may be omitted.
3. I used pork sausages, but I think chicken or turkey would work well here.