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.

Oreo Peanut Butter

 Is there possibly a better combination than Oreos and peanut butter? I had never heard of eating them together until I saw the Lindsay Lohan version of The Parent Trap. When one of her characters used Oreos to scoop peanut butter out of the jar, it blew. my. mind.

It makes sense. I mean, chocolate and peanut butter are BFFs. Exhibit A: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. But pairing not-too-sweet Oreo wafers, creamy filling, and the magic that is peanut butter? Does it get better than that?!

Well, yes. Yes it does. How about Oreos *in* peanut butter?!

!!! 

 My Oreo Peanut Butter could not be easier to whip up. All you need are three ingredients: roasted salted peanuts, Double Stuf Oreos, and a tablespoon of coconut oil. Put all three in a food processor or high-powered blender, and blitz until smooth. That’s it! The combination of freshly-ground peanut butter and pulverized Oreos is to die for, and the coconut oil keeps everything smooth and spreadable.
 The only drawback is that it’s not the most gorgeous color, but when there is peanut butter-Oreo magic going on, who cares?

Oreo Peanut Butter is fantastic on toast, spread on bananas, in milkshakes, or just on a spoon. My favorite thing to do with it is make Fluffernutter sandwiches. Who wouldn’t love Oreos, peanut butter, and Marshmallow Fluff?!

Bottom line: make this Oreo Peanut Butter. It doesn’t get any better 😊 

  Oreo Peanut Butter
makes about two cups

1 1/2 cups roasted salted peanuts
24 Double Stuf Oreos
1 tablespoon coconut oil, solid

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or high-powered blender. Process until smooth, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks, or indefinitely in the refrigerator.

Dark Chocolate Pecan Butter

 Well, we survived the blizzard. With the exception of a two hour excursion to the fancy grocery store for provisions (read: lots of cheese and some kimchi), Henry and I stayed home all day Saturday while New York City was brought to a standstill by Jonas. We watched PBS (because we’re big nerds) and made a pot of sausage and white bean soup before the real cabin fever set in. But that was solved by taking a slippery walk down to Smith Street and making some snow angels. Really, there was nothing to complain about: we had a warm apartment, plenty of food, Netflix, and good company. But now, the snow is a problem. It’s everywhere, gray and slushy. I literally had to hike to the coffee shop across the street yesterday morning. Gross. But, then I came home, turned on BBC World Service (again, big nerd), ate some toast with bananas and this Dark Chocolate Pecan Butter, and briefly, blissfully forgot about the mayhem outside…until I left for Target and fell in a gray snowbank. So much for peace 😜

This Dark Chocolate Pecan Butter is so good. Chocolaty and lightly sweetened, with the deep caramel flavor that only toasted pecans can provide. It’s made with everyday ingredients like pecan halves (duh), cocoa powder, maple syrup, and coconut oil. Nothing weird. No palm oil, no copious amounts of refined sugar. No refined sugar at all, actually! There’s no dairy here either, so this nut butter is vegan! 

Making homemade nut butters couldn’t be simpler. You will need a food processor or high-powered blender, but that is the only special equipment. If you don’t have one, I recommend this Hamilton Beach food processor. I’ve had mine for five years and it hasn’t failed me yet.

But back to the Dark Chocolate Pecan Butter. It starts with toasting pecan halves. Just spread them on a dry cookie sheet and bake at 400F for 5-7 minutes. You’ll know they’re ready the second you start to smell them. If you don’t trust your nose, start checking them every thirty seconds or so from the five minute mark until you deem them done. Whatever you do, don’t leave the room. The pecans can burn in a split second, and burnt pecan butter is decidedly not delicious. 

  Once the pecans are toasty, put them in your food processor with a touch of salt and some cocoa powder. I prefer to use Dutch process cocoa here because I think its flavor is richer than natural. Dutch process cocoa is a little less widely available than natural, but it’s really not hard to find at all. In NYC, it’s available at Whole Foods, Sahadi’s, Union Market, and many specialty stores. N.Y. Cake Supply sells Valrhona cocoa at wholesale prices, but if Valrhona is a little too pricey for your liking, Droste is another brand I love. If you just want to stick with classic Hershey’s, do it. It will be delicious! Don’t let something as silly as some fancy cocoa stop you from making this Dark Chocolate Pecan Butter.

…anyway…

Process the pecans, cocoa powder, and salt until a nut butter forms. Then, add a bit of coconut oil, a few tablespoons of maple syrup, and a splash of vanilla, before blitzing for an additional 3-5 minutes. You might be thinking that the coconut oil seems unnecessary with all the oils in the pecans. And you’d be right, except that the cocoa powder dries everything out. The two teaspoons of coconut oil keep everything loose and spreadable. As far as sweetening goes, it’s up to you. I don’t like this butter to be very sweet. I use three tablespoons of maple syrup, but just add it to your preferred sweetness. Keep in mind that the maple will cause the butter to seize when you add it, but after a minute or two, everything will loosen back up. When the Dark Chocolate Pecan Butter is to your preferred consistency, transfer it to an airtight container for storage. The oils will separate a bit as it sits, so just give it a quick stir before use.

Now, how to serve this… Well, there’s always eating it by the spoonful. Or on oatmeal. Or stirred into yogurt. All of those would be great! But my favorite is on toasted country bread with bananas. Try it. Trust me. 

Want more chocolate and pecans? Check out my Salted Caramel Chocolate-Covered Pecan Cookies!

Dark Chocolate Pecan Butter
makes about two cups

3 cups pecan halves
3 tablespoons cocoa powder*
1/4 teaspoon salt
3-4 tablespoons pure maple syrup*
2 teaspoons coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400F. Spread pecan halves on a baking sheet (not greased). Roast for 5-7 minutes, until fragrant. Let cool five minutes before transferring to a food processor or high-powered blender.

Add cocoa powder and salt to pecans and process until a nut butter forms, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add in maple syrup, coconut oil, and vanilla. Process for an additional 3-5 minutes. Butter will seize initially before becoming smooth again. Once it’s smooth, transfer the butter to an airtight container.

Store Dark Chocolate Pecan Butter at room temperature for up to a week, or indefinitely in the refrigerator. Butter will harden in the refrigerator, so bring it to room temperature before spreading. Stir before using.

Notes:

1. I prefer Dutch process cocoa here, but any cocoa powder will do.
2. Honey or agave may be substituted.