Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Pack is Back: Bring on the Cheese

My friend Tony is a long-standing and extremely passionate Green Bay Packers fan. So in the wake of their Super Bowl win on Sunday (and to honor football and cheese), I would like to dedicate this post to their #1 fan.

In the South, football borders on religion and we love our pimento cheese. A staple in most Southern homes, church potlucks and even on restaurant menus, pimento cheese is something most of us grew up on but may not have realized we're probably the only folks eating it. What a shame is all I can say. As a child I would eat pimento cheese slathered between two slices of white bread for the perfect lunch. At a party, it may be piped into celery boats for easy enjoyment. For decadence, it was the perfect topping on a burger.

It's nothing fancy. In fact, it doesn't even look all that appealing. But it's downright addictive. It's basically just grated cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, spices and chopped pimentos. You can buy it in a grocery store (in the South), but nothing beats homemade pimento cheese. It's definitely a classic, though, so you don't want to mess with a good thing. No specialty cheeses (read: goat) or condiments (read: dill pickles) need apply. It's cheesy. It's creamy. It's a little spicy. It's both comforting and celebratory.

It's something I find myself making a lot when I entertain because people around here have never had it. And it's fun to watch them try it . . . and then sit down and eat a quart of it. It also makes me feel a little closer to my roots. Actually, it makes me feel a little grown up too. As a child, making and serving pimento cheese seemed like a very adult thing to do even though kids of all ages love it.

The first question most people have is what on Earth is a pimento?! I usually say it's that red thing you find stuffed in the olive in your martini. But if you want to get technical, it's a small, sweet red pepper but more flavorful than a bell pepper. When dried and ground, it becomes paprika. The second question might be how do you spell it, which is up for debate. Pimento or pimiento? Like many words America has butchered and modified, this little pepper is one of them. You find/see both so just pick one. No one seems to mind. Thirdly, how do you say it like a proper Southerner? You'll get an approving nod if you go with "pimenah."

So the next time you're looking for the perfect start to a Southern meal — or a way to just make your guests swoon and call you ego-boosting names, go for the pimento cheese. Warning: Your glory may be short-lived as your guests curse your name the next day as they try to work off all the cheese and mayo on the treadmill. But rest assured, they'll be back asking for more.

Pimento Cheese

1 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp finely chopped sage
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
8 oz Colby cheese, grated (2 cups)
8 oz Cheddar cheese, grated (2 cups)
4 oz chopped pimentos, drained
Salt and pepper to taste
Tabasco to taste

Before I get started, let me just say, "Do not use pre-shredded cheese!" You will need to grate it yourself. It just doesn't seem to combine otherwise. So without further ado:
In medium bowl, with a rubber spatula, combine the mayonnaise, sage, lemon juice, mustard, cayenne, and Worcestershire sauce. Add the cheese and pimentos, blending thoroughly to combine. Season with salt, pepper, and Tabasco. Refrigerate until ready to eat. Delicious served on bread, crackers, carrot and celery sticks, burgers and even corn on the cob!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

She Couldn't Stay

Today I had to say goodbye to my faithful companion, Summer, who's been by my side for 15 years. It was time for her to go, although I didn't want her to. I guess that's how most people feel who are left behind. I knew she couldn't stay as her health was failing, but you never really prepare yourself for the loss of those special fuzzy creatures.

Summer was an unusual cat. In fact she was more like a dog, which is probably why people who didn't fancy themselves to be "cat people" were drawn to her. She was simply very sweet and very communicative (even if misunderstood at times) and a character. She was an important member in my family and she changed my life in so many ways. The loss of her love and wonderful friendship will certainly be felt for a long time. I already miss her and the many ways she filled my life.

We sampled foods together . . .

. . . cooked together. . .

. . . drank together. . . .

. . . cohosted parties together . . .

. . . and rested together.

I am heartbroken but know how lucky I was to have her in my life for so long. She was the best.