Lee Brothers’ Pimento Cheese

My friend served delicious pimento cheese sandwiches recently- reminding me how much I enjoy them. 🙂 Eating them also reminded me that I wanted to try this version from Charleston, South Carolina.

The recipe is from The New York Times, contributed by the Lee Brothers. I used Cabot 3-year sharp cheddar cheese. I served it on the Fourth of July as a dip with crackers and pita chips. Alternatively, it could be used to fill about 4 sandwiches. Easy and fabulous.

Yield: about 1 1/2 cups

  • 8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated with a food processor or hand grater (not pre-grated)
  • 1/4 cup softened cream cheese (2 ounces), pulled into several pieces
  • scant 1/2 cup jarred pimento or other roasted red peppers (from a 7-ounce jar), finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons Duke’s, Hellmann’s or other high-quality store-bought mayonnaise (I used Trader Joe’s)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried red chile flakes
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  1. In a large mixing bowl, place the cheddar cheese in an even layer.
  2. Scatter the cream cheese, pimentos, mayonnaise and chile flakes over the cheddar cheese.
  3. Using a spatula, mix the pimento cheese until it is smooth and spreadable, about 1 1/2 minutes.
  4. Transfer the pimento cheese to a plastic container or bowl, cover tightly, and store in the refrigerator.
  5. Serve as a sandwich spread or as a dip.

Note: Pimento cheese keeps in the refrigerator for 1 week.

Classic Bread Pudding

My husband requested bread pudding for his celebratory Father’s Day dessert this year. This classic dessert is second only to cheesecake in his heart. ❤

This isn’t technically another strawberry dessert… but the fresh strawberry topping definitely brought this fabulously creamy bread pudding to the next level.

The recipe was adapted from Martha Stewart.com. I omitted the raisins, modified the presentation, and added the fresh strawberry garnish. Delicious.

Yield: Serves 8 to 10

  • 2 T unsalted butter, softened, for baking dish
  • 12 ounces brioche or challah, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 4 large eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp coarse salt
  • 1 T pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup raisins, optional (I omitted them)
  • 1 cup boiling water, optional (if using raisins), plus more for pan
  • fresh strawberry slices, for garnish, optional

Fried Chicken with Biscuits & Tomato Gravy

Like my last post, this special and indulgent feast was also included in Food and Wine Magazine’s “40 Best-Ever Recipes” issue celebrating the 40th anniversary of their publication. I made it for the second year in a row to celebrate my husband’s birthday! 🙂

The recipes were adapted from The Gift of Southern Cooking by Scott Peacock, the then chef at Watershed in Decatur, Georgia, and co-author Edna Lewis, the legendary Southern cook, his mentor and close friend. I modified the cooking techniques and substituted sunflower oil for lard. Last year, I made Lewis’ wonderful biscuits from this full menu, but, this year I served the chicken and gravy with sourdough biscuits.

The chicken is double-brined, first in salt water and then in buttermilk, and then fried in a cast iron skillet filled with oil (or lard), butter, and bacon fat. It was very tender and juicy. The creamy and rich gravy is reminiscent of Italian vodka sauce. Pretty delicious. 😉

We ate the chicken, gravy, and biscuits with macaroni and cheese (my favorite version), and iceberg wedge salad on the side. My husband’s birthday meal is not complete without his favorite Vanilla Bean Birthday Cheesecake for dessert. ❤

For the Fried Chicken & Tomato Gravy:

  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 2 quarts cold water
  • One 3 1/2 to 5 pound chicken, cut into 8 to 10 pieces (I cut each chicken breast in half)
  • 3 cups buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 cups (6 3/8 oz, 180.7g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons potato starch (optional) (I included it)
  • fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound lard or solid vegetable shortening, for frying (I substituted 2 cups of sunflower oil)
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 pound sliced bacon (I used 4 thick slices)
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 cups drained canned diced tomatoes (from three 14-ounce cans)
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (I used whole milk)

To Make the Fried Chicken:

  1. In a large bowl, dissolve the kosher salt in the cold water. Add the chicken pieces; cover and refrigerate for 4 hours. Drain.
  2. Put the chicken in a large bowl, add the buttermilk and turn the pieces to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours. (The chicken can be refrigerated overnight at this point, if desired.)
  3. In a gallon-size zip-lock bag, combine the flour, cornstarch, potato starch, 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and shake.
  4. Set aside 1/2 cup of the flour mixture for the gravy.
  5. Lift the chicken out of the buttermilk, wipe off any excess and set the pieces on a wire rack; let dry for 5 minutes.
  6. Add the chicken, a few pieces at a time, to the flour mixture in the bag; shake to coat.
  7. Dry the rack. Shake off any excess flour and return the chicken to the rack.
  8. Meanwhile, in a large cast-iron skillet, melt the lard (I used sunflower oil) and butter over medium heat. (I used a 12-inch cast iron skillet.)
  9. Add the bacon and cook over moderate heat until crisp, about 5 minutes; reserve the bacon for another use. (I crumbled the bacon over our wedge salads.)
  10. Add the chicken, in batches, and cook over moderate heat, basting and turning, until golden, crisp and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Lower the heat if necessary. (I kept the cooking oil temperature between 300 and 340 degrees. I also completed cooking the larger pieces (especially the breast pieces) in the oven at 300 degrees, until they reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees.)
  11. Set the chicken on a clean wire rack to drain.

To Make the Gravy:

  1. Transfer 1/4 cup of the chicken cooking fat to a large saucepan.
  2. Add the onion and garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is golden, about 5 minutes. (I chopped the onion and garlic in a food processor.)
  3. Add the reserved 1/2 cup of seasoned flour and cook, whisking, for 2 minutes.
  4. Add the drained tomatoes and thyme and stir constantly until blended.
  5. Whisk in the cream and milk until the sauce is smooth.
  6. Season with salt and pepper and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened and no floury taste remains, about 10 minutes.
To Serve:
  1. Transfer the fried chicken to a platter.
  2. Pour the tomato gravy into a gravy boat and serve with the chicken.

For the Biscuits:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons single-acting baking powder or double-acting baking powder (see Note)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup cold lard or vegetable shortening, cut into pieces (I used bacon fat)
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

To Make the Biscuits:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450°.
  2. In a bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  3. Using your fingers or a pastry blender, work in the lard just until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
  4. Stir in the buttermilk just until moistened.
  5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead 2 or 3 times.
  6. Roll out or pat the dough 1/2 inch thick.
  7. Using a 2-inch round cutter, stamp out biscuits as close together as possible. Transfer the biscuits to a baking sheet.
  8. Pat the dough scraps together, reroll and cut out the remaining biscuits; do not overwork the dough.
  9. Pierce the top of each biscuit 3 times with a fork and brush with the butter.
  10. Bake the biscuits for 12 to 14 minutes, or until risen and golden. Serve at once.

Note: The unbaked biscuits can be frozen in a single layer, then kept frozen in an airtight container for up to 1 month. Thaw before baking.

Pork Chops with Lemon-Caper Sauce

After reading the printed version, I received multiple emails from The New York Times about this dish. Sam Sifton was over the moon about this recipe and the book, Toni Tipton-Martin’s Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African-American Cooking. He described the book as “excellent and invaluable” and noted that this was his favorite recipe in it. I had to try it.

I agreed with Sam Sifton. 🙂 Lemon-caper sauce is incredible! This wonderful dish was prepared very quickly and was packed with flavor. Tipton-Martin learned the sauce technique that elevates these smothered pork chops from restaurateur B. Smith.

I added additional flour to the sauce to make it more of a gravy. We used fresh bread to mop up all of the remaining sauce on our plates. I served the pork chops with sautéed spinach and roasted red and sweet potatoes on the side.

This recipe was adapted from Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African-American Cooking, via The New York Times, contributed by Sam Sifton. I slightly modified the proportions.

Yield: Serves 4 to 5

  • 4 bone-in pork chops (about 8 ounces each) (I used 5 boneless pork chops)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 4 T unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 very small shallot, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 2 T all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 T drained capers
  • 2 T minced fresh parsley, plus more for garnish
  • 1 tsp freshly grated lemon zest, plus 2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • hot sauce, optional
  1. Dry the chops with paper towels, and season aggressively with salt, pepper and the thyme.
  2. Swirl the olive oil into a large skillet, and heat over medium until the oil begins to shimmer.
  3. Add chops, and cook until well browned on each side and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer chops to a plate, and cover to keep warm.
  4. Drain most of the fat from the skillet, then melt 2 tablespoons of butter in it over medium heat until sizzling.
  5. Add the shallot and garlic, and sauté until the aromatics soften, reducing the heat if necessary, about 1 minute.
  6. Sprinkle in the flour, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
  7. Whisk in the wine and chicken stock, raise heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced by half, 7 to 10 minutes.
  8. Stir in the capers, parsley, lemon zest and juice and hot sauce to taste (if you’re using it)(I omitted it), and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes.
  9. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter until it’s melted and the sauce looks smooth.
  10. Nestle the pork chops into the sauce, and allow them to warm up for a couple of minutes, then serve, pouring sauce over each pork chop to taste.
  11. Garnish with more fresh parsley.

Cornbread Dressing with Bacon & Sage

I am not usually the biggest fan of Thanksgiving stuffing but I was in love with this version. This classic Southern stuffing had wonderful flavor and a perfect balance of crunchy and custardy texture. Perfect. It will definitely be part of my Thanksgiving menu next year.

This recipe was adapted from Food and Wine, contributed by Josh Miller. The skillet cornbread is baked in a piping hot cast iron skillet sprinkled with salt- resulting in a fabulously crispy crust. This cornbread would be delicious on its own as well. I made the cornbread a day in advance. The stuffing can be completely assembled one day before serving and baking.

Yield: Serves 8 to 10

For the Dressing:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F, preferably on convection.
  2. Toss together 5 cups cornbread cubes, torn white bread, 1/2 cup melted butter, and sage in a large bowl.
  3. Heat a large skillet over medium-high. In 2 batches, add cornbread mixture to skillet; cook, stirring, until bread is toasted, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer corn-bread mixture to a large bowl, and set aside. Wipe skillet clean.
  4. Add bacon to skillet; cook over medium, stirring often, until crisp, about 12 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon; add to cornbread mixture.
  5. Reserve 2 tablespoons bacon drippings in skillet; discard remaining drippings or reserve for another use.
  6. Add onion, apple, celery, parsley, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add onion mixture to cornbread mixture.
  7. Crumble remaining 5 cups cubed cornbread into cornbread mixture.
  8. Whisk together 3 cups broth, eggs, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl until blended. Fold into cornbread mixture.
  9. Spoon mixture into a 13- x 9-inch baking dish.
  10. Drizzle with remaining 1/2 cup broth and remaining 1/4 cup melted butter. Bake in preheated oven until lightly toasted, about 35 minutes.
Note: Dressing may be assembled up to 1 day ahead; cover and chill until ready to bake.

For the Buttermilk Skillet Cornbread:

  1. Add oil to a 10-inch cast-iron skillet; place skillet in oven, and preheat to 450°F, preferably on convection. (Do not remove skillet while oven preheats.)
  2. While oven preheats, whisk together cornmeal, flour, sugar, 2 1/2 teaspoons salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl.
  3. Stir in buttermilk until smooth; stir in eggs, then stir in butter.
  4. Carefully remove skillet from oven; pour hot oil from skillet into cornbread batter, stirring until blended.
  5. Working quickly, sprinkle remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in bottom of skillet, then immediately pour batter into hot skillet (do not stir), and return to oven.
  6. Bake at 450°F until top is golden brown, about 22 minutes.
  7. Immediately invert cornbread onto a wire rack (to retain the crispy crust); let cool completely before using, about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Shrimp & Grits with Mustard Seed Chowchow

Charleston, South Carolina is a very special place for me. As a tribute, I make a lot of Southern food. 🙂 I also make shrimp and grits as part of our traditional Easter celebration.

We were lucky enough to travel back to Charleston recently and we brought home a couple of different types of grits. The fresh from South Carolina grits really made this dish extra special. I also baked the grits for the first time and the results were amazing. I used a blend of stone ground white and yellow grits for this dish, but, I also have special pink “unicorn grits” from Millers All Day which I’ll be sure to share with you in another dish.

This dish is from a Food and Wine “staff-favorite” recipe, contributed by Isaac Toups of Toups South in New Orleans. It was absolutely incredible. (We need to go to his restaurant!)  It may be quite difficult to try a new version next year. I served it with roasted asparagus. Lovely.

  1. Preheat oven to 200°F, preferably on convection.
  2. Toss together shrimp and Cajun seasoning in a medium bowl. Cover; refrigerate until ready to use.
  3. Place milk and 1/4 cup butter in a medium ovenproof saucepan. Bring to a vigorous simmer over medium, stirring occasionally.
  4. Gradually add grits, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens slightly and grits are evenly suspended in milk, about 6 minutes.
  5. Cover saucepan; transfer to preheated oven. Bake until grits are tender, 1 hour to 1 hour and 30 minutes. Remove from oven; stir in 2 teaspoons salt and remaining 1/4 cup butter. Cover to keep warm until ready to use. (I put the pot in a warming oven.)
  6. While the grits are in the oven, stir together vinegar, 3/4 cup water, sugar, and remaining 1 1/4 teaspoons salt in a saucepan; bring to a boil over high.
  7. Stir in mustard seeds. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer, stirring occasionally, until seeds are tender, about 35 minutes.
  8. Add tomato and bell pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender and mixture has thickened, 14 to 16 minutes. Remove from heat.
  9. Remove shrimp from refrigerator. Heat oil in a large cast-iron skillet over high until smoking.
  10. Add shrimp to skillet in a single layer; cook until opaque and lightly charred, about 1 minute and 30 seconds per side.
  11. To serve, divide grits among 4 bowls. Top evenly with shrimp and chowchow; sprinkle with sliced scallion.

Note: The chowchow can be made up to a week in advance.

Shortcut Chicken Stew with Fluffy Dumplings

This incredible comfort food dish uses rotisserie chicken meat as a shortcut. I made it even more of a shortcut by using my pre-made homemade stock, but I included the chicken stock instructions in the recipe below.

This recipe was loosely adapted from cookbook author Sheri Castle, via The Washington Post. The broth was rich and flavorful and the dumplings were the icing on the cake. Fluffy and fabulous. This is truly the perfect dish to serve on a cold winter night.

Yield: 6-8 servings

For the Stock & Stew:

  • 1 large rotisserie chicken (Costco size) or 2 small rotisserie chickens
  • 4 cups cold water (to make the stock) or 4 cups or homemade poultry stock (for a shortcut)
  • 8 cups low-sodium chicken stock (store-bought or homemade) (4 cups if using pre-made homemade stock)
  • 3 large thyme sprigs (to make stock)
  • 2-3 tsp Kosher salt, plus more as needed, divided
  • 1 T white wine vinegar
  • 1 T unsalted butter
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2 medium ribs celery, thinly sliced (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2 medium carrots, scrubbed well and cut into thin rounds (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 T fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed

For the Dumplings:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
  • 6 T unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and chilled
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half
  • chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

For the Stock & Stew:

  1. Pull the meat from the chicken(s) and tear it into largish bite-size pieces; cover and refrigerate until needed.
  2. I substituted/used 4 cups of homemade turkey stock instead of making stock with the chicken carcass. *If making the chicken stock base, place the carcass and skin in a large saucepan or small pot. Add the cold water, 8 cups broth, thyme sprigs and 1 teaspoon of the salt; bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for about an hour, until the carcass falls apart and the liquid reduces to about 8 cups and tastes like rich chicken soup. Strain the broth through a fine-mesh strainer into a large saucepan; discard solids.*
  3. If using pre-made stock, combine the 4 cups homemade stock with 4 cups of store-bought chicken stock. Stir the vinegar into the stock, season with salt and pepper to taste, and keep warm on the lowest heat setting.
  4. Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, carrots, thyme leaves and a pinch of salt, stirring to coat. Cook for 8 minutes, or until vegetables begin to soften, stirring often.
  5. Add the 8 cups stock and cook for 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Carefully watch the heat to ensure that the stock doesn’t boil over.
  6. Season with 1 teaspoon salt (or more, to taste) and the pepper.
  7. Stir in the reserved shredded rotisserie chicken meat; reduce the heat to low.

For the Dumplings & to Finish the Dish:

  1. Whisk together the flours, baking powder, salt, sugar and pepper in a medium bowl.
  2. Work in the butter with a pastry blender or your fingertips until the mixture is crumbly.
  3. Add the half-and-half and stir only until combined to form a soft, sticky dough.
  4. Bring the chicken stew to a boil over medium-high heat. Use a 1-ounce scoop (I used a large cookie scoop) or two soup spoons to drop golf-ball-size dumplings evenly over the surface of the stew. The hot liquid seals the dumplings so that they rise instead of spread.
  5. Reduce the heat to medium; cover and cook for 20 to 25 minutes or until the dumplings are firm, fluffy and somewhat dry on top. Don’t be tempted to lift the lid- if the heat escapes, the dumplings may deflate.
  6. Uncover and let stand for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve warm.

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