Deliciously Local! Dinner Party with Relay Foods

Cheers!  Stay cool outside with friends and a well-chilled rose.

 

Today has been a day of remembrances.  I remembered where I was exactly on this day in 2001.  I remembered that today was also the birthday of a good friend who died too young a couple of years ago.  Facebook told me today was also the birthday of a good friend still alive.  Google News told me today was the birthday of Mickey Hart (Blast from the past!  My Proustian college memories were scented NOT of madeleines but of patchouli and clove cigarettes.)

This day 12 years ago hammered home that we, as humans and as a country, are vulnerable.  That technology fails us and also connects us. That family and friends are always more important than political ideology.  That there are heroes among us.  That you should always keep your car gassed up.  (Okay sorry, that was a joke.  I was waxing too philosophical.)

I would like to dedicate this post to all of my friends and neighbors who I adore and love to break bread with.  You are awesome.

This summer we held a big outdoor party featuring local foods from our region.  Relay Foods spurred the idea when they reached out for hosts and hostesses in Maryland and Virginia to hold a house party and introduce neighbors and friends to their delivery/pickup service for a wide variety of regional food, including artisanal and specialty foods.

Based in Charlottesville, Virginia, Relay Foods collaborates with local farms, artisan food makers, and handmade brands.  They gather vendors from all over the Shenandoah Valley, Maryland and beyond and deliver to urban locations (Baltimore, DC, Richmond, Northern VA.)  Since I had ordered our organic, free-range turkey from them a few Thanksgivings ago, I was on their list for people to recruit.

As many of us in the neighborhood have CSA shares or shop at farmers markets weekly, I knew I’d be preaching to the choir.  I didn’t have to do much to get people excited to come taste some new local foods.  But this was an opportunity to introduce them to a service that would aggregate produce from several farms and also afford small producers of specialty meats, cheeses, desserts, breads, jams and other farm fresh products the opportunity to reach a larger market via Relay Foods’ digital hub and distribution system.

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[Full disclosure:  Relay Foods gave me $100 food certificate to spend online at their site for the party.  I went beyond that and shopped on my own dime at their site and our local markets, including my favorite organic market, Roots Market in Olney.  All of my opinions and recommendations are my own and neither Relay Foods nor Roots paid me to plug them or sponsor this post.]
Some of the farmers and artisans featured on the menu:
  • Sausage Craft:  two guys in Richmond making handcrafted sausage the Tuscan way (wholesale only)
  • Let’s Grow Local/Josie’s Homemade Foods–our own local Kensington girl (and god-sister to my son, Joe) making jams, chutneys, preserves. Not represented by Relay Foods (yet) but you can buy Josie’s jam and chutneys at Let’s Grow Local farm stands on University Blvd in Wheaton and in north Chevy Chase
Josie's Homemade

Josie’s Homemade

I rounded out the menu with three vegetarian side dishes and several craft brews and wine, including a chardonnay I love from Barboursville Vineyards in Virginia.

Barboursville Vineyards is located on the Monticello Wine Trail outside of Charlottesville.

Barboursville Vineyards is located on the Monticello Wine Trail outside of Charlottesville.

In crafting the menu I was inspired by this Crostini party post by Honestly YUM.  So many interesting flavor combinations and a really beautiful appetizer.

 

 

Ricotta crostini party from Honestly YUM inspired the appetizers.

Ricotta crostini party from Honestly YUM inspired the appetizers.  Photo credit:  Honestly YUM

Lovely guests helped prepare the crostini.  Showing off their handiwork!

Lovely guests helped prepare the crostini. Displaying their handiwork!

 

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Lovely local cheeses and black truffle salami.

Lovely local cheeses and black truffle salami.

MENU

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Assorted ricotta and feta crostini with local fruit, vegetables, proscuitto, jams, corn chutney, preserves

Local cheeses with crackers and ginger, fig, and fruit preserves, black truffle salami

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Main:

Assorted local Italian sausages, grilled with Vidalia onions and red, yellow and green peppers

Little hoagie rolls

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Salads:

Orzo with grape tomatoes, pine nuts and black olives

Watermelon with feta and pea shoots

Potato salad with garlic, olive oil and capers

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Moorenko’s Ice Cream Sampler:

Bittersweet Chocolate

Red Hot Chocolate

Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip

Coconut Almond

Fresh Ginger

White Chocolate Mint

Salted Caramel with Praline

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I made homemade ricotta following the Smitten Kitchen technique using whole milk and heavy cream (recipe here) and a feta spread using domestic feta for the crostini (baguette slices brushed with olive oil, toasted in oven on both sides, rubbed with a garlic clove and lightly salted).

 

Art student, Sam, creates our Relay Food Deliciously Local Foods party menu.

Art student, Sam, creates our Relay Food Deliciously Local Foods party menu.

 

On the Ricotta crostini:

  • cucumber slice, fresh chopped mint, fresh dill
  • sliced strawberry over Josie’s Homemade strawberry preserves with tarragon, drizzled with balsamic syrup
  • sliced purple and white radishes with sea salt
  • fresh blueberries over Josie’s Homemade blueberry preserve, drizzled with local Maryland honey
  • Virginia Chutney Company Hot Peach chutney

 

On the Feta crostini:

  • thinly sliced procuitto
  • sliced grape tomatoes and fresh basil
  • lemon zest and fresh oregano
  • Josie’s Homemade chipotle corn chutney

 

For the onions and peppers to go with the grilled sausages, I sliced them, drizzled them with olive oil, seasoned with salt, pepper, oregano, and thyme and put them in a small square foil tray covered with more foil and placed them on the grill while the sausages were cooking.

When the sausages are done, take the foil off of the the peppers and onions and mix the grilled meat and the veg together with their juices.

For the ice cream course, I wanted everyone to get a taste of all 7 flavors so we kept it casual and gave each guest 7 spoons and passed the pint containers up and down the table.  That probably wasn’t hygenic even with all the separate spoons, but at that point getting out tasting 17 bowls/cups was too much and it was too hot and sweaty–we wanted to enjoy the night and eat ice cream.
It was a fun night but there was no way I could have done it without the help of every guest.

Seriously, I always bite off more than I can chew (figuratively) when I throw a big entertainment.  But fortunately for me,  we have a crew of fabulous friends who love to pitch in, cook, decorate, serve, bring chairs, bring wine, spark conversation, and help clean up!

So shout outs to all of you and in particular to:

–the lovely girls who painted the menu blackboard and helped decorate and hang lanterns after swim practice

–our favorite art student who did the the chalkboard art menu for us (still have it–saving it!)

–my good friends Peter K, Allison B, and Charlie R for the photography

–Alyson K for executing the myriad trays of crostini toppings, drizzles, and garnishes

–Allison B, for the wine, beer, and ice run

–Tim S, for heading the grill and grilling hot dogs, vegetables, and sausages with aplomb (hope you got some of that)

-Josie K for all the homemade farm stand preserves and for beautifully styling the cheese boards

-Amy F and Maddie F for stuffing the Relay Foods goody bags for everyone

-Craig L for coming early to help set up tables and chairs outside, then move them all inside because of rain, and then outside again when the sun came out–rock star!

-John P for underwriting all of the hospitality and for having the energy to do the dishes before bed,  love ya babe

 

Land ahoy!  The Yachtsmen in the Palisades Parade.

Land ahoy! The Yachtsmen in the Palisades Parade.

 

 

Life Is What Happens While You’re Making Other [blog] Plans

Land ahoy!  The Yachtsmen in the Palisades Parade.

Land ahoy! The Yachtsmen in the Palisades Parade.

 

We’ve had a busy two weeks with daily swim team practices, meets on Wednesday nights, parent volunteer jobs, dinner parties, potlucks, Fourth of July celebrations and basic life, hence no Corks & Cake posts for 17 days.  Unacceptable, I say!

I set a personal goal when we launched this blog to post at least 3 times/week (which is almost nothing in blog-land).  It is mind-blowing to me that all these talented, talented women and men in the blogosphere post original content with highly styled photographs sometimes 3 times/day, 7 days a week.

Seriously, how are they not chained to their computers with their cameras in one hand and a whisk in another?

My hat is off to them, even through my slacker chagrin.

Glorious Old Glory decor on the walk to the parade.

Glorious Old Glory decor on the walk to the parade.

 

So, my dear Corks & Cakers, I promise to catch up.  And just so you don’t think me too much of a slacker, here’s a roundup of what we’ve been cooking and serving in the kitchen on Lee Street.

Art student, Sam, creates our Relay Food Deliciously Local Foods party menu.

Art student, Sam, creates our Relay Food Deliciously Local Foods party menu.

 

We had a very fun, very tasty dinner party outside for 29 guests (including children.)  Whew.  Did I just say dinner for 29?  Yes!  Relay Foods (an online farm stand and specialty food delivery business based in Charlottesville, VA) teamed with House Party and selected several hosts and hostesses in the mid-Atlantic region to host a party featuring local products available through Relay Foods.  I ordered local cheeses, salami, sausages, produce, relishes, and rounded it out with ice cream, vegetarian side dishes and all-beef hot dogs for the kids.

 

Lovely local cheeses and black truffle salami.

Lovely local cheeses and black truffle salami.  Photo courtesy of Peter Krogh Photography.

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Photo courtesy of Peter Krogh Photography.

 

It was a great undertaking (deserving of an upcoming post all its own) made more complex by the off-and-on rainy weather.  The only way to pull something like that off is to have lots of good friends who know you well, have dined with you often, and who will jump in where needed and come early to help with all the last-minute prep.  Thank you to all!

On July 4th, my first ‘Vintage Kitchen’ column for OKRA magazine (the online magazine for the Southern Food & Beverage Institute) was published!  Read it here.

A taste test of Vintage Punch recipes for OKRA magazine.

A taste test of Vintage Punch recipes for OKRA magazine.

Titled “Drink Like the Revolutionaries:  Vintage Punch for the Fourth of July” it was much fun to research old recipes and more fun to drink the research!

After the July 4th parade (which my husband’s band, The Yachtsmen, were in), we reveled poolside for a live rock and roll set in the hot, hot sun.

 

The Yachtsmen in the drink after a set in the scorching sun.

The Yachtsmen in the drink after a set in the scorching sun.

 

In the pool:  The Yachtsmen.  On the grill:  jerk chicken.

 

Walkerswood Jerk Sauce is a fabulous (and easy) marinade for chicken.

Grace Jerk Seasoning is a fabulous (and easy) marinade for chicken.

 

We also took it easy this week by relying on some of our favorite prepared foods:  Costco’s lime-marinated flank steak (ready-to-grill) and Edwards’ Key Lime Pie.

 

So good and almost gone.

So good and almost gone.

 

We hope you had a great Fourth of July weekend too!

 

Happy Birthday, America!

Happy Birthday, America!

 

 

 

 

 

Things We Like: Awesome Garden Lights

And now, just for fun, here are three things around the web that are on the Corks & Cake wish list.

These items are available at Bourbon & Boots, a fun Southern-inspired handmade goods site.

 

Mason Jar Lights

 $69

Awesome lights for a garden party.  Photo credit:  Bourbon & Boots.

Awesome lights for a garden party. Photo credit: Bourbon & Boots.

 

These cool lights come 10 jars to a strand, on a 10-foot stainless steel wire, with a loop on each end for easy hang. You can choose between clear 1/2 pint OR full pint with silver colored lids. Or you can change the jar lids out with other standard mason jar mouth lids (antique blue or spray  paint lids with a custom color.) The strand comes with a 10 bulb set of indoor/outdoor G-40 lights.  

 

Solar Mason Jar Lights

$45 for set of 2

These mason jar lights are solar-powered!

These mason jar lights are solar-powered! Photo credit: Bourbon & Boots.

 

Solar Mason Jar Lights are perfect to line the walk to your patio or garden. These are one quart Ball Mason Jars with a solar lid that powers the LED light. Charge in direct sunlight and then use as an adorable night light to illuminate items you add in the jar (think sea shells or super balls). Solar panel is water resistant. The easy-to-replace battery is included. Find replacement batteries most battery stores.

 

Wine Bottle Tiki Torch

$25 for one

Fill these wine bottle tiki torches with citronella to keep mosquitos at bay.

Fill these wine bottle tiki torches with citronella to keep mosquitos at bay. Photo credit: Bourbon & Boots.

 

Mount a Wine Bottle Tiki Torch on a fence, deck, tree or your entry way to add some ambiance to your space. Citronella oil will help shoo away those pesky bugs. The extinguishing cap is attached by a chain to provide functionality and charm.

tiki torch copper mount

Cool copper mount.

Each torch comes with a long-lasting wick, all necessary hardware (no worries, it’s easy to install), and directions for installation. Torches can be mounted using a philips head screwdriver, but a drill would make your life all the easier. Tiki fuel not included.

Dimensions: 11.5 inches high x 3.5 inches wide. Flame burns 5 inches away from mount.

 

Sparkly shot glasses make me want to have an outdoor garden party!

Sparkly shot glasses make me want to have an outdoor garden party!  Photo credit:  Allison Beuker Photography.

 

And I bet if you are DIY handy or know someone who is, you could make any of these!  Ready for summer entertaining?

Cheers!

 

Feelin’ Crabby: Part One

Corks & Cake Contributor: Kathryn Michel

Drinks on the veranda.

Drinks on the veranda.  Photo by Allison Beuker.

 

Our guest contributor today is Kathryn Michel, a native Marylander who grew up in Potomac.  Kathryn has served as Social Secretary to several prominent Washington hostesses and is a consummate event planner.  She’s planned parties in just about every venue around town from the White House, to the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, the Corcoran, and the Capitol building.  In addition to her passion for parties she has a passion for animal rescue work, in particular with horses.  She is also riotously funny (I can attest!) and is a great person to have on board during a complex event because she keeps her cool.

 

Blue crab, wild caught in the USA. (This is from Virginia, not Maryland, full disclosure.)

Blue crab, wild caught in the USA. (This brand is from Virginia, not Maryland, full disclosure.)
Photo by Rebecca Penovich.

 

The lady knows her way around a crab cake (the most popular party appetizer in these parts).  She, Allison, and I agree that our favorite crab cake is the classic Maryland crab cake and by that we mean NO FUNNY STUFF.  No tarragon, no potato chips, no green peppers, no bacon, no artichoke hearts, just stop it already you crazy chefs!

 

 Title page of this vintage tome reads:  To The Generations Of Maryland Cooks Who Since 1634 Have Blended The Fruits Of Bay, Field and Forest Into Maryland's Way Photo by John Penovich.

Title page of this vintage tome reads: To The Generations Of Maryland Cooks Who Since 1634 Have Blended The Fruits Of Bay, Field and Forest Into Maryland’s Way
Photo by John Penovich.

 

My go-to crab cake recipe comes from the venerable Maryland’s Way Cook Book, published by the Hammond-Harwood House Association in 1966.  The Hammond-Harwood House in Annapolis was built in 1774 by the colonial architect, William Buckland, and is on the National Historic Landmark registry.

There are five recipes for crab cakes in this vintage book (out of 21 for crab in general.) The one I call for is the one named “Yardley’s Crab Cakes.”  I don’t know who Yardley was (no surname) but the credit lists Baltimore Sun under his name.  A very cursory Google search leads us to believe this recipe could have originated with either a very popular cartoonist with the Baltimore Sun newspaper named Yardley, or a prominent Baltimore gastroenterologist named John Howard “Jack” Yardley.  Culinary sleuths, please report out in the comments if you have any intel.

Use the best lump crab meat that you can afford and treat it gently.  Don’t try to stretch it with too much filler, just make the cakes baby-size and let everyone enjoy one perfect bite of the dish that speaks to the heart of Maryland cuisine:  fresh seafood from the Chesapeake Bay, enhanced but not covered up.

I change it up sometimes by adding lots more parsley and less bread.

Crab cakes dressed for company with sriracha remoulade. Photo by John Penovich.  Food styling by Rebecca Penovich.

Crab cakes dressed for company with sriracha remoulade.
Photo by John Penovich. Food styling by Rebecca Penovich.

Yardley’s Crab Cakes from Maryland’s Way Cookbook

1 pound lump crab meat
1 egg
2 slices white bread
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon prepared mustard (Grey Poupon Dijon, preferred)
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper
Pull inside of bread into small pieces, soak well in beaten egg with mustard and seasonings, add crab meat (trying not to break it).  Form into cakes and cook until brown in 2 T. very hot bacon fat (or butter).  Makes 6 big cakes or 16 golf-ball size cakes.
Enjoy!
Rebecca’s Notes:  I whirred my bread in the food processor to get coarse crumbs before soaking.  I find that chilling the formed crab cakes in the refrigerator (under plastic wrap) for at least 30 minutes before pan-frying helps them keep their shape.  If you do chill them, you might want to put them in a warm oven (350 ° for 5-6 minutes) after getting a good browning on both sides to ensure that they are warm throughout but not overcooked.
In Feelin’ Crabby Part Two:  Kathryn shares her grandmother’s celebrated dinner party dish of Deviled Crab and Rebecca offers up a modern take on the Maryland crab cake from chef Tom Douglas, author of I Love Crab Cakes.

Mixed Grill with Root Vegetables

Corks & Cake Contributor:  Lee Ojascastro

 

We are cooking the rainbow.

We are cooking the rainbow.

 

From time to time on Corks & Cake we will invite some of our favorite ladies and gents from around the country to tell us what they are buying, loving, eating, cooking, drinking, or growing.  Here is one such lady, Lee Hassett Ojascastro, my dearest friend from college, who hails from St. Louis, where she cooks, substitute teaches elementary school, and entertains in wildly stylish fashion with her husband and young son.

 

Last week we had a warm, breezy Wednesday night in St. Louis.  After some freaky weather here in the midwest, this night felt like early summer, drawing us out to grill even though it was only midway through the work week.

Ready for the grill.  Believe me, grilled brussel sprouts are a relevation. Photo by Lee Ojascastro

Ready for the grill. Believe me, grilled Brussels sprouts are a relevation.
Photo by Lee Ojascastro

 

In addition to the usual zucchini, we threw root vegetables into the mix, using yellow beets, Brussels sprouts, and sliced Bermuda onion.We cut up the beets, green zucchini, Brussels sprouts, Bermuda onion, lightly brushed them with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkled them with kosher salt, freshly ground Malabar black pepper, and a dash of sugar.   We threw some baby carrots into the mix and gave them a coating as well. The yellow beets don’t really need the sugar but the Brussels sprouts seriously benefit from it.

We have been grilling everything with our new “Cookina” grill cooking sheet from the online store TheGrommet.com (my favorite place to interweb shop besides Amazon.) The Cookina is a flexible, non-stick mat that can withstand temperatures up to 500°.  It’s great for the grill because you don’t have to worry about your vegetables falling through the grate and you don’t have to take the time to skewer them or worry about them sticking to your dirty grill (hey, husband, note to self:  brush off the grill.)  It’s food-safe, reusable and reversible!

We’ve also been chopping up and grilling kale (don’t bother removing the spines). The kale’s sharp green flavor combined with the sweetness of the beets and the lemony smoothness of hummus is a taste sensation you don’t want to miss!

 

Rebecca’s Note:  Here is a well-written recipe for Grilled Kale from Barton Seaver’s new book, Where There’s Smoke, posted on one of my favorite food blogs, Leite’s Culinaria. Check it out.

 

Grilling over high heat. Flip them once or often?

High heat, no skewers, no sticking to the grate with our new grill mat!

 

St. Louis-style barbecue pork steaks in the foil packets, upper right. Photo by Lee Ojascastro

St. Louis-style barbecue pork steaks in the foil packets, upper right.
Photo by Lee Ojascastro

 

We have pork steaks in the foil packets on the top grill shelf in the photo above. It is a St. Louis tradition to grill ‘pork steaks’ on Memorial Day weekend.  For those of you who may not have heard of pork steak, it is a cut of pork shoulder (also called pork shoulder blade) found in all of our grocery stores. Here is a great explanation of the cut and the method by fellow St. Louis cook Kitchen Riffs.  Grill them, then braise them in a liquid on the grill over indirect heat (or in the oven at low temperature) for 90-120 minutes to make them tender. (Note: this is a special cut that has a lot of necessary marbling; do not try to substitute pork loin, tenderloin, or chops because they will be dry as the Sahara.)

Here’s how my husband and I prepare them:

  • Sprinkle the pork with kosher salt, black pepper, sugar and garlic powder and drizzle with olive oil.
  • Sear the pork until you have grill marks on both sides the way you like them, then wrap each pork steak tightly in foil.
  • You can add whatever barbecue sauce you like (or a combination of barbecue sauce and beer) to the packets, but frankly I prefer them undressed.
  • Place over indirect heat on the grill (we use the top shelf) for 1 1/2 or 2 hours depending on their thickness.

They are fall-apart tender and are juicy and amazing. The grilled beets, Brussels sprouts and some quinoa are a perfect match.  My husband, who adores spice, likes to sprinkle ground cumin over his pork steak before digging in.

Also a good match:  cold Chardonnay of your choice.

A cold glass of chardonnay.  Stemless, so you can also garden (pull random weeds) while you are grilling.

A cold glass of chardonnay. Stemless, so you can also garden (pull random weeds) while you are grilling.

 

Serve it forth with lemony hummus.

Serve it forth with lemony hummus.

 

We serve our mixed vegetable grill with lemony hummus.  I like the Sabra brand of hummus but doctor up the flavor with a drizzle of fresh lemon juice and a splash more of my favorite olive oil.

Easy, healthy and good!  Try root vegetables on your grill this summer.

Cheers!

Lee

 

Classic Pimento Cheese

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You would be appalled at what I knew (and loved) as pimento cheese as a youngster in St. Paul, Minnesota. Even though my mother was an excellent, daily-from-scratch cook, one of the items in her refrigerator was my favorite snack, Kraft pimento cheese, in a tiny, slender jar.

Eee gads, folks! This probably did not have any cheese in it at all but I did not care because I did not know any better at the time (hey I was eight.) I loved it on celery sticks the most and my mom would make it for me after school. It was always on her ‘relish’ tray (remember those?) for company dinners and holidays. I eschewed the black olives and the radishes though and went straight for the celery stick with the tangy cheese spread I couldn’t get enough of.

Vintage silver relish tray. Photo by Rebecca Penovich.

Vintage silver relish tray.
Photo by Rebecca Penovich.

Years later when I arrived at college in the South (Nashville, Tennesee to be specific), pimento cheese was on the counter at every single gas station along with a giant jar of pickled eggs. But man, this pimento cheese wasn’t anything I had seen before. In fact, it looked gross. Lurid orange, gloppy, maybe even sweaty. Needless to say, I wasn’t having any of that.

Eventually during my sojourn in the South, I was invited to the gracious Southern home of a well-bred Southern hostess whom I admired very much, and what did she serve? Yes, pimento cheese. But lordy, this wasn’t the gas station variety. This was creamy, tangy, fresh, redolent of good mayonnaise and maybe a tiny bit of onion. The red pimentos folded in were real, for goodness sake! I LOVED it all over again. On celery sticks (de-stringed if you are fancy), on Carr’s water crackers, on Pepperidge Farm thin white bread and cut into triangles, if you please.  On a wrap-around porch beneath a towering magnolia and served in a lovely, small silver bowl, please.

Here is an authentic and guaranteed recipe for Classic Pimento Cheese that I clipped from Southern Living May 2010.  It never fails to please my Southern-born and -bred friends and more often will elicit spontaneous recollections of their beloved grandmothers or great-aunts (the ones that entertained) or the beloved family cook of the grandmother (depending how far you go back).

Every well-stocked kitchen needs a box grater.

Every well-stocked kitchen needs a box grater.

The absolute secret to getting this right is two-fold:  hand-grate the cheese on a box grater and use two different size shreds, one medium and one fine.  Seriously,  don’t use the food processor and don’t skip the fine shred.  Yes, it will require a little more elbow grease, but lean in, people, this is pimento cheese we’re talking about!

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Our Favorite Pimento Cheese

(adapted from Southern Living May 2010)

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups good-quality mayonnaise (Hellman’s or Duke’s)

16 oz. sharp Cheddar cheese (you can buy 2 8 oz. blocks if you prefer since you WILL be grating them separately)

1 4 oz. jar diced pimento, drained

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce (we use Lee & Perrin’s)

1 tsp. finely grated yellow onion

1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper

Method

  • In a large bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, drained pimentos, grated onion, Worcestershire sauce, and cayenne pepper until blended.
  • Shred 8 oz. of cheddar on the small size of a box grater and add to the mayonnaise mixture.
  • Shred another 8 oz. of cheddar on the large size of a box grater and add that to the mayonnaise mixture.
  • Fold gently until nicely blended.

Taste and enjoy!  Pimento cheese will keep in the refrigerator (in a tightly closed container) for up to a week.

(Note:  You can use artisanal white cheddar but the classic recipe (and look) calls for the orange cheddar.   I love English farmhouse white cheddars on my cheese board, but if I’m making pimento cheese, I’ll buy a good quality, sharp, orange cheddar cheese.)

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Southern Living calls for toasted pecans in their favorite pimento cheese, but we say skip that, and serve the toasted pecans on the side.

(Other Note:  we couldn’t stop eating the pimento cheese and crackers when shooting it for this post.  “It’s better to have 3 crackers in the shot than 5,” we said as we chomped.  Oh yeah. “This reminds me of Alabama!”  Allison exclaimed, remembering a trip to a favorite relative’s house there.)

 

Off to the Races! Preakness 2013

 

Black Eyed Susan Punch

Pitcher of Black-Eyed Susans, the official drink of the Preakness.
Photo credit: Allison Beuker

Unlike the title says, we’re actually staying home on Saturday. But we’re going to pretend we’re there when we drink the official drink of the Preakness, the Black-Eyed Susan.

I found at least three vastly different variations of the cocktail (or should we call it a punch since it’s mixed in a batch?) and it appears there are many more.  The current Official Black-Eyed Susan at the 2013 Preakness site calls for Finlandia vodka, St. Germain liqueur, lemon juice, lemongrass and blackberry simple syrup, Angostura bitters, and a sage leaf garnish.  Say what??  That would send us packing for the liquor store with another stop at the grocery store and no, we are not doing that.  Another so-called official recipe from racing yore called for whiskey, vodka, sweet and sour mix, and orange juice.

Photo credit:  Allison Beuker

Photo credit: Allison Beuker

We prefer the simple one below.  We have all the ingredients and it tastes really good.

From The Washington Post in 2006.

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cup vodka
1 1/4 cup light rum
3/4 cup triple sec
Juice from one lime
4 cups orange juice
4 cups pineapple juice
Lime slices

Chill all ingredients. Combine in a punch bowl or pitcher. Serve over ice in tall glasses or punch glasses. Makes 10 large or 20 small servings. Garnish with a slice of lime.

Photo credit:  Allison Beuker

Photo credit: Allison Beuker

 

Maryland has a deep horse breeding and racing history.  The Maryland Jockey Club was founded in Annapolis in 1743.  That’s more than 30 years before the start of the Revolutionary War.

According to Wikipedia it is chartered as the oldest sporting organization in North America.  The Maryland Jockey Club is still the name of the company that runs the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore (opened in 1870), the Laurel Park Racecourse (opened in 1911) and the Bowie Race Track (opened in 1914; ceased operation as a track in 1985;  now a training center for thoroughbreds.)

George Washington was said to have frequented the race track meetings in 1762-1773 (when he wasn’t attending to the business of founding the country and dealing with the interference of the French and Indian War.)

Okay you culinary sleuths and history buffs out there, what was George drinking at the Pimlico Race Course in the mid 1700s?  We bet it wasn’t vodka and St. Germain liqueur.

Two more interesting facts I learned while writing this post:

  • Since rudbeckia (the black-eyed susan flower) doesn’t bloom in Maryland until June, the flower blanket that is woven and placed over the Preakness-winning horse in May is made with Viking daisies whose centers have been painted black.
  • Even though we think of Kentucky as being the center of thoroughbred horse racing, many, many thoroughbred breeders, trainers and owners who have run horses in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont are generations-old Marylanders.

Cheers all and place your bets,

Rebecca

 

 

 

 

Corks & Cake Entertains: Lemon curd tartlets with blueberries and mint

Lovely spread

Lovely spread

Our friend, Laura, throws a great party.  And she does it often.  The food and drinks are always good and the atmosphere convivial and casual.  One of the best things about her entertaining style is that she doesn’t wait to have a reason to entertain–no big occasion or anything.  She usually says, “Gee, I haven’t seen you guys in a while; come over, bring the family, and hang out.”

The kids will watch a movie on the deck via an outside projector and the adults will sit around the fire pit and nosh and quaff.  And somehow Laura never seems to break a sweat, even with three kids to contend with, including one adorable 3-year-old handful.  Okay, how does she do it? She plans thoughtfully but not obsessively.  She’ll think about one or two things to make from scratch, like fresh mozzarella pizzas on the grill using Trader Joe’s pizza dough or the Barefoot Contessa’s delicious feta and tomato bruschetta.  The rest of the menu she’ll round out with good cheeses, crackers, crudité and a nice dip from Trader Joe’s fresh case.  Guests can bring something if they want, or just bring themselves if they didn’t feel like cooking or didn’t have time.  No pressure and no expectations other than to relax and have a little conversation among friends.

The Friday night before Mother’s Day was one such occasion.  Just for the ladies, Laura hosted a Stella & Dot trunk show.

stelladot invite

Stella & Dot is a San Francisco-based, woman-owned jewelry and accessories company.  They’ve got lovely stuff.  Their business model is ‘social selling’ which means ‘modern day Tupperware Party with bling.’  I didn’t take any photos of the bling because I was busy mingling and trying on, but here’s an adorable set of turquoise studs that I won (yes, we played a couple of games, but they weren’t too obnoxious.)

Stella & Dot turquoise studs.  Photo by Rebecca.

Stella & Dot turquoise studs. Photo by Rebecca

 

So, back to the food.

I made these little lemon curd tartlets with blueberry and mint.

Photo by John Penovich on iphone.

Photo by John Penovich

I know those look like black olives, but trust, me they are blueberries.  I picked the mint from our backyard and stuck the littlest leaves in the curd before walking the plate up to Laura’s house.  They were good.  Not too sweet and just tart enough with juicy lemon flavor and a smooth curd  to play off the flaky crust.

I hadn’t made lemon curd before although I love lemon desserts.  If it’s on a menu at a restaurant, lemon tart is what I’m ordering!  I read through a few recipes and settled on this one from my clippings file from Gourmet 2007.  I chose it because it didn’t call for a double boiler and other recipes called for using the whole egg or for whole eggs combined with additional separated yolks.  I knew I wanted a smooth curd, and nothing too ‘eggy.’  I love the consistency of hollandaise sauce so it seemed right to go with a lemon curd recipe that just utilized the yolks.

I clipped this recipe, Trompe L’oeil “Egg” Lemon Pudding (yes, clipped, like from the actual magazine) because it looked awesome.  The photo of the pudding and yellow curd in an egg shell looked just like a real poached egg.  you can go to see the complete trompe l’oeil dessert photo.)

(Can we have a moment of silence for the dearly departed Gourmet magazine?  Why oh why Conde Nast did you kill it?)

Lemon Curd Tartlets with Blueberries and Mint

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 Trader Joe’s Gourmet Pie Crust, defrosted (you can certainly use your favorite recipe for pâte sucrée here but I took a shortcut!)

Lemon Curd:

  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons cold, unsalted better, cut into small pieces

Garnish:

  • Fresh blueberries, washed and dr
  • Fresh mint leaves (the tinier the better)

MAKE PASTRY SHELLS:

  • Preheat oven to 400.
  • Lay out 1 pie crust on parchment paper and stamp out circles of dough with 2 in. cutter (I used a small juice glass.)
  • Press dough circles lightly into 2 mini-muffin pans (you will get about 18-20 circles from one crust so your second pan will not be full)
  • Blind bake the pastry shells for 20 minutes until golden brown.  (NOTE: Usually with blind baking you should put pie weights on the pastry to keep it from puffing up too much.  Again, I took a shortcut as the bling party time was approaching.)
  • Let pastry shells cool on the counter while you  make the lemon curd.

MAKE LEMON CURD:

  • Whisk together zest, lemon juice, sugar, and yolks in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan. Add cold butter and cook over moderately low heat, whisking frequently, until curd is thick enough to hold marks of whisk and first bubbles appear on surface, about 4 minutes.
  • Force lemon curd through a fine-mesh sieve into another bowl, scraping bottom of sieve, then transfer to ice bath and stir frequently until cold. Cover surface of curd with wax paper and chill in refrigerator until ready to serve.

ASSEMBLE TARTLETS:

  • Pop the shells out of the mini-muffin pans with a butter knife.  Arrange shells on a clean baking sheet so you can begin filling them.
  • With a small spoon, fill the shells with about a 1/2 tsp. of lemon curd filling.
  • When all shells are filled, garnish each with a blueberry and mint leaf.