Pasture’s Pimento Cheese

February 1, 2017

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Here it is…February already. And tomorrow, my favourite varmint, Punxsutawney Phil, will be stepping out of his burrow at Gobbler’s Knob and letting everyone know if there will be 6 more weeks of winter or if perhaps Spring is on the way. Groundhog Day is nigh! I gotta admit, I don’t feel like we’ve really had any winter yet. There has only been a few wee dustings of snow in the morning and the temperatures have only ventured into the real wintery territories a handful of times. So yeah, I hope that Punxsutawney critter sees his shadow tomorrow.

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One extraordinary rodent!

Phil & all the folks up in Punxsutawney aren’t the only ones celebrating now. February 1st, which falls half way between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, also marks the festivals of Imbolc, St. Brigid’s Day and Candlemas, all of which are associated with fertility, fire, purification and weather divination. Quite an auspicious time of year! I’m very happy to be marking an event today as well. February 1st just happens to be the 6th year anniversary of  the my cooking blog! Yup… Six years ago today I posted my first recipe. It was for Cream Tea Scones with Currants.

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Last year I shared one of my favorite recipes: Model Bakery’s English Muffins:

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I’ve posted some other tasty “Anniversary Edition” recipes since then as well like Banana Rum Muffins:

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And who can forget when a genuine Crack Pie made an appearance:

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And this year I have really got a winner of a recipe for you. A definite favorite around here – Pimento Cheese!

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It is the perfect appetizer to bring along with you no matter what the festivity! This magical “caviar of the South” is so delicious and quite versatile. You can serve it with crackers (Ritz preferably) and veggies, it is delicious scooped up with a Frito, you can mix it into the yolks of deviled eggs, you can spread it on burgers, it makes one heck of a decadent grilled cheese or if you’re short on time it is pretty wonderful simply spread between two slices of bread! The husband and I have been spending a lot of time in Richmond Virginia and let me tell you…they love some pimento cheese in that town. This particular recipe I’m sharing today comes from Chef Jason Alley and is served in one of his restaurants, Pasture. If you are ever visiting Richmond, do yourself a favor and stop by for lunch or dinner. Pasture specializes in Southern Cooking, but with a modern twist. Instead of those huge plates of food you would get a grandma’s house, Pasture serves up small plates which are meant to be shared. Their seasonal menu is full of dishes made with fresh locally sourced ingredients. You will definitely find this Pimento Cheese on the menu (year round) along with many many more amazing offerings.

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Pimento Cheese is pretty easy to make, but I would like to give you a bit of advice that will make your Pimento Cheese completely over the top delicious. First of all, grate the cheese yourself, don’t buy bags of pre-shredded cheese. Why? Because the pre-shredded cheese is coated with a cellulose product to keep it from sticking together. This makes it a bit less creamy, so just take a few seconds and grate the cheese yourself. The second thing is the mayonnaise. You’ve gotta use Duke’s! Seriously. Not Hellman’s. Dukes. Dukes is actually the 3rd largest brand of mayonnaise sold in the United States. However, its popularity is largely limited to the South. But there it has a cult following. Using any other brand is out of the question. And truth be told, Duke’s tastes different. It has more egg yolks and has no added sugar giving it a much brighter, tangy flavor and a creamier texture. And lets face it, mayonnaise is a pretty important ingredient in Pimento Cheese, so if you can, go with the authentic Southern brand, Dukes. As far as the roasted red peppers. I actually roasted the peppers myself. It is pretty easy. You just put the peppers on a parchment lined baking tray and pop them into an oven which has been preheated to 400° F. You roast them for 20 minutes and then turn them over and roast them for 20 more minutes. Remove them from the oven and place them on a cutting board. Cover them with a bowl and allow them to steam for 15 minutes. Steaming them will make the skins very easy to remove. Then you peel them, seed them and there you have it. Easy peasy. Though perhaps an easier thing would be buying a jar in the grocery store. I’ll let you decide. That’s pretty much it. I will admit though that I have gilded this lily of a recipe once or twice by adding a bit of chopped bacon and some diced jalapeño peppers to up the heat. What can I say? Everything is better with bacon and we love our spice. But I’ll wager you’ll be very pleased with Pasture’s unadorned version. So what in the world are you waiting for?!! Might I remind you that the Super Bowl is happening this Sunday!

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Pimento Cheese

  • Servings: 4- 6
  • Difficulty: easy
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recipe from: Chef Jason Alley – Pasture Restaurant

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lb. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 2 medium red bell peppers, roasted , peeled, seeded and finely diced*
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 2 sprigs tarragon, leaves removed, minced
  • 1 1/4 cup mayonnaise, Duke’s preferably
  • 2 dashes Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 dash hot pepper sauce
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • chives for garnish (optional)

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl until well-blended.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to one day.

Serve with crackers (preferably Ritz), pickles and crudités.

Enjoy!

*You can buy roasted red peppers in the the grocery store. If you are interested in roasting your own: Place the peppers on a parchment lined baking tray and pop them into an oven which has been preheated to 400° F. Roast them for 20 minutes and then turn them over and roast them for 20 more minutes. Remove them from the oven and place them on a cutting board. Cover them with a bowl and allow them to steam for 15 minutes. Peel the skins and remove the seeds.

Pasture’s Pimento Cheese brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

Useful links for Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Pasture’s Pimento Cheese:

Duke’s Mayonnaise

 

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Zucchini Tots

October 11, 2016

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Wait….wait! I’ve got another delicious zucchini recipe to share before zucchini season is over. Zucchini Tots! Crispy on the outside and oh so tender on the inside, whether you serve them as a side, appetizer or the main event, these little nuggets are unbelievably addictive. The husband says he likes them better than regular Tater Tots. Now me…I don’t think I can go that far. Nothing against these zucchini tots, which are spectacular, but I love me some potatoes. Don’t really care how you make ’em…mashed, baked, scalloped – but fried can’t be beat. I think I’d categorize these little zucchini gems as a totally different thing. I probably should have called them zucchini bites. That being said, I certainly feel more virtuous having eaten Zucchini Tots rather than Tater Tots, so there is that.

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Another great thing about these tots is that they are really easy and pretty quick to make. Just be sure you squeeze as much water out of the zucchini as you can before mixing it in with the other ingredients so that you can achieve ultimate crispiness. You see I love the crispy bit, that’s why I rolled these tots in a bit more panko before baking them. But you can skip the panko roll step if you aren’t that into crispy or simply can’t be bothered. No matter what, these Zucchini Tots will still knock your socks off – guaranteed!

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Zucchini Tots

  • Servings: 20 tots
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe slightly adapted from: The Wimpy Vegetarian

Ingredients:

  • 2 -3 small zucchini, shredded (you should have about 2 cups worth)
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¼ cup small-diced yellow onion
  • ⅓ cup grated Asiago Cheese (feel free to use Parmesan, mozzarella, or even cheddar)
  • ¼ cup Panko (bread crumbs) plus 1 cup additional for coating tots
  • 8 oz. ricotta cheese
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon dried basil
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400˚ F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Don’t use foil – the tots will stick to it like super-glue. Trust me. Place 1 cup of panko in shallow bowl and set aside.

Combine all of the ingredients together in a medium bowl using a large metal spoon.

Using a medium cookie scoop, scoop the zucchini mixture into mounds. Drop zucchini mixture into the middle of the panko bowl. Gently roll to cover will Panko and gently shape into a tater tot shape. Arrange on the parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake for 12 minutes, gently flip over, and bake for another 8-10 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Serve warm.

Enjoy!

Zucchini Tots brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

Links to Useful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Zucchini Tots:

Cuisinart Pro-Classic Food Processor

OXO Good Grips Medium Cookie Scoop

 


Irish Potato Bites

March 16, 2016

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Goodness Gracious! Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day! How time does fly! Here is a great little St. Patrick’s Day appetizer, Irish Potato Bites! These are little, one bite sized, twice baked potatoes stuffed with Corned Beef and Irish Cheddar and then topped with a little dollop of sour cream. They are completely addictive. And another fantastic thing about this dish is that you can make these little gems ahead of time and freeze them. Just pop them into the oven straight from the freezer to bake. Once they’re done, all that is left to do is garnish with the sour cream, chives and flaky salt just before you are ready to pass around the appetizer tray.

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Truth be told, while it was great that these appetizers were small enough to just pop into your mouth, it did make them a bit difficult to work with. The smallest melon baller I owned was too big to scoop out the inside potato bit, so I had to resort to a teeny tiny dessert spoon. It was totally do able, but I also bet you could go with a slightly bigger potato and serve these as a side dish rather than an appetizer if you were a bit short on time…or patience…or both.

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But if you don’t mind a little prep work, these appetizers are ahh…mazing! When I served them up, folks were delighted. Potatoes, Corned Beef & Irish Cheddar…you just can’t go wrong!

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Irish Potato Bites

  • Servings: 6 - 8
  • Difficulty: easy - but a bit fiddly
  • Print

recipe from: White Lights on Wednesday

Ingredients:

  • 20 Baby Red Potatoes, small (golf ball size)
  • 1/2 Cup leftover Corned Beef, chopped finely
  • 1/4 Cup Irish Cheddar Cheese, shredded
  • 1 Tablespoon Butter, melted
  • Salt & Maldon flaky sea salt for serving
  • Sour cream & chives for toppings

Directions:

Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil.

Add potatoes and boil until they are fork tender.

Preheat oven to 400°F

Once potatoes are cooked and have cooled cut each one in half and cut a small slice off of the rounded end so the potato will not roll over. Place the potato halves on a parchment lined baking tray.

Carefully scoop out the flesh of each potato half into a medium sized bowl.

Mash the potatoes with butter until it is smooth Add the shredded cheese and corned beef to the potato and mix well.

Salt and pepper mixture to taste.

Sprinkle some salt over the reserved potato skin halves.

Scoop potato/corned beef/cheese mixture into potato halves and then place them on a baking sheet.

Pop baking sheet in oven for 10 minutes.

Remove from oven. Pipe a small dollop of sour cream onto each potato bite and garnish with fresh chives and few flakes of Maldon Sea Salt.

Enjoy!

Irish Potato Bites brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

Helpful Links to Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Irish Potato Bites:

Oxo Good Grips Melon Baller

 

 


Zucchini, Spicy Grilled Corn & Cheese Pancakes

September 16, 2015

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Keep the zucchini recipes coming? No problem! I’ve got a great one for you here – Zucchini, Spicy Grilled Corn & Cheese Pancakes! The husband says this may well be his favourite recipe of 2015. I must admit, I can see why. Moist, light and bursting with fresh summer garden goodness these savory pancakes are not only delicious warm from the frying pan, but are also great at room temperature or even cold right out of the fridge.

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One of the things I love about these pancakes besides the fresh zucchini is the bit of spice factor. You know us and our penchant for hot and spicy by now. So I’ve added a bit of Spicy Grilled Corn to the mix. The zesty lime/chili combo of spices and the grilled flavour adds so much to this dish. And of course when I added the cheese in, I went with a Habanero Jack Cheese. The great thing here is that if you don’t want to turn up the heat like we do, just use fresh corn and maybe go with the parmesan or cheddar cheese option. It’s all up to you and your taste buds. We’ve eaten these pancakes as a main course with a fresh salad on the side, as a side dish paired with some grilled chicken, re-heated them for a quick savory breakfast and snacked on them between meals. They would be amazing as a summer appetizer as well. Just make them silver dollar sized and top them with a little dollop of sour cream and fresh chives. That versatility, along with ease of preparation makes them a winner in my book! So if your garden runneth over with zucchini, griddle up some of these mouthwatering pancakes. Folks will swoon!

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Zucchini, Spicy Grilled Corn & Cheese Pancakes

  • Servings: 20 pancakes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe slightly adapted from: King Arthur Flour

Ingredients:

  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or coarse black pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup chopped chives or scallions; about 1 bunch scallions, trimmed and chopped
  • 2 teaspoons salt, to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
  • 4 cups coarsely grated zucchini; about one 10″ zucchini
  • 1 cup spicy grilled corn (recipe to follow, you can use regular corn if you can’t be bothered to grill corn – but I think the grilled corn option is the way to go!)
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan, Cheddar, Monterey Jack or Spicy Habanero Jack cheese.
  • sour cream & fresh chives for serving

Directions:

Preheat a griddle or frying pan over medium-high heat; if you have an electric griddle, set the heat to 400°F.

Beat the eggs with the oil, salt, and pepper until thoroughly combined.

Add the herbs, spices, scallions, zucchini, corn and cheese, stirring to combine.

Stir in the flour.

Grease the hot griddle lightly. Drop the batter in 1/4 cupfuls onto the griddle; a muffin scoop works well here. If necessary, spread the cakes to about 3 1/2″ to 4″ diameter.

Cook the cakes for 3 minutes, or until they’re brown on the bottom, and bubbles have appeared on their tops. The top surface will appear somewhat dry and set.

Flip the cakes, and cook them for about3 to 4 minutes on the second side, or until they’re as moist/cooked as you like when you break one open.

Repeat until you’ve used all of the batter.

Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold; with butter and grated cheese, or without. Store any leftovers, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator. Reheat in a toaster or toaster oven, if desired.

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Spicy Grilled Corn

This recipe will likely yield more than the 1 cup you need for the zucchini pancakes. But having extra Spicy Grilled Corn around is not a problem! You can eat it cold, straight from the fridge, sprinkle it over salads or warm it up for a side dish.

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 ears of fresh corn in husk
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 3/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp light brown sugar
  • ¼ tsp chili powder

Directions:

Combine olive oil, lime juice, garlic, salt, brown sugar and chili powder in small bowl and whisk together.
Preheat grill.
Peel back the corn husks, discarding all but a couple inner layers. Remove corn silk, then baste with dressing, and recover corn with remaining husk.
Grill on med-high for 20-25 minutes, turning 3-4 times during cooking time.
Remove the corn from grill and allow to cool a few minutes. Once it has cooled enough to handle, cut off stem end, place the flat cut end on bottom of large bowl, and use a corn zipper to strip the kernels from the cob. Or if you don’t have a zipper, run a small sharp knife down the length of the cob, slicing off kernels.

Enjoy!

Zucchini, Spicy Grilled Corn & Cheese Pancakes brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

 

 


Zucchini Fritters with Feta & Dill

August 19, 2015

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Hooray! It’s zucchini time! Yup…that most delicious of summer squashes is here in abundance now. We love, love, love it around here. One zucchini feast after another. So hold onto your hats…I’m going to be sharing quite a few of the recipes we’ve been enjoying. I’m starting today off with a fantastic one for Zucchini Fritters with Feta & Dill.

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Now I just knew this one was going to be a winner. I already told you how we feel about zucchini and I’m pretty certain I  can also say I’ve never really met a fritter that I didn’t like. But I will admit, sometimes fritters can be a bit on the heavy side. Maybe not something you want to indulge in when your fairly wilted from all the hot and steamy summery temps. Well, that is why I’m so excited to share this with you. These Zucchini Fritters will not “weigh you down”. Far from it. They are wonderfully light a fresh. They will have you at the first bite – which is truly amazing. They have a crispy crunchy exterior which covers a delightfully creamy salty center. The scallion, dill, feta & zucchini combo is just the perfect summery taste sensation.

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They are great as appetizers, or as a side dish to some grilled meat or even as a light Meatless Monday meal. We enjoyed ours with a dollop of Tzatziki sauce, but they are also delicious all on their own. They come together pretty quickly (just make sure to get rid of as much of the liquid the zucchini releases as you can, otherwise you won’t get as much of that crispy factor as you want.) and are good hot off the griddle or even at room temperature. Believe me folks, you don’t want to miss out on this dish, so get out there, grab some of those zucchinis and make up a batch of these today!

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Zucchini Fritters with Feta & Dill

  • Servings: 12 Fritters
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe from: Once Upon a Chef

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound zucchini (about 2 medium), trimmed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • scallions, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed through a garlic press
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup corn starch or all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • Lemon wedges, for serving
  • Tzatziki Sauce, for serving

Directions:

Shred the zucchini on the large holes of a box grater or in a food processor fitted with the shredding disk. Transfer the zucchini to a fine mesh strainer and set over a bowl. Toss the zucchini with the salt and let it sit for 10 minutes. Wring all of the excess liquid out of the zucchini with your hands, or in a clean dish towel or even paper towels. Just make sure you get as much of that water out as possible, then set aside.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Mix in the dried zucchini, scallions, dill, feta, garlic and black pepper. Sprinkle the corn starch and baking powder over mixture and stir until uniformly incorporated.

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Drop 2-tablespoon sized portions into the pan, then use the back of a spoon to gently press the batter into 2-inch-wide fritters. Pan-fry until golden brown on both sides, 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer the fritters to a paper towel-lined plate. Wipe the skillet clean with paper towels. Return the skillet to medium heat, add the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, and repeat with remaining batter. Serve warm or room temperature with lemon wedges and tzatziki sauce if desired.

Tzatziki Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup greek yogurt
  • 1 cup English cucumber, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons dill, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • black pepper to taste

Directions:

Mix all ingredients together and chill until ready to serve.

Enjoy!

Zucchini Fritters with Feta & Dill brought to you by: Runcible Temps (www.leaandjay.com)

 

 

 


Corned Beef & Irish Cheddar Potato Nests with Spicy Horseradish Cream & Guinness Mustard

March 14, 2015

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Alright, alright, alright….I told you all about that Corned Beef Hash leftover recipe yesterday, as well as burst your “Corned Beef is an oh so Irish dish” balloon. Today I’d like to let you in on another recipe you can turn to after your big Corned Beef and Cabbage St. Patrick’s Day Feast or as a bit of a teaser appetizer before hand. Are you ready? Corned Beef & Irish Cheddar Potato Nests with Spicy Horseradish and Guinness Mustard.

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These little devils are delicious. Kind of like that big St. Patrick’s Day feast all compacted into a tiny little appetizer. The “potato nests” used here are amazing. I mean, who doesn’t love hash browns? And that is basically what you’ve got here except they’re better. Yup…I’m just going to go ahead and declare it…These nests are better than hash browns. Why you might ask. Well, let me tell you, these nest have the crisp factor over regular hash browns. Hash browns are really difficult to do well. Often they turn out way too soggy and greasy. But these little potato nests cooked in muffin tins have a lot of crispy crunchiness going for them. Literally all the edges are sporting it, yet they are still tender on the inside of the cup, which makes for a wonderfully satisfying bite. And once you’ve got those potato nests ready to go, it’s pretty easy to stuff them with some leftover corned beef, shredded Irish Cheddar, chives and the choice of two wonderful sauces; Spicy Horseradish or Guinness Mustard. I must say, these condiments steal the show. You probably should have them on hand for your big Corned Beef Feast as well, because they really enhance the flavor of that meat.

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This dish comes together pretty quickly, especially if you use the Simply Potatoes Shredded Hash browns which can be found in the refrigerated section of your local grocery store. If you are going old school and grating your own potatoes, make sure you wring them out well to get rid of that extra moisture so that they will cook up nice and crispy. But if you can take the shortcut of pre-made hash browns, you should definitely go there. Don’t feel guilty, it is so worth it. Your time is valuable. And if you take advantage of this timesaver, you’ll be tucking in to these adorable tasty Corned Beef & Irish Cheddar Potato Cups before you know it. And I think that is a great thing!

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Corned Beef & Irish Cheddar Potato Nests with Spicy Horseradish Cream & Guinness Mustard

  • Servings: 12 Potato Nests
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

For the potato nests:

  • 1 – 20 ounce bag of Simply Potatoes Shredded Hash Browns (if you can’t find these you can substitute in 3 1/2 cups shredded Russet potato which has been rinsed, and squeezed dry in a towel.)
  • 1 cup Irish cheddar, shredded
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (if you like a little kick!)

For the filling:

  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups diced or sliced corn beef
  • 1 cup Irish Cheddar, shredded
  • chives, to sprinkle over the top

Serve with Horseradish Cream and Guinness Mustard (recipes listed below)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350° F and thoroughly spray a 12 cup cupcake tin with baking spray or grease with butter or oil.

Place shredded Hash Browns and cheddar cheese in medium-sized mixing bowl. Add spices and mix. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of oil and then toss until mixture is coated.

Using 1/4 cup ice cream scoop, fill each well of the cupcake tin with the hash brown mixture.

Using the back of a spoon and your fingers press the hash brown mixture into the sides and bottom of the pan. I actually used a 1/4 cup measuring cup with tapered sides to assist me in making the correct shape for these nests.

Bake potato nests in lower third of the oven for about 60 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden brown. The inside of the potato cup will not appear as dark as the bottom, so actually check the bottoms from time to time.

Remove nests from the oven and let cool for a minute or two. At this point you will probably need to reshape your “nest” a bit. Gently do so with the back of a spoon and then let them cool for 20 minutes on a wire rack.

Once cool, run a knife around the edges of the nests and very carefully remove them from the cupcake tin.

Reheat the leftover diced corned beef  in the microwave. Spoon it into the waiting potato nests. Sprinkle with a bit more shredded cheddar and top with chives.

Serve the Corned Beef & Cheddar Potato Nests with Horseradish Cream and Guinness Mustard on the side.

Horseradish Cream Sauce

Recipe from: Bon Appetit

Yield: 1 1/2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 6 tablespoons prepared white horseradish (about 4 ounces)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped dill pickle
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives or green onion tops

Directions:

Whisk all ingredients in small bowl to blend. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.

Guinness Mustard

Recipe from: Bon Appetit

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup coarse-grained Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons regular Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons Guinness stout or other stout or porter
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 1 teaspoon golden brown sugar

Directions:

Whisk all ingredients in small bowl to blend. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.

Enjoy!

Corned Beef & Irish Cheddar Potato Nests with  Spicy Horseradish Cream Sauce & Guinness Mustard brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)


Pears with Pecorino, Pistachios & Honey

February 21, 2015

 

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Holy frozen tundra has it been COLD for the past week. I know, I know…it’s winter. It is supposed to be cold. And yes, I am the person who detests hot weather. And yes I will be complaining much more loudly and often once that sultry Virginia weather kicks in this summer. Still…it was been awful freaking, record-breakingly, bitter cold recently. Perhaps that is why I have found myself thinking fondly back on a trip that we took to Italy last October. That was where I had my first taste of Pears with Pecorino & Honey. I saw it served both as an appetizer and as a light dessert. The juicy ripe pears combined with the salty Pecorino cheese and the sweet honey was just sublime.

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Fresh, simple. locally sourced…seems to describe everything we ate on that holiday. And I can truly say, we didn’t have a bad meal the whole time we were there, whether we were dining in a fancy pants restaurant or a little local trattoria. Except for the bread that is…what a disappointment. In my visions of Italy I would always be sipping wine at a little table with some lovely cheese and a loaf of bread. Well, truth be told, I did have a few where I was zipping around on a Vespa with a bottle of wine and a fresh loaf of bread in tow (Ciao!) … but anyway, my expectation for the bread was way high and it tasted pretty abysmal. Well, in Tuscany proper anyway. Tuscan bread does not have any salt in it. Bleck! Apparently back in the day, their old enemy Pisa, set up a blockade of sorts which made it difficult to acquire salt. So the Tuscans started making bread without it and have kept up the daft practice even though salt is readily available. Talk about fearing change… But besides the bread, it was a fantastic trip. I have been dying to tell you all about, so I think I will take advantage of this weather which certainly brings hibernation to mind, to stay put (under a mound of blankets…) for a few moments and take the time to do just that over the next few posts.

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We arrived in Florence mid-October which meant the majority of the flood of summer tourists had subsided. The weather was absolutely fantastic, still warm during the day but a bit chilly in the evenings, though in light of recent weather around here, perhaps I will revise my opinion to say it was a bit “balmy” in the evenings. We rented a car and drove north to the Italian Riviera portion of the Ligurian region where we planned to spend 3 days visiting Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre, the “five lands”, is made up of the five towns of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare which seem to cling precariously to steep cliffs jutting up from the sea.

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The towns, along with the surrounding hillsides and coastline make up The Cinque Terre National Park which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. No car traffic is allowed in the villages but no worries, it is easy to travel between them by train or boat taxi. We had booked a room in the lovely Luna di Marzo hotel which is located in Volastra, a really small village, still in the park, located just up the cliff from Manarola. The views from the room were simply breathtaking!

 

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The husband and I were really psyched because not only was Cinque Terre amazingly beautiful, but the park has hundreds of miles of hiking paths which shoot dramatically skyward, wind through the hillside vineyards and olive groves and descend steeply to twist along rugged coastal footpaths. We love hiking and couldn’t wait to hit the trails and take in all of that the area had to offer.

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Luckily I had heard about Pall Forloney, the Trekguyd and was able to hire him to take us on a trek of all five towns and I’ve got to tell you this was the highlight of our holiday! Originally from Rhode Island, Pall has been living in Riomaggiore for over 10 years. I would say that he has all the knowledge of a “local”, which he certainly does, but it is more than that. He is so enthusiastic about the area and has been traversing it for so long, he certainly knows more than the average local. He proved invaluable to us during our visit.  Not only did he expertly guide us (and yes there is a “right” and a “wrong” way to hike it…or perhaps I should say a “savvy” vs. a “clueless” way…) on a small, personal, day long trek through all five towns and the surrounding hillsides,

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but he was also a fount of information on everything from local history,

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Saw lots of churches in Italy. But when Pall took us to The Black Church in Monterossa al Mare, it definitely stood out.

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It is the chapel of the Brotherhood of Death and Prayer and is filled with “momento mori”.

 

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The Brotherhood saw to the welfare of orphans, widows, shipwreck victims and the destitute.

 

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You could also have a burial mass said for folks who had been excommunicated here as well.

 

to Sciacchetrà wine production,

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on to general hiking tips and even recommendations for the best restaurants that the 5 towns had to offer. He took us to the best gelateria in all of the five towns! Not to mention he is a truly fascinating guy and great fun to hang around with. All park passes, train tickets and boat taxi fares were included in the price of his tour.

Relaxing on the boat taxi headed back to Riomaggiore after our trek.

Relaxing on the boat taxi headed back to Riomaggiore after our trek.

 

Having booked with Pall on our first day in Cinque Terre, we were able to benefit from all of his knowledge and make the most of our next two days there. Even after Pall’s tour was officially over, he was still trying to make sure we had a great visit. So, when the husband and I let him know we had never tried the local Sciacchetrà wine, he arranged to have us meet a friend of his, Roberto  who owns the Terra di Bargòn vineyard.

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For those of you who might be unfamiliar with Sciacchetrà wine, it is the white wine that has been cultivated and produced in Cinque Terre for many years. It is odd that there even is wine production in this area. Remember, the towns are situated on rather steep cliffs. Those industrious Cinque Terre dwellers from long ago literally carved out the terraces on which the vineyards grow and then undertook the backbreaking challenge of harvesting the grapes, carrying them on their backs down along the narrow, cliff’s-edge paths to town.

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But that wasn’t the end of the hard work for them. Then they had to dry the grapes. Sciacchetrà is a straw wine meaning that the grapes are dried to concentrate their juice. Though often thought of as a dessert wine, Sciacchetrà is considered a wine of meditation and is excellent paired with cheeses. We were very curious about it to say the least after hiking through the vineyards all day. With hardly any notice, just a quick phone call from Pall, Roberto was able to come meet us at his Cantina where the Terra di Bargòn Sciacchetrà is produced and cellared. What a treat! Roberto is quite a character. He told us all about the history of that rare wine, how his family came to produce it and gave us a first hand account of the labor intensive cycle of production.

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But better yet, he let us taste the Sciacchetrà of the year (there is a two-year fermentation) as well as a 2009 reserve and a 2003 reserve. It is difficult to describe the taste, but I would say sweet but not too sweet and silky smooth with hints of honey and apricot. All I can say is that it is unique, delicious and definitely something you should sample. (Sciacchetrà is not widely imported to the US. Terra di  Bargòn will ship to the US through their website if you are interested. Better yet….go visit them in Cinque Terre.) There are not a lot of folks in Cinque Terre today that are willing to do the kind of work that is required to make Sciacchetrà. Roberto is perhaps one of a dying breed. He offered us keen insight into a way of life which has been handed down for generations in Cinque Terre. Unfortunately this way of life and this special wine is in danger of being lost forever, but not if Roberto has anything to do with it. The authentic cultural experience of tasting the wine and meeting Roberto was essentially priceless!

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Cinque Terre was absolutely amazing. I am so glad that we decided to give it the time it deserved and did not try to do it as a “day trip” from Florence. It would not have done the slow-paced vibe of the place justice. Now, that being said, I do understand that in the Summer months, especially August, the place is over-run with tourists, so you might want to plan accordingly. What you must do is book a trek with Pall Forloney, the Trekguyd. While you are traversing the hills, he will have you up to speed and CT savvy in no time flat. And make sure you sample that Sciacchetrà wine while you still can. In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy this simple, yet elegant dish of Pears with Pecorino, Pistachios & Honey.

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It will have you dreaming of long and lazy, sun drenched days. When you gaze out your window, you won’t see a frozen, barren, arctic waste land. No. You’ll see a beautiful green and rugged coastline framed by the turquoise sea. Just make sure you don’t shatter the illusion by sneaking a peek at your thermometer!

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Pears with Pecorino, Pistachios & Honey

  • Servings: 2 - 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 2 pears
  • 3 Tablespoons Honey
  • 1/4 cup shaved Pecorino Cheese
  • handful of roughly chopped pistachios
  • freshly ground pepper

Directions:

For a Fresh & Light Spring/Summer Dish:

Core and slice pears. Scattered shaved Pecorino over pear slices. Warm honey and drizzle over pears and cheese. Sprinkle pistachios over the top. Season with freshly ground pepper if desired.

For a Warm & Comforting Fall/Winter Dish:

Core and slice pears. Place on broiler rack. Scatter shaved Pecorino over pear slices. Broil until cheese is melted and slightly browned. Warm honey and drizzle over pears and cheese. Sprinkle pistachios over the top. Season with freshly ground pepper if desired.

Pears with Pecorino, Pistachios & Honey brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)


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