Pimento Cheese – It’s a Southern Thing

Pimento Cheese.  It’s a Southern thing.

Like so many recipes that have been around forever, there are many versions of this one.  And, maybe more importantly, often a heated debate about what the “real” version is and why anything other than that version is a blatant and offensive attempt at forgery.  I may even go as far as to say that some will cry “sacrilege!” when it’s made differently than their favored way.  All I know is that something as simple as cheese, mayonnaise and white bread can definitely be controversial.

Did you know that pimento cheese is one of the most popular sandwich offerings at golf’s Masters Tournament?  I didn’t either until I read it on the AttaGirlSays blog.

All I do know is that I make pimento cheese like my momma did.  Not that I actually called her momma, but the nomenclature seemed appropriate here given the Southernerness of this post.  I never heard Mom defend her recipe or declare it as the authentic Southern version.  It was just lunch to her.  And I’m here to tell you, nothing screams “wholesome lunch” quite like cheese and mayonnaise served on white bread.  If we were visiting our grandmother in Texas, chances are we’d get our pimento cheese sandwiches served with a side of Dr. Pepper.  Move over kale.  In our house, this is how we do lunch.

White BreadMaybe it’s my upbringing, but I can’t imagine eating pimento cheese on anything but white bread.  The last time I was in Texas, I ordered a pimento cheese sandwich at what might be the equivalent of a food truck without wheels, and it was served on thick, white “Texas toast” bread.  The bread was perfect but my sisters and I couldn’t help but notice that the pimento cheese spread was not as good as Mom’s.  Like I said, everyone has an opinion.

When I was just a young’un, I would help Mom make the pimento cheese sandwiches for lunch.  My job was to grate the cheese which, quite frankly, I never enjoyed much.  I think, because Mom would always point out that I was to use the fine grater to grate the cheese, I found it to be a chore.  And as a kid, I wasn’t all that fond of chores.  But Mom was right.  The consistency is just off if you don’t grate the cheese finely.

Until recently, it seemed that no one north of the South had ever heard of pimento cheese.  Then I started seeing it in upscale restaurants where the sandwiches were fancied up by adding things like bacon.  I’ve also seen it offered as a grilled sandwich.  I thought the changes were just plain wrong until I actually tried a grilled version and, by gum, it does make a great (albeit gooey and messy) toasted sandwich.  I’ve also seen something called “pimento cheese sandwich spread” in the grocery deli.  So it seems this little gem has been discovered.

Well, this is not one of those foods that you’ll find under “healthy alternatives.”  This is good ol’ comfort food.  And dang it is good.  But if you’re looking for a way to enjoy pimento cheese spread and pretend it’s a teensie bit healthy, it can be served on celery as an appetizer.

Happy Entertaining!

Grated Cheese  Pimento Cheese Ingredients

Pimento Cheese Spread

Pimento Cheese Sandwich

Grilled Pimento Cheese Sandwich

Click here to get recipe

Crock-Pot Meatballs

According to my good buddy Brian Williams, the Crock-pot just turned 75 last week.  Ours isn’t 75 years old, but it looks like it’s at least 50.  I was going to throw my Crock-pot a birthday party, but I am all out of Crock-pot birthday candles.  So, instead, I decided to honor it with this post.

Classic Crock-Pot

There was a time when it was all the rage to cook in a Crock-pot.  Of course, this was also the time when it was fashionable to wear Daisy Duke shorts and Doritos were actually a novelty.  Then, like so many great trends, the Crock-pot sort of lost its cool.  Even though many of us continued to use our Crock-pots (The Underground Society of Uncool People), B-Dub said that the Crock-pot is now making a resurgence in popularity.  When we were visiting our twenty-somethings son and daughter-in-law last fall, they used their Crock-pot (that was a wedding present) to make these meatballs for us.  If it’s cool with them, I’m thinking it’s cool everywhere.

These Crock-pot meatballs are a great appetizer/snack for a party (say, for instance, when a large crowd gathers in your living room to watch the Super Bowl).

You can make a large quantity and then serve them right from the Crock-pot to keep them warm throughout the party.  (A cooker, and a server!)  These are so simple to make, it doesn’t even warrant a recipe.  Buy frozen meatballs (there are even good vegetarian meatball options out there).  Add the sauce of your choice.  That’s one of the things I really like about this “recipe.”  You determine the flavor based on what sauce you choose.  We’ve used a roasted pineapple and habanero sauce (from Trader Joe’s) for a meatball with a little “sweet + heat.”  Honey barbecue sauce will give you a, well, barbecue flavor while a teriyaki sauce will give you a sweeter meatball.  Today I used Yoshida’s Marinade and Cooking Sauce.  If you have some spare time on your hands, and feel the need to ditch the bottled stuff, you can make a barbecue sauce from scratch, like this Bourbon Whiskey Meatballs recipe  or the classic Grape Jelly and Chili Sauce Meatballs.

Meatball Ingredients

Basically, to make meatballs in a Crock-pot, you:

  • Add the meatballs and enough sauce to cover.  Maybe even give them a stir to coat everything well.
  • Turn the Crock-pot on high for about an hour.  Then turn it down to low.
  • Heat the meatballs for about 3 hours.  Maybe give them a stir while they cook.  Or maybe not.
  • Add toothpicks and serve.

It’s just hard to imagine it could get much simpler.

Happy Entertaining!

Crock Pot Meatballs

Once Again With The Cranberries: Brie Cranberry Bites

Although I was always told it’s not polite to say “I told you so,” some situations just seem to call for a little finger wagging/feeling all I-told-you-so, don’t they?  As an example:  Remember when I strongly suggested you make some homemade cranberry sauce?  And, then we gave you a recipe for Cranberry Margaritas that used a dollop of the cranberry sauce?  And, yet, some of you didn’t actually make the sauce?  Well, now here is one more recipe that takes advantage of leftover cranberry sauce.  See, I told you that you’d want to have some of it on hand.

This is the final installment of Cranberries Gone Wild here at the Entertaining Couple.

Tray of Brie Cranberry Bites

I saw a recipe similar to these on Pinterest and was intrigued.  But my initial thought when I read the original recipe, which was made in full-size muffin tins, was that they would make for a pretty big bite of pastry and cheese.   (I envisioned the guests dealing with crumbling bites and flaking pieces of puffed pastry.)  So, I decided to make ours in a mini muffin tin and truly make them bite size.  Also, the recipes I saw online said to bake the bites with the cranberry sauce, but I like adding it after they’ve come out of the oven instead.

If you haven’t used puff pastry before, this is a good recipe to start on.  It’s super simple and somewhat forgiving.  I don’t want to say it’s fool-proof because that just seems to be asking for trouble.  But trust me when I say any intimidation with the puff pastry can end here.

To press the dough down into the muffin cavity, I use a little tool called a tart tamper.  If you don’t have one of these, something like a measuring spoon (1 tablespoon size) might work.  You just need something to get the dough tamped down into the cavity because it will puff as it cooks.

Normally when I make the cranberry sauce, I only use about 1/4 teaspoon of the red pepper flakes.  But, in this recipe, the sauce can stand a little heat, so I used about 1/2 teaspoon.

Also, if I’m being completely honest, I have to admit I’ve never been a big fan of Brie cheese.  But, with this recipe, the Brie isn’t overwhelming and is balanced nicely by the cranberry sauce.

This afternoon I’m making these Brie cranberry bites for the third time this week.  It’s a quick and simple recipe to make, which isn’t always the case with appetizers.  I’ve been making them ahead of time, keeping them refrigerated and then just baking them right before I serve them.  And they are tasty!  Which, at the end of the day, is what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Happy Entertaining!

Ingredients for Brie Cranberry Bites  Cutting Out the Dough

Tamping the Tarts

Tarts Ready for Filling  Making Brie Cranberry Bites

Tarts with Brie

Brie and Cranberry Bites

Click here to get recipe

Bite-Size Lasagna

Around our house, when we have some bit of information to share with each other, we’ve gotten in the habit of often asking, “Do you want the good news or the bad news first?”  Sometimes it’s best to hear the good news first because if it’s really good news it seems to lessen the blow of the bad news.  But other times it’s nice to hear the bad news first and get it over with.  Of course, all things are relative.  Our bad news is usually something like, “The bad news is the take-out restaurant was out of Kung Pao chicken.”  Which is usually followed by, “The good news is they had spring rolls 4 for a dollar so I got 8 of them.”

With this recipe, I feel the need to ask, “Do you want the good news or the bad news first?”  Since I can’t actually hear your response, I’ll have to answer for you and I’ll say “The good news.”

The good news is this recipe makes a really appetizing appetizer.  And it’s vegetarian, so doubly good news for a lot of people.

Lasagna Bites Ready for the Oven

Now for the bad news.  It takes some time to make them.  It took me about an hour to make a tray of 36.  And, the other bad news, which is sort of tied to the good news, is that 36 of these little buggers disappeared in about 5 minutes, so I probably should’ve made another couple dozen.  But, with all that bad news dropped at your feet, the other consideration is that you can make these ahead of time and then just bake them right before the party.  So, I’m going to file that last little tidbit under the “good news for a host or hostess” category, because you know I love recipes that can be prepped far enough in advance that I have time to do the cleanup before guests arrive.

Just a couple of hints/tips when making these.  The recipe calls for chopped spinach, which means the frozen stuff.  And you want to “drain” the liquid after the spinach has thawed.  This is always a bit of a challenge for me because I usually forget to thaw it ahead of time so I have to microwave it at the last minute.  I’ve found the best way to do all of this is to cut a slit in the box, place the whole box in a bowl, and then microwave it for a couple of minutes (or until thawed).  I then just squeeze the box until all of the liquid is out of it.  Not necessarily pretty — but pretty darn effective.

The other note is that you want to use enough filling so that each bite isn’t just noodle but not so much that you can’t roll them up or that they won’t stay rolled.  I found that about 2 tablespoons is the right amount.

This bite-size lasagna is a great cocktail hour or football game snack.  I’ve taken these lasagna bites to two different parties at my sister-in-law’s house.  In both cases, she had guests bring appetizers and she and my brother provided the martinis (their signature cocktail).  I love this concept for a party.  And, given the party atmosphere at the both of the parties, everyone else seemed to love the concept as well.  This is a great appetizer to take to a party like that.  Even though it took me about an hour to make them, this was my only contribution, so it wasn’t overwhelming.  You serve them warm out of the oven but they don’t require any sort of hot plate to keep them warm.  And, they appeal to a wide variety of tastes.

Happy Entertaining!

Chopped Spinach  Ready to Mix

Mixing the Ingredients

Spinach Mixture on Noodles

Ready to Roll

Starting to Roll  Rolling Lasagna Bites

Lasagna Bites

Click here to get recipe

Fresh Tomato and Basil Tart

Something had to happen.  These beautiful, ripe tomatoes, gifts from neighbors with bountiful gardens, had been sitting on our counter for a few days.  From the posts on Facebook and comments from neighbors, it seems gardens have been overrun with tomatoes this year.  This year’s harvest, that had been so generously shared, gave me a revelation:  There is no need for me to toil over a garden all summer.  We just have to live next door to people who do.

But now I had a pile of tomatoes that were being neglected.  The guilt was killing me.


And, then it hit me.  A Tomato Tart.

Although I have eaten these delightful tarts before, I had never actually made one.  Thankfully, there are about a gazillion recipes for tomato tarts on the internet, so I had plenty of resources to choose from.  Surprisingly, it seems the only other person in the world, besides me, who hasn’t made one of these is Julia Child.  Go figure.

The recipes seemed to fall into two camps.  About half of them used a puff pastry while the others called for using a simple, store-bought pie crust.  And, let’s be honest.  We all know exactly what those store-bought crusts are because we’ve all used them on more than one occasion.  My decision to make a crust from scratch was based on (a) I didn’t have a puff pastry or pie crust in the freezer (and certainly didn’t want to go to the store) and (b) I have a homemade crust recipe that I’ve used several times before for quiche.  Since I converted from the store-bought crusts to the homemade version with the quiche, logic told me I could do the same here.  But, if you’re hesitant to make a crust from scratch, then by all means go ahead and use a store-bought one.

I think the hardest thing about making this tomato tart was slicing the tomatoes, which should tell you something.  It was super simple to make and came together very quickly.  And the results were scrumptious.  Like pizza but different and in some ways better.  If that’s possible.

I made a tomato tart two days in a row.  I wanted to retest the recipe and I had more tomatoes to use.  The first time I made it I didn’t have any pie weights, so my crust suffered a little shrinkage as it baked.  It didn’t really seem to affect the outcome of the tart, so I categorize it as “forgiving.”  The second time I made it I found about eight inches of unused chain scraps in the garage and used them as weights during the blind bake, and it helped.  Now I just need to get some real weights.  Or more chain.

The tomatoes I had from our neighbor’s garden were about 2″ across.  A friend of ours makes his with cherry tomatoes, which would be good, too.  I think the key is that the tomatoes are ripe and flavorful.

We just polished off tart #2.  Without a crumb of evidence left behind.  After eating this two days in a row, we’ve concluded that, if a food can have a sweet spot for eating, the sweet spot for the tart is about 20 to 30 minutes after it’s come out of the oven.  You want to let it cool and set a bit.  And you want the cheese to cool enough that you don’t burn your mouth when you bite into it.  We found that the flavors seem to really come together well after it has rested for a few minutes.  But, after about an hour, it all starts to look a little flat and tired.  This is just something to think about when you’re planning your party timeline.

This tomato basil tart would make a wonderful appetizer.  I can see serving this when people are over for cocktails/Happy Hour.  It would be delicious with a crisp white wine.  Or, serve with a salad for lunch or a light dinner.

Happy Entertaining!

Tomatoes  Sliced Tomatoes

Basil Sprig  Tomato Tart Crust

Tomato Tart Ready to Bake

Tomato Tart Baking

Tomato Tart Cooling on Rack  Removing Tomato Tart from Pan

Tomato Tart

Click here to get recipe

Hot Crab Dip

As I write this, we have a crab pot in the water and we’re whiling away some time, which seems to be what fisher-people do.  It’s not an episode of Deadliest Catch, but still.  We like to amuse ourselves and think of it as Man v. Nature.  And in this case Nature has a slight advantage.  We use our inflatable kayaks to set our pot, commercially known as the Lil’ Crabber, which in case it’s not obvious is called that because it’s made for kids.  We were afraid our full-sized crab pot would cause the kayak to capsize.  Jon has had good luck crabbing in the past, but as with any type of fishing, there are simply no guarantees.  We are fortunate that we live in a place where we can paddle out about half a mile from the dock, throw the Lil’ Crabber in the water, and (sometimes) have fresh Dungeness Crab for dinner.  Fruits of the sea.  Exclamation point.

Crab Hunter

Fresh Caught Crabs

Dungeness Crabs

Personally, I find crab meat so utterly delectable that I am happy eating it with nothing more than a little melted butter or a dash of cocktail sauce.  For me, it’s definitely not one of those foods that requires a lot of dressing to make it appetizing.  But, with that said, at times even something so wonderful can benefit from a little change of pace, if for no other reason than to add a little variety to things.

My hot crab dip is very popular.  It’s classic in that it uses cream cheese as the base.  It’s best served warm, so I make it in small ramekins and warm/broil them as needed.  Which is usually after the previous one disappears.  Served with crackers or slices of bread, this makes a good, and decadent, appetizer.

Just a note, this hot crab dip recipe works equally well with canned crab as it does with fresh, for those sad times when the Lil’ Crabber comes up empty.

Happy Entertaining!

Steaming the Crab   Steamed Crab

Ready for Cracking

Hot Crab Dip

Crab Dip

Click here to get recipe

A Tasty Use for Hardboiled Eggs

Bartender as Bunny!

The Bartender embarrassing himself at a corporate Easter function long ago…

If the Easter Bunny does his job this weekend, chances are you’ll have a surplus of dyed hardboiled eggs in your refrigerator that are looking for a second purpose.  I suggest deviled eggs.  (We’ve re-posted this article from a year ago because I just can’t get enough of this picture!)

This is a simple, basic recipe.  Just the way I like my deviled eggs.

When I make deviled eggs, I slice the eggs widthwise, which makes little egg cups.  I think this makes for effective eating because you get some filling with each bite.  And, if you slice a teensy bit off of the bottom of each egg half, they will sit upright on the plate. This all came about because I don’t own one of those cute little deviled egg plates with the perfect egg-shaped indentations, and I didn’t want the eggs sliding all over the plate.

I also use a pastry bag to pipe the filling into the eggs cups.  Not because I’m trying to be fancy, because fancy really isn’t my style.  But I found when I used a spoon, I was always trying to get the dollop of egg stuff into the little cup without making a mess or using my fingers.  The pastry bag just seems simpler to me.  And simple is my style.

Hardboiled Eggs

Sliced Eggs

Slicing off the tips:

Slicing off the tips

Egg Half

Preparing the yolks:

Minced Egg Yolks

Filling the pastry bag:

Almost Deviled

Pastry Bag

Ready to serve:

Deviled Eggs

Happy Entertaining!

Click here to get recipe

Time for Fresh Crab

Signs of summer are all around us.  We’re experiencing an early summer here in the Pacific Northwest, and by that I mean we have sunshine before July 5, which is the day the locals all refer to as the start of summer.  (In other words, it’s rare for us to see sunshine for the 4th of July holiday, much less any time before it.)  Flip flops have been dusted off, shorts have been moved from the back of the drawers to the front, and our thick fleece jackets have been replaced by thinner fleece (can’t get too carried away as it still gets cool in the evening).

Crab Pots

We live on a salt-water channel that serves as a thoroughfare from town to the more open water around some of the islands.  In the summer, we watch a constant parade of boats in all shapes and sizes as they come and go.  Even when we’re not looking, we can hear the boats go by and have gotten pretty adept at identifying the kind of boat (tug versus small skiff versus large power boat) by the sound of its engine.  Or lack thereof.  When we can hear voices, we know the boaters are probably going by in kayaks.  The channel is also used heavily by the commercial fisherman and the volume of traffic varies based on what is in season at the moment.  Currently, it’s crabbing season and we see a never-ending stream of boats, laden with crab pots, off in pursuit of their daily catch.  On many mornings, before the sun even comes up, we hear the boats passing by our house, getting an early start to the day.

Crab Close-up

Mighty Crab HunterToday was opening day of crab season for the non-commercial boats.  That means people like us who own 1 or 2 crab pots and have purchased a license.  The Bartender motored out about 20 minutes from the house and set our trap early this morning which resulted in 2 large “keeper” crabs a few hours later.  This is as close as we ever get to being hunters or gatherers.  The water was a little choppy this morning but hardly a scene from the Deadliest Catch.

The Bartender Cooking Crab   Crab on the Stove

Cooked Dungeness Crab

In these parts, the crab is Dungeness which takes a little work in order to extract all the sweet, juicy meat but is well worth the effort.  Eating this kind of crab requires an assortment of tools (crackers that can be used in the off season to crack nuts, teensie little forks, crab picks and these little zipper thingies that sliceCrab Forks the shell).  Bibs are optional.  Finger bowls are recommended.  And you’ll find that there are well established techniques by those that have been practicing the art of crab picking/eating for a while.  Some eat a bite each time they have a forkful.  Others show a great deal of patience and restraint and first pick all the meat they can, pile it into a neat little gob and then enjoy the feast unencumbered by additional stops and picks.  Either way, you can be assured that there is a large amount of butter and cocktail sauce involved.  But we have found that not everyone enjoys the picking aspect of the meal.  They just don’t seem to find the appeal in being covered from fingertip to elbow in crab juice and shell fragments.  So, for people we really like, after we cook the crabs, we’ll do all the work for them and serve it as a crab cocktail.  We actually put the cocktail sauce in the bottom of the glass, which provides a little for dipping without overwhelming the sweet, yummy goodness of the crab.

Happy entertaining!

Making Crab Cocktail   Crab Cocktail

Summer’s here, it’s guacamole time!

It seems that everyone has a favorite recipe for guacamole.  Or at least their own “special recipe.”  Our daughter-in-law suggested once that we have a Guac Off because we were debating who makes the best guacamole.

Our recipe was born in a summer haze, inspired by a restaurant that we frequented often one summer.  We would meet our good friends in the bar, order margaritas and the chips and guacamole, then sit and solve all the problems that plagued the world.  Or so it seemed after a couple margaritas.  Our Friday night meetings never really changed anything in the outside world, but we did develop a love for their guacamole.  We watched how they made it (which they did table side) and we were able to come up with a similar recipe.  I’m not saying it’s better than everyone else’s, but no matter how much we make, there’s never any left when we serve it.  That says enough about it for me.

Click here to get recipe


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