Sunday, September 27, 2009

North Carolina to Go (Pimento Cheese, inspired by Bill Neal)

Cal State Fullerton Baseball. USC Football. The College World Series in Omaha. Carroll College Football. (And I’m assuming, hoping, praying, Tar Heel Baseball, Basketball and Football). Aside from being championship programs, what do all of these collegiate sports institutions have in common?


Oh yeah, serious tailgating. The kind you plan for all week. The kind that makes you say to your husband, “sure honey, Mother’s Day brunch in the Cal State Fullerton parking lot sounds great.” And mean it.

Yesterday was Homecoming at Carroll College, where our son goes to school and is a member of the football team. The day started out as scheduled, smoke from grills wafting through the air, a band playing on the practice field. Purple and gold everywhere.

And yes, the Fighting Saints won. But I dare say that the game on the field was matched by the game in the parking lot. These people know how to throw a tailgate, with a smoker the size of a small car, mounds of pulled pork, large pots of chili, racks of ribs and salads galore.

In celebration of our new home, I decided to bring one of my favorite pre-game appetizers, a pimento cheese spread that was inspired by late Chapel Hill area chef, Bill Neal, of Crook's Corner fame. Here’s the recipe.

Ingredients - makes about 3 cups

  • 16 ounces aged white cheddar cheese, grated – if you like a milder flavor, you can also mix mild cheddar with sharper white cheddar.
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 small jar diced pimentos, drained. I like to chop them a bit more to help them blend into the cheese
  • 6 Tbs mayonnaise – Best Foods or Helman’s or Best Food’s please
  • 3 Tbs Jack Daniels Tennessee Whisky – if you don’t have this on hand, buy one of those little airline sized bottles at a liquor store. You’ll use about ½ of the little bottle. Do what you feel best with the leftovers (-;
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin (don’t sweat it if you don’t have this on hand. I didn’t this weekend and it was still great)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste (a dash of Tabasco works, too)

  • Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl until well blended
  • Chill 30 minutes before serving
  • The traditional cracker to serve this with is a saltine. I also like Club crackers.

Leftovers (if you’ve got ‘em) make a killer grilled cheese, especially nice with a thick slice of tomato.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Just Like Mamma Used to Make (Chicken Enchilada Casserole)

One of the casualties of our move from Orange County, California to Orange County, North Carolina was a previously booked week-long trip to Montana to see our son who is in college and plays football there. As luck would have it (or not) our closing date fell on the very day we were scheduled to leave on of our trip. So flights were cancelled and schedules changed. And today, almost a month later I’m hopscotching across the USA to finally see our boy. First stop Chicago; then on to Denver (where I’m posting this) for yet another equipment change before heading on to Helena. I’ve got a hefty research report to read (half done) and a blog post (done) to write so the day should fly by. No pun intended.

This will be my fourth homecoming weekend at Carroll College. I typically arrive on a Thursday so I can work from my hotel Friday before heading out to the pep rally and other festivities. Saturday will be filled with a serious dose of tailgating, the game, hopefully a post-win celebration and dinner out with Will and his friends. This is the college’s centennial year, so I’m sure there will be even more than the usual fanfare. It should be a blast.

Our Thursday night tradition also includes a home-cooked meal for Will and whatever roommates or friends are around. I’m thinking enchilada casserole and a salad with a cilantro vinaigrette. Unfortunately, I’m not bringing my usual payload of California avocados for the salad, but I’m sure the kids will appreciate the mom-cooked meal all the same.

Before I head to my gate, here’s the recipe I’ll use tonight. It’s not my usual “from scratch” fare, but it’s a quick and easy dish that can be made in someone else’s kitchen (who knows if they boys have a cheese grater) and is sure to please.


Chicken Enchilada Casserole


  • 1 Rotisserie Chicken, skin and bones removed, meat shredded
  • 1 large can enchilada sauce – either red or green is fine. I’m using red tonight.
  • 1 large bag of shredded cheddar cheese (you may have leftovers)
  • 1 small bag of shredded pepper jack cheese (you may have leftovers)
  • 2 dozen corn tortillas (you will defiantly have leftovers, but you can always make quesadillas with the leftover cheese)
  • 1 onion, finely diced (look for milder Mexican white, Maui or Vidilia varieties)1 small can of sliced olives (optional)
  • Olive oil, vegetable oil to coat the bottom of the pan, or Pam Oil Spray
  • Aluminum foil

  • Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
  • In a 13/9 casserole:
  • Rub the bottom and sides of the casserole with oil or spray with Pam
  • Dip the toriallas, one by one, into the sauce and line the bottom of the dish a single layer. I typically lay three down the middle and then cut two more into quarters to fill in the corners and gaps.
  • Sprinkle about a quarter cup of the onions (small handful) on top of the sauce
  • Sprinkle a think layer cheddar cheese on top of the onions
  • Top with ½ of the chicken; and drizzle about another 1/3 cup of sauce on top.
  • Repeat the process – tortillas, sauce, onion, but this time substitute the pepper jack cheese, then chicken.
  • Top with a final layer of tortillas, sauce and onions.
  • Sprinkle cheddar cheese on top; you can add olives at this point if you are using them

Tent lightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake another 10 to 15 minutes until bubbly.

Let the finished dish rest about 10 minutes before serving. If for some reason it doesn't seem gooey enough, pop each serving into the microwave for about 30 seconds.

Warm the remaing sauce in the microwave for 30 seconds and serve for those who want to add more.

Note – all rotissary chickens are not the same size. If it seems like you have a ridiculous amount of chicken, and use less. This recipe can be made with whatever cooked meat you have – leftover turkey, ground beef, even venison (for my Montana readers) is great.

Another Note - this recipe scales really well - for the boys, I used one of those oversized disposable aluminum lasagna pans and 1 3/4 rotisserie chickens. In a house inhabited by five football players, this was necessary. There was just one serving leftover and when I stopped by the next day it, too, was gone!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Sneak Peek at the Future (Tomato, Roasted Pepper and Basil Tapenade)

It’s amazing how much you can accomplish when everything you need is no more than 15 minutes of where you are. Yesterday was one of those days, with a trip to the Farmers Market; shopping for carpet; shower enclosure and stove decisions (can’t wait fire up my new Wolf!), a hair appointment with a new stylist (which kills HOURS) and assorted other errands. Oh yes, and it all had to be done by 6 o'clock so we could hit the annual block party in our soon to be new neighborhood before our 8 o'clock dinner reservations at Elaine’s on Franklin (Chef Bret Jennings participated in the Farmers Market event).

Somehow we did it.

I could write all morning about yesterday’s Farmers Market, which included a celebration of seven local chefs who shop regularly at the Market. Not only did we get our weekly haul of veggies and ridiculously fresh poultry, we also had a chance to chat it up these delightful and talented men and women, taste samples of their work learn more about the Chapel Hill area local food movement. It just makes sense to support your local farmers and in the end it is healthier, too.

The neighborhood block party was also a good experience that gave us a glimpse of our lifestyle to come. The neighborhood reminds us a bit of the two neighborhoods in Brea where we raised Will. Tight knit, but still private. A huge dose of pride of ownership. Add in a lot more trees and a discussions about which plants the deer will eat less of and you’ve got our future home.

I’ve got to admit, it was tough to walk into the cul-de-sac knowing nobody. We arrived fashionable late and our friends who will be our new neighbors had already dashed off to another event. But no sooner had we put our contribution to the appetizer course on the table, that good old Southern Hospitality set in and folks started to wander over to greet us.

We may not be in Kansas, Toto, but everything is going to be more than just Okay.

Here’s the appetizer I latterly threw together in 15 minutes between the appliance shopping hair appointment. It features one of the red peppers one of the local farmers roasted for me at the market. Everything (except the olive oil and vinegar) was grown, produced or baked locally.


Tomato, Roasted Pepper and Basil Tapenade


  • 1 roasted bell pepper, seeded and diced into 1/2 dice
  • 1 basket cherry tomatoes, chopped (the easiest way: cut each tomato in half and then cut each half into quarters. Sounds tedious, but if you get a rhythm going it is a heck of a lot easier than trying to actually chop them)
  • A big handful of fresh basil, chopped medium-fine
  • 1 clove garlic mashed into a paste
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • About 5 or 6 grinds of black pepper
  • 1/2 cup of feta, broken into large chunks. (Try to get a block of high quality cheese and break it up yourself. I used a local sheep’s milk feta. Oh my.)
  • Pinch of salt


  • Mix everything except the feta and salt in a medium sized bowl. Make sure the garlic is evenly distributed.
  • Add the feta cheese.
  • Mix lightly so you don't mash the feta.
  • Taste for saltiness and adjust accordingly.

Serve on sliced chebata or French bread. (I found an amazing seeded chebata that was delicious).

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Po-tay-toe; Po-tah-toe (Farmers Market Tapas)

I think I just tasted a potato for the first time. Of course, I’ve had potatoes before – in fact (as my business travel companions know) one of my favorite “go-to meals” is a salad and baked potato. But last night we had a simple dinner featuring a number of the goodies I found during my first trip to the Carrboro Farmers Market, and low and behold the star of the show was the lowly potato.

I hardly recognized them as Yukon Golds ; still covered with earth, and hardly picture perfect. A good scrub, a thick slice, plus a little olive oil, salt and pepper rendered a crispy yet fluffy bite reminiscent of tapas you might have in Spain. Without the jet lag.

The Saturday morning Farmers Market in Carrboro, which is just outside of Chapel Hill, is like no other market I’ve been to. I had to circle it once, just to get my bearings. The little stands are staffed by farm families and what appear to be their employees. Most tend to specialize in one type of item – cheese from local cows and goats (unbelievable), late season tomatoes, root vegetables, etc. Everyone is knowledgeable, friendly and takes pride in what they are selling.

As late summer merges with fall, the colors of the market are particularly vivid this time of year. Our simple dinner last night reflected this fact. The following is not so much a recipe, but a demonstration of what can be done with amazingly fresh ingredients, a little olive oil, and a grill pan. I hope it inspires you to visit your local farmers market sometime soon, and create a meal that comes from the soil near you.


Grill-Pan Yukon Golds:

Depending on size, for two people you’ll want two or three Yukon Gold potatoes. Wash, slice to about ¼ inch rounds, toss in olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh thyme. Grill on an inside grill pan until crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.

Local Sausage Bites

Keep in mind, we are living in the “land of the pig.” Two stands carried their own version of sausage. The one I bought was slightly spicy. I formed small balls and simply grilled them off on the same pan as the potatoes, keeping them separate so the fat didn’t intermix with the potatoes. Not that it wouldn’t have been tasty, but potatoes in pork fat is not exactly the healthiest thing in the world. Once the balls were browned, we drained them on paper towels. Just a few per person added the spicy bite the meal needed.

Grilled tomatoes

I found the coolest little tomatoes – the shape of a Roma tomato, but abut the size of your thumb. We sliced these in half, dusted with a scant amount of salt, pepper and fresh thyme and placed them cut side down on yet another part of the grill pan. These were cooked until they were slightly caramelized.

Caramelized onions and peppers

In a separate pan I sautéed slices ½ of a red onion and ½ of a roasted red bell pepper (I’m sure I’ll post more about these later – they roast them up for you as you wait!) with a scant bit of olive oil, salt, pepper and yes, fresh thyme. I kept this going until the mixture was very soft and slightly caramelized.

Arugula salad

I found a vendor with the youngest and most tender arugula I’ve ever seen, so I bought a bag. Rinsed and patted dry, these spicy leaves were tossed in the juice of half a lemon and a very slight drizzle of olive oil. This was a great complement to all of the dishes.

Dust over the top of all of the dishes

A light grating of locally made asiago cheese.

To serve

Create a plate with a bit of this and a bit of that. Crusty bread would have been nice, but we didn’t have any and it really was not necessary. For true tapas, you’d also make a garlicky mayonnaise for the potatoes.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Comfort. (Chicken and Wild Rice Soup)

Moving is tough anytime you do it. And after a week of packing, a week of driving and a long weekend of moving into temporary housing combined with house hunting for a permanent residence… let’s just say that by last night we were dead dog tired. And in need of a comforting meal. So we hit a local market and less than two hours later, were enjoying the following Chicken and Wild Rice Soup.

Homemade soup is one of those things we often forget about. It really isn’t all that difficult and the rewards can last for days.

Last night’s soup hit the spot. Tonight we had it as an equally comforting meal after my first day at my new office. Tomorrow I’ll freeze single portion sized zip-lock bags for emergency rations later this month.

I hope you give this one a try – or that it reminds you to whip up a batch of your favorite soup recipe the next time you need an easy and comforting meal.


  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • ½ onion – rough chopped
  • 3 large carrots – cut 2 in half; chop the remaining carrot into ¼ inch dice
  • 3 stalks celery – cut 2 in half; chop the remaining celery stalk into ¼ inch dice
  • 4 large or 6 small cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed (smash with the side of a large knife)
  • 3 - 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 Tbs dried oregano
  • 1 whole chicken – rinced, skin removed as best you can… don’t sweat the wings
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 3 cups water (or enough to almost cover chicken - see description below)
  • 1 box Uncle Ben’s chicken and wild rice mix (not instant) (this part was pure accident – I didn’t see the rice I wanted so I bought a rice mix – the seasoning packet is a nice addition to the soup, and surprisingly does not make it salty)
  • ¾ cups frozen peas
  • 3 large mushrooms diced
  • Salt and pepper to taste


In a medium to large stock pot:

  • Heat oil
  • Sauté onion until soft
  • Add large pieces of carrot and celery (reserve the diced portion for later)
  • Add garlic, fresh thyme and dried oregano
  • Heat everything together, stirring occasionally for 3 – 5 minutes
  • Add chicken, breast side up
  • Add broth first and water – just up to the beginning of the breast portion. You don’t want to cover the entire bird
  • Bring to boil
  • Add seasoning packet and stir until dissolved.
  • Drop heat to “low,” cover and simmer for 1 hour

After one hour:

  • Remove chicken to shallow bowl and allow to cool
  • Add rice, peas, diced carrots, celery and mushrooms to the broth mixture
  • Bring broth mixture back to a boil and then drop heat to low again
  • Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Then turn off the heat and leave covered.

  • By this time the chicken should be cool enough to work with; remove meat from bones and chop into bite-sized pieces.
  • Add chicken to broth/rice/veg mixture. Stir well and serve.


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Smile (Lemon Chicken Pasta)

Nothing guarantees a smile outta me like a text or email from our son, Will who has been attending college in Helena, Montana for the past three years. Anyone who has had a child go off to college knows the feeling. You devote 18 years of your life getting them ready to leave the nest. And then they do. Thank goodness for the Internet.

I got one of those emails the other day while we were driving cross-country. He was cooking dinner for a friend and wanted to know if I had any ideas. The apple doesn't fall too far from the tree and Will knows his way around the kitchen, which is a good thing when you are an athlete.

So I tapped out my response – a lemon chicken pasta that I felt was sure to please. Turns out, he fixed something else (which is totally OK, and I want the recipe for the salad he made!). But tonight, after unpacking boxes for 9 hours I found myself walking down to Weaver Street Market to pick up the fixin’s.

And when Steve walked in the door after spending 9 hours of supervising (and helping) our moving crew as they transferred our all our worldly possessions into storage, I saw a smile on his face, too.

Here it is… give it a try… and hope you smile as well.

Lemon Chicken Pasta

(Serves 2 - usually with leftovers for lunch the next day. Scales well to serve 4 or 6)


  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts or 4 boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 2 Tbs flour
  • 1 1/2 to 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil or butter (enough to coat the pan)
  • ½ medium sized onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, diced
  • 3 large or 6 small mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 Tbs fresh thyme
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 Tbs capers, drained
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • ½ box penne pasta, cooked
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley to garnish (optional)


  • Put a large pot of water on to boil, season with salt
  • Add pasta, cook until al dente (about 8 minutes) then drain. Set aside.

While the pasta is boiling:

  • Season the chicken with salt and pepper, then toss with the flour
  • Melt the butter or warm the olive oil in a medium sized skillet over medium/high heat.
  • Brown the chicken, about 5 minutes. Remove and set aside.
  • Add the onion to the pan. Cook until soft.
  • Lower the heat… Add the mushrooms, garlic and thyme. Cook another 5 – 7 minutes, or until soft.
  • Add the chicken back into the pan.
  • Stir in the broth, scraping up any browned bits.
  • Add the capers
  • Now add the drained pasta

At this point you can turn the heat off and cover to keep warm.

  • When you are ready to serve, heat the mixture up, add the lemon zest and juice. Continue heating until everything is warmed through.
  • A bit of fresh parsley and Parmesan is a nice garnish.