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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Just Right.

The best recipes don't try to get too fancy. I hate it when people mock standards, like deviled eggs, trying to make them fancy by adding caviar or truffle oil. Unless it tastes really good, then it's okay. But fancy for the sake of fancy is just lame.

The Best of Vietnamese and Thai Cooking, by Mai Pham of the Lemon Grass Restaurant, is one of my all-time favorite cookbooks. I found it one night when, possessed by a sudden and urgent desire to learn to make Pad Thai (and a suspicion I could make it for a lot less than I paid for it in a restaurant), I drove to a book store, parked myself on the floor in the Asian cooking section and read a few Pad Thai recipes until I found one that looked right. I knew I had met The One when I saw it included, without shame, six tablespoons of ketchup. If someone is willing to use ketchup and admit it, they obviously care more about taste than...anything. Which reminds me...I once "hung out" with this guy who made the best second best spaghetti*. His secret was a large squirt of French's Yellow Mustard in the sauce. Who knew? Mai Pham's Pad Thai rules, but the two recipes from that book I use most often are the Vietnamese Salad Rolls and the Ginger Noodle Salad, which I highly recommend for potlucks**.

So, I was going to give you my recipe for Sake-infused deviled eggs topped with a Caviar, roasted red pepper and aged truffle*** oil coulis, but I don't have a recipe for that, so you're getting my friend Lisa's pimento cheese recipe, a recent Bunco snack. It was just right.

Lisa's Just Right Pimento Cheese

8 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded

8 ounces extra sharp cheddar, shredded

1 small jar of pimentos, drained

2/3 to 1 cup Hellman's mayonnaise
(I have to give a shout-out to my favorite here - Duke's! I am, however, mature enough to share the love with Hellman's.)

dash cayenne pepper

1-2 tablespoons olive juice

Mix. Chill. Eat.

She claims the olive juice is the secret and I believe her, because it was really good. And I do have a brief PSA:

Please serve your party dips with celery (not just crackers) for those of us who like to maintain the illusion that we eat low-carb. Lisa had celery and so should you!

Namasté, y'all!

* Technically, the best spaghetti recipe is my Nana's. And I ain't talking yer fancy "may-ri-nay-rah" sauce or nothing like that, y'all. I'm talking spaghetti sauce like Donna Reed used to make. Your kids will love it. Here it is (is it odd to put a recipe in a footnote? Whatevah!)

3/4 lb. ground meat. You can use any kind of meat you like. Beef is the original, but I've used turkey and Boca Crumbles.

1 medium onion, chopped

1 large can (28 oz.) tomatoes, slightly chopped. I get the ones that are already chopped, but if you want to feel like you're doing something, feel free to buy the can of whole tomatoes and chop them.

1 can tomato purée, paste, soup, and sauce - any size. This may sound random, and it is. For several years, I left out the can of tomato soup, because my mom left out the comma between paste and soup, so I thought she just meant paste. And it tasted the same. I think the addition of the phrase "any size" proves that all you need is a random assortment of canned tomato products here.

1 small jar stuffed olives, chopped. In case you didn't guess, she means the ones stuffed with pimentos, nothing fancy like blue cheese or almonds. And I have no idea how big a small jar is. This recipe was written in olden times, when there were less choices, which I believe was a good thing.

1 teaspoon salt. Only the finest of salt, harvested from the Dead Sea, bien s
ûr. Kidding.

1/2 teaspoon pepper.

1/4 teaspoon sugar.

1 tablespoon Italian Seasoning.

Separate and brown meat. Add onion, cooking 'til soft. Add other ingredients. Cook several hours, stirring and scraping bottom occasionally. Low heat. Freezes well.

Those were my Mom's words in italics. The only suggestion I have is that, if you have one vegetarian in the house, you can mix all ingredients except the onions and protein-of-choice in a pot to start. Then, brown the meat and onion in one pan. Brown another onion in a separate pan and add the vegetable protein. Scoop out enough of the "other ingredients" to go with the veggie mix. Add the meat to the remaining sauce. Was that clear? I hope so, because I'm tired and have had two super-size glasses of wine. I have a very low tolerance.

**Email Me for my ever so slightly easier version of this recipe. Just put "noodle salad" in the subject line. I can't guarantee I'll send the instructions right away, but I must admit I felt very professional when I asked that you "put 'noodle salad' in the subject line." Like I get so many emails from my blog that I need to sort them. Ahem.

*** Gah! I swear I'm not a food snob, but I do think correct terms matter. For example, I cringe when someone calls Cava or Prosecco "Champagne." I don't cringe so you would notice, by the way. I'm pretty sure only my husband can see the ever-so-slight shudder, because he knows me so well. Wow. I just digressed in my own footnote. And all I'm drinking is a very average California Chardonnay. Yikes. Here is the point of this footnote: I'm referring to actual truffles - mushroom-type - not some kind of fancy chocolate. And I have no idea why I feel the need to defend a recipe that does not exist and that I wouldn't make or eat in a million years if it did exist. I have had a very long day, okay? It started with a trip to the mall to see Santa. Do you forgive me now? If you're interested in an excellent explanation of truffles, well written and peppered with subtle humor, click here. That article made me want to try to cook with truffles, even though I had dismissed them as being elitist and boring.

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