Pimento Cheese Muffins


Adapted from Lincoln Carson
Food&Wine Magazine, December 2014

Chef Lincoln Carson’s  mixes his version of pimento cheese into a muffin  batter, that gives you those cheesy, peppery flavors in every bite. The muffins can be made ahead time and you can keep them at room temperature overnight.

The original recipe also  called for Pimento cheese, to be served on side, but I opted for a homemade fruit jelly made of plums. The sweetness of the jelly and the spicy cheesy muffins were a perfect combination.

Makes 12 Muffins

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 tablespoon Harrisa(See Cook’s Note)
1/4 cup finely chopped chives
1/2 small yellow onion, minced
3 Tablespoons sliced scallions
3 Tablespoons minced parsley
1  1/2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
5 ounces shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese (1 1/2 cups)
3 ounces Monterey Jack cheese (1/2 cup)
4 ounces drained jarred pimientos, chopped (1/2 cup)
Plum, Grape or Apple Jelly, for serving

Preheat the oven to 375° F.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the paprika, salt, baking powder, baking soda and pepper. In a large bowl, whisk the buttermilk with the eggs, butter, harissa, chives, onion, scallions, parsley and Worcestershire until smooth. Whisk into the dry ingredients just until combined. Stir in the cheese and chopped pimientos.

Using a 1/3-cup measure, scoop the batter into 12 muffin cups. Bake for about 18 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool for 5 minutes, then unmold and serve with  your favorite fruit jelly.

COOK’S NOTES: The original recipe called for a Harissa Paste, the brick-red Tunisian chile paste, is available at specialty food stores and markets like Whole Foods. In this adaptation, Williams-Sonoma Harrisa Spice was used. You can also make you own harissa seasoning with this recipe provided by Whole Foods.


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Pao Doce com Quiejo (French Toast and Cheese)

There are many variations on Brazilian French Toast, many of them are fried in butter and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, like the Rabandas a version of Brazilian/Portuguese Toast that is served around the Christmas Holidays. Rabanadas are so popular in Brazil, and so traditional for Christmas, that during the holidays you can buy special bread – pan de rabanada – just for making them.

But for the record, Rabanadas are delicious any time of year. The recipe for Rabanadas migrated to Brazil from Portugal. Rabanadas are very similar to Spanish torrijas, which are typically eaten during Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Spain. These same pastries are known as torrejas in Argentina and Mexico.

Rabanadas differ from American French toast in several ways (though both are a great way to use up stale bread). Rabanadas are commonly enjoyed as a dessert or afternoon treat, rather than as a breakfast food. The bread is soaked in milk and/or wine, dipped in egg, and then deep-fried  in oil. In Spain they use olive oil for this, which is especially good. The resulting “toasts” have crispy exteriors and are soft and custard-like on the inside.

And then there are the ones filled with cheese, like this recipe found in Bahi, Brazil.

The cuisine of Bahia is diversified but for for the most part, Bahian cuisine is of African origin with some European and Native influences. The food of Bahia is one of simple pleasure and  completely unadorned. Such is the case with Pão Doce com Quiejo, which is basically a grilled cheese sandwich served with a sweet lime flavored syrup, eaten for breakfast and is simply delicious with coffee or orange juice and served for breakfast  of  brunch.

In the photograph, you can see that I topped my version of the recipe with apricots, just one little twist that made the dish extra delicious.

 Pão Doce com Queijo
(French Toast and Cheese)

Recipe Adapted from Brazil: A Cook’s Tour
by Christopher Idone, 1995.

Egg Batter
3 cups milk
1 3 inch cinnamon sticks
1/2 cup raw sugar
12  3/4 inch thick slices good quality day old white bread
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butters
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
12 thin slices of Havarti cheese

2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups water
1 2 inch cinnamon stick
1 strip of lime zest

Confectioner’s  sugar, for garnish

In a medium sauce pan, add the milk, cinnamon stick and sugar and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Reduce and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool. Set aside.

To make the lime syrup, add the sugar, water, cinnamon stick and lime zest to a medium saucepan and bring to boil,stirring with a wooden spoon until the sugar dissolves. Continue to simmer until the syrup thickens and appears to be medium amber in color. Set aside and keep warm.

Take two slices of cheese and place them between each 2 slices of bread. Trim away the crusts.

Stir the cooled milk mixture into the beaten eggs and add the milk and egg mixture to a shallow baking dish. Dip the ‘sandwiches’  into the egg mixture, thoroughly drenching the bread. place the dipped sandwiches on a wire rack over a baking sheet and set aside.

In a large cast iron skillet, heat half  the butter and vegetable oil over medium heat. Fry the ‘sandwiches’ in batches for 2 to 3 minutes on each side until golden brown. Add the butter to the skillet as needed to complete the batches. Place the toasts on warm plates and dust with confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon and serve immediately with the lime syrup.

Serves 4 to 6