It’s summer and that means often it’s too stinking hot to cook much more than the essentials. However just last weekend I came across two gems that are perfect for this time of year.
First off is a great way to use some of the fresh fruit that fills up the farmers market and some folks gardens. My garden skills are meager so far filled with herbs and veggies, but there’s always next year. In the meantime, it’s summer and time to enjoy the fruit while it’s in season! One great way is to make a sauce or jam, and usually that takes eons, plus it makes a lot. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need 80 jars of jam. Nor do I have a long enough Christmas list to disperse said jars. Then there’s the whole matter of burning a day or two just making jam. I like to cook, but… Enter the microwave jam. It takes 15 minutes to make, literally. If you start this jam and aren’t washing the bowl to clean up in 20 minutes or less, I’d like to know! You can alter it to suit your preferred level of sweetness, and use a variety of fruit or fruit combinations. It can even be made into a sauce, that goes well with just about anything, even a spoon.
Being in the south in the summer means two things: it’s hot outside and I want to avoid heating up the kitchen and making it warm inside too. So out come the cold salads and dips we southerners love to make and share. One that I never realized was a southern thing is Pimento Cheese. I grew up eating it all the time as a kid – so much so that I got burned out on it. I’m not entirely sure how that was possible, but I have memories of eating a lot of pimento cheese sandwiches in elementary school.
As a grown-up and one who is trying to watch my figure, something I knew nothing about at the ripe old age of seven, I wanted to find a way to lighten up the dish a bit. Typically the recipe at its bare basics includes shredded cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, and pimentos. As you can imagine, that has more than a few calories and isn’t exactly health food. One great ingredient that can fill the role of mayo, sour cream, cream cheese, and other such heavy hitters in some recipes is yogurt, and especially greek yogurt. So I searched out some recipes for a way to replace at least some, if not all, of the mayonnaise with yogurt. Without the mayo it would lose some of its tangy zip, so it needed a bit of flavor enhancements. Plus, I didn’t need enough to feed half the neighborhood. After a bit of research (I searched Pinterest and found at least 503982 pins, all from about 15 recipes) I found one that sounded like it would fit my requirements. So I’m sharing with you the recipe for this summertime “salad” as it’s often billed in southern restaurants.
My Microwave Jams
2 cups (10 oz) of berries
3 0z sugar (or to taste)
pinch of salt
1 oz fresh lemon juice (about half a lemon’s worth of juice)
Mix all ingredients into a large microwave-safe bowl. Make sure the bowl is very large, as it will bubble and expand as it heats, and cleaning up a microwave full of jam is no fun.
Microwave on high for 5 minutes and stir.
Microwave on high for another 5 minutes and stir.
*At this point, if you want a sauce, you’re done. Simply refrigerate and serve over ice cream, cheesecake, or any other delectable that needs a dose of berry good stuff.
If you want to make jam, check the consistency of the mixture. If it’s still quite runny and thin, microwave up to another 5 minutes, microwaving and stirring in 1 minute increments until it is somewhat thicker. It will thicken considerably as it cools.
You can choose any kind of berries, fresh or frozen. I’ve used blueberries and strawberries, both yielding good results. Next time I’ll use a variety for a mixed berry version. Frozen berries will probably require a little longer cooking time.
This will make about 1/2 cup of jam or sauce. Since the flavor is pretty concentrated, a little goes a long way, especially if you use it as a sauce. A half-cup is enough that you can make it on a whim if you have surprise guests and not end up with a ton left over. It’s also a small enough batch you don’t get sick of it before it goes bad. I simply can’t eat an entire jar of fresh preserves before they start to resemble a science experiment gone bad.
Adapted from King Arthur Flour (all hail the King of baked goodies)
Lighten Up, It’s Just Pimento Cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/3 cup plain greek yogurt
1 oz pimentos (approx half a small jar)
1/2 tsp white vinegar
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 to 1 tsp fresh ground black pepper (yes, fresh ground does make a difference here and adjust the amount to your taste)
Dash hot sauce – optional
Dump all the ingredients into a bowl and stir. Refrigerate for at least an hour and serve. Allowing this to sit overnight makes a world of difference too, so if you can keep your spoon out of it for one night, your patience will be rewarded (nod to Alton Brown.)
This will make less than 2 cups of pimento cheese, which will easily make 4 hefty sandwiches or 8 smaller ones. I also like to just serve it with a variety of crackers or you can plop some onto one of those hamburgers you’re grilling in place of a slice of cheese and prepare for something unbelievably tasty! How does this taste so good minus the typical mayo? The combo of greek yogurt and vinegar gives it the consistency and flavor similar, which then gets enhanced with the garlic & onion powder. The hot sauce pares well with the cheese, but use it sparingly.
Very slightly adapted from Bran Appetit.
So there you have it, two recipes that won’t leave you slaving for hours in the kitchen or with enough leftovers to feed a family of eight. What are you waiting for? The recipes are easy but those berries aren’t going to leap into the microwave on their own. Nor will that pimento cheese stir itself! Considering neither take much more effort than a quick stir, pressing a few buttons, and opening the refrigerator door, these are just the right choice for lazy summer days.