My life sometimes requires comfort cooking. Not comfort food, but comfort cooking, though the two are not mutually exclusive. Comfort food for me is old classics that bring back happy memories, sometimes bittersweet, or that make a down day worthwhile. Often, that means food prepared by someone other than me.
Comfort cooking is me, in the kitchen, alone. Usually silent but for the gentle whirr of the refrigerator, sometimes music in the background. My favorite kitchen tools around me. Absolute surety in what I am doing. No complicated techniques, no ingredients I am hoping to understand better. No attempt to deconstruct or decipher a dish created by someone more skilled than me. No worries about how others will perceive the end result. No concerns that it might not turn out how I’d hoped. Sometimes it’s a dish I want to share with my nearest and dearest, but I may not, just savor it comfortably, happily in splendid seclusion.
Chicken and dressing is comfort cooking for me. In fact, I rather suspect that when this is seen by others, my friends and family may call to chide that I have never made chicken and dressing for them. It’s not a dish from my childhood, in fact I may have first had a pallid version in a school cafeteria and later only in meat-and-three joints. But it has all the elements of comfort cooking and comfort food for me. Simple tasks – making stock, dicing vegetables, baking cornbread, mincing herbs. A lot of steps, but none difficult or distracting. I can stand at my post at the kitchen counter, my favorite spot in my beloved home, and work the knife or stir the stock, the fragrance of real cooking around me, and think. Just think and feel and be. I don’t watch the clock or worry about what’s next. Because what’s next is something simple and wonderful. Every step, every element made by me. I don’t even care that the sinks are full of dishes, or there is cornmeal dusted on the floor. Problems for another day.
The recipe may seem lengthy, but it can be done in gentle stages. Your home will fill with the wonderful aroma of the stock simmering, the cornbread baking, the vegetables softening and the whole cooking together. That alone is worth the effort.
Southern Cornbread Chicken and Dressing with Gravy
The Stock and Chicken
3- 4 pound chicken, giblets removed
2 celery stalks
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Place the chicken and all the stock ingredients in a 7 quart or larger pot and add 12 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, skim off any scum that rises. Reduce the heat to medium low and cover. Simmer for 4 hours. Taste the stock, it should be nice and rich. Simmer a bit longer if needed. Remove the chicken to a plate, then strain the broth through a colander lined with cheesecloth or a thin tea towel into a large bowl. Discard the vegetables. Pull the meat from the chicken and discard the skin, bones and any unpleasant bits. Refrigerate the meat and the stock for several hours (I frequently do this the day before). Skim the fat from the top of the stock. Reserve the chicken and the stock to complete the dish.
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
¼ cup vegetable oil
Preheat the oven to 400°. Place a 9” cast iron skillet in the oven to heat.
Stir the cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl until completely combined. Add the milk, egg and oil and stir just until the batter comes together and there are no visible dry ingredients. Remove the skillet from the oven using an oven mitt and carefully spread the batter in the hot pan. Return the skillet to the oven and bake for 20 minutes until the cornbread is golden and dry. Cool completely in the skillet.
¼ cup ( ½ stick) butter
2 carrots, finely diced
2 celery stalks, finely diced
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic minced
3 sprigs sage, finely minced
2 stalks rosemary, finely minced
3 sprigs thyme, finely minced
¼ cup minced parsley
the reserved chicken meat
1 cup milk
3 – 4 cups reserved chicken broth
salt and black pepper
Break the cornbread into large chunks in a large bowl.
Melt the butter over medium-high heat in a skillet. Add the diced carrot, celery and onion and cook until the vegetables are beginning to soften and the onion is translucent, but not browning. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute. Add ½ cup of the reserved chicken broth and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and the vegetables are soft. Stir in the minced herbs and cook about a minute until fragrant. Scrape the vegetables into the bowl with the cornbread. Stir to combine and begin breaking the cornbread into smaller pieces.
Chop the chicken meat into small bite-sized pieces. The tender meat will fall apart, but I think it is best when there are discernible pieces of chicken in the dressing rather than shreds. Stir the chicken into the cornbread and vegetables to distribute evenly.
Measure the milk in a 2-cup jug, then add the eggs and beat well. Stir into the dressing, then add 1 cup of chicken broth and stir until the dressing is evenly moist. Spread the dressing into a deep 8-inch square baking dish. Do not press it down, just spread it in a nice, even layer. (At this point, you can cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight).
When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350°. Pour 1 ½ cups of stock over the dressing. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake a further 20 minutes until browned on the top. If the dressing looks dry when you remove the foil, drizzle over a bit more stock.
¼ cup bacon grease
¼ cup butter
½ cup flour
2 cups chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
Melt the bacon grease and butter together in a medium saucepan. Stir in the flour until it is smooth and combined. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, for 3 – 5 minutes until the foaming subsides and you have a light toffee brown roux, like a fraternity boy’s khaki pants or a roasted peanut shell. Reduce the heat to medium low and slowly stir in the stock. Cook until the gravy is smooth. If you like a thinner gravy, add more stock to reach your preferred consistency. Season to taste with salt and black pepper (I like a lot of pepper).
When I leaf through cookbooks, I mark recipes that look interesting with little post-it flags. I frequently go back through those marked pages when I am looking for ideas, and it is always interesting when I return to books to see what caught my attention at any particular moment. Recently, I was flipping through some old community cookbooks to pass the time and I came across a marker on a recipe for cottage cheese rolls. I can’t imagine what made me mark it, as I am neither a baker of rolls or a particular fan of cottage cheese. But as it happened, I had a container of cottage cheese in the fridge I had mistakenly bought instead of ricotta, so I decided this would be a good way to use it. And it was. These rolls are simple enough for a yeast-fearing girl like myself, but the cottage cheese makes these rolls light and delightfully tangy. The dough is wet so the finished rolls are moist and fluffy.
Cottage Cheese Dinner Rolls
2 packets active dry yeast
½ cup lukewarm water
16 ounces cottage cheese
¼ cup sugar
2 Teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs, at room temperature
4 ½ – 5 cups all-purpose flour
Rinse the bowl of a stand mixer with warm water so the bowl is not cold. Pour the ½ cup lukewarm water over in the bowl and sprinkle the yeast over. Sprinkle in a little of the sugar and stir. Leave for about 5 minutes to proof.
Heat the cottage cheese in a small pan over medium-low heat just until it is lukewarm. Do not let it scorch or bubble. Add the cottage cheese to the yeast in the bowl, then add the rest of the sugar, the salt, baking soda and the eggs and 1 cup of flour and beat with the paddle attachment until combined. Add about 3 – 3 ½ cups of flour, a little at a time, just until you have a shaggy, wet dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Scrape the dough into a well – greased bowl, turn it over so the top is greased as well then cover and leave to rise in a warm place until it has doubled in volume.*
Remove the risen dough to a surface dusted with about ½ cup of flour. Knead the dough a few times in the flour to remove some of the stickiness. Divide the dough into 24 equal pieces with a floured knife or bench scraper. Lightly flour you hands and roll each portion into a ball. Place the balls close together in two greased 9-inch round pans. Cover the pans loosely with a towel and leave to rise for 30 – 40 minutes until doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Bake the rolls for 20 minutes until firm and golden on the top. Remove from the oven and cover loosely with a tea towel until ready to serve. I like to serve these warm from the oven with butter to spread inside, but you can brush the tops of the cooled rolls with melted butter, loosely cover with foil and reheat in a low oven for a few minutes, just to warm through.
Makes 24 rolls
*Here’s a tip I learned from a friend. The microwave is a warm, draft free place great for rising dough. Just leave a post-it not so no one turns it on. Even better, create a moist, warm dough habitat by putting a measuring cup with ½ cup of water in the microwave before the bowl of dough and zap for 2 minutes, until the inside is nice and steamy. Quickly stick the dough bowl in and shut the door.
An easy weeknight treat is a great recipe to have on hand. I love this version of a a classic pizza casserole, updated my way with no jarred sauces or chemical laden boxed mixes. This is a real family pleaser, better than greasy delivery and easier than making or rolling out dough. A mix of beef and Italian sausage with fun bites of pepperoni up the pizza factor.
If your dinners will stand it, you can sauté some shredded carrots, bell peppers and onion with the meat to add a little touch of vegetables. Or sprinkle a little red pepper in with the filling if you like spice. You could even use ground turkey and turkey or chicken Italian sausage.
Upside Down Pizza Pie Bake
½ pound ground beef
½ pound bulk Italian sausage (or links with casing removed)
2 cloves minced garlic
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
½ cup diced pepperoni*
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 Tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup shredded parmesan cheese
Break the beef and sausage into a large skillet and cook until browned and no longer pink, breaking up into small pieces as you go. When the meat is cooked, stir in the garlic and the oregano and stir to combine. Stir in the pepperoni. Add the tomato sauce and 2 Tablespoons flour and stir until thoroughly combined and thick.
Spread the meat mixture a well-greased 8-inch square baking dish. Leave to cool slightly, then spread the mozzarella cheese evenly over the top.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Beat the eggs, milk and olive oil together in a small bowl, then add the flour and whisk until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the batter over the top of the meat and cheese and spread to cover the top completely. Sprinkle over the parmesan cheese.
Bake the pizza for 35 – 40 minutes until puffy, golden and the cheese has melted. Let the dish sit for 5 minutes. Loosen the sides of the pizza with a thin knife, then invert it onto a platter. Cut into squares and serve immediately.
* The last time I made this, I found some “mini” pepperoni rounds at the grocery. They are perfect for this recipe, and cute to boot!
Making a fresh loaf of lovely, real homemade bread gives me more of a sense of accomplishment than just about anything. I am not an expert at it, you see, and I am still a little wary around yeast. So I look for simple recipes and adapt them as best I can for my skill level. Because I love that moment when you see that your dough has risen to a beautiful, soft round and then the smell of baking bread coming from your very own oven. And my love for buttermilk is well known, so creating a simple bread that makes the most of buttermilk tang was a natural step for me and this has become my go-to loaf.
This bread is delicious with any kind of jam or jelly and makes a very nice sandwich. But for out January soup month extravaganza purposes, it’s amazing with a big bowl of soup. Spread with a nice butter, toasted if you like.
1 packet (.25 ounces) rapid rise yeast
¼ cup warm water (about 110°)
¾ cup whole buttermilk
¼ cup unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon salt
2 ½ – ¾ cups bread flour
Sprinkle the yeast into the bowl of a stand mixer and add the warm water. Give it a little swirl to distribute then leave it to proof until bubbly and creamy, 5 – 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, put the buttermilk and the butter, cut into chunks, in a small saucepan and heat over medium low, just until the butter melts. Let the mixture cool slightly – you want it just warm enough to touch.
Add the honey, salt and warm buttermilk mixture to the yeast in the bowl, then add 1 ½ cups of flour. Use the dough hook on medium speed to blend the ingredients together until you have a wet, shaggy dough. Scrape the sides of the bowl and the hook if necessary. Add more flour, ¼ cup at a time, beating at medium until you have a mass of smooth dough (you may not use all the flour). Continue beating until the dough is smooth and elastic and comes together in a nice ball. All this should be about 5 minutes on the mixer.
Gather the dough into a ball and place it in a large, buttered bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 ½ hours. Here’s a tip I learned from my bread-baking friend Holly. The microwave is a warm, draft free place great for rising dough. Just leave a post-it not so no one turns it on. Even better, create a moist, warm dough habitat by putting a measuring cup with ½ cup of water in the microwave before the bowl of dough and zap for 2 minutes, until the inside is nice and steamy. Quickly stick the dough bowl in and shut the door.
Punch down the risen dough and form it into a loaf. Transfer it to a buttered 8 by 4 inch loaf pan and leave to rise until it fills the pan, about another hour.
Heat the oven to 375°. Bake the bread until it is nicely browned, about 30 – 35 minutes. Turn the bread out into your oven-mitted hand and tap on the bottom; it should give a nice hollow thud. Remove it from the pan and wrap in it in a clean tea towel to cool completely.
Makes 1 loaf
I adapted this recipe from an old community cookbook, modernizing and stream lining it a bit, but I can’t imagine its origins. Maybe Scandinavian? Or a take on a French quatre epices? A Byzantine tradition? I don’t know, but the unusual spice combination lightly sweetened with honey really sets this bread apart. I want there to be some story that this is symbolic of the Three Kings riding in from the East, with the whiff of exotic spices. Though that is just my fanciful imagining, there is something mysterious about the flavor of this alluring loaf.
I love this bread warm with honey butter, on a cold morning, with a cup of warm tea or hot chocolate. But it is also rather intriguing beside a bowl of creamy soup. The honey butter, of course, has more uses than I can list here.
Holiday Spice Bread with Whipped Honey Butter
¼ cup warm water
1 packet active dry yeast
1 cup milk
8 Tablespoons (1 stick) Tablespoons butter, divided
½ cup honey
1 Tablespoon ground coriander
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
4 – 4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
Place the warm water in the large bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle over the yeast. Leave to become foamy and bubbling.
Pour the milk into a 2 cup glass measuring jug or small bowl and add 6 Tablespoons of the butter cut into pieces. Microwave in 20 second bursts until the milk is just warm and the butter is melted. Stir well.
When the yeast has foamed up, add the honey, milk mixture spices and salt to the yeast in the bowl. Beat with the paddle attachment on low speed until everything is just blended. Add the flour slowly, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. When you have added 2 cups of flour, beat in the egg, then continue adding the flour until you have a shaggy ball of dough, most of which clings to the paddle in a ball, but all of which you can easily scoop into a ball.
Butter a large bowl well, scoop the dough into a ball and transfer to the bowl. Turn the dough ball around in the bowl so it is buttered on all sides. Cover the bowl with a towel and place in a warm place to rise for about an hour, until doubled in size.
Punch down the dough and knead it 3 – 4 times, then place in a well butttered 9-inch round casserole dish. Cover and let rise for another hour.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Bake for 1 hour or until golden, firm and it makes a hollow sound when you knock on it. You can tent the loaf lightly with foil if it starts gets darker than you prefer.
Melt the remaining butter (after using some to grease the bowl and the casserole) and brush over the top of the hot bread. Cover with a tea towel and cook in the pan (covering the bread keeps the crust soft).
Makes on 9 – inch loaf
Whipped Honey Butter
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
¼ cup honey
¼ teaspoon vanilla bean paste, vanilla seeds or vanilla extract
Beat the butter in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment to smooth it out. Add the honey and vanilla and beat on high speed, scraping the sides of the bowl a couple of times, until the butter is light and fluffy. Scoop into a bowl, cover and refrigerate.
Makes ½ cup
My mother used to make a dish she called Hot Browns on cold nights when we were kids. I loved hot brown nights. I didn’t know that Hot Browns were a real dish, something with a history and many fanatical supporters and traditionalists, I just thought it was something yummy my mom invented, specific to our house. I have to admit that my mom’s version was not traditional. It involved sliced turkey, ham and cheddar cheese soup from a can. My mom always made them in these white porcelain dishes that I think of today as Hot Brown dishes.
As an adult, who cooks the vast majority of the Thanksgiving meal, I have asked my mom to make Hot Browns with the leftover turkey. So it occurred to me some years ago that I should develop a recipe for this favorite treat. In researching the idea, I discovered how serious the discussion of the Kentucky Hot Brown is, with fervent camps for versions with sliced tomatoes, and those without. I even had a Hot Brown in Kentucky that had potato chips piled on top. But I didn’t necessarily want to share the classic recipe, but to re-create the memory from my childhood. So I call these Tennessee Hot Browns to stay out of the battle. I like lots of cheddar cheese, and no tomatoes, but crispy bacon is always a good thing. The sandwiches are hot and cheesy and comforting and perfect for a long weekend.
Tennessee Hot Browns
½ cup butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
6 Tablespoons grated cheddar cheese (plus a little for sprinkling)
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
8 slices white bread
About 2 pounds sliced roasted turkey
8 strips bacon, cooked until crispy
Melt the butter in a small saucepan, then whisk in the flour until smooth and pale in color. Whisk in the milk, cooking until the sauce is thick. Whisk in the cheese and nutmeg and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Preheat the broiler of your oven. Lay a slice of bread in the bottom of each of four oven proof dishes. If you don’t have individual dishes, lay the bread in a 13 by 9 inch dish. Layer the turkey on top of the bread, then pour the sauce over the top. Sprinkle some grated cheese over the top of each sandwich. Broil the hot browns until the tops are speckled brown and bubbling, about 5 minutes – but watch carefully. Lay the bacon slices on top of the hot browns and serve immediately.
Makes 4 sandwiches
Here’s a fun fall snack that features beautiful green apples and nutty gruyere cheese. A great spread on hearty wheat crackers, this also makes a wonderful sandwich filling that’s particularly suited to rye bread. In fact, those little square slices of party rye are great for an appetizer or little tea sandwiches.
This is a basic blueprint that is fabulous on its on, but feel free to stir in some pecan or walnut pieces, or some dried cranberries.
Apple Gruyere Spread
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
4 ounces of gruyere cheese, grated
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon chopped fresh chives
2 Granny Smith apples, unpeeled
Beat the cream cheese until it is soft, then fold in the gruyere, mustard and chives and mix until combined. Grate the apples with their peels and immediately add to the cream cheese mixture and fold into to completely combined. Make sure the apples are covered by the cream cheese to prevent browning. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors blend. The spread will keep a few days in the fridge.
Makes about 1 ½ cups
My house is slowly being taken over by my collection of cookbooks. There are parts of the house that are not open to the public because of it. And in one of those piles of community cookbooks, I dug out this little piece of Southern ephemera: Some Favorite Southern Recipes of the Duchess of Windsor. It’s been awhile since I looked through it, but I immediately sat down to peruse it again. Published in 1942 (with proceeds going to British war relief), it is much like any Southern community cookbook – no really innovative or unique recipes. Just good down home favorites like fried chicken and spoon bread.
Wallis Warfield (later Simpson, later still Duchess of Windsor) was born in Maryland and took her Southern upbringing very seriously. She was a housewife before she moved into the realms of London society and during her childhood, her mother ran a boardinghouse. So to be fair, I bet she really did know how to cook, and maybe got nostalgic for it surrounded by servants and a husband who was a famously picky eater.
At any rate, I settled on Wallis’ recipe for Feather Molasses Cake. I’ve streamlined it a bit for modern cooks and kitchens, and used sorghum, my favorite Southern sweetener. This is wonderful warm with thick spread of butter for breakfast, but I can easily see the Duchess enjoying this with a good English afternoon tea.
Wallis’s Southern Sorghum Bread
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/3 cup butter, softened
½ cup sugar
½ cup sorghum
1 cup (1 8- ounce container) sour cream
Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a large loaf tin.
Combine the flour, baking soda, salt and ginger in a small bowl. Beat the butter in an electric mixer until creamy, then slowly add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the sorghum. Add the flour mixture alternately with the sour cream in three additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and ending with sour cream. When the batter is smooth and combined, scrape it into the prepared loaf pan.
Bake for 35 – 45 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan, then turn out on a wire rack to finish cooling.
Makes one loaf
When I think of really old Southern recipes, spoon bread always comes to mind. I really have no particular knowledge of its history, its just that first time I ever had it was on a school trip to Colonial Williamsburg where it is served at Christiana Campbell’s Tavern by costumed and in-character servers. I assume everything else at Williamsburg is so accurate, that this must be a colonial recipe. I love Williamsburg, and no small part of that is the food, and I have enjoyed the spoon bread on many subsequent visits.
Working on the theory that bacon makes everything better, I added a little bit to my classic spoon bread recipe. The creamy, light cornbread-soufflé hybrid is perfect with the addition of a little crunch. But it occurred to me that spoon bread could be taken out of the realm of simple side with the addition of a little saucy extra. This bacon-onion-tomato mixture is one I have been whipping up with leftover bits and pieces for years, but finally decided was worthy of a recipe.
And no, I do not think this is too much bacon. It is actually very well balanced. But of course, these two dishes stand alone wonderfully well. The spoon bread as a side with stick ribs or grilled foods or as part of a breakfast spread. And the jam, which makes more than you need for the spoon bread, is wonderful on burgers or a grilled cheese sandwich.
Bacon Spoon Bread
6 strips of bacon
1 ½ cups cornmeal
3 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1½ cup water
2 Tablespoons butter
1 ½ cups milk
1 Tablespoon baking powder
Cut the bacon into small pieces and cook in a skillet until crispy. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Reserve 1 Tablespoon bacon grease
Mix the cornmeal, sugar and salt together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Bring the water, butter and 1 Tablespoon bacon grease to a boil in a pan. Turn on the mixer and pour the boiling water into the cornmeal. Beat until thick and stiff. Let cool for about 10 minutes.
Measure the milk in a 4-cup jug, then crack in the eggs and beat well. Beat the milk and eggs into the cornmeal mush, then fold in add the bacon pieces and beat until combined. Beat in the baking powder until well blended, then scrape the spoon bread into the baking dish. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes, until the center is set. Serve immediately with spoonfuls of Tomato Bacon Jam.
Serves 4 – 6
6 strips of bacon
2 pounds tomatoes, chopped
1 small white onion, finely chopped
½ cup white sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
3 Tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Cut the bacon into small pieces and cook in a skillet until crispy. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.
In a large, high-sided saucepan, bring the chopped tomatoes, onion, sugars, vinegar, salt and pepper to a boil. Boil for about 10 minutes, until the tomatoes are soft and breaking down. Use a spatula or the back of the spoon to crush the tomatoes, though I like to give the jam a little whirl with an immersion blender at this point to create a rough puree. Reduce the heat to medium-low, stir in the bacon pieces and simmer until the jam is thick and spreadable, about an hour or more. Stir occasionally to prevent scorching on the bottom of the pan. As the jam thickens, watch it more closely and stir often to prevent burning. The jam will be done when you pull a spatula through to expose the bottom of the pan and the two sides don’t run together.
Scoop the jam into jars or a bowl and leave to cool. The jam will keep covered in the fridge for more than a week.
Makes 1 pint
My love of field peas has been declared far and wide. I generally grab bags from the farmers market, put some up in the freezer for a mid-winter summer meal. Then I throw some in my field pea pot with whatever pork product I have around. Salt pork, bacon, country ham, fatback. My summer Saturday dinner. But not so with lady peas. Lady peas are delicate and dainty – I am assuming that’s where the name comes from, and too much salty, strong pork overwhelms them. So I like to treat them with a gentler hand. Bright and sharp celery, a light addition of garlic and classic onion and bay flavor the peas, and butter enriches the whole dish, adding a lovely glaze. This version is simmered uncovered so the liquid reduces to burnish the peas. There is just enough potlikker to soak up with some tangy buttermilk hoecakes.
Butter Braised Lady Peas
1 pound of fresh lady peas
2 cloves garlic
1 stalk celery, cut into chunks, with the leaves
1 small onion
2 bay leaves
¼ cup ( ½ stick) of butter
Place the lady peas in a bowl and cover with cold water. Leave to settle for 30 minutes, then scoop off any floaters. Pick out any bruised peas, then lift the peas out of the water into a saucepan using your hands. Don’t pour through a strainer, the dirt only gets on the peas again.
Nestle the garlic, celery onion and bay leaves in the peas and add fresh water to just barely cover. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam or scum that rises. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the butter. Simmer the peas, uncovered, for 1 hour until soft and tender but still holding their shape. Remove the celery, onion, garlic and bay leaves and add salt to taste. Serve warm.
Serves 4 – 6
Buttermilk Hoe Cakes
½ cup soft wheat flour, like White Lily
½ cup stone ground cornmeal
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ cup buttermilk
3 Tablespoons water
2 Tablespoons melted butter
oil for frying
Stir the flour, cornmeal salt and baking powder together with a fork. Measure the buttermilk and water together, then crack in the egg and stir in the melted butter. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until thoroughly mixed. The batter should be loose but thick. Add a little more buttermilk if needed.
Heat a couple of Tablespoons of oil in a deep skillet (you can add a little butter or bacon grease if you’d like). Drop about 3 Tablespoons of batter for each hoecake into the oil. Cook about 3 minutes per side, then flip and cook the other side until brown and cooked through.
Remove the hoecakes to paper towels to drain.
Makes about 8 hoecakes