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
Panzanella a genius example of creative leftover usage. It’s a classic Tuscan salad of stale bread and over-ripe tomatoes, tossed with basil and moistened with olive oil and vinegar. But the beautiful colors and bright fresh flavors make it elegantly simple, the kind of food you imagine yourself throwing together if you lived in a stone house in the Italian hills.
This is my riff on a panzanella, perfect for a quick summer supper. It was born of leftovers too. Bits of the delicious bread bought at the farmers that I didn’t eat immediately, those last few baby tomatoes, a handful of basil from my patch. The creamy mozzarella takes it close to a classic caprese salad, and adds that nice gooey richness that makes it a meal. It takes minutes to prepare but makes a delicious, elegant dish. A nice drizzle of quality olive oil is the perfect finishing touch – you could even drizzle a little extra balsamic on if you fancy. I think the simple version highlights the bursting tomatoes and fresh herbs, but feel free to add some garlic or diced onion.
8 ounces soft Italian bread
6 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes
1 8-ounce ball mozzarella cheese
7 – 8 large basil leaves
1 cup milk
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease and 8 by 8 inch square baking dish. Cut or tear the bread into bite size chinks and scatter in the baking dish. Nestle the tomatoes between the cubes, spreading them out as much as possible. Cut the mozzarella into pieces, roughly the size of the tomatoes, and nestle them around the dish too. Tear the basil into pieces, or nicely cut it into ribbons and tuck them around the whole affair as well.
Measure the milk in a 2 cup jug, then add the eggs. Beat well, add the balsamic vinegar, salt and generous grinds of black pepper. Beat until it is all thoroughly combined. Pour the milk mixture over the bread, doing your best to distribute it evenly. Press down on the bread cubes with a knife or a spatula just to get them moist.
Cover the dish with foil and bake for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and bake 15 minutes more, until the top is golden brown, the cheese is melted and the tomatoes are beginning to burst.
Serve hot, drizzled with olive oil.
Here is a classic old recipe I have had to reconstruct from memory. I can’t remember where I first had it, but it definitely stuck with me. It’s the kind of dish that you ask the recipe for as soon as you eat it and the cook rattles it off from memory, but you never manage to actually jot down what she says. I searched online, but most of the recipes I found for onion shortcake used packaged corn muffin mix, which is not what I remember at all.
This is what I remember – a soft biscuit base with a creamy onion custard on top. I added thyme, because I think it goes so wonderfully well with sweet onions. And when Vidalia onions are in season, I use them in every way I can. Serve wedges of this with a saucy barbecue meal, I particularly like it with a sticky, burnished chicken.
Vidalia Onion Shortcake
2 Tablespoons oil
1 large Vidalia onion (or other sweet onion)
1 bunch fresh thyme leaves
2 cups all- purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons cold butter, cut into cubes
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
½ cup sour cream
Thinly slice the onions into half-moons. I like to do this quickly on a mandolin. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and the leaves from 3 -4 thyme sprigs and salt. Stir to coat the onions. Sauté, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and caramel brown, being careful not to scorch the onions. Leave the onions to cool slightly.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a 9 – inch pie pan or similar baking dish.
Place the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and the leaves from 2 – 3 thyme sprigs in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to combine. Drop in the butter cubes and pulse several times until the mixture is grainy. Pinch a bit of the flour between your fingers and it should stick together. Dump in the buttermilk, then process until everything is combined. It will be a wet dough that won’t come together in a ball.
Scrape the batter into the prepared dish and press it out to fill the dish. Wet your fingers to help keep the dough from sticking to them.
In a small bowl, mix the sour cream and egg. Add the leaves from a few more sprigs of thyme and a few good grindings of pepper. Stir on the onions, making sure the mixture is evenly combined. Pour the mixture over the base in the baking dish and spread it out to cover the top.
Bake the shortcake for 25 – 30 minutes, until the edges are browned and pull slightly away from the edges of the pan. The sour cream filling should be set and browned. Serve the shortcake warm or a room temperature.
A basket of nice, sweet muffins is a wonderful addition to a breakfast or brunch table, and these almond-y bites are made really moist with the addition of almond paste. A bite-sized version of my Simple Moist Almond Cake. Nice tart cherry is a great pairing with almond – if you use big Bings, you might want to snip them into smaller pieces.
Almond Amaretto Cherry Muffins
¼ cup amaretto
4 ounces dried cherries
7 ounces almond paste
½ cup sugar
6 Tablespoons butter, melted
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
Place the cherries in a small bowl and pour over the amaretto. Leave the cherries to soften, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a 12 cup muffin tin with cooking spray.
Beat the almond paste, sugar, melted butter and almond extract together with a mixer until well-blended, but with a few small lumps remaining. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until completely combined.
Stir the flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bow, then beat into the almond mixture. Beat just until the mixture is combined and there is no flour visible. Stir in the cherries with the soaking liquid until evenly distributed.
Divide the batter between the prepared muffin tins and bake until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 15 – 18 minutes.
Makes 12 muffins
My love for biscuits is well documented (13 recipes on the site at last count), and my love of country ham equally evident when you peruse my recipes. I have always enjoyed a warm, buttery biscuit with a slice of salty country ham tucked inside, so the next logical step seemed to be incorporating the ham directly into the biscuit. And these are heavenly morsels of Southern flavor.
Cut into small biscuits, these little rounds make a wonderful brunch bite or party snack with their cheesy filling. But they are just good biscuits, so use them how you will. Cut them large and serve with butter or gravy for breakfast, or spread a little mustard instead of butter before you melt the cheese.
I buy already ground country ham, sometimes online and sometimes I find it at local markets. If you can’t find it, grind some country ham slices in a food processor until you have a crumbly mixture, but not a paste. To add the delicious, melty center, I use thick cut sandwich slices of sharp cheddar cheese for ease, but feel free to cut slices from a block.
Country Ham Biscuit Bites with Cheese
2 ½ cups soft wheat flour (such as White Lily)
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into small cubes
4 ounces ground country ham
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 cup buttermilk
14 thick slices cheddar cheese
softened butter for spreading
Preheat the oven to 400°. Spray 2 9-inch cake pans with cooking spray.
Mix the flour, baking powder and salt together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Shuffle the butter cubes into the flour, then crumble in the country ham. Beat on low speed until the butter and ham and mixed in and the mixture looks damp and crumbly. Add the mustard, and with the beater moving, slowly pour in the buttermilk. Beat just until the dough comes together. Knead the dough a few times in the bowl to get all the flour worked in. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to a round ½-inch thick. Press a 2-inch biscuit cutter into the dough and lift out. Do not twist or the biscuits won’t be as tall. Place the biscuits tightly together in the prepared pans.
Bake the biscuits for 10 – 12 minutes or just until firm to the touch. Remove to a wire rack until they are cool enough to handle. Lower the oven temperature to 325°. When the baking pans have cooled, spray them with cooking spray again.
Use the biscuit cutter to cut rounds of cheese the same size as you biscuits. When the biscuits are cool enough to handle, carefully slice them open and spread both sides with a little soft butter. Place a piece of cheese in the center, close the biscuit up and tuck back into the baking pans. Spread a little butter on the top of the biscuits. Cover the pans tightly with foil and place back in the oven for about 5 – 8 minutes, just until the cheese is melted.
Makes about 2 dozen 2- inch biscuits
To make these biscuits ahead, here are a couple of options. Freeze the dough rounds on a waxed paper lined baking sheet until hard, then transfer to ziptop bags. Bake from frozen, increasing the cooking time slightly. You can also bake the biscuits, add the butter and cheese, cover and refrigerate for several hours before the final baking, again increasing the cooking time slightly.
I doubt this a traditional Irish dish at all, but when I was whipping up a pot of Irish Stew, I wanted a nice, cheese-y accompaniment. Welsh Rarebit is the great British snack of a beer-laced cheese sauce on crusty bread, so I figured I give it a go with Guinness. These are perfect with the stew, but also make a nice treat on their own as a snack, or a light lunch or supper beside a big salad. And they’d be pretty good with Corned Beef and Cabbage Cooked in Beer.
½ cup Guinness or other stout beer
2 Tablespoon butter
2 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
½ cup milk
¼ teaspoon English mustard powder
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
14 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese (preferably Irish), grated
8 slices crusty white bread
flaky sea salt, like Maldon
Pour the Guinness into your measuring jug and let the foam settle. You want ½ cup minus the foam.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, then whisk in the flour until you have a smooth paste and it is pale in color. Whisk in the milk and Guinness and stir until thick, smooth and creamy. Stir in the mustard powder and Worcestershire. Add the cheese a handful at a time, stirring to melt completely after each addition. When all the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth, set it aside to cool down and firm up a little.
Preheat the broiler to high. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Slice the bread into thick slices. Use a spoon to spread a thick layer of cheese sauce on each slice. Sprinkle the tops with salt and place on the baking sheet. Broil the rarebits until the cheese is bubbling and browned in spots, about 6 minutes. Watch very carefully.
Let the rarebits sit a few minutes, then slice each piece in half and serve.