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
Football and tailgating season have arrived, so I offer this little tidbit. Country Ham Paté has the down-home goodness of salty, savory country ham, with a slightly sophisticated twist. It is easily portable and imminently useful. Try it simple spread on crackers or corn chips, or sandwiched between the halves of little cocktail-sized buttermilk biscuits. Its great on a snacking spread with pimento cheese or other dips.
I buy ground country ham online, but you can as easily take country ham biscuit slices and pulse them to a thick paste in the food processor. I love this served out of old canning jars, but molding it into a lovely shape adds a dash of style.
Country Ham Paté
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
A few grinds of black pepper
5 green onions, white and light green parts
1 pound ground country ham
With a hand mixer, beat together the cream cheese, mayonnaise, mustard, paprika and pepper until smooth. Finely chop the green onions and stir them into the mix. Crumble the ground ham in and use a sturdy wooden spoon to beat everything together until smooth and well combined.
Scrape the pate into a bowl and refrigerate for at least 4 hours to let the flavors meld. Well-covered, this will keep for up to a week. If you want to get a little fancy, line a bowl with plastic wrap, smoothing it out as much as possible, and scoop the pate into it. Press down on the pate and smooth it out so there are not air pockets. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. Before serving, unwrap the top, invert the pate onto a platter and remove the plastic wrap.
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
Simple ingredients of the best quality produce the most amazing results. It always holds true. Fresh blueberries straight from the farmers’ market, real vanilla and creamy buttermilk, the best you can find. I mulled over ways to dress up the cake, make it more exotic or unusual, but in the end, I decided there is really no justification for that, because it is wonderful in its purest form. The crumb is tender, the blueberries juicy and the top a craggy, sugary delight.
Demerara sugar is a coarse, granular light brown sugar that makes a crunchy crust on top of the moist cake. If you can’t find it, sprinkle one Tablespoon of plain white sugar on top. This works as a special breakfast treat, or a dessert with a scoop of ice cream.
Blueberry Vanilla Cake
¾ cups butter (1 ½ sticks), softened
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup buttermilk
12 ounces fresh blueberries, rinsed and dried
2 Tablespoons demerara or coarse sugar
Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease an 8 by 8 inch baking pan.
Beat the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer until smooth and creamy. Add the sugar and the seeds scraped from the vanilla bean. Beat until thoroughly combined and light in color. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Beat in the flour, baking soda and salt, alternating with the buttermilk, in three additions, ending with the buttermilk. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat until smooth. Fold in the blueberries with a spatula. Do not beat with the mixer or the berries will break up.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, wet your fingers and spread the batter out evenly. Sprinkle the top of the cake evenly with the demerara sugar.
Bake for 45 – 50 minutes until the cake is golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cover the pan loosely with foil for the last ten minutes of cooking.
Serves 6 – 8
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.
Peaches and blueberries are the perfect example of the old saw “what grows together, goes together.” Fuzzy, rose-tinted peaches and dusky hued blueberries make their appearance at the farmers market at the same time, trumpeting the height of summer fruit season.
I love fruit cobbler, the traditional peach being a favorite, and I have basically used the same recipe since I came across it in a Junior League cookbook as a child; over the years substituting fresh fruit for canned and adding spices and flavorings. But in my years of reading community cookbooks, this boiled water idea has popped up occasionally, and my curiosity finally got the better of me. The method for making this is similar to that used for making those once-trendy and always delicious chocolate or lemon “self-saucing” cakes, the kind with the gooey bottom and the cakey top. And that’s what this is, a sweet, juicy sauce with a crispy-topped cake floating on top. I was reluctant at first to call this a cobbler, but when serving it to guests, they all agreed that that was the best description, adding “it’s just a really saucy cobbler.” I like that. And all that extra bubbling juice and fruit makes the perfect with a scoop of ice cream.
Saucy Peach Blueberry Cobbler
4 medium sized peaches
2 cups blueberries
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
¼ cup butter, softened
1 ¼ cup sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt, divided
¾ cup milk
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup boiling water
Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease an 8 by 8 inch baking dish.
Slice the peaches and place in the baking dish. Add the blueberries and lemon juice and toss lightly to coat.
Cream the butter and ¾ cups of sugar together in the bowl of a mixer until light and fluffy. Add the flour, baking powder and ¼ teaspoon of salt alternately with the milk until the batter is well combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat in the vanilla. Spoon the batter over the fruit and spread to cover it evenly. A few berries poking through is fine.
Put more than a cup of water on to boil while you finish the dish. Do not boil one cup of water, as some will evaporate. You want one full cup of boiling water. Mix the remaining ½ cup sugar, cornstarch and ¼ teaspoon salt together in a small bowl. Use a whisk or a fork, making sure the cornstarch is thoroughly combined. Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the batter in the pan. Pour 1 cup of boiling water over the top and immediately place in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes, until the top is golden and firm and a tester comes out clean, and the juices are bubbling around the edges. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.
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.
The first spring weekend of farmers market season is exciting. I am ready for all that fresh produce with a new treat arriving each week and little surprises on every visit. I know that I am closer to juicy strawberries, my first tomato in months, bright, sweet corn and so many things. I know it is all about to start. But in reality, that first Saturday is a little sparse. The greens lingering from winter, a few spring flowers, but not the spectacular array soon to come. S on the first market day this year, I came away mostly with baked goods and a restock on pastured meat. Not a huge haul, but still a fun trip.
As I unpacked my oilcloth market bag at home, I took stock of my purchases and realized I had leeks, bacon, eggs and goat cheese. Flamiche! In the fridge I had some local milk and cream, and with a quickly made piecrust, I was ready for a very elegant, locally sourced spring lunch.
This quiche-like tart is a traditional Belgian dish, with the old-world flavors of smoky bacon, salty goat cheese and jammy leeks. When I buy leeks fresh from the farmer, there are sometimes a few very thin pencil leeks in the bunch. I like to press them into the top of the filling before baking, because it is such a lovely presentation. You can slice right through them or pull them off before serving. I like the look of my square tart pan, but round is beautiful too.
Belgian Leek, Goat Cheese and Bacon Tart
If you buy your leeks from a farmers market and they are thinner than grocery store varieties, you will need more.
1 pie crust for a 9-inch pie
2 large leeks or 3 medium (4 cups sliced), white and pale green parts only
¼ cup butter
½ cup water
8 strips of bacon
5 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled
½ cup whole milk
½ cup heavy cream
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Fit the prepared crust into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.
Slice the white and pale green part of the leeks in half lengthwise, then slice each half into thin half circles. Place the leeks in a large bowl of cold water and swirl around with your hands, shuffling to separate the layers of leek. Leave for a few minutes to let any dirt settle to the bottom of a bowl. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium low heat. Scoop the leeks out of the water and shake to drain somewhat (do not pour the leeks and water into a strainer, the dirt will just fall back on the leeks) then add to the melted butter. Stir to coat and then stir in the ½ cup water. Cook for a few minutes, until the leeks begin to reduce in bulk, then cover, lower the heat to low and cook for 20- 25 minutes until the leeks are soft and semi-translucent. Stir occasionally during cooking and add a drop or two more water as needed. Do not let the leeks brown. When the leeks are soft and pale, uncover and cook a few minutes more until any liquid has evaporated. Set aside to cool. (The leeks can be made up to two days ahead and refrigerated, tightly covered, until ready to use).
While the leeks are cooling, cook the bacon until crisp and drain on paper towels. Preheat the oven to 400°. Spread the cooled leeks evenly over the bottom of the prepared tart crust, smoothing the top. Crumble the goat cheese and sprinkle over the top of the leeks. Chop the bacon into small pieces and sprinkle in the tart. In a small bowl or 4 cup measuring jug, whisk together the milk, cream, whole egg, yolk and pepper. Pour this custard over the filling in the tart. Carefully transfer to the oven and bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until the center is set and the top is golden brown.
Serve warm or at room temperature.