Southern Snacks Cookbook

The Southern Sympathy Cookbook

I'm P.C., and I have studied food and cooking around the world, mostly by eating, but also through serious study. Coursework at Le Cordon Bleu London and intensive courses in Morocco, Thailand and France have broadened my culinary skill and palate. But my kitchen of choice is at home, cooking like most people, experimenting with unique but practical ideas.

I live, mostly in my kitchen, in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

Fresh Pear Vinaigrette

My favorite simple fall salad dressing was created quite unexpectedly.  I was given a fancy bottle of white balsamic vinegar infused with pear.  That’s what it said on the label, but I never tasted any hint of pear.  It sat in my pantry for a while, unused.  But at some point, I was asked to bring a salad to a dinner, and had purchased a pear to cut up on top.  My forward planning got the better of me and the pear ripened so much waiting for its star turn that it was too soft to cut into nice chunks.  Scanning the pantry to try and rescue my salad, I saw that fancy vinegar and thought maybe I could use it and the soft pear to dress the salad.  This vinaigrette was the result, and it has become a firm family favorite.

This is particularly good on dark leafy spinach, and I love to add to the fall flavor by tossing the salad with dried cranberries and toasted walnuts, a little blue cheese, and if you have fresh pear, some nice juicy chunks.  And this is a great way to use up that last pitiful, lonely soft pear left in the fruit bowl.  Oh, and if you happen to have a bottle of pear-infused white balsamic, feel free to use it.

Fresh Pear Vinaigrette

Walnut oil adds a nice depth and nuttiness, but if you don’t have any, use all olive oil.

1 large ripe pear, peeled and cored

Juice of one small lemon

1 Tablespoon sugar

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

¼ cup white wine or white balsamic vinegar

¼ cup walnut oil

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Cut the pear into chunks and drop in the carafe of a blender with the lemon juice.  Purée, then add the sugar, salt and pepper.  Add the vinegar and blend well.  With the blender running, drizzle in the oils until you have a nice, thick emulsified dressing.

The dressing can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 8 hours.  Shake well before using.

Makes ¾ cups

Smoky Bacon Pimento Cheese

I’ll make an admission here that may damage my Southern girl credentials.  I am not a football fan. I went to lots of high school football games, but football was the least interesting part of the event.  And I didn’t go to a college with a big football program.   I am, however, a fan of parties, and if football happens to be going on in the background, that’s fine with me.  I do understand how important football is for many people, and I admire the fine art of tailgating. I think any lack of football love on my part is more than made up by my love of Southern cooking.  So I’d like to make a contribution to the cause.

This is a bolder version of pimento cheese.  And what says Southern tailgate more than that?  The smoky richness of this spread is a great complement to dinner off the grill or a barbecue feast.  In fact, try melting some on hamburger or drop a dollop onto a pulled shoulder sandwich.  I’ve got your interest now, right?  But it is fabulous on crackers, even bacon crackers if you want to go all out, or just between two slices of bread.

Most cheese labeled smoked that you find in the dairy case at the grocery is actually “smoke flavored.”  I do not like this stuff at all; I think it has a weird metallic aftertaste, a discernible fakeness.  But look in the fine cheese section, or hit a gourmet or natural foods market and you will find naturally smoked cheddar cheese.  I like a combination of orange and white, but if you can only find one color, so be it.  And the same goes for bacon.  Look for naturally smoked bacon, not “smoke flavor added.”

Smoky Bacon Pimento Cheese

6 strips of smoked bacon

8 ounces naturally smoked orange cheddar

8 ounces naturally smoked white cheddar

1 (4-ounce) jar diced pimentos

1 cup of mayonnaise, more or less

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

1 teaspoon garlic powder

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

Cook the bacon until crispy and drain on paper towels.  Pat off as much grease as possible with paper towels. Finely chop the bacon.

Grate the cheeses together into a large bowl.  Stir it together with the bacon pieces and undrained pimentos.  Stir in the mayonnaise until you have a consistency that appeals to you, then add the paprika, garlic powder and Worcestershire sauce.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Scrape the pimento cheese into a serving bowl and chill for several hours to let the flavors meld.  The pimento cheese will keep covered in the fridge for up to five days.

Makes about 1 pound of pimento cheese 


Pimento Cheese: The Cookbook

Pimento Cheese: The Cookbook (50 Recipes from Snacks to Main Dishes Inspired by the Classic Southern Favorite) now available for pre-order on Amazon.




Pickled Field Peas

Field peas are one of my favorite things about summer.  I freeze them in little baggies to pull out at the height of the winter blahs to remind me of the warmer months.  I always seem to remember them as warmer months, not miserable, stifling hot and humid. On Saturdays, when I am cooking and putting by my farmers market purchases, I put them on to cook with some piece of pork, garlic or onion and let them bubble away while I work.  But I also love them chilled in salads, so I decided to work on a pickled relish that would hark back to those fresh summer salads, chock full of farmers market ingredients, with a nice vinegary zing.

The peas need to be of roughly the same size.  I have found that tiny lady peas turn mushy and disintegrate, while larger butter beans are unevenly pickled.  Crowder, whippoorwill and the darker peas tend to turn the brine an unattractive color. You could add some zipper or cream peas, as long as they size is right. If you like a little spice, very finely dice a jalapeno or two and add to the mix, or put a whole hot chili in while cooking, then fish it out before canning.  You could also add a pinch of dried pepper flakes.

Pickled field peas are a great relish beside roast pork, but also make a great dip for corn chips.  In the middle of winter, you can pretend it’s summer by serving a scoop of this pickle in a lettuce cup as a salad.  Pickle black-eyed peas alone, and you have a perfect hostess gift for New Year’s, or a special treat to serve for good luck.

Pickled Field Peas

2 pounds fresh field peas, all about the same size – purple hull, pink-eye, black-eye or a combination

1 large Vidalia onion

2 green bell peppers

1 red or orange bell pepper or 1 pimento pepper

3 cloves garlic

2 cups cider vinegar

1 cup sugar

4 Tablespoons canning salt or 3 Tablespoons table salt

1 ½ teaspoons dry mustard

½ teaspoon sweet paprika

1 teaspoon celery seed

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Put the peas into a large bowl of cold water and leave to soak for about 10 minutes.  Finely dice the onions and peppers (I use my as-seen-on-TV onion chopper to speed things up). Finely dice the garlic.

Skim off any floating peas, then use your hands to scoop the peas out of the water and place them in a 5-quart Dutch oven.  Let the water drip through your fingers leaving any debris and dirt behind. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, just until slightly soft, but still with a bite.  Drain, rinse and return to the pot, which you should wipe out first to remove any scum.

Add the onions, peppers and garlic to the peas in the pot and stir well to distribute evenly.  Pour in the vinegar and sugar, stir well then add the salt, mustard, paprika, celery seed and pepper.

Bring to simmer over medium high heat, reduce the heat to medium and simmer, at just a gentle bubble, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. While your peas are cooking, get a boiling water canner or big stockpot of water going. Here are step-by step instructions for processing jars. When the peas are almost ready, pour some boiling water over the lids of the jars to soften the seals and set aside. When the cooking time is up for the peas, immediately scoop into sterilized canning jars.  Top with a little extra brine to cover, leaving ¼ inch head space. Dry the lids with a clean paper towel and place on the jars. Screw on the bands, then process the jars for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath.   Refrigerate any extra peas, and discard any extra brine.

When the jars are processed, leave to cool on a towel on the counter.

The processed jars will keep for a year in a cool, dark place. Don’t forget to label your jars!

Makes about 7 half-pint jars

Fresh Basil Aioli

Aioli is the creamy, garlicky mayonnaise of Provence, traditionally made in a mortar and pestle.  But the food processor makes this a quick, easy delight. Add a hit of fresh basil, and it is a fresh summer tomato’s best friend. Good on a simple sandwich or just spread on a thick slice.  It also makes an amazing dip for a beautifully colorful display of summer vegetables.

I know you will be tempted, but do not skip the step of blanching the basil. It brings out the flavor of the basil, and prevents it from turning black and unattractive when being chopped. I find it easiest to leave the leaves on a stem and simply dip it in the boiling water.  And the pot isn’t dirty, just rinse it out.  I use a mix of olive and canola oil, because I find that using olive oil alone masks the fresh basil flavor.

Fresh Basil Aioli

1 stem of basil, with at least six big leaves

1 small clove garlic

1 egg

1 Tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

½ cup canola oil

Bring a small pot of water to a boil.  When it is at a nice rolling boil, dip the basil stem in and count to 20.  You’ll start to smell a nice wafting basil fragrance. Pull it out, then place on a paper towel and squeeze out the moisture. Pull off six large leaves and place in the bowl of a food processor.

Put the garlic clove through a press, or very finely chop it with a sharp knife, pressing it to almost a paste.  Place it in the food processor with the basil, add the egg, lemon juice and salt.  Pulse until the basil is chopped and the mixture is creamy.  Turn the processor on and drizzle in the oils (measure them together in one measuring jug).  Process until the mixture is creamy, thick and emulsified.  You will actually hear the food processor change sounds from smooth blending to a wet slapping sound.

When the aioli is thick, scrape it into a container, cover it tightly and refrigerate for at least two hours to firm up and allow the flavors to meld.  The aioli will keep covered in the fridge for three days.

Makes 1 ¼ cups

Goat Cheese Pancakes with Blackberry Syrup

This is recipe truly born of over eagerness at the farmers market.  In the early months of summer I find that my eyes are definitely bigger than my stomach, my desire for all that produce greater than time reasonably allows.  I buy in vast quantities – I want everything and lots of it.  I put quite a few things by, test and experiment with recipes, prepare meals for myself and snack on bits and pieces in the kitchen.  But I still seem to have too much.  Thus it was that I found myself with another basket of blackberries and an abundance of gorgeous local goat cheese, having already made jam, marinated cheese and gorged myself in the process.  So I wanted to get creative with my market finds.

These pancakes are fluffy and soft like classic ricotta pancakes, their inspiration, but with that tangy hit of goat cheese.  The pancakes themselves are not overly sweet, so I like to douse them in sweet, fruity syrup.  They would also be delicious with Sorghum Peaches, or a dollop of Buttermilk Whipped Cream on top of all that syrup.  And the syrup is perfect on ice cream.

Getting the hang of flipping pancakes takes a little patience (it is not a skill I have completely mastered) but is well worth the try.  Besides, I still stand by my conviction that I like my homemade goods to look homemade, not perfect from the bakery or pancake house.  I want all the credit!

Goat Cheese Pancakes with Blackberry Syrup

For the Blackberry Syrup

3 cups fresh blackberries

¾ cups white sugar

Zest of one lemon

Juice of one lemon

For the Pancakes:

8 ounces soft goat cheese

3 eggs, separated

¾ cup whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

¾ cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ cup white sugar

Pinch of salt

For the Syrup:

Place all the ingredients in a high-sided, large saucepan and stir to coat the berries.  Bring to the boil over medium high heat, stirring frequently until the berries have released their juices.  Cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.  Using a potato masher or a sturdy wooden spoon, mash the berries. Cook for a further 10 – 20 minutes until the syrup has thickened and reduced.  This will be a little thinner than maple syrup.

Remove from the heat and leave to cool for about 10 minutes.  Set a wire-mesh strainer over a bowl and pour the syrup into it. Use a sturdy spatula or spoon to press the solids through the strainer to extract as much syrup and pulp as possible, but no seeds.  Use a separate spoon (not the one that has seeds on it!) to occasionally scrape the bottom of the strainer into the bowl so you can push more pulp through.  Discard the solids.

The syrup will keep for up to a week in an airtight jar in the fridge.

Makes about ¾ cup

For the Pancakes:

Crumble the coat cheese into fine pieces onto the bowl of an electric mixer.  Add the egg yolks, milk and vanilla and beat until creamy.  It’s okay if there are a few lumps of goat cheese.  Add the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt and beat until combined.  The mixture will be thick.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until white and foamy.  You can do this by hand, they do not need to be peaked, just foamy.  Add the whites to the batter and beat until combined.

To cook the pancakes, I find it best to use a non-stick griddle or large frying pan slicked with a thin coat of cooking spray.  Heat the pan over medium high heat, and when it is radiating heat, drop mounds of about 2 Tablespoons into the pan.  Cook until lightly browned on one side, about 1 minute, then use a thin spatula to flip them over and cook the other side until golden brown and puffed. Depending in the size of your pan, I’d do no more than 2 or 3 at a time.

To keep the pancakes warm, place on a plate loosely covered with foil as you use up all the batter. Serve warm, generously drizzled with Blackberry Syrup.

Makes about 12 – 15 pancakes

Summertime Mint Dressing

If I could create my own personal fragrance, or have some sort of mechanism that made everywhere I go have a certain happy, peaceful scent, the primary element would be fresh garden mint.  It smells like summer to me.  And sweet tea.  And the South.  And all good things.  I suppose the variety is technically spearmint, but I think of it as Southern mint.  I have always grown mint – in pots on the deck of my first small home, to the larger vegetable beds of my current house.  My mother has always grown mint, and even my grandmother, who was not a gardener, grew a few mint plants.  In our hot Southern climate, it grows profusely, and the more you cut it, the more it flourishes.

I can’t really have enough mint, though some people consider it invasive and are stymied by what to do with it all.  Here is the answer.  This is my favorite all-purpose summer condiment.  It so simple, it is hardly even a recipe at all.  But I promise, the uses are endless.  I love it tossed with steamed sugar snap peas, or drizzled over grilled asparagus.  It is perfect with fruit, from strawberries to melon cubes.  Drizzle it over fish, or brush on grilled pork chops.  Use it as a dressing for a cold chicken salad, or a sauce for simple chicken breasts.  Try it in slaw or over crisp lettuce.  Toss it with potatoes or drizzle over sliced tomatoes.  The sugar highlights the sweetness of the mint, but the vinegar really brings out its essence, with a slight edge from the lemon juice.

Summertime Mint Dressing

This is best made fresh, but will keep in the fridge in tightly sealed jar for a couple of days.  The recipe easily doubles.

½ cup firmly packed mint leaves

3 Tablespoons sugar

2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar

½ Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Place all the ingredients in the carafe of a blender and puree until smooth.  Pour into a jar, scraping the sides of the blender down to get out all of the mint.

Makes about 1/3 cup

Meyer Lemon Chiffon Dip for Spring Vegetables

Simple, delicious spring vegetables really just need the simplest of bright accompaniments, and this dip really hits the bill.  It is tangy with lemon and perfectly creamy and even has a sunshine-y yellow hue.

I love this at room temperature as a dip for lightly steamed asparagus spears or artichoke leaves.  Put it can also be spooned over as a sauce.  And its uses go far beyond that.  Spoon it over grilled chicken or steamed fish.  I love the use of meyer lemons with their sweet-tart flavor.  This sauce, with the citrus and the wine, is puckeringly tangy.  If you use regular lemons, reduce the amount of juice by a couple of Tablespoons.

Meyer Lemon Chiffon Dip for Spring Vegetables

1 large shallot, diced

1 clove garlic, diced

Leaves from 2 rosemary stems

½ cup freshly squeezed meyer lemon juice

1 cup white wine

1/3 cup heavy cream

6 Tablespoons butter

Place the shallot, garlic and rosemary leaves in a saucepan and add the lemon juice and wine.  Give to a good stir, then bring to the boil over medium-high heat.  Boil gently until the liquid is reduced to ½ cup.  Stir in the heavy cream and cook until the liquid is reduced a bit more and the sauce is thickened.

Place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl or measuring jug and pour the sauce through, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible.  Wipe out the pan and return the sauce to it.  Place over low heat and whisk in the butter ½ Tablespoon at a time, letting each piece melt before adding more.

Transfer to a small bowl and let it come to room temperature.  You can serve this hot as a sauce.

Makes about ½ cup dip

Bacon Crackers

Making homemade crackers is one of the little culinary secrets I love so much.  It never occurs to most people that making your own is something that can or would be done.  But it is easy to do and pretty impressive when you serve homemade crackers.  It took me awhile to get where I wanted to go with making my own crackers.  I read and sampled a lot of recipes.  Some were too complicated, some just weren’t good, most were fine, but plain.  I fiddled around until I had a base recipe that worked with a lot of different flavor additions – herbs and spices and cheese.  But this version literally hit me like a lightning bolt.  I was serving myself a bowl of soup one night, and doling out some (store-bought) plain crackers and I suddenly thought – bacon crackers.  Could it be possible?  I went to work immediately, and here is where I landed.

These crispy, salty little gems are the perfect sidecar for a bowl of soup, particularly with Pimento Cheese Soup.  That being said, they also take pimento cheese spread to a whole new level.  These are excellent on a cheese platter, with a creamy brie, a salty goat or a tangy blue.  Or smeared with a little butter.  Frankly, they are good all on their own.

If you have a fancy-edged pastry roller this is a great place to use it.  Personally, I like the rough and rustic look.  Not all my crackers are even or perfect, but if I actually make my own crackers, I want them to look homemade!  The crackers do need to be roughly the same size on the same baking sheet for even cooking.

Bacon Crackers

4 strips of bacon, cooked very crispy

1 ¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling

1 Tablespoon solidified bacon fat

5 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes

1/2 to 2/3 cup very cold water

1 Tablespoon butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with a silicone liner or parchment paper.

Pat the cooled bacon with paper towels to remove as much grease as possible.  Break the bacon into pieces into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Pulse several times to chop the bacon very finely.  Scrape the bacon out of the bowl and set aside.  Do not worry of there is some bacon residue left on the sides of the bowl.

Place the flour, baking soda, salt and one Tablespoon of the chopped bacon in the food processor and pulse a few times to combine.  Add the bacon grease and the butter pieces.  Pulse several times until the mixture looks like sand, with a few larger lumps throughout.  Turn on the food processor and drizzle in the ice cold water until the dough starts to come together.  Check the dough by pinching a bit between your fingers.  If it sticks together, you’re done.  You may use slightly less water, but you may need a touch more.  Add another tablespoon of chopped bacon bits and pulse a few times to mix through the dough. You may not use all the bacon.

Lightly flour a work surface.  Divide the cracker dough in half and place one half on the work surface.  Knead a little to bring the dough together and pat it into a nice square.  Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough until it is as thin as a dime, trying your best to keep it in an even rectangle.  Trim off the rough edges and set aside*.  Cut the dough into crackers, about 1 inch by 1 inch.  I find a pizza wheel a very handy tool for this. You can cut them into smaller crackers if you prefer, but you’ll adjust the cooking time.  Carefully transfer the crackers to the prepared baking sheets. The crackers puff up rather than out, so you can place them close together.  Prick the top of the crackers with a fork, then very lightly brush the tops with melted butter and lightly sprinkle with salt. Repeat with the second half of the dough.  Bake the crackers, one sheet at a time, in the middle of the oven for 12 – 15 minutes until lightly puffed, golden brown and firm. Cool on the baking sheets.

The crackers will keep in a completely airtight container for several days.  I find a flat, sturdy container works best as a zippered bag doesn’t protect the crackers from breakage very well.

* I like to gather all the scraps and knead them together, then roll them out as sort of a third batch.  They may be not as pretty as the rest, but taste just as good.

Makes about 3 dozen

Sweet Potato Mustard, Bacon Mayonnaise and Cranberry Ketchup

When I claimed thanksgiving for my own, I wanted to create a tradition for this new configuration of family, one for grown-ups and kids alike.  So I came up with the Thankful Tree.  My mom drew a big tree, complete with falling leaves and acorns and a bunny rabbit at the base, on a piece of poster board.  Every year, my nieces and nephew come over before Thanksgiving, when school lets out, to decorate, design menus and work on the Thankful Tree.  We use sticky notes shaped like leaves or apples and write something to be thankful for on the back.  The notes are then arranged on the tree, very artfully mind you.  On Thanksgiving Day, before we start the food free-for-all, everyone pulls a sticky note from the tree (there are usually two for each person) and we go around the room and read out what our notes say we thankful for this year.  Of course, I let the kids choose all the various things to write on the notes.  In the past we have been thankful for air, photosynthesis, bacon and Jedi knights.  But always the first words to go on those stickies are family, food and friends.  As it should be.  But I am thankful for bacon too.

Sweet Potato Mustard

A little sweet, with a nice mustardy tang and rich amber color. Perfect on a leftover turkey sandwich.

½ cup apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup yellow mustard seeds

1 bay leaf

1 cinnamon stick

1 cup water

½ cup sweet potato puree*

1 Tablespoon sorghum or light molasses

1 Tablespoon bourbon

¼ cup granulated sugar

2 Tablespoons ground mustard powder

½ teaspoon sweet paprika

½ teaspoon kosher salt

In a saucepan over high heat, bring the vinegar to a boil. Remove from the heat and add the mustard seeds, bay leaf and cinnamon stick, stirring to combine. Cover the saucepan and let the mixture rest at room temperature for about 1 hour. The seeds will absorb the liquid.

Remove the bay leaf and the cinnamon stick, scraping off any clinging seed.  Add the water, sorghum and bourbon to the mustard seeds and stir, then scrape the mixture into the carafe of a blender.  Blend until smooth, then add the sweet potato puree and blend until you have a nice cohesive, smooth paste.  You can add a few drops of water as you go if you need to get things moving.

Pour the mixture back into the pan and heat over medium heat, bringing it to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to boil gently for approximately five minutes, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Whisk in the sugar, ground mustard, paprika and salt. Continue to simmer over medium-low heat, cooking the mixture until it has reduced a bit and is thick and spreadable. This should take about 10 minutes.

Cool the mustard in the pan, then scrape it into an airtight container.  The mustard will keep for about 2 weeks in the fridge.

Makes about 1 ½

*To make things quicker, I happily use canned sweet potato puree, but only plain all potato puree, not sweetened or seasoned.  I find at better markets and whole food stores.  If you can’t find it, wrap a sweet potato in foil, bake until soft (about 1 hour), then blend the flesh with a little water to make a very smooth puree.

Bacon Mayonnaise

Rich and creamy with that hint of bacon.  And yes, you can put bacon mayonnaise and crispy bacon on the same sandwich.

½ cup liquid bacon fat

1 egg

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

½ cup canola oil

Generous pinch of kosher salt

The bacon fat needs to be liquid and not at all solidified.  If you’ve just cooked the bacon, strain the fat through cheesecloth to remove any debris, then leave it to cool to room temperature.  If you are using stored bacon fat, heat it gently in the microwave on half power in 20-second bursts, strain and leave to cool.

Crack the egg into the bowl of a food processor and add the lemon juice.  Blend them together until light and creamy. Add the canola oil to the cooled bacon fat in a spouted measuring cup.  With the motor running, slowly, slowly drizzle in the oil in a steady stream until you’ve used all the oil.  The mayonnaise will thicken and emulsify.  When the oil is all incorporated, taste the mayonnaise, add salt to taste and quickly whizz it a few seconds.  Scrape the may into an airtight container or jar and refrigerate until ready to use.  It will thicken in the fridge and keep for three days.

Makes about 1 ¼ cups

Cranberry Ketchup

Rich red, with a tangy, vinegary bite.  Amazing on a turkey burger or as a dip for sweet potato fries.

1 pound fresh cranberries

2 shallots, chopped

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

½ cup apple cider vinegar

½ cup water

1 Tablespoon pickling spice

½ teaspoon salt

Place the cranberries, shallots, sugar, vinegar and water in a medium saucepan.  Tie the pickling spice into a little bundle of cheese cloth (or use a tea ball).  Drop it into the cranberries and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat to medium, stir in the salt and cook until the cranberries burst and the mixture is thickened, about 15 minutes.  Leave to cool for 10 minutes.

Remove the spice bag and set it aside. Scrap the cooled mixture into a blender.  Puree the cranberry mixture until smooth. Rinse out the sauce pan, then press the cranberries through a mesh sieve back into the pan. Pour ½ cup of water in the blender and run for a few seconds to pick up any remaining cranberry, then pour it into the pan. Return the spice bag to the pan, bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until it is thickened, about 20 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Remove the spice bag, squeezing it up against the side of the pan to get out all the good cranberry flavor.

Cool the ketchup in the pan, stirring a few times to prevent a skin forming, then scoop it into an airtight container. It will thicken up as it cools.  The ketchup will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Makes about 1 cup

Make – Ahead Gravy for Your Turkey

Gravy is essential to a Thanksgiving turkey, but only if it is good gravy.  And what makes gravy good is delicious drippings from a beautifully roasted bird. Many gravy methods involve making it right in the pan the turkey was cooked in, to scrape up all the bits and juices.  And that’s great.  But I realized some years ago that trying to do this while my family stands around the kitchen impatiently waiting for their food is impractical.  So I now make a rich gravy base the day before, and stir in the lovely juices when the bird has cooked.  Bacon grease, caramelized onions and a bit of bourbon add flavor to the base, but don’t worry if it seems a little bland at first.  Whisking in the juices brings everything together in a gorgeous golden gravy.  The onions may make your gravy look a bit lumpy, but the flavor is brilliant.

Make-Ahead Gravy for your Turkey

2 Tablespoons bacon grease or oil

2 cups finely diced onion (from about 1 ½ onions)

2 Tablespoons bourbon

2 Tablespoons butter

4 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

4 cups turkey or chicken stock

Drippings from your turkey, skimmed of fat

Salt and pepper to taste

Pick out a medium sized, heavy-bottomed sauce pan, and make a paper lid for stewing the onions by cutting out a circle from a piece of parchment or waxed paper that will fit tightly over the surface of the onions. This is called a cartouche, by the way.  Melt the bacon drippings in the saucepan and add the onions before the grease gets too hot.  Sauté gently over medium until the onions are soft and translucent, stirring frequently.  Don’t let the onions scorch or brown.  Add the bourbon and cook, stirring, until it is almost all evaporated.  Turn the heat to low. Place the parchment paper circle over the top of the onion pressing directly on the surface.  Cook the onions until soft and caramelized and golden brown, removing the paper once or twice and stirring, replacing the paper lid, about 20 minutes.

When the onions are lovely and golden, add the butter and stir until it is melted.  Sprinkle over the flour and stir to coat the onions.  Cook for about three minutes, then begin slowly whisking in the stock.  Continue whisking until your gravy base is quite thick. It will thin out when you add the turkey drippings.  The base may look and taste a bit bland now, but that will be fixed when we add the drippings.  At this point, you can cool the gravy base, cover and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to serve, reheat the gravy over low heat, stirring to heat it through.  Skim the fat from your turkey drippings, either by letting the juices settle and skimming off the fat the collects on the top, or use a nifty gravy separator if you’ve got one.  Slowly whisk the drippings from your roasted turkey into the gravy base, tasting as you go, until you have a nice, rich taste.  You don’t want to pour in all the juices and thin the gravy out too much.  Cook the gravy, whisking constantly, to thicken it up as needed.  Taste before adding any salt, as the turkey drippings may be quite salty.  Add pepper to taste if you’d like.