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.

Southern Boiled Custard

Southern Boiled Custard

Boiled custard is one of my great childhood Christmas memories.  We spent a lot of Christmases at my grandparents house in Columbia, Tennessee and my grandmother always served boiled custard in Santa Claus mugs and caramel cake for dessert at Christmas lunch.  Boiled Custard was something you bought.  I never really thought of it as something people make. I assumed it was some mystery product that only the professional dairies could ever produce.  Over time, our Christmas traditions changed and some of our gathering don’t have that nostalgic love of boiled custard, but my mom always buys a little carton, even if only a few of us drink it.  But I have over the years gotten more and more interested in making things from scratch, and low and behold, I discovered that lots of Southern cookbooks have recipes for boiled custard.  I am now pretty sure there are some people who think bought boiled custard is an absolute sacrilege.  So, feeling nostalgic, I set out to create a fresh family recipe for an old-time favorite.  And it is delicious.

After my Grandmother died, my cousin claimed the old Santa mugs.  They were so chipped and cracked no one thought they could possibly be useful and every offer to buy her a new set was refused.  I totally understand that.  Those mugs filled with boiled custard are a part of Christmas.  But I bought my own Santa mug, similar to the old ones, just for me, just for boiled custard.

Southern Boiled Custard

This is a rich drink so small servings will do.  If you want to make more, I recommend making it in several batches.  It is very difficult to create a larger double boiler and more liquid takes longer to cook and is likely to produce lumps.

1 quart whole milk

½ of a vanilla bean

5 eggs

1 cup sugar

½ cup heavy cream (If needed)

Set up a double boiler and bring the water in the bottom pot just to a low boil.  If you do not have a double boiler, place a metal or glass bowl over a saucepan.  The bowl should not touch the bottom of the pan or the water in it and must fit securely so steam does not escape.

Pour the milk into the top of the double boiler, scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add to the milk.  Heat the milk until it is hot to the touch and just bubbling.  Do not boil.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a large bowl with an electric mixer until thoroughly combined.  Add the sugar and beat until light and the sugar has dissolved.  Slowly add  ½ cup of the hot milk into the eggs and beat thoroughly.  Repeat with another ½ cup milk.  Pour the egg mixture into the milk in the pan and whisk to combine.  Continue whisking as the milk cooks.  Cook until the custard lightly coats the back of a metal spoon, and when you run your finger through the custard on the spoon it leaves a gap.

While the custard is cooking, wash and dry the bowl and place a wire mesh sieve over it.  When the custard is ready, pour it immediately through the sieve.  Leave it to cool for a few minutes, then place a piece of plastic wrap directly over the surface of the custard.  This will present a skin from forming.  Refrigerate the custard until cold, then pour into a pitcher. If the custard is too thick, whisk in about ½ cup heavy cream.

Serves 6 small glasses

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Halloween Hot Chocolate (Liquid Candy)

I see lots of recipe for using up leftover Halloween candy.  I’m not sure I see the point, as just eating it straight is generally fine with me.  Mind you, not in one sitting, but over time, stashed in drawers and cabinets.  But I do want to make my contribution with this creamy, rich hot chocolate.  Make it as soon as the little monsters come in from the trick-or-treating chill, or as a special after school treat later in the week.

You must use soft candy that will melt, and nuts are too chunky.  Milky Way,  Rolo, Kisses, Reese’s,  Hershey’s Milk or Special Dark all work beautifully.  The final product may not be a chocolaty brown depending on the type of candy used, but it will still be delicious.  Using the blender makes a creamy drink with everything smoothly combined, plus it creates a nice foamy top.

Halloween Hot Chocolate (Liquid Candy)

¼ cup heavy cream

1 cup milk

1 ounce chocolate candy (4 mini-size squares)

Combine the cream and milk in a small saucepan and heat over medium just until bubbles form on the surface. Do not boil.

Unwrap the candy and place in the carafe of a blender.  Pour over the warm milk and leave for a few seconds to soften the candy bars.  Vent the blender lid and carefully hold it with a folded tea towel.  Blend until smooth and frothy. Serve immediately, or pour back into the saucepan and reheat gently if needed.

Makes one serving, can be doubled or tripled

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Melon Rosé Sangria

Pink and pretty and refreshing.  Okay, a little girly. But this lovely summer sipper will cool you off with a little sophistication.  The pink wine available in the US has come a long way from “white zin” and the eighties wine bar, and I urge you to seek it out.  It is a crisp summer wine and there are great, affordable versions from France like La Vieille Ferme and South Africa such as Mulderbosch.

I like the attractive little balls of melon, but if that’s more work than you are willing to do, cut the melons into small cubes.

Melon Rosé Sangria

½ cup sugar

4 sprigs of mint

2 cups fresh melon balls (watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe), juices reserved (plus more for garnish)

¼ cup elderflower liqueur (such as St. Germain)

1 750 ml bottle rosé wine

2 cups lemon-lime soda

Bring the water and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan.  Stir until the sugar is dissolved, remove from the heat and drop in the mint leaves.  Leave to cool.

Place the melon balls and reserved juice in a large pitcher.  Pour over the liqueur and leave to sit for about 15 minutes.  Add the rosé and mint simple syrup and gently stir.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Before serving, add the soda and gently stir. Serve over lots of ice with a sprig of mint and a few melon balls in each glass.

Serves 6- 8

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Sweet Tea Julep

It is hot out there!  It’s hot every summer in the South, but it still seems to be one of our favorite topics of conversation.  And we always talk as if it is some sort of surprise. “Can you believe how hot it is?  It might hit 105° today!” But somehow we manage.  Our homes are air-conditioned, our porches have fans, and our clothes are made of seersucker and light linen.  We love a good cold meal, like tomato sandwiches, pimento cheese and cold wedge of watermelon.

Our primary tool for keeping our cool is endless pitchers of cold sweet tea, and after five o’clock, icy mint juleps, served in chilled silver cups, cool to the touch with a bracing drip of cold condensation.  Tea is refreshing, bourbon is revivifying.  Combine the two in a minty punch and you’ll have a whole new outlook on life. Try it in a julep cup, but a plastic cup is just fine.  You may not even mind the heat!

Sweet Tea Julep

7 cups water, divided

2 cups sugar

1 cup loosely packed mint leaves (plus more for garnish)

3 family-sized black tea bags

1 ½  cups bourbon

Stir together 4 cups of water and the sugar in a large saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Remove from the heat and add the mint leaves and tea bags.  Leave to steep for 10 minutes, then remove the tea bags.  Leave the mint leaves in while the mixture cools to room temperature.

Strain the tea into a pitcher. Stir in 3 cups of water and the bourbon. Chill, then serve over lots of ice, garnished with mint sprigs.

Makes about 9 cups

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Milk Punch and Cookies

Milk Punch has roots in New Orleans, with a history as a hair-of-the-dog remedy.   In fact, my best milk punch memory is enjoying a bit too much at a wonderful wedding brunch in New Orleans.  And now, that bride makes milk punch for a Christmas party every year.  I have to admit though, I make it differently from my friend.  I’ve had milk punch that is just milk and bourbon with a sprinkling of nutmeg and I have seen many recipes that use melted vanilla ice cream as the milky base.  I split the difference, mixing up a sweet, creamy syrup lightly spiced with holiday flavors to stir in cold milk.  Then I dose it with good bourbon, serve it over ice and grate a dash of nutmeg. And to reinforce that Crescent City connection, I like to listen to one of my favorite seasonal songs, Louis Armstrong singing ‘Zat You, Santa Claus while whipping up a batch.

I love the idea of serving fudgy cookies with milk punch.  Sure, you can fill a punch bowl with a big batch of punch and arrange a plate of cookies beside it.  But I think a glass of milk punch and a little stack of cookies would make an amusing dessert for a grown-up dinner party, adding a touch of whimsy to a sophisticated event.  These gently spiced cookies are rich with chocolate, soft and sweet, just perfect for dipping in milk punch.  Plus, they can be made ahead, stored in the fridge or frozen, and baked fresh.

Milk Punch and Cookies

Milk Punch

1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream

1 cup sugar

½ vanilla bean

2 sticks cinnamon

4 cardamom pods

1 quart whole milk

Bourbon

Nutmeg

In a small saucepan with a tight fitting lid, stir together the cream and sugar.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar.  The mixture may turn buttery yellow.  Just when it hits the boil, remove the pan from the heat.  Split the vanilla been and scrape out the seeds and drop them in the cream.  Add the cinnamon sticks and the lightly crushed cardamom pods.   Cover the pot and leave to cool completely.

When the creamy syrup is cool, strain it into a pitcher, add the milk and stir well to combine.  Fill a punch glass or highball with ice, add 1 to 1 ½ Tablespoons bourbon and fill with milk mixture.  Sprinkle nutmeg over the top of each glass.

Makes about 5 ½ cups punch, can be doubled or more

Chocolate Spice Cookies

2 ½ cups semisweet chocolate chips

3 Tablespoons butter

1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

Dash of cayenne pepper

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place the chocolate, butter and condensed milk in a large microwave safe bowl.  Microwave at medium power for 45 seconds, remove the bowl and stir vigorously until the chocolate is melted and everything is combined.  If needed, microwave in 15 second bursts until everything melts.  The mixture will be thick. Alternately, you can carefully melt everything together in a large pan.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and spices with a fork.  Dump into the chocolate mixture and stir beginning to come together. Add the egg and vanilla and stir until the dough it all combined.  It’s a thick batter and will take a little elbow grease.  Chill the dough in the fridge for 20 minutes, then divide into three equal portions.  Cut three lengths of waxed paper and use each to roll a portion for dough into a log.  Wrap tightly and keep in the fridge until ready to bake, up to three days.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Take the cookie logs out of the fridge and allow to soften for a few minutes, then use a sturdy serrated knife to slice the logs into ¼ inch slices.  Place on the prepared sheets and bake 8 minutes, until the cookies are puffed in the center.  Remove from the oven and cool on the pans.

Makes about 60 cookies

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Hot Chocolate Pops

I was in a very fancy grocery store and saw a lovely, beautifully wrapped box of hot chocolate-on-a-stick.  My first thought was “I can do that.”  And those babies with their cellophane and ribbon and fancy label were selling for $10 apiece.  Yea, I can do much better than that.

These pops are basically block of chocolate ganache on a stick.  You can flavor the chocolate, coat the cubes in powdered sugar or colored sugar and use any number of ideas for the stick.  Serve these at a holiday party, for kids or adults, or wrap a few in cellophane of your own and give them as gifts.

Hot Chocolate Pops

8 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate (60 % cocoa)

8 ounces milk chocolate

1 cup heavy whipping cream

Line an 8 ½ by 4 ½ inch loaf tin with non-stick foil, waxed paper or plastic wrap, leaving some overhang.

Break up the chocolate into very small pieces and place into a shallow bowl.  In a small saucepan, heat the cream over medium heat until it just comes to a boil.

When the cream is hot, pour it through a sieve over the chocolate and leave to soften for a minute.  Stir the mixture vigorously until all the chocolate is melted and smooth. Scrape all of the chocolate into the prepared loaf tin, smooth the top, and leave to cool, then refrigerate for about an hour until just firm.  Gently remove the loaf using the overhanging wrap and cut the block into eight 1 ½ inch  cubes. Run your knife under warm water before each cut.  Insert the desired stirrer into the center of each cube, making sure they will stand up on their own.  Gently return the block to the loaf tin and refrigerate until completely firm.

The pops will keep in the fridge for a week, but bring them to room temperature before using.

If you’d like, you can coat the cubes of chocolate in powdered sugar or colored decorating sugar.

For Hot Chocolate:

Bring the pops to room temperature.  For each cup of hot chocolate, heat 1¼ cup of milk over medium heat until bubbles start to break on the surface, just before it boils.  Pour into a mug and add a hot chocolate pop.  Stir until the chocolate is melted.

Flavoring options:

1 teaspoon peppermint extract or

1 Tablespoon amaretto or

1 Tablespoon Kahlua or coffee liqueur or

½ vanilla bean or

2 cinnamon sticks

For flavored pops: Stir one of the flavor additions into the cream before heating it.  If using vanilla bean or cinnamon sticks, heat the cream with the add-in, leave to infuse for 1 hour, remove the solid, then reheat the cream and continue.

Stirrer options:

Popsicle sticks

Wooden popsicle sticks or heavy skewers

Candy canes

Cinnamon sticks

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Rosemary Pear Martini

I always think it’s nice to start off the Thanksgiving celebrations with a special cocktail and a few nibbles.  It sets a convivial mood and keeps everyone occupied while the last touches of the meal are being tended too.  Frankly, I like to have everyone’s hands busy while I am trying to get the food on the table so they stay out of my way!

This lovely little tipple is redolent of fall, with a hint of woodsy rosemary and sweet juicy pear.  I love to have the rosemary simple syrup around to sweeten other cocktails or a cup of tea, so make whole batch. The elderflower liqueur is optional, but adds a secret floral undertone that really brightens the drink.  I love this as a sophisticated martini, but you could also up the amount of simple syrup and serve it over ice topped with soda as a long drink.  And increase the amounts as much as needed to serve your guests.

Rosemary Pear Martini

For one drink:

1 Tablespoon rosemary simple syrup*

2 Tablespoons pear vodka (such as Absolut Pear)

½ Tablespoon St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur

½  cup pear juice (such as Ceres or Looza)

Place all the ingredients over a handful of ice in a shaker or pitcher.  Shake or stir well.  Strain into a martini glass.

For a pitcher:

¼ cup plus 2 Tablespoons rosemary simple syrup

¾ cup pear vodka

3 Tablespoons St. Germain Liqueur

3 cups pear juice

Place all the ingredients in a pitcher over ice.  Stir well, then strain into martini glasses.

Makes 6 drinks

*Rosemary Simple Syrup

In a medium saucepan, stir together 1 cup sugar and one cup water.  Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve, and drop in a handful of rosemary stalks.  Stir to submerge the rosemary and boil for 3 minutes until the sugar is dissolved.  Remove from the heat, cover the pan, and leave to cool.  The syrup can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Makes 1 cup

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Homemade Bloody Mary Mix (with canning instructions)

When tomatoes are is season, or growing on my vines if I’m lucky, I preserve them in any way I can think of.  I make sauce, tomato soup base and just plain old puree and stack them up in ziptop bags in the freezer.  Sometimes I can whole tomatoes, but now I’ve learned you can freeze them whole for later cooking.  This year, I’ve been looking for a new and different idea, and I set my mind on Bloody Mary mix.  I know many people are very happy with, even prefer, the standard bottled mixes.  But I think once you give a real, homemade version a try, you’ll be hooked.  Packed with fresh, in season tomatoes and lots of flavorful vegetables, it’s a very special treat.  A little warmth from the banana peppers and ginger set this blend apart.

I made a few adjustments to my standard recipe to make it suitable for canning, so a few lucky folks on my list will be getting some for Christmas (let the competition begin).  And how much of treat will fresh tomato Bloody Marys be at a holiday brunch? You can also make this for serving as soon as it’s chilled, or pack it into ziptop bags or freezer jars to store.

Stick with the basic quantity of vegetables, sugar and lemon juice for storage, but feel free to add more hot sauce, Worcestershire, or stir in a spoonful of prepared horseradish.  Remember, you can always add a dash of hot sauce when you’re mixing the drink. To make a Bloody Mary, fill a tall glass with ice, add vodka, top with the mix and stir. Pepper or lemon vodka add a nice twist if you are so inclined.  After storage, the mix may get a bit thick, just thin it out with a little water, it can handle it. I like to garnish a good Bloody Mary with Pickled Asparagus or Dilly Beans, but the traditional celery beautifully complements this mix.

I used these canning bottles in the picture above.

Homemade Bloody Mary Mix

After storage, the mix may be a bit thick. Just thin it with a bit of water, and of course, vodka.

8 pounds plum tomatoes, quartered

3 green peppers, seeds and ribs removed chopped

3 carrots, diced

3 ribs celery, diced

1 small onion, diced

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 bunch Italian parsley leaves, torn

1 –inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

3 small or 1 large banana peppers, seeds removed, chopped

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup lemon juice

1 1/2 tablespoons salt

Generous grinds of black pepper to taste

½ Tablespoon hot sauce (I like Crystal)

1 tablespoon Worcestershiresauce

Place all the chopped vegetables in large Dutch oven.  Add a splash of water, cover the pot, and cook until the vegetables are mushy, 30 – 40 minutes.  Stir occasionally, breaking up the vegetables with the back of a spoon.  When everything is mushy, leave to cool for a few minutes.

Working in batches, carefully puree the vegetables in a blender.  Fill the blender half full, vent the top and hold it tight covered with a tea towel.  When each batch is done, press it through a fine sieve, extracting as much liquid as possible.  Discard the pulp left behind. If you have a food mill, this is a great time to use it. Return all the extracted liquid to the pot.  Add the sugar, lemon juice, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce. Bring the mix to a boil and boil for 3 minutes.

You can now cool the mix, pour it into a pitcher, chill it and use it right away, or can it in quart jars for long term storage. You can also cool it, pour it into ziptop freezer bags or freezer jars and freeze it for up to six months.

To can the mix, clean and sterilize the 3 (like to have an extra, just in case) quart jars.  I do this in the dishwasher, timing it so the jars are still warm when I am ready to pour the mix in. While your Bloody Mary mix is cooking, get a boiling water canner or big stockpot of water going.  Here are step-by step instructions for processing in a canner. When the mix is almost ready, pour some boiling water over the lids to your jars to soften the seals and set aside.

I like to ladle the hot mix into a large measuring jug for easy pouring. Fill each of your warm, cleaned jars with the hot mix, leaving a ½ 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 40 minutes in a boiling water bath.  If you have a bit of extra mix, pour it into a refrigerator container and keep in the fridge for up to a week.

Makes 2 quarts (plus a little extra)

To make a Bloody Mary, fill a tall glass with ice, add 2 ounces vodka (or as much as you like) and top with Bloody Mary Mix and stir. If the mix is thick, add a bit of water to thin it out.

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Cherry Bounce

Cherry Bounce in Progress

Cherry season is beginning, or at least fresh cherries are showing up in the markets here.  We don’t grow cherries locally, so when I start to see them at the grocery, I buy them up.  I love cherries, so I try to make the season last as long as possible.  I bake with the beauties, make preserves, and frankly, just leave a basket on the counter and eat them throughout the day.  But a classic Southern way to preserve them is in Cherry Bounce, which is worth making for the name alone.

This is not an immediate results recipe.  It requires a little patience, but very little work.  Start your Cherry Bounce now, while the cherries are fresh and gorgeous, and by the holidays, you’ll have a special treat.  Decant the liquor into decorative bottles for gifts, or serve small glasses after a Thanksgiving dinner or with a Christmas cheese plate. And Cherry Bounce makes a mean Manhattan.  If you make fruitcake and soak it in brandy, try Cherry Bounce instead for a real treat.

Cherry Bounce

Use a bourbon you would happily drink, but not a top of the line, very expensive bottle.  You can increase this recipe as much as you’d like.

1 pound fresh red cherries (such as Bing)

1 cup sugar

5 cups bourbon

Run a large jar or glass airtight container through the dishwasher to sterilize.  Wash the cherries well and remove the stems. Discard any bruised fruit.  Layer the cherries and the sugar in the jar and leave to sit for about an hour.  Pour over the bourbon, seal the jar and shake occasionally to help dissolve the sugar.  Some cherries will float in the beginning, but they will sink to the bottom. When the sugar is dissolved, leave the jar in a cool dark place for at least 4 months to infuse.

When ready to use, you can simply pour out what you need of the liquor, or you can strain out the cherries and decant the bounce into decorative bottles.  The cherries are edible, but still have pits.  You can eat, them, use them to garnish a cocktail or spoon some bounce and cherries over ice cream for a boozy dessert, just remind those you serve it to about the pits.

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Freshly Minted Lemonade

This weekend marks the unofficial beginning of summer.  That means vacations and swimming and long, lazy days and all sorts of good things.  But, for my part of the world at least, it also means heat and humidity.  So a tall, cool drink is always in order.

There is just something so refreshing about tangy lemonade, and at this time of year, with the mint plants beginning to take over the garden, a little zing from the leaves adds a nice little summery twist.   Serve this from a fancy cut-glass pitcher or an old gallon pickle jar, from fine crystal goblets or mason jars, whatever your mood. And if you add a little splash of something from a bottle, I won’t tell…

Freshly Minted Lemonade

I like a few chopped mint leaves floating in the lemonade, but you can put them all in the syrup if you prefer.

6 – 7 large lemons

½ cup fresh mint leaves

1 cup sugar

8 cup water

Chop the mint finely, and set aside about a tablespoon full. Scrub the lemons clean, and with a vegetable peeler, shave off thin slivers of the peel from one lemon.  In a saucepan, stir together the sugar and one cup of the water.  Stir well, then drop in the lemon peel and chopped mint and stir again.  Bring to a boil, and stir until the sugar is dissolved.  Take the syrup off the heat and set aside to cool and infuse.

Meanwhile, juice the lemons.  I like to zap them in the microwave for about 15 seconds, two at a time, to help release as much juice as possible.  You want about 1 cup of juice.  Pour the juice into a large pitcher.  When the syrup has cooled, strain it through a fine sieve into the pitcher, pressing on the solids to extract as much syrup as you can.  Stir the juice and syrup together.  Add the remaining water – start with 6 cups, taste, and see if you want to dilute it a bit more.  Remember, you will serve this over ice which will dilute it a little as well. Stir in the remaining chopped mint. Keep the pitcher chilled in the fridge.  Serve in tall glasses over lots of ice.

Makes a nice big pitcher, about 9 cups

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