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.

Festive Finds 2016

Holiday shopping season is upon us once again, and I love to share gift ideas for the food lovers in your life. As always, these are just some ideas about personal favorites – no one has asked me to promote any products.

I’m a huge fan of Melissa Bridgman’s pottery, and she now offers a fabulous subscription service for the gift that keeps on giving. The coffee or tea lover in your life will thrill over a new mug each month. Memphian Brit McDaniel makes beautiful pottery that’s also charmingly functional, like this salad bowl with a perfect little dip to rest the tongs on. If you’ve got a biscuit baker in your life, this lovely ceramic biscuit cutter from Heirloomed would make a lovely gift (that might keep on giving if they make the biscuits for you!). Kentucky’s Pomegranate makes absolutely beautiful linens, from napkins to potholders, and this fabulous apron.


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Judy Pound Cakes make wonderfully flavorful and rich pound cakes that make wonderful gifts, particularly for a hostess. I’m particularly fond of the apricot almond flavor. Nashville’s Seersucker Candy Co. offers up some boozy chocolates and liquored up gummy bears for anyone on your list who has a sweet (and spiked) tooth. Salted bourbon caramel Muzzle Loaders are a great gift for a guy. Edwards Virginia Hams suffered a devastating fire earlier this year, but thankfully they are up and running again, so their lovely Tale of Two Hams package is available. It’s a small country ham and small city ham perfect for holiday parties. A pretty jar of French Broad Chocolates Chocolate Sip makes a lovely little gift perfect for chilly holiday nights, or go all out with a chocolate subscription.

Chicken is a meal staple for so many people, so Cynthia Graubart’s new cookbook Chicken is sure to be useful and welcomed. The Chubby Vegetarian Cookbook is a fantastically creative cookbook full of wonderful ideas, for vegetarians, vegetable lovers or anyone trying to expand horizons in the kitchen. Big breakfast lovers will devour Big Bad Breakfast from John Currence, chef of the restuarants by the same name. For the true cookbook lover on your list, Vivian Howard’s beautiful Deep Run Roots will be this year’s prized gift.

But maybe the best gift of all is giving on behalf of someone you love to someone in need. There are so many great organizations to give to that will create special cards you can wrap up for your recipient or have it sent directly to them. Women for Women International is an amazing organization that works to raise women and girls out of poverty around the world. They have a whole selection of gift donations.

And as food banks are under more strain than ever, Give-A-Meal through Feeding America to a family in need in honor of a family you love. And remember your local food bank with monetary donations or canned goods.

For some more ideas about my favorite fun kitchen finds, book and movies – check out The Spoon’s Store, powered by Amazon. Just click on the box on the right hand side of the page.

Cranberry Turkey Casserole

Cranberry Turkey CasseroleLeftovers, leftovers, leftovers. One of the most important Thanksgiving traditions. And I love them. I purposely make a bigger turkey than we will ever eat so I have lots of extra for sandwiches and soups and all manner of things. Truthfully, I make extra everything, and though I share a great deal of it with family, I always make sure plenty stays in my fridge. I’m not one to venture forth from the house on Thanksgiving weekend – I just like to spend it with a good book, a few movies and lot of leftovers. When you move into the week after the holiday and life has gotten back to normal, it is nice to have a good weeknight casserole that uses up some of that turkey, Or this is a great casserole for a post-feast meal with friends in relatives that stayed the weekend. It’s easy to put together but extends the holiday flavor.

Planning leftovers is part of my pre-Thanksgiving shopping list I love them so much. Grab an extra bag of cranberries and packet of sage with your shopping to make this, and you can make the breadcrumbs from leftover rolls or sandwich bread.

Cranberry Turkey Casserole
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. 2 Tablespoons butter
  2. 2 cups fresh cranberries
  3. ½ cup diced onion
  4. 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  5. 2 Tablespoons fresh sage
  6. 2 eggs
  7. 1 ½ cups milk
  8. 1 teaspoon salt
  9. 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning (I prefer Bell’s)
  10. ½ teaspoon black pepper
  11. 2 cups soft breadcrumbs
  12. 3 cups chopped cooked turkey
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 375. Place the butter in the bottom of a 3 quart baking dish and put the dish in the oven for a few minutes until the butter melts. Remove the dish from the oven and swirl to cover the bottom with butter.
  2. Spread the cranberries and diced onion over the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle over the sugar and the chopped sage.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the milk. Stir in the salt, poultry seasoning and pepper, then fold in the bread crumbs and the chopped turkey. Spread this over the cranberries in the dish.
  4. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Thanksgiving Sausage Bites with Cranberry Mustard Dip

Thanksgiving Sausage Bites with Cranberry Mustard DipThanksgiving involves a lot of food. But even when I know how much will end up on the table, I like to put out a little nibble for guests before the main event, while we finish cooking the turkey, have a few friendly drinks and settle in with each other. Sausage balls are one of my very favorite snacks at any time, and a great childhood memory for me and my brother, so when I can add that type of delicious nostalgia to the spread, I like to make the most of it.

This version has an immense amount of Thanksgiving appeal. They are packed with fresh sage, which just smells and tastes like the holiday. Nutty gruyere replaces the traditional cheddar to amp up the autumn flavor and cream cheese keeps them rich. I couldn’t resist adding another seasonal touch with a cranberry mustard dip, which, by the way, is also a great spread on leftover turkey sandwiches.

And of course, they also make a great breakfast for the holiday weekend.

Thanksgiving Sausage Bites with Cranberry Mustard Dip
Yields 30
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For the Sausage Bites
  1. 8 ounces cream cheese
  2. 1 pound sausage meat
  3. 4 ounces grated gruyere cheese
  4. 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  5. 2 teaspoons baking powder
  6. 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning (like Bell’s)
  7. 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  8. 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  9. ½ teaspoon black pepper
  10. ½ teaspoon celery salt
  11. ¼ teaspoon sweet paprika
  12. 2 cups all-purpose flour
For the Dip
  1. 2 cups fresh cranberries
  2. ½ a red onions, chopped (about ½ cup)
  3. ½ cup honey
  4. ½ cup water
  5. ½ teaspoon ground mustard
  6. ¼ cup Dijon mustard
Instructions
  1. Place the cream cheese, sausage and gruyere in the large bowl of a stand mixer and leave to come to room temperature, about one hour. This makes the dough easier to blend.
  2. Using the paddle attachment, blend the sausage and cheese mixture a few minutes to break everything up. Add the sage, baking powder, poultry seasoning, salt, garlic, pepper, celery salt and paprika and blend until everything is distributed through the sausage. Add the flour and blend until everything comes together in a ball, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  3. Roll the dough into golf-ball sized balls and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 – 20 minutes, until the balls are golden brown and cooked through.
  4. The uncooked balls can be placed on a waxed paper lined tray and frozen until hard. Transfer to a ziptop bag and keep in the freezer for three months. Cook from frozen, increasing the cooking time by about 10 minutes.
  5. Make about 30 balls
  6. For the Dip
  7. Put the cranberries, onion, honey, water and ground mustard in a large pot and cook over medium high heat until the cranberries burst and the onion is soft, about 10 minutes. Stir frequently to scrape down the sides of the pan and to prevent catching on the bottom.
  8. Let the mixture cool slightly, then transfer to a blender or food processor. Add the Dijon mustard and blend (holding the top of the blender with a tea towel) until you have a smooth puree.
  9. The dip will keep cooled and covered in the fridge for one week.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Sweet Potato Fruitcake

Sweet Potato FruitcakeI adore fruitcake. Some think that a controversial opinion. But I couldn’t have Christmas without it. Every year, on the weekend after Thanksgiving, I make my classic Fruitcake. To be honest, I start in the summer by making bourbon Cherry Bounce to soak the cake, and I pour a good dose over every couple of days until Christmas. My mother and I are sometimes the only ones who eat it, but I simply can’t imagine the holiday without it. So when I came across a recipe for sweet potato fruitcake in a community cookbook, I had to make it. It was one of those old recipes with very few specific measurements and spotty instructions, so it took me awhile to get it right, but I did and I love it.

My favorite thing about this fruitcake is fruitcake for Thanksgiving! I get the immense pleasure of extending fruitcake season, which makes me very happy. This cake is colorful and beautiful on a cake stand on the Thanksgiving dessert spread. The sweet potato adds a lovely, earthy note and is a great counterpoint to pies and fluffy cakes. The cake keeps well for up to a week in an airtight container, but it doesn’t have to be made weeks ahead. The color and texture is a lighter than the traditional version, but no less rich and flavorful.

Fruitcake lovers unite!

Sweet Potato Fruitcake
Serves 10
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Ingredients
  1. 1 ½ cups grated sweet potato (from about 1 large potato)
  2. 2 cups granulated sugar
  3. 1 ½ cups vegetable oil
  4. 4 eggs, separated
  5. 4 Tablespoons hot water
  6. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  7. 2 ½ cups sifted cake flour
  8. 3 teaspoons baking powder
  9. 1 teaspoon mixed spice or pumpkin pie spice
  10. ¼ teaspoon salt
  11. 1 pound chopped candied fruit
  12. 2 ½ cups chopped pecans
  13. ¼ cup bourbon
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 250. Spray a tube (not a Bundt) pan with baking spray (such as Baker’s Joy).
  2. Beat the sugar and the oil in the large bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment until pale and combined. Beat in the egg yolks until combined. Pour in the hot water and vanilla extract and beat until blended. Add the sweet potatoes and beat just until combined. Beat in the flour, baking powder, salt and spices until blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the candied fruit and nuts. Set aside.
  3. Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks in the small mixer bowl using the whisk attachment. Fold the whites into the batter in the large bowl using a sturdy spatula. This takes a little elbow grease, but don’t be too harsh, you still want the eggs whites to retain some air. Make sure the get the batter from the center of the bowl combined with the whites as well. Fold until the whites have completely disappeared into the batter.
  4. Scrape the batter into the prepared tube pan, making sure it is evenly distributed and the top is flat. Pick up the pan and drop it on the counter a few time to knock out any air bubbles.
  5. Bake the cake for 2 ½ hours. A tester inserted in the center should have a few crumbs clinging to it. When you remove it from the oven, immediately drizzle the bourbon over the top, very slowly. Leave to cool completely (even overnight covered with a towel) before removing it from the pan. The cake can be kept for a week in an airtight container.
Notes
  1. You can grate the sweet potatoes on a box grater or use the food processor grating blade. But then you have to clean the food processor.
  2. I separate the eggs putting the whites in the small mixer bowl and the yolks directly into the sugar and oil.
  3. My market sells mixed candied fruit during the holidays and I use that to make things easy. You can also make up your own blend of candied fruit (cherries, lemon peel, orange peel, pineapple etc.) and chop it finely, or toss it with a little flour and pulse in the food processor.
  4. The cake may crumble when you slice, but it can be easily pressed together and the taste is still delicious!
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Wild Rice Pilaf

Wild Rice PilafThanksgiving is all about tradition. I would be ejected from my family if I didn’t serve certain things on the holiday table (sweet potatoes, corn pudding, cranberries). I think most families have that feeling – a special dish you may eat only on Thanksgiving, but the holiday simply wouldn’t be the same without it. And I know it can sometimes be the source of some tension (the mashed regular versus candied sweet potato divide). So I make sure those dishes are on the table, because I love them too, and I want to make everyone happy. But every once in a while, I like to throw in a little twist, something new and different to us. That’s where this dish comes in.

Wild rice is not something we grew up eating very often, and never included it in the Thanksgiving spread, but it has such a lovely, autumnal dish when paired with apples, cranberries and pecans, I thought it would suit us very nicely. Not only is it delicious, it’s very pretty, with the jeweled tones of fall. And it is quite forgiving – it can sit warm on the buffet for some time, and is equally tasty at room temperature. And any leftovers, warmed with a little broth, is a great side for a turkey sandwich. And of course, it is not only for Thanksgiving; it makes a wonderful side to a roasted chicken or pork roast on any autumn night. I ordered some wonderful hand-harvested rice for my table.

Wild Rice Pilaf
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. ¼ cup (½ stick) butter
  2. 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  3. 1 onion, finely diced
  4. 1 carrot, finely diced
  5. 1 celery stalk, finely diced
  6. 1 apple, finely diced
  7. 1 teaspoon salt
  8. 2 cups wild rice, rinsed several times in cold water
  9. 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  10. juice and zest of one orange
  11. ½ cup dried cranberries
  12. 2 bay leaves
  13. a few stalks of fresh thyme
  14. ½ cup chopped pecans
  15. 2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 375.
  2. Melt the butter and oil together in a 2 -3 quart stove and oven proof pot with a lid. Stir in the onions, carrot and celery and cook, stirring, until they begin to soften. Add the apple and stir. Add the salt. Cook until everything is soft and wilted, about 10 minutes. (Note: I chop the apple while the vegetables are starting, so it doesn’t brown while waiting.) Add the wild rice and stir to coat in the butter and oil and cook for three minutes longer. Stir in the chicken broth, orange juice and zest and the cranberries. Drop in the bay leaves and thyme (count how many stems so you can remove them all later). Bring to a simmer, then cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Bake the rice for 1 hour. After 30 minutes, give it a light stir and check to see that there is ample liquid left. About 10 minutes before the hour is up, remove the lid and check the liquid level, if it is all absorbed, remove the pot from the oven, or continue cooking until it is. Remove the thyme stems and bay leaves. Fluff the rice with a fork, the stir in the pecans and parsley. Taste for seasoning and add salt if needed.
  3. Serve hot or warm.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Turkey, Pumpkin and White Bean Chili with Cranberry Relish

Turkey, Pumpkin and White Bean ChiliOne of my stand-by kitchen recipes, one I make for friends, family and just for myself on a regular basis is my Tuxedo Chili, made with chicken, black and white beans and warming spices. It even won a recipe contest! It’s a perfect one bowl meal, filling and comforting and perfect for the first chilly nights. With Halloween and Thanksgiving around the corner, I wanted to give my standard a little seasonal twist. So I’ve combined all the comforting flavors of fall into a delicious, hearty treat.

I swapped out chicken in the recipe for the more seasonally-loved turkey, and added rich pumpkin for depth of flavor and a nice, creamy dose of white beans. Once I had the chili sorted, I couldn’t resist a sweet and tangy cranberry and cilantro relish to top it off, adding another layer of autumn. All in all, this makes for the kind of meal I love to serve family and friends. Make a big pot of chili, put out the various toppings and some good bread and let everyone build their own bowl. For an even more thematic meal, make a batch of Pumpkin Cornbread to serve alongside. I think this is the perfect meal to warm up post trick-or-treating or a trip to the corn maze!

Turkey, Pumpkin and White Bean Chili with Cranberry Relish
Serves 4
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For the Chili
  1. 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  2. 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
  3. 2 garlic cloves, minced
  4. 1 pound ground turkey
  5. 2 teaspoons dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
  6. 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  7. 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
  8. 1 teaspoon salt
  9. 1 teaspoon black pepper
  10. ½ teaspoon sweet paprika
  11. 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  12. 2 cups (16-ounce cans) pumpkin puree
  13. 1 (15.5 ounce) can white beans, rinsed and drained
  14. 1 ½ cups chicken broth
For the Relish
  1. ½ cup dried cranberries
  2. 4 green onions, white and some green parts
  3. ¼ cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
  4. juice of ½ a small lime
To serve
  1. Sour cream
  2. Lime wedges
For the Chili
  1. Pour the oil into a large pot, add the onions and cook over medium-high heat until the onions are soft and wilted. Add the garlic and cook a few minutes more. Add the ground turkey and cook, breaking up the meat with a spoon or spatula, until it begins to brown.
  2. Mix the oregano, cumin, chili powder, salt, pepper, cinnamon and paprika together in a small bowl and sprinkle over the meat in the pot and stir to distribute the spices evenly. Scrape in the pumpkin puree and stir well, then pour in the chicken broth and stir. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and add the drained beans. Cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover the pot and cook until the chili is thickened, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. The chili can be cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to two days and freezes beautifully. Add a little broth when reheating if needed.
For the Relish
  1. Place the cranberries in the bowl of a small food processor and pulse to break them up. Cut the green onion into pieces and add to the bowl with the cilantro. Pulse until you have a loose relish. Stir in the lime juice.
  2. Serve the chili with a spoonful of the relish and a dollop of sour cream, with some lime wedges to squeeze over.
Notes
  1. Easily doubled!
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Sweet Potato Buttermilk Chess Pie

Sweet Potato Buttermilk Chess PieI adore sweet potato pie, but I admit I was a latecomer to its joys. I think as a young person, I thought it was a trick to make me eat vegetables. I mean, who puts potatoes in pie? I always avoided the marshmallow topped casserole at Thanksgiving, because I just couldn’t imagine the sweet, sugary combo. I don’t remember when I discovered the pleasure of sweet potato pie, but I have spent many years chasing a signature recipe. I’ve tried it with condensed milk, evaporated milk, a roster of spices, nuts, crumb crusts, bought crusts, bruleed toppings and all manner of things. Now, a classic Southern chess pie I have always loved and I have great memories of little miniature chess pies as a special treat in my childhood. Chess pie was one of the earliest dishes I learned to make. So eventually, coming around to the idea of a sweet potato chess seemed only natural. And now, this is my go to sweet potato pie.

Buttermilk is my secret weapon for about everything. It gives this pie a little tang which is a great complement to the rich sweet potates. The buttermilk crust adds an extra layer of flavor as well, and also makes a tender crust. I don’t go overboard with the spices on this one, just a teeny whisper of nutmeg. The lemon really adds balance, but I have also made this with an orange to good results.

Sweet Potato Buttermilk Chess Pie
Serves 6
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For the Buttermilk Crust
  1. 1 ¼ cup all purpose flour
  2. 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  3. 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  4. ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
  5. ¼ - ½ cup buttermilk
For the Filling
  1. 2 medium sweet potatoes, about 1 pound
  2. 4 eggs
  3. 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  4. ½ cup buttermilk
  5. zest and juice of one lemon
  6. 1 Teaspoon vanilla extract
  7. 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
  8. ¼ cup light brown sugar
  9. 2 Tablespoons cornmeal
  10. ½ teaspoon nutmeg
For the Pie Crust
  1. Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Add the butter pieces and pulse just until the mixture is crumbly. Add ¼ cup of buttermilk and pulse until you have a shaggy ball of dough, adding more buttermilk if needed. Remove the dough to a sheet of plastic wrap and knead to pull together, then pat it into a disk and wrap tightly. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or up to overnight.
  2. When ready to make the pie, take the dough from the fridge and let soften slightly. Preheat the oven to 350. Spray a 9-inch pie plate with cooking spray. Roll the dough on a lightly floured counter into a 12-inch round disk. Carefully fit the crust into the pie plate. Prick the bottom all over with a fork, then line the crust with foil or parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and cool. Remove the pie weights.
For the Filling
  1. Prick the potatoes all over with a sharp knife and microwave fro 10 minutes until soft when pressed. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, but still warm, cut in half and scoop the flesh into the bowl of a food processor. Process until you have a smooth puree, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. You should have about 1 cup of puree. Leave the puree to cool.
  2. When the puree is cool and the pie crust is also cooled, add the eggs, melted butter, buttermilk, lemon zest and juice and vanilla to the sweet potato in the food processor. Blend until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. Whisk the granulated sugar, brown sugar, cornmeal and nutmeg together in small bowl, then dump it all at once into the bowl and process until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is completely combined. Pour the filling into the prepared crust
  3. Bake the pie for 30 minutes, the sprinkle a little nutmeg over the top and return to the oven. If the crust is getting very brown, shield it with foil. Bake a further 15 – 20 minutes until the center is set. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a rack.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Queso Fundido Soup

Queso Fundido SoupCinco de Mayo approaches and with it, thoughts of the completely Americanized restaurant specialty, queso, or cheese dip as we used to call it. I, and pretty much anyone from in Memphis, grew up on a thin, cold cheese dip created by the area’s first Mexican restaurant. It is still a favorite and available at local groceries in a plastic tub, and a true guilty pleasure for me. Next came Ro-tel dip, melted Velveeta cheese mixed with canned tomato and green chile mix. No teenage party was complete without it. Then a restaurant opened in town serving the first incarnation of what was considered “authentic” Mexican food. It was the first place in town to serve fajitas. And with it came queso fundido (they title their version queso flameado). Spicy chorizo sausage covered in melty cheese, served in a hot skillet. The restaurant has been opened over 25 years, but that dip was a game changer at the time, adding such zip and interest to an old standby.

I was thinking about that dip, and other delicious versions of queso fundido I’ve sought out over the years, when I created this soup. It’s a flavorful and fun meal-in-a-bowl with lots of toppings and flavor addition possibilities. Start the meal with chips and salsa or guacamole and mix up a pitcher of margaritas and celebrate the spirit of Cinco de Mayo.

Queso Fundido Soup
Serves 4
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Ingredients
  1. 9 ounces Mexican pork chorizo sausage
  2. 1 cup finely diced onion
  3. 1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles, drained
  4. 1 clove garlic, minced
  5. ½ teaspoon mild chili powder
  6. ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  7. 4 cups chicken broth
  8. 1 ½ cups whole milk
  9. ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  10. 8 ounces Monterrey jack cheese, grated
  11. 2 small plum tomatoes
  12. fresh cilantro
  13. tortilla chips or strips
Instructions
  1. Sauté the chorizo in a Dutch oven, breaking the meat up with a spatula as you go. When the chorizo releases some of its fat, add the onion, green chiles and garlic and stir well. Cook until the chorizo is cooked through and the onions and chiles are soft, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the chili powder and cumin. Pour in the chicken broth, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
  2. Measure the milk in a 2-cup jug and whisk in the flour until smooth and completely dissolved. Stir the milk mixture into the soup and cook at a low bubble – not a boil – until slightly thickened. Reduce the heat to low. Reserve about a half cup of the cheese to top the soup, then stir in the remaining cheese, ½ cup at a time, making sure each addition is melted and smooth before adding the next.
  3. Serve the soup in large bowl topped with chopped tomato, minced cilantro, a little grated cheese and some tortilla strips.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Carrot Dill Biscuits with Cream Cheese Butter

Carrot and Dill Biscuits with Cream Cheese Butter

Carrot and cream cheese is a classic pairing that always makes an appearance around Easter. But the combination is usually in sweet recipes. I love a moist carrot cake with rich cream cheese icing, or a carrot cookie with a drizzle of cream cheese glaze. But I decided to turn that combo around, creating a savory interpretation perfect for an Easter brunch. And what Easter brunch would be complete without biscuits?

Cornmeal adds interest to the texture of these biscuits, and carrots contribute a hint of sweetness. Dill is such a perfect pairing with carrots I just had to add a dose to the recipe. The cream cheese butter is rich and flavorful and perfect with these biscuits, but they are also delicious with a smear of plain butter. Try these next to an Easter ham to make a very interesting sandwich combo.

Carrot Dill Biscuits with Cream Cheese Butter
Yields 12
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For the Biscuits
  1. 1 ¼ cup soft wheat flour (I like White Lily)
  2. ¾ cup yellow cornmeal
  3. 3 teaaspoons baking powder
  4. ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  5. ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  6. 1 ½ Tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  7. ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) cold butter, cut into small cubes
  8. ½ cup finely grated carrots (about 1 large carrot)
  9. ¾ cup whole milk
For the Cream Cheese Butter
  1. 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  2. 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  3. 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  4. 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  5. ½ teaspoon kosher salt
For the Biscuits
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Line a small rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Mix the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and pepper together in a large mixing bowl using a fork. Add the chopped dill and toss to distribute it evenly. Add the butter cubes, and using a pastry blender or your good clean hands, rub the butter into the flour mixture until you have a fine, sandy texture with a few pea size pieces of butter visible. Add the grated carrots and use your hands to toss them into the flour mixture so there are no clumps of carrot and everything is evenly distributed and coated with flour. Add the milk and stir with a spatula just until combined. Knead with your hands in the bowl a few times just to make sure all the dry ingredients are incorporated.
  3. Lightly flour a work surface or a pastry cloth and dump the biscuit dough on it. Pat the dough into a rectangle, fold it in half, turn it over and pat into a rectangle again. Do this three times, patting the dough into a ½-inch slab, then use a well-floured 2-inch biscuit cutter to cut biscuits. Place the biscuits vey close together, almost touching, on the prepared baking sheet. Gently fold and pat the scraps of dough and cut more biscuits.
  4. Bake the biscuits for 12 – 15 minutes until risen, puffed and lightly browned. If you like a burnished top to your biscuits, turn the broiler on for the last 1 – 2 minutes of baking.
  5. Makes at least 12 2-inch biscuits
For the Cream Cheese Butter
  1. Beat all the ingredients together in the bowl of a mixer until thoroughly combined and smooth. Scrape into a bowl, cover and refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors meld. Bring to room temperature before serving. The cream cheese butter can be keep covered in the fridge for up to a week.
  2. Makes about 1 cup
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Irish Barmbrack (Fruit and Tea Loaf)

Irish Barmbrack (Fruit and Tea Loaf)I picked up a recipe card in a grocery store in London for a fruit and tea loaf. It sounded good, so I was looking for the ingredients. A lovely lady with a lilting Irish accent was helping me, but she told me that I’d be better off making a real barmbrack than using a product-promoting recipe card. I’d never heard of barmbrack, so she explained that it was a traditional treat her granny always made back in Ireland. She outlined the ingredients and steps in some detail and I took notes on the back of a Tube map I had in my purse, right there in the baking aisle at Waitrose. I never did make the recipe card bread, but when I got home to my own kitchen, I started a little research on barmbrack and developed my recipe in combination with her notes.

Here is what I learned. Barmbrack is traditionally served at Halloween, and sometimes little charms or a coin are baked into the loaf to predict various fortunes for those who get the charm in their slice. There is some dispute, as far as I can make out, as to whether a version made with yeast is the original or the batter bread came first. My grocery store guru never mentioned yeast, so I went with the simpler version. Most recipes I read and the ingredients she listed included candied peel and cherries, but I can only find those readily available during the Christmas, so I substituted dried sweet cherries and citrus zest and juice. The long soak in tea gives this bread a nice tannic finish and a subtle flavor. The bread is fruity but not overly sweet.

I offer this recipe in time for St. Patrick’s Day, even if that is not traditional, because it always reminds me of my Irish grocery pal (I like to imagine her name was something wonderful like Siobhan or Aoife) and the name is so musically Irish, especially with the Irish spelling báirín breac, which means “speckled bread.” And this dense, fruit studded, tea infused loaf is good at any time of year, spread with good Irish butter or with a slice of Irish cheddar.

Irish Barmbrack (Fruit and Tea Loaf)
Serves 10
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Ingredients
  1. 2 black tea bags (Earl Gray or English Breakfast)
  2. ¾ cups black raisins
  3. ¾ cup golden raisins
  4. ½ cup currants
  5. ¼ cup dried sweet cherries
  6. 1 medium navel orange, zest and juice
  7. 1 medium lemon, zest and juice
  8. 1 egg
  9. ½ cup light brown sugar, packed
  10. 2 cups all-purpose flour
  11. ½ teaspoon baking soda
  12. ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  13. ¼ teaspoon cloves
  14. ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  15. ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  16. 2 Tablespoons buttermilk or milk
Instructions
  1. Brew 1 cup of tea with the two teabags. It should be strong tea. Toss the dried fruits together in a large bowl and cover with the tea and stir. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave the fruit to soak overnight, giving it a stir if you happen to remember.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a standard 9 by 5 loaf pan with cooking spray.
  3. Zest the orange and the lemon into the bowl of fruit and tea and stir to combine. Squeeze the orange, then the lemon to make ½ cup juice (more orange juice is a little sweeter than too much lemon). Add the juice to the bowl and stir, then crack in the egg and stir to combine. Add the brown sugar, flour, soda and spices and stir until the batter comes together. Add the buttermilk or milk. This is a thick batter, but make sure all the dry ingredients are mixed in with the wet. If you need too, you can add a little bit more buttermilk to pull things together.
  4. Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan and press it out to an even layer. Bake for 45 minutes – 1 hour until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/