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.

Pumpkin Cream Tart

My First Thanksgiving

The first Thanksgiving feast that ever I cooked was during graduate school in England.  An American friend and I decided to host a holiday meal at his digs, which had a larger kitchen, for a motley crew of Americans, Canadians, South Africans and an Ecuadorian thrown in for good measure.  This plan of course meant that I cooked and he, well, he ate.  I spent the weeks before we even decided we could do this scoping out the local markets to see if the necessary ingredients would be available.  I even went into London to some of the food halls to fill out the list.  Turkey, check.  Sweet potatoes, check.  Cranberries, check.  I even think I found Stovetop stuffing, though I would not have used it. I love grocery shopping, but I have never had such an extended mission.  I wrote my mom for advice, and she sent me a very funny set of instructions that some how got lost in the move back to the States.  The gist of her instruction manual was basically “why would you cook a Thanksgiving meal if you didn’t have to?”

So the big day arrived, and I spent all day in the kitchen with limited pots and utensils, and lots of disposable pans. The first foil pan was too small for the turkey, the second pan fit the turkey, but not the oven. So back to the smaller pan, wedged inside a teeny-tiny oven just barely big enough to fit the bird.  It was a beautifully browned turkey, probably due to it’s proximity to the oven walls and heating element. Getting that turkey out of the oven was a maneuver, too.  I had no pot holders, only thin dish towels that had been used by hundreds of students before me.  I had to sort of wiggle the pan to shift it out on to the floor before I could lift it on to the counter.   There were only two burners that worked on the stove, but I managed to cook sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce and green beans and corn. I made gravy and kept it warm by putting the gravy bowl in a larger bowl filled with hot water from the electric kettle. I even made homemade cornbread a few days before for dressing.  The first batch left in the kitchen disappeared, so I made a second pan.  Considering my limited resources and skills at the time, I produced a pretty darn good meal.

As we sat down on the floor of someone’s room to enjoy our repast, the Americans among us, representing Tennessee, Kansas, Alabama and New York, told the age old story of Thanksgiving.  The pilgrims, the Indians, the prayers of Thanksgiving.  We made everyone go around the room and say what they were thankful for.  We did everything but act out the Thanksgiving story in our own little pageant.  After all this production – the weeks of preparation and discussion, the cooking, the meal, the party, the guests, the story telling, one friend from South Africa looked up over his empty plate and said “So, is this like a big holiday or something in the States?” Groans released from the Americans.  Where had we gone wrong?

I don’t remember what I served for dessert; it is possible I bought something from one of the bakeries in town.  But now, I have developed a number of dessert classics for Turkey Day, and this tart almost always appears.

Pumpkin Cream Tart

Crust:

2 cups gingersnaps (about 30 cookies)

½ cup cashews

1 Tablespoon sugar

3 Tablespoons butter, melted

Filling:

1 cup pumpkin puree (from a 15-ounce can), not pie filling

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

2 cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

¾ cup heavy cream

Chopped crystallized ginger, for garnish

For the Crust:  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Grind the gingersnaps, cashews and sugar in a food processor to produce fine crumbs.  Drizzle in the melted butter and mix to combine and the crumbs begin to come together.

Press the crumb mixture on the bottom and up the sides of a inch tart pan with a removable bottom.  Bake the crust for 10 minutes, remove from the oven and leave to cool completely.

For the Filling:  In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the cream cheese and the pumpkin.  Add the powdered sugar a cup at a time and beat until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Beat in the spices and the vanilla.  Add the cream and mix until thoroughly combined.

Pour the filling into the prepared crust and smooth the top.  Cover lightly with plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least three hours or over night.

When ready to serve, garnish the tart with a sprinkling of crystallized ginger pieces, remove the tart ring and slice.

Serves 6 – 8

Try Southern Pecan Pie as another great additon to the Thanksgiving table.

Chicken Enchiladas with Pumpkin Sauce

Pumpkin Enchiladas

I don’t do Halloween.  Of course, as a kid it was my favorite time of year, what with the candy and all.  I used to spend weeks thinking about my costume, and they were almost always homemade.  I was Darth Vadar one year in a navy blue blanket and German helmet a neighbor kid’s grandfather brought back from World War II.  One year I had chicken pox and my brother shared his candy with me.  It was probably another fifteen years before he did anything that sweet again.

But as an adult, I have given up on Halloween.  I am not good at the clever costumes.  Two failed attempts put me off the idea for good.  My neighborhood is a popular trick-or-treating area, but I lock the doors, turn off all the lights and retreat upstairs where I can’t be seen.  It is all feeding what I fear may be my growing reputation as the Crazy Old Miss Lady who lives down the street.

But I have tried to establish one Halloween tradition of my own, these super-seasonal enchiladas.  They a perfect warming meal after a night of trick-or-treating or a great dish for a grown-ups only party.  I usually make the big family sized batch, but divide them between smaller dishes to deliver to family and friends.  You can cook and shred the chicken ahead of time and store in a ziptop bag in the fridge, or the enchiladas will keep covered in the fridge for a whole day, so they are just ready to pop in the oven when the little monsters return from their mischief.  This recipe would also be a great way to use leftover cooked Thanksgiving turkey, and a real departure from plain old leftovers.

Chicken Enchiladas in Pumpkin Sauce

Serve a little sour cream on the side.

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

3 cups chicken broth

1 large bunch cilantro

juice of 2 limes

8 green onions, white and some dark green parts, sliced

2  (15 – ounce) cans pumpkin puree (not pie filling)

6 garlic cloves

1/2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce

1 tablespoon adobo sauce from can

1 jalapeno chile, ribs and seeds removed

1 teaspoon chili powder

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 ½ cups water

salt and pepper to taste

12 – 16 corn tortillas

3 cups white cheddar or Monterey jack cheese, shredded

Place the chicken breasts in a large saucepan with the broth, juice from one lime and a handful of cilantro, leaves and stems.  Bring to a boil, lower the heat then poach the breasts until thoroughly cooked, about 15 minutes. The juices should run clear when a breast is pierced with a knife.  Remove from broth and leave to cool; discard the broth.  Shred the chicken using fingers or a fork and set aside.

Working in two batches, place pumpkin puree, juice of one lime, green onions, garlic cloves, chipotles and adobo sauce, jalapeno, chili powder, cumin, water, salt and pepper and half the remaining cilantro leaves in a blender.  Puree until smooth and combined.  Pour into a bowl.  Repeat with the second batch, pour into the bowl and stir to combine.  The sauce will taste raw at this point but don’t worry, it will be great when cooked.

Finely chop the remaining cilantro leaves. Put aside 1 1/2 cups of the grated cheese.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a large 13 by 9 inch ovenproof casserole. Pour in about 1 cup of pumpkin sauce and spread to cover the bottom of the casserole.

Wrap the tortillas in a damp tea towel or a few damp paper towels.  Microwave for 30 seconds to soften the tortillas and make them pliable.  Keep the tortillas covered with the damp cloth while assembling the enchiladas.  You may want to zap them again during the process to keep them soft.

Lay a tortilla on a work surface.  Pile a small handful of chicken and a small handful of cheese on top and sprinkle with cilantro leaves.  Roll the tortilla up and place seam side down in the casserole on top of the sauce.  Repeat with remaining ingredients.  Stuff the tortilla rolls closely together in the casserole.

Pour the remaining sauce over and around the enchiladas to cover.  Sprinkle the top with the reserved cheese. There may be a little more sauce than needed to cover the enchiladas.

Bake the enchiladas until cooked through and bubbling, about 45 minutes. Cover with foil halfway through baking time if the cheese begins to brown.

The casserole can be covered and refrigerated several hours before cooking.

Serves 8 – 10

Candy Corn Mousse

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That’s right.  Candy Corn Mousse.  I am one of those people who loves good candy corn.  Only at Halloween, never at other times of the year, and never in great quantities.  When the first bags start appearing at the stores, I get excited.  It means fall is here and good fall food and I can start wearing sweaters and then it’s Halloween, then Thanksgiving….

I just had to try this idea out, adapting a favorite easy mousse recipe I usually make with leftover Halloween candy.  And it works!  I love that this is a silly thing you could serve to the kids, or dessert that will get a giggle out of adults at a dinner party.

Candy Corn Mousse

Go wild decorating these with candy corn or sprinkles or colored sugar.

8 ounces candy corn, plus more for decorating

2 ½ cups heavy cream

Melt the candy corn and ¼ cup of the cream in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly.  When the candy corn is melted and the mixture is smooth, set aside to cool, stirring occasionally.

Whip the remaining 2 ¼ cups cream with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form.  Drop a few tablespoons of the whipped cream into the melted candy corn and stir until thoroughly combined.  The fold the mixture into the whipped cream gently, making sure to combine completely.  Spoon the mousse into ramekins, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 5 hours or overnight.

Garnish the mousse with the reserved candy corn.

Make 6 small or 4 large serving

Hearty Pumpkin Cookies

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My favorite time of year is finally here – pumpkin time!  I love pumpkin – in cake, soup, risotto, muffins, bread and, of course, cookies. I am sure over the next few months my pumpkin obsession will manifest itself with a host of recipes, so be prepared! We’ve just had our first cool days here and I couldn’t resist whipping up an early batch of these soft, hearty and delicious pumpkin cookies.  I love ginger and cranberries, but feel free to substitute any combination of dried berries or nuts like cherries, raisins or walnuts.

Hearty Pumpkin Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups old fashioned oats

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup light brown sugar, tightly packed

1 cup pure pumpkin puree (from a 12 ounce can), not pumpkin pie filling

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup dried cranberries

½ cup chopped crystallized ginger

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease two cookie sheets.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice and salt.  Set aside.  Cream the butter and both sugars together in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy.  Add the egg, pumpkin and vanilla extract and mix until thoroughly incorporated.  Add the flour mixture and mix well to combine.  Stir in the cranberries and ginger pieces, distributing them evenly through the dough.

Drop 2 Tablespoons of dough onto the prepared cookie sheets, spacing about two inches apart.  Bake until the cookies are set and lightly browned, 14 – 16 minutes.  Leave to cool on the pans for 4- 6 minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

The cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to 4 days, or can be frozen for up to two months.

Makes 2 ½ dozen