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.

Creamy Cauliflower Parmigiano Gratin

I had the good fortune to spend a month in Italy this summer, a blissful few days of it at the cooking school of Badia a Coltibuono, a medieval abbey turned into a winery and bed and breakfast in the hills of Tuscany. We made pasta by hand and learned the secrets to Italian breads and sauces. On one day, the chef, Benedetta Vitali, told us we would make a cauliflower cheese dish to accompany the evening meal. I have to say, we students were not at first thrilled at the idea. The other ladies in the class were English, where “cauliflower cheese” is a ubiquitous comfort food dish, and I have always been underwhelmed by the seeming bland crucifer. Amidst the amazing classical Tuscan recipes, it seemed sort of plain and uninteresting. But we were there to learn, so we watched and participated as told. The first difference we noticed from our own ideas of the dish was how finely Benedetta insisted we chop the cauliflower, rather than layering florets in a baker. Then she saved the cooking water to use in the sauce. Genius. When the dish was served at dinner, we were all amazed. It was so simple to make, but so packed with flavor, rich and creamy but not heavy or cloying. We each in turn said we’d definitely be making this at home. Homemade, hand rolled gnocchi, we weren’t so sure.

As it happens, it showcased the best of Tuscan cooking – choosing the best in season, fresh ingredients and treating them simply and with respect. True parmigiano-reggiano cheese is the secret to this dish. It adds a salty edge and Italian flair, so splurge on a piece and grate it freshly for this dish. Chopping the cauliflower into pretty fine crumbs makes a huge difference in this recipe. I served this to my extended family, and they loved, each saying “I don’t usually like cauliflower, but this is delicious…”

Creamy Cauliflower Parmigiano Gratin
Serves 6
  1. 1 head of cauliflower
  2. 10 Tablespoons butter (1 stick plus 2 Tablespoon)
  3. 5 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  4. 1 cup milk
  5. 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  1. Place the whole head of cauliflower in a large, deep pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook until soft when pierced with a knife, about 20 minutes. Carefully remove the cauliflower to a plate. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water, then wipe out the pot.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350° and grease a 2-quart baking dish.
  3. When the cauliflower is cool enough to handle, remove any stem and leaves, and place on a large chopping board. Cut the head in half, then finely chop – it should be fine crumbs. Repeat with the other half. I use my biggest chopping board and a large knife and scrape the first half of the crumbs onto the plate and continue with the rest.
  4. Melt the butter in the pot, then whisk in the flour until smooth. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is pale and smooth. Whisk in the milk and the reserved cooking water and cook until thickened and smooth. Whisk in the cheese, a handful at a time, until smooth and melted. Fold in the chopped cauliflower until it is all coated in the sauce. Taste and add salt as needed.
  5. Scrape the cauliflower into the prepared baking dish and bake until heated through, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.
  6. The gratin can be cooled, covered and held in the refrigerator for several hours before baking. Adjust the cooking time as needed.
Adapted from Benedetta Vitali
Adapted from Benedetta Vitali
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Pumpkin Tres Leches

Pumpkin Tres Leches

Moist, sweet and tender Tres Leches cake is a favorite of mine. A classic of the cooking canon of many Hispanic cultures, “three milk” cake is simply a delicate cake soaked in a combination of milks. For years, I used a recipe given to me by a friend from Nicaragua that used a box cake mix and it was always a big hit. I eventually developed a from-scratch recipe, and then adapted that to become one of my favorite Christmas dessert, Eggnog Tres Leches. It’s a fabulous holiday dish, because it needs to be made ahead and can serve a crowd. So for Thanksgiving, it seemed only right to come up with a pumpkin version.

Pumpkin Tres Leches is a great treat for any seasonal entertaining, and with its origins is a great choice for a Day of the Dead celebration. Serve it up as a post trick-or-treating feast of Chicken Enchiladas with Pumpkin Sauce or Spicy Chorizo, Pumpkin and Black Bean Chili (because you can’t have too much pumpkin on Halloween). And it is a natural for Thanksgiving and is imminently portable if you are headed to another house for the celebration. An artful dollop of whipped cream and sprinkle of nutmeg add an elegant touch if you’d like.

Pumpkin Tres Leches
Serves 12
  1. 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
  2. 2 cups granulated sugar
  3. 1 cup vegetable oil
  4. 4 eggs
  5. 2 teaspoons vanilla
  6. 2 cups all-purpose flour
  7. 2 teaspoons baking soda
  8. 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  9. ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  10. ½ teaspoon salt
  11. ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
  12. ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  13. 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
  14. 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  15. ¾ cup evaporated milk
  16. ½ cup buttermilk
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a 9 by 13 glass baking dish.
  2. Beat the pumpkin, sugar and oil together in the bowl of an electric mixer until smooth and well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Mix the flour, soda, spices, and salt together in a small bowl. Beat into the pumpkin mixture at low speed until thoroughly combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally.
  3. Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 – 45 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Leave the cake to cool to room temperature.
  4. Stir the condensed milk, evaporated milk and buttermilk together in a 4-cup measuring jug until completely combined. Poke small holes over the top of the cake using a skewer or cake tester. Slowly pour the milk mixture evenly over the top of the cake. Let sit for about 15 minutes, then carefully cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Leave the cake to soak up the syrup for up to 12 hours.
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Nancie’s Asian Chicken Salad

Nancie's Asian Chicken Salad

Years ago, when I first thought about becoming a full-time food writer, I attended the wonderful and much missed Symposium for Professional Food Writers at the Greenbrier Hotel. It was amazing and inspiring and really made me understand that food writing is real and vibrant field, and it set me on the path to doing something I truly love. One of the first people I met was the astounding Nancie McDermott. Nancie is a food writer from North Carolina who has written amazing books about Chinese and Thai cooking that make those cuisines possible for American home cooks. She is also the author of two books that should absolutely be in every Southern cooks library, Southern Cakes and Southern Pies. But more than her prolific talents in the kitchen, Nancie is a kind and generous person who has been a friend and mentor to me. Just when I start to hit some sort of wall, I always seem to get a surprise email from Nancie just asking how I’m doing, and that always pushes me past the block.

A few years ago I was waiting in a doctor’s office, flipping through one of the magazines they offered (I can’t remember which one) and I came across this recipe for Asian Chicken Salad. It looked so delicious, that I asked the receptionist if she would make a copy for me. She seemed a little surprised someone had asked and told me to just rip it out of the magazine, so I took the whole page home with me. After I had made the delicious salad a few times, I flipped the page over to see the other recipes. Then I noticed the article was written by none other than Nancie McDermott. It didn’t surprise me at all that a recipe I found so appealing was written by such an amazing friend.

Nancie’s most recent book is Simply Vegetarian Thai, and it reminded me of this favorite Nancie recipe, and I knew I needed to share it. This salad is spectacularly fresh and light. The herbs really make it sing. I love to keep a bowl of this in the fridge to snack on or make a quick meal. It is great eaten on its own, but I have also scooped it up with rice crackers or served it in a lettuce cup. I have even used it to fill a rice paper roll served with one of Nancie’s delicious dipping sauces. Make a bowl of this refreshing salad, and I’m sure you’ll love Nancie too. And I can’t wait for her next book, Southern Soups and Stews!

Nancie's Asian Chicken Salad
For the dressing
  1. 3 tablespoons lime or lemon juice
  2. 2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
  3. 1 tablespoon honey
  4. 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  5. 1 tablespoon sugar
  6. 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  7. 1/4 teaspoon salt
For the Salad
  1. ½ cup very thinly sliced red onion
  2. 3/4 cup purchased julienned carrots
  3. 3 cups cooked shredded chicken (from 2 boneless, skinless breast halves)
  4. 2 cups thinly sliced cabbage
  5. 3/4 cup coarsely chopped loosely packed fresh mint
  6. 1/3 cup coarsely chopped loosely packed cilantro
  7. 1/4 cup coarsely chopped salted roasted peanuts
For the Dressing
  1. Place all the ingredients in a jar, screw on the lid and shake until the sugar is completely dissolved.
For the Salad
  1. Place the sliced onions in a bowl and cover with water. Leave for 30 minutes. This takes some of the sting and burn from raw onion. Drain completely.
  2. Toss carrots, chicken, cabbage and onion in a large bowl using your good clean hands. Add mint, cilantro and peanuts and toss to combine. Give the dressing a good shake to combine, then pour over and toss to coat every strand. I like to use clean hands again, but you can use a fork if you prefer. Serve cold or at room temperature.
Adapted from Nancie McDermott
Adapted from Nancie McDermott
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Squash Blossom Risotto

Squash Blossom Risotto

I ate at two restaurants in Rome earlier this summer that claimed to be built on the very spot where Julius Caesar was killed, and visited two tourist attractions that claimed the same thing. It makes a great story to print on a menu, and they each had some historical perspective to back up the claim. Of course, the restaurants are modern buildings now with only a small trace of their ancient ancestry, but the food at each one was quite good. I made sure to order classic and traditional Roman dishes at each (when in Rome, right?), but when I saw the risotto con fiore di zucca on one menu, I knew I had to order it. I love squash blossoms, and they are an ingredient I just have to sample whenever I see them. I had my fill on a trip to Mexico, and was lucky enough to be in Italy when they were abundantly available. So when I sampled this dish, I knew I would recreate it once I returned home.

It was at a restaurant in Tuscany that I had a risotto with a secret center of creamy cheese, and I decided to incorporate that idea into this recipe to add a nice tang and creaminess to complement the rich rice. The flavors here are subtly earthy with lovely strands of the blossoms stirred through. Many dishes that use squash blossoms like to include saffron for color. (I use it in my pesto). You can do that here too, just soak a pinch of saffron strands in some hot broth and stir that into the risotto during cooking.

Squash Blossom Risotto
Serves 4
  1. 24 squash blossoms
  2. 5 cups vegetable stock
  3. 4 Tablespoons butter, divided
  4. 1 large shallot, finely diced
  5. 1 ½ cups carnaroli or arborio rice
  6. ½ cup dry white wine
  7. ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  8. salt to taste
  9. 4 Tablespoons whole milk ricotta, at room temperature
  10. olive oil for drizzling
  1. Grasp the squash blossoms by the stem and twist to remove the hard stem and the stamen inside, leaving only the blossoms. Place 12 of the blossoms in a blender with 2 cups of the stock and blend until smooth. Pour the blossom mixture and the rest of the stock into a saucepan and heat over low until just simmering.
  2. Cut the remaining blossoms into thin pieces. I generally pull the leaves apart, stack them up and use scissors to cut them into fine shreds. Set aside.
  3. Melt 2 Tablespoons of the butter over low in a large, deep skillet. Add the diced shallots and sauté until soft and glassy, but do not brown, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat it in the butter and cook for a few minutes until the edges of the rice grains are a little translucent. Pour in the wine and cook, stirring, until it is completely evaporated. Now start adding the stock a big ladleful at a time, stirring after each addition. When each addition has evaporated, add the next ladleful and stir. When almost all the stock has been absorbed, taste the risotto. It should still have a little bite and texture to it, but if it still hard or crisp, keep adding stock until it is al dente. Stir in the squash blossom strips and the grated Parmigiano until combined and melted. Add the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter and stir it through. Season with salt to taste.
  4. To serve the risotto, scoop a dollop of ricotta (about a Tablespoon; I use a small cookie scoop) onto the center if a rimmed plate or shallow bowl, then spoon the risotto around it. Drizzle with good olive oil and serve immediately.
  1. The ricotta needs to be at room temperature to melt smoothly into the risotto. You can scoop it out onto the plates and have them waiting before you start making the risotto.
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Italian Summer Cherry Tomato Tart

Italian Summer Cherry Tomato Tart

I’m recently back from a month in Italy, exploring the art and history and architecture, but let’s be honest, mostly exploring the food. Because that is what I love the most. The recipes, techniques and ideas I learned are working around in my head still, but I am sure they will come out here soon, but in the meantime, I have been drawn to the flavors I loved so much in Italy. My everyday cooking has seen a marked increase in the use of fresh basil, good Parmigiano-Reggiano and percorino cheeses, fine olive oil and rich vinegars. Light and fresh ingredients that when combined simply sing with flavor.

So it was only natural that when I set out to use some of the lovely little jewel-like cherry tomatoes from the farmers market, my mind wandered back to Italy. This is not something I learned in my travels, nor do I think it is particularly authentic, but the fresh, bright herbs and rich cheeses make a perfect match. Use the charming multi-colored tomatoes if you can find them for a nice presentation. I highly recommend using real Parmigiano cheese and grating it yourself, and rich whole milk ricotta. I’ve given measurements for the herbs below, but you can fudge a little with the quantities.

Italian Summer Cherry Tomato Tart
Serves 6
For the pastry
  1. 1 Tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
  2. 2 cups all-purpose flour
  3. ¼ cup grated Parmagiano cheese
  4. ½ teaspoon salt
  5. ½ teaspoon pepper
  6. ½ cup (1 stick) cold butter
  7. 4 – 5 Tablespoons ice water
For the Filling
  1. 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  2. 4 eggs
  3. ½ cup whole milk ricotta
  4. ½ cup heavy cream
  5. ¾ cup grated Parmagiano cheese
  6. 1 clove garlic, put through a press of very finely chopped
  7. 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  8. 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  9. 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
  10. salt and pepper to taste
For the Pastry
  1. Place the oregano, flour, cheese, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to chop the oregano and combine. Dice the butter into small pieces and add to the flour, then pulse until it looks like breadcrumbs. With the motor running, drizzle in the ice water just until the pastry comes together in a ball and there is no dry flour left.
  2. Transfer the pastry onto a piece of plastic wrap and press it into a flat, round disc. Wrap in the plastic, then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, but it can be made a day ahead.
  3. When ready to prepare the tart, preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Roll the pastry out evenly, then fit it into the pan. Prick the pastry base with a fork many times, then line the pastry with parchment paper and fill it with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven. When cool enough to handle, remove the parchment and the pie weights.
For the Filling
  1. Whisk the eggs together in a large bowl, then add the ricotta and the cream and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the cheese, garlic, herbs a few grinds of pepper and a generous pinch of salt until everything is amalgamated and evenly distributed.
  2. Spread the tomatoes over the pastry shell, distributing them evenly and pour over the filling. Use your clean fingers to move the tomatoes around if needed, so they are pretty well distributed and not bunched up. Grind a little more black pepper over the top, then bake for 40 – 45 minutes until the top is firm and lightly golden.
  3. Cool the tart for about 5 minutes before removing the ring of the pan. Slice and serve warm, room temperature or cold.
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Chicken Tinga

Chicken Tinga

When I was a kid, taco night mean hard shells, ground beef cooked with a packet of seasoning and shredded cheese. It was fun, because you got to “make” your own dinner, putting as much meat and cheese on as you wanted (though mom probably insisted that I put a little lettuce on it too). And eating with your hands! But my, how times have changed and only for the better. Tacos much closer to traditional Mexican food are readily available, and those kit tacos from my youth seem bland and boring now. That’s not Mexican food anymore, that’s drive-thru fast food now.

But one thing does remain, the fun of building your own dinner. I have often mentioned how much I love an interactive meal – everyone gets involved and talking and laughing and everybody has a meal they love. Chicken Tinga, which is a wonderful name for a dish, is chicken slow-cooked to melting tenderness in a flavor-packed onion and chipotle sauce. It is pretty simple to make for the reward it produces, and incredibly versatile. Use the juicy chicken to fill tortillas for tacos, or spread it over a crispy tostada. Stuff it into bread to make a torta, or use it to top an colorful taco salad. It is wonderful over rice, or serve it on its own, or rolled into burritos. The leftovers can be used for several days, and you can even freeze it.

I love to pull out a full array of colorful toppings to add crunch and creaminess and counterpoints to the smoky chipotle flavor. Simply pickled red onions are traditional and the vinegar tang complements to rich meat perfectly and this creamy avocado sauce cools everything down. Make this for family taco night or invite friends over for a Cinco de Mayo celebration. I think this would also make a great book club meal.

Chicken Tinga
Serves 6
  1. 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  2. 1 onion, diced
  3. 1 green bell pepper, diced
  4. 1 red bell pepper, diced
  5. 1 tomatillo, diced
  6. 2 cloves garlic, minced
  7. 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (2 if you want), diced
  8. 2 Tablespoons adobo sauce from the chipotles
  9. 1 – 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes (fire-roasted adds a little smokiness)
  10. 2 teaspoons oregano (preferably Mexican)
  11. 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  12. 6 chicken breasts
Topping ideas
  1. Creamy Avocado Sauce
  2. Quick Pickled Red Onions
  3. Crumbled cotija cheese
  4. Shredded lettuce or cabbage
  5. Shredded radishes
  6. Pico de gallo
  7. Salsa
  8. Limes wedges to squeeze over the top
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot, then add the onion and bell peppers. Saute over medium heat until the vegetables star to soften, then lower the heat a little, add the garlic and cover the pan. Cook until soft and browning a little, about 10 minutes, stirring a few times. Add a little water to the pan and scrape up any browned bits form the bottom of the pan, then let the water cook off. Browning the vegetables a little adds some depth of flavor and richness. Add the tomatillo, chipotles, adobo sauce, tomatoes, oregano and cumin and stir well. Cook for about 5 minutes until the sauce is slightly thickened. Leave to cool for about 10 minutes. When the sauce has cooled a bit, transfer it to a blender and puree until smooth.
  2. Pour the sauce back into the pot and add the chicken breasts, stirring to cover each breast with sauce. Bring the pot to a bubble over medium high heat, then turn the heat to low, cover the pot and leave to simmer until the chicken is very tender, about 1 ½ hours. Remove the chicken breasts to a plate one at a time and use two forks to pull the chicken into shreds, then return the shreds to the sauce in the pot. Continue to simmer uncovered until the sauce reduces and thickens, about 30 minutes.
  1. You can place the chicken and sauce in a slow cooker and cook over low heat for 4 hours, then shred the meat as above.
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Quick Pickled Red Onions
  1. 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  2. 1 cup water
  3. ½ cup cider vinegar
  4. 1 Tablespoon sugar
  5. 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  6. ½ teaspoon pickling spice
  1. Layer the onions in a pint jar or glass bowl. Bring the water, vinegar, sugar, salt and spices to a boil in a small pan and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Pour the brine over the onions and leave to cool, then seal and keep in the refrigerator for a least an hour, but the onions will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.
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Creamy Avocado Sauce
  1. 1 avocado
  2. 3 tomatillos
  3. juice of one lime
  4. 2 garlic cloves
  5. ¼ cup cilantro leaves
  6. salt to taste
  1. Scoop the flesh out of the avocado and place it in a blender. Chop the tomatillos roughly and add to the blender with the garlic, cilantro and salt. Blend until smooth and scoop into a bowl or jar. Cover and keep in the fridge for up to 5 days.
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Guinness and Oatmeal Quick Bread

Guinness and Oatmeal Quick Bread

It must have been close to St. Patrick’s Day. I had a six pack of Guinness on hand. Maybe I’d made some Guinness Glazed Irish Bacon or some Irish Rarebit. I love cooking with mallty stout, but I don’t particularly like drinking it straight, so I was looking for ways to use all those bottles. An Irish-inspired rustic loaf seemed the perfect thing. This bread has the lovely, dense texture of a traditional soda bread with the added tang from the Guinness. Oatmeal adds a lovely texture and richness. I like to let it cool just enough to slice easily, then spread it with lashings of Irish butter. Its also delicious toasted, or with a slice of good Irish cheddar cheese.

Guinness and Oatmeal Quick Bread
Yields 1
  1. 2 cups whole wheat flour
  2. 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  3. ¼ cup light brown sugar
  4. 2 teaspoons baking soda
  5. 1 teaspoon baking powder
  6. 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  7. 12-ounce bottle of Guinness stout
  8. 1 cup buttermilk
  9. ¼ cup butter, melted and cooled
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°. Spray a 9 by 5 inch loaf pan with nonstick spray.
  2. Mix the flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. Stir with a fork to evenly distribute the ingredients. Mix the Guinness, buttermilk and butter together in a small bowl, then add to the dry ingredients. Stir just until everything is well mixed and there is no dry flour visible. Pour the batter into the prepared pan – it will be very wet.
  3. Bake the bread for 30 minutes at 425°, then reduce the temperature to 400° and cook for a further 30 minutes. Turn the loaf out onto a wire rack to cool.
  4. Serve with lots of butter!
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Indian Spiced Butternut Soup in the Slow Cooker

Indian Spiced Butternut Soup in the Slow Cooker

It’s a cold, wintry day. I’m on the sofa with a good book and a soft blanket while my house fills with the smell of warm spices. I know that I’ll have a delicious bowl of rich, flavorful soup for dinner. This is my favorite winter scenario and this soup is a favorite way to make it a reality. The slow cooker does most of the work, simmering the squash to perfection while the spices infuse the soup. But this is a great soup to come home to as well. Put it together in the morning and your house will be warm and inviting with dinner waiting when you come home.

A little chopping is all it takes to put this delicious soup together, and I’ll tell you that I happily buy pre-chopped squash at a busy supermarket where it doesn’t sit around too long. An apple adds a bit of sweetness, while ginger adds a little zing. A good dose of Indian inflected curry powder and garam masala add so much flavor and spice without to much work, and coconut milk adds richness. I love this soup served with a dollop of rich yogurt swirled in and a little chopped cilantro for freshness. Some soft, warm naan on the side is a nice treat.

Indian Spiced Butternut Soup in the Slow Cooker
Serves 6
  1. 32 ounces cubed butternut squash (about 6 cups, from about 2 medium squash)
  2. 1 green apple, cut into chunks
  3. 1 onion, cut into eights
  4. 3 cloves of garlic
  5. thumbnail-length piece of ginger, chopped
  6. 1 Tablespoon curry powder
  7. 1 teaspoon garam masala
  8. 1 teaspoon cumin
  9. 1 teaspoon salt
  10. 4 cups (32-ouncs box) vegetable broth
  11. 1 (13.6-ounce) can coconut milk
  12. yogurt and chopped cilantro to top
  1. Combine the squash, apple, onion, garlic and ginger in the crock of an 8 quart slow cooker. Sprinkle over the spices and stir to coat. Pour in the broth and the coconut milk, stir to combine and cover the pot. Cook on high for five hours or low for eight, until the vegetables are completely tender. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until completely smooth.
  2. Serve immediately with a dollop of plain yogurt and a sprinkling of chopped cilantro on top.
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Greek Lemon and Rice Soup

Greek Lemon Rice Soup

My area is sorely lacking in Greek restaurants, but we do have a wonderful Greek Festival every year, and they have a lovely roasted chicken with lemon and rosemary on the menu that is a once a year treat. But about a year ago, a restaurant opened up (you may have one in your town too) that serves a Greek lemon and rice soup with the same sunny flavors. It is the reason I go there, and the soup I always want when I am feeling puny. But nobody brings me soup when I’m sick, so I decided I better learn to make it myself.

And this is completely from scratch. I start with plump chicken breasts to make a stock flavored with lemon and herbs, then I pull the tender white meat from the bones. The finished soup has a healthy dose of lemon juice for zing and soft, comforting rice. I love this soup and my family does too. I’m not saying I’ll never have it at that café again, but I think I’ve hit the nail on the head – and maybe improved it! I also have it on my list to try this with dill instead of rosemary and oregano; I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Greek Lemon and Rice Soup
Serves 6
  1. For the Stock
  2. 2 bone-in, skin-on whole chicken breasts
  3. 4 cloves garlic
  4. 2 celery stalks
  5. 2 carrots
  6. 1 onion
  7. 4 sprigs thyme
  8. 4 sprigs oregano
  9. 4 spirgs rosemary
  10. 1 lemon
For the Soup
  1. 8 cups chicken stock
  2. ¾ cup basmati rice
  3. ¾ cup lemon juice (from 5 – 6 lemons)
  4. 2 cups diced, cooked chicken
  5. 1 carrot
  6. 1 teaspoon chopped oregano
  7. 1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
  8. salt to taste
For the Stock
  1. Place everything but the lemon is a large stock pot and cover with 12 cups of water. Squeeze the juice from the lemon and reserve for finishing the soup. Drop the juiced lemon skins in the pot and bring the stock to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover the pot and simmer for 4 hours. Remove the chicken and set aside.
  2. Strain the stock through a colander lined with damp cheesecloth. Skim any fat from the surface of the stock. The stock can be made up to one day ahead. Cover and refrigerate (if you do this before straining the fat, it will solidify and be easier to remove before proceeding). Pull the chicken meat from the bones, discarding the skin, and refrigerate as well.
For the Soup
  1. Measure out 1½ cups of the chicken stock and pour it into a small pan. Pour the rice into a small fine mesh sieve and rinse under cold running water until the water runs clear. Add the rice to the stock in the small and bring to a boil. When most of the liquid has cooked away and there are just a few bubbles and air pockets on the rice, remove the pot from the heat, cover with a tea towel and a tight fitting lid. Leave for 15 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
  2. Pour the remaining broth into a large soup pot (there should be between 7 – 8 cups). Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer. Stir in the lemon juice. Add the diced chicken. Peel the carrot and grate it on the large holes of a box grater. Add it to the soup with the oregano, rosemary and cooked rice. Simmer until everything is heated through, taste and add salt as needed.
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Fromage Fort or Lou Cachat

Fromage Fort or Lou Cachat

I have always been an avid entertainer. I made a living out of planning parties for awhile. And I have frequently used this clever French trick to transform the bits left over from the cheese plate. Fromage Fort or Lou Cachat are two versions of this bit of culinary trickery which blend all those leftover pieces with a little alcohol to create an utterly new dish. I’ve seen recipes – or just simple instructions – in French cookbooks both old and new. I started with Lou Cachat, but later discovered Fromage Fort. The difference, as I make it out, is that Lou Cachat is blended with brandy and is traditionally made in Provence with goat cheese. Fromage Fort (“strong cheese”) is made from any variety and mixed with white wine. It’s an old housewives’ trick, so the variations are endless and as varied as the women who make it. I have seen it with garlic or woody herbs and much more butter, alcohol and olive oil. So experiment and expand as much as you like. This is the blueprint for my house version. I use whatever cheese I have left over – goat, triple cream, hard, blue – that’s the point, making those random bits last. I prefer Lou Cachat, because I like strong cheese and I think the brandy really adds to the depth of flavor. When I use strong cheese, I don’t bother with garlic or herbs.

I love the idea that the expensive cheese from the Christmas can be a totally new and exciting treat on New Year’s Eve. I read a Jacques Pepin recipe in which he says his wife makes the Fromage Fort and freezes it packed in little ramekins. That made me love this dish even more. Splash out on the best cheeses you want, because there will be no waste. Serve either as a spread for good crackers or bread, or spread on sliced bread and broil for a starter or a soup sidecar.

Fromage Fort or Lou Cachat
Yields 20
  1. 1 pound cheese pieces, of any variety
  2. 2 Tablespoons butter
  3. ¼ cup brandy, cognac or white wine
  4. 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  5. generous grind of black pepper
  1. Cut the cheese into pieces (harder cheeses need to be cut into smaller pieces). Place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Cut the butter into pieces and add to the cheese. Pulse repeatedly until the cheese is broken up to a very rough, chunky paste. Add the brandy while pulsing, then the olive oil until you have a rough paste. Grind in some pepper and pulse to blend. I like mine to have a bit of chunky texture, but you can blend as smooth as you like.
  2. Scrape the cheese into ramekins and refrigerate or freeze.
  3. Serve the cheese at room temperature, or spread it on slices of baguette and broil for a few minutes.
  1. (In this picture, my Lou Cachat is made with bits of Southern made cheeses – Mountaineer and Appalachian from Meadow Creek Dairy, Asher Blue and Green Hills from Sweet Grass Dairy)
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