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.

Guinness Sausage Coddle

As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, I always turn to hearty meat and potato dishes with a nice Irish flair, and this classic with a twist makes a perfect family meal. The origin of the name “coddle” is rather cloudy, but apparently it was a favorite of authors from Jonathan Swift to James Joyce. Loaded with smoky bacon, meaty sausages, rich potatoes and sweet carrots and little woody note from parsnips, this version of Dublin coddle is rich with oh-so-Irish Guinness.

I turn to a local butcher shop for freshly made, well-seasoned pork sausages and sometimes around St. Paddy’s, they have Irish bangers, which are of course perfect. If you can’t track down a specialty sausage, basic bratwurst work really well. The coddle is a cross between a braise and a stew, with a nice amount of flavorful broth in the pot. You can serve the coddle with a slotted spoon, but I like to serve it in bowls with the broth and some nice bread to soak up the dark, meaty juices. Try this Simple Soda Bread to keep the Irish theme going.

Guinness Sausage Coddle
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. 8 strips of thick cut bacon
  2. 6 high-quality pork sausages
  3. 2 medium onions
  4. 6 medium Yukon Gold potatoes
  5. 2 carrots
  6. 2 parsnips
  7. 7 sprigs of thyme
  8. 1 ¾ cups stout beer, such as Guinness
  9. 1 cup beef broth
Instructions
  1. Cut the bacon into small pieces and cook over medium-high heat in a large (5-quart) Dutch oven with a tight- fitting lid until the bacon is crispy and brown. Remove to a paper towel lined plate with a slotted spoon. Lower the heat to medium and place the sausages in the bacon grease and cook, turning occasionally, until they are browned all over, 10 – 15 minutes.
  2. While the sausages are cooking, cut the onions into halves, and then into to very thin half-moon shaped slices. When the sausages are browned all over, remove them to the paper towel lined plate, scooting the bacon out of the way. Add the onions to the bacon grease and stir to coat well. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and browned and reduced in volume by about half, about 15 minutes. Watch carefully so the onions do not scorch. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove the onions to a bowl. Take the pot off the heat and let it cool a little, then discard the remaining bacon grease and wipe out the pot.
  3. Peel the potatoes, carrots and parsnips. Cut the potatoes in half, then in 1-inch chunks. Cut the carrots and parsnips on the diagonal into ½ inch pieces.
  4. Cut the sausages into 2-inch pieces, then begin layering the coddle. In the pot, place a layer of sausage pieces, potatoes, carrots, parsnips and bacon. Spread 1/3 of the onions over the layer and then place a couple of sprigs of thyme on top. Repeat with two more layers, ending with onions and thyme. You can cover the pot and refrigerate for a few hours at this point if you would like.
  5. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Pour the Guinness and the beef broth over around the coddle and cover the pot and place in the oven. Cook until the vegetables are tender, about an hour and a half.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Baked Orecchiette with Italian Sausage and Taleggio Sauce

We all need a little comfort sometimes, and I think a rich, meaty, cheesy baked pasta casserole always fits the bill. It’s the meal I often turn to, whether it’s an all-day cooking project or a simple thrown together quickie. Pull one of these hot, melty creations out of the oven on a chilly winter night and gather round the table. Everyone will be ahppy. This is the perfect family meal, but is a wonderful way to entertain as well. Adults and kids alike will dig into this – add some garlic bread and a salad and you’re ready to go. This version is layered with strong flavors for lots of oomph and interest.

Taleggio is one of my favorite cheeses. It’s pungent, rich and creamy and now readily available at good cheese counters. It adds such a punch to this otherwise pretty simple dish. Orcchiette are little ear shaped pasta – that’s what the name means – that perfectly hold the sausage and sauce like a little bowl. You could use a couple of slices of bacon instead of the pancetta and vary the herbs, using basil and oregano. But I think the sage and marjoram add an interesting, woodsy note that perfectly complements the taleggio. I hope this is a meal that comforts you as much as it does me.

Baked Orecchiette with Italian Sausage and Taleggio Sauce
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. 10 ounces orecchiette pasta
  2. 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  3. 4 ounces diced pancetta
  4. 1 pound Italian sausage meat
  5. 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  6. 1 cup finely diced onion
  7. 4 cloves garlic, minced
  8. 1/2 cup red wine
  9. 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  10. 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  11. 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram
  12. 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  13. 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  14. 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  15. 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
For the Taleggio Sauce
  1. ¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
  2. ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  3. 2 cups whole milk
  4. 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  5. 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  6. ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  7. 6 ½ ounces taleggio cheese, weighed after the rind is removed
  8. ½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
For the Pasta
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the orecchiette according to the package instructions. Drain and rinse with cold water.
  2. Pour the olive oil into a large, deep skillet and add the pancetta. Cook until the pancetta is browned and crispy, then remove it with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate. Crumble the sausage into the pot and cook over medium-high heat, breaking up the meat with a spatula as it cooks. You want small pieces of sausage. When the sausage is no longer pink, remove it with the slotted spoon to the paper towel lined plate.
  3. Pour off all put 1 Tablespoon of fat from the pan, then sauté the onions over medium high heat until they are soft and just beginning to brown. Add the garlic and sauté for a further minute, then pour in the wine. Bring the wine to a bubble and cook until it is almost completely evaporated, just a little glaze on the now purple onions. Pour in the tomatoes and stir well, then add the sage and marjoram, sugar, salt, pepper and nutmeg and stir well. Let simmer over medium low heat for 5 minutes, then use an immersion blender to puree the sauce to a smooth consistency. Simmer for a further 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and cool. (Alternatively, you can simmer the sauce for the full 10 minutes, then puree it in a blender and leave to cool).
  4. Stir the pancetta and sausage into the tomato sauce until well combined and evenly distributed. Add the pasta and stir to coat with the sauce, then scrape the lot into a greased 9 by 13-inch baking dish. (If your skillet isn’t big enough to fit the pasta, scraped everything into the pasta pot to combine).
For the Taleggio Sauce
  1. Wash and dry the skillet and melt the butter over medium-high heat. Whisk in the flour until smooth, and cook for a few minutes until the mixture is pale and thickened. Whisk in the milk and bring to a low bubble. Cook until the sauce is thickened and smooth, then stir in the sage, salt and nutmeg. Lower the heat to low, then stir in pieces of the taleggio a bit at a time, stirring until each addition is melted before adding the next. Stir in the parmigiana until melted and the sauce is smooth. Taste and season with salt if needed. Pour the sauce evenly over the pasta in the baking dish. You can sprinkle a little extra grated parm over the top of your like. At this point, the dish can be cooled, covered and refrigerated for a day.
  2. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350. Remove the dish from the oven while the oven is preheating, then bake the dish uncovered until heated through, bubbling and lightly browned on top.
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German Meatballs

Recipe ideas come to me everywhere, at any time and take me in odd directions. I was reading a magazine during an interminable wait at a doctor’s office once and saw a recipe called “German Meatballs.” My mind immediately went to bratwurst, beer and mustard so I was intrigued and kept reading. But that magazine recipe involved frozen meatballs, French onion soup mix and ketchup. That did not appeal at all, and I cannot imagine what qualifies as German about it. But that first thought that popped into my head stayed there.

I rather doubt this version is anywhere near traditional German cuisine either, but it involves all the flavors I associate with German food, my knowledge of which is admittedly limited. In fact, this is a take on my Swedish meatball recipe, made a bit richer with dark rye bread crumbs, tangy with sweet hot mustard and a sauce livened up with beer. Use a good, pale lager – too dark or rich a beer overpowers the meatballs. You can leave out the beer if you prefer, and replace it with an equal amount of additional beef broth. And here’s an idea: pick up some pastrami while you’re at the store – dark rye and sweet-hot mustard make and excellent sandwich.

Let me also share a few little meatball making tips. These freeze really well, so consider making a double batch. Once you get your hands in there and get on a roll, you might as well keep going. And if you are making any type of meatball and want to check for seasoning, make one little meatball and sauté it in a little oil. Taste the cooked portion and adjust accordingly.

(This is a repost from 2011)

German Meatballs
Yields 30
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For the Meatballs
  1. 4 slices dark rye bread (to make 2 cups crumbs)
  2. 2 pounds bratwurst, casings removed
  3. 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  4. ½ cup milk
  5. 1 Tablespoon sweet hot mustard
  6. 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
For the Sauce
  1. 3 Tablespoons butter
  2. 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  3. 1 cup milk
  4. 2 cups low-sodium beef broth
  5. 1 cup lager beer
  6. 2 teaspoons sweet hot mustard
  7. 1 Tablespoon dark brown sugar
  8. Salt to taste
For the meatballs
  1. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with non-stick foil or foil sprayed lightly with cooking spray.
  2. Tear the dark rye slices into chunks and drop in a food processor. Process to small, rough crumbs. You should end up with 2 cups of crumbs.
  3. Place the bratwurst, bread crumbs and remaining meatball ingredients in a large bowl. Using your clean hands, squish everything together to mix well, making sure the meat is evenly distributed. I find it easier to do this if the meat has been out of the fridge for about 15 minutes to take the chill off. Roll the meat mixture into balls about the size of a ping pong ball. A good, heaping tablespoon of mixture is about right. Place the balls on the prepared sheets. You should end up with about 30 - 35 meat balls. Bake in the oven for 12 – 15 minutes until cooked through and browned. Rotate the pans halfway during the cooking (top pan to bottom shelf).
  4. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Melt the butter in a large deep skillet or Dutch oven (the meatballs need to fit in) over medium high heat. Sprinkle over the flour and stir until smooth, about 1 minute. Do not let the mixture darken. Gradually add the milk, the broth and the beer, whisking constantly. Whisk in the mustard and brown sugar and bring the sauce to a boil whisking frequently. Reduce the heat and simmer the sauce until it thickens, about five minutes. Salt to taste. Remove from heat.
  5. When the meatballs are done, remove them from the baking sheets to the sauce with a slotted spoon. Stir to coat all the meatballs with the sauce.
  6. Serve immediately, or leave the meatballs and sauce to cool, stirring occasionally to coat the meatballs with sauce. When cool, scoop into ziptop bags and seal. The meatballs and sauce can be refrigerated for up to three days or frozen for up to three months.
  7. When ready to serve, scoop the meatballs and sauce into a saucepan. Put ¼ cup of water in the ziptop bag, seal and shake to clean out any clinging sauce. Pour the water into the pan with the meatballs and reheat slowly over medium heat stirring frequently.
  8. Serve over curly egg noodles and sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Liptauer

LiptauerMany years ago, as a kid, I saw a recipe and photo for Liptauer in a cookbook or magazine, and I remember that it looked impossibly elegant and sounded so exotic and sophisticated to me. I didn’t understand all the ingredients –capers and caraway sounded foreign and out of reach. The picture showed a fancy mold surrounded by intricate garnishes – carved radishes and celery fans. I can still call that image to mind. For years, I’d come across recipes for Liptauer and still imagined it was above my palate and skill level. The first time I ever tasted Liptauer was in Vienna on a family vacation. We visited one of the “huerige” wine halls and sat outside under a canopy of trees. We drank local wines and enjoyed a big Viennese meal. But to start it out, our local guide ordered Liptauer. Far from the fanciful creation I had imagined, it was served in a rustic pottery crock with brown bread. And it was delicious. I knew the time to work on a recipe at home had come.

Years later, at a book signing in North Carolina for Pimento Cheese: The Cookbook, a woman approached me and said she was from Austria, and she grew up eating a spread with cream cheese and paprika, and since she’d been living in the States, she had come to liken it to pimento cheese. I’d never thought of it that way before, but I love the idea of cross-cultural, cross culinary links. Now this is totally different from pimento cheese, but it makes a wonderful party dish; since I’ve started serving it, I either get reactions from people who remember it as a 70’s party dish their parents served, or people who’ve never had it before but ask for the recipe. It’s become a staple dish for me, one I turn to whenever I need an easy to make but exciting appetizer. I love to serve this with sliced pretzel bread or rolls or rye melba toast.

Liptauer
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Ingredients
  1. 3 teaspoons capers in brine, drained
  2. 1 small shallot, peeled
  3. ¼ cup flat leaf parsley leaves, loosely packed
  4. 1 Tablespoon roughly chopped chives
  5. 1 ½ teaspoons caraway seeds
  6. 16 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  7. 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
  8. 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
  9. 1 ½ teaspoons sweet paprika (if you have half-sharp, sub it for ½ teaspoon)
Instructions
  1. Put the capers, shallot, parsley, chives and caraway seeds in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse until everything is well chopped. Scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times. Add the cream cheese and butter, cut into pieces, and pulse a few times. Add the mustard and paprika and blend until smooth and well combined.
  2. Scrape the liptauer into a bowl and refrigerate until firm. This will keep covered in the fridge for up to 5 days. If you would like to serve a molded liptauer, line a bowl or mold with plastic wrap and press the liptauer into it. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate, then turn the spread out onto a platter, unwrap and serve.
Notes
  1. Makes about 3 cups
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Swedish Waitress Apple Cake with Vanilla Custard

Swedish Waitress Apple Cake with Vanilla Custard

A recipe developer asks a lot of questions. It’s the best way to learn the secrets of cooking – the little tips and hints and tricks people use, things they learned from mothers, grandmothers and aunts, secrets from fathers, advice from magazines, cookbooks and the back of boxes, or lessons learned from failure. So I ask questions. In restaurants, stores, markets, from neighbors, friends and strangers. Thus this cake. I was in a bakery in London having tea on a rainy day, and the very sweet waitress said that on a gloomy day, one should always have a piece of cake. I had to agree and asked for recommendations. She suggested the apple cake – with the caveat that it was her second favorite apple cake, as her mother made the absolute best version. So I asked her to describe her mother’s cake. What struck me was the apples. Her mother, she assured me, peeled and chopped the apples and tossed them with sugar and cinnamon and let them sit for hours, until they produced their own syrup. She then put the apples on top of a simple butter cake and drizzled the juices over. I was intrigued, and wrote the idea in my little travel notebook.

The waitress was Swedish, working at the bakery while she studied at university in London. I could tell describing her mother’s cake made her a little wistful for home. I don’t know if this method is typically Swedish or the whole-cloth invention of her mother, but I knew it was an idea I had to try for myself. As I was in London at the time I learned about this method, I thought I would add a classic British custard sauce – no British dessert is complete without it!

Swedish Waitress Apple Cake with Vanilla Custard
Serves 8
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For the Vanilla Custard
  1. 2 cups milk
  2. ½ a vanilla bean
  3. 2 egg yolks
  4. ½ cup granulated sugar
  5. 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
For the Cake
  1. 1 cup plus 3 Tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
  2. 1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  3. 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  4. ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  5. 3 baking apples
  6. 5 Tablespoons butter, softened
  7. 3 eggs
  8. 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  9. 1 teaspoon baking powder
  10. ¼ cup milk
  11. 1 teaspoon vanilla
For the Custard
  1. Put the milk in a medium saucepan and scrape the seeds of the vanilla bean into it. Heat over medium just until small bubbles appear around the edges and on the surface.
  2. While the milk is heating, mix the yolks, sugar and corn starch together in a medium mixing bowl. When the milk is warm, slowly drizzle a little into the egg yolk mixture, whisking all the time, then continue to whisk in the milk slowly until well combined and smooth. Pour the custard back into the sauce pan and heat over medium, stirring frequently until it thickens and coats the back of the spoon. Pour the custard through a sieve back into a bowl and place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard and refrigerate until cold. This can be made up to one day ahead.
For the Cake
  1. Mix 3 tablespoons of sugar, the cinnamon, cardamom and cloves together in a medium sized bowl. One at a time, peel and core the apples and chop into small cubes, dropping them into the bowl and tossing with the sugar mixture to coat completely. Leave the apples, completely coated in the sugar, to sit for several hours, until some juices have been released (I usually wait about 4 hours, longer is fine).
  2. When ready to bake the cake, preheat the oven to 350. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray. Cream the butter and 1 cup of sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the flour and baking powder, then add the milk and vanilla and beat until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  3. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top of the batter. Spread the apple pieces over the top of the batter, pressing them into the cake a little, then drizzle over the accumulated juices. Bake for 45 – 55 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Leave the cake to cool at least 20 minutes, then release it from the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature. The cake can be made one day ahead.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Sauerbraten (Marinated Beef Roast with a Gingersnap Gravy)

SauerbratenThe first signs of fall are just beginning to show, so my mind turns to hearty, meaty meals with bold flavors, and this recipe fits the bill perfectly. Spiced, seasoned and slow cooked, it will make you house smell like autumn and it is a great weekend cooking project. It’s a warming and comforting Sunday night supper, or marinate during the week for a wonderful weekend feast. And perfect for an Oktoberfest celebrations!

Sauerbraten is a classic German dish, or so I am told. I’ll admit, I don’t know much about German food. But my father once requested that I make it, so I tinkered and learned until, after a couple of tries, I got it just the way he wanted it. I wish I had made it for him more often. It may sound a little odd – marinating meat in so much vinegar and using cookies in the gravy, but it works perfectly and will make total sense when you first taste it. The meat is tangy, with a hint of pickling spice, while the gingersnaps add just the right sweetness and spice to the rich gravy. It may not win any beauty contests, but I promise it will win you over.

I know it takes three days, and four hours of cooking to make this – but the actual work involved is minimal. It just takes a little patience. I love to serve this with mashed potatoes or egg noodles. I have yet to perfect the technique for spaetzle, but that would be a perfect combination if you posess the skill. Leftover meat makes a wonderful sandwich!

Sauerbraten
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. 1 cup red wine vinegar
  2. 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  3. 2 cups water
  4. 1 onion, roughly chopped
  5. 1 carrot, roughly chopped
  6. 1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
  7. 3 sprigs fresh marjoram
  8. 2 dried bay leaves
  9. 1 sprig sage leaves
  10. 2 Tablespoons pickling spice
  11. 3 – 3 ½ pound bottom round beef roast
  12. 1 tablespoon olive oil
  13. salt and pepper
  14. 5 ounces old fashioned gingersnaps (about 18 – 20)
Instructions
  1. Pour the vinegars and water in a medium sized saucepan, then add the onion, carrot, celery and herbs. Stir in the pickling spice and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Cover the pan, lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool to room temperature.
  2. Pat the bottom round dry with paper towels, then rub the olive oil over it and sprinkle all over with salt and pepper. Heat a 4 -5 quart heavy non-reactive pan over medium high heat (I use an enameled cast iron dutch oven). Sear the bottom round all over until just browned, a few minutes on each side. Leave to cool for a few minutes, so the pot is not too hot, then pour over the marinade. Cover the pot and refrigerate for 3 days, turning the roast over a few times a day.
  3. When ready to cook the sauerbraten, heat the oven to 325. Place the pot with the meat and marinade in the oven and cook for 4 hours. Crush the gingersnaps to very fine crumbs in a food processor, or just place them in a ziptop bag and whack with a rolling pin until you have a nice fine rubble.
  4. Remove the cooked roast from the cooking liquid to a platter and cover with foil. Strain the marinade through a sieve into a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Stir the crushed gingersnaps into the gravy and cook for a few minutes until thick. Strain the gravy again (you can put it in the rinsed out Dutch oven to avoid dirtying another dish) and pour back into the sauce pan and keep warm over low heat.
  5. Slice the meat and serve with the gravy spooned over.
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Scandi-Style Potatoes

Scandi-Style Potatoes

Potatoes are a real kitchen workhorse. They go with anything – fish, chicken, beef, pork, lamb – and it is easy to make them taste good. Tossed with a little olive oil and herbs and roasted, mashed with butter and milk, baked and topped with all manner of things, cold in a potato salad. I’m a believer that if you have a potato in the house, you always have a meal. But I also admit to falling into a rut. I spend a lot of time working on a main dish, figuring I’ll just cook some potatoes to go with it. The roasted version is my go to, and everyone seems to like them that way. I sometimes pull out the mandolin and slice up a pile for a cheese gratin or a simple pommes boulangere, but I am not always as creative as I could be.

Nowadays, I am also always intrigued by the variety and color range of the potatoes we find in the stores and farmers markets. I can barely resist the selection of jewel-toned orbs available now, and sometimes come home from a shop with way more than I intended. So I look for ways to push the boat out a little, try something new and different to expand my potato horizons. I found a version of this recipe in a community cookbook that involved way more packaged and processed ingredients than I am comfortable with, but I saw the potential and soldiered on. That recipe was called German Potatoes, but these have more of a Scandanavian feel to me – maybe it’s the dill, but really the glaze reminds me of the sweet-tangy sauce on Swedish meatballs. I love to use the bite-size multi-colored potatoes when I find them, but simple red or yellow ones will do. These spuds are perfect with a simple roast meal like a good chicken, a fatty pork roast or a simple beef tenderloin.

Scandi-Style Potatoes
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. 2 pounds small potatoes
  2. 6 strips of bacon
  3. 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  4. 2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
  5. 2 Tablespoons flour
  6. ½ cup granulated sugar
  7. ½ cup cider vinegar
  8. ¾ cup water
  9. 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Instructions
  1. Choose small potatoes about the size of a ping pong ball, but if they are larger cut them half. Cook the potatoes just until tender – I prefer to steam them over boiling water for about 20 minutes, which helps them hold their shape, but you can also boil them for about 15 minutes.
  2. Drain the potatoes and set aside, covered with a tea towel to keep warm. Cut the bacon into small pieces and cook over in a saucepan large enough to hold the potatoes until crispy. Remove to a paper towel lined plate with a slotted spoon. Let the bacon grease cool for about 5 minutes, then add the chopped onion and celery. (If you add the veg to the hot grease, they will burn). Cook over medium heat, until the vegetables are soft and translucent. Sprinkle over the flour and stir to coat the vegetables. Cook for a few minutes until the flour has disappeared and the mixture is thick. Add the sugar and stir well until dissolved. Pour over the vinegar and water and continue cooking until the sauce is thickened, about 15 minutes. Stir in the chopped dill.
  3. Add the potatoes to the sauce and stir to coat completely. Add the chopped bacon to combine. Cook until everything is warmed through, and serve immediately.
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Greek Inspired Shrimp and Feta Spaghetti

Greek Inspired Shrimp and Feta SpaghettiThe Greek flavors of a shrimp, tomato and feta are a favorite of mine, and always remind me of summer, and a trip to Greece and the island of Mykonos one summer many years ago. Our favorite dish was Shrimp Saganaki, a rich tomato sauce with shrimp nestled in, covered in a blanket of fresh feta cheese. None of my travelling companions or I knew much about Greek food at the time, and when we discovered this, we were glad to see it on almost every menu. I am sure we ate it every day of our trip, possibly even twice a day. This particular dish is also inspired by one of my favorite summer pastas, the Tomato, Herb and Brie Pasta I unknowingly laid claim to as my own creation for years. The idea of leaving ingredients to steep and soften before tossing in hot pasta struck me and I have used the technique in many ways, but this is a great version and perfect for a quick summer meal.

Feta cheese doesn’t melt like the brie in the original dish, but the small crumbles will cling to the pasta and the shrimp. While the sauce mixture is sitting, the tomatoes soften and release some juice and the herbs and lemon meld together, making for a really bright and fresh dish. Feta cheese is salty, so season lightly at first, then adjust at serving.

Greek Inspired Shrimp and Feta Spaghetti
Serves 4
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Ingredients
  1. 4 plum tomatoes
  2. 1 clove garlic
  3. ¼ cup chopped oregano
  4. zest and juice of one lemon
  5. 8 ounces crumbled feta cheese
  6. ¼ cup olive oil
  7. salt and pepper
  8. 1 pound spaghetti
  9. 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  10. ½ cup white wine
Instructions
  1. Remove the seeds from the tomatoes, finely dice the flesh and place in a bowl big enough to hold all the pasta. Put the garlic through a press, or finely chop it, sprinkling a little salt over it during the process.  This helps mellow the garlic - you don’t want big chunks. Add the lemon zest and juice, the oregano and feta cheese to the bowl and season lighlty with salt and pepper. Add the olive oil and stir to combine. Leave to sit for at least an hour, but up to three is fine.
  2. When ready to serve, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta according to the package instructions, about 12 minutes. While the pasta is cooking, bring the wine to a boil in a medium skillet and add the shrimp. Continue cooking until the shrimp are pink and cooked through and the wine is reduced to just a couple of Tablespoons.
  3. Put the cooked shrimp and reduced wine in the bowl with the other ingredients, then drain the pasta and put it on top. Cover with a towel and let sit a few minutes, then toss everything together and serve immediately.
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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/

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/