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.

Tasso Gravy and How to Use It

After the rush and food extravaganza of Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year, there is always a quiet little lull in my kitchen. I tend then to simple soups, braises and stews. I work on my baking skills a little, and delve into the freezer for some of my put-up summer produce. Then I realize Mardi Gras is coming, and I get back to full throttle, cooking up favorite Cajun and Creole dishes full of verve and spice. Red Beans and Rice, Shrimp Creole, Grillades and Grits – I can’t get enough. I track down tasso ham from a local butcher and stock up on andouille sausage and make sure I have the trinity in my fridge – celery, onions and green bell peppers. This kind of food is perfect for serving to family and friends, or keeps me contentedly well fed.

Tasso gravy is a versatile, mutable classic with all sort of creative uses. Creamy with a little spice (you can up it with hot sauce or more creole seasoning), it’s a perfect foil for simple grits or rice. I particularly like it over plain rice, where the rich gravy really shines, but cheese grits make a perfect bed for the gravy for an extra layer of flavor. Add some shrimp or crawfish tail meat or red beans, or spoon it over biscuits or pork chops. Whip up some Café Brulot Brownies or King Cake Bars for a real Mardi Gras celebrations.

Tasso Gravy and How to Use It
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. Tasso Gravy and How to Use It
  2. 1 cup finely diced onion
  3. ½ cup finely diced celery
  4. ½ cup finely diced green bell pepper
  5. ½ cup vegetable oil
  6. ½ cup all-purpose flour
  7. 1 teaspoon creole seasoning
  8. 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  9. 8 ounces tasso ham, diced
  10. 6 ounces andouille sausage, cut into half and thin into thin half moons
Instructions
  1. Mix the diced vegetable together in a bowl and keep them close to the stove. Now we are going to make a roux. In a large (4 -5 quart) heavy pan (I like enameled cast iron), heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the flour and stir until smooth and lump-free. Cook the roux, stirring frequently, until the color begins to darken. As it deepens, stir more frequently, then constantly, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan. As it darkens, it can burn quickly so pay attention. I use a heatproof spatula or a wooden spoon for my roux, because it is very hot. When the roux has turned a deep brown, between the color of sweet tea and a good bourbon, after about 15 minutes, add the chopped onion, celery and bell pepper and stir well. The roux will seize up and cling to the vegetables, that’s what you want. Cook until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the creole seasoning and stir well. Now slowly pour in 2 cups of the chicken broth, stirring constantly, until the gravy is thick. Stir in the tasso, then the andouille until combined, then pour in the remaining broth, stirring constantly. Bring the gravy to a bubble and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened and rich.
How to use the gravy
  1. Tasso Gravy is delicious served over grits or white rice. Try cheese grits made with smoked gouda or smoked cheddar.
  2. It’s also great over biscuits for a Louisiana twist to biscuits and gravy. Add a poached egg on top for a jazzy benedict.
  3. Throw in a pound of peeled, deveined shrimp into the hot gravy and cook just until the shrimp are pink, curled and cooked through. Spoon over grits or cheese grits.
  4. Rinse, drain and pat dry some crawfish tail meat and cook until heated through.
  5. For a full pork experience, spoon the gravy over cooked thick pork chops, with mashed potatoes on the side.
  6. Add cooked red beans (or canned, rinsed and drained) and heat through. Serve over rice for an interesting twist to red beans and rice.
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.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

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/

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/

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.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Fennel and Italian Sausage Pappardelle

Fennel and Italian Sausage Pappardelle

I love recipes like this. Quick and simple, but full of flavor. There’s a little twist here – the ingredients are few and straightforward, but a little out of the ordinary. Pork and fennel are a classic combination, frequently in slow-cooked roasts and braises, and fennel seed is a key ingredient in Italian sausage, so using the fresh fennel just amps up the flavor. But this recipe weeknight cooking at its best. Fennel is such a bright flavor that shines next to the rich pork sausage. This takes no more time to make than a basic meat sauce (a little less in fact) but is a makes for an interesting change-up in the pasta dinner rotation. That being said, it is perfectly suitable for company, and can be doubled or tripled as needed.

I like to use a good, fresh Italian sausage from a local producer, but any version made with fennel seed works. Pappardelle noodles are wide and hearty and really stand up to the sauce. I find it pretty regularly at the grocery, but if you can’t, any wide noodle will do, even those curly ones in the bag.

Fennel and Italian Sausage Pappardelle
Serves 2
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Ingredients
  1. 2 medium fennel bulbs, the bulbs weighing about 10 ounces, with some fronds reserved
  2. 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  3. 10 ounces Italian sausage, bulk or links with casings removed
  4. 2 teaspoons chopped fresh fennel fronds
  5. 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
  6. 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  7. ½ teaspoon fennel seed
  8. 1 cup chicken broth
  9. ½ cup whipping cream
  10. 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
  11. salt to taste
  12. 8 ounces papardelle pasta
Instructions
  1. Remove the stalks and fronds of the fennel bulbs and set aside. Cut the fennel bulbs in half and cut out the tough center core. Very finely slice the fennel bulb, using a mandolin or a sharp knife.
  2. Coat a sauté pan with the oil, then add the fennel and the sausage meat. Cook over medium heat, breaking up the sausage with a spatula, until the fennel is soft and the sausage is cooked through, about 15 minutes. Stir in the chopped fennel fronds, oregano and rosemary and cook a few more minutes. Pour in the broth and bring to a bubble, then cover the pan and cook until the fennel is soft and the broth has evaporated, about 6 – 8 minutes, stirring a few times.
  3. While the fennel and sausage is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pappardelle according to the package directions. Right before the pasta is al dente, stir the cream into the sausage mixture and bring to a low bubble, just until heated through. Grate over the lemon zest, taste and add salt as needed. Drain the pasta and add to the pan with the sauce, tossing to coat.
  4. Serve immediately.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Watermelon Barbecue Sauce with Country Ribs

Watermelon Barbecue Sauce and Country Ribs

I have several Southern community cookbooks that have recipes for watermelon barbecue sauce. I love the idea, and I have made every one of those recipes, but the results were never what I had hoped for. No watermelon flavor, or sickly sweet, or just bland. But the idea appeals to me so much that I have continued to tinker with the concept for years, and I finally hit on it. With a pile of fresh in season tomatoes on the counter as I chopped up yet another melon, I decided to try fresh tomatoes instead of bottled ketchup and that has made all the difference. I little hint of tomato paste adds the depth needed in a sauce, but the acidity of a fresh tomato balances everything nicely. Rich Southern cane syrup is perfect with sweet watermelon, adding a complexity to such simple ingredients. I realized the other recipes I tried just had to many ingredients – spices and herbs and all manner of things. So I whittled the ingredient list down to use as much fresh summer produce at possible, good Worcestershire sauce creates layers of flavor without masking the watermelon sweetness. I’m really crazy about the end result.

So when I perfected the recipe, I set my mind to figuring how to use it. I settled on pork country ribs, which are not ribs at all, but boneless cuts of pork shoulder that stand up well to slow cooking and the hearty sauce. But I can attest, this sauce works in any way you would normally use a barbecue sauce. Brushed on grilled chicken breasts, slathered on pork tenderloin, as a sauce for wings or stirred through pulled pork.

Watermelon Barbecue Sauce and Country Ribs
Serves 6
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For the Watermelon Barbecue Sauce
  1. 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  2. 2 Vidalia onions, diced
  3. 4 cups chopped watermelon, from about 3 1/2 pound melon, seeds removed
  4. 1 tomato, about 12 ounces, diced
  5. 2 Tablespoon tomato paste
  6. 4 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  7. 4 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  8. 3 Tablespoons cane syrup or honey
  9. salt and pepper to taste
For the Ribs
  1. 4 pounds boneless country style pork ribs
  2. half an onion, sliced
  3. salt and pepper
For the Watermelon Barbecue Sauce
  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepot and cook the onion until glassy and soft and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook a further 2 minutes. Add the watermelon chunks and the tomato and cook until soft and beginning to release some liquid, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the tomato paste, stir and cook a further 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool a few minutes, then transfer to a blender (you may need to do this in batches). Remove the vent from the top of the blender and hold the lid down with a tea towel. Puree until smooth, then pour the sauce back into the pan through a sieve, scraping as much liquid through as possible. Stir in the vinegar, cane syrup and Worcestershire sauce and cook until thickened and reduced almost in half, about 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. The sauce can be cooled, covered and refrigerated at this point up to three days.
For the ribs
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking dish that fits the ribs comfortably with foil. Season the ribs all over with salt and pepper, then lay the sliced onions on top. Roast for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Carefully drain off any accumulated fat from the pan, then pour over all but one cup of the barbecue sauce. Turn the ribs to coat in the sauce with tongs and return the pan to the oven. Roast for 30 minutes, then turn the ribs again and cover the pan tightly with foil and return to the oven. Roast for a further 30 minutes.
  2. Heat the remaining sauce in a small pan. Serve the ribs with the extra sauce to spoon over.
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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/

Country Ham Wrapped Stuffed Chicken with Green Onion Gravy

Country Ham Wrapped Stuffed Chicken with Green Onion GravyCountry ham is an important family memory for me. It was always part of any celebration at my grandparents’ home in middle Tennessee and the leftovers of a big ham were an ongoing treat. Mostly though, we enjoyed it just as slices off the whole ham, sometimes tucked into beaten biscuits or as leftovers on simple sandwiches or mixed with sweet butter to spread on crackers. The resurging interest in Southern ingredients and cooking over the last decade has brought about a real revival of country ham as a creative ingredient, used in all kinds of interesting ways. And its popularity has made it more available – you no longer have to drive out to a smokehouse in the country or find a little country market. You can even order some of the best there is online. So I’ve taken to expanding my own country ham repertoire, finding creative ways to include it in all sorts of dishes. This chicken dish is simple to prepare, but has a real touch of elegance. It seems more complicated on the plate than it is to actually make. I give it a Southern twist, using thin sliced country ham instead of a more traditional prosciutto to wrap breasts stuffed with more of the salty, porky goodness and some fresh green onions, then draped it in a creamy, tangy Southern gravy.

My favorite ham for this is the Surryano ham made by Edwards Country Ham in Virginia. Unfortunately, Edwards is recovering from a fire that destroyed their smokehouse, so the thin-sliced high can be a bit hard to come by at the moment. Luckily my local gourmet grocery has country ham at the deli counter that they will slice to order. If you really can’t find country ham, you can use prosciutto, or even thinly sliced bacon.

Country Ham Wrapped Stuffed Chicken with Green Onion Gravy
Serves 4
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For the Chicken
  1. 2 green onions, white and light green parts
  2. 4 ounces thin sliced country ham, at least 6 slices (see note)
  3. 1 Tablespoon parsley leaves
  4. 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  5. ¼ teaspoon hot sauce
  6. salt and pepper to taste
  7. 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
For the Gravy
  1. 4 Tablespoons (½ stick) butter
  2. 6 green onion, white, light green and some bright green parts
  3. 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  4. 1 ¼ cups chicken stock
  5. ¾ cups heavy cream
  6. salt and pepper to taste
For the Chicken
  1. Chop the green onions into chunks and drop in the bowl of a small food processor. Pulse a few times to break up. Add the parsley and pulse a few times. Add 2 slices (about 1 ounce) of the country ham and pulse to chop. Add the cream cheese, hot sauce a pinch of salt and a few generous grinds of pepper and blend until smooth.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Place the each chicken breast on a cutting board and pat dry with paper towels. Hold the breast down with the palm of your hand and use a sharp knife to cut a slit horizontally into the thick part of the breast, about ¾ of the way through. Open each breast like a book, then divide the cream cheese filling between the breasts, spreading it over the open pocket. Close the top of the chicken breast, making sure you enclose all the filling. Tuck it into the pocket with your fingers if needed. Fold any thin ends on the chicken underneath the breast to ensure even cooking. Wrap each chicken breast in the remaining slices of country ham, covering the whole breast and tucking the ham under the chicken. Transfer the breasts to the prepared pan and bake until cooked through to an internal temperature from 165°, about 20 minutes.
For the Gravy
  1. Melt the butter in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Finely dice four green onions, and add them to the butter in the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and translucent. Sprinkle over the flour and stir until smooth and blended with the butter. Cook until pale colored and smooth, then whisk in the chicken broth. Bring to a bubble, stirring, until the sauce is thickened and smooth. Finely dice the remaining two green onions, including some darker green parts. Whisk in the cream, the green onions and a generous grinds of black pepper and continue stirring and cooking until thickened to a pourable gravy. Taste and season with salt and more pepper as needed. Be liberal with the black pepper, it adds a lot of depth to the gravy.
  2. When the chicken is cooked through, serve it with the warm gravy.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Buttermilk Grits with Bacon Gravy

Buttermilk Grits with Bacon GravyI have combined in this recipe three of my favorite Southern ingredients. Flavor-packed, stone ground corn grits, creamy, sharp buttermilk and, of course, bacon. The trifecta of flavor elevates the simplicity of each ingredient to a new, sophisticated level. Buttermilk adds an elusive edge of tang and the smoky bacon plays off it beautifully. Another reason I love this recipe is that with the burgeoning local food scene, I find carefully, traditionally and creatively made local versions of each ingredient. Many farmers, restaurants are and markets are curing their own bacon, and small producers are grinding locally grown corn and heritage strains on traditional mills to make hearty, rich grits. And as people rediscover the beauty of buttermilk, local dairies selling rich, whole buttermilk, which makes all the differences in recipes like this. Seek out the best versions of these components you can, and prepare to be wowed.

Of course these grits and gravy are delicious at breakfast, but I generally serve this hearty combination as a supper side dish. It’s wonderful beside a good pork roast, with a little gravy drizzled over the pork as well. And imagine this with a plate of fried chicken!

Buttermilk Grits with Bacon Gravy
Serves 6
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For the Grits
  1. 2 cups whole buttermilk
  2. 2 cups chicken broth, plus more as needed
  3. ¼ cup (½ stick) butter, cut in pieces
  4. 2 teaspoons of kosher salt
  5. 1 cup stone ground yellow grits
For the Gravy
  1. 5 strips of bacon
  2. I medium yellow onion
  3. 3 sprigs of thyme
  4. 2 tablespoons flour
  5. 2 cups pork stock or beef stock
  6. generous grinds of black pepper
For the Grits
  1. Stir the buttermilk, chicken broth, butter and salt together in heavy bottomed large Dutch oven. Cook over medium high heat until the butter is melted and it all comes to a low boil. Stir in the grits and reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 30 – 45 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. The grits should be tender and the liquid absorbed. You may add a bit more broth if needed. When cooked, the grits can be kept covered for an hour or so, then slowly reheated over low, stirring in a little broth.
For the Gravy
  1. Finely dice the bacon and place in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Finely dice the onion, and when the bacon has released its fat and is beginning to brown, add the onions to the pan. Stir to coat the onions evenly in the bacon grease. Drop in the thyme stalks. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and brown and the bacon is cooked, about 5 – 7 minutes.
  2. Place a strainer over a bowl and pour the bacon onion mixture into the strainer. Stir to release as much bacon grease as possible. Discard the thyme stalks. Measure out 2 Tablespoons of bacon grease and return it to the pan. Whisk in the flour and cook until smooth. Slowly whisk in the stock, scraping the lovely browned bits from the bottom of the pot as you go. Simmer until the gravy begins to thicken, stirring frequently, then stir the bacon and onions back in the pot. Simmer until the gravy has thickened to coat the back of a spoon. Season generously with black pepper. The gravy may be made several hours ahead. Reheat over low, stirring in a little extra stock if you think it needs it.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/