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.

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!

Serves 6
  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)
  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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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
  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
  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.
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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
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
  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
  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.
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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
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
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.
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Debris Po’ Boys

Debris Po BoyMardi Gras is almost upon us, so it’s time to talk Po’ Boys. Traditionally, the story goes, the Debris po’ boy (pronounced DAY-bree in this case) was made from the leftover bits and pieces left behind from carving a roast, soaked in the gravy and meat juices. But I don’t generally have enough leftover roast beef to serve a crowd, and besides, debris is just too good to wait for leftovers. So I make this version in the slow cooker, to get the slow roasted flavor and lots of juices to turn into gravy. It is a very fun celebratory meal, letting everyone assemble their own po boy.

The bread for a po’ boy is obviously a key part of the overall experience. In New Orleans, po’ boy bread is a thing unto itself – made by local bakeries it is soft in the center with a crust that is not overly hard or chewy. Outside Louisiana, it’s a little hard to find real po’ boy bread, so you have to do you’re best. I find typical French bread too chewy so I tend to go for a hoagie roll or Mexican bollilo rolls. If you have a bakery in the area that supplies rolls for a Vietnamese bahn mi place or a Vietnamese grocery, that version of French bread is pretty close. Split the rolls or loaves and lightly toast.

Debris Po Boys
Serves 8
  1. 4 stalks celery
  2. 3 carrots
  3. 2 onions
  4. 1 green bell pepper
  5. 10 cloves garlic
  6. 3 bay leaves
  7. 3 sprigs thyme
  8. 5 pounds bottom round beef roast (in two pieces is fine)
  9. Creole seasoning (I like Tony Chachere’s)
  10. 1 (12-ounce) bottle dark beer (I use Abita Turbo Dog)
  11. 1 cup beef broth
  12. 1 teaspoon corn starch
  13. Creole Spread
  14. ¾ cup mayonnaise
  15. ¼ cup Creole mustard (I like Zatarain’s)
  16. 2 teaspoons honey
  17. 1 teaspoon hot sauce (I like Crystal)
  18. 6 French bread rolls or hoagie rolls
  19. provolone cheese
  20. shredded lettuce
  1. Place the celery, carrots and onions in the bottom of an 8-quart slow cooker. Stem and seed the bell pepper and add it to the crock with the garlic, bay leaves and thyme. Generously coat both sides of the beef roast with creole seasoning, rubbing it into the meat. Place the meat on top of the vegetables in the slow cooker.
  2. Pour in the beer and beef broth, cover and cook over low heat for eight hours. Remove the meat from the slow cooker to a deep rimmed platter or bowl. Pour the liquid from the slow cooker through a strainer into a large saucepan. Discard the solids. Let the juices settle, then skim off the fat. Bring the liquid to a boil and boil for about 5 minutes, until it is slightly reduced.
  3. While the liquid is boiling, shred the beef. Cut away any fat or gristle, then use two forks to pull the meat into shreds.
  4. Put the cornstarch onto a small bow and whisk in a few tablespoons of cooking liquid and whisk until completely smooth. Whisk the cornstarch mixture back into the juices and continue cooking for 2 -3 more minutes.
  5. Rinse out the slow cooker crock and return the meat to it. Pour over the juices and keep warm until ready to serve.
For the Creole Spread
  1. Whisk together the mayo, mustard, honey and hot sauce. This can be done up to a day ahead, covered and kept in the fridge.
  2. To serve, split the rolls and lightly toast on a cookie sheet in the oven. Spread on side of the bread with the creole spread. Use tongs to pile the beef onto the bread, then top the hot meat with a slice of cheese, then layer with shredded lettuce.
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Habitant Pea Soup in the Slow Cooker

Habitant Pea SoupLast fall, over a year ago now its hard to believe, I set out on a book tour to share Pimento Cheese The Cookbook (available at your local bookstore or online now) throughout the South, tasting all sorts of local specialties along the way. I drove myself for the whole tour, so I spent a lot of time in the car listening to public radio and a few podcasts. One program I was listening to had a Canadian chef expounding the virtues of Habitant Pea Soup, a traditional Canadian dish I’d never heard of before. Maybe I was in the mood for some home cooked food, or the weather was turning cold or just the enthusiasm of the chef, but the story piqued my interest. And the story of this chef exploring the origins of the soup as a piece of Canadian heritage was fascinating. (If I remembered where I heard it I’d post a link!). He deduced that this was a dish made by the original European explorers out of their meager stores, and that it had remained in the Canadian culinary canon. When I got I home, I did a little research and came up with my own version of the soup, cooked in the slow cooker for simplicity.

Habitant Pea Soup is as comforting and homey as I thought it would be. The split peas, an ingredient I had only used in Indian cooking before, add a nice richness and creaminess to the soup, and the use of a ham hock and a little salt pork keep the soup from being plain or boring. In my research, I found a couple of different ideas. I settle on this version for ease of preparation, but one recipe suggested shredding the ham meat and crisping in a skillet and serving on top of the soup, rather than stirred through. I like that. Some suggested topping the soup with a dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche. I like that too. I can definitely imagine this warming up the original explorers on a cold Canadian night.

Habitant Pea Soup in the Slow Cooker
Serves 6
  1. 16 ounces yellow split peas
  2. 1 ham hock (about 14 ounces)
  3. 6 ounces salt pork
  4. 1 medium onion, finely diced
  5. 2 stalks celery, finely diced
  6. 1 carrot, finely diced
  7. 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  8. 6 -7 sprigs of thyme
  9. 2 bay leaves
  1. Spread the split peas on the bottom of a 7- 8 quart slow cooker. Place the ham hock and salt pork on top, then the onion, celery and carrot. Pour over the chicken broth. Do not stir. Drop in the thyme sprigs (count how many stems so you can remove them later) and the bay leaves. Cover the slow cooker and cook on low for 7 hours.
  2. Remove the salt pork, thyme stems and bay leaves and discard. Remove the ham hock to a plate and pull the meat off the bone using two forks. If needed, dice the hock meat into bite size pieces. Return the meat to the slow cooker, cover and cook a further 30 minutes.
  3. Serve warm, topped with sour cream of crème fraiche if you like.
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Roasted Pork and Sweet Potatoes with Hard Cider Cream Sauce

Roasted Pork and Sweet Potatoes with Hard CIder Cream Sauce

October is that transitional time of year, the leaves are beginning to fall, the weather is cooling and I’ve pulled the sweaters out of storage. I’m ready to cover up the grill and move onto to hearty roasts and vegetables, but I’m not quite ready for thick soups and heavy stews. So a perfect piece of pork surrounded by fall produce fits the bill perfectly.

I love that this dish is beautiful to serve, with perfectly roasted meat and an array of colorful fall vegetables, but could not be easier to prepare. A little work for a lot of reward. The sauce is rich and creamy with a nice sweet-sharp tang from the hard cider. I use a Woodchuck Amber cider, and serve the rest of the six-pack with the meal.

Roasted Pork and Sweet Potatoes with Hard Cider Cream Sauce
Serves 6
  1. 2 pound boneless pork roast
  2. 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  3. salt and pepper
  4. 2 medium sweet potatoes
  5. 2 medium apples
  6. 2 small red onions
  7. 1 cup hard apple cider (alcoholic)
  8. 1 cup heavy cream
  1. Preheat the oven to 450°. Rub the outside of the pork roast generously with salt and pepper. Coat the bottom of a stovetop and oven safe roasting pan with 1 Tablespoon olive oil. Heat the oil in the pan, placing it over two burners if necessary, then sear the pork until lightly browned on all sides. Transfer the roasting dish to the oven and cook for 15 minutes.
  2. Peal the sweet potatoes and cut in half vertically, then in wedges. Core the apples and cut into wedges, then cut the onions into wedges as well. Place everything in a large ziptop bag and pour in the remaining Tablespoon of olive oil and generous sprinkles of salt and pepper. Toss the vegetables around to coat with the olive oil and seasoning.
  3. After the first fifteen minutes of cooking, spread the oiled vegetables around the pork in the roasting pan and cook until the internal temperature of the pork reaches 140° internal temperature, about 20 minutes.
  4. Remove the roasting pan from the oven and transfer the pork to a cutting board. Cover with foil and leave to rest. Remove the vegetables to a platter. Place the roasting tin on the stove (over two burners again if needed) over medium high heat. Pour in the apple cider and use a spatula to scrape up all the delicious browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Bring the cider to a boil and cook until reduced and syrupy, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the cream and continue cooking until thickened, about 5 minutes.
  5. Slice the pork and serve with the roasted vegetables and the sauce.
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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.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/
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.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/
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.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/