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.

Mardi Gras Slaw

Mardi Gras Slaw

Mardi Gras is a fun season for food.  Not only can you draw from the great canon of Louisiana cooking, you can play with the bright signature colors of purple, green and gold and be a little silly.  This slaw is simple but the multi-colored vegetables and the tangy dressing make it a special dish.  It is beautiful served beside or on top of a po’ boy, but is also a great starter or side with other favorites like Shrimp Creole or Red Beans and Rice or Grillades and Grits. But this slaw is also beautiful at a summer barbecue or picnic, long after Mardi Gras season has passed.

Mardi Gras Slaw

For the dressing:

1/3 cup creole mustard (I use Zatarain’s)

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup white sugar

1/3 cup vegetable oil

a couple of dashes of hot sauce

For the slaw:

½ head purple cabbage

½ head green cabbage

2 yellow bell peppers

For the dressing:

Blend all the ingredients together in a blender or in a small bowl with a whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the dressing is creamy.

For the Slaw:

Cut out the core of each cabbage half.  Slice the cabbage with the slicing blade of a food processor.  You’ll need to do this in batches.  Transfer the sliced cabbage to a very big bowl.  Remove the ribs and seeds from the peppers and finely dice.  Add to the cabbage in the bowl.  Use you clean hands to toss everything around until evenly distributed.  Discard any large cabbage pieces or remnants of hard core.

Give the dressing a last whisk to make sure it is creamy and pour it over the slaw.  Stir and toss to coat everything well.  I like to do this with clean hands as well.  Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours to allow the flavors to blend.  This is best served soon after it is made, but will keep for up to a day.

Serve 10 – 12

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Buttermilk Bread

Buttermik Bread

Making a fresh loaf of lovely, real homemade bread gives me more of a sense of accomplishment than just about anything.  I am not an expert at it, you see, and I am still a little wary around yeast.  So I look for simple recipes and adapt them as best I can for my skill level.  Because I love that moment when you see that your dough has risen to a beautiful, soft round and then the smell of baking bread coming from your very own oven.  And my love for buttermilk is well known, so  creating a simple bread that makes the most of buttermilk tang was a natural step for me and this has become my go-to loaf.

This bread is delicious with any kind of jam or jelly and makes a very nice sandwich.  But for out January soup month extravaganza purposes, it’s amazing with a big bowl of soup.  Spread with a nice butter, toasted if you like.

Buttermilk Bread

1 packet (.25 ounces) rapid rise yeast

¼ cup warm water (about 110°)

¾ cup whole buttermilk

¼ cup unsalted butter

1 Tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon salt

2 ½ – ¾ cups bread flour

Sprinkle the yeast into the bowl of a stand mixer and add the warm water.  Give it a little swirl to distribute then leave it to proof until bubbly and creamy, 5 – 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the buttermilk and the butter, cut into chunks, in a small saucepan and heat over medium low, just until the butter melts.  Let the mixture cool slightly – you want it just warm enough to touch.

Add the honey, salt and warm buttermilk mixture to the yeast in the bowl, then add 1 ½ cups of flour.  Use the dough hook on medium speed to blend the ingredients together until you have a wet, shaggy dough.  Scrape the sides of the bowl and the hook if necessary.  Add more flour, ¼ cup at a time, beating at medium until you have a mass of smooth dough (you may not use all the flour).  Continue beating until the dough is smooth and elastic and comes together in a nice ball.  All this should be about 5 minutes on the mixer.

Gather the dough into a ball and place it in a large, buttered bowl.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 ½ hours.  Here’s a tip I learned from my bread-baking friend Holly. The microwave is a warm, draft free place great for rising dough.  Just leave a post-it not so no one turns it on.  Even better, create a moist, warm dough habitat by putting a measuring cup with ½ cup of water in the microwave before the bowl of dough and zap for 2 minutes, until the inside is nice and steamy.  Quickly stick the dough bowl in and shut the door.

Punch down the risen dough and form it into a loaf.  Transfer it to a buttered 8 by 4 inch loaf pan and leave to rise until it fills the pan, about another hour.

Heat the oven to 375°.  Bake the bread until it is nicely browned, about 30 – 35 minutes.  Turn the bread out into your oven-mitted hand and tap on the bottom; it should give a nice hollow thud.  Remove it from the pan and wrap in it in a clean tea towel to cool completely.

Makes 1 loaf

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Cheddar Chutney Spread

Cheddar Chutney Spread

It is always nice to have a simple, quick party recipe in you back pocket during the holidays.  Something you can whip up quickly and without too much pre-planning and take to the party of gathering you forgot about – you know, you volunteered a month ago to bring a snack, but completely let it slip your mind.   And this is it.

Good ingredients make a good recipe, and by using a good bottled chutney and curry powder, you get a sprightly punch of flavor with little effort.  I have always loved this spread and I promise it is a hit at parties.  I always get recipe requests when I take this somewhere.  The unusual and slightly exotic taste makes it seem much more complicated and labor intensive than it is.  And it is easy to make it look elegant by molding it into a nice round dome.  Put it on a pretty holiday platter with some crackers and you are ready to go.  It needs a couple of hours in the frideg to firm up, but can be made days ahead.  And any leftovers are pretty great as a sandwich.

Cheddar Chutney Spread

8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese

4 ounces cream cheese

1 (8-ounce) jar good mango chutney (Major Grey style)

4 green onions, chopped

1 Tablespoon mild curry powder

1 chopped green onion for garnish

1 handful of roasted peanuts for garnish

Use the grating blade on the food processor to grate the cheddar cheese.  Switch to the metal blade, then add the cream cheese, chutney, green onions and curry powder.  Blend until smooth.

Now you can go simply scrape the spread into a serving bowl, cover and refrigerate for several hours until firm and serve sprinkled with green onions and peanuts. Or do what I do to make it a little fancier.  Line a nice round bowl with plastic wrap, smoothing it out as much as possible, then press the spread into the bowl, compacting it as much as possible.  Pull the ends of the plastic wrap to cover the top and refrigerate for several house or overnight until firm.  Unwrap the top of the spread and invert it onto a plate.  Remove the plastic wrap and smooth the top with a knife.  Sprinkle over chopped green onions and peanuts.

Serve with buttery crackers.  Can be made several days ahead.

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Eggnog Bars

Eggnog Bars

I can’t make it through the holiday season without the flavor of eggnog.  I cook and bake with eggnog in all sorts of ways, from Overnight Eggnog French Toast Caserole to Eggnog Pie and I fall for all the eggnog seasonal flavors on the grocery shelves.  That perfect holiday richness with the whiff of nutmeg really puts me in the holiday spirit.

These simple bars are a perfect take-along to a party or great wrapped up as a gift.  I like them with a mug of eggnog or steaming cup of hot chocolate.

Eggnog Bars

½ cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature

¾ cup light brown sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ cup refrigerated dairy egg nog

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon nutmeg, plus more for sprinkling

1 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line an 8 by 8 inch pan with nonstick foil or parchment paper with some overhang on each end, which makes it easier to remove, then slice the bars.

Beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until light and creamy.  Add the egg, beating well, then add the eggnog and vanilla.  Beat until thoroughly combined. Don’t worry if the mixture looks a little curdled.

Add the flour, baking powder and nutmeg and beat until the batter is completely incorporated and smooth.  Stir in the white chocolate chips.  Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread it into an even layer. Sprinkle a bit of nutmeg over the top of the batter. Bake the bars for 30 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

Cool the bars in the pan for 10 minutes, then gently lift them out using the overhanging foil and palce on a rack to cool completely. Cut into small squares.

The bars will keep for 2 days in an airtight container between sheets of waxed paper.

Makes 16 bars

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Butternut Squash Pickle

Butternut Squash Pickle

The beautiful orangey amber cubes dress up any autumn platter. This is a quick pickle, one for the refrigerator not the canning process.  Make it ahead of your holiday cooking as the flavor needs a little time to develop.

Cutting the butternut can be a little time consuming, but a little patience and sharp, sturdy knife will pay off.  I really prefer to have small pieces, and I admit I use my as-seen-on-TV onion chopper.  The small pieces are so versatile, making this a relish to serve alongside roasted turkey or pork, or a great topping for bruschetta or a sandwich.

Butternut Pickle

1 ½ pounds cubed, peeled butternut squash (1 large butternut, about 2 pounds)

2 ½ cups cider vinegar

2 ½ cups granulated sugar

1 Tablespoon pickling spice

2 cinnamon sticks

Peel the butternut completely, making sure to remove all the skin.  Cut the squash in half and scrap put all the seeds and fibrous insides.  Get it all out.  Cut the butternut into small cubes.   Place the cubed butternut in a large bowl

In a high-sided pan, combine the sugar and vinegar. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and add the pickling spice and cinnamon sticks.  Boil for five minutes. Pour the boiling syrup over the butternut in the bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and leave for 8 – 12 hours, which can easily be overnight.

Drain the syrup from the butternut back into the saucepan and bring it to a boil over medium high heat.  Boil for 5 minutes.  Add the butternut with the cinnamon sticks, bring to the boil and boil for five minutes.  Remove from the heat.

Spoon the squash into sterilized jars, pressing down lightly to fill.  Pour over the syrup, covering the squash in the jars.  There may be extra syrup; discard it.  Screw the caps on the jars, leave to cool and then refrigerate for at least a week, but up to a month unopened.  Once opened, use quickly.

Makes 2 half-pints

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Apple Gruyere Spread

Apple and Gruyere Spread

Here’s a fun fall snack that features beautiful green apples and nutty gruyere cheese. A great spread on hearty wheat crackers, this also makes a wonderful sandwich filling that’s particularly suited to rye bread.  In fact, those little square slices of party rye are great for an appetizer or little tea sandwiches.

This is a basic blueprint that is fabulous on its on, but feel free to stir in some pecan or walnut pieces, or some dried cranberries.

Apple Gruyere Spread

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

4 ounces of gruyere cheese, grated

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon chopped fresh chives

2 Granny Smith apples, unpeeled

Beat the cream cheese until it is soft, then fold in the gruyere, mustard and chives and mix until combined.  Grate the apples with their peels and immediately add to the cream cheese mixture and fold into to completely combined.  Make sure the apples are covered by the cream cheese to prevent browning. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors blend.  The spread will keep a few days in the fridge.

Makes about 1 ½ cups

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Blistered Tomato Sauce

Blistered Tomato Sauce

Quick, simple and delicious. What more could you want in a summer meal?  The trick here is that blistering the tomatoes gives them a rich, almost slow-roasted taste.  I love this with the Italianate taste of oregano, but basil or thyme work wonderfully well too.  I generally serve this over pasta, but it makes a great topping for bruschetta or a pizza.

Blistered Tomato Sauce

1 pound cherry tomatoes

1 clove garlic, finely minced

2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 Tablespoons chopped fresh oregano

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large skillet over high heat until it is blisteringly hot. Flick a drop of water on it and it should dance and bounce around.  Tumble the tomatoes into the pan, reduce the heat to medium and cover the skillet.  Cook the tomatoes for 4 – 5 minutes, shaking the covered pan several times.

Remove the lid from the skillet and pour in the olive oil. The tomatoes will be slightly blackened and charred. Sprinkle over the garlic, oregano and sugar and stir. Simmer the sauce for 5 minutes or so, crushing the tomatoes with a spatula or the back of the spoon until you have a nice, chunky sauce.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Serves 2

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Creamy Fennel Gratin

Creamy Fennel Gratin

Fennel is a new addition to my local farmers market.  That’s the great thing about the rise of these local markets.  Customers ask, farmers grow.  Last year, it was a few experimental bulbs, this year it’s big bins of them.  When I saw them last year, I was quick to pick up as many as I could and start experimenting.  I love adding fennel to the vegetables that start a soup or casserole or sauce – a bit in with the carrots, celery and onion.  It adds an interesting undernote.  But I had never really ventured into featuring fennel as a main ingredient until I found it tender and fresh and fragrant on the farmstand.

I have had a roasted fennel gratin at a restaurant that was basically wedges of fennel tossed in olive oil with a shower of breadcrumbs.  Not interesting enough for me.  The recipes I looked at were mostly similar and the ones with cream sauce seemed to have a lot of cream sauce – the fennel would be swimming.  So I fiddled around for what I was imagining.  When I have the freshest fennel, I want to highlight its unique flavor, so I ignored recipes that had additions of mustard, onion, garlic and shallot.  I want the bracing flavor of fennel to really shine.  A touch of the acid tang of white wine complements the fennel and a slight dusting with salty Parmesan rounds it out. Cooking mellows the fennel, rendering it sweeter but still with that special flavor.

This dish is lovely.  I’ve eaten it on its own with a chunk of bread, but it pairs so well with a grilled steak or a delicate piece of fish.  The smell of sliced fresh fennel is spectacular.

Creamy Fennel Gratin

I prefer the Parmesan and breadcrumbs to be very fine, like a light dust on top of the gratin.  I grate day-old bread on a fine grater.

6 cups thinly sliced fennel (see note)

1 Tablespoon butter

1 Tablespoon flour

½ cup white wine

1 cup heavy cream

2 Tablespoons chopped fennel frond (the feathery leaves)

¼ cup finely grated parmesan cheese

¼ cup fresh, finely grated bread crumbs

salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Butter an 8 by 8 inch baking dish

Cut the thick stalks and fronds form the fennel bulbs and remove the tough end and any tough, blemished outer leaves.  Slice the fennel bulb thinly using a mandolin or the food processor, about 1/8 inch thick.

Melt the butter in a saucepan large enough to hold the sliced fennel.  Whisk in the flour until you have a smooth, pale paste.  Pour in the wine and heavy cream (measure them together in the same jug) and whisk until the sauce begins to thicken.  Stir in one Tablespoon of the chopped fennel frond and cook until the sauce is thick and coats the back of the spoon. Stir in the sliced fennel and a few generous pinches of salt and stir to coat.  Scrape the fennel into the prepared baking dish and spread it out into an even layer.

Mix the breadcrumbs, parmesan and remaining chopped fennel fron together.  Sprinkle evenly over the top of the gratin.  Bake the gratin for 30 – 40 minutes until a knife slides easily into a piece of the fennel.  Serve hot.

Serves 4 – 6 

Note: I created this recipe to make the most of fresh, young tender fennel.  I use about 6 bulbs that are pale green and about 4 inches across.  If you use the mature, white fennel common at grocery stores, you will probably need about 3 bulbs.  The young fennel can be sliced right through, but the larger white bulbs need to be halved and the triangular hard core cut out.  The large bulbs may need a longer cooking time as well.

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Flamiche (Belgian Leek, Goat Cheese and Bacon Tart)

Flamiche (Belgian Leek, Goat Cheese and Bacon Tart)

The first spring weekend of farmers market season is exciting.  I am ready for all that fresh produce with a new treat arriving each week and little surprises on every visit.  I know that I am closer to juicy strawberries, my first tomato in months, bright, sweet corn and so many things.  I know it is all about to start.  But in reality, that first Saturday is a little sparse.  The greens lingering from winter, a few spring flowers, but not the spectacular array soon to come.  S on the first market day this year, I came away mostly with baked goods and a restock on pastured meat.  Not a huge haul, but still a fun trip.

As I unpacked my oilcloth market bag at home, I took stock of my purchases and realized I had leeks, bacon, eggs and goat cheese.  Flamiche!  In the fridge I had some local milk and cream, and with a quickly made piecrust, I was ready for a very elegant, locally sourced spring lunch.

This quiche-like tart is a traditional Belgian dish, with the old-world flavors of smoky bacon, salty goat cheese and jammy leeks.  When I buy leeks fresh from the farmer, there are sometimes a few very thin pencil leeks in the bunch.  I like to press them into the top of the filling before baking, because it is such a lovely presentation.  You can slice right through them or pull them off before serving.  I like the look of my square tart pan, but round is beautiful too.

Flamiche

Belgian Leek, Goat Cheese and Bacon Tart

If you buy your leeks from a farmers market and they are thinner than grocery store varieties, you will need more.

1 pie crust for a 9-inch pie

2 large leeks or 3 medium (4 cups sliced), white and pale green parts only

¼ cup butter

½ cup water

8 strips of bacon

5 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled

½ cup whole milk

½ cup heavy cream

1 large egg

1 egg yolk

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

Fit the prepared crust into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.

Slice the white and pale green part of the leeks in half lengthwise, then slice each half into thin half circles.  Place the leeks in a large bowl of cold water and swirl around with your hands, shuffling to separate the layers of leek. Leave for a few minutes to let any dirt settle to the bottom of a bowl.  In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium low heat.  Scoop the leeks out of the water and shake to drain somewhat (do not pour the leeks and water into a strainer, the dirt will just fall back on the leeks) then add to the melted butter.  Stir to coat and then stir in the ½ cup water.  Cook for a few minutes, until the leeks begin to reduce in bulk, then cover, lower the heat to low and cook for 20- 25 minutes until the leeks are soft and semi-translucent. Stir occasionally during cooking and add a drop or two more water as needed.  Do not let the leeks brown. When the leeks are soft and pale, uncover and cook a few minutes more until any liquid has evaporated. Set aside to cool. (The leeks can be made up to two days ahead and refrigerated, tightly covered, until ready to use).

While the leeks are cooling, cook the bacon until crisp and drain on paper towels. Preheat the oven to 400°. Spread the cooled leeks evenly over the bottom of the prepared tart crust, smoothing the top.  Crumble the goat cheese and sprinkle over the top of the leeks.  Chop the bacon into small pieces and sprinkle in the tart.  In a small bowl or 4 cup measuring jug, whisk together the milk, cream, whole egg, yolk and pepper.  Pour this custard over the filling in the tart.  Carefully transfer to the oven and bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until the center is set and the top is golden brown.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 6

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Fontina Cheese Toasties

Fontina Cheese Toasties

Melty cheese and crispy bread are the perfect pairing for soup, creamy or brothy. And this may be the ultimate soup sidecar.  If you are fan of the classic croque monsieur, this is basically just the top.  A creamy, cheesy béchamel sauce browned until bubbly on a good piece of bread.  I like it plain, but feel free to alter it to suit your soup – before you melt in the cheese add finely chopped green onions, a dash of cayenne, a dollop of mustard, lots of cracked black pepper.  The topping will keep covered in the fridge for two days, giving you a weekend of special soup meals,

Fontina Cheese Toasties

2 Tablespoons butter

2 Tablespoons flour

1 ¼ cup milk

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup grated fontina cheese

8 thick slices country bread, like ciabatta or boule

Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

Melt the butter in a saucepan, then whisk in the flour.  Continue whisking until it is smooth and pale, almost white.  Slowly whisk in the milk and cook over medium-high heat until the sauce is thick and smooth.  Whisk in the nutmeg.  Whisk in the cheese, a bit at a time, stirring until melted before adding more cheese.

Chill the mixture in the refrigerator until it has firmed up.  The topping will keep covered in the fridge for two days.

Preheat the broiler in your oven. Place the sliced bread on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or non-stick foil.  Lightly toast the bread on one side, then remove it from the oven and spread a generous amount of the cheese sauce on the untoasted side.  Make a nice thick layer, spread to the edges.  Sprinkle a pinch of flaky salt over the toasties, then place under the broiler.  Broil until the cheese is bubbly and lightly browned in spots, about 5 minutes.  Watch very carefully and remove as soon as the brown spots appear.

Let the toasties cool for a minute, then serve them with a nice bowl of soup.

Makes 8 toasties, perfect to accompany 4 bowls of soup

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