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.

Crispy Buttermilk Baked Chicken

Crispy Buttermilk Baked Chicken

I spend most of my time creating and testing recipes. And I get caught in the cycle of always trying to think of something new and different. How can I add a twist to this recipe, or update an old stand-by? And I love every minute of it. But I realize that sometimes this means I discount or overlook wonderful recipes, or maybe just ideas in my head, that are standard, simple dishes. Because I assume there is nothing special or unique about them. I think of them as something I whip up for myself or for family. The things I no longer need to look at a recipe for, or a procedure that is etched in my mind and doesn’t need any thought. At some point though, I realize that the reason I keep returning to these dishes is because they are good. Not fancy, not innovative, just plain good. This is one of those recipes. Simple and quick, no fancy tricks or exotic ingredients. Just good food. I never thought to post this, because it is so simple, but the last time I made it, everyone was just plain happy to have it for dinner. And that’s the kind of recipe I want to share. Food that makes people happy. So here’s to simple and delicious!

Crispy Buttermilk Baked Chicken
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  2. 2 cups buttermilk
  3. 2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  4. 1 Tablespoon hot sauce
  5. 2 ½ sleeves buttery cracker (such as Ritz), about 75 crackers
  6. salt and black pepper to taste
  7. ¼ cup butter, melted
Instructions
  1. Place the chicken breasts in a bowl or a ziptop bag set on a plate. Mix the buttermilk, Worcestershire and hot sauce together and pour over the chicken. Cover and leave in the fridge to marinate for several hours or overnight. The longer the better, and it can be up to 24 hours.
  2. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350°. Slice 2 Tablespoons the butter in a baking dish that will fit all the chicken pieces and place in the oven to melt.
  3. Melt the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter in the microwave or a small saucepan. Place the crackers in a ziptop bag and crush finely with a rolling pin. Mix in some salt and black pepper (I like a lot of black pepper). Spread the cracker crumbs out on a plate or baking sheet. Remove the chicken from the fridge. Shake any excess buttermilk off the chicken, then roll each breast in the cracker crumbs, coating well, and set aside. When you’ve coated all the chicken pieces, remove the hot dish from the oven and place the chicken breasts in the melted butter. Drizzle over the melted butter and return the dish to the oven. Bake for 50 minutes to an hour until the chicken is cooked through to an internal temperature of 165°. You can turn on the broiler for a few minutes at the end to brown the tops if you would like.
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Asian Inspired Chicken Salad with Sesame Mayonnaise

Asian Inspired Chicken Salad with Sesame Mayonnaise

I do love a good chicken salad, and I am always working on new and different versions. This Asian inspired iteration relies on the wonderful sesame mayonnaise, a recipe I used for years when I first started entertaining, as a dip for asparagus spears or snap peas. I started making it when Asian ingredients like sesame oil and rice vinegar weren’t as readily available as they are now, so it always struck a note of the exotic. I’ve kept that recipe on one of those personalized recipe cards that used to be such popular hostess gifts. I returned to the mayonnaise recipe recently and realized how incredibly versatile it is. I whipped up a little cold chicken supper with leftovers from the fridge, and it was such a good idea, I had to turn it into a summery chicken salad recipe.

Serve this chicken salad in lettuce cups with lime wedges to squeeze over it. I also like it scooped up with rice crackers.

This will make more mayonnaise than you need. Toss it with cold rice or ramen noodles for a lovely side dish, spread it on a bahn-mi style sandwich. It’s a different twist for a burger or a chicken sandwich. Try it with roasted asparagus or steamed snap peas. I’ve even served this as a dip for grilled shrimp.

Asian Inspired Chicken Salad with Sesame Mayonnaise
Serves 4
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Ingredients
  1. Sesame Mayonnaise
  2. 1 whole egg
  3. 2 egg yolks
  4. 2 ½ Tablespoon soy sauce
  5. 2 ½ Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  6. 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
  7. ½ teaspoon salt
  8. ¼ cup sesame oil
  9. 1 ¾ cups vegetable oil, like grapeseed or canola
  10. Chicken Salad
  11. 3 bone-in, skin on chicken breasts
  12. 1 cup shredded carrots
  13. 4 green onions, finely chopped
  14. ½ cup roasted and salted peanuts, chopped
  15. ¼ cup finely chopped mint
  16. ¼ cup finely chopped cilantro
For the Mayonnaise
  1. Place the egg, egg yolks, soy sauce, vinegar, mustard and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process until the ingredients are combined. With the motor running, drizzle in the sesame and vegetable oils in a slow, steady stream. Process until the mixture is creamy, thick and emulsified. You will actually hear the food processor change sounds from smooth blending to a wet slapping sound.
  2. When the mayonnaise is thick, scrape it into a container, cover it tightly and refrigerate for at least two hours to firm up and allow the flavors to meld.
For the Salad
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Lightly salt the chicken breasts and place on a baking tray. Roast for about 20 – 25 minutes until the chicken is cooked through (internal temperature of 165°). Let the chicken cool to room temperature, then pull of the skin, pull the meat from the bones and shred into a bowl, either using two forks or your fingers.
  2. Add the carrots, green onions, peanuts, cilantro and mint to the chicken in the bowl and toss to combine. Add 1 cup of the sesame mayonnaise and stir to coat.
  3. The chicken salad will keep, covered, in the fridge for a few days. The mayonnaise will keep, covered, for 4 days.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/
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Southern Cornbread Chicken and Dressing with Gravy

Southern Cornbread Chicken and Dressing with Gravy

My life sometimes requires comfort cooking.  Not comfort food, but comfort cooking, though the two are not mutually exclusive.  Comfort food for me is old classics that bring back happy memories, sometimes bittersweet, or that make a down day worthwhile.  Often, that means food prepared by someone other than me.

Comfort cooking is me, in the kitchen, alone.  Usually silent but for the gentle whirr of the refrigerator, sometimes music in the background.  My favorite kitchen tools around me.  Absolute surety in what I am doing.  No complicated techniques, no ingredients I am hoping to understand better.  No attempt to deconstruct or decipher a dish created by someone more skilled than me.  No worries about how others will perceive the end result. No concerns that it might not turn out how I’d hoped.  Sometimes it’s a dish I want to share with my nearest and dearest, but I may not, just savor it comfortably, happily in splendid seclusion.

Chicken and dressing is comfort cooking for me.  In fact, I rather suspect that when this is seen by others, my friends and family may call to chide that I have never made chicken and dressing for them.  It’s not a dish from my childhood, in fact I may have first had a pallid version in a school cafeteria and later only in meat-and-three joints.  But it has all the elements of comfort cooking and comfort food for me.  Simple tasks – making stock, dicing vegetables, baking cornbread, mincing herbs.  A lot of steps, but none difficult or distracting.  I can stand at my post at the kitchen counter, my favorite spot in my beloved home, and work the knife or stir the stock, the fragrance of real cooking around me, and think.  Just think and feel and be. I don’t watch the clock or worry about what’s next.  Because what’s next is something simple and wonderful. Every step, every element made by me.  I don’t even care that the sinks are full of dishes, or there is cornmeal dusted on the floor.  Problems for another day.

The recipe may seem lengthy, but it can be done in gentle stages.  Your home will fill with the wonderful aroma of the stock simmering, the cornbread baking, the vegetables softening and the whole cooking together.  That alone is worth the effort.

Southern Cornbread Chicken and Dressing with Gravy

The Stock and Chicken

3- 4 pound chicken, giblets removed

2 carrots

2 celery stalks

1 small onion

2 cloves garlic

1 leek

2 bay leaves

1 Tablespoon black peppercorns

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Place the chicken and all the stock ingredients in a 7 quart or larger pot and add 12 cups of water.  Bring to a boil over high heat, skim off any scum that rises.  Reduce the heat to medium low and cover.  Simmer for 4 hours.  Taste the stock, it should be nice and rich.  Simmer a bit longer if needed.  Remove the chicken to a plate, then strain the broth through a colander lined with cheesecloth or a thin tea towel into a large bowl.  Discard the vegetables.  Pull the meat from the chicken and discard the skin, bones and any unpleasant bits.  Refrigerate the meat and the stock for several hours (I frequently do this the day before).  Skim the fat from the top of the stock. Reserve the chicken and the stock to complete the dish.

The Cornbread

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1 cup all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

¼ cup vegetable oil

1 egg

Preheat the oven to 400°.  Place a 9” cast iron skillet in the oven to heat.

Stir the cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl until completely combined.  Add the milk, egg and oil and stir just until the batter comes together and there are no visible dry ingredients.  Remove the skillet from the oven using an oven mitt and carefully spread the batter in the hot pan.  Return the skillet to the oven and bake for 20 minutes until the cornbread is golden and dry.  Cool completely in the skillet.

The Dressing

¼ cup ( ½  stick) butter

2 carrots, finely diced

2 celery stalks, finely diced

1 small yellow onion, finely diced

2 cloves garlic minced

3 sprigs sage, finely minced

2 stalks rosemary, finely minced

3 sprigs thyme, finely minced

¼ cup minced parsley

the reserved chicken meat

1 cup milk

2 eggs

3 – 4 cups reserved chicken broth

salt and black pepper

Break the cornbread into large chunks in a large bowl.

Melt the butter over medium-high heat in a skillet.  Add the diced carrot, celery and onion and cook until the vegetables are beginning to soften and the onion is translucent, but not browning. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute.  Add ½ cup of the reserved chicken broth and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and the vegetables are soft.  Stir in the minced herbs and cook about a minute until fragrant.  Scrape the vegetables into the bowl with the cornbread.  Stir to combine and begin breaking the cornbread into smaller pieces.

Chop the chicken meat into small bite-sized pieces.  The tender meat will fall apart, but I think it is best when there are discernible pieces of chicken in the dressing rather than shreds.  Stir the chicken into the cornbread and vegetables to distribute evenly.

Measure the milk in a 2-cup jug, then add the eggs and beat well.  Stir into the dressing, then add 1 cup of chicken broth and stir until the dressing is evenly moist.  Spread the dressing into a deep 8-inch square baking dish.  Do not press it down, just spread it in a nice, even layer.  (At this point, you can cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight).

When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350°.  Pour 1 ½ cups of stock over the dressing.  Cover tightly with foil and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake a further 20 minutes until browned on the top.  If the dressing looks dry when you remove the foil, drizzle over a bit more stock.

The Gravy:

¼ cup bacon grease

¼ cup butter

½ cup flour

2 cups chicken stock

salt and pepper to taste

Melt the bacon grease and butter together in a medium saucepan.  Stir in the flour until it is smooth and combined.  Continue cooking, stirring constantly, for 3 – 5 minutes until the foaming subsides and you have a light toffee brown roux, like a fraternity boy’s khaki pants or a roasted peanut shell. Reduce the heat to medium low and slowly stir in the stock.  Cook until the gravy is smooth.  If you like a thinner gravy, add more stock to reach your preferred consistency. Season to taste with salt and black pepper (I like a lot of pepper).

Serves 6

Southern Cornbread Chicken and Dressing wth Gravy

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Cock-a-Leekie Soup

Cock-A-Leekie Soup

January 25 is Burns Night, which celebrates the birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns.  Suppers are held across Scotland and by many Scottish societies and clubs around the world.  I was challenged by a friend some years ago to host a Burns Night supper and so I did.  I put plaid fabric down the table as a runner and had florist make up arrangements of thistle and heather.  I tied place cards to miniature bottles of Scotch with plaid ribbon and wore my Scottish family motto kilt pin and pendant (I outgrow the hereditary kilt as a child).  I printed out the Burns blessing and forced the challenging friend to read it aloud.  I may have even had a recording of bagpipes.

The only difficulty was coming up with a menu, as about the only ting I knew of as Scottish food was haggis, and I wasn’t going there.  I made a Scottish dessert of oats and cream and raspberries called Cranachan, and beef tenderloin doused in Drambuie and Neeps and Tatties (turnips and potatoes).  But the real culinary discovery was Cock-a-Leekie Soup.  I can’t remember where I dug up the original recipe, but I have since made it my own, because it is so simple and warming.  It is a unique twist on chicken noodle, full of gentle leek flavor and homey barley.  So now, Burns Night or nay, I make Cock-a-Leekie for pure comfort. And I recommend you do to, because a big, steaming bowl will warm you inside and out.  I may be crossing too many cultural lines here, but it is very good with a hunk of buttered Simple Soda Bread.

Cock-a-Leekie Soup

For the Broth:

1 whole chicken, giblets removed

2 leeks

2 carrots

1 celery stalk

1 small white onion

2 bay leaves

1 Tablespoon black peppercorns

1 Tablespoons salt

For the Soup:

2 Tablespoons butter

3 leeks

½ cup pearled barley

Place all the broth ingredients into a large Dutch oven or stock pot and cover with 10 – 12 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and skim off any scummy foam that rises.  Turn the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for 4 hours.  Taste the stock; it should be nice and rich.  Simmer a bit longer if you’d prefer.

Strain the stock into a big bowl through a colander lined with damp cheesecloth or a tea towel.  Pull out all the chicken meat and discard the skin, bones, fat and vegetables.  Leave the broth to cool and settle, then skim off as much fat as possible.  I generally make the stock a day before and leave it in the fridge overnight.  It is then easy to remove the fat from the top of the stock.  Refrigerate the meat also if you are leaving the soup overnight.

When ready to cook, place the barley in a bowl and cover with 1 cup of water.  Leave to soak for at least an hour or until much of the water is absorbed.  Quarter the leeks then cut into thin slivers.  Place in a colander and rinse very well.  Shred and chop about 2 cups of chicken meat.  Remember, you’ll be eating this with a spoon so you want spoon-sized pieces.

Melt the butter in a Dutch oven and  add the leeks.   Cook the leeks over medium heat until they are soft and wilted, then add 8 cups of chicken stock.  Add the soaked barley and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat, then add the chopped chicken meat.  Lower the heat, cover the pot and simmer for about 20 – 30 minutes until the barley is tender and toothsome.

Season with salt and serve nice and warm.  You’ll have some extra broth and some extra chicken.  Lucky you!

Serves 4

The Burns Blessing

 Some hae meat and canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it;

But we hae meat, and we can eat,

And sae let the Lord be thankit.

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Creamy Turkey and Wild Rice Chowder with Toasted Dressing Croutons

Creamy Turkey and WIld Rice Chowder with Toasted Dressing  Croutons

Thanksgiving leftovers for me are generally of the sandwich variety.  I love leftover turkey sandwiches.  With cranberry sauce and a slice of dressing.  I make extra dressing, bind it with eggs and cram it into a loaf pan.  Baked off, it makes perfect slices to fit a sandwich.  I even make some sweet-savory jams and chutneys during the summer for use on the post-Thanksgiving concoctions.  My family gathers and plows through the leftovers in a laid-back feed, usually at someone else’s home (lucky me). After preparing the bulk of the Thanksgiving feast, I don’t usually have the energy to deal with another cooking project.  Frankly, I don’t’ always have it in me to make stock from the turkey carcass.  Mostly, it means more dirty dishes.

But last year, I put my mind to creating a hearty, warming meal using the leftover turkey with minimal work and lots of flavor.  And this is my result.  There are several ways to speed up this process.  When you are chopping vegetables for the big meal, put some aside in a Ziploc in the fridge to use for this.  Or buy a bag of frozen chopped mire-poix or soup starter when you do the big shop. I always overbuy on sage, the classic Thanksgiving herb, but use what you have on hand. I find quick-cooking wild rice easily, so look out for that and save yourself a step (though it is an easy one) of cooking the rice.   I don’t always have eight cups of turkey stock leftover after I make gravy and dressing, so I make up the difference with boxed stock.  Cream cheese adds a little body and tang to the final creamy product. The soup is lovely as is, but some toasted pieces of leftover dressing on top add a nice contrast.

Creamy Turkey and Wild Rice Chowder with Toasted Dressing Croutons

2 cups finely diced onion

1 cup finely diced carrot

1 cup finely diced celery

2 Tablespoons olive oil

8 cups turkey or chicken stock, or a combination

2 finely minced garlic cloves

2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage

1 yellow potato, finely diced

1 ½ cups quick-cooking wild rice, or 1 ½ cups wild rice cooked according to package instructions

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

2 cups diced cooked turkey

Sauté the onion, carrot and celery in a 5-quart Dutch oven in the olive oil over medium-high heat. Sprinkle over 1 Tablespoon of the sage and stir well.  When the vegetables are soft, add ½ cup stock and cook until the liquid is evaporated.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 minutes.  Pour in the remaining stock and bring to a boil.  Add the remaining sage and the potato, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and cook for 1o minutes until the potatoes are becoming tender.  If using quick cooking wild rice, add it now, cover the pot and cook for a further 15 – 20 minutes until the rice is tender.  Bring the soup to a low bubble (not boiling, but bubbling). Cut the cream cheese into small chunks and whisk a few at a time into the soup adding more as it melts.  Don’t worry if it looks odd and separated at some point, just keep whisking away until the soup is smooth and creamy. Stir in the diced turkey (and cooked wild rice if that is what you are using) and cook, stirring, until heated through.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Because of the potatoes and rice, you may need to be generous with the salt.

Serve immediately.  Leftovers can be gently reheated until warm.

Serves 6

For the Croutons: Cut leftover dressing into cubes or rough pieces.  Melt a Tablespoon of butter over medium high heat and toast the cubes until brown and crispy.

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Moroccan Chicken Salad

Moroccan Chicken Salad

As the weather really starts to heat up, a cool summer supper salad is a great thing to have in the fridge.  Chicken salad is perfect picnic or party food, great for a weekend at the lake or lunch by the pool.  I love a good chicken salad and make many different versions depending on the occasion and the mood.  I like chunky chicken, crunch, texture and color – something interesting and intriguing, so this recipe has become a favorite.

This savory – sweet recipe is unique and distinctive and will spice up your regular summer menu.  It’s lighter and healthier with Greek yogurt, which still adds richness and tang and the fresh herbs give it zing and brightness.  Traditional Moroccan spices are what set this iteration apart, and the herbs, apricots and carrots make this a colorful addition to any summer table.

Moroccan Chicken Salad

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 lemons

1 cup Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon coriander

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint

2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

½ cup slivered almonds, toasted

6 dried apricots, finely chopped

¼ cup shredded carrots

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Squeeze half of one lemon into a baking dish that just fits the chicken.  Lay the chicken on top, and squeeze the other half of the juice over it.  Tuck the spent lemon halves in between the chicken.  Slice the other lemon into thin slices and lay over the chicken breasts. Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake until the chicken is cooked through, with an internal temperature of 165°, about 30 minutes.  Uncover the dish and leave the chicken in the liquid until cool.  Chop the chicken into small, bite size cubes.

Mix the yogurt and spices together in a large bowl. Stir in the mint and parsley until thoroughly combined.  Add the chicken, almonds, apricots and carrots and gently fold everything together until the yogurt evenly coats all the chicken and the ingredients are evenly distributed.  Refrigerate for several hours to allow the flavors to meld.  The chicken salad will keep covered in the fridge for two days.

Serves 4

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Country Captain with Coconut Rice

Country Captain with Coconut Rice

Country Captain is an old Low Country dish that dates from the days when Charleston and Savannah were important stops on the spice route, and the British influence of trade with India held sway.  Early dishes from the Southern repertoire include lots of interesting spices, and the older the recipe, the more exotic it may seem.  Recipes for Country Captain appear in all sorts of Southern community cook books, the same concept with slight variations from cook to cook.  It is served at fine restaurants and fine homes, was a favorite of FDR and General Patton and because of that, made its way into the Army’s meals-ready-to-eat program.  It has the best qualities of a Southern recipe: ancient tradition, a storied history, the special touches of generations of cooks – all with a contemporary feel in any decade.

Almost every recipe for Country Captain I have read or eaten uses bone-in, skin on chicken pieces, or just a quartered chicken.  But I find that awkward to eat, and you really don’t get enough of the deep, spiced sauce for my liking.  So I altered my recipe to be more like a chicken stew, with hearty chunks of boneless thighs and breast.  I’ve upped the spice factor too and added a little sweet sophistication with a dash of Madeira (a very popular tipple at the time this dish was born).  Country Captain is generally served with rice, once a staple grown in the Low Country, but I say why go plain when you can boost the flavor with some coconut.

Country Captain with Coconut Rice

For the Country Captain:

1 Tablespoon curry powder

1 Tablespoon kosher salt

½ Tablespoon garam masala

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

6 strips of bacon

1 small yellow onion, finely diced

3 stalks celery, finely diced

1 green bell pepper finely diced

2 galric cloves, minced

¼ cup Madeira

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 cup chicken broth

½ cup golden raisins

3 stalks thyme

½ cup slivered almonds

For the Coconut Rice:

1 ½ cups long grain white rice

1 (13 – 14- ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk

2 cups water

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Mix the curry powder, salt, garam masala, ginger and cinnamon together in a small bowl.  Trim the chicken of extra fat and cut into chunks, about 2 inches.  Place the chicken on a plate and sprinkle ½ the spice mixture over the top.  Leave to sit for about 15 – 30 minutes, while you get on chopping the other ingredients.

Cut the bacon into small pieces and cook over medium heat in a large Dutch oven until just crispy.  Remove to paper towels to drain using a slotted spoon.  Carefully pour the bacon grease into a heat proof bowl of measuring jug.  Return 2 Tablespoons of fat to the pan, then add the chicken pieces in one layer.  You’ll need to do this in batches, don’t crowd the pot.  Cook the chicken pieces until lightly brown and sealed, flip over and do the same to the other side.  Remove to a plate and finish all the chicken.  If you need to, add a bit more bacon grease as you go.  When all the chicken is seared, add 2 more Tablespoons grease to the pot.  If you run out of grease, use vegetable oil.  Stir in the onion, celery and green pepper and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft and translucent.  Add the garlic and cook a further minute, then sprinkle over the remaining spice blend, stir and cook until you get a beautiful waft of fragrance from the pot.  Pour in the Madeira and stir, scraping up the lovely brown bits from the bottom of the pot, until the liquid is evaporated.

Pour in the tomatoes and chicken broth and bring to a nice bubble.  Add the raisins, half of the cook bacon and the thyme stalks.  Return the chicken to the sauce, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 1 hour, until the chicken is cooked through.  Give it a stir occasionally to make sure nothing on the bottom burns.  Remove the lid and cook for another 30 minutes until the sauce thickens a little, stirring frequently.

The Country Captain can be made up to a day ahead at this point, cooled, covered and refrigerated.  Reheat gently, adding a bit more chicken broth if needed.

Remove the thyme stems from the stew and serve in a big bowl over coconut rice. Sprinkle with the remaining bacon pieces and the slivered almonds.

For the Rice:

Stir the rice, coconut milk, water sugar and salt together in a medium saucepan with a tightfitting lid.  Bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally until the liquid is almost evaporated and little steam vents form on the surface of the rice.  Remove the pan from the heat, cover it with a tea towel then the pot lid.  Leave for about 15 minutes, then fluff with a fork and serve.

Serves 4

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Chicken and Bacon Pot Pie with Sweet Potato Crust

Autumn is officially here, though the weather may be lagging behind a bit.  I saw my first lovely russet-hued oak leaf blowing across the patio the other day.  And I am ready.  I am ready for soups and stews, winter squash, apples, pears and maple syrup.  I am ready to get the soft blanket out of the linen closet, to curl up on the sofa with a warm mug of something steamy.  I know, that, theoretically, sweater weather is a while away, and the coat will probably stay in the closet until Christmas.  But I can capture to the feeling of fall in the kitchen. And fall means comforting, classic cooking.

Creamy pot pies are a perfect homey comfort food. But I worry that the concept has been tainted by years of bad, processed, pre-packaged and even fast food versions.  And recipes that call for condensed soups and canned chicken.  None of that sounds the least bit appealing to me.  Now when you mention pot pie, many people get that glazed over look, imagining the foil pan of gloopy, doughy, microwaveable mess.  For some people I know, pot pie is no longer a dish they make with pride, but a guilty secret from a box they only eat when no one can see them.  What a shame.

Ah, but freshly made pot pie, with quality ingredients and a homemade crust will warm your heart and your tummy.  I created this version to showcase the flavors of autumn, with a unique sweet potato crust that is both delicious and beautiful.  I streamlined the filling so the unique crust shines and each of the carefully selected ingredients meld together for a perfect fall flavor.  Tender chicken, sweet caramelized onions, salty bacon and woodsy sage, the herb that speaks to me so strongly of fall.

Chicken and Bacon Pot Pie with Sweet Potato Crust

For the Filling:

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Olive oil

10 strips of bacon

1 medium yellow onion (to make about 2 cups diced)

2 Tablespoons butter

3 Tablespoons flour

1 ½ cups chicken broth, at room temperature

1 ½ cups whole milk, at room temperature

1 Tablespoon chopped fresh sage

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the crust:

2 sweet potatoes (about 11 ounces each)

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1/3 cup butter

1 egg

1 – 2 Tablespoons buttermilk or milk

For the Filling:

Preheat the oven to 375°.

Drizzle a little oil in a baking dish and place the chicken breasts on top. Rub a little oil on top of the chicken and season with salt and pepper.  Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake until the chicken reaches 165° internal temperature, about 25 minutes.  Remove the chicken to a plate to cool completely.  When the chicken is cool, cut it into bite-sized chunks.

Dice the bacon into small pieces (I find scissors a great tool for this) and sauté in a large skillet until crispy.  Remove the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate with a slotted spoon.  Let the bacon grease cool a little, then carefully pour it into a measuring cup and set it aside.  Let the skillet cool until it is safe to touch, then wipe out any burned bits or dark brown spots.  Return the skillet to medium high heat and pour in 2 Tablespoons bacon grease.  Add the diced onion and sauté, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft and translucent, being careful not to burn or brown the onions.  Pour in 1 cup of water, cover the skillet and cook the onions until they are soft and begin to turn a golden color, about 20 minutes.  Stir occasionally and add a splash more water to prevent sticking as needed. Remove the lid and cook until all moisture is evaporated and the onions are lightly caramelized.

Add 1 Tablespoon of bacon grease and the butter to the onions.  Stir well, and when the butter is melted, sprinkle over the flour.  Stir everything together until there is no trace of flour visible.  Slowly whisk in the milk and chicken broth (measure them together in a four cup measuring jug), scraping the flour from the bottom of the pan.  Add the chopped sage, nutmeg, a generous pinch of salt and lots of ground black pepper.  Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the sauce is thick and coats the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the chicken and bacon pieces, making sure everything is well coated with sauce.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.  Scrape the chicken filling into a 2 ½ quart baking dish and smooth the top.  Cool completely.  The filling can be made up to one day ahead, covered and refrigerated.

For the Crust:

While the chicken is cooking, prick the sweet potatoes with a sharp knife a few times and microwave until soft, about 10 – 12 minutes.  Hold the potatoes with an oven mitt or tea towel, then cut them in half and scoop the flesh into a small bowl.  Mash the flesh with a fork until you have a smooth puree.  You need 1 cup of mashed potatoes.  Leave to cool completely. (Alternatively, you can bake the potatoes in the oven until soft, about 1 hour).

Mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl with a fork.  Cut the butter into small cubes and drop it in the flour.  Toss the butter in the flour to coat, and then using a pastry blender, two forks or your clean hands, rub the flour and the butter together until it is blended with a few pieces of pea-sized butter visible.  Add the sweet potatoes and the egg and, using a fork, blend together.  Get in there with your hands and knead the dough together into a cohesive ball.  Dump the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap, pat it into a rectangle, wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350°.  Roll the pastry out into a sheet that will fit over the top of the filling.  Drape the pastry over the top and tuck the sides around the filling.  Cut a few slashes across the top to let steam escape.* Brush the top with a thin coat of buttermilk and sprinkle with kosher salt.

Bake the pie for 40 – 45 minutes until the crust is golden, the filling is hot through and bubbling.  Serve immediately.

Serves 6 – 8

*I usually serve this in a rectangular baking dish, but you may use a deep round or square dish if you prefer.  The easiest way to use the crust is to simply roll it out and drape it over the filling, but if you want to get creative, use a cookie cutter to cut the vents on top of the crust, or cut our shapes and layer them on the top, touching each other.  I used a nice fall-themed leaf-shaped cutter for the picture above.

September is Hunger Action Month, so I’ve started The Runaway Spoon’s Virtual Food Drive benefitting Feeding America.  Feeding America partners with over 200 food banks around the country to help 37 million people.  1 in 6 Americans face hunger, so every donation counts.  Click here to contribute to the food drive.  It’s simple, and $1 can provide 8 meals for hungry families.  Let’s fight hunger together!

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Coronation Chicken Salad

This weekend, Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Diamond Jubilee – sixty years on the throne.  When she was crowned (she became Queen when her father died in 1952, but the coronation was June 5, 1953),  Britain was still recovering from the wartime devastation, and rationing was still in effect for many foods.  But it was, of course, necessary to create and elegant meal to serve to the guests of Her Majesty.  Coronation Chicken, as Poulet Reine Elizabeth became known, was created as a balance between necessary thrift and needed elegance. It was, originally, a cold poached chicken dish with a curried mayonnaise sauce.  I have been doing research about the origins of Coronation Chicken and found that there is some dispute.  It is credited to Constance Spry, a famous English florist, but now thought to have been the creation of her partner chef Rosemary Hume (which seems more likely).  But then, there was a dish of chicken in curry sauce served at the jubilee celebrations of George V in 1935.  I even read that the idea was thought perfect for Britons to create at home to eat in front of the television watching the coronation.

But truthfully, I didn’t find the story as interesting as the dish.  From its royal beginnings, Coronation Chicken has become a staple of the British menu, though it devolved over the years to a rather sorry sandwich filling.  You’ll find this flaccid, flavorless version in café and sandwich bars across the country.  Some more upscale chains do a pretty decent version, but its reputation has definitely suffered (I have even seen it as a sandwich filling from a shelf-stable jar).  In my travels, I have encountered some truly awful versions.  But many Britons make Coronation Chicken at home, and an English food magazine recently created a Twitter thread asking readers about the best way to make Coronation Chicken.  The answers were so varied, it shows that this is truly a dish that has been taken to heart and transformed to family tastes.

I have made a curried chicken salad as long as I have made chicken salad.  And at some point in my experiences in England, I began to call it Coronation Chicken Salad.  It is one of my favorite versions, punchy with lots of flavor and texture.  And it is what the dish set out to be, elegant but thrifty, and fit for a Queen.

Coronation Chicken Salad

Poaching the chicken in wine adds a regal touch, but use half water, or all water if that’s all you have.

4 chicken breast halves

White wine to cover the chicken

½ cup golden raisins

½ cup chopped dried apricots

½ cup slivered almonds

3 green onions,finely diced

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

¼ cup Major Grey’s chutney

1 Tablespoon mild yellow curry powder

1 Tablespoon cilantro leaves

¼ teaspoon garam masala

Salt and pepper to taste

Place the chicken breasts in a large, deep skillet and cover with the wine.  Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes.  Turn off the heat, cover the pot tightly and leave too cool.  This will cook the chicken slowly, making it nice and tender.  Check that the chicken is cooked through, to 165° in the center.

Meanwhile, put the raisins in a small bowl and cover with boiling water.  When the raisins are plumped up, drain and set aside.

When the chicken is cool, drain it and pat it dry.  Pull the chicken into bite sized pieces using two forks or your fingers.  I prefer this chicken salad chunky, but it is up to you.  Toss the chicken with the raisins, almonds, apricots and green onions in a large bowl.

For the dressing, place the yogurt, chutney, curry powder, cilantro leaves and garam masala in a blender and blend until smooth and combined, scraping down the sides of the blender as necessary.  Pour the dressing over the chicken and stir to coat thoroughly.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

The chicken salad will keep, covered, in the fridge for several days.

Serves 6 – 8

More ideas for your Jubilee Celebration

Pimm’s Cup

Cucumber Mint Gin and Tonic

Victoria Sponge with Rose Petal Jam

Strawberry and Cream Cookies

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Buttermilk Pecan Chicken with Herb Cream Gravy

I am a devotee of the transformative powers of buttermilk.  It makes chicken tender and biscuits light.  Cakes have a fine crumb and dressings a nice tang.  I use buttermilk whenever I can, and I go out of my way to buy the best, farm-fresh buttermilk available.  I make biscuits of all sorts, marinate chicken for frying and whip up desserts galore, from Buttermilk Pie to Buttermilk Cake.  People sometimes ask me for ideas about what to do with leftover buttermilk, and I always wonder to myself “who has leftover buttermilk?” Buttermilk is Southern liquid gold.

This recipe started as just a little something I would whip up for myself when I had buttermilk in the fridge (which I almost always do).  Over time, I refined it to a company-worthy dish and added a creamy gravy spiked with fresh herbs to jazz things up a bit. I love the crispy coating on the extra tender chicken, and appreciate the simple cooking method.  No grease splatters with this one.  And quite by accident, I have discovered that this chicken is absolutely delicious at room temperature, so it would work beautifully for a picnic.

Buttermilk Pecan Crusted Chicken with Herb Cream Gravy

3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

2 cups buttermilk

2 cups pecans

¼ cup panko breadcrumbs

4 – 5 sprigs fresh parsley

1 teaspoon salt

½  teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon mustard powder

Generous grinds black pepper

For the Gravy:

2 Tablespoons butter

2 Tablespoons flour

2 cups milk

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh leafy herbs – a combo of parsley, thyme, oregano, chives, marjoram, whatever you have to hand

Salt and pepper to taste

Pat the chicken breasts dry and place between two sheets of waxed paper.  Using a mallet or rolling pin, pound the breasts until about ½ their original thickness.  Bash away, it’s a good stress reliever.  Cut each piece in half and place in a bowl.  Pour over the buttermilk and swish everything around to make sure all the meat is covered.  Place in the fridge to marinate for at least 1 hour, but as many as eight.

When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350°.  Place a rack on a rimmed baking sheet and spray with cooking spray.

Place the pecans, bread crumbs, parsley and spices in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse until finely ground, like breadcrumbs.  Turn the coating onto a large, flat plate. Take the chicken from the fridge.  Remove one piece at a time, shake of the buttermilk and press into the pecan mixture.  Turn to coat the pieces all over, fully pressing the crumbs onto the chicken.  Place each piece on the rack and finish the rest of the pieces.

Bake the chicken for 20 minutes, until it is crispy, browned and cooked through.

For the Gravy:

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Sprinkle over the flour and whisk until smooth.  Add the milk slowly, whisking and scraping the sides of the pan.  Cook until the gravy is thickened and smooth, about 5 minutes.  Whisk in the finely chopped herbs and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serves 3 – 6, depending on how hungry folks are (One piece is plenty for me, but hearty eaters might want two)

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