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.
For the Broth:
1 whole chicken, giblets removed
1 celery stalk
1 small white onion
2 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon black peppercorns
1 Tablespoons salt
For the Soup:
2 Tablespoons butter
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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 – 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!
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
Cucumber Mint Gin and Tonic
Victoria Sponge with Rose Petal Jam
Strawberry and Cream Cookies
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)
This is, I suppose, a treasured family recipe. For my entire life, both my mother and my aunt often waxed poetic about the favored meal of their childhood. Waffles and Hash. We were regaled at family meals about the tradition of having Waffles and Hash for Sunday night dinner. Any mention of family food traditions with these two always includes waffles and hash dinners. But in all my years, neither my mother nor may aunt have ever made waffles and hash. We would sit around my grandmother’s table on Sunday nights during our visits, eating whatever lovely meal was prepared, and the conversation would turn to memories of waffles and hash. There is some tangible evidence to the truth of these tales, though. My great-grandmother submitted a waffle recipe to a local community cookbook. My mother submitted the same recipe to a cookbook many years later. They are known as Perre’s Waffles (we all share the same name). The waffle iron I still use today was a housewarming gift from my great-grandmother to my mother when she moved into her first apartment. I have absolutely no recollection of my mother ever making waffles. Much less hash.
So I finally decided to take on the dish myself. I know (and have been told) that it is not like the hash from my mother’s childhood. But she can’t really describe that hash except that involved chicken, so I was flying blind. My aunt and I sorted through my grandmother’s recipe notes and clippings a few years ago, and found a faded piece of legal paper with a hash recipe on it. I thought I had found gold, but my aunt immediately read it and dismissed it as” not the hash we used to have at all.”
I include salty country ham in my version, because chances are, at those Middle Tennessee family dinners, we were probably eating a country ham. I love the slight sweetness added by the apple cider with that salty hit. The waffles cook up crisp on the outside, but airy and tender on the inside.
My mother includes the absolute proviso that there must be lots of gravy, because the whole point is that the gravy from the hash soaks into the waffles. So let the gravy thicken, but not reduce too much. If you want to, add a bit more cider, and definitely add more if you re-heat the hash. The family legend also states that this meal included a waffle with hash for dinner, and a waffle with ice cream and maple syrup for dessert.
Waffles and Hash (Chicken Hash with Cider Gravy)
For the Hash:
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
4 cups fresh apple cider
1 rib celery
1 yellow onion
3 cloves garlic
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons flour
4 Tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 ounces country ham slices, cut into small pieces
salt and pepper to taste
For the Waffles:
1 cup (2 sticks) of butter
4 eggs, separated
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
8 teaspoons baking powder
3 cups milk
For the Hash:
Preheat the oven to 400°.
Place the chicken breasts in one layer a baking dish and pour over 2 cups of the cider. Place in the oven and bake until cooked through, about 15 – 20 minutes. Remove the chicken to a plate and discard the cider. When cool enough to handle, chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces and set aside.
While the chicken is cooking, finely chop the carrot, celery and onion (I pulse this in the food processor). Pour the oil in a large saucepan and add the vegetables. Cook over medium heat until the vegetables are soft. Chop the garlic and add to the vegetables, cooking one more minute.
Add the butter and stir until melted. Sprinkle over the flour and stir to coat. Pour in the reamaing 2 cups of cider and the cream and stir until slightly thickened. Add the nutmeg. Stir in the shredded chicken and the country ham to coat thoroughly. Season generously with salt and pepper.
Pour the hash into a baking dish. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve (up to one day). When ready to serve, heat in the oven at 350 degrees until warmed through.
For the Waffles:
Melt the butter and set aside to cool. Separate the eggs, placing the whites in the bowl of an electric mixer.
Stir the yolks together with the milk. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Stir in the milk mixture. Pour in the melted butter and stir to combine.
Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then fold into the waffle mixture.
Grease a waffle iron, heat and prepare the waffles according to manufacturers’ instructions. The size of the waffle iron will determine how much mixture to use in each batch.
Place the cooked waffles on rack set over a cookie sheet and place in a low oven to keep warm until serving.
Serve the waffles with the hash spooned over.
Serves 6 (my waffle iron makes about 16 4-inch square waffles)
The heirloom waffle iron at work
Bag omelets, as we call them, are a favorite project for my family. The family legend behind this is that my Dad was watching some sort of hunting and fishing outdoor program on a Sunday afternoon and they demonstrated these as a campfire cooking idea. Dad called my Mom into watch, and they were so intrigued, they made them that night. Well, they couldn’t stop talking about them, and the next weekend had us all over for a bag omelet party. And so a family tradition was born.
I tell people about these all the time, but when I do, I can see them nod skeptically, and I just know they aren’t going to follow my advice and make them. Recently, I had a dozen gorgeous eggs from the chickens my friend Kristin lovingly raises, so I invited a couple of those skeptical friends for dinner, and they were finally won over. We all loved our omelets and the chance to get creative. They immediately started thinking of reasons to make them.
Bag omelets are a great project for any group meal. Everyone gets their own customized omelet, all ready at the same time. Interactive food and lots of choice are always popular with the kids in my family. And bag omelet party is a great way to jazz up a boring weeknight meal with a special breakfast-for-dinner treat. I can see this as the perfect project if you are stuck in the house on a snow day. They are a perfect clean-out-the-fridge meal – great during the busy holidays when you have lots of bits and pieces hanging around, or the night after a big party. Cut up the leftover vegetables from the dip tray, dice the ham or turkey, grate the bits from the cheese platter.
But this is also a great idea for overnight guests, adults or after a kids’ sleepover. The same goes for an adult dinner party. Everyone has fun discussing their creations and all the omelets are hot and ready at the same time. These work equally as well with leftover salami and string cheese as they do with shaved truffles and duck confit. The omelets slide out of the bags as elegant perfectly shaped cylinders. They are perfect on their own, or with some crisp toasted bread or a light salad.
Use a big Dutch oven or pot, nonstick if you have it. Fill the pot about three-quarters full with water. When you add the bags, the water level will rise, but you want as much water as possible. It shouldn’t be a problem if a little splashes over the side.
Use freezer safe bags, which are thicker and stand up to the heat. Don’t use the plastic slider kind, just the press together seals. You’ll want to squeeze out air so the bags don’t float too much.
Use a permanent marker to write on the bags. You don’t want the names to wash off – you might get the wrong omelet!
Set the timer and have it ready to start when to omelets hit the water. Use tongs to lift the bags out of the water onto a plate or platter.
Wear oven mitts or use a towel to protect your hands when opening the bags and sliding out the omelets.
You’ll need 2 eggs per person, and I always recommend the best eggs you can find. If you have a source at the farmers market or a friend for farm fresh eggs, that’s the way to go. Have a nice selection of protein, vegetables, cheeses, herbs and seasonings. Cut everything into small pieces, so when they are in the bag, they will mix together well, and be easy to eat. I could definitely see doing theme nights with bag omelets – all Mexican ingredients or all Italian. And don’t forget you can add some toppings on the top of the cooked omelet like and extra sprinkle of cheese, a spoonful of salsa or ingredient you may not want cooked in with the eggs, like diced avocado or some crisp diced tomato. Put out some salt and pepper as well, and maybe a few additional seasoning blends.
When I last made these for the photograph above, I created nice little spread of fillings, some grabbed off the salad bar to fill things out, some bits from my fridge. Here are some ideas from that meal:
crumbled blue cheese
grated cheddar cheese
finely diced bell peppers
diced red onion
finely chopped sage, parsley and chives
Salt and pepper
Bring a pot of water to a full boil. Each omelet-maker should write their name on the outside of a freezer-safe zip top bag. For each bag omelet, crack two eggs into a bag. Lightly seal the bag and squish the eggs around a bit to break the yolks.
Open the bag and add your choice of ingredients. Don’t use more filling than egg, you need a good ratio. Seal the bag three-quarters of the way and press out as much air out as possible, then seal the bag completely.
When everyone has their bags ready, gently lower them into the water, avoiding touching the bags to the side of the pan, and set the timer for 11 minutes. Use tongs to gently push the bags down into the water if needed. Do your best to keep the bags from touching the sides of the pot. I have done as many as 8 bags at a time.
When the timer beeps, remove the bags to a platter. Let them cool for a minute, then using oven mitts, gently open each bag and slide the omelet out onto a plate.
Gravy is essential to a Thanksgiving turkey, but only if it is good gravy. And what makes gravy good is delicious drippings from a beautifully roasted bird. Many gravy methods involve making it right in the pan the turkey was cooked in, to scrape up all the bits and juices. And that’s great. But I realized some years ago that trying to do this while my family stands around the kitchen impatiently waiting for their food is impractical. So I now make a rich gravy base the day before, and stir in the lovely juices when the bird has cooked. Bacon grease, caramelized onions and a bit of bourbon add flavor to the base, but don’t worry if it seems a little bland at first. Whisking in the juices brings everything together in a gorgeous golden gravy. The onions may make your gravy look a bit lumpy, but the flavor is brilliant.
Make-Ahead Gravy for your Turkey
2 Tablespoons bacon grease or oil
2 cups finely diced onion (from about 1 ½ onions)
2 Tablespoons bourbon
2 Tablespoons butter
4 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups turkey or chicken stock
Drippings from your turkey, skimmed of fat
Salt and pepper to taste
Pick out a medium sized, heavy-bottomed sauce pan, and make a paper lid for stewing the onions by cutting out a circle from a piece of parchment or waxed paper that will fit tightly over the surface of the onions. This is called a cartouche, by the way. Melt the bacon drippings in the saucepan and add the onions before the grease gets too hot. Sauté gently over medium until the onions are soft and translucent, stirring frequently. Don’t let the onions scorch or brown. Add the bourbon and cook, stirring, until it is almost all evaporated. Turn the heat to low. Place the parchment paper circle over the top of the onion pressing directly on the surface. Cook the onions until soft and caramelized and golden brown, removing the paper once or twice and stirring, replacing the paper lid, about 20 minutes.
When the onions are lovely and golden, add the butter and stir until it is melted. Sprinkle over the flour and stir to coat the onions. Cook for about three minutes, then begin slowly whisking in the stock. Continue whisking until your gravy base is quite thick. It will thin out when you add the turkey drippings. The base may look and taste a bit bland now, but that will be fixed when we add the drippings. At this point, you can cool the gravy base, cover and refrigerate overnight.
When ready to serve, reheat the gravy over low heat, stirring to heat it through. Skim the fat from your turkey drippings, either by letting the juices settle and skimming off the fat the collects on the top, or use a nifty gravy separator if you’ve got one. Slowly whisk the drippings from your roasted turkey into the gravy base, tasting as you go, until you have a nice, rich taste. You don’t want to pour in all the juices and thin the gravy out too much. Cook the gravy, whisking constantly, to thicken it up as needed. Taste before adding any salt, as the turkey drippings may be quite salty. Add pepper to taste if you’d like.