The strawberries are here, but with the exceedingly strange weather we’ve been having this year, I am a little worried it is going to be an abbreviated season. So I have been making the most of what I have. I keep a big colander of berries in the fridge and snack on them throughout the day, I’ve put up jars of jam and I have been baking up a storm. I love this too-brief interlude when I have strawberries every day, before I say goodbye to fresh ones until next season.
I love strawberries and chocolate and have been working on a way to combine the two in a fun and simple brownie. So I added some berries to my basic brownie recipe and covered it in a sweet, creamy strawberry frosting. And darned if doesn’t taste like the fancy chocolate covered berries famous around here. I added a little drizzle of melted chocolate to pretty them up. Dip some berries in the extra melted chocolate for a nice decorative touch.
Chocolate Covered Strawberry Brownies
½ cup (1 stick) butter
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup finely diced strawberries
For the Frosting:
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
3 cups confectioners sugar
¼ cup mashed strawberries
For the Drizzle:
3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
Preheat the oven to 350°. Line an 8 by 8 inch pan with non-stick foil or parchment paper.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over low heat or in a large bowl in the microwave. Don’t let the butter boil or foam, just melt it. Leave to cool slightly.
Stir the sugar and vanilla into the butter, then add the eggs and stir until well combined. Add the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt and stir until completely combined. Fold in the strawberries, distributing them evenly.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan.
For the frosting:
Beat the butter until creamy in the bowl of an electric or stand mixer. Slowly beat in the sugar, scraping the sides of the bowl. Add the mashed berries alternately with the sugar until the frosting is creamy, smooth and spreadable. Use an offset spatula to spread the frosting evenly over the top of the brownies. Chill the frosted brownies until the frosting is firm.
For the Drizzle:
Break the chocolate into small pieces and place in a small microwave bowl. Microwave at high power for one minute, then stir until smooth. If needed, zap in 15 minute intervals, stirring after each burst, until melted and smooth. Use a fork to drizzle the chocolate over the chilled frosting.
Makes 16 brownies
*Dice the berries into small pieces and place in a measuring jug. Mash with a fork until juicy and the pieces are small. Beating in the mixer will bash them up a bit more.
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.
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.
Many years ago, I picked up a recipe card in the checkout line at a grocery store in London. It had a complicated fish recipe, but what attracted me was the artichoke tartar sauce. That card sat in my recipe file for years, until I rediscovered it and decided to give it a go. The recipe was a complete dud. Weird ingredients, lengthy procedures and it just didn’t come together. It left me with a bowl of gloopy, oddly colored mess. So I threw the card away (and the sauce). But the idea stuck. A tangy, creamy sauce with a nice bite from artichoke hearts that would be a great accompaniment to seafood. So I persevered and came up with this version. I first took it to a friend’s house for a fish fry – they fried the fish caught that morning. It was a big hit, so I wanted to share the recipe.
But it has taken me another few years to figure out how to do it. I don’t particularly enjoy frying fish myself, so no duplicating the tartar sauce’s triumphant debut. Then it hit me – crab cakes. Like a semi-deconstructed crab and artichoke dip. I fiddled with a classic crab cake recipe, paring it down to basic flavors so the tartar sauce wouldn’t be overwhelmed. And pressing the mixture into little muffin tins makes them easier to cook and perfect bites for a party – they tins can be filled and refrigerated just until ready to bake. A little dollop of tartar sauce makes them pretty, and the mini-sized, crispy sides make them easy to eat.
Crab Cake Bites with Artichoke Tartar Sauce
For the Crab Cakes:
1 pound lump crabmeat (see note)
2 Tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 Tablespoon mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon finely chopped flat leaf parsley
½ cu panko bread crumbs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
½ teaspoon mustard powder
For the Tartar Sauce:
4 medium sized whole artichokes hearts (see note)
2 egg yolks
2 garlic cloves
2 Tablespoons flat leaf parsley leaves
2 Tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
¼ cup safflower, grapeseed or canola oil
Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Pick over the crabmeat to make sure there are no pieces of shell, then add the crab to the eggs. Add the melted butter, mayonnaise and parsley and fold together gently. You want everything well combined but try not to break up the crabmeat.
Mix the breadcrumbs, baking powder, Old Bay and mustard powder together in a small bowl. Add to the crab mixture and gently fold through. Again, you want everything combined, but don’t break up the crabmeat. Refrigerate the mixture for at least an hour, but several is fine. This binds the mixture together and makes it easier to fill the tins.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray 24 mini-muffin cups well with non-stick cooking spray. Fill each cup with crab cake mixture, pressing it in to fill it well. Press a rounded teaspoon down in the middle of each cake to make a little well in the center (this will keep them from mounding up and create a nice flat surface for the tartar sauce). You can cover the tins with plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for several hours at this point.
Bake the crab cakes for 20 – 25 minutes until golden brown, then cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Use a knife to loosen the cakes and remove them from the pan. Spoon a little tartar sauce on top of each cake and serve immediately, though these taste lovely at room temperature.
For the Tartar Sauce
Drain and rinse the artichoke hearts well and pat dry. Drop them in a food processor (I use the mini) and add the capers, egg yolks, parsley and garlic cloves. Pulse three to four times to break everything up into a rough paste; scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the motor running, drizzle the oil into the bowl in a thin, steady stream. Process until the sauce is thick and creamy. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl halfway through. Scrape the tartar sauce into a container and keep covered in the fridge until ready to use. It will keep overnight.
Makes 24 crab cakes
I prefer pasteurized lump crab meat that I find in containers at the seafood counter at better grocery stores.
I generally used canned artichoke hearts in brine, rather than the marinated, quartered ones in jars because the marinated ones have some flavor additions. If you can only find those, rinse them really well. If you can only find quartered, use 12 quarters.
I don’t know who makes these decisions, but there is an endless list of “National Days” celebrating foods, dishes and ingredients. I recently saw that it was National Pecan Month, so I thought I better pull out a preparation for the iconic Southern nut. These are a salty, crunchy snack for the bar, or on top of a salad, and once again prove that everything is better with bacon.
Bacon Fried Pecans
Let the bacon grease cool, then reheat it for frying. The nuts burn quickly and reheating allows more control over the temperature.
1 pound bacon
8 ounces pecan halves
Cook the bacon in a skillet until crispy. Drain the bacon on paper towels, then transfer the bacon grease to a medium sized skillet and let cool.
Use a sturdy knife to chop 6 strips of bacon. Save the rest of the bacon for another use.
Have a plate lined with paper towels ready by the stove. Reheat the bacon grease over medium heat until a drop of water sizzles, but do not let it smoke. Drop a handful of pecans into the hot fat and stir around. Remove with a slotted spoon to the prepared plate after about 15 seconds. Just let the pecans turn a shade darker, watch carefully and do not let them burn. Immediately sprinkle the hot pecans with salt. Continue with the remaining pecans. If the fat starts to smoke, remove from the heat for a few seconds to cool down.
When the pecans are cool, toss them with the chopped bacon and serve in a big bowl.
Makes 8 ounces
My love for biscuits is well documented (13 recipes on the site at last count), and my love of country ham equally evident when you peruse my recipes. I have always enjoyed a warm, buttery biscuit with a slice of salty country ham tucked inside, so the next logical step seemed to be incorporating the ham directly into the biscuit. And these are heavenly morsels of Southern flavor.
Cut into small biscuits, these little rounds make a wonderful brunch bite or party snack with their cheesy filling. But they are just good biscuits, so use them how you will. Cut them large and serve with butter or gravy for breakfast, or spread a little mustard instead of butter before you melt the cheese.
I buy already ground country ham, sometimes online and sometimes I find it at local markets. If you can’t find it, grind some country ham slices in a food processor until you have a crumbly mixture, but not a paste. To add the delicious, melty center, I use thick cut sandwich slices of sharp cheddar cheese for ease, but feel free to cut slices from a block.
Country Ham Biscuit Bites with Cheese
2 ½ cups soft wheat flour (such as White Lily)
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into small cubes
4 ounces ground country ham
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 cup buttermilk
14 thick slices cheddar cheese
softened butter for spreading
Preheat the oven to 400°. Spray 2 9-inch cake pans with cooking spray.
Mix the flour, baking powder and salt together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Shuffle the butter cubes into the flour, then crumble in the country ham. Beat on low speed until the butter and ham and mixed in and the mixture looks damp and crumbly. Add the mustard, and with the beater moving, slowly pour in the buttermilk. Beat just until the dough comes together. Knead the dough a few times in the bowl to get all the flour worked in. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to a round ½-inch thick. Press a 2-inch biscuit cutter into the dough and lift out. Do not twist or the biscuits won’t be as tall. Place the biscuits tightly together in the prepared pans.
Bake the biscuits for 10 – 12 minutes or just until firm to the touch. Remove to a wire rack until they are cool enough to handle. Lower the oven temperature to 325°. When the baking pans have cooled, spray them with cooking spray again.
Use the biscuit cutter to cut rounds of cheese the same size as you biscuits. When the biscuits are cool enough to handle, carefully slice them open and spread both sides with a little soft butter. Place a piece of cheese in the center, close the biscuit up and tuck back into the baking pans. Spread a little butter on the top of the biscuits. Cover the pans tightly with foil and place back in the oven for about 5 – 8 minutes, just until the cheese is melted.
Makes about 2 dozen 2- inch biscuits
To make these biscuits ahead, here are a couple of options. Freeze the dough rounds on a waxed paper lined baking sheet until hard, then transfer to ziptop bags. Bake from frozen, increasing the cooking time slightly. You can also bake the biscuits, add the butter and cheese, cover and refrigerate for several hours before the final baking, again increasing the cooking time slightly.
I doubt this a traditional Irish dish at all, but when I was whipping up a pot of Irish Stew, I wanted a nice, cheese-y accompaniment. Welsh Rarebit is the great British snack of a beer-laced cheese sauce on crusty bread, so I figured I give it a go with Guinness. These are perfect with the stew, but also make a nice treat on their own as a snack, or a light lunch or supper beside a big salad. And they’d be pretty good with Corned Beef and Cabbage Cooked in Beer.
½ cup Guinness or other stout beer
2 Tablespoon butter
2 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
½ cup milk
¼ teaspoon English mustard powder
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
14 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese (preferably Irish), grated
8 slices crusty white bread
flaky sea salt, like Maldon
Pour the Guinness into your measuring jug and let the foam settle. You want ½ cup minus the foam.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, then whisk in the flour until you have a smooth paste and it is pale in color. Whisk in the milk and Guinness and stir until thick, smooth and creamy. Stir in the mustard powder and Worcestershire. Add the cheese a handful at a time, stirring to melt completely after each addition. When all the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth, set it aside to cool down and firm up a little.
Preheat the broiler to high. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Slice the bread into thick slices. Use a spoon to spread a thick layer of cheese sauce on each slice. Sprinkle the tops with salt and place on the baking sheet. Broil the rarebits until the cheese is bubbling and browned in spots, about 6 minutes. Watch very carefully.
Let the rarebits sit a few minutes, then slice each piece in half and serve.
It’s Mardi Gras time, and so it’s time for crawfish. Crawfish Cornbread is a recipe I have seen in many Louisiana community cookbooks over the years, and I’ve whipped up a batch or two in my time. I have no idea if this is a traditional Cajun recipe, or started it’s life on the back of corn bread mix box, but that doesn’t matter to me, because it is a sound idea that results in a delicious dish.
I’ve altered my version so it is packed with crawfish and has a nice level of spice. I use frozen crawfish tail meat, which is easy to find around here, but if you happen to have some fresh daddies around and want to pull out all that juicy flesh, please do so. This cornbread is lovely beside a bowl of Red Beans and Rice, but cut into small squares it makes a nice nibble. It is even hearty enough to serve with a nice green salad for a meal.
2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon Creole seasoning
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, finely diced
8 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
1 (12-ounce) bag frozen corn, thawed
2 pounds crawfish tail meat, finely chopped
1 (4-ounce) can diced jalapenos
Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a 9 by 13 inch baking dish.
Stir the cornmeal, baking powder, salt and creole seasoning together in a very large bowl. Stir in the eggs and oil and mix thoroughly. Add the onion, cheese, corn, crawfish and jalapenos and stir until everything is completely mixed together and evenly distributed.
Spread the cornbread into the prepared pan, smoothing out the surface. Bake for 45 – 50 minutes until golden and firm and a tester comes out clean. Let rest for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving warm.
Serves 8 – 10
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
Persimmons are the brightest spot in the barren winter fruit scape. Sure, citrus is there, but I miss the reds, pinks, peach, blues, plums, purples and greens of summer bounty. But then there are these bright beauties, orange and smooth and shiny, with their frilly green caps. I have a tendency to overbuy, because I am so excited about a fresh winter fruit. And I am not always sure what to do with them. Sometimes they sit happily on my counter, making me smile at their lovely color and sheen until I’ve missed their usable moment. But my simple, delicious answer is this slightly sweet, moist, persimmon rich bread.
Fuyus are the squat persimmons, and best for baking. Cut out the green stem end, cut into chunks and puree them in the blender or food processor. Persimmon bread is a particular treat slathered with Meyer Lemon Curd.
1 cup persimmon puree (from 3 – 4 ripe Fuyu persimmons)
2 Tablespoons water
½ cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a standard loaf pan.
Cut out the stem of each persimmon and cut into chunks. Puree the persimmons in a food processor or blender with 2 Tablespoons water.
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the persimmon puree and beat until thoroughly combined. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda. Add flour mixture to batter and beat until smooth.
Pour into a loaf pan and bake at for 50- 60 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool well before slicing. Well wrapped, the bread will keep for a few days.
Makes 1 loaf
I don’t know that I have ever attended a holiday party where there wasn’t a pretty little bowl full of seasoned nuts. Sometimes a silver or cut crystal bowl, sometimes shaped like Santa or a Christmas tree, usually on the bar or an end table. And there are always people hovering around, picking up one or two nuts, but eyeing the bowl like they want to plunge their hand in and scoop up every last one.
A lovely bag of flavored nuts makes a wonderful gift, and they are handy to have around during the busy holidays. And this little nibble combines the best of the South, abundant pecans and our favorite refreshment. Sweet, with a hint of salty finish, these nuts are a unique rendition of the classic treat. Make multiple batches to have around during the busy season – they will last in an airtight container for a week or freeze beautifully.
Sweet Tea Pecans
1 cup sugar
2 cups water
3 black tea bags
12 ounces pecan halves
Stir the sugar and water together in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce the temperature to medium and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat, drop in the teabags and leave to steep for 10 minutes. Remove the teabags and stir in the pecans. Leave to soak for 45 minutes, stirring several times.
Heat the oven to 400°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with non-stick foil or parchment paper. Drain the pecans through a strainer, then spread in a single layer on the baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake the pecans for 13 – 15 minutes, until golden brown. Watch carefully, nuts burn easily.
Cool the nuts on the baking sheet.
The nuts will keep in an airtight container for a week, or can be frozen.
Makes 12 ounces