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.

Buttermilk Brownies with Bourbon Caramel Frosting

Buttermilk Brownies with Bourbon Caramel FrostingNothing is quite so simply satisfying as a good brownie. Even the plainest, unadorned chocolate bite can fulfill the needs of any sweet tooth craving. But the simple brownie can also be a brilliant canvas for creativity, taking on stir-in surprises, creamy frostings or decadent drizzles. Serving a plate of brownies at a party or to family and friends always gets a lively response. So I like to mix it up sometimes – take the simple brownie concept to a new and indulgent level.My penchant for baking with buttermilk comes into play here, making these rich chocolate treats tangy and ultra-moist. I add some Southern flair with a rich frosting of caramel set off with a good kick of bourbon.  

These brownies are easy to make – they only use one pan and the 13 by 9 inch size makes sure there are plenty to go around (even a few to squirrel away for yourself). You can use the same pan for the caramel, but I have found that transferring it to a mixer makes for a smoother, fluffier icing over beating it in by hand. The rich, buttery notes of the caramel, enhanced by a generous tot of earthy bourbon, is a revelation. I’m sure I’ll find many uses for it.

Buttermilk Brownies with Bourbon Caramel Frosting
Yields 20
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For the Brownies
  1. 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
  2. 1 cup water
  3. 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  4. 2 Tablespoons bourbon
  5. 2 cups granulated sugar
  6. 1 cup all purpose flour
  7. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  8. ½ cup buttermilk
  9. 2 eggs
For the Frosting
  1. ½ cup (1 stick) butter
  2. ½ cup heavy cream
  3. 4 Tablespoons bourbon, divided
  4. 1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  5. ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  6. 3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
For the brownies
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9 by 13-inch brownie pan with parchment paper or non-stick foil.
  2. Place the butter, water, cocoa powder and bourbon in a large saucepan and cook over medium heat until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and let cool for a few minutes. Stir in the sugar until combined, then add the flour and baking soda and stir until thoroughly combined. Measure the buttermilk in a 2-cup jug, then beat in the eggs. Add this to the batter and stir until combined. The batter will be thin. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 30 – 35 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Leave to cool in the pan.
For the Frosting
  1. Place the butter, cream, 2 Tablespoons of the bourbon and the brown sugar in a large saucepan and heat over medium heat until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a slow boil and cook for 3 minutes, then remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly.
  2. Pour the cooked caramel into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and add 1 cup of the confectioners’ sugar. Beat until smooth, then add the remaining 2 Tablespoons of bourbon, the remaining 2 cups of confectioners’ sugar and the salt and beat until smooth. Spread the batter over the cooled brownies and leave to set for at a few hours.
  3. Cut the brownies into generous squares
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Irish Barmbrack (Fruit and Tea Loaf)

Irish Barmbrack (Fruit and Tea Loaf)I picked up a recipe card in a grocery store in London for a fruit and tea loaf. It sounded good, so I was looking for the ingredients. A lovely lady with a lilting Irish accent was helping me, but she told me that I’d be better off making a real barmbrack than using a product-promoting recipe card. I’d never heard of barmbrack, so she explained that it was a traditional treat her granny always made back in Ireland. She outlined the ingredients and steps in some detail and I took notes on the back of a Tube map I had in my purse, right there in the baking aisle at Waitrose. I never did make the recipe card bread, but when I got home to my own kitchen, I started a little research on barmbrack and developed my recipe in combination with her notes.

Here is what I learned. Barmbrack is traditionally served at Halloween, and sometimes little charms or a coin are baked into the loaf to predict various fortunes for those who get the charm in their slice. There is some dispute, as far as I can make out, as to whether a version made with yeast is the original or the batter bread came first. My grocery store guru never mentioned yeast, so I went with the simpler version. Most recipes I read and the ingredients she listed included candied peel and cherries, but I can only find those readily available during the Christmas, so I substituted dried sweet cherries and citrus zest and juice. The long soak in tea gives this bread a nice tannic finish and a subtle flavor. The bread is fruity but not overly sweet.

I offer this recipe in time for St. Patrick’s Day, even if that is not traditional, because it always reminds me of my Irish grocery pal (I like to imagine her name was something wonderful like Siobhan or Aoife) and the name is so musically Irish, especially with the Irish spelling báirín breac, which means “speckled bread.” And this dense, fruit studded, tea infused loaf is good at any time of year, spread with good Irish butter or with a slice of Irish cheddar.

Irish Barmbrack (Fruit and Tea Loaf)
Serves 10
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Ingredients
  1. 2 black tea bags (Earl Gray or English Breakfast)
  2. Âľ cups black raisins
  3. Âľ cup golden raisins
  4. ½ cup currants
  5. ÂĽ cup dried sweet cherries
  6. 1 medium navel orange, zest and juice
  7. 1 medium lemon, zest and juice
  8. 1 egg
  9. ½ cup light brown sugar, packed
  10. 2 cups all-purpose flour
  11. ½ teaspoon baking soda
  12. ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  13. ÂĽ teaspoon cloves
  14. ÂĽ teaspoon nutmeg
  15. ÂĽ teaspoon ground ginger
  16. 2 Tablespoons buttermilk or milk
Instructions
  1. Brew 1 cup of tea with the two teabags. It should be strong tea. Toss the dried fruits together in a large bowl and cover with the tea and stir. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave the fruit to soak overnight, giving it a stir if you happen to remember.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a standard 9 by 5 loaf pan with cooking spray.
  3. Zest the orange and the lemon into the bowl of fruit and tea and stir to combine. Squeeze the orange, then the lemon to make ½ cup juice (more orange juice is a little sweeter than too much lemon). Add the juice to the bowl and stir, then crack in the egg and stir to combine. Add the brown sugar, flour, soda and spices and stir until the batter comes together. Add the buttermilk or milk. This is a thick batter, but make sure all the dry ingredients are mixed in with the wet. If you need too, you can add a little bit more buttermilk to pull things together.
  4. Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan and press it out to an even layer. Bake for 45 minutes – 1 hour until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
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Slow Cooker Spiced Pecans

Slow Cooker Spiced Pecans

Spiced and seasoned roasted nuts are a great pleasure. The problem I’ve always encountered was baking them in the oven without burning them, or at least some of the nuts on the baking sheet. Nuts contain flavorful oils that can scorch easily. I’ve come across several recipes for cooking nuts in the slow cooker and the idea made total sense to me. Large quantities without the fear of burning. So I adapted a favorite seasoning mixture to the slow cooker method and it has become a favorite. Stirring the nuts into a seasoned butter right in the crock is simple, and the even heat brings out the flavor of the pecans and prevents burning. While this is not a totally hands-off slow cooker recipe, it is easy to have these going while you attend to other tasks. Set a timer for 30 minutes and give them a stir.

This recipe makes a big batch of nuts, so there are plenty to wrap up and give away and still have lots to snack on. These will also keep for several weeks in an airtight container, which makes them particularly handy for holiday gifts or drop-in guests.

Slow Cooker Spiced Pecans
Yields 2
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Ingredients
  1. 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
  2. ½ cup granulated sugar
  3. ½ cup light brown sugar
  4. 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
  5. 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
  6. 1 teaspoon black pepper
  7. ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  8. a few dashes cayenne pepper to taste
  9. 2 pounds pecan halves
Instructions
  1. Spray the crock of slow cooker with cooking spray and turn the cooker to high. Cut the butter into pieces and place it in the slow cooker and cover. Cook for 15 minutes until the butter is melted. Stir in the sugars and spices until combined, then stir in the pecans until they are all well coated. Cover the slow cooker and cook for 2 hours, stirring well every 30 minutes, then uncover the cooker and cook for a further hour, stirring frequently.
  2. Spread the pecans on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Taste one and if you think it needs more salt, sprinkle some over. As the nuts cool, separate any clusters with a fork.
  3. Once cool, these will keep in an airtight container for up to a month.
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Whole Lemon Squares

Whole Lemon Squares

My mom made great lemon squares. I say did, because she just doesn’t do it anymore. They were her go to take-along to school events and family functions, and a special treat for us. She had volunteered to bring lemon squares to a school field trip for me when I was in elementary school, but shortly before the scheduled date, she broke her leg and was completely laid up. But she worried about those squares, and insisted that my Dad and I make them the night before. My Dad was a very good cook, and I was getting there, but we made a complete mess of it. The lemony filling never set up, so our cookie base turned hard as a rock. We even tried a second batch to equally disastrous results. I can’t remember how my Dad remedied the situation (probably stopped at the bakery on the way to school), but the experience scared me off of lemon squares for many a year.

I make a wonderful Blender Lemon Pie that’s uses a whole lemon, peel and all, to great results. Its an old community cookbook recipe, so when I ran across a recipe for lemon squares using whole lemons in another community cookbook, I worked up my courage to try again. And then they became a sort of go to for me as well. My mom even asks me to make them for her. This version has all the sweet-tart tanginess of classic lemon squares, but not the wobbly texture from a filling that uses more eggs. This method takes a lot of guesswork out of the baking and yields easily perfect results.

As with the Blender Lemon pie, the lemons are best with a thin skin, which can be kind of hard to tell when buying them. Too much white pith makes the filling bitter. Look at the pointy end of the lemon – if it’s very elongated, there is likely to be a thick skin. If the skin feels tough and hard, as opposed to having some give when you press on it, it’s likely to be thick. You can poke through with your fingernail to see what you’re looking at. Buy a couple of lemons with appropriate skins. Cut into them and use the thinnest skinned one. Use any other lemon for you gin and tonic. No great loss.

Whole Lemon Squares
Yields 16
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Ingredients
  1. 2 ÂĽ cups all-purpose flour, divided
  2. ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
  3. 1 cup (2 sticks) of butter, softened
  4. ÂĽ teaspoon salt
  5. 2 medium lemons
  6. 4 eggs
  7. 2 cups granulated sugar, divided
  8. 1 teaspoon baking powder
  9. confectioners’ sugar for sprinkling
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9 by 13 brownie pan with parchment paper.
  2. Place 2 cups of the flour, the confectioners’ sugar, the butter and the salt in the bowl of a mixer and blend until combined but crumbly. Scatter the crumbs in the bottom of the prepared pan and press evenly into a uniform crust. Bake for 20 minutes until firm and golden in places.
  3. Cut each lemon into eighths and pop out all the seeds. Drop the lemon pieces in a blender and add 2 eggs and 1 cup of the sugar. Blend until smooth and the lemons are pureed, then add the remaining 2 eggs and 1 cup of sugar, ÂĽ cup of flour and the baking powder and blend until completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the carafe if needed.
  4. Pour the filling over the crust in an even layer and return the pan to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, until the filling is set and no longer jiggly in the center. Leave to cool for about 10 minutes, then sprinkle a thick layer of confectioners’ sugar through a sieve in an even layer over the bars. When completely cool, lift the bars out of the pan using the parchment paper, then cut into squares.
  5. The bars will keep covered for up to a day. If not serving right away, I wait to cut them into squares and sprinkle some more confectioners’ sugar on before serving.
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Red Pepper Relish

Red Pepper Relish

I love good pepper jelly, the wobbly kind with little bits of pepper suspended in the jar. The kind ladies used to bring to the Christmas party to serve over cream cheese, the jar topped with a pretty little cloth circle. And as much as I love canning, jelly, made with exact amounts of liquid and pectin, are a little bit out of my league. So when I saw this simple recipe in a community cookbook, I wanted to try it, as it seemed to have everything that would produce the flavor of a good pepper jelly. In the cookbook, the recipe was titled Red Pepper Hash, but I don’t think that term really describes what this is and when I once labeled a jar red pepper jam, I could tell the recipient was very skeptical. So I went with relish. I think I like this better than classic jelly. It has more character, with body and heft and a nice tang from the vinegar, perfectly balanced with sugar. This has become a yearly ritual for me, because it is often requested by friends. I have one friend who squeals every time I give her a jar, and she keeps it hidden for her own personal use.

Try this on a burger instead of ketchup for a really interesting twist. In fact it is good on any kind of sandwich. I often serve it with a board of Southern cheeses and locally made charcuterie, but my favorite use is still poured over cream cheese. I just like to make the cream cheese from scratch now too.

Red Pepper Relish
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Ingredients
  1. 12 red bell peppers
  2. 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
  3. 2 cups cider vinegar
  4. 2 cups granulated sugar
Instructions
  1. Remove the stem, seeds and ribs from the peppers and cut the flesh into chunks. In about three batches, place the pepper in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until all the peppers are finely chopped. Scrape each batch into a colander set over a large bowl. When all the peppers are in the colander, stir in the salt and leave to drain overnight. Cover the colander with a tea towel.
  2. When ready to make the relish, place a small ceramic plate in the freezer. You’ll use this this to test the set of the jam later. Then get your jars clean. You will need 3 half-pint mason jars. I always clean a couple of extra just in case. I clean the jars and the rings in the dishwasher, and leave them in there with the door closed to stay warm. You can’t put the lids in the dishwasher, it will ruin them.
  3. While you relish is cooking, get a boiling water canner or big stockpot of water going. Here are step-by step instructions for processing in a canner. When the relish is almost ready, pour some boiling water over the lids to your jars to soften the seals and set aside.
  4. Scrape the drained pepper pulp into a large pot and stir in the vinegar and sugar. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook until thick and jammy, about 30 – 40 minutes, stirring frequently, and more at the end as the relish thickens. Watch carefully, as the cooking time can vary depending on the density and moisture in the peppers. If there are any large pieces of pepper in the pot, you can use an immersion blender to break them up.
  5. When the jam has cooked down and is thickened, pull that little plate out of the freezer and spoon a little jam onto it. Leave to set for a minute, then tilt the plate. If the jam stays put, or only runs a little bit, it’s ready to go. Also, run a finger through the jam on the plate if the two sides stay separate and don’t run back together, you’re good to go.
  6. Fill each of your warm, cleaned jars with the relish, leaving a ½ inch head space. Wipe the rims of the jars with a damp paper towel. Dry the lids with a clean paper towel and place on the jars. Screw on the bands tightly, then process the jars for 5 minutes in a boiling water bath. If you have a bit of extra relish, scoop it into a refrigerator container and keep in the fridge for up to a week.
  7. When the jars are processed, leave to cool on a towel on the counter.
  8. The processed jars will keep for a year in a cool, dark place. Don’t forget to label your jars!
Notes
  1. I like to can some of this is small 4-ounce jars, which is a perfect serving for a cheese plate.
  2. Don’t throw away the juice drained from the peppers – use it to add verve to Bloody Marys, gazpacho or tomato soup. You can even freeze it in ice cube trays to add a lift cooking anytime.
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Country Ham Stuffed Eggs

Anytime you pair a classic Southern ingredient with a classic Southern dish its bound to be a wonderful thing. And for me, these are too longtime family favorites, so I earned some extra bonus points. As I’ve said before, in my family we always call them stuffed eggs, not devilled eggs, because devilled smacks of spicy and mama don’t do spicy. Also, I love pulling out my egg trays and putting them to good use.

Salty country ham and creamy egg yolks are a beautiful combination, and I love a edge from shallot, without overpowering the little kick from mustard. I used a thick cut slice of ham for the filling to give it some nice body, but had the deli counter thinly slice a little (prosciutto style) to curl on top of each egg as a nice garnish and additional zing of salty ham. This is a great way to use up a little leftover country ham to make a whole new dish, but don’t be afraid to serve these with more ham. They would look gorgeous on a platter surrounding a whole ham or the piled up slices.

Country Ham Stuffed Eggs
Yields 24
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Ingredients
  1. 12 eggs
  2. 1 shallot bulb
  3. ÂĽ cup loosely Italian parsley leaves
  4. 3 ounces country ham center slices
  5. 2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
  6. ½ teaspoon regular mustard powder
  7. dash of hot sauce
  8. lots of freshly ground black pepper
  9. 1/3 cup mayonnaise
Instructions
  1. Place the eggs in a large pan and cover with water by about an inch. Place over high heat and when the water comes to a boil, cook the eggs for seven minutes. Fill a bowl with ice and cold water and set in the sink. When the seven minutes are up, remove the eggs with a slotted spoon to the ice water. Leave to cool for 45 minutes.
  2. When the eggs are cooled, roll them on the counter to crack the shells all over and peel. Rinse with cool water to remove any stray shell pieces and pat dry.
  3. Cut the shallot into chunks and drop into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse several times to break up the shallot, then add the parsley and pulse until finely chopped. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Drop in the country ham and pulse until everything is finely chopped. You don’t want a puree, just a rough chop.
  4. Cut the eggs in half (wipe your knife on a paper towel before each egg so yolk doesn’t get on the white) and gently scoop the yolks into the bowl of the food processor. Place the empty whites on a tray or stuffed egg plate.
  5. Add the Dijon mustard, the mustard powder, hot sauce and pepper and pulse to break up the yolks. Add the mayonnaise and blend until everything is combined, but there should still be some texture from the ham and shallots – don’t go overboard and make it completely smooth. You can add a little more mayonnaise if needed. Taste and add salt if you want, but the ham is usually enough.
  6. Fill the center indentions of the whites with the filling. Cover and refrigerate the eggs. To avoid plastic wrap touching your beautifully filled eggs, store these in a 9 x 13 storage container with a snap on top or a deep baking dish covered with plastic or foil. These are best made the day you are serving, but can be made a day before and kept covered in the fridge.
Notes
  1. I like to use a very small cookie scoop to fill the whites, then go back with lightly damp fingers to press the filling in and smooth the tops.
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Potted Ham

Potted Ham

Potted ham is some truly old fashioned cooking. Potting was a method for preserving meat and seafood and even cheese in English kitchens before the advent of refrigeration. It is basically sealing finely chopped meat under a layer of clarified butter. The butter solidifies and shields the meat form unwanted visitors. It was the precursor to canned meats and I think that is probably why it’s reputation suffered and it went largely out of fashion. I’ve made potted shrimp and potted stilton for English themed tea parties and they’ve always been very popular, but I had never thought of potting ham until I found this recipe in Noel McMeel’s book Irish Pantry at the precise moment I had a surfeit of leftover ham in my refrigerator.

I find this dish charmingly old-fashioned, but it somehow seems to have a modern resonance and stylishness to it. It seems so homemade and self-sufficient. Make this in elegant little ramekins and serve as a first course with toasted crusty bread and a pretty little spreading knife, or make a larger ramekin (no more than a 2-cup size) and serve on a cheese platter with crackers. And it makes great sandwiches – even as a layer in a bahn-mi.

I would not trust this method as its original purpose as a long-term storage solution for meat, but it will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week. And it freezes well too. Pack it into freezable jars, cover with butter, refrigerate until cold, then freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw completely in the fridge before serving. I particularly like it in these European-style jars. I have simplified the original recipe a bit.

Potted Ham
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Ingredients
  1. 8 ounces of high-quality butter (like Kerrygold)
  2. 1 pound cooked ham, torn onto pieces
  3. 1 Tablespoon parley
  4. 1 Tablespoon cider vinegar
  5. ÂĽ teaspoon ground cloves
  6. ÂĽ teaspoon brown mustard seeds
  7. ÂĽ teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
  8. ÂĽ teaspoon salt
  9. lots of ground black pepper
Instructions
  1. Cut the butter into quarters and place in a 4-cup microwave safe measuring jug. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Leave the butter to sit for one minute, then skim off any white foam from the surface. Slowly and carefully pour the clarified butter into a smaller measuring jug leaving the white solids behind. Set aside.
  2. Place the ham in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse several times to break the meat up into rough crumbs. Add the parsley, vinegar, cloves, mustard seeds salt, pepper and about 2/3 of the clarified butter. Pulse until you have a thick, rough paste that sticks together, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed and making sure everything is well combined.
  3. Use a spoon to transfer the ham to ramekins or jars. Pack the ham down lightly into the containers making sure there are no large gaps. Smooth the top of the ham to an even layer. Pour the remaining clarified butter equally over the top of each container. The surface needs to be completely covered with a generous layer of butter. No ham should be sticking up through the butter. Leave the ramekins on the counter so the butter settles and begins to solidify, then carefully transfer to the fridge. When the butter has solidified completely, cover with jar lids or plastic wrap. Let come to room temperature before serving.
  4. The potted ham will keep in the fridge for a week or the freezer for up to three months.
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Melty Cheese and Caramelized Onion Fondue Dip

Melty Cheese and Caramelized Onion Fondue Dip

I love this recipe for many reasons. It combines some of my favorite things (sweet caramelized onions and gooey cheese), it never fails to delight guests, and it can be elegant or rustic. This is the kind of recipe that makes me feel like a much more put-together person than I am. I seems to me like the kind of thing you read about in a magazine food story, where the writer has shown up at some gorgeous farmhouse to write about the heirloom produce and the hosts casually bring this out with loafs of crusty bread just out of the wood-fired oven, like its no big deal. It takes a little more effort for me to look that non-chalant. That being said, this dish is a little work for a lot of reward.

There is a lot of flavor packed into this little dish. Let the onions caramelize to a rich, deep, jammy spread.  Nutty gruyere and creamy brie make the cheese top layer multi-dimensional. I love the herbal tang of thyme, but marjoram is also a great complement.

Melty Cheese and Caramelized Onion Fondue Dip
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. 1 medium onion, finely chopped (to produce 2 cups)
  2. 1 Tablespoon butter
  3. 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  4. ÂĽ cup white wine or vermouth
  5. ÂĽ cup water
  6. 1 Tablespoon light brown sugar
  7. 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  8. 4 ounces gruyere
  9. 8 ounce round of brie
  10. 4 ounces cream cheese
  11. 2 Tablespoons milk
  12. 2 Tablespoons cornstarch
  13. 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  14. Sliced baguette for serving
Instructions
  1. Melt the butter and oil together in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and a generous pinch of salt and stir, cooking until they are soft and translucent. Add the white wine, stir, cover the pan and cook for a few minutes, until the wine has evaporated. Pour in the water, add the brown sugar and the thyme, stir well and cover. Cook for 5 – 10 minutes over medium-low until the onions are deep brown and jammy, stirring a few times to prevent scorching. You can add a little water if needed. Spread the onions evenly on the bottom of a small baking dish, about 6 inches in diameter and 2 inches deep.
  2. Pulse the gruyere in a food processor until it is small crumbs. Scrape the rind from the brie, cut into chunks and add to the food processor with the cream cheese, milk, cornstarch and thyme. Process until you have a thick paste with a little chunky texture. Spread the cheese over the onions in the baking dish to cover evenly. You can now cover the dish and refrigerate for up to two days.
  3. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350° and bake until goldens and bubbly and warm though, about 20 minutes. Let the dip rest for 5 minutes before serving.
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Fromage Fort or Lou Cachat

Fromage Fort or Lou Cachat

I have always been an avid entertainer. I made a living out of planning parties for awhile. And I have frequently used this clever French trick to transform the bits left over from the cheese plate. Fromage Fort or Lou Cachat are two versions of this bit of culinary trickery which blend all those leftover pieces with a little alcohol to create an utterly new dish. I’ve seen recipes – or just simple instructions – in French cookbooks both old and new. I started with Lou Cachat, but later discovered Fromage Fort. The difference, as I make it out, is that Lou Cachat is blended with brandy and is traditionally made in Provence with goat cheese. Fromage Fort (“strong cheese”) is made from any variety and mixed with white wine. It’s an old housewives’ trick, so the variations are endless and as varied as the women who make it. I have seen it with garlic or woody herbs and much more butter, alcohol and olive oil. So experiment and expand as much as you like. This is the blueprint for my house version. I use whatever cheese I have left over – goat, triple cream, hard, blue – that’s the point, making those random bits last. I prefer Lou Cachat, because I like strong cheese and I think the brandy really adds to the depth of flavor. When I use strong cheese, I don’t bother with garlic or herbs.

I love the idea that the expensive cheese from the Christmas can be a totally new and exciting treat on New Year’s Eve. I read a Jacques Pepin recipe in which he says his wife makes the Fromage Fort and freezes it packed in little ramekins. That made me love this dish even more. Splash out on the best cheeses you want, because there will be no waste. Serve either as a spread for good crackers or bread, or spread on sliced bread and broil for a starter or a soup sidecar.

Fromage Fort or Lou Cachat
Yields 20
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Ingredients
  1. 1 pound cheese pieces, of any variety
  2. 2 Tablespoons butter
  3. ÂĽ cup brandy, cognac or white wine
  4. 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  5. generous grind of black pepper
Instructions
  1. Cut the cheese into pieces (harder cheeses need to be cut into smaller pieces). Place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Cut the butter into pieces and add to the cheese. Pulse repeatedly until the cheese is broken up to a very rough, chunky paste. Add the brandy while pulsing, then the olive oil until you have a rough paste. Grind in some pepper and pulse to blend. I like mine to have a bit of chunky texture, but you can blend as smooth as you like.
  2. Scrape the cheese into ramekins and refrigerate or freeze.
  3. Serve the cheese at room temperature, or spread it on slices of baguette and broil for a few minutes.
Notes
  1. (In this picture, my Lou Cachat is made with bits of Southern made cheeses – Mountaineer and Appalachian from Meadow Creek Dairy, Asher Blue and Green Hills from Sweet Grass Dairy)
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Caramel Oatmeal Cake with Broiled Frosting

Caramel Oatmeal Cake with Broiled Frosting

I’m sticking to my simple comfort food theme here.  This recipe is no innovative or new, just simple delicious.  You’ll find similar versions in all sorts of community cookbooks I am sure.  It’s the type of 9 by 13 dessert you might take to a church social or a big family gathering.  The cake is delightfully moist and hearty with a nice caramel undertone.  The topping adds sweetness and crunch, but I promise is not overwhelmingly coconutty.  Cut this in small pieces to serve a big crowd or big slabs with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for a comforting, filling dessert. I bet someone you serve it too will have a memory of something similar in from his or her childhood.

Caramel Oatmeal Cake with Broiled Frosting
Serves 10
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Cake
  1. 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  2. 1 ½ cups boiling water
  3. ½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  4. 1 cup granulated sugar
  5. 1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  6. 2 eggs
  7. 1 teaspoon vanilla
  8. 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  9. 1 teaspoon baking powder
  10. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  11. ½ teaspoon salt
  12. ½ teaspoon cinnamon
Broiled frosting
  1. ½ cup (1 stick) butter
  2. Âľ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  3. 1 Tablespoon heavy cream
  4. 1 cup shredded coconut
  5. 1 cup finely chopped pecans
Instructions
  1. For the Cake
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a 9 by 13 inch baking dish with cooking spray (I like Baker’s Joy for baking).
  3. Put the oats in a bowl and pour over the boiling water. Leave the oats to soak for 20 minutes.
  4. Cream the butter and both sugars together in the bowl of an electric mixer until creamy and smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl several times. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Slowly beat in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon until completely incorporated, scrapiing down the bowl as needed. Beat in the soaked oats until combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake the cake for 30 minutes, until the top is just beginning firm.
  5. For the Frosting
  6. Make the frosting while the cake is baking, put the butter, brown sugar and cream in a medium saucepan and heat over medium, just until the butter melts. Remove from the heat. A gew minutes before the cake timer goes off, bring the mixture to a boil over medium high heat and boil for 1 minutes. Stir in the coconut and pecans until well combined. Take the cake out of the oven and pour and spread the frosting over the top. The frosting will be thick, just do you best to spread it out. Don’t worry about evenly covering the cake, or if some of the cake seems to pull up and mix with the frosting. The end result is a fabulous concoction of cake and gooey frosting.
  7. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 12 – 15 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
Notes
  1. I particularly like the cake served slightly warm, but it is equally delicious at room temperature, and leftovers make a delicious breakfast, room temperature or lightly warmed.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/