The Southern Sympathy Cookbook

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.

Shrimp Sauce Piquant

Somewhere between an etouffee and a gumbo lies sauce piquant, a rich, roux-based stew with a little kick. The layered flavors of a caramel dark roux, the trinity of Louisiana cooking, rich tomatoes and the added kick of Creole seasoning and chiles is everything you want in a Cajun meal. It’s a perfect winter dish, warm and comforting and spicy, a slow simmered stew packed with flavor. What could be better for a February Mardi Gras?

You can make this with crawfish, chicken or catfish (or heck, alligator if you want) cut into pieces, just adjust the cooking time accordingly. Traditionally, this is served over rice, but I think it also makes a delicious topping for grits. Serve it in deep bowls with some hot sauce to shake over the top. Make it a Mardi Gras meal with some Cafe Brulot Brownies or Bananas Foster Pound Cake.

Shrimp Sauce Piquant
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. 2 stalks celery
  2. 1 green bell pepper
  3. 1 medium white onion
  4. 3 cloves garlic
  5. 1 cup vegetable oil
  6. 1 cup flour
  7. 1 Tablespoon creole seasoning (like Tony Chachere's)
  8. 1 (14.5 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  9. 1 (10-ounce) ounce can diced tomatoes with green chiles
  10. 1 (4-ounce can) diced green chiles
  11. 4 cups chicken broth
  12. 2 pounds peeled and deveined shrimp (thawed if frozen)
  13. Hot sauce to taste
  14. Salt and pepper to taste
  15. Cooked rice
Instructions
  1. Finely dice the celery, bell pepper and onion. Finely mince the garlic and have it all near the stove.
  2. Now we are going to make a roux. In a large (at least 5 quart) heavy pan (I like enameled cast iron), heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the flour and stir until smooth and lump-free. Cook the roux, stirring frequently, until the color begins to darken. As it deepens, stir more frequently, then constantly, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan. As it darkens, it can burn quickly so pay attention. I use a heatproof spatula or a wooden spoon for my roux. When the roux has turned a deep brown, between the color of sweet tea and a good bourbon, after about 15 minutes, add the chopped onion, celery and bell pepper and stir well. Cook until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and creole seasoning and give it a good stir. Now add the crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, green chiles and chicken broth, stirring constantly as you pour them in. The roux may appear to curdle or seize, but keep stirring, it will smooth out. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer uncovered for 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally. Add a few dashes of hot sauce and some salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Add the shrimp to the sauce, cover the pot, and cook for about 10 minutes, just until the shrimp are pink, curled and cooked through. Serve over cooked white rice.
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Good Luck Gumbo

Enjoy this repost one of my favorite New Years’ Day recipes from 2011.

I am not an overly suspicious person. Sure, I have my little quirks, but I don’t worry about black cats, walking under ladders, throwing spilled salt over my left shoulder. But there are a few traditions that I adhere to because, well, it can’t hurt. Particularly if that tradition involves delicious food. So on New Year’s Day, I always eat black-eyed peas and greens. For luck and prosperity. Sometimes I eat them separately, but this gumbo includes all the ingredients for a good year. The traditional ingredients of good-luck hoppin’ john (rice and black-eyed peas), which is another New Year tradition in the South, plus greens for prosperity. Here’s a little more information on Southern luck traditions.

This gumbo can be made the day before and reheated, which is a boon if you have been out all night celebrating. Just reheat, cook some rice and add the collards. I highly recommend using smoked ham hock stock. It really gives the gumbo a smoky, earthy, rich flavor. Making it in the slow cooker is a breeze, and you can do it ahead of time. If you can’t manage, look for ham stock at some grocery stores, or use the combo of chicken and beef.

Good Luck Gumbo

1 pound smoked sausage, such as kielbasa

2 Tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

1 onion

1 green pepper

4 stalks celery

1 Tablespoon flour

1 teaspoon creole seasoning (I use Tony Chachere’s)

6 cups ham hock stock*, or 4 cups chicken stock and 2 cups beef stock

1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 pound black-eyed peas, fresh or frozen and thawed

1 ½ cups long grain white rice

3 ½ cups water

1 small bunch collard greens

Cut the smoked sausage into bite-size cubes. Heat the oil in a 5 quart Dutch oven, add the sausage and cook over medium high heat until the sausage begins to brown. Finely chop the onion, seeded bell pepper and celery. I do this in a small food processor, one vegetable at a time, pulsing to chop the vegetable finely. Add the “trinity” vegetables to the pot and stir. Cover the pot and cook for five minutes to soften the vegetables, then remove the cover, stir well and cook until everything is nice and soft and any liquid has evaporated. Stir in the flour and cook a further minute, then stir in the creole seasoning. Pour in the stock and the canned tomatoes with their juice. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes uncovered, reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Add the black-eyed peas and continue cooking for another half an hour. The gumbo should reduce and thicken slightly. The gumbo can be made up to this point, cooled and refrigerated, covered, overnight.

When ready to serve, cook the rice. Stir the rice into the water in a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to a boil and boil until almost all the water is absorbed and little air bubbles form in the rice, about 10 – 12 minutes, stirring a few times to prevent sticking. Remove from the heat and tightly cover the pan.

Cut the collard leaves in half and cut out the stems. Stack the leaf halves, three at a time, on top of each other and roll up like a cigar. Cut the leaves into thin ribbons. You can further chop the collard ribbons if you’d like.

Heat the gumbo to a low boil over medium high heat. It will thicken as it sits, but loosen up when heated. But add a little water if you need to get things moving. Add the collards, stir, and cover the pot. Cook until the collards are tender and wilted, about 5 minutes. Serve over cooked rice. If you have saved some ham hock meat from making the stock, dice that and stir it into the gumbo as well. And if you’d like, sprinkle some hot sauce over the gumbo.

*Smoked Ham Hock Stock

Hock Stock is an amazing cooking medium for field peas, beans and greens, as well as a great base for soup or gumbo. I always look for a naturally smoked hock (not one that has no artificial smoke flavoring added). I get these from farmers market vendors when I can, and make a batch of stock to freeze. I can then have to the long, slow cooked taste in quick versions of my favorite southern dishes.

1 large smoked ham hock, cut into three pieces

1 onion

2 carrots

2 celery stalks

1 Tablespoon black pepper corns

3 bay leaves

Place all the ingredients in the crock of a large slow cooker. Add 10 – 12 cups of water to fill the crock. Cook on the low setting for 10 – 12 hours. Strain the solids from the stock and refrigerate for several hours. When the stock is cold, skim any solidified fat from the top and discard. Strain the stock through cheesecloth to remove any last bits of debris.

If you’d like, pull the meat from the ham hock pieces and dice. It is a great addition to any soup or beans you are cooking with the stock.

The stock will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week or can be frozen for up to a year. The same goes for the hock meat, in a separate container from the stock.

Makes 6 – 8 cups

Sweet Potato Pralines

I aspire to be, but am not much of a candy maker. I get a little nervous about the candy thermometer and the exactitude. In fact, I first started making pralines when I learned how to do them in the microwave. But I have been experimenting and expanding for awhile, and have come to discover making candy is not nearly as intimidating as I had feared. Sure, it takes some organization and patience, but the reward is so great, it’s utterly worth it.

As with a great deal of cooking, what really gets me interested and motivated is old community cookbooks, those treasure troves of local knowledge that always inspire and excite me. Many of these gems have whole chapters on candy making, everything from fudge to toffee to divinity and parlaines. And that is where I found this recipe for “yam” pralines. The idea intrigued me so, I had to try it. With a little tweaking and modernization and some interpretation from a clearly expert praline maker to a real novice, I got this version just right.

These pralines are incredibly autumnal, as sweet and luscious as the original, but with this lovely earthy undertone from the sweet potatoes. And they are celebratory – everyone is impressed with homemade candy. Wrap these individually in little cellophane bags tied with ribbon for a sophisticated Halloween treat, stack them up in a Mason jar as a hostess gift for friendsgiving, or lay them out on a pretty silver tray for the Thanksgiving dessert display.

Sweet Potato Pralines
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Ingredients
  1. 3 cups granulated white sugar
  2. 1 cup heavy cream
  3. 1 ¼ cup cooked, mashed sweet potato*
  4. pinch of kosher salt
  5. 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  6. 2 cups chopped pecans
Instructions
  1. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set near the stove.
  2. Combine the white sugar, heavy cream, sweet potato and salt in a large, heavy saucepan with a candy thermometer clipped to the side. Stir to blend thoroughly, then cook over medium heat until the thermometer reaches 234 degrees (sift-ball stage. Stir occasionally. Meanwhile, melt the brown sugar in a heavy saucepan. When the sweet potato mixture reaches 234, quickly stir in the melted brown sugar and the pecans until thoroughly combined. Remove the pot from the heat, then quickly drop large tablespoons of mixture onto the prepared baking sheets. Leave to cool for several hours until firm and dry. These will keep for at least a week in an airtight container.
  3. Makes about 2 dozen
Notes
  1. * You can cook about 2 sweet potatoes by pricking them all over with a sharp knife and microwaving for 10 minutes until soft when pressed. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, but still warm, cut in half and scoop the flesh into the bowl of a food processor. Process until you have a smooth puree, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Leave the puree to cool. I have, however, also used a canned sweet potato puree – just sweet potatoes, not candied yams. I find these at better grocery stores.
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Honey Black Pepper Cornmeal Dinner Rolls

I’ve spoken many times before about my desire to produce perfect baked breads and rolls, and my all-to-frequent failures with yeast, kneading and patience. But my quest for easy, no fuss, no fail breads and dinner rolls is an on-going adventure. Sometimes I hit, sometimes I miss, but this recipe is definitely a hit. Instant yeast and the stand mixer make idiot proof rolls like these possible. Really, if I can produce soft, light and fluffy pillowy rolls like these, so can you.

The flavor combination here is inspired by the simplest of corn bread muffins I’ve made for years, a basic recipe jazzed up with a good dose of black pepper and a nice hint of honey. But these light and airy rolls take it to a whole new level. The cornmeal adds a little texture and depth, and the sweet hit of honey plays beautifully with the bite of black pepper. Don’t’ skimp on the pepper, it really elevates these rolls. Butter melting into these rolls is delicious, but a little honey butter could take these up a notch. An extra benefit of this recipe is that it makes a big batch of rolls, perfect for entertaining or big family suppers.

Honey Black Pepper Cornmeal Dinner Rolls
Serves 24
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Ingredients
  1. 2 cups whole milk
  2. 2/3 cup yellow cornmeal, plus a little for sprinkling
  3. 1/3 cup honey
  4. ½ cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
  5. 1 ½ Tablespoons instant yeast
  6. 1 teaspoon salt
  7. 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  8. 3 large eggs
  9. 5 – 6 cups all purpose flour
Instructions
  1. Heat the milk in a saucepan over medium heat just until it is warm through and bubbles form around the edges. Stir in the cornmeal and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick and bubbling. Scrape the cornmeal mush into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and leave to cool to lukewarm, about 10 minutes. Beat in the honey, butter and yeast until smooth, then add the salt, pepper and eggs and beat until well combined and smooth. Beat in the flour, a cup at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Pull the dough off the hook if needed to combine the flour and liquid. You are looking for a wet, shaggy dough, but it should cling together in a ball. You may not need all the flour. Beat the dough for 2 – 3 minutes on medium speed.
  2. Gather up all the dough into a ball and place it in a greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about an hour.
  3. Line a 12 by 17 inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Gently deflate the dough, then roll it into 24 equal balls, each about the size of a golf ball and place on the baking sheet close but not touching. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise until doubled, about an hour. Sprinkle a little cornmeal evenly over the top of the rolls.
  4. Preheat the oven to 375.
  5. Bake the rolls until golden and baked through, about 15 minutes. Serve warm.
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Chocolate Chocolate Chess Pie

You may not forgive me for this one. It is the very definition of decadence. Chess pie, in all its forms, has always been a favorite of mine, from the traditional to my Sweet Potato Buttermilk Chess Pie. Add in some chocolate, and I am a really happy girl. I recently made a classic chocolate chess for a lake weekend with friends (and a traditional chess, just to be safe) and though I licked my plate, and got rave reviews, I couldn’t help but think what I could do to snazz up the original, as I am wont to do. And it came to me – chocolate overload. Swap out a standard pie crust for one made with a hit of cocoa, and you have got something special.

The crust can be a little ticky to work with, just be patient and patch any holes with scraps of dough when you fit it in the plate. You can, of course, pour this filling into a standard butter pie crust, but really. The center of the pie needs to be firm, but with a tiny little wiggle. It will fall a little on cooling and some cracks may appear, but those just reveal the gooey chocolate center. I think this pie is amazing on its own, but a little dollop of whipped cream is never a bad thing.

Chocolate Chocolate Chess Pie
Serves 6
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For the Chocolate Crust
  1. 1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  2. 2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  3. 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  4. ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  5. ½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter
  6. 3 – 4 Tablespoons ice water
For the Filling
  1. ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  2. 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  3. ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  4. a pinch of kosher salt
  5. 3 eggs
  6. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  7. 1 Tablespoon cornmeal
For the Crust
  1. Place the flour, cocoa powder, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to blend completely.  Cut the butter into small pieces and drop into the food processor. Process until you have a crumbly mixture with the butter distributed evenly. With the motor running, add the water a little at a time, just until the dough starts to come together. Dump the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap and knead a few times into a cohesive ball. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap it in the plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, but overnight is fine.
  2. When ready to assemble the pie, remove the dough from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for about 5 minutes. Lightly flour a work surface and roll the dough into a round large enough to fit into a 9-inch pie plate (about 12 inches around). Spray the pie plate with cooking spray. Carefully drape the crust over the rolling pin and transfer it to the pie plate. Press the crust into the plate and crimp the edges. Refrigerate while you make the filling.
For the Filling
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk the sugar, cocoa powder and salt together in a large bowl. Add the eggs, melted butter and vanilla and stir until completely combined and smooth. Stir in the cornmeal until combined. Pour the filling into the crust and bake for 30 – 40 minutes until the pie is firm, with just a teeny jiggle and the top has formed a crust.  Cool the pie completely.  The pie can be wrapped in plastic wrap and kept on the counter for one day, or refrigerated for two days, or wrapped in plastic and then foil and frozen for up to two months. Thaw in the fridge before serving.
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Creamy Butter Bean Casserole

My mother tells me, often now, that when I was a child, I would no more have eaten a butter bean or a field pea than a piece of shoe leather. She marvels every time I serve, write about or just generally express appreciation for the glories I now see in them. But she never turns down a dish that I make. And this one has become a family favorite. I mean, juicy butter beans, creamy sauce, gooey cheesy, a dash of lemon – what’s not to love.

Though I am always looking for new and interesting ways to cook with these jewels, I tend to lean in the direction of simmering beans and peas with cured pork. But I love the difference here, the sauce that coats the butterbeans is rich and creamy, but really fresh because of the lemon. The crispy bread crumb topping adds a great textural contrast as well. And it can easily be made ahead to serve hot and bubbly at the table. I put lots of fresh butter beans up in the freezer in summer and use them in this dish year round.

Creamy Butter Bean Casserole
Serves 8
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Ingredients
  1. 1 pound fresh butter beans
  2. ½ cup butter
  3. ¼ cup flour
  4. 2 cups milk
  5. Zest and juice of one lemon
  6. Salt and pepper
  7. 1 cup grated Swiss cheese
  8. 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  9. 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  10. 3 Tablespoons butter, melted
Instructions
  1. Soak the butter beans in a large bowl of cold water for 30 minutes. Skim off any floaters and pick out any damaged beans. Drain the beans and put into a large saucepan. Cover with fresh water by about ½ an inch, bring to a boil and skim off any foam that rises. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover the pot and cook for 30 minutes until the beans are tender, but with a little bite to them. You can cook a bit longer if needed. Drain the beans.
  2. Melt the butter in a large skillet, then whisk in the flour until smooth and white. Pour in the milk slowly, whisking constantly until smooth. Whisk in the lemon juice, lemon zest, about 1 teaspoon salt and several generous grinds of black pepper. Cook, whisking, until the mixture is smooth and thick. Remove from the heat and gently fold in the cooked butter beans. Taste the beans, and add salt if needed. These beans can take quite a bit of salt. Layer one half of the creamy beans in a greased 8 by 8 inch casserole. Sprinkle over the cheese, the gently spread the remaining beans over the cheese.
  3. Mix the bread crumbs, parsley a dash of salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Add the melted butter and stir with a fork until combined. Spread the breadcrumbs over the top of the casserole.
  4. The beans can be cooled, covered and refrigerated overnight if needed. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350°. Bake the casserole until it is hot through, bubbling around the edges and browned on the top, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately.
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Caramelized Corn Pudding

I talk often here about how I come about recipes, and this one has a story with it too. A friend and I were eating at a popular local restaurant and I told her about the amazing creamed corn dish they sometimes make (sadly not on the menu that day). This led to a larger discussion of corn preparations, and she told me her husband couldn’t stop raving about a corn pudding he had at a restaurant on a business trip that had “some kind of sugary topping.” She asked if I had ever heard about this and I told her I hadn’t but it sure did sound good. Low and behold, a few days later I was flipping through my collection of community cookbooks and came across a recipe for “The Best Corn Pudding Ever” that involved sprinkling the top with brown sugar. Well, I just couldn’t wait to give it a try and am I ever glad I did. I served it to my family as part of a full dinner of summer produce and they absolutely raved. They did indeed think it was the best corn pudding ever.

The second time I made this, I admit I accidently let the butter brown a little, but it was a serendipitous mistake, because it added even more depth to the final result. Adding a hint of sugar to the mix brings out the sweetness of good summer corn, and the lightly caramelized top is a revelation, providing a perfect sweet-salty balance.

Caramelized Corn Pudding
Serves 8
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Ingredients
  1. 8 ears fresh corn
  2. ½ cup (1 stick) butter, divided
  3. 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  4. 2 Tablespoons flour
  5. ½ cup heavy cream
  6. 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  7. 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  8. 1 teaspoon salt
  9. 2 Tablespoons light brown sugar
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 2 quart baking dish. Cut the kernels from the corn into a large bowl.
  2. Melt 6 Tablespoons of the butter over medium high heat in a deep skillet. When the butter starts to foam and little flecks of brown appear, about 3 minutes, stir in the granulated sugar and stir until smooth and the butter has browned a little more, about 3 minutes, then stir in the flour until smooth. Remove from the heat and slowly stir in the cream until well combined. The mixture may look a little odd or curdled at this point, but don’t worry, it will all come right in the end. Stir in the corn kernels to combine, then add the beaten eggs, baking powder and salt and stir until everything is mixed together. You may see some lumps of the cream mixture, but that’s okay.
  3. Spread the corn in the prepared baking dish, evening out the top. (You can make the dish to this point up to a few hours ahead, keep it loosely covered with a towel on the counter). Bake the corn pudding for 45 minutes, until firm and golden around the edges. Melt the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter in a measuring jug with a spout (I use the microwave), then stir in the brown sugar until smooth. Drizzle the butter and brown sugar mix over the top of the corn pudding, gently spreading it out with a heat proof spatula or the back of a spoon. Cook for a further 5 minutes and serve immediately.
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Lady Peas and Lacy Cakes

I have stated many times before, I love field peas and go on mad buying frenzies when they are in season at the farmers market. I put many of the peas up in the freezer, but my standard weekend summer supper is field peas, fresh corn and tomatoes. It’s easy to set a pot of peas simmering on the back of the stove while I get on with my obsessive summer canning. And it the end of a day of making jar after jar of jams, relishes and pickles, it’s nice to have a comforting supper waiting without much extra work. Some days, though, I am looking to jazz things up a bit, to add a little extra to my standard field pea pot. And I think cornbread is a wonderful way to do that, so I tend to fiddle around with the ingredients I have on hand.

Lady peas are at the top of my field pea love list, not least because of the sweet and pretty name. My go to is butter braised lady peas, served with pillowy buttermilk hoecakes. This recipe is a riff on that basic formula, and I’ll be honest, it came to me because I like the silliness of the name lady peas and lacy cakes. The lady peas here are served with a lightly creamy, but not at all heavy, sauce, this one inspired by my Southern Girl Butter Beans. Lacy cakes are a traditional cornbread preparation, in which the cornmeal batter is sizzled in hot oil to produce lacy edges and an open bubbly crumb. They are the perfect foil for delicate lady peas. So here’s to a new twist to summer supper.

Lady Peas and Lacy Cakes
Serves 6
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For the Peas
  1. 1 pound fresh lady peas
  2. 3 strips bacon
  3. 1 small shallot or ¼ of an onion
  4. 3 garlic cloves
  5. 3 -4 stems of fresh thyme
  6. 2 bay leaves
  7. 2 Tablespoons butter
  8. 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
  9. salt and pepper to taste
For the Lacy Cakes
  1. 1 egg
  2. 3 cups whole buttermilk
  3. 2 cups yellow cornmeal
  4. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  5. 1 teaspoon salt
  6. vegetable oil
For the Peas
  1. Place the lady peas, bacon, onion half, garlic clove and seasoning in a heavy saucepan.  Add water just to cover the beans. Bring to a boil and skim off any scum that rises. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pot. Cook until the beans are tender, about an hour. When the beans are done, strain the beans, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Remove and discard the bacon, thyme stems, bay leafs, onion (which may have fallen into pieces – fish them all out) and garlic cloves if you can find them.
  2. Now make the sauce.  Wipe out the pot and melt the butter in it.  Sprinkle over the flour and stir until smooth.  Slowly pour in the cooking liquid, whisking until the sauce is smooth and thickened.  Add lots of pepper to taste.  Add the beans and stir to coat with the sauce.  Warm the beans through.  Season with salt to taste.
For the Lacy Cakes
  1. Beat the egg and buttermilk together in a large mixing bowl. Add the cornmeal, baking soda and salt and stir until thoroughly combined. Let the batter rest at room temperature for 15 minutes, then give it a good stir. Generously grease a shallow skillet or griddle pan with vegetable oil. You want more than just a light coating, but we are not deep frying here, so just a little pool of oil. When the oil is shimmering, scoop a ¼ cup of batter into the hot oil and spread into a circle from the center of the cake. Cook until golden brown on one side, about three minutes, then flip over and cook until crisp on the other side. Remove to a wire rack or a paper towel lined plate. Repeat with the remaining batter. Add more oil as needed. The cakes can be kept warm in a low oven.
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Rhubarb-e-Cue Sauce

I have this obsession with rhubarb. I think because it is not something I grew up with and it seems so exotic. It’s one of the many foodstuffs I was first introduced to while living in England, and there is always this mystique around those decidedly British things to me. Plus, the red stalks are so pretty and cheerful when they start to signal that spring is coming in the markets. Invariably, the checker at the store has to ask what it is – it’s just not very common around here. So maybe the name is a little over the top, but I got tongue tied saying rhubarb barbecue and ended up with this.

I clipped a recipe for a rhubarb sauce from an English magazine years ago, intrigued by the idea of a savory application. It was one of those five ingredient quickies. It hung around my files for years, then when I finally made it, my first impression was that with a little Memphis-style tweaking, I could turn it into a barbecue sauce – the true nectar of my homeland. And it’s good. Sweet but tangy from the vinegar with a little kick from ginger and mustard and smoky hit from the Worcestershire and paprika. Roasting the rhubarb and garlic brings out the sweetness of both. Its great brushed on grilled chicken or a pork tenderloin, or stir it through pulled chicken or pork, or try it spread it on a burger or a chicken sandwich.

Rhubarb-e-Cue Sauce
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Ingredients
  1. 4 cups of 1-inch pieces of fresh rhubarb
  2. 3 cloves of garlic
  3. 1 cup water
  4. ½ cup light brown sugar
  5. ¼ cup ketchup
  6. 3 Tablespoons cider vinegar
  7. 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  8. 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  9. ½ teaspoon yellow mustard powder
  10. ½ teaspoon ground balck pepper
  11. ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  12. ½ teaspoon celery salt
  13. ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 425. Line a rimmed baking sheet with non-stick foil or foil sprayed with olive spray. Spread the rhubarb chunks evenly on the try, then nestle in the garlic cloves. Spray with olive oil, then roast for 15 – 20 minutes until the rhubarb is very soft. Remove from the oven and scrape the rhubarb and garlic into a blender. Add the water and puree until very smooth. Scrape the puree into a saucepan.
  2. Stir the brown sugar, ketchup, vinegar and Worcestershire into the rhubarb, then place over medium high heat. Stir in the spices, salts and pepper and stir until well combined. Bring to a low bubble, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 - 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened
Notes
  1. Makes about 1 cup
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Tasso Gravy and How to Use It

After the rush and food extravaganza of Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year, there is always a quiet little lull in my kitchen. I tend then to simple soups, braises and stews. I work on my baking skills a little, and delve into the freezer for some of my put-up summer produce. Then I realize Mardi Gras is coming, and I get back to full throttle, cooking up favorite Cajun and Creole dishes full of verve and spice. Red Beans and Rice, Shrimp Creole, Grillades and Grits – I can’t get enough. I track down tasso ham from a local butcher and stock up on andouille sausage and make sure I have the trinity in my fridge – celery, onions and green bell peppers. This kind of food is perfect for serving to family and friends, or keeps me contentedly well fed.

Tasso gravy is a versatile, mutable classic with all sort of creative uses. Creamy with a little spice (you can up it with hot sauce or more creole seasoning), it’s a perfect foil for simple grits or rice. I particularly like it over plain rice, where the rich gravy really shines, but cheese grits make a perfect bed for the gravy for an extra layer of flavor. Add some shrimp or crawfish tail meat or red beans, or spoon it over biscuits or pork chops. Whip up some Café Brulot Brownies or King Cake Bars for a real Mardi Gras celebrations.

Tasso Gravy and How to Use It
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. Tasso Gravy and How to Use It
  2. 1 cup finely diced onion
  3. ½ cup finely diced celery
  4. ½ cup finely diced green bell pepper
  5. ½ cup vegetable oil
  6. ½ cup all-purpose flour
  7. 1 teaspoon creole seasoning
  8. 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  9. 8 ounces tasso ham, diced
  10. 6 ounces andouille sausage, cut into half and thin into thin half moons
Instructions
  1. Mix the diced vegetable together in a bowl and keep them close to the stove. Now we are going to make a roux. In a large (4 -5 quart) heavy pan (I like enameled cast iron), heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the flour and stir until smooth and lump-free. Cook the roux, stirring frequently, until the color begins to darken. As it deepens, stir more frequently, then constantly, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan. As it darkens, it can burn quickly so pay attention. I use a heatproof spatula or a wooden spoon for my roux, because it is very hot. When the roux has turned a deep brown, between the color of sweet tea and a good bourbon, after about 15 minutes, add the chopped onion, celery and bell pepper and stir well. The roux will seize up and cling to the vegetables, that’s what you want. Cook until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the creole seasoning and stir well. Now slowly pour in 2 cups of the chicken broth, stirring constantly, until the gravy is thick. Stir in the tasso, then the andouille until combined, then pour in the remaining broth, stirring constantly. Bring the gravy to a bubble and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened and rich.
How to use the gravy
  1. Tasso Gravy is delicious served over grits or white rice. Try cheese grits made with smoked gouda or smoked cheddar.
  2. It’s also great over biscuits for a Louisiana twist to biscuits and gravy. Add a poached egg on top for a jazzy benedict.
  3. Throw in a pound of peeled, deveined shrimp into the hot gravy and cook just until the shrimp are pink, curled and cooked through. Spoon over grits or cheese grits.
  4. Rinse, drain and pat dry some crawfish tail meat and cook until heated through.
  5. For a full pork experience, spoon the gravy over cooked thick pork chops, with mashed potatoes on the side.
  6. Add cooked red beans (or canned, rinsed and drained) and heat through. Serve over rice for an interesting twist to red beans and rice.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/