In the kitchen, surrounded by a surfeit of holiday baking supplies, I had a sudden craving for Hello Dolly Bars. I love Hello Dollies (or Seven Layer Bars or Magic Bars, whatever you call them), but they are not something I generally make, because I have lots of friends for whom it’s their standard recipe for to parties and weekends away. So I generally rely on others for my dolly fix. But standing there, with that craving, I suddenly thought I could get a little creative. I simply substituted warm, spicy speculoos cookies in the crust and added cinnamon chips to the butterscotch. I left out the coconut, because I don’t love it, but also because I think it takes away from the unique spicy note of this version of the classic.
Spiced Dolly Bars
2 (8.8 ounce) packages Biscoff cookies (about 60 cookies)
½ (1 stick) cup butter, melted and cooled
1 (14 – ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (11-ounce) package butterscotch chips
1 (10-ounce) package cinnamon baking chips
1 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 13 by 9 inch baking pan with foil, with the edges overhanging. Use non-stick foil if you can, spray it well with cooking spray if you can’t.
Break the cookies into the bowl of a food processor and girnd to crumbs. Add the melted butter an process until themixture comes together. Press the crumbs in a layer on the bottom of the prepared pan, making sure there are no holes. Pour the condensed milk over the crust, spreading it out evenly. Sprinkle the butterscotch and cinnamon chops over evenly over the crust, then the walnuts. Gently press the chips and nuts into the condensed milk.
Bake the bars for 25 minutes, until everything is bubbly. It will look a little liquid, but will firm up as it cools. Cool the bars completely, then lift the whole thing out of the pan using the overhanging foil.
Makes 16 bars
My mother used to make a dish she called Hot Browns on cold nights when we were kids. I loved hot brown nights. I didn’t know that Hot Browns were a real dish, something with a history and many fanatical supporters and traditionalists, I just thought it was something yummy my mom invented, specific to our house. I have to admit that my mom’s version was not traditional. It involved sliced turkey, ham and cheddar cheese soup from a can. My mom always made them in these white porcelain dishes that I think of today as Hot Brown dishes.
As an adult, who cooks the vast majority of the Thanksgiving meal, I have asked my mom to make Hot Browns with the leftover turkey. So it occurred to me some years ago that I should develop a recipe for this favorite treat. In researching the idea, I discovered how serious the discussion of the Kentucky Hot Brown is, with fervent camps for versions with sliced tomatoes, and those without. I even had a Hot Brown in Kentucky that had potato chips piled on top. But I didn’t necessarily want to share the classic recipe, but to re-create the memory from my childhood. So I call these Tennessee Hot Browns to stay out of the battle. I like lots of cheddar cheese, and no tomatoes, but crispy bacon is always a good thing. The sandwiches are hot and cheesy and comforting and perfect for a long weekend.
Tennessee Hot Browns
½ cup butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
6 Tablespoons grated cheddar cheese (plus a little for sprinkling)
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
8 slices white bread
About 2 pounds sliced roasted turkey
8 strips bacon, cooked until crispy
Melt the butter in a small saucepan, then whisk in the flour until smooth and pale in color. Whisk in the milk, cooking until the sauce is thick. Whisk in the cheese and nutmeg and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Preheat the broiler of your oven. Lay a slice of bread in the bottom of each of four oven proof dishes. If you don’t have individual dishes, lay the bread in a 13 by 9 inch dish. Layer the turkey on top of the bread, then pour the sauce over the top. Sprinkle some grated cheese over the top of each sandwich. Broil the hot browns until the tops are speckled brown and bubbling, about 5 minutes – but watch carefully. Lay the bacon slices on top of the hot browns and serve immediately.
Makes 4 sandwiches
In case you haven’t noticed, I love cooking with buttermilk. It tenderizes, flavorizes, tangifies and creamifies anything it works with. I go out of my way to seek out good, thick country buttermilk. It is the most important ingredient in fried chicken, biscuits and cornbread. I use it in dressings, gravies, marinades, cookies cakes and pies. It is always on my refrigerator.
And one of the best resources I’ve found for buttermilk recipes is Southern Cooking by Mrs. S.R. Dull, first published in 1928. Tucked into the tightly packed pages are more recipes that use buttermilk than I could count, and I have a little post-it flag on almost all of them. I marked “Molasses Custard” on one page and recently returned to it. I hadn’t at first marking realized it was a pie filling, but figured that was even better. These old-fashioned recipes are short and not particularly detailed, and the pie crust part is just a short line at the end. But I couldn’t resist. I switched out the molasses for sorghum, because I love the earthy, Southern sweetness of the syrup.
Sorghum Buttermilk Pie
Pastry for one 9-inch pie
1 cup sorghum
½ cup buttermilk
1 cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
Preheat the oven to 300°. Fit the pastry into a pie plate and set aside.
Stir the sorghum, buttermilk, sugar flour and soda together in a large, high sided saucepan. Crack the eggs into the measuring jug you used for the sorghum and milk and beat together. Pour into the pan and stir to thoroughly combine all the ingredients. You might want to use a whisk to break up any flour lumps, but use a heatproof spatula while cooking.
Place the pan over medium high heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil. Scrape the bottom and sides of the pan frequently to prevent scorching. The filling will bubble up so needs to be stirred and watched carefully. When it reaches a boil, remove from the heat and stir it down for a few minutes until some of the foaming subsides. Carefully pour it into the prepared crust. Fill it right to the top, if you have more in the pan than will fit in the crust, let it settle a few minutes, then gently stir the remaining filling into the crust.
Bake the pie for 40 – 45 minutes, until it is firm with just a little wobble to it. I’ve never had the filling spill over, but just to be safe I like to put a foil lined baking sheet on the rack below to catch any potential drips.
Place the pie plate on a rack to cool completely, then chill until firm.
I have been making a version of caramelized onion dip for ages. I take it to parties, lake weekends, family gatherings and football watching events. I get requests for it, and it is always absolutely vacuumed up.
But when you are an avid cook, you want to constantly challenge yourself. So after years of making this dish, I set out to rev it up a bit, change things. And now that I’ve hit on this recipe, I’m not sure why I didn’t think of it ages ago. It combines some of my favorite flavors – sweet caramelized onions, smoky bacon and bourbon with amazing results. This dip is decadent; it is unquestionably rich. But It will blow those you serve it to away. The bourbon adds this little zip and edge of sweetness. It is delicious hot and bubbly, but also pretty darn good cold (that’s how I serve my regular onion dip). Its great spread on crackers or served with big corn chips.
Bourbon-Spiked Caramelized Onion and Bacon Dip
8 strips of bacon
2 medium-sized yellow onions, finely diced (about 4 cups)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup plus 1 Tablespoon bourbon
1 Tablespoon light brown sugar
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup mayonnaise
1 (8-ounce) container sour cream
generous grinds of black pepper
Cook the bacon strips in a large skillet until crispy. Remove to paper-towel lined plate with a slotted spoon. Leave the bacon grease to cool, then pour it into a bowl or jar. Wipe out the skillet to remove any browned or burned bits.
Pour 2 Tablespoons of bacon grease back in the skillet and return it to medium heat. Add the onions and salt and stir well to coat. Cook until the onions are soft and glassy, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Keep the heat at medium to prevent the onions from scorching. When the onions begin to turn a slightly toffee color, add the bourbon and brown sugar, stir well and cover the pan. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the onions are amber brown, the color of a good bourbon. If at any point the onions start to catch on the bottom of the pan, add a splash of water and stir well. Leave the caramelized onions to cool.
When the onions are cool, beat the cream cheese, mayonnaise and sour cream in the bowl of a mixer until smooth. Add the onions and bourbon and mix until combined. Chop the bacon into small pieces and add to the dip, stirring to combine. Season well with plenty of black pepper.
Spoon the dip into a 2 quart baking dish, cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight to allow the flavors to blend.
When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 350°. Bake the dip for 20 minutes until it is warmed through and bubbling.
Shrimp and corn pie recipes appear in a number of Southern community cookbooks, and I’ve tried a few. But I have always thought they lacked a little oomph. But the delicious combination of shrimp and corn deserves attention, so I put my mind to it and decided on a tangy filling and an old-fashioned biscuit top to make perfect transitional comfort food. When summer has wound up, but it is not quite cool enough for heavy winter stews.
The clean, bright taste of white wine and lemon complement sweet corn and juicy shrimp without overwhelming either. I forego a lot of extra add-ins to highlight that simple pairing. Tender biscuits soak up the light and creamy sauce with an extra hit of lemon and thyme. This dish is simple enough for a family dinner, but sophisticated for a gathering of friends.
Shrimp and Corn Cobbler
For the Filling:
3 Tablespoons butter
2 bunches green onions (about 12)
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 Tablespoons flour
1 cup white wine
2 cups whole milk
zest of one lemon
1 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
1 (12-ounce) package frozen corn, thawed and drained
1 pound frozen Gulf shrimp, thawed and drained
For the topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup yellow cornmeal
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
zest of one lemon
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 cup buttermilk
3 Tablespoons butter, melted
For the Filling:
Melt the butter in a large saucepan (I use a 1 ½ quart oven safe pan). Finely chop the green onions and add to the butter. Sauté until soft and translucent. Put the garlic clove through a press of finely mince it and add to the pan with the thyme leaves. Cook for a bout a minute, just until the garlic is fragrant. Sprinkle over the flour and stir until you have a smooth, pale mixture. Add the white wine and stir until the sauce begins to thicken. Slowly add the milk, stirring the whole time, and cook over medium-high heat until the sauce has thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest, juice and salt and pepper to taste. Add the corn and stir until combined. Take the pot of the heat and add the shrimp, stirring to combine completely. The shrimp will begin to gently poach, but do not need to be fully cooked as the dish is going in the oven. At this point, you can cool, cover and refrigerate the filling for several hours. (If you are not using an oven-safe saucepan, scrape the filling into a baking dish).
For the topping:
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Mix the flour, cornmeal, lemon zest, thyme, baking powder, salt and pepper together with a fork in a large bowl. Mix the buttermilk, egg and butter together in a small bowl. Add the liquids to the dry ingredients and mix well until you have a biscuit dough.
Scoop ¼ cup mounds of the topping over the top of the filling to cover. Bake for30 – 35 minutes until the biscuits are firm and golden and the filling is hot through and bubbling.
I have a whole stack of recipes acquired a parties and other gatherings, scribbled on cocktail napkins, crumpled receipts from my purse or monogrammed note paper from host houses. Because any comment on food always leads to a discussion of favorites and how they are made. And I don’t just idly nod. I ask questions and take notes. Some of my favorite recipes have come tome in that way, though sometimes I can’t read my handwriting or have to reconstruct my short hand when I get in the kitchen.
Here’s is another one of these recipes. I took my crazy simple Blender Lemon Pie to a party and was happy to tell everyone how easy it was to make. Then other people started sharing their easy pie recipes, and I jotted this one down. The sweet girl who shared it told me it was here grandmother’s, but her mom started doing it in the blender. Her grandmother topped it with merengue, but not her mom and she doesn’t either. I like a little whipped cream on the top – why clutter such a simple recipe with a complicated topping?
Simple Butterscotch Pie
Pastry for 1 9 – inch pie (homemade or store bought ready-roll)
1 ¼ cup whole milk
1 cup light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 ½ Tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 400°.
Line a pie dish with the pastry. Cover the crust with waxed paper and weight down with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool and remove the waxed paper and weights. Cool completely.
Place the remaining ingredients in the carafe of a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a saucepan and cook over medium heat until thick and pudding like, about 3 minutes. Scape the mixture into the cooled pie crust and smooth the top. Bake for 10 minutes until the filling is set and just jiggly. Cool completely, then refrigerate for several hours.
Serve with dollops of whipped cream.
My house is slowly being taken over by my collection of cookbooks. There are parts of the house that are not open to the public because of it. And in one of those piles of community cookbooks, I dug out this little piece of Southern ephemera: Some Favorite Southern Recipes of the Duchess of Windsor. It’s been awhile since I looked through it, but I immediately sat down to peruse it again. Published in 1942 (with proceeds going to British war relief), it is much like any Southern community cookbook – no really innovative or unique recipes. Just good down home favorites like fried chicken and spoon bread.
Wallis Warfield (later Simpson, later still Duchess of Windsor) was born in Maryland and took her Southern upbringing very seriously. She was a housewife before she moved into the realms of London society and during her childhood, her mother ran a boardinghouse. So to be fair, I bet she really did know how to cook, and maybe got nostalgic for it surrounded by servants and a husband who was a famously picky eater.
At any rate, I settled on Wallis’ recipe for Feather Molasses Cake. I’ve streamlined it a bit for modern cooks and kitchens, and used sorghum, my favorite Southern sweetener. This is wonderful warm with thick spread of butter for breakfast, but I can easily see the Duchess enjoying this with a good English afternoon tea.
Wallis’s Southern Sorghum Bread
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/3 cup butter, softened
½ cup sugar
½ cup sorghum
1 cup (1 8- ounce container) sour cream
Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a large loaf tin.
Combine the flour, baking soda, salt and ginger in a small bowl. Beat the butter in an electric mixer until creamy, then slowly add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the sorghum. Add the flour mixture alternately with the sour cream in three additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and ending with sour cream. When the batter is smooth and combined, scrape it into the prepared loaf pan.
Bake for 35 – 45 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan, then turn out on a wire rack to finish cooling.
Makes one loaf
Football and tailgating season have arrived, so I offer this little tidbit. Country Ham Paté has the down-home goodness of salty, savory country ham, with a slightly sophisticated twist. It is easily portable and imminently useful. Try it simple spread on crackers or corn chips, or sandwiched between the halves of little cocktail-sized buttermilk biscuits. Its great on a snacking spread with pimento cheese or other dips.
I buy ground country ham online, but you can as easily take country ham biscuit slices and pulse them to a thick paste in the food processor. I love this served out of old canning jars, but molding it into a lovely shape adds a dash of style.
Country Ham Paté
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
A few grinds of black pepper
5 green onions, white and light green parts
1 pound ground country ham
With a hand mixer, beat together the cream cheese, mayonnaise, mustard, paprika and pepper until smooth. Finely chop the green onions and stir them into the mix. Crumble the ground ham in and use a sturdy wooden spoon to beat everything together until smooth and well combined.
Scrape the pate into a bowl and refrigerate for at least 4 hours to let the flavors meld. Well-covered, this will keep for up to a week. If you want to get a little fancy, line a bowl with plastic wrap, smoothing it out as much as possible, and scoop the pate into it. Press down on the pate and smooth it out so there are not air pockets. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. Before serving, unwrap the top, invert the pate onto a platter and remove the plastic wrap.
This dish, I can hardly call it a recipe, is one of those meal ideas that’s passed around from family to friend to book club to the office to tennis groups to cocktail party and on and on. You know, that simple recipe someone rattles off when you worry about new dinner ideas or what to serve to guests – “wrap a pork tender in bacon, sprinkle over some brown sugar and cook in a cast iron skillet.” I can’t count how many times it’s been my emergency meal, because it is so easy and so good. I never really considered putting it on the site because it’s just so simple. But I made it not to long ago, and it got me thinking that with a few simple little tweeks, it could turn into something really special.
So I brushed a little tangy mustard on the pork before wrapping it in smoky bacon, and added a rich sauce with bourbon verve and butter smoothness. The sauce goes wonderfully well with any grilled pork dish.
Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Bourbon Butter Sauce
For the Pork:
1 pork tenderloins, about 2 pounds each
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 pound bacon
2/3 cup light brown sugar
For the Sauce:
¼ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup Dijon mustard
3 Tablespoons bourbon
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) butter, cut into small pieces
Preheat the oven to 375°. Evenly coat a 12-inch cast iron skillet with oil making sure it is all well covered. I use a wadded up paper towel.
Place the pork tenders on a cookie sheet or large cutting board. Tuck any thin ends underneath so you have nice, even logs of pork. Keep it tucked as you wrap. Brush 1 Tablespoon mustard evenly over each tender. Wrap the bacon around the tenders, starting the next piece where the first one ends and so on, so you have a nice little package completely wrapped in bacon. Get the ends covered as best you can too.
Spinkle the sugar next to the tenders then start pressing it into the sides and top of the bacon. You can roll the tenders around in the sugar a little if needed. When they are nicely covered, tuck any bacon ends back in place and carefully transfer to the oiled skillet. Neaten up the bacon, but try not to let any stray sugar fall onto the skillet.
Cook the pork for about 45 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 140°. I recommend a probe thermometer. Turn on the broiler to crisp the bacon on the top, and cook to 145°. Remove from the oven and transfer the pork to a cutting board. (At this point, I usually pour a little water into the bottom of the skillet and scrape up any cooked sugar with a silicone spatula to make cleaner up easier). Tent the pork with foil and let it rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing.
For the Sauce:
Mix the brown sugar, mustard, bourbon and Worcestershire sauce together in a small saucepan until it is all well combined. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a low boil, whisking frequently. Cook about 2 minutes, until the mixture is slightly thickened. Remove the pan from the heat, and when the bubbling subsides, return it to low heat and whisk in the butter a few small pieces at a time, letting each addition melt before adding another. When all the butter is combined, remove from the heat. You may gently reheat the sauce over low heat, stirring constantly.
Spoon the sauce over the sliced pork.
Serves 4 – 6
When I think of really old Southern recipes, spoon bread always comes to mind. I really have no particular knowledge of its history, its just that first time I ever had it was on a school trip to Colonial Williamsburg where it is served at Christiana Campbell’s Tavern by costumed and in-character servers. I assume everything else at Williamsburg is so accurate, that this must be a colonial recipe. I love Williamsburg, and no small part of that is the food, and I have enjoyed the spoon bread on many subsequent visits.
Working on the theory that bacon makes everything better, I added a little bit to my classic spoon bread recipe. The creamy, light cornbread-soufflé hybrid is perfect with the addition of a little crunch. But it occurred to me that spoon bread could be taken out of the realm of simple side with the addition of a little saucy extra. This bacon-onion-tomato mixture is one I have been whipping up with leftover bits and pieces for years, but finally decided was worthy of a recipe.
And no, I do not think this is too much bacon. It is actually very well balanced. But of course, these two dishes stand alone wonderfully well. The spoon bread as a side with stick ribs or grilled foods or as part of a breakfast spread. And the jam, which makes more than you need for the spoon bread, is wonderful on burgers or a grilled cheese sandwich.
Bacon Spoon Bread
6 strips of bacon
1 ½ cups cornmeal
3 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1½ cup water
2 Tablespoons butter
1 ½ cups milk
1 Tablespoon baking powder
Cut the bacon into small pieces and cook in a skillet until crispy. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Reserve 1 Tablespoon bacon grease
Mix the cornmeal, sugar and salt together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Bring the water, butter and 1 Tablespoon bacon grease to a boil in a pan. Turn on the mixer and pour the boiling water into the cornmeal. Beat until thick and stiff. Let cool for about 10 minutes.
Measure the milk in a 4-cup jug, then crack in the eggs and beat well. Beat the milk and eggs into the cornmeal mush, then fold in add the bacon pieces and beat until combined. Beat in the baking powder until well blended, then scrape the spoon bread into the baking dish. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes, until the center is set. Serve immediately with spoonfuls of Tomato Bacon Jam.
Serves 4 – 6
6 strips of bacon
2 pounds tomatoes, chopped
1 small white onion, finely chopped
½ cup white sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
3 Tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Cut the bacon into small pieces and cook in a skillet until crispy. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.
In a large, high-sided saucepan, bring the chopped tomatoes, onion, sugars, vinegar, salt and pepper to a boil. Boil for about 10 minutes, until the tomatoes are soft and breaking down. Use a spatula or the back of the spoon to crush the tomatoes, though I like to give the jam a little whirl with an immersion blender at this point to create a rough puree. Reduce the heat to medium-low, stir in the bacon pieces and simmer until the jam is thick and spreadable, about an hour or more. Stir occasionally to prevent scorching on the bottom of the pan. As the jam thickens, watch it more closely and stir often to prevent burning. The jam will be done when you pull a spatula through to expose the bottom of the pan and the two sides don’t run together.
Scoop the jam into jars or a bowl and leave to cool. The jam will keep covered in the fridge for more than a week.
Makes 1 pint