Southern Snacks

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.

No Churn Peach Ice Cream with Sweet Tea Caramel Sauce

It is hot here. All summer. So ice cream is must. Homemade ice cream is a special treat, but it involves a little effort in the kitchen that I’m not always up to in the heat of summer. I have memories of making ice cream with my family as a child. We had this electric contraption that fit over a basin that went in a bucket filled with rock salt and ice. Making the base and pouring it in the machine was exciting, but for my brother and I, the excitement faded after about 5 minutes of watching the churn do its job, leaving my mother to wait the rest of the time watching and adding ice and salt for the rather lengthy time the whole process took. Technology has advanced and now I have a little electric ice cream maker that has a bowl that stores in the freezer – the problem is I don’t always have room in the freezer. So when I started seeing lots of no churn recipes on the internet, I was intrigued. And it turns out it’s good. The texture is a bit thicker and grainier than the type churned in a machine that whips in air, but to me the ease of preparation fully justifies the denser texture. And the recipe is highly adaptable too. Start with condensed milk and cream, then you can add fruits, herbs and spices to your tastes.

I went for sweet in season peaches, heated lightly to release some juice. I added a little buttermilk here for the tang and creaminess. My favorite part of ice cream is usually a sweet sauce, so I wanted to create a perfect complement for the peaches, which leads me to sweet tea. I’ve been there before, in this Peach Bourbon Cake with Sweet Tea Peaches. This caramel sauce is rich and with the lovely tannic bite of tea and the freshness of mint and lemon. It’s a perfect summer version of caramel sauce that would be lovely on any kind of ice cream or with fresh fruit.

No Churn Peach Ice Cream with Sweet Tea Caramel Sauce
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For the Ice Cream
  1. 3 large peaches, peeled and cut into small pieces
  2. 1 cup heavy cream
  3. 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  4. ½ cup whole buttermilk
  5. Seeds scraped from one vanilla bean
For the Caramel
  1. 4 black tea bags
  2. 1 sprig of fresh mint
  3. 2 cups water
  4. 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  5. ½ cup granulated sugar
  6. ½ cup heavy cream
Instructions
  1. Put the peaches in a small sauce pan and heat over medium heat until the peaches are soft and some juice begins to run. Set aside to cool.
  2. Pour the heavy cream into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip until stiff peaks form. Add the condensed milk and whip until the mixture is thick and soft peaks form then add the buttermilk and vanilla beans seeds and beat until completely combined and thick. Stir in the peaches and their juice until evenly distributed. Pour the mixture into a metal loaf pan and press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the cream. Freeze overnight.
For the Caramel
  1. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, then drop in the tea bags and mint sprig. Leave to infuse off the heat for 5 minutes, then remove the tea bags and the mint. Return to the heat and bring to a boil. Boil until the mixture is reduced to one cup of tea, then stir in the lemon juice and sugar until dissolved. Boil until the mixture has thickened to the consistency of maple syrup, stirring frequently. Stir in the heavy cream and continue cooking until the syrup is thickened back to a syrupy consistency – it will thicken a little when it cools. Cool completely and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
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Summer Squash and Leek Gratin

Squash casserole is a Southern summer must. My go to has been a classic version, rich with cheese and sour cream, and I adapted that for a pimento cheese version in my first book, Pimento Cheese the Cookbook. Most southerners deal with an overabundance of summer squash, whether it’s from friends who garden or the irresistible urge to buy the locally grown, beautiful sunshine yellow vegetable at the farmers market.  So we are always looking for new and interesting ways to serve fresh squash. This gratin has the beautifully creaminess we love  in squash casserole, but is lighter and very fresh and bright.  My mom told me this was the best thing I’ve made recently, and what better endorsement could there be.

I like that the leeks in this dish complement the squash without overwhelming – the brilliant sunny taste of the squash shines through. Thyme is my favorite herb with squash, but feel free to branch out with marjoram or oregano. Nutty gruyere cheese and a light hit of breadcrumbs make a rustic topping, but you could also use fontina or swiss.

Summer Squash and Leek Gratin
Serves 8
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Ingredients
  1. 2 large leeks, white and lightest green parts only
  2. 2 pounds yellow summer squash (about 4 medium)
  3. ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
  4. 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (stripped from the stalks)
  5. 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  6. 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  7. 1 teaspoon black pepper
  8. 1 cup milk, heated in the microwave or a small pan until hot to the touch
  9. ¾ cup grated gruyere cheese
  10. ½ cup bread crumbs
Instructions
  1. Slice the leeks in in half, then slice the leeks into thin half-moons. Place in a colander and rinse well, then leave to drain for a few minutes. Thinly slice the squash – I use a mandoline, but the slicing blade of a food processor also works, or a knife and a little patience.
  2. Melt 6 Tablespoons of the butter over medium heat in a large, deep-sided sauté pan or a Dutch oven (you need room to stir the squash around). Add the leeks with some water clinging to them and stir to coat with the butter. Cook, stirring frequently, until the leeks are soft and glassy, do not let them brown, about 15 minutes. Add the squash and stir to coat in the butter and combine with the leeks. Cook until the squash is tender and floppy, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle over the thyme leaves, the salt and the pepper and stir to combine. Sprinkle over the flour and stir until there is no dry flour left visible in the pan and cook for about 2 minutes. Stir in the hot milk and bring to a bubble. Cook until the milk has thickened and created a nice sauce for the vegetables, about 5 minutes. Transfer everything to a buttered 2-quart baking dish. If you are making this ahead, leave to cool before proceeding.
  3. Toss the gruyere and breadcrumbs together in a small bowl, then sprinkle evenly over the top of the gratin. Cut the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter into small pieces and dot over the top of the gratin. You can cover the cooled dish at this point and refrigerate for several hours, or bake immediately. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake until bubbly and golden on the top, about 20 minutes.
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Buttermilk Coleslaw

Coleslaw is a perfectly refreshing summer side dish, I’m not sure it’s actually allowed to have a summer celebration without it! There are so many delicious versions of coleslaw, and many people have very particular requirements, it can be a somewhat fraught decision about which to serve. But I do like to switch things up, from tangy, vinegary Crispy Picnic Slaw to this creamy iteration that has a very fresh finish perfect in the heat of summer. Some people tell me am a little bit obsessed with buttermilk, and I can’t say they’re wrong. I think it adds such flavor and dimension to everything it touches. In this recipe, buttermilk makes the slaw tangy and fresh with a refreshing creaminess that manages not to be overbearing.

And this coleslaw is versatile. Great with barbecue, hamburgers or hot dogs, or as a part of a cold picnic spread. I grab my vegetables at the farmers market for a local summer treat at the peak of freshness. If you can’t find two kinds of cabbage, one color is perfectly fine, and you can omit the carrots or the radishes, though they add such a lovely, colorful touch. You may want to drain off a little of the dressing before serving, some of the liquid from the cabbage will add to the dressing.

Buttermilk Coleslaw
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. 1 small head of green cabbage
  2. 1 small head of purple cabbage
  3. 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  4. 2 carrots
  5. 3 radishes
  6. ½ cup mayonnaise
  7. ½ cup whole buttermilk
  8. ¼ cup granulated sugar
  9. 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  10. 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  11. generous grinds of black pepper.
Instructions
  1. Shred the cabbage – you can do this on the food processor, a box grater, or very thinly slice the cabbage with a large knife. You should have about 10 cups of cabbage Place the cabbage in a colander and toss it with the salt. Leave it to drain for at least an hour, tossing it around a few times. Rinse and drain the cabbage. Spread the cabbage on paper-towel lined baking sheet. Grate the carrots and radishes and toss with the cabbage. Leave to dry for about half and hour. You can pat it dry with more paper towels if you prefer.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, buttermilk, sugar, lemon juice and pepper until thoroughly combined. Add the grated vegetables and toss with a fork to coat the slaw with the dressing. Cover and refrigerate for several hours at least, but overnight is perfect. Toss well before serving. You may want to drain off some accumulated dressing.
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Lady Pea Buttermilk Vichyssoise with Crispy Country Ham

 

When I was a kid, my mom would sometimes in summer serve cold soups for supper. Mostly vichysoisse from a can and something called consommé madrilène. I didn’t not like this. The idea of cold soup just didn’t square in my adolescent brain. But like most things, my mother was right. Cold soup is such a perfectly refreshing summer meal. And it is a great opportunity to make the most of summer’s delicious produce, like my summer squash Vichysquash, or Cold Vidalia Onion Soup. And my favorite summer produce is unquestionably field peas. Add a touch of buttermilk and I am in chilled soup heaven.

Delicate lady peas are perfect for pureeing into a light and creamy soup. Tangy buttermilk and soft leeks add layers of flavor. The crispy country ham adds the perfect salty note and crunchy texture to finish it off. This soup can be an elegant dinner party starter, and I can also see it as one of those soup shooters serves at a cocktail party, with a pretty shard of country ham balanced on the glass. But I also like it for a simple summer dinner, maybe with some sliced tomatoes on the side, and having some in the fridge over a weekend to sip for lunch or a snack is a treat.

Lady Pea Buttermilk Vichyssoise with Crispy Country Ham
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. 2 pounds leeks, white and light green parts only (about 3)
  2. ¼ cup butter
  3. 1 pound fresh lady peas
  4. 3 celery stalks
  5. 2 shallots
  6. 6 – 7 stalks of thyme
  7. 2 bay leaves
  8. zest and juice of one large lemon
  9. 1 ¼ cups whole buttermilk
  10. 6 ounces thinly sliced country ham
Instructions
  1. Slice the white and lightest green parts of the leeks into halves lengthwise, then into thin half -moons. Place the leek slices in a strainer submerged in a bowl of water and shake around a bit to loosen any dirt. Let the leeks sit for a few minutes while you melt the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Remove the strainer and shake out excess water. Drop the leeks into the pot and stir. Sauté until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Do not let the leeks brown.
  2. When the leeks are soft, add the lady peas, the celery stalks (broken in half if needed) and the shallots. Pour over 6 cups of water. Tie the thyme sprigs together with kitchen string and drop in the pot with the bay leaves. Zest and juice the lemon and set aside both. Drop the squeezed out lemon halves in the pot, bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the peas are very tender, about 1 hour.
  3. Fish out the bay leaves, the thyme bundle and the lemon halves, then cool the soup to room temperature. Transfer the soup to a blender (in batches if needed), add the lemon zest and juice and puree until completely smooth. Season well with salt – it may take quite a bit. Pour the soup through a wire mesh strainer, scraping it through, into the cleaned out pot or a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until chilled. Whisk in the buttermilk until smooth and creamy. Taste and season with more salt if needed.
  4. Cut the country ham into thin slivers and cook in a skillet over medium high heat until brown and crispy. Remove to paper towels to drain.
  5. Serve the soup topped with the slivers of country ham.
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Southern Buttermilk Cobb Salad

Summer entertaining should be easy. It is just too hot to spend hours over a steaming stove. But that doesn’t mean a meal can’t be spectacular. And I am telling you, no one will feel cheated with a salad for dinner when it is this full of delicious, hearty components. I love laying this out on a big rectangular platter – it absolutely produces oohs and ahhs. But a big pretty bowl will work as well. The buttermilk poached chicken is tender with a hint of tang, and the buttermilk vinaigrette walks the line between creamy and light perfectly.

Here’s what I do to make this easy. I marinate and cook the chicken a day ahead and chill in the fridge, and hard boil the eggs keeping them in their shell in the fridge as well and whip up the dressing. Then before serving I put the bacon on a baking sheet in the oven to cook until crispy, then drain it on paper towels. Radishes and cucumbers can be sliced and cubed a few hours ahead. Cut the chicken into chunks, peel and slice the eggs, crumble the bacon and shortly before dinner is to be served, just assemble the salad. Serve with some lovely bread and you’ve got a full meal.

What I list here is a guide: go with whatever beautiful fresh vegetables you find. Avocado is traditional on a cobb salad, but I like refreshing locally grown cucumbers, paired with colorful radishes and bright tomatoes. Blue cheese adds a lot of tang, but goat cheese is wonderful too.

Southern Buttermilk Cobb Salad
Serves 8
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Ingredients
  1. Buttermilk Poached Chicken
  2. 3 ½ cups whole buttermilk
  3. 1 Tablespoon hot sauce
  4. Salt and pepper to taste
  5. 3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  6. Buttermilk Vinaigrette
  7. 2 green onions, very finely chopped
  8. 1 clove of garlic, put through a garlic press
  9. 2/3 cup whole buttermilk
  10. 6 Tablespoons olive oil
  11. 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  12. ½ teaspoon hot sauce
  13. Salt and pepper to taste
Salad
  1. 2 heads of romaine lettuce
  2. 3 hard boiled eggs. sliced
  3. 3 large radishes. Thinly sliced
  4. 6 strips of bacon, cooked crisp
  5. ½ cup blue cheese
  6. ½ of a seedless cucumber, cubed
  7. 1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
For the chicken
  1. Stir the buttermilk, hot sauce, and a hearty dose of salt and pepper together in a large saucepan. Add the chicken breasts and refrigerate for four hours or overnight. Place the pan over medium low heat and bring the buttermilk just to a simmer – do not boil. Cook just at a bubble until the chicken is cooked through, about 30 – 40 minutes. I like to use a probe thermometer to gauge that the chicken has reached 165 degrees. The buttermilk will separate and look a little curdled, that’s fine. When the chicken is cooked through, remove it and rinse off the curdy buttermilk. Pat the chicken dry, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
For the Vinaigrette
  1. Place all the ingredients in a pint jar and shake well to combined. I like to make this a day ahead so the flavors really meld together and store it in the fridge. Shake well before serving.
Assembly
  1. Layer a large platter or salad bowl with torn romaine leaves, then top with the chicken, vegetables, eggs, bacon and cheese, Drizzle with the vinaigrette.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Fresh Strawberry Biscuits with Chocolate Gravy

I have combined a lot of words I like here. Strawberries and biscuits and chocolate. I’m not sure I can do any better for a strawberry season brunch treat. I think strawberries and chocolate are a timeless pairing, though usually found in desserts and candies. Of course, I’m not saying you can’t eat these for dessert, but they make a really lovely surprise on a breakfast or brunch menu. Classic Southern biscuits get an upgrade with seasonal strawberries and a little sweet sugar. Inspired by my Fresh Corn Buttermilk Biscuits, these pale pink beauties are tender and moist and packed with strawberry flavor. Traditional Southern chocolate gravy is rich and chocolate-y without being cloying or tooth-achingly sweet.

These biscuits are also wonderful for strawberry shortcake, split open and layered with whipped cream and sliced, macerated berries. Or mix up a little strawberry butter to spread on them, or your best homemade strawberry jam. The chocolate gravy is wonderful (and traditional) on plain buttermilk biscuits – but if you make these for breakfast or brunch and have some extra gravy, it is very good on ice cream after dinner!

Fresh Strawberry Biscuits with Chocolate Gravy
Yields 12
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For the Biscuits
  1. 1/3 cup unsalted butter
  2. 12 ounces strawberries
  3. 5 Tablespoons granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  4. 1 cup heavy cream, plus more for brushing
  5. 4 ½ - 5 cups soft wheat flour (such as White Lily)
  6. 4 teaspoons baking powder
  7. A pinch of salt
For the Gravy
  1. ¾ cup granulated sugar
  2. ¼ cup cocoa powder
  3. 3 Tablespoons flour
  4. 2 cups whole milk
  5. 1 teaspoon vanilla
  6. ¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, softened
For the Biscuits
  1. Melt the butter and set aside to cool. Hull the strawberries, cut into chunks and place about 10 ounces in a blender with 4 Tablespoons sugar (1/4 cup). Puree until very smooth (you can add a drop of cream to get things going if needed). Pour the puree into a 2-cup measuring jug. You should have about 1 cup puree. Puree some more strawberries if needed. Add cream to measure 2 cups of liquid. Return the liquid to the blender, add the melted butter and blend until smooth.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, mix 3 ½ cups flour, the remaining 1 Tablespoon of sugar, the baking powder and salt with a fork until blended. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the wet ingredients. Using the fork, blend everything together, pulling the flour into the wet ingredients until everything is incorporated. Lightly flour your hands and work in up to another 1 cup of flour until you have a soft, cohesive dough. Don’t treat the dough too rough – you want a tender biscuit. Cut three or four strawberries into small pieces and sprinkle them over the dough. Lightly knead in a little more flour and the strawberry pieces until you have a nice, soft, cohesive dough dotted with berries. Don’t be tempted to use more berries – they can make the dough watery.
  3. Line a small rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Lightly flour a work surface and turn the dough out onto it. Lightly knead the dough, folding it over on itself, about 6 times, then pat it out into a circle 1-inch thick. Using a floured 2- inch biscuit cutter, cut the biscuits by just pressing down and lifting out – don’t twist the cutter. Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet, almost touching. You can pat out the dough scraps to cut more biscuits, but they are never quite as pretty. I usually get nine biscuits on the first go, then three more from a second pat out. Refrigerate the biscuit dough for 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees/
  5. Brush the tops of the biscuits with cream and sprinkle a light sparkle of sugar over the top. Bake the biscuits for 8 minutes, rotate the pan and cook for a further 2 – 3 minutes until they are firm and cooked through.
For the Gravy
  1. Sift the sugar, cocoa powder and flour together into a medium saucepan. You want the dry ingredients lump free from the start. Add the milk and vanilla extract and cook over medium high heat, whisking frequently until the gravy is smooth and thick (like gravy). Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter a few pieces at a time until it is melted and smooth.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Buttermilk Braised Pork Roast

Comfort food is universal. Well flavored, simple dishes transcend cultures, regions and time. No matter where you are, you recognize the dishes that reach into your memories and experiences. This dish is like that for me. It had an immediate familiarity, though I’d never had it before. It’s that sense of slow-cooked flavor and rich, creamy sauce and tender pork I recognized. I first tasted a version of it in Italy, and it resonated. Braising pork in milk is a classic Italian preparation that creates moist and tender meat and a creamy, rich sauce. I have made it a number of times with great results, particularly after my month-long culinary sojourn in Italy a few summers ago. I discussed methods and techniques with chef-instructors at cooking classes, waiters in restaurants, and a driver/guide. My obsession with buttermilk naturally led me to try a Southernized version of the classic and I love it even more.

It’s really amazing how this incredibly simple preparation produces such a complex dish. The pork is tender and infused with the garlic and sage flavor, and the sauce is buttery – I mean really buttery. The low and slow cooking really imbues the pork with flavor, and buttermilk is always a wonderful tenderizer. The addition of cream helps hold everything together and prevents too much curdling (though there may be some). I like to give it a little whirl with the immersion blender to smooth it out, then spoon it over the beautifully tender meat.

Buttermilk Braised Pork Loin
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. 2 pound boneless pork lion
  2. Salt and pepper
  3. 2 Tablespoon olive oil
  4. 1 ½ cups whole buttermilk
  5. 1 cup heavy cream
  6. ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  7. 6 cloves of garlic
  8. 3 -4 leafy sprigs of sage
Instructions
  1. Season the pork loin well with salt and pepper all over. Heat the oil in the bottom of a heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid that fits the loin snugly over medium-high heat. Brown the pork loin on all sides, including the ends, then remove it to a plate. Let the pot cool slightly and wipe out the remaining oil. Return the pork to the pot and pour in the buttermilk and cream. Add the nutmeg to the liquid, then tuck the garlic cloves and sage leaves around the loin. Bring the buttermilk to a low boil, then reduce the heat to low and cover the pot. Cook for two hours, turning the pork over every 30 minutes. After one hour, leave the pot lid slightly ajar.
  2. Remove the pork to a plate, cover with foil and bring the liquid left in the pot to a hearty boil. Cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce is thickened and reduces, about 10 minutes. I like to remove the sage stalks and give the sauce a quick whir with an immersion blender to blend in the garlic and smooth it out.
  3. Slice the pork and serve with the sauce ladled over.
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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.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

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.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/