The first spring weekend of farmers market season is exciting. I am ready for all that fresh produce with a new treat arriving each week and little surprises on every visit. I know that I am closer to juicy strawberries, my first tomato in months, bright, sweet corn and so many things. I know it is all about to start. But in reality, that first Saturday is a little sparse. The greens lingering from winter, a few spring flowers, but not the spectacular array soon to come. S on the first market day this year, I came away mostly with baked goods and a restock on pastured meat. Not a huge haul, but still a fun trip.
As I unpacked my oilcloth market bag at home, I took stock of my purchases and realized I had leeks, bacon, eggs and goat cheese. Flamiche! In the fridge I had some local milk and cream, and with a quickly made piecrust, I was ready for a very elegant, locally sourced spring lunch.
This quiche-like tart is a traditional Belgian dish, with the old-world flavors of smoky bacon, salty goat cheese and jammy leeks. When I buy leeks fresh from the farmer, there are sometimes a few very thin pencil leeks in the bunch. I like to press them into the top of the filling before baking, because it is such a lovely presentation. You can slice right through them or pull them off before serving. I like the look of my square tart pan, but round is beautiful too.
Belgian Leek, Goat Cheese and Bacon Tart
If you buy your leeks from a farmers market and they are thinner than grocery store varieties, you will need more.
1 pie crust for a 9-inch pie
2 large leeks or 3 medium (4 cups sliced), white and pale green parts only
¼ cup butter
½ cup water
8 strips of bacon
5 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled
½ cup whole milk
½ cup heavy cream
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Fit the prepared crust into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.
Slice the white and pale green part of the leeks in half lengthwise, then slice each half into thin half circles. Place the leeks in a large bowl of cold water and swirl around with your hands, shuffling to separate the layers of leek. Leave for a few minutes to let any dirt settle to the bottom of a bowl. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium low heat. Scoop the leeks out of the water and shake to drain somewhat (do not pour the leeks and water into a strainer, the dirt will just fall back on the leeks) then add to the melted butter. Stir to coat and then stir in the ½ cup water. Cook for a few minutes, until the leeks begin to reduce in bulk, then cover, lower the heat to low and cook for 20- 25 minutes until the leeks are soft and semi-translucent. Stir occasionally during cooking and add a drop or two more water as needed. Do not let the leeks brown. When the leeks are soft and pale, uncover and cook a few minutes more until any liquid has evaporated. Set aside to cool. (The leeks can be made up to two days ahead and refrigerated, tightly covered, until ready to use).
While the leeks are cooling, cook the bacon until crisp and drain on paper towels. Preheat the oven to 400°. Spread the cooled leeks evenly over the bottom of the prepared tart crust, smoothing the top. Crumble the goat cheese and sprinkle over the top of the leeks. Chop the bacon into small pieces and sprinkle in the tart. In a small bowl or 4 cup measuring jug, whisk together the milk, cream, whole egg, yolk and pepper. Pour this custard over the filling in the tart. Carefully transfer to the oven and bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until the center is set and the top is golden brown.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
Many years ago, I picked up a recipe card in the checkout line at a grocery store in London. It had a complicated fish recipe, but what attracted me was the artichoke tartar sauce. That card sat in my recipe file for years, until I rediscovered it and decided to give it a go. The recipe was a complete dud. Weird ingredients, lengthy procedures and it just didn’t come together. It left me with a bowl of gloopy, oddly colored mess. So I threw the card away (and the sauce). But the idea stuck. A tangy, creamy sauce with a nice bite from artichoke hearts that would be a great accompaniment to seafood. So I persevered and came up with this version. I first took it to a friend’s house for a fish fry – they fried the fish caught that morning. It was a big hit, so I wanted to share the recipe.
But it has taken me another few years to figure out how to do it. I don’t particularly enjoy frying fish myself, so no duplicating the tartar sauce’s triumphant debut. Then it hit me – crab cakes. Like a semi-deconstructed crab and artichoke dip. I fiddled with a classic crab cake recipe, paring it down to basic flavors so the tartar sauce wouldn’t be overwhelmed. And pressing the mixture into little muffin tins makes them easier to cook and perfect bites for a party – they tins can be filled and refrigerated just until ready to bake. A little dollop of tartar sauce makes them pretty, and the mini-sized, crispy sides make them easy to eat.
Crab Cake Bites with Artichoke Tartar Sauce
For the Crab Cakes:
1 pound lump crabmeat (see note)
2 Tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 Tablespoon mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon finely chopped flat leaf parsley
½ cu panko bread crumbs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
½ teaspoon mustard powder
For the Tartar Sauce:
4 medium sized whole artichokes hearts (see note)
2 egg yolks
2 garlic cloves
2 Tablespoons flat leaf parsley leaves
2 Tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
¼ cup safflower, grapeseed or canola oil
Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Pick over the crabmeat to make sure there are no pieces of shell, then add the crab to the eggs. Add the melted butter, mayonnaise and parsley and fold together gently. You want everything well combined but try not to break up the crabmeat.
Mix the breadcrumbs, baking powder, Old Bay and mustard powder together in a small bowl. Add to the crab mixture and gently fold through. Again, you want everything combined, but don’t break up the crabmeat. Refrigerate the mixture for at least an hour, but several is fine. This binds the mixture together and makes it easier to fill the tins.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray 24 mini-muffin cups well with non-stick cooking spray. Fill each cup with crab cake mixture, pressing it in to fill it well. Press a rounded teaspoon down in the middle of each cake to make a little well in the center (this will keep them from mounding up and create a nice flat surface for the tartar sauce). You can cover the tins with plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for several hours at this point.
Bake the crab cakes for 20 – 25 minutes until golden brown, then cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Use a knife to loosen the cakes and remove them from the pan. Spoon a little tartar sauce on top of each cake and serve immediately, though these taste lovely at room temperature.
For the Tartar Sauce
Drain and rinse the artichoke hearts well and pat dry. Drop them in a food processor (I use the mini) and add the capers, egg yolks, parsley and garlic cloves. Pulse three to four times to break everything up into a rough paste; scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the motor running, drizzle the oil into the bowl in a thin, steady stream. Process until the sauce is thick and creamy. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl halfway through. Scrape the tartar sauce into a container and keep covered in the fridge until ready to use. It will keep overnight.
Makes 24 crab cakes
I prefer pasteurized lump crab meat that I find in containers at the seafood counter at better grocery stores.
I generally used canned artichoke hearts in brine, rather than the marinated, quartered ones in jars because the marinated ones have some flavor additions. If you can only find those, rinse them really well. If you can only find quartered, use 12 quarters.
I don’t know who makes these decisions, but there is an endless list of “National Days” celebrating foods, dishes and ingredients. I recently saw that it was National Pecan Month, so I thought I better pull out a preparation for the iconic Southern nut. These are a salty, crunchy snack for the bar, or on top of a salad, and once again prove that everything is better with bacon.
Bacon Fried Pecans
Let the bacon grease cool, then reheat it for frying. The nuts burn quickly and reheating allows more control over the temperature.
1 pound bacon
8 ounces pecan halves
Cook the bacon in a skillet until crispy. Drain the bacon on paper towels, then transfer the bacon grease to a medium sized skillet and let cool.
Use a sturdy knife to chop 6 strips of bacon. Save the rest of the bacon for another use.
Have a plate lined with paper towels ready by the stove. Reheat the bacon grease over medium heat until a drop of water sizzles, but do not let it smoke. Drop a handful of pecans into the hot fat and stir around. Remove with a slotted spoon to the prepared plate after about 15 seconds. Just let the pecans turn a shade darker, watch carefully and do not let them burn. Immediately sprinkle the hot pecans with salt. Continue with the remaining pecans. If the fat starts to smoke, remove from the heat for a few seconds to cool down.
When the pecans are cool, toss them with the chopped bacon and serve in a big bowl.
Makes 8 ounces
My love for biscuits is well documented (13 recipes on the site at last count), and my love of country ham equally evident when you peruse my recipes. I have always enjoyed a warm, buttery biscuit with a slice of salty country ham tucked inside, so the next logical step seemed to be incorporating the ham directly into the biscuit. And these are heavenly morsels of Southern flavor.
Cut into small biscuits, these little rounds make a wonderful brunch bite or party snack with their cheesy filling. But they are just good biscuits, so use them how you will. Cut them large and serve with butter or gravy for breakfast, or spread a little mustard instead of butter before you melt the cheese.
I buy already ground country ham, sometimes online and sometimes I find it at local markets. If you can’t find it, grind some country ham slices in a food processor until you have a crumbly mixture, but not a paste. To add the delicious, melty center, I use thick cut sandwich slices of sharp cheddar cheese for ease, but feel free to cut slices from a block.
Country Ham Biscuit Bites with Cheese
2 ½ cups soft wheat flour (such as White Lily)
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into small cubes
4 ounces ground country ham
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 cup buttermilk
14 thick slices cheddar cheese
softened butter for spreading
Preheat the oven to 400°. Spray 2 9-inch cake pans with cooking spray.
Mix the flour, baking powder and salt together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Shuffle the butter cubes into the flour, then crumble in the country ham. Beat on low speed until the butter and ham and mixed in and the mixture looks damp and crumbly. Add the mustard, and with the beater moving, slowly pour in the buttermilk. Beat just until the dough comes together. Knead the dough a few times in the bowl to get all the flour worked in. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to a round ½-inch thick. Press a 2-inch biscuit cutter into the dough and lift out. Do not twist or the biscuits won’t be as tall. Place the biscuits tightly together in the prepared pans.
Bake the biscuits for 10 – 12 minutes or just until firm to the touch. Remove to a wire rack until they are cool enough to handle. Lower the oven temperature to 325°. When the baking pans have cooled, spray them with cooking spray again.
Use the biscuit cutter to cut rounds of cheese the same size as you biscuits. When the biscuits are cool enough to handle, carefully slice them open and spread both sides with a little soft butter. Place a piece of cheese in the center, close the biscuit up and tuck back into the baking pans. Spread a little butter on the top of the biscuits. Cover the pans tightly with foil and place back in the oven for about 5 – 8 minutes, just until the cheese is melted.
Makes about 2 dozen 2- inch biscuits
To make these biscuits ahead, here are a couple of options. Freeze the dough rounds on a waxed paper lined baking sheet until hard, then transfer to ziptop bags. Bake from frozen, increasing the cooking time slightly. You can also bake the biscuits, add the butter and cheese, cover and refrigerate for several hours before the final baking, again increasing the cooking time slightly.
I doubt this a traditional Irish dish at all, but when I was whipping up a pot of Irish Stew, I wanted a nice, cheese-y accompaniment. Welsh Rarebit is the great British snack of a beer-laced cheese sauce on crusty bread, so I figured I give it a go with Guinness. These are perfect with the stew, but also make a nice treat on their own as a snack, or a light lunch or supper beside a big salad. And they’d be pretty good with Corned Beef and Cabbage Cooked in Beer.
½ cup Guinness or other stout beer
2 Tablespoon butter
2 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
½ cup milk
¼ teaspoon English mustard powder
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
14 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese (preferably Irish), grated
8 slices crusty white bread
flaky sea salt, like Maldon
Pour the Guinness into your measuring jug and let the foam settle. You want ½ cup minus the foam.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, then whisk in the flour until you have a smooth paste and it is pale in color. Whisk in the milk and Guinness and stir until thick, smooth and creamy. Stir in the mustard powder and Worcestershire. Add the cheese a handful at a time, stirring to melt completely after each addition. When all the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth, set it aside to cool down and firm up a little.
Preheat the broiler to high. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Slice the bread into thick slices. Use a spoon to spread a thick layer of cheese sauce on each slice. Sprinkle the tops with salt and place on the baking sheet. Broil the rarebits until the cheese is bubbling and browned in spots, about 6 minutes. Watch very carefully.
Let the rarebits sit a few minutes, then slice each piece in half and serve.
I think the chilly winter is a great time to host a real, grown-up dinner party. The holidays are over, school is back in session, everyone has had a chance to take a breath, and frankly, the social scene is a little slow. During the holidays, I see virtually everyone I know, at parties and celebrations, but generally only briefly, for a quick catch-up and greeting. There are just so many people to and so many places, it’s hard to spend any meaningful time with any one person. I also do a lot of cooking, but it’s on demand, as it were, I’m assigned cookies for one party, appetizers for another, the traditional Christmas breakfast. I love it, but I don’t always get to exercise my creativity. So as January progresses, it’s nice to gather friends together, set the table and get in the kitchen for a session of cooking by choice.
Pear and stilton is a classic pairing, the sweet, juicy pears and the tangy, rich, salty cheese complement each other perfectly. This soup is a unique way to recreate the classic. It’s silky and rich, a sweet backdrop with a sharp note. For an elegant multi-course meal, this is the perfect opener. But it works equally well as a casual meal, served with a plank of hearty bread, or maybe a salty ham sandwich.
Pear and Stilton Soup
2 medium leeks, white and light green parts only
3 celery stalks
¼ cup butter
6 ripe green pears, such as Comice
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup heavy cream
10 ounces Stilton
1/3 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
Cut the leeks in half lengthwise, and then into thin half-moons. Separate them with your fingers and place them in a colander. Run lots of cold water over the leeks, tossing to make sure they are all cleaned. Chop the celery into small pieces. Melt the butter in a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the leeks, with some water clinging to them, and the celery. Stir to coat well in the butter, Cover the pot and cook the vegetables until they are very soft and tender, about 15 minutes. Stir frequently, and if the leeks are in danger of browning, add ¼ cup of water and continue cooking. Do not let the vegetables brown.
While the vegetables are cooking, core the pears, but do not peel, and cut them into small chunks. When the vegetables are soft, add the pears to the pot and stir to mix everything together. Cover the pot and let the pears simmer, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and have released their juices, about 15 minutes. Add the vegetable broth, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.
Let the soup cool for a few minutes, puree it in batches in the carafe of a blender. Be careful with hot liquids; fill the carafe half full, vent the top and hold it down with a tea towel. Puree the soup as smoothly as you can. Pour each batch through a wire mesh sieve set over a bowl. Press the soup through the sieve with a spatula. In the end, you may have some pulp left behind, but very little. This step creates a smooth, silky texture that makes the soup so elegant.
Rinse out the soup pot and return to the stove. Pour the soup back in and bring it up to a gentle simmer. Whisk in the cream. Set aside a little bit of Stilton to top the bowls of soup, crumble the rest and whisk it bit by bit into the simmering soup until it is all melted and smooth.
Serve the soup with the toasted walnuts and a little crumbled Stilton on top.
I don’t know that I have ever attended a holiday party where there wasn’t a pretty little bowl full of seasoned nuts. Sometimes a silver or cut crystal bowl, sometimes shaped like Santa or a Christmas tree, usually on the bar or an end table. And there are always people hovering around, picking up one or two nuts, but eyeing the bowl like they want to plunge their hand in and scoop up every last one.
A lovely bag of flavored nuts makes a wonderful gift, and they are handy to have around during the busy holidays. And this little nibble combines the best of the South, abundant pecans and our favorite refreshment. Sweet, with a hint of salty finish, these nuts are a unique rendition of the classic treat. Make multiple batches to have around during the busy season – they will last in an airtight container for a week or freeze beautifully.
Sweet Tea Pecans
1 cup sugar
2 cups water
3 black tea bags
12 ounces pecan halves
Stir the sugar and water together in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce the temperature to medium and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat, drop in the teabags and leave to steep for 10 minutes. Remove the teabags and stir in the pecans. Leave to soak for 45 minutes, stirring several times.
Heat the oven to 400°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with non-stick foil or parchment paper. Drain the pecans through a strainer, then spread in a single layer on the baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake the pecans for 13 – 15 minutes, until golden brown. Watch carefully, nuts burn easily.
Cool the nuts on the baking sheet.
The nuts will keep in an airtight container for a week, or can be frozen.
Makes 12 ounces
Baked brie with fruity toppings used to be all the rage, and the real height of sophisticated appetizers. But they seem to have fallen out of fashion a little. I rarely see them at parties or in cookbooks anymore. Perhaps the trend for simple artsy charcuterie trays have taken their place, or appetizers served on individual spoons. But just because a dish isn’t trendy anymore doesn’t mean it still doesn’t taste good. I was missing those old creamy baked cheeses, so I got to work on a version perfect for fall, redolent with the classic tastes of autumn pears, cranberries, walnuts and rosemary – with just a little hit of bourbon. And camembert is a bit tangier and richer than brie, so I used that. When I served this, I got two responses about how you never see baked brie anymore, and that’s a shame. I couldn’t agree more.
This is a perfect, make-ahead starter for Thanksgiving, and looks really beautiful to boot. I serve it with baguette slices or good cracker.
Baked Camembert with Pear, Cranberry and Walnut Relish
¼ cup dried cranberries
2 Tablespoons bourbon
¼ cup walnut pieces
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons light brown sugar
1 yellow or green pear
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
Pinch of salt
1 (8-ounce) round of camembert
Place the cranberries and bourbon in a small bowl and leave to soak for about 20 minutes, until the berries are plumped.
In a small saucepan, toast the walnuts over medium heat until just brown and fragrant. Remove to small plate and wipe the saucepan out.
Melt the butter and brown sugar together over medium heat and bring to a boil. While the mixture is cooking, quickly core the pear and cut it into small pieces. Immediately add it to the sugar and butter. Stir to coat the pears. Stir in the cranberries and any liquid left with them, the rosemary and a pinch of salt. Cook over medium heat until the pears are soft and there and the liquid is evaporated, about 15 minutes. There should just be a light glaze coating the pears. Stir in the walnuts and set aside to cool. The pear topping can be made up to a day ahead, covered and refrigerated.
When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 350°. Place the camembert in a small oven proof dish and spread the pear relish over the top. Bake until the cheese is soft and melty and the relish is hot though, about 15 mintues.
Serve immediately with crackers.
Serves 6 – 8
Cooking with beer is an October tradition. While it is just cool enough to have one last outdoor event, it is fun to put together an Oktoberfest celebration. The weather is beautiful and the food is comforting, perfect for a gathering of friends. Warm sweaters and warm colors, leaves turning, a nip in the air and of course, plenty of beer.
This recipe was born because it combines some of my favorite words. Beer, bacon and cheese. Put a pot of this in front of your friends and prepare for a stampede. Warm, creamy and tangy, with just a touch of salty, smoky bacon, this is perfect party food. If you have a fondue pot or chafing dish, it would be perfect to keep this warm and creamy. But I love it just off the stove. People are generally hovering around waiting to dive in. Salty pretzel rods are a classic pairing, but tart, crisp apples are wonderful delight as well. I have also toasted little triangles of pumpernickel bread to serve on the side or thick potato chips.
Bubbling Beer and Bacon Cheese Dip
8 strips of bacon
2 Tablespoons bacon grease
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ cup milk
¾ cup beer (I prefer lager)
½ teaspoon mustard powder
12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
Pretzel rods, apples, toast fingers for dipping
Cook the bacon in a skillet until very crispy. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate to drain. Reserve 2 Tablespoons of bacon grease.
Heat the reserved 2 Tablespoons of bacon grease in a medium saucepan over medium heat until warm. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly until you have a smooth, loose paste and it is just bubbling. Measure the milk and beer in the same measuring jug, then slowly whisk it into the flour. Cook, whisking constantly and scraping the sides and bottom of the pot, about 5 minutes, until smooth and thickened. Whisk in the cheese a handful at a time, stirring to melt each addition before adding the next. When all the cheese is combined with the sauce, reduce the heat to low.
Chop the bacon into very small pieces and stir into the cheese dip. Serve immediately with pretzel rods and sliced apples.
The dip may be made about an hour ahead of and gently reheated over low, stirring in a drop or two more beer if needed. You may reheat the dip over medium low-heat once during serving, but if you reheat it too many times, it will curdle.
Makes 2 cups
Complete your Oktoberfest celebration with Bacon CamemBeer Bites, German Meatballs, or Belgian Beef and Beer Stew.
I’ll make an admission here that may damage my Southern girl credentials. I am not a football fan. I went to lots of high school football games, but football was the least interesting part of the event. And I didn’t go to a college with a big football program. I am, however, a fan of parties, and if football happens to be going on in the background, that’s fine with me. I do understand how important football is for many people, and I admire the fine art of tailgating. I think any lack of football love on my part is more than made up by my love of Southern cooking. So I’d like to make a contribution to the cause.
This is a bolder version of pimento cheese. And what says Southern tailgate more than that? The smoky richness of this spread is a great complement to dinner off the grill or a barbecue feast. In fact, try melting some on hamburger or drop a dollop onto a pulled shoulder sandwich. I’ve got your interest now, right? But it is fabulous on crackers, even bacon crackers if you want to go all out, or just between two slices of bread.
Most cheese labeled smoked that you find in the dairy case at the grocery is actually “smoke flavored.” I do not like this stuff at all; I think it has a weird metallic aftertaste, a discernible fakeness. But look in the fine cheese section, or hit a gourmet or natural foods market and you will find naturally smoked cheddar cheese. I like a combination of orange and white, but if you can only find one color, so be it. And the same goes for bacon. Look for naturally smoked bacon, not “smoke flavor added.”
Smoky Bacon Pimento Cheese
6 strips of smoked bacon
8 ounces naturally smoked orange cheddar
8 ounces naturally smoked white cheddar
1 (4-ounce) jar diced pimentos
1 cup of mayonnaise, more or less
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
Cook the bacon until crispy and drain on paper towels. Pat off as much grease as possible with paper towels. Finely chop the bacon.
Grate the cheeses together into a large bowl. Stir it together with the bacon pieces and undrained pimentos. Stir in the mayonnaise until you have a consistency that appeals to you, then add the paprika, garlic powder and Worcestershire sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Scrape the pimento cheese into a serving bowl and chill for several hours to let the flavors meld. The pimento cheese will keep covered in the fridge for up to five days.
Makes about 1 pound of pimento cheese