Recipe

Fontina Grilled Cheese

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Yield: 2 servings

It’s a cold day here and nothing sounded better than a melty, gooey sandwich with some hot tomato soup.  This sandwich is a re-creation of one of my favorite sandwiches from a well-known nationwide café that also makes bread (can you figure it out?).  It was removed from the menu long-ago, but every time I find myself grabbing lunch there, I pine for it; nothing else I order ever satisfies me when I have this sandwich on the brain.  This is a really quick dinner for two that can be very easily adjusted to serve more or less.  P.S. the secret to a great golden-brown grilled cheese is spreading mayonnaise instead of butter on the outside!

 

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 tablespoon finely chopped chives (about 7-8 chives)

1 tablespoon finely chopped green onions (about 2 onions)

4 ounces fontina cheese, grated

4 slices good-quality sandwich bread

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

3 tablespoons Parmesan, finely grated

 

Preheat a cast-iron or nonstick skillet for 10 minutes over medium-low to medium heat.  The spread on the outside contains cheese, so it’s important to use something that will allow for an easy release.  Mix the cream cheese, chives and green onions until combined; season lightly with salt.  Spread on two slices of the bread.  Layer the Fontina cheese on top and close the sandwich.  Mix together the mayonnaise and Parmesan and spread on the outside of each slice of bread.  Place in the skillet for 3 to 5 minutes per side, until golden brown and melty.  You can keep this warm in the oven if you’re cooking a few or your cheese hasn’t melted all the way through; it’s better to take it out of the skillet when your crust is golden brown and finish in the oven if the cheese is not melted through.

Recipe

Sherried Tomato Soup

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Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Sherry and tomatoes are meant to be together, and this soup is a great accompaniment to a gooey, cheesy sandwich.  I like it semi-smooth, which makes it a little thicker than normal tomato soup, but blend to reach your preferred consistently.  Add more or less Sherry depending on your taste-just make sure you give it enough time to cook to take out the alcoholic bite.  Perfect use for your immersion blender, if you have one!  Be careful with the red pepper flakes-a pinch is all you really need.  I was a little heavy-handed the first time I made this and it really overpowered the soup.

 

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

1 small shallot, minced

2 small garlic cloves, finely minced

1 cup dry sherry, divided

One 28-ounce can San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes, crushed in a large bowl with your hands

1 tablespoon white sugar

Pinch of red pepper flakes

1/2 cup whole milk or cream

1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar, or more to taste

 

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the olive oil and the butter and allow to heat.  Add shallots, sprinkle with salt and sauté for 6 to 8 minutes, until softened and very lightly colored.  Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute, until garlic has softened slightly.  Add 3/4 cup Sherry and allow to reduce for about 1 minute.  Add the tomatoes and sugar and stir together. Season with salt and both peppers; tomatoes need tons of salt, so be generous and taste often.  The longer it cooks, the more you need to taste and re-season.  Bring soup to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for approximately 20 minutes.  Add the milk or cream (this would be a great time to start preheating your oven and skillet for your sandwich!) and simmer for another 5 minutes.  You can prepare your sandwich in the meantime.

 

Add the remaining 1/4 cup Sherry and simmer for 5 minutes.  At the very end of the cooking time, add the Sherry vinegar and stir to combine.  Taste one more time for seasoning and adjust accordingly.  Blend to your desired consistency, or serve as is.  Drizzle with a little cream or make some basil oil and make pretty swirls on top (it’s not as easy as it looks!).

 

Recipe

Melt-In-Your-Mouth Sugar Cookies

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Yield: about 24 to 30 cookies

The basic recipe for these sugar cookies came from one of my mom’s old church lady cookbooks.  I grew up eating these, so there’s a bit of nostalgia attached to these cookies.  They bake up so crisp and flavorful, and really melt in your mouth.

 

1 cup Crisco (plain flavor)

1 cup canola oil

1 cup powdered sugar

1 cup white sugar

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon baking soda

Pinch of salt

4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

 

Cream the shortening, oil and both sugars until fluffy and thoroughly combined.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the vanilla extract, flour, cream of tartar and salt.  Beat until well mixed, taking care not to overmix.  Chill for at least one hour, and up to overnight.

 

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Place about 1/2 cup white sugar in a large, shallow bowl.  Using a small ice cream scoop, shape the balls into about the size of a walnut.  Roll the balls in the sugar and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, several inches apart from each other.  Flatten with a glass dipped in sugar.  This part is key; try to really flatten these as thicker cookies don’t get as crisp and that’s really what separates these cookies from other, less superior ones!

 

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until crisp.  If you are baking more than one cookie sheet in the oven at a time, you will want to bake closer to 12-13 minutes.  Cool on the sheet for about 5 minutes, and transfer to cooling racks to cool completely.

 

You can freeze these cookies with great success.  Thaw for about 30 minutes before baking and pick up at the “rolling in sugar” step.

Recipe

Christmas Eve Chicken Pie

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Yield: 8 servings

Chicken pie is one of my favorite traditions.  I knew all about chicken pot pie (ugh), was introduced to (just) chicken pie a few years ago when I began attending Christmas Eve dinner at my brother’s girlfriend’s family’s house (lots of possessives there).  Her family is from North Carolina, where immigrants from Moravia settled and introduced the area to some delicious culinary traditions, like this one.  Her mom doesn’t use a recipe, and I knew I needed a jumping-off point to try to recreate this when I stumbled upon a similar recipe in The Complete Cook’s Country TV Show Cookbook.  This cuts out all those unnecessary vegetables in chicken pot pie, and just combines chicken, gravy and crust…could anything be better than that?!

This is a somewhat time-intensive recipe, so I recommend preparing the dough the day before you want to use it, so the recipe seems slightly more manageable.  Or charge a price of admission by making your friends or family help if they want to eat it.  Of course, you can substitute a store-bought double pie crust and/or all white meat chicken; I’ll leave that one up to you.

 

FOR THE CRUST:

1/2 cup sour cream, chilled

1 large egg

2-1/2 cup (12.5 ounces) all-purpose flour

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

12 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled

Small cup of ice water, prepared right before beginning to make dough

1 egg, lightly beaten, for egg wash

PIE FILLING:

3 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 1.5 pounds)

3 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (about 2.5 pounds)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

6 cups low-sodium chicken broth

2 bay leaves

4 sprigs fresh thyme

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

GRAVY:

4 tablespoons drippings

4 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup whole milk

1/4 cup heavy cream

Salt and pepper, to taste

4 cups cooking liquid (reserve all cooking strained cooking liquid)

 

To make the crust: Combine the sour cream and egg in a bowl and mix thoroughly.  Add flour and salt to a food processor and pulse for about 3 seconds.  Add the butter and pulse until a coarse meal forms, about 10-15 pulses.  Add half of the sour cream mixture and pulse until combined, about 5-10 pulses.  Add the remaining sour cream mixture and pulse until dough begins to form, about 10.  Add one to two tablespoons of ice water until dough just comes together.

Transfer the mixture to a lightly floured surface and knead very briefly until dough comes together in a smooth ball.  Divide dough in half and form each half into a disk.  Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

 

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.  Remove one dough disk from the refrigerator and let sit for 10 minutes to make it easier to work with.  Right before beginning to roll out dough, take second dough disk out of refrigerator.  Lightly flour a surface and rolling pin, roll into an approximately 12-inch round and transfer to a 9-inch pie plate.  Make sure to leave a 1/2-inch overhang of dough to seal crust two crusts together.  Repeat process with second dough disk and transfer this rolled dough to prepared baking sheet.  Cover both dough rounds with plastic wrap (or foil if you’re like me and never have success with plastic wrap) and refrigerate while you prepare chicken.

 

Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season generously with salt and pepper.  Heat vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add chicken and sear until browned, about 6 minutes per side.  You may have to cook your chicken in two batches.  Pour the fat off and reserve for the gravy.  You should have about three to four tablespoons, but you can supplement with butter if you don’t have enough drippings, or you can render some of the skin you’re about to take off to have more of the delicious chicken fat (also called schmaltz); preheat oven to 425° and bake for about 10-12 minutes, until fat is rendered and chicken skin is crispy.  These crispy chicken skins also make an unreal treat for the cook!  When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin.

 

Add the broth, chicken, bay leaf and thyme to the Dutch oven and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  As soon as the broth boils, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until thickest part of breasts registers 160° and thighs register 175°, 16 to 20 minutes.  Remove the chicken and allow to cool.  When chicken is cool enough to handle, shred into bite-sized pieces; you should have between 4 to 5 cups of shredded chicken for your filling.  Pour the broth through a mesh strainer into a large measuring cup or bowl and reserve for gravy.  This should yield about 6 cups of broth.

 

Adjust your oven rack to the lowest position and heat the oven to 450°.  Heat the butter and reserved chicken fat in the Dutch oven over medium heat and melted. Add the flour and cook, whisking vigorously to remove all lumps, for about 2 minutes, until golden and bubbling.  Whisk in 4 cups of reserved broth, slowly at first to combine and then you can dump it all in.  Continue to whisk vigorously to remove all lumps of flour.  Add the cream and milk and simmer gravy until thicken, about 7 to 9 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper, tasting as you go to get the flavor right.  This will take more salt than you think is reasonable.  Combine 3/4 cup of the gravy with the shredded chicken.

 

Remove the pie plate filled with dough from the refrigerator and place the chicken mixture inside, spreading into an even layer.  Top with the second dough, leaving at least a 1/2-inch overhang all around.  Fold the dough under and press two layer together to seal.  You can do something decorative, like pressing together with the tines of a fork or pinching the dough with your thumb and forefinger to flute edges. Cut four 1-inch slits in the top of the dough and brush with egg wash.

 

Place pie directly on the lowest rack (do not bake on a cookie sheet; this will prevent the bottom crust from setting).  Bake pie until top is light brown, about 18 to 20 minutes.  Reduce the oven temperature to 375° and bake for another 20 to 25 minutes, until crust is a deep golden brown.  Let pie cool on a wire rack for at least 45 minutes.  Seriously…wait!  If you slice this to early, the filling will run everywhere and you will regret your impatience (it’s still delicious though).

 

When ready to serve the pie, bring the remaining gravy up to a simmer over medium heat with about 1 cup of the remaining reserved broth.  Your gravy will look lumpy before you do this, but will smooth out when you add the remaining broth and whisk vigorously.  You should taste your gravy and see if you need to adjust the seasonings before serving.  Heat until the gravy is at a comfortable temperature to eat.  Slice the pie and top with the gravy.

 

Inspiration: Moravian Chicken Pie, The Complete Cook’s Country TV Show Cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen

Recipe

Lemon-Blueberry Biscuits

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PRINTABLE VERSION

 

Yield: 6 to 8 biscuits

There is a restaurant chain Bojangles that is ubiquitous in South; I MUST seek one out any time I cross the Mason-Dixon line.  The chain has a sweet buttermilk biscuit called the Bo-Berry, and when I found a recipe for Blueberry Biscuits that referenced these on Food52, I knew I had to try them.  I changed a few parts of the recipe and added lemon (because I always add lemon).  This is somewhere between a flaky buttermilk biscuit and cakey blueberry muffin.  If you follow only one thing in this recipe, let it be this: YOU MUST KEEP THE BLUEBERRIES AS CLOSE TO FROZEN AS POSSIBLE!  Putting the batter in the freezer throughout the process as instructed will ensure you have nice round, intact blueberries that don’t burst when you’re mixing and forming your biscuits.  These biscuits would be equally as good with dried blueberries, but when fresh blueberries are in season, there’s really nothing better.

 

BLUEBERRY BISCUITS:

1 cup blueberries, frozen

4 tablespoons sugar, divided

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons butter, frozen

1/2 cup buttermilk

2 tablespoons heavy cream

3 tablespoons crème fraiche or sour cream

1 egg yolk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Zest of 1 lemon

ICING:

1 cup powdered sugar

Zest and juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon

1 to 2 teaspoons heavy cream, plus more to make the glaze consistency

1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped

1 lemon, zested into long strips/curls

 

Mix the blueberries with two tablespoons of the sugar and place in the freezer while you prepare the dry ingredients.

 

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a medium mixing bowl.  Grate the butter on the coarse side of a box grater and cut into the dry ingredients with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse sand, with some large bits of butter visible.  Gently mix the blueberries into the flour mixture and place in the freezer while you prepare the wet ingredients.

 

Combine the buttermilk, cream, crème fraiche, egg yolk, vanilla and lemon zest with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar.  Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, gently stirring just until combined.  Return to the freezer for at least 15 minutes.

 

Turn out onto a floured dough or counter.  Lightly flour the top and gently form into a rectangle.  Fold the dough onto itself about 3 to 5 times, until it has come together.

 

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and spoon the dough onto the sheet, leaving a little space between each biscuit.  You can determine how small or large you want to make the biscuits, but I would do at least 1/4 cup size.  Return to the freezer for at least 10 minutes.

 

Preheat the oven to 450° and bake the biscuits for 13 to 16 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown.  In the meantime, mix all the glaze ingredients in a small bowl, whisking to thoroughly combine.  Drizzle over the biscuits and garnish with strips of lemon zest.

 

Inspiration: Legendary Blueberry Biscuits on food52.com

 

Recipe

Truffled Pasta with Chicken

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Yield: 4 to 6 servings

If I see anything with mushrooms on a menu, I have no need to look any further.  I WILL ALWAYS ORDER THE DISH WITH MUSHROOMS.  This is a riff on an Ina Garten recipe for Fettucine with White Truffle Butter and Mushrooms that I’ve been drooling over and I just happened to have everything for the dish in my refrigerator. I’ve adapted it to add some protein and more mushrooms because duh!  (Read above.)  Serve this with a salad on the side and your meal is done.

 

2 pounds bone-in skin-on chicken breasts

1-1/2 pounds cremini mushrooms, caps removed and thickly

2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

3/4 cup heavy cream

12 ounces fettuccine or tagliatelle

Two 3.5 ounce containers truffle butter, white or black

3 tablespoons chives, finely chopped

1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated, plus more to serve

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

Preheat the oven to 400° and place the chicken breasts on a small baking sheet.  Slide your fingers between the skin and meat to loosen the skin, taking care not to separate or rip it.  Spread two tablespoons truffle butter under the skin of each breast, using your fingers to spread around.  Sprinkle salt and pepper over each side.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the meat registers 150 to 155° in the thickest part.  Let rest for 10 minutes before slicing.  Slice into bite-sized pieces.

 

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat.   Cook the pasta according to the package directions.  Reserve 1/3 cup of pasta water before draining.

 

While the pasta water is coming to a boil, preheat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat.  Melt the butter and olive oil and add the mushrooms.  Turn the heat up to high and sauté for approximately 8 minutes, stirring very infrequently to allow the mushrooms to begin to brown.  They will release a lot of liquid.  Once the liquid begins to evaporate, sprinkle the mushrooms liberally with salt.  Cook for another 4 minutes, for a total cooking time of approximately 12 minutes.  Add the cream and allow to reduce over medium-low heat while the pasta cooks.  Turn the heat to low and add the truffle butter and grated Parmesan, stirring to melt and combine.  Once the sauce has come together, add the pasta and chicken, stirring together to coat the pasta with sauce.  Add some of the reserved pasta water, by the tablespoon, to loosen the sauce to your desired consistently.  It should remain slightly thick.  Finish the pasta with the remaining truffle butter and toss to coat; season to taste with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle the chives over the pasta.   Serve with extra Parmesan.

 

Inspiration: Fettuccine with White Truffle Butter and Mushrooms by Ina Garten on foodnetwork.com

Recipe

Yorkshire Pudding

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Yield: 4 servings

This is THE BEST accompaniment to a prime rib dinner.  Okay, fine…horseradish sauce is first, but this should be on your table right alongside this.  If you’re ever in San Francisco, check out the House of Prime Rib if you can get a reservation.  That place may make you a believer, if I can’t.  Please do not make this unless you have a cast-iron skillet…I beg you.  You can make this in individual servings if you want to be extra-fancy.  I’m sure this would go along with other main dishes, but prime rib is my go-to.

 

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

3 eggs

3/4 cup whole milk

1/3 cup pan drippings from prime rib*

 

*If you want to make this without a prime rib, or don’t have enough pan drippings, you can substitute beef tallow.  Beef tallow is rendered beef fat and there are quality options available out there.  I use Epic brand, which you can purchase on Amazon, at Whole Foods and other specialty markets.  Bacon fat always makes a suitable substitute, but will produce a slightly different flavor.  This may seem like a lot of fat, but most of it will be left in the bottom of your skillet after the Yorkshire pudding is done.  If you use a larger skillet, you may need to add more fat, up to 1/2 cup total.

 

Preheat the oven to 450°.  Pour the drippings or fat into an 8- or 10-inch cast-iron skillet.  Either size will work, but the smaller skillet will produce a higher rise. Place the skillet into the oven to preheat for at least 15 minutes. Combine the flour and salt in a bowl.  Add the eggs and milk and beat until all the lumps are gone, but take care not to overmix.  Remove the pan from the oven after preheating and pour in the batter.  Put the pan back in the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until puffed, golden and dry.

 

Inspiration: Yorkshire Pudding by Tyler Florence on foodnetwork.com