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Chicken and Sweet Potato Stew

From The New Southern Garden Cookbook by Sheri Castle

The somewhat unusual combination of chicken, sweet potatoes, peanuts, tomatoes, coconut, chutney, and curry has deep roots in the South, particularly in the Lowcountry, where there was ready access to imported spices and where expert cooks from many cultures stirred their own familiar ingredients into the pots.

This stew is similar to both West African groundnut (peanut) stew and chicken country captain. Both of those dishes call for a long list of ingredients slowly cooked together. I’ve streamlined the process by using ingredients (such as chutney and good curry powder) that deliver many flavors from one jar. The stew should be a little spicey and very aromatic. Don’t skip the condiments. They are integral to the look and flavor of the dish. Plus, everyone will have fun doctoring up custom bowls of stew.

Ingredients
3 thick bacon slices, cut crosswises into 1/2-inch strips (about 3 ounces)
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon peanut oil or vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped bell pepper
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons instant or all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon red curry powder or garam masala
1 cup chicken stock
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
2 cups peeled sweet potato cut into 3/4-inch cubes
3 tablespoons golden raisins or currants
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup well-stirred coconut milk (lite or regular) or half-and-half
1/2 cup hot mango chutney
1/2 cup coarsely chopped roasted peanuts
Hot cooked long-grain white rice, for serving
Cooked bacon, thinly sliced scallions, coconut, and additonal chutney, for serving

Instructions
1. Cook the bacon in a small Dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat, stirring often, until browned and crispy. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Leave the drippings in the pot.

2. Season the chicken with the salt and pepper and brown in the bacon drippings, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate, and set aside.

3. Add the oil to the pot. When it’s hot, stir in the onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic, and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes. Sprinkle the flour and curry powder over the vegetables, and stir well. Cook, striring constantly, for 2 minutes. Slowly pour in the stock, stirring to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the tomatoes and break them up with the side of the spoon. Cook, striring constantly, untilt the mixture is smooth and slightly thickened, about 2 minutes.

4. Stir in the chicken, sweet potato, and raisins. Cover and simmer, stiring occasianally until the chicken is cooked through and the sweet potatoes are tender, about 8 minutes.

5. Stir in the peanut butter, coconut milk, chutney, and peanuts, and heat through, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot over the rice, topped with the condiments.

Serves 8 to 10.

Pork Chops with Rhubarb Pan Dressing

From The New Southern Garden Cookbook by Sheri Castle

This is an old farm family recipe that has nearly faded into obscurity. That’s a shame. The spiced tangy flavor of the rosy rhubarb tastes so good with pork, and the homey, filling meal is ready to serve in under an hour.

Ingredients
Vegetable oil spray
2 cups trimmed rhubard, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 thick slices of bread, torn into fairly small crumbs (about 2 cups)
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon dry mustard
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground balck pepper, divided
4 boneless pork loin chops, about 3/4-inch thick
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter

Instructions
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Mist the inside of a 2-quart baking dish with the spray; set aside.

2. Stir together the rhubarb, bread crumbs, brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, mustard, and rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper in a large bowl. Spoon about three-quarters of the rhubarb mixture into the prepared baking dish.

3. Season the pork chops with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pork chops and cook undisturbed until they are browned on the bottom, about 3 minutes. When they are sufficiently browned, they will release from the pan easily without tugging or tearing. Turn the chops with tongs and brown the other side. Place the chops on top of the rhubarb mixture in the baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining rhubarb mixture over the chops.

4. Cover and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until the pork registers 150°F on a thermometer inserted into the center and the juices run clear when pricked with the tip of a knife. Serve warm.

Makes 4 servings.

South Louisiana-style Hush Puppies

From The Cornbread Gospels by Crescent Dragonwagon

This repeats several elements of basic down-home hush puppies but combines them in a method just different enough to warrant its own recipe. If you’ve done any Cajun cooking, you’ll recognize the trinity of onion, celery, and green bell pepper that is a backbone of this region’s cuisine, but any native will tell you it’s the green onion tops that make this distinctly South Louisianan. You’ll find some variation on this theme in every community cookbook of the area.

Ingredients
1 cup stone-ground cornmeal, preferably yellow
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 to 1/2 cup finely chopped scallions, green tops only
1 tablespoon grated white onion
1 tablespoon very finely minced celery
1 tablespoon very finely minced green bell pepper
2 teaspoons very finely minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
Mild vegetable oil, for frying

Instructions
1. Sift the cornmeal, baking powder, salt, sugar, and flour into a large bowl.

2. Separately, beat the egg and milk together in small bowl, and add this to the conrmeal mixture, stirring until just combined. With a few more stirs, add, all at once, the cayenne, scallions, white onion, celery, green pepper, and parsley, strirring until just blended.

3. Pour the oil into a large skillet to reach a depth of 1 to 1 1/2 inches, depending on the depth of your skillet. Place the skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot enough to fry in (365°F on a thermometer, or test with a drop of batter, which should sizzle immediately and start to brown), drop the batter in by rounded teaspoonfuls, using a second teaspoon to scarpe off the batter into the fat. Fry 5 to 6 hush puppies at at time, but don’t overcrowd the pan. Work in batches. Fry until the balls are golden brown underneath, 45 seconds to 1 minute. Turn them with a slotted spoon and continue cooking until the second side is also golden, in 40 to 50 seconds more.

4. Remove the puppies from the skillet, blot well with paper towels, and serve as soon as possible.

Makes 12 to 15. Serves 4 to 5.

Truman Capote’s Family’s Cornbread

From The Cornbread Gospels by Crescent Dragonwagon

Everything about this straight-up cornbread—not sweet, not fancy but for its two eggs—points to it being an early creation, not far from sustenance. For that, maybe because of that, it has a purity that is hard to beat, as well as a winning, light texture.

Ingredients
1 tablespoon butter or bacon drippings
2 eggs
2 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups stone-ground white cornmeal

Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Place the butter or drippings in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet, and place it in the oven.

2. Comine the eggs and buttermilk in a small bowl or measuring cup, whisking together well with a fork.

3. In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, salt, baking soda, and cornmeal, stirring well to combine.

4. Stir the egg mixture into the dry ingredients, beating just until the dry ingredients are moistened, no more.

5. Pull the skillet from the oven. It should be good and hot, with the fat sizzling. Swirl the pan to coat it. Quickly transfer the batter to the hot skillet and return the skillet to the oven.

6. Bake until browned and pulling away from the skillet, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve, hot, in wedges from the pan.

Makes 8 servings.

Poached Pears with Butterscotch Ice Cream

PoachedPearFrom Aaron Russell, Restaurant Eugene

Ingredients
For poached pears:
2 cups red wine
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
5 pears (see notes below)

For butterscotch ice cream:
1 1/2 sticks butter
15 egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar plus 1 3/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
pinch of salt
6 cups milk

Instructions
To prepare pears:
Peel and core pears from the base, leaving the stem intact. Reserve pears in acidulated water (1/2 quart of water mixed with 2 Tbsp lemon juice) to keep them from oxidizing. Bring first 6 ingredients to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add pears. Simmer until a paring knife easily penetrates the flesh, typically 15 to 25 minutes. Allow pears to cool in the poaching liquid. Reserve them in the poaching liquid in an airtight container until ready to serve. If you wish to serve the pears warm, reheat them gently in the microwave or, better yet, in their liquid in a pot. Place each pear, standing, in a bowl, and garnish with a scoop of ice cream.

Notes: For practical purposes, Russell recommends choosing a pear with very firm flesh, as it can be poached longer without becoming too mushy. (The longer the pear poaches, the more flavor it absorbs.) Bosc and Anjou pears are great for poaching, but even underripe pears of other varieties will work. For aesthetic purposes, try to select pears that still have stems attached.

To prepare ice cream:
Melt the butter in a small pot and cook over medium-high heat, swirling frequently, until the milk solids brown and smell nutty. Pour into a heatproof container and allow to cool to room temperature. Thoroughly whisk together the yolks, 3 Tbsp sugar, starch, and salt. Cover and set aside. Bring the milk to a boil, remove it from the heat, and set it aside to stay warm. In a large pot, mix the 1 3/4 cups sugar with a little water until it has the consistency of wet sand. Cook over moderate heat until the sugar melts and obtains a deep golden caramel color. Very slowly and very carefully, pour the hot milk into the caramel while whisking. Simmer, stirring, until the caramel dissolves. Add one-third of the hot milk mixture to the egg yolks in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Pour back into the pot and cook over low heat, stirring, until the liquid thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon. Pour into a bowl and chill over ice. Whisk in brown butter. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to machine’s instructions.

The Kudzu Kid

from our January 2011 issue; video by Michael Cogliantry

Pop-Up Opera

Courtesy of the Atlanta Opera

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The local Indian dance academy appears on “America’s Got Talent”

Letterpress How-To

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Chipotle Mashed Sweet Potatoes

If you smoke, grill or deep-fry your Thanksgiving turkey, consider this your perfect side dish. Alan Conner, co-owner of Dakota Blue in Grant Park, keeps his formula for mashed sweet potatoes simple and delicious. Chipotles adds smoky heat, tempered by just a hint of brown sugar.

Ingredients
4 to 5 medium sweet potatoes
2 to 3 chipotles, packed in adobo sauce
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
Coarse salt to taste

Instructions
1. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into 1-inch cubes. Place sweet potatoes in a steamer basket over 1 inch boiling water. Cover and steam until sweet potatoes are very tender, about 12 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, by hand or using a food processor, finely chop the chipotles with some of the adobo sauce. In a bowl with a hand masher or in a food processor, mash the sweet potatoes. Add the brown sugar, butter and half (or less) of the chipotles. Taste; add more chipotles as desired. Season with salt.

Makes 4 to 6 servings. Preparation time: 15 minutes. Total time: 25 minutes

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