WINTER’S WHITE GOLD

Buttery Braised Belgian Endive | for the love of the south

Like an anxious child, I start tearing through kitchen boxes that have been stored up for months. In the matter of moments, my winter white kitchen begins taking on a life of its own as copper and silver trays, amber glass bottles filled with spices and salts, countless mason jars, slicked cast-iron skillets, brass pots and nicked wood cutting boards settle into their proper places. The kitchen is set up just in time as a blizzard is forecasted to barrel through Nashville. Whenever you live in the South and snowfall is predicted, you equip yourself with essentials, which usually come in the form of bread and milk. In a storm one thing is certain, we must eat.

Belgian Endive | for the love of the south

Slowly but surely, the dust begins to settle as I relax into a home we have been renovating for the past six months. Michael and I left the loft in Franklin and purchased a lovely fixer upper in the heart of Nashville. The house has been stripped down to the studs, and, finally, after many months of blood, sweat and tears, it’s beginning to feel like a home.

Purple Garlic | for the love of the south

The first click-click-click of the gas range seems to blow away any cobwebs. Armed with a beloved and dearly missed knife, I begin ripping through the centers of crisp white and pale green Belgian endive, also known as winter’s white gold. Deep green rosemary sprigs and pink papery jackets from purple garlic litter my table. Pulling out my cast-iron skillet is like reuniting with an old, loyal friend. No matter how much time has passed between the two of you, it’s like no time has passed at all. The endive starts to char in the skillet, and the bitter, crisp leaves sweeten and soften like silk petals. Lentil soup already at hand simmers away in a small copper pot on the back burner. In less than thirty minutes, I enjoy my first meal in my snow covered home.

Braised Belgian Endive | for the love of the south

Buttery braised Belgian endives pair beautifully with comforting, familiar lentil soup. This is purely a vegetarian dish, yet the endives take on a “meaty” quality with help from the rosemary and garlic. Spoon a little of the leftover cream from the endives into the lentil soup, which adds richness, decadence and also ties the two dishes together wonderfully. If by chance you have any leftover endive, toss in an omelet or with pasta. You could also create another soup with the endive by sweating onions, garlic and braised endive in a pot, add stock, season, and simmer for twenty minutes. This is what I call home cooking: Picking up loose ends from one dish and tying them together with the next, forming an everlasting meal.

Buttery Braised Belgian Endive | for the love of the south

This post was created in sponsorship with Food 52 & Progresso. All thoughts and opinions belong to me!

Buttery Braised Belgian Endive:

Serves 4

4 Belgian endive

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

¾ cup heavy whipping cream

1 garlic clove, thinly sliced

2 rosemary sprigs

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Sea salt and black pepper, to season

Preheat oven to 400oF

Trim the ends of the endive and remove any discolored outer leaves. Cut in half lengthwise, and season the cut side of the endive lightly with sea salt.

Melt butter in a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add the endive, cut side down, and cook until golden, 2-5 minutes. Place the endive, browned sides up in a large, shallow baking dish. Add cream, garlic, and rosemary sprigs to the dish. Season lightly with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 20 minutes, or until the endive are tender. Drizzle with lemon juice and serve.

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DRESSING ON THE SIDE

Bacon Cornbread & Spicy Sausage Dressing | for the love of the south

I grew up eating dressing at Thanksgiving, not stuffing. During the holidays, the term “stuffing” is reserved for a turducken, which is a deboned chicken stuffed inside a deboned duck, and finally, stuffed inside a deboned turkey. This may seem utterly absurd, but I think it reveals a Cajun’s sense of humor quite well. Stuffing is never an option during the holidays. The matriarchs of my clan know beyond a shadow of a doubt this splendid side dish tastes better as it bakes on the side of the turkey, not inside, like God intended. Our turkeys are either smoked on the barbecue or baked in a large bladder-like bag, which allows the aromatics from celery, onions and herbs to swirl and twirl around the turkey.

Bacon Cornbread | for the love of the south

For a while, I thought I was missing out on something special as every Thanksgiving feast in every Thanksgiving movie I ever saw had a mountain of golden breadcrumbs spilling out of a beautifully bronzed bird. As with all things commercial, the glitter inevitably fades and all that’s left is a void, in the case of stuffing, a bland void. Also, the cooks in my family reckon a pound of breadcrumbs lodged right smack dab in the middle of the bird means the turkey won’t cook properly, and an undercooked bird will put a damper on anyone’s holiday. These indiscretions are never spoken of but instead silently sidestepped.

Thanksgiving Prep | for the love of the south

I remember watching my mother prepare her delicious dressing. She would sneak some of the golden drippings from the roasting pan as the turkey rests under blankets of aluminum foil and kitchen towels covered in a strawberry print. She carefully combines cornbread, aromatics and bits of meat from the turkey’s wing until it reaches her ideal consistency, and this glorious pile of dressing is baked to perfection and is served at the right hand of the turkey. It’s creamy on the inside and crisp on the outside, just as it should be. Norman Rockwell wasn’t Southern, bless his heart. Maybe if he was Southern, the American standard might be smoking or deep-frying the big bird with dressing on the side for the holidays, or perhaps a turducken…

Bacon Cornbread & Spicy Sausage Dressing | for the love of the south

Bacon Cornbread & Spicy Sausage Dressing

Serves 4-6

Note: This dressing combines my favorite elements of a lovely dressing: pork, cornbread, and crispy bits. Also, you can double the bacon cornbread recipe and make it ahead of time. That way, the cornbread will be done and dusted and will not take any precious real estate in your oven day of, and you can serve the extra batch of cornbread for breakfast with some whipped butter and coffee to hold you over until the big meal!

For the Cornbread:

4 
strips thick-cut bacon, finely chopped

2
 cups cornmeal

1 
teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

2 ¼ cups buttermilk

1
 large egg, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 450° F

Preheat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven to for at least 10 minutes.

Put the bacon in a small skillet and cook over medium-low heat, until the fat is rendered and the bits of bacon are crispy, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the bits of bacon onto a paper towel to drain. Reserve the fat in the skillet. (You should have about 5 tablespoons of bacon fat. If you don’t have enough fat, make up the difference with melted unsalted butter.)

Combine the cornmeal, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and bacon bits in a medium bowl. Combine 4 tablespoons bacon fat, buttermilk, and egg in a small bowl. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just to combine.

Move the 10-inch skillet from the oven, placing it heat on the stove over high heat. Add the reserved 1 tablespoon bacon fat and swirl to coat the bottom and sides of the skillet. Pour in the batter, distributing it evenly. It should sizzle!

Bake the cornbread for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and flip the cornbread in the skillet. This step stops the bottom of the cornbread from getting too dark and also allows the top to get nice and crispy as it cools completely in the cast-iron skillet.

 

For the Dressing:

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing baking dish

1 cornbread recipe, broken into 1-inch pieces (4½ cups), recipe above

1 tablespoon olive oil

¾ pound pork sausage, casings removed

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 large onion, finely chopped

3 celery stalks, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

½ teaspoon fresh sage, finely chopped

1½ teaspoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped

1½ teaspoons fresh thyme, finely chopped

1½ cups chicken broth, plus more if needed

1 large egg

2 tablespoons Tabasco Pepper Sauce or homemade pepper sauce

Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven 250°F

Butter a large rimmed baking sheet and scatter cornbread in a single layer onto the baking sheet. Bake, stirring often and rotating halfway through, until dried out, about 1 hour. Let cool. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Increase the oven temperature to 350°F

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage and red pepper flakes. Break up the sausage with a wooden spoon, until browned, 8-10 minutes. Transfer to bowl with cornbread.

Melt butter in same skillet with the sausage drippings; add onion, celery, garlic, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often and scraping the bottom of the pan, until softened and just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add to mixing bowl with the cornbread and sausage.

Grease 10-inch cast-iron skillet or 9-inch ceramic dish.

Whisk broth, egg and pepper sauce in a small bowl. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Gently fold into cornbread and sausage mixture until thoroughly combined and the cornbread soaked up almost all of the liquid, taking care not to mash the cornbread too much. The dressing should be moist (but not soggy!), so add a few more tablespoons of broth to the mixture if it looks dry. Transfer to greased pan. Cover with foil, and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove foil and bake until the top is browned and crisp, 25-30 minutes. Serve hot!