Southern Snacks Cookbook

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.

Margarita Shrimp Salad Platter

Margarita Shrimp Salad Platter

Summer is a wonderful time to entertain – people just seem more relaxed and its easy to do something elegant and impressive without slaving away for days. Like this colorful salad. I love the big platter salad (witness the Southern Buttermilk Cobband the Muffalettaversions). The big platter were purchased from discount stores that have proven fantastically useful. And a big, colorful display of delicious food never fails to impress. And people love to customize their meal without making a fuss – just serve up the bits you like for a perfect meal.

Below I’ve laid out my basic blueprint. This may look like a lot of work, but I promise it is not, but the reward is pretty spectacular. And the elements can be done ahead in stages with only the assembly to deal with, and that doesn’t require turning on the oven or standing over the stove if you plan ahead. Choose any big, generous platter and arrange all the ingredients attractively. I use medium sized shrimp that are easier to eat in a salad, but bigger ones are just fine. I like to line the platter with lettuce leaves, then leave some readily accessible so people can easily build the salad to their own tastes. And get creative – add any other ingredients that take your fancy, I have sometimes sprinkled over crispy tortilla strips or added wedges of lime to squeeze over everything.

Margarita Shrimp Salad Platter

For the Pickled Red Onion:

1 red onion, thinly sliced

1 cup water

½ cup cider vinegar

1 Tablespoon sugar

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon pickling spice

Layer the onions in a pint jar or glass bowl. Bring the water, vinegar, sugar, salt and spices to a boil in a small pan and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Pour the brine over the onions and leave to cool, then seal and keep in the refrigerator for a least an hour, but the onions will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

For the Cilantro-Lime Dressing

½ cup mayonnaise

½ cup buttermilk

Zest and juice of one small lime

1 clove garlic

½ teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon onion powder

½ teaspoon celery salt

Pinch of kosher salt

1 cup of cilantro leaves and stems

Place all the ingredient in the order listed in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into an airtight container, cover and refrigerated for up to two days.

For the Shrimp:

2 pounds peeled and deveined shrimp, thawed if frozen (35- 40 count), tails removed

2 Tablespoon olive oil

2 Tablespoons tequila

2 Tablespoons lime juice

Salt and pepper to taste

Pour in the oil, tequila and lime juice in a bowl or a ziptop bag and stir or shake to blend. Pat the shrimp dry and place in the marinade. Refrigerate for 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with non-stick foil. Drain the shrimp from the marinade and place in an even layer on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, then roast 8 – 10 minutes until pink and curled and cooked through. Cool the shrimp for a few minutes, then put in a bowl or on a plate and refrigerate until chilled. When they are cold, you can cover the shrimp and keep in the fridge for 24 hours.

For the Corn:

12 ounces fresh or frozen corn

2 Tablespoons lime juice

Chile – lime seasoning (such as Tajin) or chili powder

Salt and pepper

Put the corn in a pan and cover with water by about ½ inch. Bring to a boil and cook for 4 minutes. Thoroughly drain the corn and place in a bowl, the squeeze over the lime juice and stir to coat. Season well with Tajin, salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.

For assembly:

One head of butter lettuce

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

5 radishes, thinly sliced

1 (8-ounce) jar pickled jalapenos, drained

10 ounces cotija cheese, crumbled

2 avocados, diced

1 lime, squeezed over the avocado to prevent browning.

Line a big platter with lettuce leaves, then attractively arrange the remaining ingredients, with some lettuce readily accessible. Serve with tongs, spoons and a ladle for the dressing.

Serves 6 – 8


Fresh Peach Pound Cake with Bourbon Butter Glaze

Peach Pound Cake with Bourbon Butter Glaze

Last year, I accidently bought twenty-five pounds of peaches. An orchard that produces particularly delicious fruit had a special pop-up and I just happened to drive by. I couldn’t resist, even though it was the middle of the week and I was busy and had no particular plans for that much fruit. But boy was I glad I did. I ate as many as I could out of hand, made jars and jars of various peach-based preserves and revisited some favorite recipes. But I was a bit stumped on how to use the last few. Plans to have a family dinner reminded me that my sister-in-law loves pound cake, so that seemed like a good place to start. And bourbon is one of my favorite pairings with peaches (in pudding,pork tenderloinjamand one of my very favorite caramel saucesever). This particular iteration is reminiscent of a classic butter cake – tender cake drenched in buttery, sugary glaze.

When you use perfectly ripe peaches, they sort of melt into the batter, but firmer peaches will hold their shape a bit better Either way produces a delicious result. Use a good European-style butter to maximize the delicious buttery flavor in the simple recipe. It makes the peaches sing. Cake flour makes for a very tender cake and is very worth using.

Fresh Peach Pound Cake with Bourbon Butter Glaze

For the Cake:

4 peaches, peeled and pitted

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, the best you can find

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 cups granulated sugar

6 large eggs

3 cups cake flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup whole buttermilk

For the Glaze:

½ cup granulated sugar

¼ cup bourbon

3 ½ Tablespoons unsalted butter, the best you can find

For the Cake:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spray a 10 -cup bundt pan thoroughly with baking spray like Bakers Joy.

Finely dice the peaches and set aside.

Beat the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer to loosen it up, then beat in the sugar with the mixer on low speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Raise the speed to medium high and beat for five minutes or so, until the butter is fluffy and almost white, again scraping the sides. Beat in the vanilla. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the flour, baking soda and salt in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk and scraping down the sides of the bowl, until the batter is thoroughly combined. Raise the speed to high and beat for five seconds. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the peaches, making sure they are evenly distributed. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. 

Place a sheet of foil on the oven rack and place the pan on top, to catch any drips. Bake for 1 hour or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. If the top becomes too brown, loosely shield with foil. Take the cake from the oven and run a skewer or thin knife around the edges to loosen the cake. Leave to cool slightly while you make the butter glaze.

For the Glaze:

Put a piece of waxed or parchment paper under a cooling rack on the counter to catch drips. Cut the butter into small pieces and put in a small pan with the bourbon. Heat over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the butter is melted stir in the sugar until dissolved and no longer granular. Bring the glaze to a boil and cook for one minute. Poke holes all over the surface of the cake with a skewer or toothpick, then spoon about a quarter of the butter glaze evenly over the top. Let the glaze soak in for 5 minutes, then invert the cake out onto the rack.  Poke holes all over the cake again, then spoon over the next quarter of the glaze and leave to soak in for 5 minutes. Spoon over the next bit of glaze, and brush some over the sides of the cake with a pastry brush. Leave to ask for 5 more minutes, then spoon and brush the last of the glaze all over the cake.  Leave to cool completely.

Serves 12

Roasted Carrot Gnudi with Dill Beurre Blanc

Roasted Carrot Gnudi with Dill Beurre Blanc

I know I some time wax poetic about my love for farmers markets, but they really are a true inspiration for me. Wandering through the stalls marveling at all the fresh produce my wheels just begin to churn and my creative juices start flowing. And not only for the jam and preserves I obsessively put by, but for creative and fresh ways to dine from all the beautiful abundance. I religiously attend one of my local markets, but I also visit markets when I travel, just so marvel offer all the produce. There is a vendor at my local market that makes his own fresh ricotta cheese and I pick some up almost every time I’m there. I use it in a lot of ways, but in the spring I love it spread on a slice of bread fresh from one of the market bakers, topped with berries and drizzled with local honey.  Once he asked me what I was planning to do with it, and before I could really think it through, I answered “gnudi.” As I turned to view another stall, I lovely bunch of carrots called out to me, and as a headed home my mind put together the idea of a combination. I made this dish for several weeks, experimenting with different sauces and techniques, just as special treat for myself. But when hit on the classic beurre blanc, punched up with dill, carrots perfect partner, I knew I really had something. I posted a picture on social media and recipe requests started coming in, so here you go.

A dish like this is so simple, it is always about the best ingredients. I buy fresh, small carrots at the farmers market. If you don’t have that option, look for smaller, firm carrots that haven’t been sitting around at the market for a long time and avoid large hard ones. I also buy freshly made ricotta at the farmers market, but look for a high quality Italian style whole milk ricotta and drain it if it has a lot of liquid. Real parmiggiano cheese makes a difference too. And splurge on some European style butter for the sauce to make it extra rich and flavorful. This makes enough for 2 generous servings, but can easily be doubled.

Roasted Carrot Gnudi with Dill Beurre Blanc

For the Gnudi:

12 ounces fresh, young carrots

Olive oil

Sea salt and black pepper

1 Tablespoon fill fronds

8 ounces ricotta, drained if it is particularly wet

2 egg yolks

¼ cup all-purpose flour

¼ cup grated parmigianno-reggiano cheese

1 ½ cups semolina flour

For the Beurre Blanc:

1 large shallot, finely diced

1 cup white wine

½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter

1 teaspoon lemon zest

2 teaspoons lemon juice

3 Tablespoons finely chopped dill

Salt and pepper

For the Gnudi:

Preheat the oven to 425°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with non-stick foil or parchment paper.

Peel the carrots and cut into evenly sized, rough chunks. Place on the prepared baking sheet and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil – just enough to lightly coat the carrots, you don’t want lots of oil pooling on the pan. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper and roast for 30 minutes until soft when pierced with a knife and browned in some places. Cool completely.

Put the carrots in the bowl of a food processor, add the dill and blend until you have a rough puree (a little texture is good). Add the ricotta and egg yolks and blend until smooth, then scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the flour and cheese and generous pinches of salt and a few grinds of pepper and blend until completely combined, scraping down the sides as needed.

Spread the semolina in a thick layer on the bottom of a low, flat container. Scoop out about  a tablespoon of the carrot mixture at a time and drop directly into the semolina. I use a small cookie scoop which I highly recommend. Roll the ball over in the semolina, then pick It up and toss it lightly between your hands to round it off and shake off any excess semolina. Place the ball in the corner of the container on top of te semolina. Repeat with the rest of the mixture and spread the finished gnudi out, not touching each other, on top of the semolina. Place int the regrigertor uncovered for a few hours. Remove from the fridge at elast 30 minutes before cooling. (Storing the gnudi in the semolina absorbs excess moisture so the cook up light and fluffy). 

For the Beurre Blanc:

Put the shallot and wine in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook until the wine is almost totally evaporated and the shallots have a nice glaze. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in a few cubes of butter until melted and smooth. The butter must be cold for the sauce to emulsify. Continue until all the butter is incorporated. The butter should melt into the sauce from the residual heat, but as you add the butter to the sauce the temperature lowers, so when it is not melting easily, return the pan to the very lowest heat and whisk constantly. When all ethe butter is melted and the sauce is thick and almost creamy, whisk in the lemon zest and juice, then the dill and salt and pepper to taste.

While you are making the beurre blanc, bring a large pot of very well salted water to a boil. When the sauce is done, gently shake any excess semolina off the gnudi and drop them in the water. Cook until the gnudi float to the top, about 3 – 5 minutes, then remove to a colander with a slotted spoon. Spread the gnudi in a serving dish or individual bowls and drizzled with the beurre blanc.

Serves 2

Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Loaded Dip

Roasted Potatoes with Loaded Dip

I completely stole this idea from a good friend. She brought crispy roasted fingerling potatoes with a creamy herb dip to a Christmas buffet, solving a problem we’d always had at that event in pairing a starchy finger food with the beef tenderloin. When she placed the lovely try on the table, I just kicked myself that I’d never thought of the idea before. So I tucked it away, also thinking it would be a perfect dish for a summer cook-out or picnic. It is easy to prepare but packs a ton of punch with all the classic potato toppings right in the dip I made my version for the first time for the aforementioned friend and admitted that I had swiped her idea – and she didn’t even remember making it!

Long thin fingerlings are perfect for dipping. I love the visual impact of the multi-colored varieties I often find, but all red or gold are equally delicious. Roast them until they are very crispy so they will hold up to a swipe through the dip. The consistency of the dip needs to be loose enough to dip, but thick enough to stay on the potatoes without dripping. Stir in some extra buttermilk until you get it just right. You made to add a bit more before serving to loosen it up.

Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Loaded Dip

For the Dip:

1 cup sour cream

1 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon celery salt

½ teaspoon garlic salt

2 cups finely sharp shredded cheddar cheese

12 strips bacon, cooked until very crisp, finely chopped

3 Tablespoons finely chopped chives

Salt and black pepper to taste

For the Potatoes:

2 pounds fingerling potatoes

Olive oil

Salt and black pepper

For the Dip:

Whisk the sour cream and buttermilk together in a large bowl until completely combined. Add the celery salt and garlic salt and whisk well.  Add the cheddar, chopped bacon and chopped chives and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and generous grinds of black pepper. Stir in a little extra buttermilk to reach a consistency loose enough to dip but thick enough to hold on the potatoes without dripping. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Before serving, stir in a little more buttermilk if needed.

For the Potatoes:

Preheat the oven to 425°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with non-stick foil or parchment paper. 

Wash the potatoes and cut in half lengthways. Place them in a large ziptop bag and pour over about 1 Tablespoon of olive oil. Toss just to coat the potatoes. You want the surfaces covered, but no oil left to pool on the baking sheet. Spread the potatoes in an even layer on the prepared baking sheet. Do not pour them out of the bag, scoop them out with your hands – again, you don’t want oil pooling on the baking sheet. The potatoes can be close together but try to keep them from touching. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper and roast for 15 minutes. Turn the potatoes over and roast for a further 15 minutes until crispy and browned. The potatoes can be roasted up to an hour ahead. Serve them at room temperature.

Scoop the dip into a serving bowl and serve surrounded by the potatoes.

Strawberry Popovers with Whipped Vanilla Bean Butter

Strawberry Popovers with Vanilla Bean Butter

When I was growing up, there was a very nice restaurant in Memphis that served an eclectic mix of southern, French and Hungarian food. My family went there for brunch after church all the time (and later in life I served on a board that had meetings there for lunch). The staple specialty of this place was popovers with strawberry butter. The table was always served a basket of big, airy popovers with a little dish of sweet pink butter (never enough in my opinion). It was a highlight of the whole experience. The restaurant has moved, but still serves the popovers. Many, many years later I learned that popovers with strawberry butter was a signature of restaurants at Neiman Marcus, not something unique to our little Memphis family favorite. But that is definitely where my love of popovers began.

I sometimes make the classic combo, but recently I decided to flip the script a little bit. My experimentation with popovers has produced these lovely celeryand pumpkinversions, so I figured strawberry was worth a try. The next obvious step was a sweetened butter to complement the fruity puffs, and sweet vanilla bean seemed the perfect complement.

The popovers aren’t particularly sweet, just ripe with strawberry flavor, so the butter brings the sweetness. These are amazing served as the bread feature with a brunch menu, and of course are also marvelous with some strawberry jam too.

Strawberry Popovers with Whipped Vanilla Bean Butter

For the Butter:

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 vanilla bean

2 Tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

For the Popovers

1 cup quartered, hulled strawberries

2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 eggs

1 cup whole milk

3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 cup all-purpose flour

A pinch of kosher salt

For the Butter:

Beat the softened butter in the small bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment for a few minutes until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add directly to the butter, then add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until smooth and completely combined, scraping down the bowl as needed. Transfer the butter to a pretty bowl, cover and refrigerate until needed (up to four days). Soften to spreadable before serving.

For the Popovers:

Preheat the oven to 375°. Spray a 6 cup popover pan with cooking spray.

Put the quartered strawberries in the carafe of a blender and puree. Add the sugar and vanilla extract and blend to combine. Add the eggs, milk, butter, flour and salt (in that order) and blend until smooth and combined, stopping to scrape down the sides of the blender as needed.

Pour the batter into the popover cups, filling just over half full (you may have a touch more batter than you need). Bake for 30 minutes without opening the oven, then open the oven, pierce the top of each popover with a thin sharp knife, close the door and bake ten more minutes.

Serve warm.

Makes 6

Strawberry Ginger Cake

Strawberry Ginger Cake

Strawberries ring in the start of the canning season for me. I get so excited, I buy quarts and quarts. Which means I sometimes end up with some surplus after I make jars and jars of jam, more than I can eat on my own. So I look for simple, quick ways to use them creatively. I love baking with strawberries that bleed sweet pink juices into the finished product and give a nice pop of berry in every bite. I keep this recipe in my back pocket for those extra strawberries, sure. But now I also make it for its own merits, as a treat for myself or to share with friends and family.

I adapted this super simple cake from a recipe that used raspberries. I figured it needed a little oomph, but I didn’t want to go with the typical vanilla or lemon zest. I love sweet tender chunks of zingy crystallized ginger which make a lovely complement to strawberries that’s a little unexpected. On its own, this cake is sweetly simple, perfect for breakfast or an afternoon tea or snack. It makes a lovely dessert as well – add a dollop of sweetened whipped cream or make a simple glaze of powdered sugar and milk and sprinkle a few pieces of the crystallized ginger over the top; you could even top it with a simple cream cheese frosting. I have loved serving it on my grandmother’s floral cake plate for a beautiful spring table.

Strawberry Ginger Cake

Strawberry Ginger Cake

3 large eggs at room temperature

¾ cup granulated sugar

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ cup diced crystallized ginger

10 ounces fresh strawberries, halved or quartered

Preheat the oven to 400°. Spray a 9-inch cake pan with baking spray and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Beat the eggs and the sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer at medium high until light and fluffy and pale in color, about 3 to 5 minutes. Lower the speed and beat in the flour and ground ginger until completely combined. Beat at high speed for 5 seconds.

Fold the crystallized ginger and strawberry pieces into the batter with a spatula, then spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for 5 minutes at 400°, then lower the heat to 350°and cook for 25- 30 minutes until golden and firm and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan.

Serves 8

Strawberry Champagne Mousse with Champagne Cakelettes

What could be more elegant during the short Spring season of balmy weather and strawberries? Wedding and baby showers, graduation parties, and end of school events all need a little sophisticated touch. What I love about these recipes is the result really surpasses the effort. For a little work, you get two delightful sweet bites that are simple to present. And they can be made ahead, which is always a bonus. I serve these in some lovely (inexpensive) pink toned wine tumblers on a plate with two little cakes and a fresh berry. For the picture here, I rimmed the glasses with some sparkling gold sugar for a little added style.

Use a drinklable champagne, but not a pricey bottle. I have also used prosecco and cava to lovely effect. These recipes are also good uses for leftover champagne, an idea I think is an urban myth. I love my little mini bundt pan mold – it wasn’t very expensive but I use it to make all sorts of little treats that impress. If you don’t have one, feel free to use mini muffin pans. You can make a glaze from a little champagne and some powdered sugar if you like, or just dust with the powdered sugar, but I like these plain and simple to go with the rich, creamy mousse.

Strawberry Champagne Mousse with Champagne Cakelettes

For the Mousse:

2 cups strawberries, hulled and halved

1 cup confectioners’ sugar, divided

1 cup flat champagne or sparkling wine

2 cups heavy cream

Seeds scraped from half of one vanilla bean

For the Cake:

½ cup champagne or sparkling wine

8 Tablespoons butter, melted and cooled

2 eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

Seeds scraped from half of one vanilla bean

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon kosher salt

For the Mousse:

Place the strawberries, ½ cup confectioners’ sugar and ¼ cup champagne in the carafe of a blender and blend until smooth. Add the remaining champagne and blend until combined. Beat the cream and the remaining ½ cup confectioners’ sugar and vanilla seeds in the bowl of a stand mixer until stiff peaks form. Fold the strawberry mixture in with a spatula by hand, then beat with the mixer on medium high speed until stiff and thick. Divide the mousse between 8 small ramekins or champagne coupes and chill for at least four hours or overnight.

For the Cakes:

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray 12 mini bundtlette pans or mini muffin pans. 

Place the champagne, melted butter, eggs, sugar and vanilla seeds and stir until thoroughly combined. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and stir until well mixed and no signs of dry ingredients remain. Divide the batter between the prepared molds and bake for 15 – 20 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely. The cakelettes can be stored in an airtight container for up to a day.

Serves 6

Roasted Artichokes with Tarragon Vinaigrette

When I was a young teenager, my mother cooked some artichokes and sat my brother and I down for a lesson on how to eat them. Apparently, when she herself was a teen, she was invited home with a friend from her boarding school and served artichokes at an elegant dinner with the family. She had never seen one before and was a bit flummoxed, and embarrassed. She worked her way through it by watching the other diners but was furious at her mother for never telling her about artichokes. When she related all this to my grandmother, she was mortified at her lapse. So she then started serving artichokes every time my mom was home from school. My mother didn’t want to make the same mistake with us, so we were given those proper lessons. I am sure at the time I sighed and rolled my eyes, but I did enjoy the artichokes. Sure enough, on several occasions later in life, I found myself at a table with an artichoke and other dinners who didn’t know what to make of it and was thankful for my mother’s foresight.

I can’t say we ate a lot of artichokes growing up, but when we did they were generally boiled then served with melted butter or, on special occasions, hollandaise sauce, though I think that was more often a restaurant thing. I sometimes buy myself an artichoke when they look good and savor it as a special meal with lots of butter. There is no getting around the fact that artichokes take some work. Removing the leaves and trimming the tips takes some patience, and they brown very quickly when cut, so you have to be work fast with the lemon. I discovered this method of roasting artichokes and I find it a little bit more manageable than finding a pot big enough to boil them in, plus it really intensifies the flavor. And this tangy vinaigrette is fresher and brighter than a heavy, creamy sauce. These artichokes are every bit as elegant the classic, but can also be presented in a more rustic way. I have put the roasting dish out next to a bowl of extra vinaigrette and a bowl for the leaves and let people pull them off and enjoy as snack. I think artichokes are a lovely way to welcome spring.

Roasted Artichokes with Lemon Tarragon Vinaigrette

4 artichokes

2 lemons

1 bunch tarragon

2 Tablespoons chopped shallot

1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard

4 Tablespoons plus ½ cup olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Cut the stalks from the artichokes so they stand straight. Cut off about ½ inch from the top of each artichoke, then remove any tough outer leaves. Snip off the pointy tops of the other leaves.  Place the artichokes in a deep baking dish that fits them close together. Cut one lemon in half and rub it over the exposed cuts on the top and leaves of the artichokes. Squeeze the juice from the lemon into the baking dish, then tuck in a few sprigs of tarragon. Pour boiling water into the dish to come halfway up the sides of the artichokes, then cover tightly with foil. Roast the artichokes for one hour.  Uncover the dish, then drizzle the 4 Tablespoons of olive oil evenly over the artichokes and cook for another 15 minutes until a knife inserted in the bottom meets no resistance and the leaves pull off easily.

While the artichokes are roasting, mix the shallots, 2 Tablespoons lemon juice, 1 Tablespoon of chopped tarragon, and the mustard and generous pinches of salt and pepper in jar. Shake to combine, then add the ½ cup of olive oil and shake until combined.

When the artichokes are done, give the vinaigrette a good shake and drizzle over the tops. Serve any extra dressing on the side for dipping.

Cauliflower, Hazelnut and Brown Butter Soup

Cauliflower, Hazelnut and Browned Butter Soup

I like cauliflower, but I am not obsessed with putting it to all sorts of uses. I don’t pizza crust it or rice it or make bread with it. I like cauliflower for itself, not for how it can trick me into thinking I’m eating something else – something perceived to be better. Food shouldn’t involve fraud. Cauliflower is lovely all on its own. My favortie form of cauliflower is soup, when it is transformed to a silky, rich bowl of deep flavor.  And this soup. I mean, the first time I made this I actually called my mother to say I’d just made the best cauliflower soup. She agreed when she tasted it. This soup turns the snow white heads gloriously velvety, with rich, earthy nutty undertones from hazelnuts and browned butter. This may make you rethink your relationship with cauliflower.

The drizzle of browned butter and the crunchy hazelnuts really make this soup, adding such a lovely, nutty note. I blend this soup smooth, then pass it through a sieve to give it a really silken texture, but you can skip that step if you like. You can use vegetable stock, just chose one that is light in color or the final color will be muddy,  And don’t be put off by preparing the hazelnuts – I always thought it sounded like a lot of trouble and skipped recipes because of it, but it is super simple and easy, I promise. And so worth the effort. Cooking some of the nuts in with the soup adds such a brilliant toasted flavor, but sprinkling some over the top gives a nice textural crunch. And everything is better with brown butter.

Cauliflower, Hazelnut and Brown Butter Soup

¾ cup whole hazelnuts

2 small heads of cauliflower

3 leeks, white and lightest green parts

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

2 Tablespoons olive oil

¾ cup white wine

4 cups chicken stock

3 sprigs fresh marjoram

1 Tablespoon kosher salt

½ cup heavy cream

Put the nuts in a small dry skillet and heat over medium heat until they are warmed through, about 3 minutes. Turn them out onto a clean tea towel, the fold the towel over the nuts and gently roll them around to remove the skins. They don’t have to be completely denuded, just as much as possible. Pick out ½ cup of the most skin free and set aside. Put the rest in a small ziptop bag and give it a couple of bashes with a rolling pin to break them up. Save these for garnish.

Cut the woody stem and green leaves from the cauliflower and cut the heads into small pieces. Slice the leeks in half lengthwise, then into small half moons then rinse in a colander leaving just a little water clinging to them. Melt 2 Tablespoons of butter and the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium high heat and add the leeks. Sauté for about 5 minutes, just until the leeks are wilted and glassy, then add the cauliflower pieces. Stir to coat with the butter and oil and cook until the cauliflower starts to brown just a touch. Pour in the white wine and scrape up any bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook for a few minutes to let the wine reduce, then pour in the stock. Add the ½ cup whole hazelnuts, salt and the marjoram springs and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover the pot and cook for 30 minutes, until the cauliflower is very tender. Remove the marjoram stems (some leaves will be left behind).

While the soup is cooking, cut one stick of the butter into small pieces and place in a small saucepan (light colored or stainless is best so you can see the butter as it browns). Heat over medium high heat, watching constantly, until the butter is melted. It will start to spit and hiss, then you will see brown speckles appear. Swirl the butter around to distribute the browned bits, and as soon as the butter has an even brown color and a nice nutty smell, pour it into a measuring jug and set aside.

Puree the soup in batches in a blender, filling the blender about half-full each time. Be very careful as the hot liquid can make the top pop off.  Remove the center cap and hold the top with a dish towel. Pour the pureed soup through a mesh strainer into a bowl. Rinse out the pot, then return the soup to it. Whisk in the cream and 1 Tablespoon of the browned butter. Taste and add salt as needed. Warm through, but do not boil.

Serve the soup drizzled with the remaining brown butter and the chopped hazelnuts. (if the butter has solidified, melt it in the microwave in 10 second bursts until it is liquid again.

Serves 6 – 8

Sweet Potato and Country Ham Gratin

Sometimes, the side dishes are the best part of the meal. That’s where this comes from. I had a meal restaurant meal that was generally unremarkable, but for a dish ordered for the table as something of an afterthought. It inspired me. That dish was a slightly overwrought, oddly-shaped plate with a small swipe of béchamel sauce topped with roasted sweet potatoes and a sprinkling of country ham and some gruyere, run under a broiler. But it got the wheels turning in my head though. A creamy sauce with rich roasted potatoes and salty country ham and nutty gruyere works together beautifully. I knew it would make a fantastic gratin, with plenty of each ingredient perfectly balanced.

Give this a try for Thanksgiving, it’s a switch from the cinnamon and brown sugar versions we are used to in the best possible way. And it can be made a day ahead to cut down on turkey day chaos. Every time I have served this, it’s gotten absolute raves. It’s also great beside a roasted chicken or pork loin, and frankly would make a great main dish. I like to use center cut biscuit sliced of country ham which are easy to find.

Sweet Potato and Country Ham Gratin

4 medium sweet potatoes

¼ cup olive oil

Salt and pepper

About 6 ounces country ham, to make 1 cup finely diced ham

1 leek, white and light green part

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter

2 Tablespoons flour

2 cups whole milk

1 ½ cups grated gruyere cheese

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil sprayed with cooking spray.

Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into chunks about ½ inch square as evenly sized as can be. Place the potato chunks in a ziptop bag and pour over the olive oil. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper, then toss around to coat all the potato pieces with oil. Spread in an even layer on the prepared baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes. Finely dice the country ham. Remove the pan from the oven and gently turn the potato pieces over with a spatula. Sprinkle the diced ham over the top of the potatoes and return the pan to the oven for a further 15 – 20 minutes, until the potatoes are soft and the edges are brown and crispy. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

While the potatoes are roasting, cut the white and lightest green part of the leek in half, then into quarters and thinly slice. Place in a colander, rinse well and shake to remove as much water as possible. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a deep skillet and sauté the leeks until they are soft and glassy. Try not to let them brown. Add the remaining two tablespoons butter, and when it is melted, sprinkle over the flour. Stir to coat the leeks in the flour and cook for a few minutes. Stir in the milk and bring to a nice bubble. Stir frequently until the sauce is thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let cool for 10 minutes, then gently stir in the roasted potatoes, making sure they are well coated in sauce

Spread the potatoes in a baking dish, then sprinkle over the gruyere. At this point, the dish can be covered and refrigerated overnight. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook the gratin for 20 – 30 minutes, until heated through and bubbly and the cheese is melted.

Serves 8