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.

Dublin Lawyer (Shrimp in Irish Whiskey Cream Sauce)

Dublin Lawyer

I absolutely discovered this dish because of the name. I first saw it on a pub menu in London and had to ask. After it was described, my dining companion switched his order to it and we both relished bites. But I had to know where the name came from, so I soon set out to do some research. This was many years ago and the internet was not quite so helpful, but eventually I stumbled across an Irish cookbook that clued me in. Dublin Lawyer is traditionally made with lobster, and the story is its name comes from the fact that lobster, whiskey and cream make it “rich as a Dublin lawyer”. I’ve made this for myself for a special treat dinner and served it to friends – a flaming dish is always a hit.

I substitute shrimp in this recipe because they are easier to find and easier to work with. I use great big sweet wild caught Gulf shrimp or almost lobster-like royal reds and think this dish is still rich and decadent. Lobster is not easy to find in landlocked Memphis, and I’ve never been very skilled at cooking with it anyway. You can of course use lobster if you like. Either make the sauce and use it to nap whole lobster tail or stir in lobster meat at the end as you do the shrimp here. You can serve Dublin Lawyer as a first course to an Irish meal or as a main with a green salad. I always serve it with some good bread for mopping up the delicious sauce.

Dublin Lawyer (Shrimp in Irish Whiskey Cream Sauce)

4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

4 green onions, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

Dash of cayenne pepper

Sea salt and black pepper

¼ cup Irish whiskey

1 ½ cups heavy cream

1 Tablespoons finely chopped parsley, plus a little for garnish

1 pound very large shrimp, peeled and deveined, thawed if frozen

Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the chopped green onions and sauté until soft and glassy. Add the garlic and cayenne and generous pinches of salt and pepper and cook a further minute. Remove the pan from the heat and pour in the whiskey. Use a long lighter to light the whiskey on fire (stand back!) and let it burn until the flame dies. (Alternatively, you can return the pan to the heat and boil until the whiskey is reduced by about 1/3). Return the pan to the heat and pour in the cream. Stir well and cook at a nice bubble until the cream is reduced and thickened, about 7 minutes. Stir in the parsley. Pat the shrimp dry and slip them into the cream sauce. Cook just until the shrimp are pink and firm, turning them over in the sauce, about 4 – 5 minutes. Serve immediately, sprinkled with a little chopped parsley.

Serves 4 – 6

Confetti King Cake Squares

Confetti King Cake Sqaures

A few years ago, I was working on some Mardi Gras recipes and happened to have arrayed around my kitchen all manner of purple, green and gold decorative sprinkles, confettis, sugars and what-not when By chance I talked to a friend who was making a “funfetti” cake for her daughters’ birthday party. And standing there, looking at a cake shop worth of themed décor, I couldn’t help but think I could use them in my own festive Mardi Gras sweet treat. I opted for bars, because I needed something portable to take to a celebration for which I have frequently made my original King Cake Bars. I wanted something new, and I love this slightly silly, sparkly sweet because that is what Mardi Gras is all about.

These have the richness of cream cheese and butter with the hint of cinnamon I always associate with king cake. I use old fashioned sprinkles, or “jimmies” in the batter, but get creative on the top (because, as I said, I have a lot of purple, green and gold cake decorations!). The simple glaze adds a nice hit of sweetness and helps hold the decorations on top, but a light dusting of powdered sugar works too.

Confetti King Cake Squares

1 cup purple, green and yellow sprinkles (1/3 cup of each color)

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 large egg, at room temperature

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup confectioner’s sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

3 – 4 Tablespoons milk

Purple, green and yellow sprinkles or sanding sugar to decorate

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9 by 13 inch baking pan with non-stick foil or parchment paper.

Put the sprinkles in a small bowl and mix together to evenly distribute the colors.

Beat the cream cheese and butter together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment to combine, then add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, about 2 – 3 minutes. Add the vanilla, cinnamon and egg and beat until combined, scraping down the bowl. Beat in the flour, baking powder and salt and beat until smooth and well combined, scraping down the bowl a few times. Beat in the sprinkles. 

Scoop the batter into the prepared pan. It will be thick, so use clean, lightly damp fingers to press the batter into an even layer, then use an offset palette knife or spatula to smooth the top completely. Bake until firm and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 – 30 minutes. 

While the bars are baking, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla and milk until you have a glaze as thick as heavy cream. Pour the glaze over the bars as soon as they come out of the oven and tilt the pan to cover the top, or use an offset palette knife to spread It evenly. Decorate the top with sprinkles or sugar (I like to use the back of a palette knife to gently “tap” the decorations into the glaze so they adhere before the glaze sets). Leave to cool completely then cut into squares.

Makes 16

Muffaletta Cobb Salad

Muffaletta Cobb Salad

Over the summer, in the hot, hot weather, I had a few people over for a last minute meal. I couldn’t bring myself to cook much, so I decided to make a big salad. Another last minute decision was to lay out my ingredients on a big platter rather than toss it it in a bowl. It seemed more substantial somehow. It got raves, so I made it several other times and posted as my Southern Buttermlik Cobb Salad. Since then, the big platter salad has become a favorite of mine. For relatively little effort, you get a showstopper meal or side salad. I’ve got all sorts of iterations in my arsenal, and I am sure they will make appearances here. But with Mardi Gras coming up, I decided to create a beautiful version inspired by the classic muffaletta sandwich, with olives, Italian pickled vegetables and peppers, cured meats and cheese. The dressing is tart from using the well-flavored brine from the giardinera (you could also make the dressing from olive brine). This gorgeous plate is hearty enough for a full meal with a nice loaf of French bread, or a great side for a Louisiana style meal. I prepared this for my family, and several people started picking at it with their fingers, so I suppose you could make it an appetizer as well.

Below is a basic guide to the salad. You could use a different green on the bottom and use whatever olives you prefer. I find lovely little bite-size salami in my grocery, but you can cut larger pieces if that’s what you find. I use salami and soppresatta, but you could add some mortadella or spicy salami. I buy a thick piece of provolone, sometimes sliced at the deli counter, so I can cut it into nice, hearty chunks. Use mild or spicy banana peppers as you like. You could purchase toasted baguette slices, but I tend to use half a baguette and serve the rest with dinner.

Muffaletta Cobb Salad

For the Dressing:

¼ cup brine from jarred giardiniera

¼ cup red wine vinegar

1 Tablespoon Creole mustard

½ Tablespoon dried Italian seasoning

1 clove garlic, finely minced

1 cup olive oil

For the croutons:

½ a small baguette, thinly sliced

Olive oil spray

Salt and pepper

For the Salad:

2 romaine hearts

6 ounce round of provolone cheese

8 ounces bite-sized Italian salami

3 ounces sliced soppressata

1 (25.5 ounce) jar giardiniera Italian pickled vegetables, drained (reserving brine for dressing)

1 (6 ounce) jar pitted black olives, drained

1 (10 ounce) jar pitted green olives, drained

½ cup banana pepper rings from a jar

For the Dressing:

Place the brine, vinegar, mustard, Italian seasoning and garlic in a pint jar with a tight-fitting lid. Screw on the lid and shake well to combine. Add the olive oil, cover and shake again until well combined and emulsified. The dressing can be made up to a day ahead and refrigerated. Shake well before serving.

For the Croutons:

Preheat the oven to 400°. Spread the sliced baguette on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spray one side with olive oil, then flip over and spray the other side. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Bake for 10 minutes until crispy. Cool completely and store for up to a day in a ziptop bag. If you don’t have olive oil spray, brush the bread lightly with olive oil on both sides.

Assembly:

Cut the romaine into ½ inch wide ribbons, wash well and dry. Cut the provolone into bite size chunks. Cut soppressata slices into quarters. 

Lay the romaine evenly over a large platter. Arrange the giardiniera in the center of the salad, then make attractive rows of the salami, soppressata, provolone, croutons, olives and pepper rings. Drizzle with the dressing right before serving.

Shrimp and Sausage Gravy with Rice Grits

Shrimp and Sausage Gravy with Rice Grits

It’s the time of year, as Mardi Gras approaches, that I start to crave some good Louisiana flavors. And I also find traditional hearty dishes perfect for the cold and dreary weather, from Red Beans and Riceto Shrimp Creole. Warmth and spice are perfect for the season. Shrimp gravy has roots in the Low Country and in Louisiana, and my version is a variation of classic Shrimp Sauce Picante, not quite as kicky and with the added heft of smoked sausage and without the process of a roux. It’s also a simple weeknight dish worthy of a space in the regular rotation.

I love rice grits with this gravy. Rice grits, also known as middlins’, are broken pieces of rice and, not surprisingly, have the taste of rice with the texture of grits. Check local rice growers for rice grits, or check out some online sources. I particularly like Two Brooks FarmDelta Blues, or Anson Mills. If you can’t access rice grits, the gravy is delicious over long grain rice or corn grits. I love a simple smoked sausage, but you could use andouille for some added spice.

Shrimp and Sausage Gravy with Rice Grits

For the Gravy:

1 pound medium frozen peeled, deveined shrimp, thawed

4 teaspoons creole seasoning (such as Tony Chachere’s), divided

8 ounces smoked sausage

1 (10-ounce) can tomatoes with green chile

1 cup chicken broth

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 Tablespoons butter

1 green bell pepper, finely diced

1 yellow onion, finely diced

2 stalks celery, finely diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

For the Rice Grits:

3 cups chicken broth

1 ½ cups water

¼ cup (half stick) butter

1 Tablespoon kosher salt

1 ½ cups rice grits

For the Gravy:

Lay the shrimp in one layer on a plate and pat dry. Sprinkle 3 teaspoons of creole seasoning evenly over both sides of the shrimp and place the plate in the fridge until ready to use the shrimp.

Cut the sausage into small pieces – I like to cut each link into quarters then cut thin slices across. Put the tomatoes and chiles and the broth in a blender and blend until smooth.

Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet over medium high heat until melted. Add the diced pepper, onion, celery and the sliced sausage and cook, stirring frequently until the vegetables are soft and just beginning to brown and the sausage is lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute. Sprinkle over the flour and remaining teaspoon of creole seasoning and stir to coat the vegetables, making sure there is no dry flour visible. Pour in the tomato-broth mixture and scrape up the lovely brown bits from the bottom of the skillet. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until the gravy begins to thicken, about 10 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook until they are just beginning to turn pink and curl. Cover the pot and remove from the heat until the shrimp are cooked through, about 5 minutes. Serve over rice grits.

For the Grits:

Bring the broth, water, butter and salt to a boil in a large pot over high heat. When the water is boiling, stir in the grits. Reduce the heat to medium high and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid is absorbed and the grits are tender, about 20 minutes. Cover the pot for 5 minutes, then fluff the grits with a fork before serving.

Serves 6

Collard and Cornbread Pudding

Any Southerner will tell you that you must eat greens on New Year’s day. It insures prosperity in the year to come (and black eyed peas for luck). And if you got a big pot of greens to serve up, you just have to have some cornbread to go with it. So here, I have combined the two into a lovely casserole in the style of a savory bread pudding. Frozen chopped greens are a perfect shortcut and the cornbread is really easy to make from scratch.

To serve this on New Year’s Day, I usually whip up the pan of cornbread on December 30, assemble the casserole New Year’s Eve, and pop it in the oven on New Year’s Day. I prefer to cover the cornbread pan with a tea towel to leave overnight. Day-old cornbread soaks up the custard and creates a light and fluffy texture. Plus, it makes assembling the final result simpler. For your black eyed pea fix, try Hoppin’ John Salad with Bourbon Sorghum Salad, or Slow Cooker Southern Black Eyed Peas, both of which would be a perfect match with the pudding. I have to say though, don’t limit this dish to New Year’s only, it’s a fabulous side for roast pork loin, or an excellent brunch dish. 

You can use this recipe as a template and tailor it to your own tastes. Leave out the bacon and sauté the vegetables in olive oil for a meat-free version. Or stir in some chopped county ham instead of bacon. Use a red bell pepper instead of green to add a little color. Add a finely chopped hot pepper to the vegetables, up the amount of hot sauce or add a dash or red pepper flakes. You add some freshly chopped herbs and switch up the cheese with parmesan.

Collard Cornbread Pudding

For the Cornbread:

1 cup coarse yellow cornmeal

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 egg

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup vegetable oil

For the Pudding:

1 (14-ounce) bag frozen chopped collard greens

4 strips of bacon

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped green bell pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

6 eggs

2 ½ cups milk

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon hot sauce

lots of freshly ground black pepper

½ cup grated cheddar cheese

For the Cornbread:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Grease an 8 by 8 inch square pan.

Whisk the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together in a medium mixing bowl.  Stir in the egg, milk and oil until the batter is well combined, with no dry ingredients visible.  Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes, until firm and lightly golden and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely.

The cornbread can be made up to one day ahead and kept covered loosely with a tea towel on the counter. 

For the Pudding:

Place the collards in a large, deep skillet and cover with water by about an inch. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer the greens for 20 minutes. Drain the greens through a colander, pressing out excess liquid with a spatula.

Wipe out the skillet, then cook the bacon strips until crispy. Remove to paper towels to drain. Drain all but two tablespoons bacon grease from the pan, then add the onion, celery and bell pepper and cook over medium-high heat until soft and glassy. Stir in the garlic and cook one minute more. Remove from the heat and stir in the collard greens, separating them and making sure the vegetables are well distributed in the greens. Break the cornbread into small pieces and add to the greens, stirring to distribute everything evenly. Chop the bacon into small pieces and stir into the mix. Turn the mixture into a 3-quart baking dish and leave to cool.

Whisk the eggs and milk together in a bowl, then whisk in the hot sauce, salt and pepper.  Pour the egg mixture evenly over the cornbread and greens and leave to soak for 15 minutes.  Sprinkle the cheese over the top, cover and refrigerate for at least one hour, but up to 12 is fine.

When ready to bake, take the pudding out of the fridge to take some chill off while you preheat the oven to 350°. Bake the pudding until puffed and golden, about 30 – 40 minutes. Serve warm.

Serves 8 – 10

Baked Camembert with Hazelnut and Cranberry Crumble

When I was in school in England many moons ago, the chic appetizer on menus all over the country, from bistros to pubs, was fried camembert with a cranberry relish. Small wheels, or sometimes wedges, of camembert were breaded and fried and served with anything from a canned-type cranberry sauce to complicated cranberry relishes. One English grocery store even (to this day) sells a heat and eat version with a little tub of cranberry jelly. I loved it, and ordered all the time. But the likelihood of me coating and frying cheese has always been pretty slim. I tried coating the top of a wheel with breadcrumbs one time, but that was not very successful. But I love the combination of gooey cheese, crunchy crumbs and tart-sweet cranberry. Hence, this was born. A cheat’s version that truly rivals the inspiration.

A melty wheel of creamy cheese makes a wonderful appetizer that never fails to please. I love the funky depth of camembert, but you could certainly use brie or another creamy cheese. I like to bake it until it is really runny, so the cheese picks up the crumble when you swipe a server through it. Hazelnuts are the perfect winter partner for the cheese, but walnuts or pecans would work well. The cranberries and rosemary give this a festive look. Serve melty hot with baguette slices.

Baked Camembert with Hazelnut and Cranberry Crumble

2 ounces hazelnuts

3 sprigs rosemary

2 sprigs marjoram

1 clove garlic

1 ounce dried cranberries

Flaky salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 8 ounce wheel of camembert cheese

Put the hazelnuts in a dry skillet and toast for a few minutes over medium heat just to warm them through. Transfer to a tea towel, then fold over the towel and rub the hazelnuts around to loosen the skins. Don’t worry about getting every piece of skin, just the majority of it. Roughly chop the hazelnuts, either with a knife or in a mini food processor. Put about five rosemary leaves aside, then finely chop the remainder. Finely chop the marjoram. Cut the garlic clove in half and very finely mince one half. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in the skillet, then add the chopped herbs and the hazelnuts. Cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently just until the nuts start to take on a little toasty brown color. Watch carefully so they don’t burn. When the nuts are little browned, add the garlic and stir and cook for 30 seconds. Immediately put the mixture in a bowl, then add the cranberries and generous pinches of salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat to oven to 350°. Place the camembert in a small, lightly greased baking dish. Rub the cut side of the remaining garlic half over the top of the cheese, the use thin knife to make several slits in the top of the cheese. Poke the reserved rosemary needles down into the slits in the cheese. Bake the cheese for 15 – 20 minutes, until it is warmed through, soft and runny. Sprinkle over the crumble and heat for a further three minutes. Serve immediately with baguette slices.

Chocolate and Chestnut Terrine

I adore chestnuts and when they start to turn up in the shops around the holidays, I go a little nuts (pun intended!) and stock up. What I mean here are the ready peeled and cooked version, sold vacuum packed or in jars. They are so easy to use and so very wintery and festive. I use them in lots of savory recipes, like this lovely Roasted Chestnut Bisque or a hearty Pasta with Chestnuts, Pancetta and Sage. But chocolate and chestnut is a wonderful, rich combination with a very indulgent and celebratory feel. It has, to me, a sort of old world, old fashioned charm that is perfect for the festive season. And this dessert delivers.

This is everything you want in a holiday dessert. Rich, decadent, elegant and it can be made ahead – like five days ahead – and tucked in the fridge. In the photo here, I brushed the top with some edible gold powder, but the decorative options are endless. Candied chestnuts, curls of chocolate – white or dark – fancy glitter or sprinkles, powdered sugar, a sprig of holly. Small slices are rich enough (thought there is nothing wrong with a big piece) and very rich, but you could add a dollop of whipped cream to the plate. I tend to call this elegant because it is stunning on a silver tray and fine china dessert plates, but it would look just as attractive on a wooden slab served on pottery dishes as a more rustic sweet.

Chocolate Chestnut Terrine

For the Filling:

14 ½ ounces roasted and peeled chestnuts

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

4 ounces 70% dark chocolate

3 Tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 Tablespoons cognac, brandy or chestnut liqueur

For the Ganache:

4 ounces 70% dark chocolate

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

1 Tablespoon heavy cream

Process the chestnuts and sugar in the bowl of a food processor until fairly smooth. Put the butter, chocolate and milk in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the butter and chocolate are melted and smooth. Stir in the vanilla and cognac. Add to the chestnuts in the food processor and process until the mixture is smooth. Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap, smoothing it out as much as possible. Leave lots of overhang to wrap the top fully. Scoop the filling into the pan and smooth the top, pressing It down to fill the corners. Cover the top with the plastic, then chill for at least 24 hours.

For the topping:

Melt the chocolate, butter and cream in a small saucepan, stirring frequently, until smooth. Unwrap the top of the filling and then invert it onto a serving platter. Spread the chocolate ganache over the top and sides. Place in the fridge, uncovered, until set, then loosely cover with plastic wrap and keep for up to four days.

Serves 8

Nutella Cake with Chocolate Ganache

I cut out a recipe from a magazine ages ago that has become a real emergency staple for me – Nutella Cookies. It is literally a jar of Nutella, a cup of flour and an egg beaten together, rolled into balls and rolled in granulated sugar. It’s the perfect last minute recipe because its easy to have those ingredients always on hand. I send them to my nieces at college in care packages, and whip them up if I need to take a last minute treat to a friend. Eventually, this got me thinking about baking other treats with Nutella, and I landed on a Bundt cake. I found several simple recipes on the internet, and with some tinkering ended up with a version that I really liked.

That being said, the first time I made this, I served it straight up and it was delicious, but I felt like I wanted something a little more decadent. Unadorned, it felt more like a breakfast or a snack cake than dessert to me. So I have since added this rich, glossy chocolate ganache. It takes it from a playful little sweet to an elegant dessert worthy of the best parties. You could even get fancy and call it a chocolate and hazelnut or gianduja cake if you want! I also love that the ganache holds onto the lovely shards of hazelnut with their amber and taupe autumn colors. That’s also why I make it in a tube pan – I find the flat top allows for a deep layer of frosting and the delicate hazelnut garnish. You can certainly make it in a bundt pan instead. One of the many attributes of this cake is that it serves a crowd, so it is perfect for a party.

Nutella Cake with Chocolate Ganache

For the Cake:

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 cups granulated sugar

4 eggs

1 cup Nutella (1 jar)

2 ¾ cups flour

2 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup whole milk

For the Ganache:

5 ½ ounces bittersweet chocolate

¾ cup heavy cream

¼ cup chopped hazelnuts

For the Cake:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a tube pan with baking spray.

Beat the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer to break it up, then add the sugar and beat on medium high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat in the Nutella until completely combined, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add the flour, baking powder and salt alternately with the milk and beat until smooth and combined, again scraping the bowl. Spread the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top, then bake until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 – 50 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert on a wire rack to cool completely.

For the Ganache:

When the cake is cool, break the chocolate into a small bowl. Heat the cream until it is almost boiling, just bubbling away around the sides, then pour it over the chocolate. Leave it for a minute or two, then stir vigorously until the chocolate is melted, thick and smooth. Spoon the ganache slowly over the top of the cake, letting a little drip down the sides. While the ganache is wet, sprinkle the chopped hazelnuts over the ganache so they adhere to the surface.

Serves 12

Sweet Potato Skordalia

I first had sweet potato skordalia in Birmingham, Alabama at a meal during a Southern Foodways Alliance event prepared by Tim Hontza’a of Johnny’s in Homewood. The whole “Greek and three” meal was fantastic, but I was enchanted by the little dab of sweet potato skordalia on the edge of the plate. It was the perfect combination of classic Greek cooking with Southern sensibility. Skordalia is a Greek spread traditionally made with yellow potatoes, garlic and almonds or walnuts. Since that meal, I have wanted to re-create the skordalia, so I delved into Greek recipes and got to work. I realized the beauty of this dish is simplicity.  I tried spices and herbs, but the simple combination of earthy sweet potatoes, the bite of garlic and a touch of almond nuttiness is a perfect combination.

This spread is a perfect snack for fall and Thanksgiving and a really creative twist for a friendsgiving spread. It is simple to make and can be made a day or two ahead and the vibrant orange color is beautiful. Finely grind some blanched almonds in the food processor or use almond meal. Almond flour is a bit too fine for this. Serve it with a drizzle of olive oil on top for spreading on pita bread or hearty crackers.

Sweet Potato Skordalia

2 large sweet potatoes

3 garlic cloves

juice of 2 lemons

2 Tablespoons finely ground almonds or almond meal

2/3 cups olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into evenly sized chunks. Place in a large saucepan covered by water by about an inch. Bring to a boil and cook for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are very soft. Drain the potatoes and place in the bowl of a food processor. Add the garlic, lemon juice and almond meal and process until smooth and well combined. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil until the dip is smooth. Season well with salt and pepper and blend again. Scrape into bowl and leave to cool to room temperature before covering and refrigerating for up to two days.  Serve with pita bread or hearty crackers, the top drizzled with olive oil.

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