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.

Irish Bangers and Mash with Guinness Onion Gravy

Everyone gets a kick out of the rather silly names of some traditional British food names. Spotted Dick. Toad in the Hole. Bubble and Squeak. And Bangers and Mash. The mash part is pretty obvious (mashed potatoes). Bangers are sausages, and the term supposedly comes from a time when cheap sausages would explode in a hot pan making a bang. I love a good plate of bangers and mash, but too often what you get is not a very good plate. Pubs that have turned to chain restaurants, my old college dining hall, some touristy restaurants serve up tepid, lumpy mash that may very well be instant and fatty, flavorless sausages with gravy made from a mix. That, I do not like. But when treated properly, a hearty dinner of really good sausages, creamy mash and rich gravy is a sight to behold. So I have worked over the years to develop a really good bangers and mash dish.

And here is my Irish influenced version of this dish, using good Irish bangers and a gravy redolent with Guinness. The mash blends potatoes and earthy parsnips with a tangy dash of Irish cheddar cheese. Crème fraiche adds silkiness without an overpowering edge, but you could use sour cream. Around St. Patrick’s Day, I find Irish bangers on the sausage counter of good markets. Check with a local butcher if you have one – they often whip them up for St. Patrick’s as well. Any good soft pork sausage will do. Bratwurst is a good substitute, or even a mild Italian. You want links of soft sausage in casing, not a harder product like kielbasa or smoked sausage.

Irish Bangers and Mash with Guinness Onion Gravy

For the Mash:

1 pound parsnips (about 4)

1 pound russet potatoes (about 2)

4 cloves of garlic

4 cups chicken stock

Kosher salt

¾ cup crème fraiche

¾ cup grated Irish aged cheddar cheese

2 Tablespoons butter

For the Gravy:

3 Tablespoons butter

1 large yellow onion, diced

2 Tablespoons light brown sugar

2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon English mustard powder

1 cup Guinness

1 cup beef broth

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Salt and pepper

4 Irish Banger sausages, or any good fresh pork sausages like bratwurst or mild Italian

For the Mash:

Peel the parsnips and potatoes and cut into chunks of roughly the same size. Peel the garlic cloves. Place them all in a large, deep skillet and pour over the chicken broth and a good pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and cook until the parsnips and potatoes are both very soft when pierced with a knife. Drain, then transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer and beat with the paddle attachment to break them up, then add the crème fraiche and grated cheese and beat until smooth. Beat in the butter and season with salt to taste. If not serving immediately. Spread the potatoes in a baking dish. The potatoes can be kept warm in a low oven, or can be covered and refrigerated for a few hours and reheated in the low oven with a little milk drizzled on top.

For the Gravy:

Melt the butter over medium high heat in large, deep skillet. Add the diced onion and cook, stirring frequently, until they are soft and glassy and beginning to brown. Sprinkle over the brown sugar and stir to combine. Cook, still stirring, until the onions are soft and caramelized, but not sticking to the bottom of the pan, 12 – 15 minutes. Sprinkle over the flour and mustard powder and stir until no dry flour is visible, then pour in the Guinness and beef stock and stir well. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the gravy has thickened. Stir in the Worcestershire sauce and season well with salt and lots of ground black pepper. Cover the pot and keep warm.

For the Sausages:

Put the sausages in a deep skillet and add water to come halfway up the sides of the sausages. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, then cover, reduce the heat and simmer until cooked through, about 15 minutes (the sausages should reach an internal temperature of 155°). Uncover the pan and cook until the liquid is evaporated, carefully turning the sausages with tongs to brown them on all sides.

Serve immediately on top of the mashed potatoes and smothered in the gravy.

Serves 4 

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Crab Remoulade Cheesecake

Crab Remoulade Cheesecake

I love a savory cheesecake. Possibly the most talked about recipe in my book Southern Snacks has been the Country Ham Cheesecake. I even made it on the Hallmark Channel! I find the savory cheesecake to be the perfect party piece – it packs a lot of flavor and interest in a make-ahead dish that serves a crowd. And it is easy to make it look really impressive if you get creative with the garnishes. I serve these as an appetizer to spread on crackers, but you can also serve thin wedges as a first course with a salad. My crab remoulade version walks the line between rustic and elegant – take it wherever you want it to go. It’s perfect as for a Mardi Gras blow out or an elegant jazz brunch. But it’s not only for Mardi Gras, it is great for any spring entertaining. Tender crabmeat with lots of tang and fresh lemon is decadent and fresh all at the same time.

I have this lovely 7-inch springform pan which makes a wonderfully sized appetizer, but if all you have is a 9-inch pan, this recipe works just fine. You will need to reduce the cooking time a little, as the filling is not as thick in a bigger pan. Just make sure the center is firm. Serve this as a spread with baguette slices or crackers.

Crab Remoulade Cheesecake

20 buttery crackers, such as Townhouse

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

Several grinds of black pepper

¼ ( ½ stick) cup unsalted butter, melted

For the Filling:

2 green onions, white and light green parts, and about 1 inch of dark green

2 garlic cloves

2 teaspoons capers

2 teaspoons grated horseradish from a jar

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

¼ cup sour cream

3 large eggs

2Tablespoons Creole mustard

2 Tablespoons lemon juice

Kosher salt and black pepper

3 -4 dashes hot sauce, such as Crystal

1 cup crab meat, rinsed drained and picked over to remove shell

For the crust:

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line the bottom of a 7-inch springform pan with parchment paper, then spray the whole pan with baking spray. Wrap the outside with foil to catch any butter seepage.

Process the crackers, cheese, salt and pepper to fine crumbs in a small food processor.  Add the melted butter and process until it all comes together.  It will be very wet – don’t worry. Press the crumbs onto the bottom of the springform pan, pressing a little bit up the sides of the pan.  Bake the crust for 15 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool.

For the Filling:

Rinse and dry the bowl of the food processor and add the green onion cut into pieces, the garlic, capers and horseradish and pulse until you have a chunky paste.

Beat the cream cheese, eggs, sour cream and mustard together in the bowl of a stand mixer until very smooth and combined.  Add the green onion mixture, the lemon juice, salt and pepper and hot sauce and beat until completely combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the crab meat and beat on low until it is evenly distributed and combined. 

Spread the filling evenly over the crust, smoothing the top.  Bake the cheesecake for 45 minutes until completely firm and lightly browned on top.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack, then chill in the refrigerator loosely covered for several hours or overnight.  When ready to serve, release the springform ring and transfer the cheesecake to a platter. Lining the bottom of the pan makes it easier to slide the cheesecake off the pan bottom to the platter.

Serve with crackers or baguette toasts.

Muffaletta Cheese Ball

Madi Gras is fast approaching, and even if you don’t live in a place that has a big Mardi Gras celebration, I have always thought it is a fabulous excuse for a party. We’ve made it through the crazy, busy holidays and had some January downtime. And I don’t mean some sort of wild bacchanalian revel. Just a cozy dinner with friends, full of amazing Louisiana cooking like Shrimp Creole or Debris Po’boys. It’s a great occasion to host a Sunday brunch, or an actual Mardi Gras Tuesday night supper. But whatever you do, go all out – find some cheap beads to decorate, wear purple, green and gold and make all your food New Orleans perfect (you can search my Mardi Gras archive here). Order a king cake or make some snazzy king cake bars for dessert. And start with this fun, flavorful cheese ball inspired by the classic muffaletta sandwich. Its packed with the elements of olive salad, salami and cheese and is perfect for a crowd served with crackers, or more authentic baguette slices.

To be honest, these are ingredients I don’t keep on hand much, I don’t like having half a jar of  olives or peppers lingering in the fridge, so I start at the deli department for this recipe. I buy a mix of olives from the olive bar, just not ones with much marinade or spice and rinse them and pat dry before chopping. Same with the pepperoncini, a couple of whole ones if that’s all they have. Ask the deli counter to cut you a chunk of provolone which makes for easier grating and ask them to cut you just a few thin slices of salami.

Muffaletta Cheese Ball

4 ounces mixed green and black pitted olives

2 ounces sliced pepperoncini from a jar

1 (2-ounce) jar diced pimentos

4 large slices hard salami

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 cup grated provolone cheese

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

½ teaspoon salt

Put the olives in the bowl of a small food processor and pulse to chop very fine, but do not puree. Scrape into a bowl. Do the same to the pepperoncini and add to the bowl. Drain the pimentos and add to the bowl.  Rinse and dry the processor. Cut the salami into small pieces, then pulse to finely chop it, again, don’t make a paste, then add it to the bowl. Sit everything to combine and evenly distribute, using a fork if you need to.

Put the softened cream cheese in the bowl of a mixer and beat to lighten and loosen it up. Add the grated provolone, the Italian seasoning and salt and beat to combine, scraping the sides of the bowl. Add the muffaletta mix and beat to combine, scraping the bowl. Lay a large piece of plastic wrap on the counter. Scrape the cheese in the bowl into a rough ball and transfer it to the plastic wrap. Pull the plastic wrap around the cheese and twist into a tight ball. Place the wrapped ball in a bowl (to help keep the bottom from flattening to much) and refrigerate for 8 hours, or up to three days.

When ready to serve, unwrap the ball and transfer to a platter. Serve with baguette toasts and crackers.

Smoky Spicy Black-Eyed Pea Stew

Smoky Spicy Black-eyed Pea Stew

As the New Year starts, we turn again to our black-eyed peas for luck. I usually go for something traditionally Southern, but every once in a while, I like to ring the changes and spice things up. This hearty stew has all the cold-weather comfort of old-fashioned Southern black-eyed peas with a fantastic hit of smoke and spice. I’ll admit, I am mostly a sit-on-the-sofa-reading-and-watching-movies on New Year’s Day person, but this is a great New Year’s Day meal for friends, guarantee them all some luck with an interesting twist to tradition – just put out some bowls and serve directly from the pot.

Smoky bacon and smoky sausage with smoked paprika add a great depth to this dish. Look for double smoked bacon for an extra hit. I love the balance of heat here, but stouter souls can substitute a spicier pepper for one poblano. And of course, serve some hot sauce or pepper vinegar on the side. A chunky slice of cornbread is the perfect accompaniment, but corn tortillas or corn chips are great as well. You can add a dollop of sour cream if you like.

Smoky Spicy Black-eyed Pea Stew

2 poblano peppers

8 strips of smoked bacon (double smoked if you can find it)

12 ounces smoked sausage

1 onion, finely diced

1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles

2 teaspoons cumin

2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 can diced tomatoes with green chiles

4 cups (1 32-ounce box) chicken broth

2 (12-ounce) bags frozen black-eyed peas

Char the poblano peppers over a gas burner or on a foil lined baking sheet under a high broiler. Get every inch of skin charred black, turning a few times with tongs to cover get all surfaces. Immediately place the charred peppers in a paper bag and fold down the top or in a bowl tightly covered with plastic wrap. Leave to steam until cool enough to handle, then rub off the skin, rinsing the peppers under cold water to remove any last remnants of char. Remove the stems, seeds and ribs then finely dice the peppers and set aside.

Cut the bacon into small pieces and cook in a 5-quart Dutch over medium high heat until very crispy, then remove with a slotted spoon to a small baking sheet lined with paper towels. While the bacon is cooking, cut the sausage in half lengthwise, then into little bite-sized half-moons. After you’ve removed the bacon, cook the sausage in the bacon grease until lightly browned and curling, about 10 minutes. Remove the sausage to the paper towels with the slotted spoon as well. Drain off all but 2 Tablespoons of the bacon grease and let it cool slightly before adding the diced onion (if you drop the onion into sizzling hot grease, they will burn). Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, about 8 minutes. Add the poblanos and the green chilies with their liquid and cook about 2 minutes, then sprinkle over the chili powder, cumin, paprika and salt and stir to coat the vegetables. Cook about 2 minutes until the spices are very fragrant, then add the garlic and cook a further 2 minutes. Pour in the can of tomatoes and chilies with their liquid and the chicken broth. Add the black-eyed peas and stir to combine, then bring a boil. Reduce the heat and cook the stew uncovered for 30 minutes until thickened and the peas are softened. Hold back a handful of the bacon to top the stew, then stir the remaining bacon and the sausage into the stew. Cover and cook a further 30 minutes or until the peas are very soft and cooked through.  Serve in hearty bowls, sprinkled with a little bacon.

Serves 8

Cranberry Ginger Muffin Tree

Make anything in the shape of a wreath or a tree at this time of the year and instant celebration! So I present this lovely and charming muffin tree for the holidays. It’s bound to bring a smile to the faces of your breakfast companions, and I love how fun it is to serve it right on the baking sheet and let everyone tear-and share.

These treats are something of a cross between a muffin and a scone (a scuffin?) and I think best served just warm, though they are still lovely at room temperature. I chose to flavor these with seasonal cranberries and tangy ginger which works so beautifully with the Christmas tree theme. But honestly,  you can use you imagination with any combination of dried fruits and perhaps some chopped nuts. Add whatever spices appeal – nutmeg and cinnamon would be holiday perfect. The muffins themselves are not overly sweet, with the flavor coming from the cranberries and ginger. The streusel top adds a hint of sweet. I add a purely optional glaze, for a little extra sweet and a pretty flourish. Using cranberry juice adds a festive pink tinge, but you can use just cream of milk, or a tiny drop of food coloring. I promise, making the tree shape is easy but don’t get too caught up in perfect – the delightfully homemade, rustic look is part of the charm.

Cranberry Ginger Muffin Tree

For the Streusel:

4 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 Tablespoons light brown sugar

¼ teaspoon ginger

2 Tablespoons butter, melted

For the Muffins:

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground ginger

½ cup granulated sugar

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup dried cranberries

¼ cup diced crystallized ginger pieces

2 cups buttermilk

For the Glaze:

2 teaspoons cranberry juice

½ cup confectioners’ sugar

Milk, cream or water

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

For the Streusel:

Mix the flour, sugar and ginger together with your fingers, breaking up any lumps. Pour in the melted butter and use a fork to blend it together until crumbly. You may want to finish blending with your fingers to create a damp rubble.

For the Muffins:

Put the flour, baking soda, ginger and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix on low a few times to blend. Mix in the cranberries and ginger pieces. Cut the cold butter into small chunks and add the flour, tossing them around with your hands to separate. Mix on medium low to rub the butter into the flour until there are just very small pieces of butter left – you can help it along with your fingers if needed.  Add the buttermilk all at once and mix just until combined. If there are some dry ingredients stuck at the bottom of the bowl, knead those in with your fingers.

Use a large cookie scoop and run it under water to just wet the surface – shake it out so there is no pooled water and wet the scoop a few times while forming the tree to help keep the dough from sticking. Scoop one ball of dough at the top of the sheet, then two beneath it. The balls should touch. In the next row, center a ball between the two above, then put one on either side. Next row put four balls across, then five, then two centered at the bottom for the trunk. I sometimes have enough dough left for two or three more muffins, which I bake on a separate lined baking sheet.

Carefully sprinkle some of the streusel on top of each muffin ball. Some will get on the baking sheet, but try and keep that to a minimum, returning it to the top of the muffins, with some falling between the gaps is fine.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes until the muffins are firm and golden. Leave to cool for about 15 minutes.

For the Glaze:

Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a small bowl and whisk it with the cranberry juice to blend, then whisk in just enough milk, cream or water to produce a drizzle-able glaze. Drizzle over the muffin tree, then sprinkle over a little powdered sugar. Serve immediately.

Makes 16 – 18