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.

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

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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

Pomegranate Glazed Cocktail Sausages

Pomegranate Glazed Cocktail Sausages

Don’t laugh. I really like cocktail weenies. I know, they seem a little outré, like those memes of horrible recipes from the past that go around. But I have made many versions of glazed cocktail sausages for parties, particularly at Christmas, and people’s eyes light up and they are devoured. Now, I say I love these, but I have also seen them go horribly wrong. I mean, I’m sorry, but grape jelly has no place here. I have tried to make them a little bit more sophisticated and a little less kitsch, and this seasonally appropriate pomegranate version is perfect for Christmas cocktail gatherings.

This makes a great big batch perfect for parties. Like I said, they do get devoured. Pomegranate molasses is sort of an amazing ingredient that is more and more available, and always available online. Search recipes for it, or just drizzle it over hummus for a treat. If you don’t have it, you can substitute regular molasses or maple syrup. I serve these in a chafing dish, but if you don’t have one, serve them in an attractive stove to table pot and just rewarm over low heat occasionally. Serve with plenty of cocktail napkins and toothpicks, and remember to put out a bowl or dish for used toothpicks!

Pomegranate Glazed Cocktail Sausages

2 cups 100% pomegranate juice

½ cup light brown sugar

2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 Tablespoons whole grain mustard

2 Tablespoons pomegranate molasses

2 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter

3 (12—ounce) packages beef cocktail sausages

Pour the juice into a 3-quart pot, then whisk in the sugar, mustards and pomegranate molasses. Bring to a low boil over medium high heat, stirring frequently then reduce to a simmer and cook until the glaze is reduced by half and thickened and slightly syrupy, about 15 minutes. Watch carefully and do not turn the heat to high – you do not want this to overboil. Turn off the heat and whisk in the butter until smooth and melted. Add the sausages and stir to coat. Turn the heat back on to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the sausages are nicely burnished with the glaze and heated through, about 20 minutes. 

Use a slotted spoon to transfer the sausages to a chafing dish and cover it with foil to keep the sausages warm. Bring the glaze in the pot to a hard boil, stirring constantly, until the glaze has thickened a bit. Spoon some of the glaze over the sausages and gently stir to coat. You may not use all of the glaze – remember people will be eating these with toothpicks, so you don’t want them too drippy.

Serve in a chafing dish with toothpicks.

Serves a crowd!

Mulled Wine Brownies

Mulled Wine Brownies

I love all the silly sweets at Christmas. This rice crispie treat wreaths, cupcakes with red and green sprinkles, those little pretzel reindeer. It’s the kind of fun the holidays are all about. But sometimes it’s nice to present something a bit more grown-up. As the children in my life are turning into adults (faster than I like), I find more reason to try out those sophisticated things a bit more. That’s where these brownies come in. They are deep and rich and chocolatey with a complexity from the red wine and a perfectly seasonal twist from the spices. I usually serve these cut into small squares – they make a fabulous take along to a holiday party. But they would work equally as well cut into large squares served with ice cream or a swirl of whipped cream on a plate, maybe with a little drizzle of chocolate sauce. These would also make a lovely gift.

Don’t use best wine – but this is great for the tail end of a bottle. Check the bulk spice section at a grocery store to buy small amounts of these spices if you don’t keep them on hand. You could also use them to make mulled wine to drink. Or simply put them in a pot of water bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and let the lovely spicy smell fill your kitchen.

Mulled Wine Brownies

1 ¼ cup red wine

¼ teaspoon allspice berries

¼ teaspoon whole cloves

¼ teaspoon whole coriander

½ cinnamon stick

1 star anise pod

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate

¾ cups (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter

1 ¾ cups granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup cocoa powder

¼ teaspoon baking powder

¼ baking soda

¼ kosher salt

Pour the wine in a small saucepan. Tie the allspice, cloves and coriander in a small cheesecloth bundle (or use a mesh tea ball). Add to the wine and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and bubble it away until it is reduced to exactly ½ cup. Cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9 by 13 inch brownie pan with parchment paper or nonstick foil, with some overhang to lift out the brownies when cooked.

Make a double boiler with a large glass or metal mixing bowl set over a pan with an inch or so of water, not touching the bottom of the bowl. Put the chocolate and the butter in the bowl and heat over medium high heat, stirring frequently, until both are melted and smooth and well combined. Remove the bowl from the pot and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Stir in the sugar until completely combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, and stir until very well combined. Stir in the reduced wine until combined – it will be very loose. Add the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and soda and salt and stir just until the batter is combined and there are no streaks of dry ingredients visible.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan smoothing the top and bake for 30 – 35 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs clinging. These are nice and fudgy, so don’t worry if they’re a touch soft. Cool and cut into squares.

Makes 16

Maple Brown Butter Cupcakes

Maple Brown Butter Cupcakes

My family is long-rooted in the South, but both of my parents (and I) went to college in the Northeast. When we were kids, we made many summer vacation treks to my parents old stomping grounds with trips to New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts. It was a chance for us to experience a different part of the country, and the different food specialties my parents remembered. This was in the days before the click of a mouse brought anything you wanted right to your door. I will never forget the trip to Maine on which my father ate so much rich lobster he eventually made himself sick. My mom is a big fan of those maple sugar candies molded into leaves and Santa Claus shapes that were only really available in New England at the time. Maple syrup to me was largely maple flavored pancake syrup, because the real stuff was hard to come by, except what came back from those trips. I know find them at my local store and always pick some up for my mom.

These cupcakes remind me of those maple candies. Rich and sweet and maple-y. The cupcakes themselves are not overwhelmingly sweet, that comes from the decadent frosting. But they both have a healthy dose of real syrup so you get that full-on maple flavor. Brown butter adds a lovely depth that highlights the glorious flavor of maple. This recipe makes enough for deep pillowy clouds of frosting. You can half the recipe if you like a more subtly topped cupcake. And as you can see, I like to top these with a little maple sugar candy. 

Maple Brown Butter Cupcakes

For the Cupcakes:

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 Tablespoon baking powder

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup amber maple syrup

1 cup heavy cream

2 large eggs

For the Frosting:

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, (1 for browning, one softened)

3 cups confectioners sugar

6- 7 Tablespoons cream

3 Tablespoons amber maple syrup

For the Cupcakes:

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line 18 holes of cupcake tins with paper liners. 

Cut the butter into small pieces and place in a large 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. Stir the butter 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 small glass measuring jug and leave to cool.

Put the flour, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and stir to combine. Beat in the maple syrup and cream on medium speed until completely combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the cooled brown butter.

Fill the cupcake liners about 2/3 full and bake for 25 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for five minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the Frosting: 

Brown the butter as above, pouring into a shallow bowl. Place the butter in the freezer for 30 minutes. 

When the brown butter has solidified, beat it and the softened butter in the bowl of a stand mixer until combined. Add the powdered sugar a cup at a time, beating until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the maple syrup, then the cream a Tablespoon at a time to reach a spreadable consistency. Spread or pipe the frosting on the cooled cupcakes. 

Flatbread with Cranberry Onion Jam and Brie

I had this idea for a flatbread appetizer with cranberries and caramelized onions. I put together a version for a simple friends gathering and I felt like I wasn’t quite there yet, but it got absolutely gobbled up. That’s how I knew I was on the right path. I worked out this amazing cranberry onion jam, which has become a house staple for all sorts of things, and tweeked the dough to be easy and make-ahead. I made it again for another gathering a week or so later with some of the same people, and you would’ve thought I’d invented the wheel for the raves. Best of all, it was an all ages hit. Two friends asked for the recipe because their kids loved it so much. And it does make a stunning display.

I have quite a few helpful notes on this one. First, the jam is really versatile. It would make a fantastic alternative to cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving, and/or would be amazing on a leftover turkey sandwich. It takes a little time to cook but can be made a few days ahead and held in the fridge. With the flatbread dough, my trusty recipe makes a crust for 2 pizzas or flatbreads, so I fiddled around with cutting it in half, but in the end decided that was unnecessary, because the easy to make dough can keep in the fridge for a few days or the freezer for up to a month. So why not make a whole recipe and have some on hand, because it can be used for any pizza or flatbread combo you like. I love the creamy, mellow taste of brie, but you’ve got options here too. Taleggio is magnificent but a little spendy. Camembert is lovely or get really tangy with some crumbled blue cheese. This recipe makes a lovely meal with a green salad, but I like to serve it as a party appetizer. Make the jam and the dough ahead, assemble it all before your guests arrive, pop it in the oven as they pull in the driveway. I shape the dough to fit a wooden cutting board for a rustic serving presentation. Don’t worry about perfection – the handmade look is a special touch.

Flatbread with Cranberry Onion Jam and Brie

For the Cranberry Onion Jam

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 pounds yellow sweet onions, finely diced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/3 cup pure cane sugar or granulated sugar

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

1 stalk fresh rosemary

2 cups fresh cranberries

1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage

For the Flatbread Dough:

2 packets active dry yeast

3 Tablespoons olive oil

1 Tablespoon honey

1 ¼ cup warm water

4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Assembly

4 ounces brie cheese

¼ cup dried cranberries

Flaky salt and black pepper

For the Jam:

Pick out a medium sized, heavy-bottomed sauce pan, and make a paper lid for stewing the onions by cutting out a circle from a piece of parchment that will fit tightly over the surface of the onions. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat and add the diced onions. Stir to coat the onions in oil, then cook for about five minutes until the onions begin to wilt and color slightly at the edges, stirring frequently. Sprinkle over the salt and stir to combine. Turn the heat to medium low. Place the parchment paper circle over the top of the onions pressing directly on the surface.  Cook the onions until soft and caramelized and golden brown, removing the paper once or twice and stirring, replacing the paper lid, about 20 minutes. If the onions are catching on the bottom of the pan, stir in a couple of tablespoons of water and scrape up ant browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the liquid is evaporated and replace the cover and continue. When the onions are a lovely toffee color, add ½ cup water, the sugar and vinegar and stir. Tie the rosemary in a little cheesecloth bundle or put it in a tea ball and add to the pot, then add the cranberries. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the berries begin to pop and split. When you are stirring, press on the berries with your spatula or spoon to break them up. You don’t want any whole berries in the finished product. When you’ve got a thick, dark spreadable jam of a deep wine color, about 20 minutes of cooking and stirring, remove the pan from the heat, remove the rosemary and stir in the chopped sage. Leave to cool.  The jam can be made up to two days ahead, cooked, covered and refrigerated.

For the Flatbread:

Put the yeast, oil, honey and water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Give it a stir with the hook, then add three cups of flour and mix until the begins to dough come together, pulling the mass of dough off the hook a couple of times as needed. Add the remaining one cup of flour a little at a time, incorporating it into the dough as you go, pulling the dough from the hook as needed. At times it won’t look like it will combine, but it will. When you have a nice cohesive mass, continue to knead the dough on medium speed for seven minutes, stopping the mixer and pulling the dough from the hook if needed. When the dough is a nice, smooth elastic mass, put it in a bowl lightly brushed with olive oil and leave it in a warm dry place to rise for 30 – 45 minutes until it is doubled in size. Divide the dough into two equal halves. If you are not using it immediately, wrap each half in plastic and refrigerate for two days (see note). When ready to use, bring one half of the dough to room temperature. 

Brush a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough about ½ inch thick. Use your creativity here – you can roll it to fit completely in an 11 by 7 inch pan, or to fit a 12-inch round pizza pan, or go free form for a rustic look. When you have the shape you want, transfer the dough to the oiled pan and let it rest for 15 minutes.

Assembly:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Bring the jam to room temperature. Slice the brie round into thin strips. Spread the jam over the prepared crust, getting pretty close to the edges. Top with the sliced brie, then sprinkle over the dried cranberries. Season well with some flaky salt and generous grinds of black pepper. Bake the flatbread for 10 – 12 minutes, until the crust is golden at the edges, the jam is warmed through and the cheese is melted. Let rest for a few minutes, then cut into pieces.

Note: Wrap the dough halves tightly in plastic. You can keep one half in the refrigerator to use for the recipe. If you’d like, place the other wrapped half in a plastic ziptop freezer bag and freeze for up to a month. Thaw overnight in the fridge before using, then let the dough rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before rolling.

Autumn Celebration Salad with Port Poached Pears, Maple Pepper Walnuts, Stilton Croutons

Autumn Celebration Salad

I’ll be honest, I am not a big salad eater. Because I feel like, for the most part, salad is often just an afterthought. Sure, I like a restaurant salad with nice add-ins that I am not going to get at home, but I find most home salads come from a bag and use processed, packaged toppings and bottled dressing. People seem to volunteer to bring the salad to a party because it’s the easiest thing to execute. But a salad can be a beautiful thing, packed with vibrant colors and layers of flavor. And everyone will be impressed when you show up with a gorgeous bowl full of the most delicious bites. Rather than that sad little bag.

Each element of the salad can be made ahead. One thing a day until ready to assemble if you like, so it is really easy to create and amazing presentation. If you are transporting this somewhere, keep everything in Ziploc bags, the dressing in a jar and pile it into your salad bowl. It will take a moment to put together when you arrive, sequestered into a quiet corner if the kitchen is crowded. Hearty greens hold up well with these bold flavors – I even like to shave some brussel sprouts and raddichio into the mix.

Autumn Celebration Salad

Greens with Port Poached Pears, Maple Pepper Walnuts, Stilton Croutons

Maple Black Pepper Walnuts

1 egg white

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons black pepper

¼ cup maple syrup

2 Tablepssons butter, melted and cooled

2 cups walnut halves

Preheat the oven to 325°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with non-stick foil or parchment paper.

Place the egg white in a medium bowl and whisk with the salt until foamy. Whisk in the pepper, maple syrup and butter until combined. Drop in the walnuts and stir to thoroughly coat the nuts. Lif the nuts out of the glaze with your good clean hands, allowing excess to drip off, and transfer to the prepared pan. Spread the nuts into an even layer not touching and bake for 10 minutes. Stir, then bake for a further 5 – 8 minutes until the nuts are a shade darker. Cool completely. The nuts will store in an airtight container for 3 days.

For the Port Poached Pears

2 large, firm green pears

½ cup port wine

¼ cup water

½ cup granulated sugar

Half a cinnamon stick

1 star anise

5 – 6 whole cloves

Peel and core the pears and cut into small pieces, about ½ inch. Stir the port, water and sugar together in a small saucepan and add the spices. Drop in the pears and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the pears until a knife slips in without resistance, about 10 minutes. You want them soft, but still with a little bite. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Remove the cinnamon, star anise and cloves, then spoon 2 Tablespoons of the poaching liquid into a jar. Discard the remining liquid and transfer the pears to an airtight container. The pears can be covered and refrigerated for 2 days. Make the dressing with the poaching liquid as below.

For the Port Dressing:

2 Tablepoons port poaching liquid

2 Tablspoons red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper to taste

6 Tablespoons olive oil

Place all the ingredients into a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake to combine. The dressing will keep in the fridge for 2 days. Shake well before using.

Stilton Croutons

8 ounces soft Italian bread

6 Tablespoons butter, melted

4 ounces Stilton (or other blue cheese) FROZEN

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

Cut the bread into cubes of about ½ inch. Make them as evenly sized as possible. I like them on the larger side, so you get a good crouton to cheese ratio. Place the bread cubes in a large bowl and pour over the melted butter. Toss to coat the bread evenly.

Take the Stilton out of the freezer and use a fine grater to grate about half of it over the bread cubes in the bowl. Toss to coat the bread with the cheese, then transfer the cubes to the baking tray and spread into an even layer. Grate some more of the blue cheese over the top, doing your best to get cheese on every bread cube. You can roll the cubes around in the cheese that drops onto the baking sheet.  Return the cheese to the freezer. Bake for 10 minutes, then use a spatula to turn the cubes over. Grate some more cheese over the cubes and return to the oven for another 8 – 10 minutes until toasted and golden. Cool completely and store in an airtight container for 2 days.

For the Salad

8 cups of hearty greens – I like to include a colorful mix of red and green salad leaves – red leaf, frisee and romaine. For a touch of bitterness and interest, I add some finely sliced raddichio and slivered brussels sprouts. 

Tear the greens into reasonably sized pieces and soak briefly in cold water, then spin or pat dry. Toss together in a bowl or a large ziptop bag for transporting. The greens can be kept refrigerated for several hours.

Carrot Coconut Cake

Carrot Coconut Cake

Carrot cake, I have found, is an intensely personal taste. There are those on the side of nuts, and those against. The pineapple people and the anti-pineapple people. The cream cheese frosting advocates and the buttercream brigade. I am not ambivalent in my preferences, but not nearly as persnickety as some. I like carrot cake that is moist and full of flavor, with carrots at the forefront. I’ve tried almost every version imaginable to please various factions, but when I create a recipe I do it with my own preferences in mind, like this Carrot Ginger Bundt Cake. I love the idea of a carrot cake with coconut milk for flavor and moistness, and I was inspired to create a pretty white and fluffy version by some pastel Easter candy. I love the idea of filling the center of a perfect Easter cake with a special treat that spills in a tumble out when the cake is sliced.

The insane amount of candy available at Easter is astounding, easily rivalling Christmas and Halloween these days. And I’ll admit, I am tempted. I am a sucker for the specialty seasonal treats (carrot cake kisses, anyone?) and many of the Easter variety are terribly cute. I’ve used little candy coated mini eggs as decoration on a number of things as an afterthought, but this year I found some shimmer eggs that were just too beautiful to pass by (there from Cadbury). The fluffy coconut coating on the cake makes a lovely spring dessert, and you could certainly serve it at any time without the candy eggs.

Carrot Coconut Cake

For the Cake:

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder 

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 cups granulated sugar

4 large eggs

4 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup unsweetened coconut milk

2 cups grated carrots (about 2 large)

½ cup sweetened shredded coconut

For the Glaze:

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

6 – 8 Tablespoons unsweetened coconut milk

2 cups sweetened shredded coconut

Pastel candy Easter eggs, such as Cadbury Mini Eggs (about 2 bags)

For the Cake:

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a 12-cup tube or Bundt pan with baking spray, such as Bakers’ Joy.

Stir the flour, baking powder, spices and salt together in a bowl to combine. Place the melted butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until pale, light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the dry ingredients alternately with the coconut milk, scraping down the sides of the bowl, until the batter is thoroughly combined and smooth.  Add in the grated carrots and coconut until combined. Give the batter a good stir with a spatula to make sure the carrots are evenly distributed, then scoop the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 60 – 70 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes with few moist crumbs clinging to it. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.  Place a piece of parchment or foil under the rack to catch drips when you glaze the cake to make clean up easy.

For the Glaze:

Sift the powdered sugar into a bowl and whisk in the coconut milk until you have a thick, spreadable glaze. Use a spoon to drizzle and spread the glaze over the top and down the sides of the cake. As you drizzle, cover the glaze with the shredded coconut, lightly pressing it into the glaze with clean fingers.  You want a generous layer of coconut on the top and some of the sides of the cake. Leave the cake uncovered for a few hours to let the glaze and coconut set.

Transfer to a serving platter and fill the center with 

Serves 12

Tarragon Mustard Velvet

Tarragon Mustard Velvet

Spring has always been a season of brunch for me. Easter, graduations, wedding showers. It’s a great way to entertain elegantly and with a little planning, pretty easy to do ahead. Center the affair around a ham with biscuits or rolls, a perfect platter of stuffed eggs, add some vegetables, a casserole (maybe this hash brown version) and a few indulgent treats and you are good to go. Tangy mustard with a velvety fluffy texture is a lovely complement to the best spring and summer vegetables. I developed this to go with asparagus, but it works wonderfully well with pillowy snap peas or simply steamed green beans. But wait, there’s more – this is delicious with slices of ham, even with sliced beef tenderloin. So for the Easter buffet, you get a two for one deal – this makes enough to serve with two separate dishes. 

I love a platter of lightly steamed asparagus with a tangy, interesting sauce or dressing, and this fits the bill perfectly. If you’ve ever had the old-school molded mustard mousse once a staple of the Southern ham buffet, this is inspired by the classic, but with a much smoother and cleaner taste, old-fashioned and modern at the same time. I love the bracing flavor of tarragon, but vary that up with dill or, if you have it, chervil. And the sunshine-y yellow color adds its own touch of spring to the feast. I call it velvet because the smooth, fluffy texture works either as a dip or a spread.

Tarragon Mustard Velvet

2 egg yolks

3 Tablespoons prepared Dijon mustard

2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar (use tarragon vinegar if you have it)

1 Tablespoon water

1 Tablespoon granulated sugar

1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon

¾ teaspoons kosher salt

1 Tablespoon butter

½ cup heavy whipping cream

Beat the egg yolks, mustard, vinegar, water and sugar together in a small sauce pan until smooth and combined. Stir in the tarragon and salt. Place the pan over medium heat and heat gently until thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir almost constantly to prevent the mustard from catching on the bottom of the pan. The mixture should return to the consistency of the prepared mustard. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter until melted and smooth. Scrape the mustard into a small bowl so it won’t continue cooking from the heat of the pan. Cool completely.

Whip the cream to stiff peaks, then fold through the mustard until well combined but still fluffy. Cover and refrigerate for several hours, but overnight is fine.

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