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.

Cajeta Caramel Cake with Cajeta Whipped Cream

Cinco de Mayo is something of a silly commercial enterprise, but all the ads and instore displays do peak my interest in recipe with the flavors of Mexico. I usually focus on meals, like Chicken Tingatacos or Queso Fundido Soup, but there is always room for dessert. I am certainly no expert on Mexican cuisine, but I love to explore ingredients and ideas. I was introduced to cajeta some years ago at an ice cream parlor here in Memphis that specializes in Mexican paleta popsicles, and I have become a little obsessed – I use it in all sorts of applications instead of a standard caramel. Of course, this cake is good at anytime of the year, but it is a lovely end to a spicy fiesta-style meal.

Cajeta is a delicious caramel, dulce de leche-like sauce made with goat milk and that goat milk tang makes it a truly special treat. The first time I served this, one of my dinner guests immediately recognized the bite of goat cheese-like bite. You can find cajeta in jars or bottles in the Hispanic food section of many grocery stores or a Latin market but making your own is easy and really adds a special touch. People are always impressed when you do things like this from scratch! Once you master it, you may find yourself making it all the time. It is fantastic over ice cream or with fruit for dipping. I love to layer the rich cajeta flovor by adding it to a whipped cream that perfectly complements the rich cake.

Cajeta Caramel Cake with Cajeta Whipped Cream
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For the Cake
  1. 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  2. 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  3. 1 cup cajeta (homemade or purchased), at room temperature, see below
  4. 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  5. 3 cups all-purpose flour
  6. 2 teaspoons baking powder
  7. ½ teaspoon baking soda
  8. ½ teaspoon salt
  9. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  10. 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  11. Confectioners’ sugar
For the Cajeta Whipped Cream
  1. ¾ cups heavy whipping cream
  2. ¼ cup cajeta (homemade or purchased), at room temperature
  3. A pinch of flaky salt
For the Cake
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12-cup bundt pan with baking spray.
  2. Beat the butter and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer until light and fluffy. Add the cajeta and beat until smooth and completely combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, making sure each egg is combined before adding the next. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla extract, then add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk, until the batter is smooth and combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it out to an even layer. Tap the pan on the counter a few times to release any air bubbles, then bake for 45 – 55 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for 15 minutes, then invert onto a serving platter to cool completely. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar before serving.
For the Whipped Cream
  1. Scoop the cajeta into the bowl of stand mixer and add the cream and salt. Beat with the whisk attachment until stiff peaks form. Transfer to an airtight container and keep covered in the fridge for 3 days.
Notes
  1. Homemade Cajeta
  2. 2 quarts whole goats milk
  3. 2 cups sugar
  4. 1 cinnamon stick
  5. A pinch of salt
  6. ½ teaspoon baking soda dissolved in one Tablespoon water
  7. Heat the goats milk and sugar with the cinnamon stick and salt in a large, deep pot (5 – 6 quart) over medium heat until the milk is simmering and the sugar has dissolved, stirring occasionally. Pull the pot off the heat and stir in the baking soda and water – it may foam up, just give it a good stir. Return the pot to the heat and continue cooking the milk, stirring frequently, until it becomes a light amber color, anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. Watch carefully and keep it at gentle but meaningful bubble or it will boil over. When the milk begins to turn golden, stir very frequently and watch carefully until the mix turns a caramel brown and thickens to the consistency of syrup. Drop a few spoonfuls on a cold plate and see that it thickens to a caramel sauce consistency. Pour the cajeta through a strainer into a bowl and cool, then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to a month.
  8. When cooking the cajeta, if it gets too thick, remove the pan from the heat and whisk in a few tablespoons of water until it reaches the right consistency. When using the cajeta, you can warm it in the microwave to loosen it up, or if it is really thick, transfer it to a saucepan over medium heat and whisk in some water until it thins out.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/
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Mexican Chocolate Chewies

As Cinco de Mayo approaches, thoughts often turn to tacos, queso and margaritas. But let us not forget the sweet side of life. Chocolate goes with everything and it’s nice to have a little sweet nibble at any fiesta.

These cookies are a classic recipe, one I have made since I was a kid. I pulled it out recently to make a batch to send to my niece in college, and as I was working, I thought a could jazz it up in some way. Then I had a thought – I bought a fancy, Tennessee-made chocolate bar in Mexican Chocolate flavor a few days before, and was really excited about the special treat. But I accidently threw it away when unpacking the huge load of groceries. I’d been kicking myself for the carelessness. So I decided to verve up these cookies to replace my lost candy bar. The rich chocolate cookies get a twist with cinnamon and just a dash of chili and cayenne. The cookies are soft and chewy and chocolate-y and perfect at any time.

Mexican Chocolate Chewies
Yields 20
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Ingredients
  1. 1 (12-ounce) bag semisweet chocolate chips
  2. 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  3. ¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  4. 1 teaspoon vanilla
  5. ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  6. ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  7. 1/8 teaspoon chili powder
  8. 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  9. 1 cup all-purpose flour
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Put the chocolate chips, condensed milk and butter in a large saucepan and melt over medium heat, strirring frequently, until the mixture is smooth and combined. Add the vanilla, cinnamon and cayenne pepper and stir to combine. Add the flour, and stir well to make sure the flour is completely blended in to the batter. Pull the pot of the heat and let the cool for a few minutes.
  3. Scoop the dough by Tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheet. I like to use a medium cookie scoop. Press the dough lightly with your fingers to slightly flatten, then bake the cookies for 12 – 13 minutes until firm. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
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Queso Fundido Soup

Queso Fundido SoupCinco de Mayo approaches and with it, thoughts of the completely Americanized restaurant specialty, queso, or cheese dip as we used to call it. I, and pretty much anyone from in Memphis, grew up on a thin, cold cheese dip created by the area’s first Mexican restaurant. It is still a favorite and available at local groceries in a plastic tub, and a true guilty pleasure for me. Next came Ro-tel dip, melted Velveeta cheese mixed with canned tomato and green chile mix. No teenage party was complete without it. Then a restaurant opened in town serving the first incarnation of what was considered “authentic” Mexican food. It was the first place in town to serve fajitas. And with it came queso fundido (they title their version queso flameado). Spicy chorizo sausage covered in melty cheese, served in a hot skillet. The restaurant has been opened over 25 years, but that dip was a game changer at the time, adding such zip and interest to an old standby.

I was thinking about that dip, and other delicious versions of queso fundido I’ve sought out over the years, when I created this soup. It’s a flavorful and fun meal-in-a-bowl with lots of toppings and flavor addition possibilities. Start the meal with chips and salsa or guacamole and mix up a pitcher of margaritas and celebrate the spirit of Cinco de Mayo.

Queso Fundido Soup
Serves 4
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Ingredients
  1. 9 ounces Mexican pork chorizo sausage
  2. 1 cup finely diced onion
  3. 1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles, drained
  4. 1 clove garlic, minced
  5. ½ teaspoon mild chili powder
  6. ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  7. 4 cups chicken broth
  8. 1 ½ cups whole milk
  9. ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  10. 8 ounces Monterrey jack cheese, grated
  11. 2 small plum tomatoes
  12. fresh cilantro
  13. tortilla chips or strips
Instructions
  1. Sauté the chorizo in a Dutch oven, breaking the meat up with a spatula as you go. When the chorizo releases some of its fat, add the onion, green chiles and garlic and stir well. Cook until the chorizo is cooked through and the onions and chiles are soft, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the chili powder and cumin. Pour in the chicken broth, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
  2. Measure the milk in a 2-cup jug and whisk in the flour until smooth and completely dissolved. Stir the milk mixture into the soup and cook at a low bubble – not a boil – until slightly thickened. Reduce the heat to low. Reserve about a half cup of the cheese to top the soup, then stir in the remaining cheese, ½ cup at a time, making sure each addition is melted and smooth before adding the next.
  3. Serve the soup in large bowl topped with chopped tomato, minced cilantro, a little grated cheese and some tortilla strips.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Chicken Tinga

Chicken Tinga

When I was a kid, taco night mean hard shells, ground beef cooked with a packet of seasoning and shredded cheese. It was fun, because you got to “make” your own dinner, putting as much meat and cheese on as you wanted (though mom probably insisted that I put a little lettuce on it too). And eating with your hands! But my, how times have changed and only for the better. Tacos much closer to traditional Mexican food are readily available, and those kit tacos from my youth seem bland and boring now. That’s not Mexican food anymore, that’s drive-thru fast food now.

But one thing does remain, the fun of building your own dinner. I have often mentioned how much I love an interactive meal – everyone gets involved and talking and laughing and everybody has a meal they love. Chicken Tinga, which is a wonderful name for a dish, is chicken slow-cooked to melting tenderness in a flavor-packed onion and chipotle sauce. It is pretty simple to make for the reward it produces, and incredibly versatile. Use the juicy chicken to fill tortillas for tacos, or spread it over a crispy tostada. Stuff it into bread to make a torta, or use it to top an colorful taco salad. It is wonderful over rice, or serve it on its own, or rolled into burritos. The leftovers can be used for several days, and you can even freeze it.

I love to pull out a full array of colorful toppings to add crunch and creaminess and counterpoints to the smoky chipotle flavor. Simply pickled red onions are traditional and the vinegar tang complements to rich meat perfectly and this creamy avocado sauce cools everything down. Make this for family taco night or invite friends over for a Cinco de Mayo celebration. I think this would also make a great book club meal.

Chicken Tinga
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  2. 1 onion, diced
  3. 1 green bell pepper, diced
  4. 1 red bell pepper, diced
  5. 1 tomatillo, diced
  6. 2 cloves garlic, minced
  7. 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (2 if you want), diced
  8. 2 Tablespoons adobo sauce from the chipotles
  9. 1 – 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes (fire-roasted adds a little smokiness)
  10. 2 teaspoons oregano (preferably Mexican)
  11. 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  12. 6 chicken breasts
Topping ideas
  1. Creamy Avocado Sauce
  2. Quick Pickled Red Onions
  3. Crumbled cotija cheese
  4. Shredded lettuce or cabbage
  5. Shredded radishes
  6. Pico de gallo
  7. Salsa
  8. Limes wedges to squeeze over the top
Instructions
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot, then add the onion and bell peppers. Saute over medium heat until the vegetables star to soften, then lower the heat a little, add the garlic and cover the pan. Cook until soft and browning a little, about 10 minutes, stirring a few times. Add a little water to the pan and scrape up any browned bits form the bottom of the pan, then let the water cook off. Browning the vegetables a little adds some depth of flavor and richness. Add the tomatillo, chipotles, adobo sauce, tomatoes, oregano and cumin and stir well. Cook for about 5 minutes until the sauce is slightly thickened. Leave to cool for about 10 minutes. When the sauce has cooled a bit, transfer it to a blender and puree until smooth.
  2. Pour the sauce back into the pot and add the chicken breasts, stirring to cover each breast with sauce. Bring the pot to a bubble over medium high heat, then turn the heat to low, cover the pot and leave to simmer until the chicken is very tender, about 1 ½ hours. Remove the chicken breasts to a plate one at a time and use two forks to pull the chicken into shreds, then return the shreds to the sauce in the pot. Continue to simmer uncovered until the sauce reduces and thickens, about 30 minutes.
Notes
  1. You can place the chicken and sauce in a slow cooker and cook over low heat for 4 hours, then shred the meat as above.
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Quick Pickled Red Onions
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Ingredients
  1. 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  2. 1 cup water
  3. ½ cup cider vinegar
  4. 1 Tablespoon sugar
  5. 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  6. ½ teaspoon pickling spice
Instructions
  1. 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.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/
Creamy Avocado Sauce
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Ingredients
  1. 1 avocado
  2. 3 tomatillos
  3. juice of one lime
  4. 2 garlic cloves
  5. ¼ cup cilantro leaves
  6. salt to taste
Instructions
  1. Scoop the flesh out of the avocado and place it in a blender. Chop the tomatillos roughly and add to the blender with the garlic, cilantro and salt. Blend until smooth and scoop into a bowl or jar. Cover and keep in the fridge for up to 5 days.
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Baked Coconut Shrimp with Tequila Lime Butter Sauce

Baked Coconut Shrimp with Tequila Lime Butter Sauce

Crunchy coconut shrimp are sort of a secret treat for me. I don’t eat at a lot of chain restaurants, but there are a few that really excel and I make the occasional visit to sample them. The first time I had coconut shrimp years ago, I was attending the trial run of a chain restaurant opening its first branch in town. The night was a real disaster…the waiters were not ready, there were problems with the lighting and the piped in music. One of the bathrooms hadn’t been finished and the bar wasn’t opened.  But the shrimp sure were good.

I generally can’t be bothered with frying at home and this baked version is a bit healthier…leaving room for this creamy tequila lime sauce. I think it adds a little Cinco de Mayo tropical flair to the crispy shrimp. Serve these as a starter to a larger Mexican meal, or make this the main with some rice with lime and cilantro stirred through. Pop open a cold beer with a slice of lime and celebrate.

Baked Coconut Shrimp with Tequila Lime Butter Sauce
Serves 4
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Shrimp
  1. 1 ¼ cup panko bread crumbs
  2. ½ cup shredded sweetened coconut
  3. 1 teaspoon salt
  4. 1 pound large shrimp (26- 30 count), peeled, deveined, tails intact
  5. 1 egg
Sauce
  1. ½ cup tequila
  2. 6 Tablespoons heavy cream
  3. 2 Tablespoon fresh lime juice
  4. 3 teaspoons lime zest
  5. 1 ½ Tablespoon chopped cilantro
  6. ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, sliced
For the shrimp
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°
  2. Stir the panko, coconut and salt together in a large, deep skillet and place over medium heat. Stirring and flipping the crumbs constantly, toast until evenly golden brown. Be careful not to burn the coating. Spread the crumbs on a plate and leave to cool.
  3. Place a rack in a rimmed baking sheet and spray with cooking spray. Beat the egg with 2 teaspoons of water in a small bowl until blended. Pat the shrimp dry, then dip by the tail in the egg. Place the shrimp in the crumbs and press to coat each side fully. Place each bread shrimp on the prepared rack.
  4. Bake the shrimp for 10 – 12 minutes until opaque and cooked through.
For the sauce
  1. While the shrimp are cooking, stir the tequila, cream, lime juice, zest and cilantro together in a medium skillet. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently until reduced by half and thickened. Stir the butter in a piece at a time, stirring to melt after each addition.
  2. Serve the shrimp immediately drizzled with the sauce, or with the sauce on the side as a dip.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/