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.

Sweet Potato Pralines

I aspire to be, but am not much of a candy maker. I get a little nervous about the candy thermometer and the exactitude. In fact, I first started making pralines when I learned how to do them in the microwave. But I have been experimenting and expanding for awhile, and have come to discover making candy is not nearly as intimidating as I had feared. Sure, it takes some organization and patience, but the reward is so great, it’s utterly worth it.

As with a great deal of cooking, what really gets me interested and motivated is old community cookbooks, those treasure troves of local knowledge that always inspire and excite me. Many of these gems have whole chapters on candy making, everything from fudge to toffee to divinity and parlaines. And that is where I found this recipe for “yam” pralines. The idea intrigued me so, I had to try it. With a little tweaking and modernization and some interpretation from a clearly expert praline maker to a real novice, I got this version just right.

These pralines are incredibly autumnal, as sweet and luscious as the original, but with this lovely earthy undertone from the sweet potatoes. And they are celebratory – everyone is impressed with homemade candy. Wrap these individually in little cellophane bags tied with ribbon for a sophisticated Halloween treat, stack them up in a Mason jar as a hostess gift for friendsgiving, or lay them out on a pretty silver tray for the Thanksgiving dessert display.

Sweet Potato Pralines
  1. 3 cups granulated white sugar
  2. 1 cup heavy cream
  3. 1 ¼ cup cooked, mashed sweet potato*
  4. pinch of kosher salt
  5. 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  6. 2 cups chopped pecans
  1. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set near the stove.
  2. Combine the white sugar, heavy cream, sweet potato and salt in a large, heavy saucepan with a candy thermometer clipped to the side. Stir to blend thoroughly, then cook over medium heat until the thermometer reaches 234 degrees (sift-ball stage. Stir occasionally. Meanwhile, melt the brown sugar in a heavy saucepan. When the sweet potato mixture reaches 234, quickly stir in the melted brown sugar and the pecans until thoroughly combined. Remove the pot from the heat, then quickly drop large tablespoons of mixture onto the prepared baking sheets. Leave to cool for several hours until firm and dry. These will keep for at least a week in an airtight container.
  3. Makes about 2 dozen
  1. * You can cook about 2 sweet potatoes by pricking them all over with a sharp knife and microwaving for 10 minutes until soft when pressed. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, but still warm, cut in half and scoop the flesh into the bowl of a food processor. Process until you have a smooth puree, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Leave the puree to cool. I have, however, also used a canned sweet potato puree – just sweet potatoes, not candied yams. I find these at better grocery stores.
The Runaway Spoon

Turkey, Pumpkin and White Bean Chili with Cranberry Relish

Turkey, Pumpkin and White Bean ChiliOne of my stand-by kitchen recipes, one I make for friends, family and just for myself on a regular basis is my Tuxedo Chili, made with chicken, black and white beans and warming spices. It even won a recipe contest! It’s a perfect one bowl meal, filling and comforting and perfect for the first chilly nights. With Halloween and Thanksgiving around the corner, I wanted to give my standard a little seasonal twist. So I’ve combined all the comforting flavors of fall into a delicious, hearty treat.

I swapped out chicken in the recipe for the more seasonally-loved turkey, and added rich pumpkin for depth of flavor and a nice, creamy dose of white beans. Once I had the chili sorted, I couldn’t resist a sweet and tangy cranberry and cilantro relish to top it off, adding another layer of autumn. All in all, this makes for the kind of meal I love to serve family and friends. Make a big pot of chili, put out the various toppings and some good bread and let everyone build their own bowl. For an even more thematic meal, make a batch of Pumpkin Cornbread to serve alongside. I think this is the perfect meal to warm up post trick-or-treating or a trip to the corn maze!

Turkey, Pumpkin and White Bean Chili with Cranberry Relish
Serves 4
For the Chili
  1. 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  2. 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
  3. 2 garlic cloves, minced
  4. 1 pound ground turkey
  5. 2 teaspoons dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
  6. 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  7. 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
  8. 1 teaspoon salt
  9. 1 teaspoon black pepper
  10. ½ teaspoon sweet paprika
  11. 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  12. 2 cups (16-ounce cans) pumpkin puree
  13. 1 (15.5 ounce) can white beans, rinsed and drained
  14. 1 ½ cups chicken broth
For the Relish
  1. ½ cup dried cranberries
  2. 4 green onions, white and some green parts
  3. ¼ cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
  4. juice of ½ a small lime
To serve
  1. Sour cream
  2. Lime wedges
For the Chili
  1. Pour the oil into a large pot, add the onions and cook over medium-high heat until the onions are soft and wilted. Add the garlic and cook a few minutes more. Add the ground turkey and cook, breaking up the meat with a spoon or spatula, until it begins to brown.
  2. Mix the oregano, cumin, chili powder, salt, pepper, cinnamon and paprika together in a small bowl and sprinkle over the meat in the pot and stir to distribute the spices evenly. Scrape in the pumpkin puree and stir well, then pour in the chicken broth and stir. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and add the drained beans. Cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover the pot and cook until the chili is thickened, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. The chili can be cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to two days and freezes beautifully. Add a little broth when reheating if needed.
For the Relish
  1. Place the cranberries in the bowl of a small food processor and pulse to break them up. Cut the green onion into pieces and add to the bowl with the cilantro. Pulse until you have a loose relish. Stir in the lime juice.
  2. Serve the chili with a spoonful of the relish and a dollop of sour cream, with some lime wedges to squeeze over.
  1. Easily doubled!
The Runaway Spoon

Pumpkin Tres Leches

Pumpkin Tres Leches

Moist, sweet and tender Tres Leches cake is a favorite of mine. A classic of the cooking canon of many Hispanic cultures, “three milk” cake is simply a delicate cake soaked in a combination of milks. For years, I used a recipe given to me by a friend from Nicaragua that used a box cake mix and it was always a big hit. I eventually developed a from-scratch recipe, and then adapted that to become one of my favorite Christmas dessert, Eggnog Tres Leches. It’s a fabulous holiday dish, because it needs to be made ahead and can serve a crowd. So for Thanksgiving, it seemed only right to come up with a pumpkin version.

Pumpkin Tres Leches is a great treat for any seasonal entertaining, and with its origins is a great choice for a Day of the Dead celebration. Serve it up as a post trick-or-treating feast of Chicken Enchiladas with Pumpkin Sauce or Spicy Chorizo, Pumpkin and Black Bean Chili (because you can’t have too much pumpkin on Halloween). And it is a natural for Thanksgiving and is imminently portable if you are headed to another house for the celebration. An artful dollop of whipped cream and sprinkle of nutmeg add an elegant touch if you’d like.

Pumpkin Tres Leches
Serves 12
  1. 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
  2. 2 cups granulated sugar
  3. 1 cup vegetable oil
  4. 4 eggs
  5. 2 teaspoons vanilla
  6. 2 cups all-purpose flour
  7. 2 teaspoons baking soda
  8. 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  9. ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  10. ½ teaspoon salt
  11. ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
  12. ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  13. 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
  14. 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  15. ¾ cup evaporated milk
  16. ½ cup buttermilk
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a 9 by 13 glass baking dish.
  2. Beat the pumpkin, sugar and oil together in the bowl of an electric mixer until smooth and well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Mix the flour, soda, spices, and salt together in a small bowl. Beat into the pumpkin mixture at low speed until thoroughly combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally.
  3. Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 – 45 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Leave the cake to cool to room temperature.
  4. Stir the condensed milk, evaporated milk and buttermilk together in a 4-cup measuring jug until completely combined. Poke small holes over the top of the cake using a skewer or cake tester. Slowly pour the milk mixture evenly over the top of the cake. Let sit for about 15 minutes, then carefully cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Leave the cake to soak up the syrup for up to 12 hours.
The Runaway Spoon

Milky Way Crazy Candy Bar Cake

Milky Way Crazy Candy Bar Cake

Milky Way Cake is a classic recipe and there are versions of it all over community cookbooks and the Internet.  Some are layer cakes with marshmallow frosting; some are sheet cakes with boiled fudge icing.  But I like this simple Bundt version.  This is a sweet cake, with a lovely caramel undernote and adding masses of thick gooey icing, in my opinion, would make this too achingly sweet and take away from the lovely flavor of the cake itself.  So I just make a very simple glaze, and affix some chunks of candy bar for decoration and a little extra sweet.  A cake like this is great for Halloween – and a way to use up those extra candy bars.

Milky Way Crazy Candy Bar Cake

I used seven regular candy bars and a bag of mixed mini size (smaller than funsize) Milky Way, Milky Way Dark, Snickers and Twix.

7 (1.84 ounce) Milky Way bars or the equivalent in mini size bars (about 50)

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

2 cups granulated sugar

4 eggs

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 ¼ cups buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla

For the Topping:

2 Tablespoons heavy cream

6 mini sized candy bars (Milky Way or Three Musketeers)

1 bag mini candy bars (as many as you would like to use!)

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Grease and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan.

Cut ½ cup (1 stick) of butter and the candy bars into pieces and place in a saucepan.  Melt over medium heat, stirring frequently, until smooth and combined.  Do not let the mixture scorch.

Meanwhile, cream the remaining ½ cup butter and the sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the flour and baking soda alternately with the buttermilk, beating well after each addition.  Add the vanilla.

Pour in the melted chocolate bars and beat until thoroughly combined.  Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 – 50 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool the cake in the pan, then turn out onto a platter.

For the topping:

Melt the cream and the candy bars in a small saucepan, or in the microwave.  Stir until melted and smooth, though a few flecks of nougat is fine.  Leave to cool for a few minutes while you chop the candy bars into pieces.

Spoon the glaze over the top of the cake.  Use the wet glaze to affix pieces of chopped candy bar to the cake.  Sprinkle any remaining pieces around the platter.

Serves 10 – 12

Pumpkin Pizza Party (Pumpkin Pizza Dough and Pumpkin – Tomato Pizza Sauce)

Pumpkin Pizza Dough and Pumpkin Tomato Pizza Sauce

I have always loved interactive food – where everyone gets to participate in the making and serving of a meal.  The pizza party is a great example of this – roll out the dough, choose the toppings, assemble the pizza and watch while they bake. It’s fun for kids and grown-ups alike.

Fall and Halloween are great times to gather around a fun kitchen project.  When the weather gets that little nip in the air, its nice to come inside to a warming meal.  Add some pumpkin to the mix and it is a real fall meal.  The pizza dough is simple to mux up and the sauce can be made ahead of time.  Clear off the counter and let everyone go to work on their own creation.

Pumpkin Pizza Dough

1 Tablespoon active yeast

1 teaspoon honey

½ cup warm water (about 110°)

3 ½ cups bread flour

1 cup pumpkin puree (from a 15 ounce can, remainder reserved)

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

Sprinkle the yeast into the bowl of a stand mixer.  Add the honey and pour over the warm water.  Give it a little stir and let it sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.  Add the flour, pumpkin, olive oil and salt and mix with the dough hook on a low setting until it all comes together.  Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.  Work the dough with hook on low speed for 8 – 10 minutes until the dough is a soft, elastic ball that has cleaned all the flour and bits off the sides of the bowl.  Push the dough back down if it starts to push over the top of the dough hook.

When the dough is kneaded, transfer the dough ball to a bowl greased with olive oil.  Brush the top of the dough with olive oil, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 425°.

Punch down the risen dough and leave it to rest for 10 minutes. Sprinkle your counter lightly with corn meal.  Divide the dough into 2 balls and shape each into a smooth disc Working one ball at a time, use your hands to push the dough outward from the center, turning the dough ¼ turn as you go, until you have a nice round pizza, about 10 – 12 inches around. Push and stretch the dough outward from the middle until it wont’ stretch any more.  Leave the pizza base to rest for 5 minutes. Repeat with the next disc.

Carefully transfer the pizza base to a baking sheet lightly brushed with olive oil.  If it loses its shape, press it back into the round.  Use your fingertips to press indentions in the dough to prevent it from bubbling up.

Spread on the tomato – pumpkin sauce and the toppings of your choice.  Bake for 10 – 12 minutes until the crust is golden and the cheese toppings are melted.


-You can make this a perfectly round pizza, or go more free form, just make sure the finished dough fits on your baking sheet.  If you are more artistic than me, shape the dough like a pumpkin.

-You can make four individual pizzas if you prefer.

-If you only want one pizza, freeze the second disc in a ziptop bag for up to a month.

Pumpkin Pizza with Taleggio, Pancetta and Fried Sage

Pumpkin Pizza with Taleggio, Pancetta and Fried Sage

Pumpkin – Tomato Pizza Sauce

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped onions (from about 1 small onion)

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 Tablespoon vermouth or white wine

the remaining pumpkin puree from making the dough (about 2/3 cups)

1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh sage

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Place the olive oil and chopped onions in a high sided saucepan and sauté over medium high heat until translucent and soft and beginning to turn golden, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for a further minute, then add the vermouth, scraping the bottom of the pan.  Cook until the liquid is evaporated and the onions are a pale golden color.  If the onions need to cook a bit longer to reach golden, add a few tablespoons of water and cook until its evaporated.

Add the tomato sauce and pumpkin puree and stir to combine.  Stir in ½ cup of water, the sage, salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Cook over medium heat until the sauce has thickened, stirring frequently to prevent scorching., about 10 minutes.

The sauce can be made up to a day ahead, covered and refrigerated.

Makes 1 ½ cups

Leftover sauce is excellent on pasta, particularly a cheese tortellini.


Topping ideas:

Taleggio cheese, prosciutto or cooked pancetta and fried sage leaves

Fontina cheese, cooked Italian sausage, thinly sliced red onion

Shaved parmesan cheese Roasted red and yellow pepper strips and mushrooms

Mozzarella cheese and bacon

Pumpkin Pizza with Fontina and Italian Sausage

Pumpkin Pizza with Fontina and Italian Sausage

Halloween Hot Chocolate (Liquid Candy)

I see lots of recipe for using up leftover Halloween candy.  I’m not sure I see the point, as just eating it straight is generally fine with me.  Mind you, not in one sitting, but over time, stashed in drawers and cabinets.  But I do want to make my contribution with this creamy, rich hot chocolate.  Make it as soon as the little monsters come in from the trick-or-treating chill, or as a special after school treat later in the week.

You must use soft candy that will melt, and nuts are too chunky.  Milky Way,  Rolo, Kisses, Reese’s,  Hershey’s Milk or Special Dark all work beautifully.  The final product may not be a chocolaty brown depending on the type of candy used, but it will still be delicious.  Using the blender makes a creamy drink with everything smoothly combined, plus it creates a nice foamy top.

Halloween Hot Chocolate (Liquid Candy)

¼ cup heavy cream

1 cup milk

1 ounce chocolate candy (4 mini-size squares)

Combine the cream and milk in a small saucepan and heat over medium just until bubbles form on the surface. Do not boil.

Unwrap the candy and place in the carafe of a blender.  Pour over the warm milk and leave for a few seconds to soften the candy bars.  Vent the blender lid and carefully hold it with a folded tea towel.  Blend until smooth and frothy. Serve immediately, or pour back into the saucepan and reheat gently if needed.

Makes one serving, can be doubled or tripled

Creamy Italian Sausage and Pumpkin Manicotti

As I remember it, trick or treating is hard work.  Lots of walking, in what is invariably an uncomfortable costume, that heavy bag of candy and keeping your best manners on under all that stress.  But the promise of a seemingly endless supply of fun-size candy bars made it all worthwhile.  I even liked the stripey, crunchy peanut butter Mary Janes and the peanut taffy in the orange and black wrappers.  Then there was the dentist down the street, who gave the “special” neighborhood kids a toothbrush, while any other kids got granola bars.

So after a hard slog of candy hunting, it’s nice to come home to warm, comforting seasonal dinner.  And what could be more perfect on Halloween than pumpkin?  This creamy, cheesy casserole can be made ahead, and popped in the oven to cook while you’re out and about.  The meaty sausage and melty cheese are perfect, with a subtle pumpkin flavor that will satisfy little tummies (and grown-up appetites) before the sugar rush sets in.

Creamy Italian Sausage and Pumpkin Manicotti

For the Manicotti:

1 (8-ounce) package manicotti pasta shells

1 pound sweet Italian sausage, bulk or casings removed

1 medium yellow onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

7 fresh sage leaves, chopped

1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese

1 cup pumpkin puree, from a 15-ounce can

1 cup shredded parmesan cheese

2 cups shredded mozzarella or Italian cheese blend

For the Pumpkin Sage Béchamel Sauce:

2 Tablespoons butter

2 Tablespoons flour

2 cups milk

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

10 fresh sage leaves, very finely chopped

¾ cup pumpkin puree (the remainder from the manicotti recipe)

Salt and pepper to taste

For the Manicotti:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the manicotti according to the package instructions.  Cook the manicotti about 2 minute less than the recommended cooking time.  Drain the manicotti and rinse thoroughly with cold water to prevent sticking.

While the water is boiling and the manicotti is cooking, crumble the sausage into a large skillet and cook over medium high heat, breaking it up with a spatula, until it begins to brown.  Add the onion and ½ cup of water and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan, until the sausage is cooked through and no longer pink and the water has evaporated.  Stir in the garlic and chopped sage and cook for 2 more minutes.  Add the ricotta and pumpkin and stir until the filling is creamy and smooth.  Stir in the parmesan cheese until melted.  Leave the filling to cool to room temperature while you make the sauce.

For the Pumpkin Béchamel:

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat, then whisk in the flour until you have a loose, smooth paste.  Slowly whisk in the milk and cook over medium until the sauce is creamy and thickened.  Whisk in the nutmeg and chopped sage.  Stir in the pumpkin puree until combined and cook until lightly bubbling.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To assemble:

Spread about ½ cup of béchamel sauce over the bottom of a greased 9 by 13-inch baking pan, to prevent the pasta sticking to the bottom of the pan.  Stuff the manicotti shells with the filling and lay them over the sauce in the pan.  I admit, I am a bit of a manicotti cheat – I cut the shells open with a pair of scissors, place a line of filling down the center, roll it up, and place it seam side down in the pan.  If you have some leftover filling, tuck it in around the noodles.

Spoon the béchamel sauce over the noodles and gently spread it out to a thin layer covering the noodles.  Sprinkle the 2 cups of shredded mozzarella over the top of the manicotti.

The manicotti can be covered and refrigerated several hours or overnight at this point.  When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350°.  Bake the manicotti for 40 minutes, until heated through and bubbling.  If the cheese begins to brown, loosely cover the pan with foil.

Serves 6- 8

You might also like Spicy Chorizo, Pumpkin and Black Bean Chili, Pumpkin Cornbread, Chicken Enchiladas with Pumpkin Sauce, or Candy Corn Mousse.

Spicy Chorizo, Pumpkin and Black Bean Chili

I love a good pumpkin dish for Halloween, and this one hits all the right notes.  It’s easy to make, reheats well after a busy night trick-or-treating and is packed full of flavor.  It is also a Halloween appropriate blend of orange and black!  And chili is always a crowd pleaser, and extra fun for a gathering if you provide fun toppings to customize each bowl like sour cream, lime, diced avocado, or tortilla chips.  If you are industrious, save the seeds from the pumpkin and toast them with a little salt for a crunchy topper.  You could even serve this chili over rice.  And of course, a wedge of Pumpkin Cornbread would be the perfect accompainment.

Look for small “pie” pumpkins, sometimes labeled sugar pumpkins.  Sorry, but the flesh from your jack-o-lantern won’t work.  Those pumpkins are decorative and have tough flesh with little flavor.  If your market sells pre-cut pumpkin, feel free to use it, and yes, you could substitute pre-cut butternut squash, though that takes out some of the Halloween authenticity. The cinnamon in this chili adds real depth and brings out the flavor of the pumpkin.  It does not make it sweet or taste like cookies, I promise.

A word about chorizo.  For this dish you’ll use the more common Mexican chorizo, which is a soft uncooked sausage, not hard salami-like Spanish chorizo.  I have found that the flavors of readily available chorizo vary enormously.  I recommend a brand made in Mexico, which I find easily at my regular grocery store, or if you can, a freshly made variety from a Hispanic grocer.  Choose mild over spicy if there is an option – you can always add spice, but you can’t take it away. The brand I commonly find is packed with flavor and very spicy, so it requires little else to make this chili pack a punch.  That is why I recommend cooking small bit of the chorizo first and tasting it.  If you find it bland, add chili powder to taste, and even a little hot sauce if you feel the need.

Spicy Chorizo, Pumpkin and Black Bean Chili

2 pounds Mexican chorizo (please read above)

1 yellow onion, finely chopped

4 cups (32-ounce box) chicken broth

1 Tablespoon cinnamon

Chili powder (optional)

3 – 4 pound pie pumpkin

2 (14-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained

Salt and pepper to taste

Topping Ideas:

Sour cream

Lime wedges

Diced avocado

Chopped cilantro

Crumbled cotija or queso fresco cheese

Tortilla chips

Oyster crackers

Toasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

Pinch off a small piece of the chorizo and sauté it in a small skillet until cooked through.  Taste the chorizo to determine its flavor and spice level.

Break the chorizo up into a 5-quart Dutch oven and sauté over medium heat, breaking up the meat into small pieces until the bright orange juices are running.  Add the chopped onion and continue cooking, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan until the onions are soft. Pour in the chicken broth, bring to a boil and reduce the heat to medium-low.  Stir in the cinnamon.  Add chili powder to taste if you feel the chorizo doesn’t have enough flavor and spice.

While the chorizo is simmering, prepare the pumpkin.  Cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds and fibrous innards.  Cut the halves into quarters and cut away the orange rind and any green-tinged flesh.  Use a very sturdy and sharp knife and go slowly and carefully.  Cut the pumpkin flesh into bite size chunks.  Remember you’ll be eating this with a spoon, so size the pieces accordingly.  Add the pumpkin to the simmering chorizo. Cook for about 10 minutes, then add the drained black beans.  Continue to simmer the chili until the pumpkin is tender and the chili has thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve warm with sour cream and fresh limes to squeeze over the chili, and a selection of toppings.  The chili can be made up to 24 hours ahead and gently reheated.

Serves 6 – 8

Pumpkin Cornbread

I love cooking with pumpkin, so Halloween and the dawn of autumn present all sorts of opportunities in the kitchen.  I have always been obsessed with sweet pumpkin dishes, but I have been expanding my repertoire to savory ideas as well.

Working with fresh pumpkin is not difficult, you just need to be careful and use a good, sturdy knife.  The texture of freshly grated pumpkin is a world away from the standard canned puree.  If you have a half or a wedge of pumpkin leftover, brush it with olive oil and roast it after you’ve made the cornbread.  Scoop out the soft puree and use it to make soup or jazz up mashed potatoes.  You can even freeze it for later.  I love the garlic notes in this, but if it is not your thing, leave it out.  And a generous grinding of black pepper adds real pep.  This cornbread is delicious with a bowl of soup or chili, toasted and spread with butter.

Pumpkin Cornbread

2 -3 pound pie pumpkin, to make 11 ounces grated flesh

5 Tablespoons butter

1 cup all-purpose flour

¾ cups yellow cornmeal

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1 Tablespoon granulated sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup milk

2 eggs

1 clove garlic, pressed

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Using a big, sturdy, sharp knife, cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out all the seeds and fibrous center. Cut one pumpkin half into wedges and carefully cut away the skin.  Cut the flesh into chunks and grate it in the food processor or using a large box grater.  If you use a food processor and the grated strands are very long, run a knife through them to cutthe strands down to size. Weigh out the flesh, and cut and grate more pieces to reach 11 ounces.

Place one Tablespoon butter in a 9-inch round baking dish and place it in the oven.

In a large bowl, toss the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, sugar, salt, pepper and nutmeg together with a fork.  Add the grated pumpkin and tossto coat. Make a well in the center and add the milk, butter and eggs.  Stir with fork to mix well.  Put the garlic clove through a garlic press, then stir the batter to make sure it is evenly distributed.

Remove the baking dish from the oven and use a pastry brush to spread the melted butter up and around the sides of the pan.  Quickly scrape the batter into the dish and return to the oven.  Cook for 20 – 25 minutes until puffed, firm and golden and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm from baking or toasted.

Serves 6 – 8

Pumpkin Dulce de Leche Bars

‘Tis the season for all things pumpkin – and it is my favorite time of year.  I love pumpkin.  Sweet, savory, anyway it comes.  I go a little overboard with pumpkin – I buy all the seasonal pumpkin flavored items on the store shelves, and cook with pumpkin like crazy.  Check out these cookies, enchiladas, biscuits and tart.  You’ll see what I mean.

So here is the latest contribution to my long and ever growing list of pumpkin recipes.  Old fashioned, moist, cake-y pumpkin squares with a new-fangled swirl of decadent caramel dulce de leche.  And this is currently my favorite pumpkin incarnation.  I made my test batches, then made some more.  I didn’t share that batch.  I actually think these get better – more moist and gooey – after a couple of days.  If they last that long.

Pumpkin Dulce de Leche Bars

You’ll find canned dulce de leche at the grocery in the Latin foods section, or with the condensed milk.  If you can’t figure out what to do with the leftovers, I just don’t know what to do with you.

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

½ cup (1 stick) butter

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¾ cup canned pumpkin puree

¾ cup canned dulce de leche

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease an 8 by 8 inch baking pan.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and pie spice in a small bowl.  Cream the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, then beat in the egg and vanilla.  Reduce the speed of the mixer and gradually add the dry ingredients until just combined.  Beat in the pumpkin puree. Spread the pumpkin batter in the prepared pan.

Measure the dulce de leche into a microwave safe measuring cup and microwave for 30 – 45 seconds, stirring halfway through, just to loosen it up.  Drizzle the dulce de leche over the top of the pumpkin batter.  Using a skewer or thin-bladed knife, swirl the dulce de leche through the batter.

Bake the bars for 25 – 30 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Tightly covered, the bars will keep for several days.

Makes about 16 bars