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.

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.

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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.

Confetti King Cake Squares

Confetti King Cake Sqaures

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

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

Confetti King Cake Squares

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

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

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

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 large egg, at room temperature

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup confectioner’s sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

3 – 4 Tablespoons milk

Purple, green and yellow sprinkles or sanding sugar to decorate

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

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

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

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

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

Makes 16

Muffaletta Cobb Salad

Muffaletta Cobb Salad

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

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

Muffaletta Cobb Salad

For the Dressing:

¼ cup brine from jarred giardiniera

¼ cup red wine vinegar

1 Tablespoon Creole mustard

½ Tablespoon dried Italian seasoning

1 clove garlic, finely minced

1 cup olive oil

For the croutons:

½ a small baguette, thinly sliced

Olive oil spray

Salt and pepper

For the Salad:

2 romaine hearts

6 ounce round of provolone cheese

8 ounces bite-sized Italian salami

3 ounces sliced soppressata

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

1 (6 ounce) jar pitted black olives, drained

1 (10 ounce) jar pitted green olives, drained

½ cup banana pepper rings from a jar

For the Dressing:

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

For the Croutons:

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

Assembly:

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

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

Shrimp and Sausage Gravy with Rice Grits

Shrimp and Sausage Gravy with Rice Grits

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

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

Shrimp and Sausage Gravy with Rice Grits

For the Gravy:

1 pound medium frozen peeled, deveined shrimp, thawed

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

8 ounces smoked sausage

1 (10-ounce) can tomatoes with green chile

1 cup chicken broth

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 Tablespoons butter

1 green bell pepper, finely diced

1 yellow onion, finely diced

2 stalks celery, finely diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

For the Rice Grits:

3 cups chicken broth

1 ½ cups water

¼ cup (half stick) butter

1 Tablespoon kosher salt

1 ½ cups rice grits

For the Gravy:

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

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

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

For the Grits:

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

Serves 6