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.

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

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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

Shrimp Sauce Piquant

Somewhere between an etouffee and a gumbo lies sauce piquant, a rich, roux-based stew with a little kick. The layered flavors of a caramel dark roux, the trinity of Louisiana cooking, rich tomatoes and the added kick of Creole seasoning and chiles is everything you want in a Cajun meal. It’s a perfect winter dish, warm and comforting and spicy, a slow simmered stew packed with flavor. What could be better for a February Mardi Gras?

You can make this with crawfish, chicken or catfish (or heck, alligator if you want) cut into pieces, just adjust the cooking time accordingly. Traditionally, this is served over rice, but I think it also makes a delicious topping for grits. Serve it in deep bowls with some hot sauce to shake over the top. Make it a Mardi Gras meal with some Cafe Brulot Brownies or Bananas Foster Pound Cake.

Shrimp Sauce Piquant
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. 2 stalks celery
  2. 1 green bell pepper
  3. 1 medium white onion
  4. 3 cloves garlic
  5. 1 cup vegetable oil
  6. 1 cup flour
  7. 1 Tablespoon creole seasoning (like Tony Chachere's)
  8. 1 (14.5 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  9. 1 (10-ounce) ounce can diced tomatoes with green chiles
  10. 1 (4-ounce can) diced green chiles
  11. 4 cups chicken broth
  12. 2 pounds peeled and deveined shrimp (thawed if frozen)
  13. Hot sauce to taste
  14. Salt and pepper to taste
  15. Cooked rice
Instructions
  1. Finely dice the celery, bell pepper and onion. Finely mince the garlic and have it all near the stove.
  2. Now we are going to make a roux. In a large (at least 5 quart) heavy pan (I like enameled cast iron), heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the flour and stir until smooth and lump-free. Cook the roux, stirring frequently, until the color begins to darken. As it deepens, stir more frequently, then constantly, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan. As it darkens, it can burn quickly so pay attention. I use a heatproof spatula or a wooden spoon for my roux. When the roux has turned a deep brown, between the color of sweet tea and a good bourbon, after about 15 minutes, add the chopped onion, celery and bell pepper and stir well. Cook until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and creole seasoning and give it a good stir. Now add the crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, green chiles and chicken broth, stirring constantly as you pour them in. The roux may appear to curdle or seize, but keep stirring, it will smooth out. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer uncovered for 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally. Add a few dashes of hot sauce and some salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Add the shrimp to the sauce, cover the pot, and cook for about 10 minutes, just until the shrimp are pink, curled and cooked through. Serve over cooked white rice.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Bacon Praline Shrimp

Many years ago, I hesitate to say how many, the hot appetizer around town, both in restaurants and from party caterers, was bacon wrapped stuffed shrimp, often with a sticky glaze. They were an absolute hit with everyone. I, of course, re-created the dish at home and for some years served it at my own little gatherings. But it was (and still is) a lot of work. Butterfly the shrimp, carefully stuff them, hold them together while wrapping in bacon, securing with a toothpick, brush with a glaze, cook and serving immediately. I eventually gave up the ghost as I thought it was more trouble than I was willing to go to anymore. But bacon wrapped shrimp is just a plain delicious dish, so I worked to create something that mimicked the flavor without all the fuss. So here you go.

I’ve used shrimp of all sizes for this dish, but for toothpick appetizer purposes, little one bite morsels work best. Warm a serving dish in a low oven to serve these in, though they will remain delicious at room temperature. I have served this spooned over rice as a meal as well, and it makes a lovely supper. I do recommend making this and serving it quickly, but the sauce can be made a half hour ahead and kept warm over low heat. Up the heat and cook the shrimp as directed.

Bacon Praline Shrimp

1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp

½ cup chopped pecans

3 strips of bacon

1 cup light brown sugar, packed

½ cup water

1 sprig fresh rosemary

2 Tablespoons bourbon

2 Tablespoons lemon juice

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter

Rinse and drain the shrimp and pat dry with paper towels.

Toast the pecans in a dry, deep skillet until lightly browned and they have a lovely nutty fragrance. Transfer to a plate and wipe out the skillet. Cut the bacon into small pieces and cook in the skillet over medium high heat until browned and crispy. Transfer to paper towels to drain, then carefully pour the bacon grease into a bowl. Don’t wipe out the skillet, just return it to the heat and add the water and brown sugar and stir, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. Drop in the rosemary and bring to boil. Cook until syrup and thickened, about 5- 7 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the bourbon and lemon juice. Stir in 1 Tablespoon of the reserved bacon drippings and the butter and stir gently until the butter is melted. Stir in the bacon and toasted pecans. Return the pan to medium heat and add the shrimp, basting them with sauce until they are pink, curled and cooked through, just a few minutes.

Serve the shrimp immediately with toothpicks and some good bread for sopping up the sauce.

Serves 6 – 8

 

Tasso Gravy and How to Use It

After the rush and food extravaganza of Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year, there is always a quiet little lull in my kitchen. I tend then to simple soups, braises and stews. I work on my baking skills a little, and delve into the freezer for some of my put-up summer produce. Then I realize Mardi Gras is coming, and I get back to full throttle, cooking up favorite Cajun and Creole dishes full of verve and spice. Red Beans and Rice, Shrimp Creole, Grillades and Grits – I can’t get enough. I track down tasso ham from a local butcher and stock up on andouille sausage and make sure I have the trinity in my fridge – celery, onions and green bell peppers. This kind of food is perfect for serving to family and friends, or keeps me contentedly well fed.

Tasso gravy is a versatile, mutable classic with all sort of creative uses. Creamy with a little spice (you can up it with hot sauce or more creole seasoning), it’s a perfect foil for simple grits or rice. I particularly like it over plain rice, where the rich gravy really shines, but cheese grits make a perfect bed for the gravy for an extra layer of flavor. Add some shrimp or crawfish tail meat or red beans, or spoon it over biscuits or pork chops. Whip up some Café Brulot Brownies or King Cake Bars for a real Mardi Gras celebrations.

Tasso Gravy and How to Use It
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. Tasso Gravy and How to Use It
  2. 1 cup finely diced onion
  3. ½ cup finely diced celery
  4. ½ cup finely diced green bell pepper
  5. ½ cup vegetable oil
  6. ½ cup all-purpose flour
  7. 1 teaspoon creole seasoning
  8. 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  9. 8 ounces tasso ham, diced
  10. 6 ounces andouille sausage, cut into half and thin into thin half moons
Instructions
  1. Mix the diced vegetable together in a bowl and keep them close to the stove. Now we are going to make a roux. In a large (4 -5 quart) heavy pan (I like enameled cast iron), heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the flour and stir until smooth and lump-free. Cook the roux, stirring frequently, until the color begins to darken. As it deepens, stir more frequently, then constantly, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan. As it darkens, it can burn quickly so pay attention. I use a heatproof spatula or a wooden spoon for my roux, because it is very hot. When the roux has turned a deep brown, between the color of sweet tea and a good bourbon, after about 15 minutes, add the chopped onion, celery and bell pepper and stir well. The roux will seize up and cling to the vegetables, that’s what you want. Cook until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the creole seasoning and stir well. Now slowly pour in 2 cups of the chicken broth, stirring constantly, until the gravy is thick. Stir in the tasso, then the andouille until combined, then pour in the remaining broth, stirring constantly. Bring the gravy to a bubble and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened and rich.
How to use the gravy
  1. Tasso Gravy is delicious served over grits or white rice. Try cheese grits made with smoked gouda or smoked cheddar.
  2. It’s also great over biscuits for a Louisiana twist to biscuits and gravy. Add a poached egg on top for a jazzy benedict.
  3. Throw in a pound of peeled, deveined shrimp into the hot gravy and cook just until the shrimp are pink, curled and cooked through. Spoon over grits or cheese grits.
  4. Rinse, drain and pat dry some crawfish tail meat and cook until heated through.
  5. For a full pork experience, spoon the gravy over cooked thick pork chops, with mashed potatoes on the side.
  6. Add cooked red beans (or canned, rinsed and drained) and heat through. Serve over rice for an interesting twist to red beans and rice.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Mardi Gras Potato Salad

Mardi Gras Potato Salad

I recently made a batch of Debris Po’ Boys to photograph and served them to family for dinner. I needed a nice side dish, and though my first thought was New Orleans made spicy potato chips, I happened to be in the produce department and came across bags of little purple and gold mixed potatoes. With Mardi Gras on my mind, I decided I just had to make a thematic potato salad. Okay, it’s a little silly, making a side dish in the purple, green and gold colors traditional in Mardi Gras celebrations, but it was a fun conversation piece as we served ourselves supper. And these roasted potatoes tossed with the trinity of Cajun cooking – onions, green peppers and celery – coated in a tangy creole mustard vinaigrette also happens to be very good.

Purple and yellow potatoes are pretty easy to find in groceries this day, particularly gourmet or natural food markets. If you don’t find the little golf ball sized miniature version, just cut whole potatoes into bite-sized chunks.

Mardi Gras Potato Salad
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. ½ pound small purple potatoes
  2. ½ pound small yellow potatoes
  3. 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  4. salt and pepper
  5. 3 Tablespoons Creole mustard
  6. 2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
  7. ½ teaspoon hot sauce (I like Crystal)
  8. 4 green onions, white and some green parts, finely chopped
  9. ½ cup olive oil
  10. 1 stalks celery
  11. 1 green bell pepper
  12. chopped fresh parsley to garnish
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°.
  2. Cut the potatoes into bite sized pieces (quarters or eighths, depending on size). Spread the potatoes out on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle over the tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and some black pepper. Roast the potatoes until a knife inserted in the center of a piece meets no resistance, about 25 minutes. When the potatoes are cooked, transfer them to a large bowl.
  3. While the potatoes are cooking, mix the mustard, vinegar, hot sauce and green onions in a mason jar and shake to combine. Add the olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper and shake until fully combined. As soon as you put the hot potatoes in the bowl, pour over the vinaigrette and stir to coat. Leave to cool to room temperature, stirring a few times to distribute the dressing.
  4. Chop the celery into a small dice, then seed and chop the pepper into a small dice. When the potatoes are cool, add the celery and pepper to the bowl and stir to distribute evenly. Waiting until the potatoes have cooled keeps the celery and pepper crisp. Taste and add salt as needed. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
  5. Remove from the fridge about 30 minutes before you want to serve. Sprinkle over some chopped parsley and serve.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Debris Po’ Boys

Debris Po BoyMardi Gras is almost upon us, so it’s time to talk Po’ Boys. Traditionally, the story goes, the Debris po’ boy (pronounced DAY-bree in this case) was made from the leftover bits and pieces left behind from carving a roast, soaked in the gravy and meat juices. But I don’t generally have enough leftover roast beef to serve a crowd, and besides, debris is just too good to wait for leftovers. So I make this version in the slow cooker, to get the slow roasted flavor and lots of juices to turn into gravy. It is a very fun celebratory meal, letting everyone assemble their own po boy.

The bread for a po’ boy is obviously a key part of the overall experience. In New Orleans, po’ boy bread is a thing unto itself – made by local bakeries it is soft in the center with a crust that is not overly hard or chewy. Outside Louisiana, it’s a little hard to find real po’ boy bread, so you have to do you’re best. I find typical French bread too chewy so I tend to go for a hoagie roll or Mexican bollilo rolls. If you have a bakery in the area that supplies rolls for a Vietnamese bahn mi place or a Vietnamese grocery, that version of French bread is pretty close. Split the rolls or loaves and lightly toast.

Debris Po Boys
Serves 8
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Ingredients
  1. 4 stalks celery
  2. 3 carrots
  3. 2 onions
  4. 1 green bell pepper
  5. 10 cloves garlic
  6. 3 bay leaves
  7. 3 sprigs thyme
  8. 5 pounds bottom round beef roast (in two pieces is fine)
  9. Creole seasoning (I like Tony Chachere’s)
  10. 1 (12-ounce) bottle dark beer (I use Abita Turbo Dog)
  11. 1 cup beef broth
  12. 1 teaspoon corn starch
  13. Creole Spread
  14. ¾ cup mayonnaise
  15. ¼ cup Creole mustard (I like Zatarain’s)
  16. 2 teaspoons honey
  17. 1 teaspoon hot sauce (I like Crystal)
  18. 6 French bread rolls or hoagie rolls
  19. provolone cheese
  20. shredded lettuce
Instructions
  1. Place the celery, carrots and onions in the bottom of an 8-quart slow cooker. Stem and seed the bell pepper and add it to the crock with the garlic, bay leaves and thyme. Generously coat both sides of the beef roast with creole seasoning, rubbing it into the meat. Place the meat on top of the vegetables in the slow cooker.
  2. Pour in the beer and beef broth, cover and cook over low heat for eight hours. Remove the meat from the slow cooker to a deep rimmed platter or bowl. Pour the liquid from the slow cooker through a strainer into a large saucepan. Discard the solids. Let the juices settle, then skim off the fat. Bring the liquid to a boil and boil for about 5 minutes, until it is slightly reduced.
  3. While the liquid is boiling, shred the beef. Cut away any fat or gristle, then use two forks to pull the meat into shreds.
  4. Put the cornstarch onto a small bow and whisk in a few tablespoons of cooking liquid and whisk until completely smooth. Whisk the cornstarch mixture back into the juices and continue cooking for 2 -3 more minutes.
  5. Rinse out the slow cooker crock and return the meat to it. Pour over the juices and keep warm until ready to serve.
For the Creole Spread
  1. Whisk together the mayo, mustard, honey and hot sauce. This can be done up to a day ahead, covered and kept in the fridge.
  2. To serve, split the rolls and lightly toast on a cookie sheet in the oven. Spread on side of the bread with the creole spread. Use tongs to pile the beef onto the bread, then top the hot meat with a slice of cheese, then layer with shredded lettuce.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Gumbo Z’Herbes

Gumbo Z'Herbes

Gumbo Z’Herbes, or green gumbo, is a very traditional Creole dish that you do not find all that often. The magnificent Leah Chase at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant is famous for hers, and she serves it primarily the traditional way – on Holy Thursday (before Good Friday). Gumbo Z’herbes is said to bring luck and strengthen the body, and that for each type of green you put in the pot, you will make one new friend in the coming year. The traditional number seems to be nine, with eleven greens being a real bonus, and odd numbers are said to bring even more luck.

I have only had professionally made Gumbo Z’Herbes once in new Orleans, but it is a tradition and a dish that has always intrigued me, so I set out to do some research. I read recipes I found in some old Louisiana cookbooks and online. And the variations are endless. So I took all that information onboard and created this recipe. I generally don’t use as many as nine greens, because I can’t usually track that many down. And some of the recipes used very regional ingredients like pickled pork that I just don’t have access to. Some versions take all day to prepare and cook, some take shortcuts. Some have up to seven different kinds of meat, from pork shoulder to boudin while some insist this should be a vegetarian dish for lent. I am not claiming this is the definitive version of Gumbo Z’Herbes, but it’s mine.

Though traditionally a dish for Lent, I think it is perfect for New Years Day, when eating greens is said to bring prosperity and eating pork is said to be a symbol of progress in the New Year. I say the more greens and pork the better!

Gumbo Z'Herbes
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. 3 pounds of mixed greens: Mustard greens, collard greens, turnip greens, kale, spinach, flat leaf parsley, watercress, chard, dandelion (see note)
  2. 1 cup vegetable oil
  3. 1 cup all-purpose flour
  4. 2 cups finely diced yellow onion (about 1 onion)
  5. 1 cup finely diced green bell pepper (about 1 pepper)
  6. 1 cup finely diced celery (about 2 stalks)
  7. 1 Tablespoon cajun seasoning (I use Tony Chachere’s)
  8. 1 ham hock
  9. 10 cups hot water
  10. 1 pound Andouille sausage
Instructions
  1. Strip any thick stalks from the greens (particularly collards, mustard, turnip and kale) and place all the greens in a sink or large bowl full of water. Swish them around a couple of times and let them soak about 5 minutes. Lift the greens out of the water into a large colander. Dirt and silt from the greens will settle at the bottom of the sink, so gently lift them out to prevent the dirt getting back on the greens. Shake the greens to drain. Chop piles of the greens into bite size pieces and return them to the colander.
  2. Now we are going to make a roux. In a large (at least 7 quart) heavy pan (I like cast iron or enameled cast iron), heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the flour and stir until smooth and lump-free. Cook the roux, stirring frequently, until the color begins to darken. As it deepens, stir more frequently, then constantly, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan. As it darkens, it can burn quickly so pay attention. I use a heatproof spatula or a wooden spoon for my roux. When the roux has turned a deep brown, between the color of sweet tea and a good bourbon, after about 15 minutes, add the chopped onion, celery and bell pepper and stir well. Cook until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the creole seasoning. Now slowly pour in the hot water (hottest from the tap is fine, or bring some to a simmer in a pot), stirring constantly. The roux may appear to curdle or seize, but keep stirring, it will smooth out. Add the ham hock, then all the greens, a handful at a time, stirring them down to fit in the pot. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover the pot and simmer the gumbo for 1 ½ hours.
  3. Scoop about a third of the greens into a food processor or blender with a nice dose of potlikker, at least a cup, and puree until smooth. Return the pureed greens to the pot. Remove the ham hock and carefully pull the meat of the bones. If needed, chop it into bite-sized pieces and add back to the gumbo. Slice the andouille into thin half moons about 1/8 inch thick and add to the pot. Simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes more.
  4. Serve in big bowls. The gumbo on its own is a little soupy. Serve it over rice to soak up some of that potlikker if you’d like, or with nice hunks of French bread or cornbread to sop it up.
Notes
  1. Head to a good Southern market, farmers market or an Asian grocery to track down all the greens. Many recipes use carrot tops as one of the greens, so if you can find those. Same goes for beet tops and radish tops. Green chard, cabbage, arugula and romaine will also work. Just weigh out 3 pounds.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Café Brûlot Brownies

Café Brulot Brownies

Café Brûlot is one of the spectacular presentation dishes of New Orleans fine dining. It requires a special brûlot bowl and ladle and a lot of skill and daring. Coffee is mixed with brandy, orange liqueur, orange and lemon peels and spices and lit afire. In the traditional restaurants of New Orleans, the whole lot is rolled out on a cart and an expert waiter makes a big show of mixing and lighting the concoction. In a serious Café Brûlot show, the flaming brew is ladled down long strips of orange peel, creating a rather spectacular blue flame.

All this is quite a lot of work, as you can imagine, and as I have neither the equipment not the fearlessness to do it myself, I took the flavors of café brûlot and incorporated them into a deep, chocolate-y brownie that makes a perfect Mardi Gras treat.

Café Brûlot Brownies
Yields 24
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For the Brownies
  1. 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  2. 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  3. 1 cup cocoa powder
  4. 4 teaspoons instant coffee powder (dark roast or espresso)
  5. ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  6. ¼ teaspoon cloves
  7. 2 cups granulated sugar
  8. 4 large eggs
  9. 2 teaspoons vanilla
  10. 1 cup all-purpose flour
  11. ½ teaspoon salt
  12. ¼ cup brandy
For the topping
  1. ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened, plus 4 Tablespoons
  2. 2 cups powdered sugar
  3. 3 Tablespoons orange liqueur
  4. 2 teaspoons grated orange zest
  5. 6 ounces semisweet chocolate
For the brownies
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9 by 13 brownie pan with non-stick foil or foil sprayed with cooing spray, leaving a nice overhang to lift the brownies out.
  2. Melt the butter in a large bowl in the microwave or a large pot on the stove. Stir in the lemon zest, then stir in the cocoa powder, coffee powder, cinnamon and cloves. Stir in the sugar until well combined. Stir the eggs into the batter, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla, then stir in the flour and salt until the batter is completely mixed and smooth. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 – 25 minutes. Sprinkle the brandy evenly over the top of the brownies and leave to cool.
For the topping
  1. When the brownies are cool, beat the stick of butter, powdered sugar, liqueur and orange zest together until completely smooth. I prefer to use an electric mixer for this. Spread the topping over the cooled brownies. Chill the brownies for about an hour in the fridge.
  2. Melt the 4 Tablespoons of butter and the chocolate in a small bowl or measuring jug in the microwave or in a bowl over simmering water. Spread the melted chocolate in a thin layer over the brownies. I like to grate a little more orange zest over the chocolate for decorative effect
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/