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.

Maple Brown Butter Cupcakes

Maple Brown Butter Cupcakes

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

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

Maple Brown Butter Cupcakes

For the Cupcakes:

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 Tablespoon baking powder

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup amber maple syrup

1 cup heavy cream

2 large eggs

For the Frosting:

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

3 cups confectioners sugar

6- 7 Tablespoons cream

3 Tablespoons amber maple syrup

For the Cupcakes:

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

Cut the butter into small pieces and place in a large saucepan (light colored or stainless is best so you can see the butter as it browns). Heat over medium high heat, watching constantly, until the butter is melted. It will start to spit and hiss, then you will see brown speckles appear. Stir the butter to distribute the browned bits, and as soon as the butter has an even brown color and a nice nutty smell, pour it into a small glass measuring jug and leave to cool.

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

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

For the Frosting: 

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

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

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Flatbread with Cranberry Onion Jam and Brie

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

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

Flatbread with Cranberry Onion Jam and Brie

For the Cranberry Onion Jam

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 pounds yellow sweet onions, finely diced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/3 cup pure cane sugar or granulated sugar

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

1 stalk fresh rosemary

2 cups fresh cranberries

1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage

For the Flatbread Dough:

2 packets active dry yeast

3 Tablespoons olive oil

1 Tablespoon honey

1 ¼ cup warm water

4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Assembly

4 ounces brie cheese

¼ cup dried cranberries

Flaky salt and black pepper

For the Jam:

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

For the Flatbread:

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

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

Assembly:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

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

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

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

Autumn Celebration Salad

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

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

Autumn Celebration Salad

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

Maple Black Pepper Walnuts

1 egg white

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons black pepper

¼ cup maple syrup

2 Tablepssons butter, melted and cooled

2 cups walnut halves

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

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

For the Port Poached Pears

2 large, firm green pears

½ cup port wine

¼ cup water

½ cup granulated sugar

Half a cinnamon stick

1 star anise

5 – 6 whole cloves

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

For the Port Dressing:

2 Tablepoons port poaching liquid

2 Tablspoons red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper to taste

6 Tablespoons olive oil

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

Stilton Croutons

8 ounces soft Italian bread

6 Tablespoons butter, melted

4 ounces Stilton (or other blue cheese) FROZEN

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

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

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

For the Salad

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

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

Sweet Potato Skordalia

I first had sweet potato skordalia in Birmingham, Alabama at a meal during a Southern Foodways Alliance event prepared by Tim Hontza’a of Johnny’s in Homewood. The whole “Greek and three” meal was fantastic, but I was enchanted by the little dab of sweet potato skordalia on the edge of the plate. It was the perfect combination of classic Greek cooking with Southern sensibility. Skordalia is a Greek spread traditionally made with yellow potatoes, garlic and almonds or walnuts. Since that meal, I have wanted to re-create the skordalia, so I delved into Greek recipes and got to work. I realized the beauty of this dish is simplicity.  I tried spices and herbs, but the simple combination of earthy sweet potatoes, the bite of garlic and a touch of almond nuttiness is a perfect combination.

This spread is a perfect snack for fall and Thanksgiving and a really creative twist for a friendsgiving spread. It is simple to make and can be made a day or two ahead and the vibrant orange color is beautiful. Finely grind some blanched almonds in the food processor or use almond meal. Almond flour is a bit too fine for this. Serve it with a drizzle of olive oil on top for spreading on pita bread or hearty crackers.

Sweet Potato Skordalia

2 large sweet potatoes

3 garlic cloves

juice of 2 lemons

2 Tablespoons finely ground almonds or almond meal

2/3 cups olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into evenly sized chunks. Place in a large saucepan covered by water by about an inch. Bring to a boil and cook for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are very soft. Drain the potatoes and place in the bowl of a food processor. Add the garlic, lemon juice and almond meal and process until smooth and well combined. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil until the dip is smooth. Season well with salt and pepper and blend again. Scrape into bowl and leave to cool to room temperature before covering and refrigerating for up to two days.  Serve with pita bread or hearty crackers, the top drizzled with olive oil.

Sweet Potato and Country Ham Gratin

Sometimes, the side dishes are the best part of the meal. That’s where this comes from. I had a meal restaurant meal that was generally unremarkable, but for a dish ordered for the table as something of an afterthought. It inspired me. That dish was a slightly overwrought, oddly-shaped plate with a small swipe of béchamel sauce topped with roasted sweet potatoes and a sprinkling of country ham and some gruyere, run under a broiler. But it got the wheels turning in my head though. A creamy sauce with rich roasted potatoes and salty country ham and nutty gruyere works together beautifully. I knew it would make a fantastic gratin, with plenty of each ingredient perfectly balanced.

Give this a try for Thanksgiving, it’s a switch from the cinnamon and brown sugar versions we are used to in the best possible way. And it can be made a day ahead to cut down on turkey day chaos. Every time I have served this, it’s gotten absolute raves. It’s also great beside a roasted chicken or pork loin, and frankly would make a great main dish. I like to use center cut biscuit sliced of country ham which are easy to find.

Sweet Potato and Country Ham Gratin

4 medium sweet potatoes

¼ cup olive oil

Salt and pepper

About 6 ounces country ham, to make 1 cup finely diced ham

1 leek, white and light green part

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter

2 Tablespoons flour

2 cups whole milk

1 ½ cups grated gruyere cheese

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil sprayed with cooking spray.

Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into chunks about ½ inch square as evenly sized as can be. Place the potato chunks in a ziptop bag and pour over the olive oil. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper, then toss around to coat all the potato pieces with oil. Spread in an even layer on the prepared baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes. Finely dice the country ham. Remove the pan from the oven and gently turn the potato pieces over with a spatula. Sprinkle the diced ham over the top of the potatoes and return the pan to the oven for a further 15 – 20 minutes, until the potatoes are soft and the edges are brown and crispy. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

While the potatoes are roasting, cut the white and lightest green part of the leek in half, then into quarters and thinly slice. Place in a colander, rinse well and shake to remove as much water as possible. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a deep skillet and sauté the leeks until they are soft and glassy. Try not to let them brown. Add the remaining two tablespoons butter, and when it is melted, sprinkle over the flour. Stir to coat the leeks in the flour and cook for a few minutes. Stir in the milk and bring to a nice bubble. Stir frequently until the sauce is thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let cool for 10 minutes, then gently stir in the roasted potatoes, making sure they are well coated in sauce

Spread the potatoes in a baking dish, then sprinkle over the gruyere. At this point, the dish can be covered and refrigerated overnight. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook the gratin for 20 – 30 minutes, until heated through and bubbly and the cheese is melted.

Serves 8