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.

Baked Camembert with Hazelnut and Cranberry Crumble

When I was in school in England many moons ago, the chic appetizer on menus all over the country, from bistros to pubs, was fried camembert with a cranberry relish. Small wheels, or sometimes wedges, of camembert were breaded and fried and served with anything from a canned-type cranberry sauce to complicated cranberry relishes. One English grocery store even (to this day) sells a heat and eat version with a little tub of cranberry jelly. I loved it, and ordered all the time. But the likelihood of me coating and frying cheese has always been pretty slim. I tried coating the top of a wheel with breadcrumbs one time, but that was not very successful. But I love the combination of gooey cheese, crunchy crumbs and tart-sweet cranberry. Hence, this was born. A cheat’s version that truly rivals the inspiration.

A melty wheel of creamy cheese makes a wonderful appetizer that never fails to please. I love the funky depth of camembert, but you could certainly use brie or another creamy cheese. I like to bake it until it is really runny, so the cheese picks up the crumble when you swipe a server through it. Hazelnuts are the perfect winter partner for the cheese, but walnuts or pecans would work well. The cranberries and rosemary give this a festive look. Serve melty hot with baguette slices.

Baked Camembert with Hazelnut and Cranberry Crumble

2 ounces hazelnuts

3 sprigs rosemary

2 sprigs marjoram

1 clove garlic

1 ounce dried cranberries

Flaky salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 8 ounce wheel of camembert cheese

Put the hazelnuts in a dry skillet and toast for a few minutes over medium heat just to warm them through. Transfer to a tea towel, then fold over the towel and rub the hazelnuts around to loosen the skins. Don’t worry about getting every piece of skin, just the majority of it. Roughly chop the hazelnuts, either with a knife or in a mini food processor. Put about five rosemary leaves aside, then finely chop the remainder. Finely chop the marjoram. Cut the garlic clove in half and very finely mince one half. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in the skillet, then add the chopped herbs and the hazelnuts. Cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently just until the nuts start to take on a little toasty brown color. Watch carefully so they don’t burn. When the nuts are little browned, add the garlic and stir and cook for 30 seconds. Immediately put the mixture in a bowl, then add the cranberries and generous pinches of salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat to oven to 350°. Place the camembert in a small, lightly greased baking dish. Rub the cut side of the remaining garlic half over the top of the cheese, the use thin knife to make several slits in the top of the cheese. Poke the reserved rosemary needles down into the slits in the cheese. Bake the cheese for 15 – 20 minutes, until it is warmed through, soft and runny. Sprinkle over the crumble and heat for a further three minutes. Serve immediately with baguette slices.

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.

Banana Brown Butter Bars

I’ll be completely honest here. I like banana bread, and this Bananas Foster Pound Cake is a champion. I like banana in cookies too. But I don’t much like a banana. Not straight up, right out of the peel. I think it is a texture thing. So I don’t really have bananas hanging around my house going brown just waiting to be turned into a delicious baked good. That is to say, it’s a special event when I do make a banana treat, so it has got to be good. These were born of a request for something different than a brownie, but still a square or a bar that could be served to a group or sold to at a bake sale. I found a banana brownie recipe in an old community cookbook, but that was only the umping off point. The recipe as written was fine. But just fine. I thought it needed a little icing. I started with a simple butter and confectioners’ sugar version, but again, it needed something. Then I turned to one of my favorite tricks- browned butter. It adds this whole deep, nutty note that really makes the banana shine. And now it’s a regular in my repertoire that always pleases people who were expecting something a little run of the mill.

It’s a little hard to judge how many bananas to start with – I’ve gotten ½ cup of mashed banana from 1 banana, but often have to use two, with a little leftover. Stir a little honey into the leftover mash and spread it on a piece of toast.

Banana Brown Butter Bars

For the Bars:

½ cup unsalted butter

1 cup light brown sugar

½ cup mashed banana (from about 1 large or 2 regular bananas)

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup flour

For the Frosting:

¼ cup unsalted butter

6 Tablespoons light brown sugar

4 tablespoons heavy cream, divided

½ teaspoon vanilla

Pinch of salt

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

 

For the Bars:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8 by 8 inch pan with nonstick foil or parchment paper.

Cut one stick of 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, remove from the heat and immediately stir in the brown sugar until well combined. Leave to cool for a few minutes, then beat in the bananas, egg and vanilla until combined. Stir in the flour until smooth and combined, then scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread into an even layer. Bake for 30 minutes, until the center is firm.

For the Frosting:

Rinse and dry the sauce pan thoroughly, then brown the butter as above. Remove from the heat in beat in the brown sugar and 2 Tablespoons heavy cream, the vanilla and salt and stir until smooth. Leave to cool for 10 – 15 minutes, then beat in the confectioners’ sugar and remaining cream until smooth and spreadable (you can add a bit more cream if needed). When the bars have cooked, let them cool for about 5 minutes, then spread the frosting evenly over the top. I find an offset spatula the best tool for this, and I smooth the top with a spatula if needed.  Cool completely, then cut into squares.

Makes 16 bars

Brie Dip with Walnut Honey

As you’ve probably figured out by now, I have a thing about snacks. I love eating little bites of lots of things, and I love to entertain in a social, mobile way so people can enjoy delicious food but also mix and mingle with everyone in the room. I literally wrote the book on Southern Snacks. But not all my snacks are strictly Southern. The recipe here is for my favorite kind of snack – one that people gather around and can’t step away from until the dish is empty.

This recipe is a treat for fall and combines creamy cheese and nuts, with the perfect balance of sweet and savory. It’s hot and bubbly and comforting. I love to serve this with apple or pear slices and some crispy baguette slices, but any hearty cracker will do. It is easier to remove the rind from the Brie while its cold, but it blends better when it is a room temperature.

Brie Dip with Walnut Honey

1 (8-ounce) wheel of brie

4 Tablespoons mascarpone

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, plus a few whole stems

Salt and pepper

1 ½ cup chopped walnuts

¼ cup honey

A few red pepper flakes

Cut the rind from the brie, then cut it into chunks and place it in the bowl of a small food processor. Add the mascarpone and leave to come to room temperature (it is easier to remove the rind from cold, firm brie). Add the thyme and salt and pepper to taste a process until smooth and well combined. Spread the mix evenly in a small baking dish, smoothing the top to an even layer.

While the cheese is coming to room temperature, toast the walnuts in a dry skillet over medium high until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove to a plate to cool. Wipe out the skillet and pour in the honey. Drop in a few sprigs of thyme and the red pepper flakes and heat over low heat until the honey is loose and just starting to bubble at the edges. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 15 minutes. Stir in the walnuts.

Remove the thyme stalks from the honey mixture and spread it evenly over the top of the brie. At this point, the dip can be made several hours ahead, covered and refrigerated. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Let the baking dish come close to room temperature, then bake for 10 – 12 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and gooey.

Serve with baguette toasts and apple slices.

Glazed Double Almond Bars

I’m returning to a classic here. These are neither hip or new or with some special twist, they are just a recipe I have been making for years and return to when I need a little comfort. I love the old-fashioned taste of almond paste. I don’t now why exactly I say old fashioned, there is just something reminiscent about the rich, grainy, almond-y taste to me. I have no particularly childhood memory of almond desserts, or any proof of my feeling that they somehow seem very Jane Austen-ish, or even Little House on the Prairie-ish (though I know that can’t be true). These bars just take me to a happy place.

These bars are the perfect treat when you want to move away from classic brownies or cookies for a different taste. They are so easy to make but pack a real flavor punch. As an added bonus, they will keep for several days in an airtight container, so they can be made ahead. I have even shipped these to my niece in college.

Glazed Double Almond Bars

For the Bars:

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

7 ounces almond paste

2 cups granulated sugar

2 eggs

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

For the Glaze:

1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar

1 ¼ teaspoon almond extract

5 – 6 milk

Preheat the oven to 300 °. Line a 9 by 13 inch baking pan with non-stick foil or parchment paper with some overhanging ends.

Beat the butter and the almond paste together in the bowl of a stand mixer until smooth and creamy and well combined. Add the sugar and the eggs and beat until combined and smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the flour and salt until the batter is smooth, again scraping the bowl as needed. Spread the batter into the prepared pan. Use clean, damp fingers to press it out into an even layer if needed. Bake for 1 hour until firm and lightly golden and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Spread the glaze over the bars as soon as you remove them from the oven.

For the Glaze:

Whisk the confectioners’ sugar, almond paste and enough milk to make a glaze as thick as heavy cream. Pour over the warm bars and leave to cool completely.

Cut the bars into squares. The bars will keep in an airtight container for  2 days.

Barbecue Pimento Cheese

Photo by Jennifer Davick

My third book, Southern Snacks: 77 Recipes for Small Bites with Big Flavors was released this week, and its made me a little nostalgic, so here’s a throwback from my first book Pimento Cheese The Cookbook. It’s hard to choose favorite recipes from each book, but this is certainly at the top of my list. I think pimento cheese is the most iconic Southern snack, and I promise it appears in the new book as well!

As a born and raised Memphis girl, my blood runs part barbecue sauce.  So any exploration of Southern foodways for me is likely to loop back around to barbecue. But with the finest barbecue to be had five minutes away in every direction, I have never seen the point of smoking my own pig. I do have my own house barbecue spice that I use on everything from pork chops to popcorn.  And of course, pimento cheese.

Barbecue Pimento Cheese

1 Tablespoon sweet paprika 

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon celery salt 

½ teaspoon black pepper

¼  teaspoon onion powder 

¼  teaspoon chili powder 

¼  teaspoon crushed red pepper 

¼  teaspoon garlic powder 

1/8 teaspoon cayenne 

8 ounces sharp orange cheddar cheese

8 ounces naturally smoked orange cheddar cheese

4 green onions, white and some green parts, finely diced

1 cup mayonnaise

1 (4-ounce) jar diced pimentos, rinsed and drained

Mix all the spices together until thoroughly blended.

Grate the cheeses together into a large bowl and toss together to combine.  Add the green onions and toss again.  I find my clean, dry hands the best tool for this.  In a small bowl, mix the mayonnaise with 2 Tablespoons of the spice mix and stir until completely incorporated.  Stir the mayonnaise into the cheese mixture until everything is well blended and all the cheese is coated.  Stir in the pimentos until they are evenly distributed throughout the mix.  

Chill the pimento cheese, covered, in the fridge for at least 2 hours to let the flavors meld.  This will keep in the fridge for up to a week.

Makes 3 ½ cups

There will be some spice blend leftover.  Keep it in an airtight container and sprinkle it over hamburgers, steak or, my favorite, popcorn.

 

Savory Vidalia Onion Upside Down Cakes

I’ve never been completely sure what to title this recipe. They are more than muffins, but this is based on an old recipe I found in an English cookbook where they were called dumplings, but I don’t really think that translates. There’s a biscuit-y batter, but turn them upside down and there is a pretty and sweet onion surprise. Muffins, cakes, dumplings, upside down surprise, I still can’t quite decide.

What I do know is that these are delicious and unique and the perfect Vidalia for in-season sweet Vidalia onions. Caramelized Vidalias are one of my favorite uses for onion so I am always looking for ways to incorporate them into my repertoire when they come into season. I love these served with a good grilled steak, but honestly they make a lovely luncheon dish or dinner with fresh salad on the side. Sage complements the nutty walnuts and give the whole a sweet and savory woodsy feel, but you could use thyme, marjoram or chives.

Savory Vidalia Onion Upside Down Cakes
Yields 6
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For the Onions
  1. 2 Tablespoons butter
  2. 2 large Vidalia onions, thinly sliced
  3. ½ teaspoon salt
  4. 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
For the Cake Batter
  1. ½ cup chopped walnuts
  2. 1 cup self-rising flour
  3. 2 teaspoons baking powder
  4. ½ cup unslated butter, at room temperature
  5. 2 eggs
  6. 2 Tablespoons buttermilk or milk
  7. 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh sage
For the Onions
  1. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, salt and sugar and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions soften and begin to brown. Pour in ½ cup of water, stir well and cook until the liquid is evaporated and the onions are a rich caramelized amber color. Remove the onions from the heat.
For the Batter
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pulse the walnuts in the bowl of a food processor until they are well crushed. Add the flour, baking powder, and butter and pulse until combined and crumbly. Add the eggs, milk and sage and process until smooth and combined. You can add a little more buttermilk if needed to create a smooth, thick batter.
  2. Spray a 6-cup muffin tin with cooking spray, then divide the onions between the cooks. Divide the batter between the cups covering the onions. Press the batter down into the cups with a spatula, then smooth the tops. Bake for 20 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs clinging to it. Let the cakes cool for about five minutes in the pan, then invert the pan onto a rimmed baking sheet. Let the inverted pan sit for a few minutes before you lift it off the cakes. Serve immediately.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Rhubarb Ginger Chess Bars

Rhubarb reminds me of England. I didn’t really eat rhubarb as a child – it doesn’t grow much in the South – and the only thing I really ever heard about it was my mother lamenting a horrible dessert served at her boarding school. So I discovered rhubarb when I started spending time in England, where it is very popular and figures in a many classic English desserts. Sure, I had some pretty dismal versions in the college dining hall, but when its good, it’s is really good. I had a small obsession with rhubarb and cream hard candies and bought bags full back from my travels, and I always pick up yogurt with a swirl of rhubarb in at my favorite grocery in London. When I find rhubarb in the produce section here, I go a little overboard, making cakes, infusing gin, and as a dyed-in-the-wool Memphian, a zippy Rhubarb-e-cue sauce. This particular recipe combines my love of all things English with my Southern roots – chess pie is one of my all time favorite desserts. And in this recipe, the sweet stickiness of a sugary, eggy chess style filling is perfectly cut with the tart rhubarb.

Rhubarb and ginger are a popular combo in England – I used to have a recipe (long since lost) for a cheesecake-like dessert on gingersnap crumbs with rhubarb compote on top. I think the ginger in both the crust and the filling of these bars really sparks. A little spicy bite with the tart rhubarb and sweet filling marry together beautifully.

Rhubarb Ginger Chess Bars
Yields 16
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Ingredients
  1. For the Crust
  2. 2 cups all-purpose flour
  3. ½ cup powdered sugar
  4. ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  5. 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
For the Filling
  1. 4 large eggs
  2. 2 cups granulated sugar
  3. ½ cup all-purpose flour
  4. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  5. A pinch of salt
  6. 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  7. 4 cups diced rhubarb (about 5 medium stalks)
For the Crust
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 19 by 13 inch baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Put the flour, the powdered sugar, the butter and the salt in the bowl of a mixer and blend until combined but crumbly. Scatter the crumbs in the bottom of the prepared pan and press evenly into a uniform crust. Bake for 15 minutes until firm and golden in places.
For the Filling
  1. Beat the eggs in a bowl, then add the sugar, flour, vanilla and salt and stir together until well combined and there is no trace of sugar or flour in the bowl. Stir in the ginger and the chopped rhubarb until completely combined. Spread the filling over the crust while it is still warm, then return to the oven for 45 – 50 minutes, until the top is firm and no longer jiggly and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan, then cut into squares.
Notes
  1. I like to cut the rhubarb in half lengthwise, then into small pieces across. Smaller pieces are less stringy and blend into the filling better.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Pineapple Ginger Fruit Dip

I am forever looking for interesting ways to serve strawberries on a spring buffet. Their natural beauty brightens up any table, and I always want to make the most of their short growing season. Not that there is anything wrong with eating strawberries on their own, but it’s nice to have a little delicious extra to highlight their flavor. This sweet citrus saucehas been my go to, but I wanted to mix things up with this slightly tropical blend that hints of summer to come.

I like that this dip is full of flavor, but not too sweet. That way you really get the sweetness from the berries. But you could add a little powdered sugar into the mix if you like – just taste both the berries and the dip first so you don’t go overboard. And of course, this works beautifully with other fruit. You can leave out the rum if you must, but it adds a perfect undernote.

Pineapple Ginger Fruit Dip
Yields 2
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Ingredients
  1. 1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple
  2. 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  3. ¼ cup Greek yogurt
  4. ¼ cup chopped crystallized ginger
  5. 1 Tablespoon dark rum
Instructions
  1. Drain the pineapple well over a bowl to catch the juice. Beat the cream cheese, pineapple, yogurt, ginger and rum together in a food processor (a mini is fine) until smooth and well combined. Beat in enough of the reserved pineapple juice to create a dippable consistency. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour, then serve with strawberries or other fruit.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/
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Guinness Caramel Sauce or Caramel Chews

This starts as a tale of failure. I set out to make a rich, Guinness-laced caramel sauce to drizzle over ice cream. In my first attempt, I dropped the ball, got distracted and cooked the caramel little longer than needed. But as the caramel was setting up, I thought perhaps I could save the day by pouring the thick caramel into a pan to see what happened. What happened was lovely little chewy caramels. I hit my intended goal on my second batch, which made the lovely sauce I imagined. This recipe(s) has been sitting in my files for awhile now, as I wasn’t sure exactly how to share it. But in the end, I couldn’t resist sharing the intended and unintended consequences.

As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, I frequently pull out the Guinness and start cooking. Deep stout beer adds flavor and depth to so many preparations, from Guinness and Oatmeal Quick Bread to Guinness Sausage Coddle. It’s also an interesting ingredient in sweet recipes too, adding a heady note to this decadent sauce – and the caramel chews. I love the sauce poured over simple vanilla ice cream or drizzled over pound cake. The caramels make a lovely little gift – a special pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!

Guinness Caramel Sauce or Caramel Chews
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Ingredients
  1. 1 ¼ cup white sugar
  2. ½ cup Guinness Extra Stout, divided
  3. ¾ cup heavy cream
  4. 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
  5. 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Instructions
  1. Mix the sugar and ¼ cup of the Guinness together in a high sided saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes without stirring. Measure the heavy cream and remaining Guinness together in a measuring cup. Carefully add it and the butter and salt to the caramel, stirring to combine. It will bubble heavily and seize up a little, just keep stirring until it is smooth and creamy.
  2. For Sauce: Cook for 2 minutes, until it is thick and smooth. Let the sauce cool. Transfer to an airtight jar and store in the fridge for up to a week. Place the jar in a bowl of warm water to soften the caramel.
  3. For Caramel Chews: Line an 8 by 8 inch square pan with parchment paper. Cook the caramel for 4 minutes, then pour directly into the prepared pan. Don't worry if it doesn't spread all the way to the edges of the pan; when it is just cool enough to handle, shape any ragged edges into a square. When the caramel is completely firm and cool, cut it into 1 - inch pieces. Wrap each piece in a twist of waxed paper. You can use clean fingers to shape the pieces into a bit more of a cylinder if you prefer, or leave them in rough squares.
Notes
  1. Makes about 1 ½ cups sauce or 20 caramel chews
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/
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