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.

Mulled Wine Brownies

Mulled Wine Brownies

I love all the silly sweets at Christmas. This rice crispie treat wreaths, cupcakes with red and green sprinkles, those little pretzel reindeer. It’s the kind of fun the holidays are all about. But sometimes it’s nice to present something a bit more grown-up. As the children in my life are turning into adults (faster than I like), I find more reason to try out those sophisticated things a bit more. That’s where these brownies come in. They are deep and rich and chocolatey with a complexity from the red wine and a perfectly seasonal twist from the spices. I usually serve these cut into small squares – they make a fabulous take along to a holiday party. But they would work equally as well cut into large squares served with ice cream or a swirl of whipped cream on a plate, maybe with a little drizzle of chocolate sauce. These would also make a lovely gift.

Don’t use best wine – but this is great for the tail end of a bottle. Check the bulk spice section at a grocery store to buy small amounts of these spices if you don’t keep them on hand. You could also use them to make mulled wine to drink. Or simply put them in a pot of water bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and let the lovely spicy smell fill your kitchen.

Mulled Wine Brownies

1 ¼ cup red wine

¼ teaspoon allspice berries

¼ teaspoon whole cloves

¼ teaspoon whole coriander

½ cinnamon stick

1 star anise pod

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate

¾ cups (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter

1 ¾ cups granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup cocoa powder

¼ teaspoon baking powder

¼ baking soda

¼ kosher salt

Pour the wine in a small saucepan. Tie the allspice, cloves and coriander in a small cheesecloth bundle (or use a mesh tea ball). Add to the wine and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and bubble it away until it is reduced to exactly ½ cup. Cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9 by 13 inch brownie pan with parchment paper or nonstick foil, with some overhang to lift out the brownies when cooked.

Make a double boiler with a large glass or metal mixing bowl set over a pan with an inch or so of water, not touching the bottom of the bowl. Put the chocolate and the butter in the bowl and heat over medium high heat, stirring frequently, until both are melted and smooth and well combined. Remove the bowl from the pot and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Stir in the sugar until completely combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, and stir until very well combined. Stir in the reduced wine until combined – it will be very loose. Add the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and soda and salt and stir just until the batter is combined and there are no streaks of dry ingredients visible.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan smoothing the top and bake for 30 – 35 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs clinging. These are nice and fudgy, so don’t worry if they’re a touch soft. Cool and cut into squares.

Makes 16

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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.

Calvados and Hazelnut Camembert

Camembert with Hazelnuts and Calvados

Fall gets busy. I know. It’s easy to forgo a nice little appetizer before a festive meal, or just throw some cheese and crackers on a plate (nothing wrong with that). But creating something special with just a little effort can really add to the experience. If you get asked (or volunteer) to bring a snack to an event, make it something truly unique. This makes a fantastically impressive appetizer, packed with punchy flavors perfect for fall, inspired by the calvados washed cheeses of Normandy. It takes a little time, but it is mostly hands off, and the payoff is worth it.

Calvados has that lovely orchardy kick with a hint of cider and I think it pairs amazingly well with tangy camembert and woodsy hazelnuts. You can sometimes find a hip flask sized bottle which is perfect for this, but I do think you will find lots of uses for a whole bottle – I use it in French Onion Soup and in a maple butter to top pork chops. I small dose in champagne with a thin slice of apple makes a fantastic cocktail. You can use a regular brandy if you must. I love the combination of toasty hazelnuts with the calvados and camembert, but you can use toasted walnuts or pecans. Camembert is the best cheese for this preparation, but it doesn’t have to be the most expensive. Buy one that is not yet too soft or ripe. Sliced apples make a perfect go-with and look pretty. You could even go with read and green apples in the season.  A crusty bread would be lovely too – try a darker loaf like rich wheat or pumpernickel. 

Calvados and Hazelnut Camembert

1 8 ounce round of camembert

1 cup calvados or brandy

3/4 cup raw hazelnuts

1 teaspoon flaky salt

2 apples

2 Tablespoons lemon juice

Take the camembert from the fridge and place in a small deep bowl and leave to come to room temperature for at least an hour, but a few is okay.

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. Place the nuts in a small food processor with the salt and process until finely chopped – do not let them become pasty or oily. Put the chopped hazelnuts in a shallow bowl.

Warm the calvados in a small sauce pan, then pour it over the camembert in the bowl. Leave to marinate for at least an hour, but up to 2.  Roll the cheese in the nuts – start by rolling the sides, then press one side and flip over to the other. Gently press the nuts to adhere.

Mix the lemon juice with water in a small bowl. Slice the apples and toss in the acidulated water to prevent browning. Pat the apples dry before serving.

Serve the cheese at room temperature. If needed, you can refrigerate the cheese for a few hours, just take it out of the fridge at least an hour before serving.

Oktoberfest Onion Dip (Beer Caramelized Onion Dip)

Oktoberfest Onion Dip

This time of year, I always seem to find myself thinking up new dip ideas. Fall seems like dip season – tailgates, back to school events, Halloween and Thanksgiving and all sorts of harvest events. I don’t know. That being said, I love onion dip any time of the year. I make it with roasted onions, with a hit of bourbon and bacon, a recipe you’ll find in my book Southern Snacks(that I wrote a book about snacks is proof enough of my love of a good dip!). And as we enter October, it seemed logical to work up a beer-based version for Oktoberfest. It’s got all the creamy appeal of a traditional dip with the deeply caramelized onions complex with the flavors of beer.

A lighter beer is best for this recipe (not lite beer) so the taste is deep but not too bitter or overpowering. The onions need to be in a small dice so they are easy to dip on a chip. I happily use my favorite onion chopper, but a little time and a knife works just as well. I love all onion dips with ripply chips, but this stands up well to corn chips or toasted slices of bread. Pretzels or rye bread crisps would also be a great twist.

Oktoberfest Onion Dip

4 cups finely diced yellow onion, from about 2 large onions

4 Tablespoons ( ½ stick) unsalted butter

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon celery salt

½ teaspoon sweet paprika

½ teaspoon dried sage

½ teaspoon black pepper

1 Tablespoon light brown sugar

12 ounces pale beer, like IPA or lager

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

1 cup sour cream

¼ cup mayonnaise

Melt the butter in a large deep sided skillet over high heat. Add the onions and stir to coat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions become soft and glassy, then sprinkle over the salt, celery salt, paprika, sage and pepper. Stir well, then cook until the onions just start to color. Sprinkle over the brown sugar and stir to coat the onions. Cook a few more minutes until the sugar is incorporated, then pour in the beer. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to medium low and cook for 20 – 30 minutes until the onions are soft and golden and the liquid has evaporated.

Beat the cream cheese, sour cream and mayonnaise together in the bowl of a satnd mixer or with a hand mixer. Add the cooled onions and beat for a few seconds. Stir the dip with a spatula to thoroughly distribute the onions. Scrape into a bowl, then cover and refrigerate for several hours to blend the flavors. The dip can be made 2 days ahead.

Nectarine and Lemon Balm Cake

Nectarine and Lemon Balm Cake

This cake is absolutely the result of farmers market excitement. After being out of town for several weeks and missing my own local market, I couldn’t resist the abundance. I brought home with a basket of gorgeous nectarines and some fragrant lemon balm with no real plan to use them (there were also peaches, blueberries, blackberries and tomatoes in my bag). I have never really known what to do with lemon balm. I used to plant it in my herb bed and it grew like gangbusters. I’d use it to garnish plates or pitchers of tea. I dried some of it to make my own herbal tisane, but that was about it. So I stopped planting it. The thing is, I love the idea of lemon balm. It seems so delicate and old-fashioned to me. For some reason, it seems like something from Jane Austen or Miss Marple. With my unexpected market finds, I knew I needed to try a light and lovely cake, the kind of thing you might find on a linen draped outdoor tea table in an English country novel.

I am really pleased with myself on this one. The golden crumb is moist and tender and studded with pink and green from the fruit and herbs. The taste is really unique – lemony and fruity and herbal. A light sprinkle of confectioner’s sugar is enough for me, but a simple glaze could work. This cake is one of those ever-versatile treats, perfect with breakfast, with a lovely afternoon tea, or as a sweet summer dessert. If you can’t find lemon balm, you can use fresh garden mint and a little lemon zest. I have a small Bundt pan which is perfect for this and so delicate and lovely, but a loaf pan works just as well.

Nectarine and Lemon Balm Cake

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

¾ cup granulated sugar

¼ cup finely chopped lemon balm

2 large eggs

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 large nectarines, pitted and chopped

Confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a 6-cup Bundt pan or a loaf pan with baking spray.

Beat the butter and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer until combined, then add the lemon balm and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the flour, baking powder and salt, scraping down the side of the bowl as needed, until thoroughly combined and the batter is light and fluffy. Fold the nectarine pieces into the batter with a spatula until evenly distributed. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Leave to cool in the pan, then turn the cake out onto a platter and dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Serves 10

Lemon Blueberry Bars

Lemon Blueberry Bars

Sweet, sweet summer – the season bursting with berries. I try my best to eat seasonally – I very rarely have fresh blueberries when they are not in season, so I wait with anticipation for them to show up at the farmers markets. It makes them all the sweeter for the waiting. But that sometimes leads me to overbuy, so after the syrup and jams are made and I’ve eaten my fill out of hand, I look for some fun ways to bake with them. I found a blueberry lemon bar recipe in a magazine and the idea really excite me. I made it, but it was a disaster as a bar. It never set, the blueberries sort of bled out of the runny filling and all the crust was a sodden mess. I did taste the bit that had almost firmed up around the edges, and I will say, the flavor was delicious. The recipe, however, was a complete failure (that’s why I test and test). I went to work tinkering around until I ended up with what I wanted – a tangy lemon bar with delicious pops of fresh blueberry.

The lemon filling falls somewhere between custard and cake with a nice, tart finish and a sweet swirl of blueberry. They cut into lovely bars and make a wonderful picnic treat. They are nicely sweet, so you can serve them in small pieces. I get requests for these every summer!

Lemon Blueberry Bars

For the Crust:

1 cup all purpose flour

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

¼ cup granulated sugar

Zest of one lemon (see below)

1 Tablespoon milk

For the filling:

5 ounces blueberries

1 ½ cup granulated sugar plus 2 Tablespoons, divided

4 lemons, zested and juiced

4 eggs

1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour

Confectioners’ sugar

For the Crust:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with non-stick foil or parchment paper, with some edges overhanging.

Place the flour, butter, sugar and lemon zest in the bowl of a food processor and process until crumbly. Drizzle in the milk until the dough begins to come together. Spread the dough into the prepared pan and press into an even layer. Bake for 20 minutes.

For the Filling:

Wipe out the food processor and drop in the berries. Puree until smooth then push through a fine mesh strainer into a small sauce pan. Add 2 Tablespoons sugar and bring to a simmer over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Raise the heat and boil for a few minutes until thickened. Set aside.

Rinse and dry the food processor completely, then add the zest of three lemons, the juice of all four and the eggs. Process until fluffy, then add the remaining 1 ½ cup sugar and blend until smooth. Add the flour and blend until completely combined and smooth, Pour the filling over the crust, then drizzle over the blueberry puree. It will sink into the lemon filling.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes until the center is set and no longer jiggly in the center. Cool the bars completely then sprinkle the tops generously with confectioners’ sugar and cut into small pieces

Makes 16

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

Celery Popovers

Celery Popovers

Popovers are sort of kitchen secret weapon. They are so easy to make but produce such impressive results. Watching the simple batter transform into fluffy sculptures is one of the glories of cooking. My sister-in-law was given a popover pan years ago and I used to ask her to make them all the time because I thought she had some special secret. She eventually got tired of my requests and showed me how easy they are to make. I bought myself a popover pan the next day and now I love experimenting with different flavors, like these equally as interesting Pumpkin Popovers.

These celery popovers take on a lovely celadon hue from the celery and have this elusive, delicate celery-scented taste. These are marvelous with any soup, as the light celery note doesn’t compete with any other flavor, but I think they are a special treat with this Cream of Celery Soup. They are a fun treat for a meal anytime you have a little celery hanging around. A popover pan isn’t strictly necessary, but once you learn how easy it is to make them, I consider it a decent investment. I use this version. You can use a deep muffin tin, but the batter won’t rise as high and give you the full popover effect, though they will be delicious. Serve these warm, ready to dip into a bowl of soup or with good butter.

Celery Popovers

2 thin stalks of celery (about 2 ounces total)

2 -3 celery leaves

1 cup whole milk

½ teaspoon celery salt

½ teaspoon kosher salt

4 large eggs

1 cup all-purpose flour

3 Tablespoons butter, melted and cooled

Spray a 6 well popover pan with cooking spray and put it in the oven while it preheats to 375°.

Break the celery into small pieces, pulling off any strings. Drop the pieces into the carafe of a blender, then add the celery leaves, milk, celery salt and kosher salt. Blend until smooth and combined. Add the eggs, flour and cooled melted butter and blend until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the carafe as needed.

Carefully take the pan out of the oven and pour the batter between the wells, filling them about 2/3 full. Put the pan back in the oven and cook for 30 minutes without opening the door. Open the oven and quickly poke a hole in the top of each popover with a sharp knife, then close the oven and cook a further 5 minutes.

Serve warm.

Makes 6

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.