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.

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.

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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.

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 Tablespoons 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.