‘Southern Snacks’ gives you plenty to chew on

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 18, 2018

What did you do while you were stuck inside over the weekend?

I tortured myself by reading a cookbook full of snack recipes. I didn’t have most of the ingredients, so I just had to look, read and drool.

Perre Coleman Magness has written “Southern Snacks: 77 Recipes for Small Bites with Big Flavors.” Published by The University of North Carolina Press, the book contains photos by Justin Fox Burks.

It’s inspirational enough that you might want to plan a small bites get together so you have an excuse to make some of these recipes.

Or, maybe you want to go ahead and try a few recipes as a reward for surviving Florence.

Magness has included bites for a football game, a party or even a funeral. Many recipes were inspired by Southern community cookbooks, home cooks and chefs who celebrate Southern flavors.

And the recipes come from cuisines around the south, from Natchitoches to Charleston, and feature iconic foods like country ham, field peas, catfish, sweet tea and pecans.

Southerners celebrate many things, and like to eat together, from bridge and book clubs to Bible study, homecomings, holiday buffets.

After all, why was pimento cheese invented? To top a cracker! And isn’t a bowl of cheese straws one of the most welcome sites when you walk into a room? How about a nice bowl of tasty pecans, or the ubiquitous cream cheese draped with pepper jelly in a rainbow of colors?

Chapters are Dips and Spreads, Cheese, Please, Deep-Fried Love, Seafood and Eat It, The Meat of the Matter, The Garden Path, Nuts for Snacks and Lagniappe.

With fun sidebars, like the one about our love of Ro-Tel tomatoes and chilies, this book is fun to have and would be fun to give. If you’re feeling especially nice, you could make one of the appetizers to give along with the book.

Magness is also the author of “Pimento Cheese: The Cookbook” and “The Southern Sympathy Cookbook.”

Creamy Collard Dip, Pimento Cheese-Style

Hot spinach dip was all the rage during my youth, served warm with lots of cheese. But I think we can go more southern than that by combining collard greens with the fabulous flavor of pimento cheese. You still get warm and melty and gooey, but with a twist.

Serves 10-12

5 strips of bacon, chopped

1 small yellow onion, finely diced

1/4 cup water

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

1 clove garlic, finely minced

1 (16-ounce) bag frozen chopped collard greens, thawed and well drained

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1/2 cup sour cream

1/4 cup mayonnaise, preferably Duke’s

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Hot sauce (such as Crystal), to taste (optional)

Cook the bacon in a large skillet until crispy and move to paper towels with a slotted spoon to drain. Pour the bacon grease into a measuring cup and let cool briefly. Add 2 tablespoons of grease back to the skillet. Cook the onions over medium-high heat until they are soft and translucent and just beginning to brown, then add the water and cook until it has evaporated and the onions are a light toffee color, stirring frequently. Add the pimentos and stir. Cook for about 3 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for a minute further. Stir in the collard greens, separating them and distributing the onions and pimentos evenly. Cook until the collards are heated through and soft. Add the cream cheese, cut into cubes, and stir until melted. Add the grated cheddar and stir until melted. Stir in the sour cream and mayonnaise until the dip is smooth and creamy. Add the crumbled bacon and stir until all the ingredients are well distributed. Scrape the dip into a 2-quart baking dish.

The dip can be cooled, covered, and refrigerated at this point for up to a day.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Bake the dip until it is warm through and bubbling, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately with corn chips or toasted baguette pieces.

Photo by Justin Fox Burks Cheddar and Pepper Jelly Crumbl Bars.

Cheddar and Pepper Jelly Crumble Bars

Cheese and pepper jelly is a classic southern combination. This idea, however, was inspired by a Canadian Junior League cookbook, of all things. That recipe was for a blue cheese base with orange marmalade. The first time I read that recipe, I immediately knew I had to try it southern-style. These little jewels have become a big hit whenever I serve them.

Makes 25

4 ounces extra-sharp yellow cheddar cheese

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Dash of cayenne pepper

1 (10.5-ounce) jar red pepper jelly (such as Braswell’s)

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line an 8-inch square pan with nonstick foil or foil sprayed with cooking spray.

Fit the shredding disk in a food processor and grate the cheese and the cold butter together. Switch to the metal blade, add the flour, salt, paprika, baking powder, and cayenne, and process until the mixture just starts to come together. You want clinging crumbs that easily hold together when pinched between your fingers. This may take 3 to 4 minutes. Don’t let the mixture form a ball.

Reserving 1/2 cup of the crumbs, dump the rest into the prepared pan and press out into a flat layer with a smooth top. Spread the jelly evenly on the surface, all the way to the edges. An offset palette knife or the back of a spoon is the best tool for this. Sprinkle the remaining crumbs evenly over the pepper jelly.

Bake for 30 minutes, then remove from the oven and cool completely.

Lift out of the pan using the foil edges and cut into small squares. You might want to label these on a buffet table or tell people what they are — someone might mistake them for strawberry crumble bars!

Sweet Tea Pecans

This nutty little nibble combines the best of the South: abundant pecans and our favorite refreshment. Sweet with a hint of salty finish, these nuts are a unique rendition of the classic treat. Make multiple batches — they will last in an airtight container for a week and freeze beautifully.

Makes 12 ounces

1 cup granulated sugar

2 cups water

3 black tea bags (such as orange pekoe)

12 ounces pecan halves

Kosher salt

Stir the sugar and water together in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce the temperature to medium and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat, drop in the teabags, and steep for 10 minutes. Remove the teabags and stir in the pecans. Soak for 45 minutes, stirring several times.

Heat the oven to 400°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick foil or parchment paper. Drain the pecans through a strainer, then spread in a single layer on the baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake the pecans for 13-15 minutes, until golden brown. Watch carefully: nuts burn easily.

Cool the nuts on the baking sheet.

The nuts will keep in an airtight container for a week and can be frozen.

From SOUTHERN SNACKS: 77 RECIPES FOR SMALL BITES WITH BIG FLAVORS by Perre Coleman Magness. Copyright © 2018 by Perre Coleman Magness. Used by permission of the University of North Carolina Press. www.uncpress.org