Chow Town

A trip through kitchens of the South inspires a cookbook author

Itty-bitty cheese bites can be served wrapped, in stemmed glasses.
Itty-bitty cheese bites can be served wrapped, in stemmed glasses. Shaughnessy & Associates Photography

Warmer-than-usual days coupled with the pages on the calendar turning ever so quickly this time of year mean that spring is here or at least within reach. It seems April and May are the new November and December with schedules filling to the brim with bridal showers, weddings and graduations not to mention all those end-of-school receptions and banquets.

This is the season of gatherings with family and friends and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate all these events than with food. Not those heavy laden foods of the holidays but foods that evoke memories of new beginnings and the promise of sunny days ahead.

Anytime a recipe or tradition is miniaturized to “fairy-size” fare, I’m all over it. It seems like there is no guilt associated with small bites and smaller servings. This became clear to me when I found such joy working on four Babycakes books. Small servings, both sweet and savory, filled week after week of recipe development and I had definitely located my true north as we sampled and tasted the smaller treats.

Years ago I was blessed with the hands-down best consulting job ever. I traveled throughout the South with the Southern Living Magazine cooking schools and worked with some of the most creative folks in the business. Wherever we traveled to present the cooking shows we were always welcomed with true Southern hospitality. Nine times out of 10 this meant we were greeted with cheese straws or the famous Southern cheese bites. This is a recipe that I developed into small bites for the coming spring soirees and events on my calendar. They are perfect to place in bowls as folks gather, or bundle them into stemmed glasses so guests can pick up a snack to nosh on while the celebration commences.

The best tip any southern hostess could share about this recipe would be that one should always have these in the freezer, on standby for unexpected guests or impromptu parties and picnics. Briefly warm in the oven and serve with libations for added enjoyment. 

Fiery Southern Cheese Bites

Makes 28 savory cookie bites

1/4 cup butter, room temperature

3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Pinch salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons toasted, finely chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium mixing bowl, using an electric mixer at medium-high speed, cream butter. Add remaining ingredients and mix until blended. (Note: mixture will not form a dough or a ball but will be evenly dispersed.)

Form small balls, using about 1 teaspoon cheese mixture. Roll between your hands to make a firm, small ball. Place on prepared baking sheet. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes. Allow to cool on cookie sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to continue cooling.

Store in an airtight container.

Tip: These freeze well. Wrap tightly and store for up to 3 months.

Toasting the pecans intensifies their flavor. To toast the chopped pecans, spread in a single layer in a baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 5 to 7 minutes or until golden. 

Roxanne Wyss is one of two cookbook authors and food consultants that make up The Electrified Cooks. Her most recent cookbook is “Slow Cooker Desserts, Oh So Easy, Oh So Delicious!” “The Newlywed Cookbook: Cooking Happily Ever After” was introduced earlier this year. She develops the recipes for the Eating for Life column for The Kansas City Star and is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier. She blogs at pluggedintocooking.com.

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