Sunday, December 1, 2013

All-American Starters - Southern Cheese Board: Pimiento Cheese, Candied Bourbon Pecans & Bacon Cheese Truffles

Hope y'all had a great Thanksgiving! Could you hear this Yankee saying that in my best Southern accent? We sure did, and as usual, we were treated to a great meal from start to finish. It's become custom for me to be in charge of holiday hors d'oeuvres, and this year was no different. It will also surprise nobody that I chose to present a cheese plate (I just love cheese), or that said cheese plate would be themed. What can I say, I like continuity. It's kind of how I roll

I'm still feeling inspired by our family's recent South Carolina culinary adventure, so the foods of the South have been on my mind. With Thanksgiving being the quintessential American holiday, it just made sense to showcase some treats inspired by the American South.   

Southern Cheese Board with Pimiento Cheese, Bacon Cheese Truffles, and Candied Bourbon Pecans,
+ Crab Salad on Cucumber Chips, Photo: NK

From classic Pimiento Cheese, to Candied Bourbon Pecans, to Bacon Covered Gorgonzola Truffles, I think I succeeded in hitting each sweet, savory and salty note that I'd aimed for. Was it a little rich? Oh yes, but each component to this year's Southern Cheese Selection can stand nicely on its own if you prefer. Feel free to pick and choose whether to make all the elements or just one or two. Side Note: sinfully delicious sweet and salty bourbon pecans make a great homemade holiday gift!

Elements For The Perfect Southern Cheese Plate:
Pimiento Cheese (Recipe Below) - served with celery and Ritz Crackers for dipping.
Sweet and Salty Candied Bourbon Pecans (Recipe Below) - scattered about for a sweet, crunchy counterpoint.
Gorgonzola Bacon Truffles* (Click HERE for Recipe) Gorgonzola isn't really southern but bacon sure is.
Assorted Fruits and Garnishes -Tart green grapes, super ripe Pears (which go wonderfully with the bacon truffles), apples and apple slices, celery tops (for decoration), and flat-leaf parsley for color.

Need an extra hors d'oeuvre? Try our perennial favorite, Crab Salad with Cucumber Cups (pictured above, recipe HERE).  

Gorgonzola Bacon Truffles, Photo: NK

Note* I attempted to adapt the Gorgonzola Bacon Truffle recipe using low-fat cream cheese and gorgonzola dolce which was not pre-packed/crumbled. It didn't work too well! My truffles weren't firm, even after chilling. The result was still delicious, so I decided to serve them on a cracker so that guests wouldn't have to attempt scrape them off the plate. Part of cooking is thinking on your feet!      

In short, I'd recommend following Southern Living's recipe to the letter, as I suspect my ingredient choices did not offer a dense enough in consistency to begin with. I also recommend chilling the mixture in the freezer before rolling out the truffle balls. 

Sweet and Salty Candied Bourbon Pecans
Lightly Adapted from by Pat Duran
Candied Bourbon Pecans, Photo: NK
Yield: 4 Cups

4 Cups Pecan Halves (we used Diamond brand)
1 stick Salted Butter (not margarine)
1 1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
1 teaspoon high quality Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Bourbon
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper (depending on how spicy you prefer)


1. Preheat the oven to 350. Lay pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes  until fragrant. Move toasted pecans to a bowl and set aside.

2. In a large, heavy skillet (cast iron if possible), melt the butter over medium heat, stirring it as it melts or else it will brown. Add toasted pecans and stir to coat well. Next, add the brown sugar, salt and cinnamon. Turn down the flame just a touch and continue to stir constantly for a full 10 minutes. Do not leave the nuts unattended. The sugar will gradually liquify and candy the nuts.

3. Now, add the bourbon slowly and carefully as it could flame, then stir to combine for about 2 minutes. Sprinkle nuts with optional Cayenne if you choose. Remove skillet from the heat and pour pecans onto a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Spread them into a single layer as best you can. Allow to cool for 20 minutes and break up any clumps. Cool completely before serving or packaging.

NOTE: Pecans can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week. 

Next up, the star of the show, everyone's favorite - Pimiento Cheese. For the uninitiated, pimiento cheese is a delightful blend of cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, and diced pimiento peppers. There are many variations from here, but I chose to adapt Andrew Knowlton's grandma's very straightforward recipe. A dash of worcestershire and some Tabasco made it my own. The result was a vaguely spicy but not overpowering and of course, it was gobbled up in no time flat. On the chance you have any leftover, toss it into macaroni for a quick mac 'n cheese, or spread on some toast for an improvised grilled cheese. The possibilities are endless

Classic Pimiento Cheese
Something for everyone, Photo: NK
Lightly Adapted from Andrew Knowlton/Bon Appetit
Yield - 3 Cups (enough for about 10 people) 

1 1/2 Cups (packed) Sharp Yellow Cheddar, finely grated
1 1/2 Cups (packed) White Cheddar, finely grated
1 Cup Low Fat Mayonnaise
1/3 Cup jarred Pimiento, drained and chopped
1/4 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
2 dashes Tabasco Sauce (optional)
Salt and Pepper
Celery Sticks or Ritz Crackers to serve

Mash all ingredients together and stir very well. Taste for seasonings. Add a few dashes of pepper and add  salt only if needed - the worcestershire should provide enough salinity. Chill until cold for at least 2 hours or up to 3 days. Serve with celery sticks and/or Ritz crackers. 

Bonus - check out my mom's beautifully presented spinach dip served in a cabbage! She uses the classic Knorr Recipe (don't skip the water chestnuts!). It's one of my favorites! 
Enjoy, and i hope everyone had a great holiday!

Knorr Classic Spinach Dip, Photo: NK


  1. Looks amazing. And, everything goes better with cheese.

  2. Thank you, Mary! I appreciate you reading and I do happen to agree!