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book club southern-ish picnic

It's my turn for book club, and I have the challenge of bringing food that can be served cold or at room temperature. In addition, it all has to be cooked in the 2 nights prior to the meeting, and most of it has to be kept in a cooler (there will be room in the fridge to refrigerate 1 dish).

The book is by Fannie Flagg, so I was going to do southern-inspired picnic food. I'd like to keep it a mostly vegetarian meal, with one dish being meat. I was thinking the following:

black eyed pea salad
spinach salad with sweet potatoes and pecan
cold fried chicken
(the two salads are inspired by chow recipes)

I need something to round it out. I was thinking a cream cheese-based dip? Not necessarily southern, but that's ok. I'm not a big fan of cream cheese, but I was thinking artichoke and cream cheese...or peach chutney and cream cheese?

What about dessert? Icebox cake? Any ideas are appreciated!

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  1. For the southern theme, I'd think pimento cheese would be an obvious choice.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Jeri L

      or cream cheese with hot pepper jelly.

      1. re: LaLa

        Either of those would be perfect!

    2. How about deviled eggs?

      1. I think Jeri L and Mrs.Cheese are on the money but for dessert ice box cakes are messy to serve, I would do a bar cookie of some sort maybe pecan squares, or gooey butter cakes in any flavor. Sounds like fun good luck Juli

        1. Deviled eggs were my first thought. Potato salad would be good. If you want to do a cream cheese spread go with pepper jelly rather than chutney. Something pickled is always good.

          Since you have to cook 2 days prior, perhaps a pound cake or cookies for dessert.

          1. Maybe pecan or lemon tassies for dessert.

            1. Thanks everyone for the suggestions. Pimento cheese is a good idea, but I don't know if I could carry it off. I love the pepper jelly and cream cheese idea. And deviled eggs are a good idea too, but I think they're just too labor intensive with everything else I'm making.

              I totally agree with the icebox cake being too messy, and will probably go with a bar cookie or the lemon tassies.

              I think I'll add some biscuits to the menu too. I'll serve with beer, iced tea and probably a white wine (there's a lot of wine drinkers in the club).

              6 Replies
              1. re: charlesbois

                How about some shaved ham inside those small biscuits?

                1. re: charlesbois

                  For transporting deviled eggs I find it easiest to make the filling ahead of time and fill the egg whites just before serving. If the filling is in a ziplock it's a breeze to just cut a corner off and pipe the deviled yolks quickly into the whites!

                  Cheese straws are another traditional nibble which can be made ahead of time.

                  1. re: charlesbois

                    charlesbois, pimento cheese sandwiches are the ultimate Southern picnic food. I am wondering why you don't know if you could carry it off?

                    1. re: jmcarthur8

                      Well, I've never had it, and probably would not like it, because I'm not a big mayo, cheese or pimento fan! I tend to make things I can taste and judge accurately, and I don't think I'd be able to do it justice.

                      Just as a background, I'm up in Michigan, and I work right near Zingerman's (famous deli and food ordering service) and I know they make some pimento cheese, so I might wimp out and buy it instead of making it.

                      1. re: charlesbois

                        Oh, that explains it! No point in making something when you don't like any of the ingredients, I understand!
                        Though I live in the South now, I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and my grandmother (back in the 60's) used to get pimento cheese from the deli at the big Lazarus dept store downtown. I didn't know it was a southern thing till I moved here in 2002.
                        Buying it from the deli may be a good compromise for you. The way it's served here is on soft white bread cut diagonally. No rye, whole wheat or any other type of bread if you want it authentic.

                        1. re: charlesbois

                          Is there a Fresh Market grocery in your area? They are out of NC and make very good pimento cheese. I especially like their version with jalapenos!

                    2. for dessert how about red velvet cupcakes. And pimento cheese is easy, easy, easy-cheddar cheese, mayo and pimentos wiht the juice.

                      1. This thread has lots of ideas on Southern dishes meant not to be served hot. It may help.

                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/723545

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: chefj

                          Thank you, that is indeed a wealth of information!

                        2. you've gotta have potato salad! deviled eggs are great, but they are tricky to transport.

                          corn muffins with whipped butter and red pepper jelly (jalapeño) jelly would be very nice.
                          by the way, cream cheese was NOT a ubiquitous spread when i was growing up in the south. butter would be used on muffins or cornbread, not cream cheese.

                          biscuits would be good to have to sandwich some of that cold fried chicken. <by the way, we'd find a way to keep some mayo dressing cold long enough to make little sandwiches>. ham is a classic, too, and it doesn't need to be the ultra-salty country ham.

                          i'm not thrilled with the spinach salad idea. it's not very "picknicky" in my opinion. plus, you can only dress it at the last minute, which may not be a problem.

                          i love the idea of the black eyed pea salad -- especially one that has the red bell pepper diced it it.

                          and meatn3 is right -- pound cake would be perfect!

                          don't forget the iced tea! ;-).

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: alkapal

                            You are right - never would have the cream cheese/pepper jelly on corn muffins or even biscuits!

                            It used to be a "fancy" appetizer. Mold the softened cream cheese into a bowl (lined with plastic wrap) or a small spring-form pan. Chill. Just before serving unmold the cream cheese onto a platter. Pour/spread pepper jelly over the top, artfully dripping it over the edges. Serve with Captain Wafers!

                            There was a variation on the molded cream cheese where it was covered with cocktail sauce then a (gasp) drained/rinsed can of baby shrimp was the final layer. Grab a Captains Wafer and dig in...

                            The spinach salad isn't working for me either...

                            1. re: alkapal

                              Yes my (Jewish) husband cannot believe that I didn't eat cream cheese growing up in NC. My mom would buy it in blocks once or twice a year to make a mashed potato casserole. I thought that and cheesecake was its only use!

                              I don't think this picnic would be southern without biscuits or devilled eggs!! And for dessert I would agree that red velvet cupcakes and maybe a pecan pie bar would be great choices.

                            2. Tomato aspic. See any Southern Ladies' Club spiral-bound cookbook from the 1930's forward. You may encase peas,artichoke hearts, or anything as long as it is canned. Top with mayonnaise....homemade, of course.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: hazelhurst

                                you're joking, right?

                                even if you were serious, aspic would be a ladies' *luncheon" dish -- not a picnic dish.

                                1. re: alkapal

                                  I must have seen aspic at fifty picnics in my childhood..it was as ubiquitous as potato salad. In very hot weather it was usually replaced by, of all things, a ghastly salad with jello cubes. I concur with the devilled eggs, too...I don;' think I have ever been at a southern picnic or tailgate that did not have them.

                                  1. re: hazelhurst

                                    Have to agree...The only kind of picnic I've ever been to is Southern ~~ Deviled Eggs, and Minner & Cheese is a must!! If it's not there?....Somebody is in a heap of trouble! ~~~ Scratch made chocolate brownies loaded down with pecans was/is always a favorite too!