On Cooking Southern: Quick and Easy Road-Trip Foods Enhance the Travel Experience

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SOUTHERNISM OF THE WEEK
Down in the dirt
: Someone is willing to roll up their sleeves and participate at an elemental level, getting dirty and playing hardball, not soft-soaping the situation or pulling any punches. Clichés aside, it’s related to but not the same as “down and dirty”, which means vicious and devoid of the rules; or “dirt nap”, which means someone is dead…


My brother calls me a glutton for punishment. Maybe I am, but for the second time in three years I have thoroughly enjoyed spending four days on a cross-country bus trip with fellow Mississippi DAR patriots.

I lived to tell about it. I also made new friends, came home with new recipes and packed on about 8 additional unneeded pounds, if my belt is any indication.

The poundage came from “road food” snacked during the bus rides to and from our nation’s capitol — not from the luncheons and dinners we consumed all week in between. The weight gain was inevitable, for we were a cadre of proud women dedicated to upholding the Magnolia State’s reputation for great cooks and tasty food.

Let me count the food ways in which we inched the scale upward.

Lemon square bites. Almond squares. Toffee crackers. Chicago-style popcorn. Brownies. Mini-oatmeal-raisin cookies and chocolate chip cookies. Cheese straws. Curried pecans. Chocolate-covered peanuts. Hand pies. … all homemade and all divine, of course… plus store-bought snacks such as mixed nuts and chocolate. Lots of chocolate. After all, chocolate is an essential food group for us dames.

We developed specific criteria for consuming the trip food with copious amounts of bottled water between pit stops. Sweet baked goods were essential mid-morning snacks. Salty nuts, popcorn and cheese-y baked goods were designated for mid-afternoon, followed by the chocolate goodies in late afternoon.

So what sorts of foods are worthy of road tripping when the temperature hovers above 95 and the humidity is on the rainy side of wet?

Most snack foods are do-able under controlled conditions. Certain types of cookies and bars are more durable than others. Roasted nuts and popcorn will stay edible for a bit longer than some items, but nuts will turn rancid if left out in extreme heat. Most candy will melt in heat, and some sugared sweets turn crystalline after a week on the road.

Baked goods containing custard and eggs should always be chilled, within two hours in normal weather, within a half hour in summer heat. Fresh fruit also will go bad if left too long in the heat.

Rule of thumb for ALL food: Keep it in an insulated cooler or in an air-conditioned bus or car at all times.

And here’s the deal about containers: Crispy snacks should be stored in metal containers. This includes nuts, cracker snacks, popcorn and chips. Any food requiring moistness should be kept in plastic or acrylic containers, chilled, to retain moisture and retard mold growth.

CLASSIC GORP
Some readers may question the wisdom of making this snack food from scratch when numerous versions are available nowadays at most stores. The rationale, my darlings, is two-fold — Money and taste. Bulk quantities of homemade “gorp” trail mixes are more cost effective than the same quantities of commercially packaged versions. Also, the “creator” may concoct the mixes to suit personal taste preferences. For example, substitute sunflower seeds or cashews for the pumpkin seeds. Or, add M&M Peanuts in addition to plain M&Ms, or substitute dried cranberries if you don’t care for raisins.

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16 oz roasted, salted peanuts
8 oz pepitas (roasted, salted pumpkin seeds)
Large bag milk chocolate M&M’s (19.2 oz)
12-oz box raisins

Dump all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Combine with hands and store in tight container.

TWISTED FRUITY TRAIL MIX
Feel free to use mini pretzel sticks, or to break up the mini pretzels. Add chocolate and butterscotch for additional flavor, if desired.

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4 c mini-pretzels
2 c dried cherries
2 c dried blueberries
8-oz pkg dried apricots, each quartered
9-oz pkg Heath Milk Chocolate-Toffee Pieces
3 to 4 c roasted, salted sunflower seeds

Dump all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Combine with hands and store in tight container.

SEASONED OYSTER CRACKERS

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(1-1/2 pkg.) oyster crackers
1-oz pkg of dry Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix
3/4 c vegetable oil
1 T dried dillweed

Mix dry ingredients together with the oil. Roll crackers in the wet mix to coat. Wait 1 hour and roll crackers again. Spread the coated crackers on a cookie sheet and let dry completely, shaking and gently turning the crackers several times over period of about 6 hours. Seal in covered metal or glass container. These remain tasty for several weeks if stored properly.

PIPED CHEESE STRAWS AND WAFERS
Feel free to reduce this recipe by 25 percent. I’ve even successfully cut it to one-fourth of the stated ingredients and achieved a goodly amount for company.

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Four 10-oz pkgs extra sharp cheddar, shredded by hand
2 c (4 sticks) butter, melted (winter) OR room temp (warm weather)
4 c plain OR cake flour
1-1/2 tsp cayenne
1 tsp salt
5 dashes of Tabasco

Work butter by hand into the shredded cheese. Add Tabasco (do NOT overdo). Sift together the flour, cayenne and salt. Gently but thoroughly work flour mix into cheese mix, being careful not to over-work to prevent the dough from becoming too stiff.

Put dough into cookie press with ribbon or star tip. Pipe onto parchment-lined cookie sheets in 1-1/2- to 2-inch-long strips. If you lack a cookie press, gently roll out dough between sheets of waxed paper to approximately 3/8-inch thickness. Use a sharp knife to cut into strips about 1/2-inch wide by 1-1/2 to 2-inches long.

Bake in preheated oven at 350˚F for 10-12 minutes, until golden with dark gold flecks. If the oven is too hot, the dough will become lacy and dissolve. If underdone, the straws will taste chewy. If this happens, throw them back into the oven for a few minutes. If making wafers, feel free to top with a pecan half while still hot. Cool completely, then store, layered in wax paper, in an airtight metal container. Yield: about 250 cheese straws or wafers.


Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists, Southern Foodways Alliance and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ website and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

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