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On Cooking Southern: Tailgating Bites and Bits


By Laurie Triplette


Southernism of the Week:

A blister: A person who shows up after all the hard work has been completed. Hopefully, not the Ole Miss offense… 

Rally, people! Game Day has finally come to The Grove. It’s time to break out the silver chafing dishes and the candlesticks, the cheese straws and the assorted pates. 

ham_puffs-DSCN7957Let’s show the unknowing few why we’re famous for our hospitality and tailgating. 

Remember that a winner always shows grace under pressure.

This week’s tailgating recipes pay homage to our wonderfully mixed food heritage. I’m presenting two versions of cocktail meatballs and two very different breads for dipping in sauces. 

The meatballs are fun — edible hot or cold. One version goes all Italian when served with our slow cooker marina sauce that can do double duty as a dip for pepperoni pizza rolls and cocktail meatballs, and as a classic Italian gravy for pasta. The other meatball version goes all Bubba when served with the “traditional” Southern grape jelly-infused cocktail sauce. 

The bread recipes are perfect for brunch-time tailgating.


This recipe makes up enough volume for several meatball appetizer recipes and a couple of additional quarts for freezing. It is the perfect base for homemade spaghetti sauce.

2 (28 oz) cans crushed tomatoes

1 (28 oz) can tomato sauce

1 (28 oz) can of diced or whole tomatoes

1 medium onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 T Italian seasoning

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1/4 c plus 2 T red wine

4 T white granulated sugar

1 T fresh lemon juice (about half of a lemon)

4 T butter, melted

1/2 c fine-chopped celery with leaves

1/2 c fine-chopped carrot

1/4 c fine chopped fresh parsley

Combine all ingredients in large slow cooker and set to cook for 6 hours. Feel free to puree the sauce once cooked. Adjust sweetness to taste (adding more sugar if too acidic). Serve as a dipping sauce or as Italian gravy ladled over pasta. 

pizzarolls-DSCN7902PIZZA ROLLS

Pkg of 12 frozen Rhodes white dinner rolls (traditional unbaked dough)

48 slice of pepperoni

24 tsp (1/2 c) shredded mozzarella cheese 

1 T extra light olive oil

4 T melted butter

1 tsp Italian seasoning

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp Creole seasoning such as Tony’s

Shredded Parmesan cheese (not grated)

2 c marinara sauce (commercially prepared jars are fine)

Thaw the roll dough in a pan until it rises. Prepare two 12-cup muffin tins by spraying with nonstick cooking spray. Preheat oven to 400˚F. 

Dust a clean flat surface and hands with flour, and work the thawed, once-risen dough into a ball, kneading five to seven times until it becomes pliable. 

Stretch the dough into a rectangle and roll it out to about 9 by 13 inches. Using a ruler, measure out 24 squares. Cut the squares with a pizza roller. It will be very elastic. I also weighed the squares on a kitchen scale to divide the dough evenly. 

Place about 1 tsp of mozzarella in the center of each square, top with 2 slices of pepperoni. Make a package by pulling one edge of dough over the filling, then the opposite edge, and so on until the filling is covered. Dip fingers in water and run over the edges to smooth and seal. Place each dough package, seam-side down, in a muffin cup. 

Bake one tin at a time on the center rack for about 18 minutes, until tops of rolls are brown. While muffins are baking, whisk together the olive oil, melted butter and seasonings. 

Remove baked muffins from oven and position tin in a larger pan or on an insulated surface such as a cutting board. Drizzle or brush the buttery seasoning over tops of each muffin while still hot, and sprinkle generously with shredded Parmesan. After about 5 minutes, gently loosen each muffin in its cup, but cool completely before turning out. Serve hot or cold, with marinara sauce as a dip.


This recipe will make up 18 pasta meatballs plus 48 cocktail meatballs, or about 84 cocktail meatballs (enough to fill a large chafing dish).

2 lb ground beef 

1 lb sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings*

1 c fresh bread crumbs (I use leftover hotdog buns)

1 white onion, chopped

1/2 c fine-chopped celery with leaves

2 to 3 T fine chopped fresh parsley or 1 T dried

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

1-1/2 c shredded mozzarella cheese

3 large eggs, beaten

1/2 c extra light olive oil

1 c white wine or water

Combine all ingredients except egg in large mixing bowl. Work in eggs, using hands to blend. 

For Pasta Meatballs: Use an ice cream scoop to form 3-inch balls. Heat oil in skillet and fry the meatballs, turning 3 times to brown evenly on all sides. Add 1 c water. Simmer 10 minutes, covered. While meatballs are simmering, prepare linguine pasta according to package directions. Place the linguine in a large pasta bowl. Top with the meatballs and 3 to 4 cups of marinara sauce. 

For Cocktail Meatballs: Loosely form 1- to 1-1/2 inch balls. Spray a broiler tray with non-stick cooking spray. Place meatballs in rows on the tray. Bake on center rack for about 20 minutes in oven preheated to 400˚F. Remove meatballs to chafing dish and cover with about 4 to 5 c of marinara sauce.

marinaracocktailmeatballsDSCN7919BUBBA STYLE COCKTAIL MEATBALLS

2 lb ground beef 

1 lb ground turkey or venison

1 c fresh bread crumbs (I use leftover hotdog buns)

1/2 c white onion, chopped

1/2 c fine-chopped celery with leaves

2 to 3 T fine chopped fresh parsley or 1 T dried

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

2 to 3 large eggs, beaten

1 stick butter

1 bottle cocktail sauce 

1 c grape jelly

Combine all ingredients except egg in large mixing bowl. Work in eggs, using hands to blend. Feel free not to use all the beaten egg; consistency should be wet but still dense enough to hold together.

Form into 1-1/2-inch balls.

Heat butter in large skillet. Brown the meatballs in the butter, turning twice to get all sides. Drain grease. Whisk together the cocktail sauce and jelly in a small bowl and pour over the meatballs. Simmer for about 5 minutes. Serve in chafing dish hot or cold.

ham_puffs-DSCN7960HAM PUFFS

This recipe is a cheesy soufflé-type of bite that is perfect hot or cold with pepper jelly and brunch beverages such as Bloody Marys.

1 c water

1 c plain flour

1/2 tsp dry mustard

4 large eggs

4 oz of sliced smoked ham, diced

1/2 c shredded cheddar

Line large cookie sheet with parchment paper. 

In a medium saucepan, bring butter and water to a boil on medium heat. Remove from heat when boiling; immediately stir in flour and mustard, then return to heat and stir vigorously to reheat and thicken to a paste consistency. 

Remove from heat and add eggs, beating in one at a time, until smooth. Mix ham and cheese into batter. Drop teaspoon-sized mounds of batter onto cookie sheet, allowing two inches between each. 

Bake in preheated oven at 375ºF for about 30 minutes or until golden. Turn off heat; leave tray in oven 15 more minutes before removing to rack to cool completely. Store in covered container in the fridge. Serve hot or at room temperature with pepper jelly. Yields 24.

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 (AFJ),Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA)  and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SOFAB). Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ web site and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter (@LaurieTriplette).

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