Grub Match

Grub MatchRecipes and tips for winning game-day gatheringsBy Jennifer Walker-Journey

For almost everyone in the Panhandle, cooler temperatures mean that football season has finally begun. And when it comes to game-day gatherings, there is one thing that all fans (and even those more interested in socializing than cheering) can agree on: The food must be good enough to tackle a wide variety of appetites.

But how can a host accomplish that goal and not be a slave to the kitchen or the outdoor grill? “Definitely cook dishes you feel comfortable with that aren’t going to overwhelm you when cooking them for a crowd,” says Jamie Dietrich, a private chef based in Santa Rosa Beach. “For instance, crab cakes are divine, but attempting to cook them for a party of 20 in a home kitchen can be difficult. Instead, choose something that is less stressful and that frees you up to enjoy your guests.”

Football gatherings are the perfect time to fall back on a signature dish — that one recipe you can make with confidence, such as your slow-cooked ribs or homemade pimento cheese. Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try something new. Parties — especially those with good friends — are a great opportunity to try new, hip ingredients or food trends. Dig up those favorite recipes and shake them up a bit by pairing those world-famous ribs with some mango-infused barbecue sauce, or kicking up roast beef sliders with a topping of that homemade pimento cheese.

You can also rely on your team to influence your dish.

“No matter which team you pull for, the obvious team-inspired menu for the University of Alabama or Auburn University is barbecue-centered — ribs, pork, chicken or sausage (even tofu for the football-loving vegetarians in your life) cooked on the grill and served with all the trimmings: baked beans, potato salad, deviled eggs, bread for dipping, and banana pudding,” Dietrich says. “For the Florida State University and University of Florida fans, a low country boil is in order — boiled shrimp, blue crab, sausage, corn, potatoes, onions and my all-time favorite, whole button mushrooms.”

An avid Louisiana State University and New Orleans Saints fan, Susan Benton of Seagrove has a long list of Cajun and Creole favorites that she turns to when company is coming. One all-time favorite is gumbo.

“My family loves gumbo. Period!” she says. “Seafood, shrimp and okra, chicken and sausage — you name it.” What makes gumbo a winner on her game-day menu is that it can be made in advance, which also helps the seasonings to “set in.”

Cyndi Joiner Richards says this overnight “blooming” process makes her Real Texas Chili even better. She also makes her chili more versatile by serving it alongside toppings that guests can add, such as shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, diced onions and corn chips. In addition, she changes up the preparation — serving it sometimes atop tortilla chips as hearty nachos or pouring it over a hot dog, chili-dog style.

Big cuts of meat can also simplify the hosting duties, Dietrich says. Roast or grill beef or pork tenderloin or ribs in advance and finish them off in the oven just before guests arrive.

If your dish must be cooked the day of, do as much prep work as possible the day before. This will help lighten your load when guests arrive, Dietrich says, “from whipping your cream for the dessert to measuring out each ingredient and having it labeled and ready to add to your dish. The more organized and prepared you are, the more smoothly the meal will go.”

Keep game-day grazing simple by serving buffet style. Grab-and-go foods, such as kebabs, bruschetta and mini-cupcakes, work well at casual gatherings because they can be devoured without the bother of fancy china or utensils. And don’t forget the other players on the buffet line — staples such as appetizers and dips that guests love to graze. Sure, a big bowl of chips will get eaten, but serve it with some winning dips and salsas and you’re sure to have a hit.

As always, don’t forget to play it safe. Most football games last four hours or more. Keep hot foods hot in slow cookers or chafing dishes. Cold dishes can be served on a bed of ice.

“Get creative. Place a bowl of boiled shrimp over ice in a galvanized bucket,” Dietrich says. “Another key is to serve enough food for the first two hours and then replace it with fresh cold or hot food at halftime. This prevents food-borne illness.” Just remember this rule of thumb: If food isn’t kept cooler than 41 degrees or hotter than 140 degrees, it shouldn’t sit out longer than two hours.

Finally, no football feast would be complete without a host of cool beverages. Beer and football are a perfect combination. For a change, try picking up some gourmet beers such as Sweetwater 420 or Stella Artois or some fancy dark brews. Or be more adventurous and offer a signature cocktail with a clever name, Dietrich says, “like Swamp Thing, Eye of the Tiger or Alabama Slammer.”

And remember, the most important thing to game-day gatherings is not who wins or loses, but that everyone has a good time.



Geaux-To Gumbo

by Susan Benton

    1    5-pound stewing hen, fat and skin removed
    1    large Conecuh smoked sausage cut diagonally into bite-size pieces
    ½    pound andouille sausage cut diagonally into dime-size pieces
    1    cup vegetable oil
    1½    cups flour
    2    cups diced onion
    2    cups diced celery
    1    cup diced bell peppers
    ¼    cup minced garlic
    3    quarts chicken stock (no MSG,
low sodium)
    2    cups sliced green onions
    1    bay leaf
    1    16-ounce package cut, frozen okra thawed in bag
        sprig of fresh thyme
    1    tablespoon fresh chopped basil
    ½    cup chopped fresh parsley
        ground sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste
        Louisiana Hot Sauce to taste

Cut hen into eight or so pieces. Remove all fat possible. Cut smoked sausage and andouille into pieces and set aside. In a 2-gallon stock pot, heat oil over medium to medium-high heat. Turn your vent on high. Whisk in flour, stirring constantly, until roux looks the color of milk chocolate. Do not burn. It will smell like flour cooking and there will be some smoke, but if it turns black, throw it out and start over!
Stir in onions, celery, bell peppers and garlic for 3 to 5 minutes until vegetables are wilted. Add chicken and sauté for 15 minutes. Add okra; things will slime up a bit, but keep stirring. Add chicken stock one ladle at a time, stirring constantly. Bring to a rolling boil, reduce to simmer and cook for 1 hour.
In a frying pan, sauté the sausages on medium heat. Drain on a paper towel and add to the pot for the duration of cook time.
After the hour, add green onions, bay leaf, thyme and basil. Season to taste with salt, pepper and hot sauce. Cook an additional 1 to 2 hours until chicken is tender and falling apart. Remove meat from bones, and bones from pot. Stir in parsley and adjust seasonings. Serve with Basic Louisiana White Rice and filé powder (also called gumbo filé) for guests who want to thicken the gumbo a bit. Serves eight.

Basic Louisiana White Rice

by Susan Benton

    1    tablespoon real butter
    1    small onion, minced
    1½    cups Louisiana long-grain white rice such as Zatarains
    3    cups chicken stock (no MSG, low sodium)
    1    bay leaf
    2    pinches ground sea salt

Put the butter and onions into a medium pot and cook over moderate heat until they are translucent, 5 minutes or so. Pour the rice into the pan and stir for 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the bay leaf and salt. Cover the pan with a lid, reduce the heat to low. Cook for 18 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat, fluff the rice with a fork and serve. Makes about 4 cups.

Real Texas Chili

by Cindy Joiner Richards

    3     pounds boneless chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes (use ground beef or turkey for chili dogs)
    2     tablespoons oil
    2–3     cloves garlic, chopped
    4–6     tablespoons chili powder
    2     teaspoons ground cumin
    3     tablespoons flour
    1     tablespoon leaf oregano
    2     13¾-ounce cans beef broth
    1     teaspoon salt
    ¼     teaspoon pepper

    1     can pinto beans
    1     cup sour cream
    1     lime, cut into wedges

Heat oil; stir in beef until meat changes color but does not brown. Lower heat, stir in garlic.
In a separate bowl, combine chili powder, cumin and flour. Sprinkle meat with this mixture, stirring until meat is evenly coated. Crumble oregano over meat. Add 1½ cans broth, stir until blended. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat; simmer partially covered for 1½ hours, stirring occasionally.
Add remaining broth; cook 30 minutes longer. Cool, cover and refrigerate overnight to deepen flavor. When ready to serve, reheat. (Add beans if desired.) Optional: Garnish each dish with a dollop of sour cream and a lime wedge. Serves eight.