With college football season in full swing, now is the time to think about ways to up your tailgating game.
While it’s hard to beat burgers and brats, with a little effort you can put out a spread that will make yours the party everybody wants an invitation to, whether it’s at the stadium or in your living room.
If you’re looking for inspiration, try Daina Falk’s new book, “The Hungry Fan’s Game Day Cookbook,” with 165 recipes, many suggested by professional athletes such as those her sports agent father David Falk represented.
Daina Falk declares barbecue the universal tailgating food and includes several recipes for favorites such as ribs and pulled pork (including quesadillas and nachos) and chicken.
But the recipe that caught my eye was for “tachos” — tater tot nachos. Falk’s version is dressed up with chorizo, homemade salsa and a beery cheese sauce.
The key, she says, is to have the tots really crispy and hot. To keep them from getting soggy, put the cheese sauce and other fixings on right before you serve it.
If you want a vegetarian version, substitute a soy version of the chorizo.
While the fall season is still warm and fresh fruits and vegetables are still plentiful, take advantage of the farmers market to make your own salsas. A simple tomato-onion-jalapeno-lime-cilantro version is easy to whip up (Falk has a recipe for that, too) but if you really want to make something special, try a watermelon salsa.
Falk includes a recipe but I like mine better. Hers has cherry tomatoes, mint and coconut water. Mine, saved from a Woman’s Day recipe book from 1997, gets its sweetness from sweet onions and orange marmalade. It’s sweet and tart at the same time, thanks to a dash of vinegar, and jalapeno gives it a zing.
Another tailgating tip: Make the food easy to eat, things you can handle standing up. Sliders or small sandwiches are good; messier things, like chili, soup or jambalaya, are best served in cups or small bowls for easy handling.
As it gets cooler, chili is a great tailgate choice, and there are nearly endless variations on it, from meaty versions to vegetarian. In fact, you probably have a great chili recipe already, so take a look at Falk’s Kentucky Tomato Bourbon Soup. It’s hearty, with chopped carrots, onion and tomatoes, and jazzed up with brown sugar and a 1/4 cup of bourbon. That will keep you warm on a cold afternoon.
One more tailgating tip: Don’t forget desserts. While most of the menu will be savory, at some point you’ll want a sweet counterpoint. Cookies and dessert bars are essential, but Falk has a little fun with a dessert she calls Beer Sno-Cones. You basically mix a couple of bottles of stout beer (flat works better, she says) with 2/3 cup brown sugar and freeze it. Keep mixing the slush around until it’s frozen enough to scoop into paper cones or cups.
From “The Hungry Fan’s Gameday Cookbook” by Daina Falk
6 ounces dried chorizo, diced
1/2 cup Negra Modelo, or another dark beer
16 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1 serrano pepper, seeds and veins removed, minced
1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles, drained
2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions
3 cups tater tots
2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt or sour cream
1/4 cup homemade salsa (or use your favorite version)
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
Freshly ground black pepper, optional
Cook the chorizo over medium in a large saucepan for 8 to 10 minutes, until crisp and the fat has rendered. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain, and discard the rendered fat.
Heat the beer in the same saucepan over high for about 5 minutes to reduce it a bit. Reduce the heat to low, and add the cheese, stirring often as it melts into the beer. Once fully melted, add the fresh and canned chiles, 1 tablespoon of the green onions, and half the chorizo. Bring to a simmer for 7 to 10 minutes.
Transfer your lidded pan into your Hungry Fan 3-in-1 Fangating Bag, and let it cook and marinate in its own goodness for an hour. Alternatively, continue to simmer on your stovetop for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, bake the tater tots in a preheated oven according to package directions, making sure to cook them to their crispiest.
Remove the cheese sauce from the Fangating Bag, and stir very well, in case it has gotten a bit clumpy.
Place the tater tots on a large tray, and drizzle the cheese sauce on top. Dollop with the yogurt and salsa. Top with the remaining chorizo and green onions and the cilantro. Feel Free to sprinkle with some freshly ground black pepper, too, and serve immediately.
Makes 1 large plate
KENTUCKY TOMATO BOURBON SOUP
From “The Hungry Fan’s Tailgating Cookbook” by Daina Falk
2 tablespoons butter
3 medium carrots, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, plus more for serving
1 cup Pomi finely chopped tomatoes
2 cups Pomi tomato sauce
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for serving
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/4 cup Kentucky bourbon
1/2 cup half-and-half
Melt the butter in a Dutch oven over medium. Add the carrots, onions, garlic, and parsley. Cook for 7 to 9 minutes, until the onions are translucent, being careful not to burn the garlic.
Stir in the tomatoes, tomato sauce, salt, pepper, brown sugar and bourbon. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Stir in the half-and-half, and sprinkle with some more pepper and parsley. Enjoy.
WATERMELON WALLA WALLA SWEET ONION SALSA
From “Meals in Minutes,” a Woman’s Day publication
1/4 cup orange marmalade
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup finely chopped jalapeno peppers
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups chopped seeded watermelon
1 cup chopped Walla Walla (or other sweet) onions
1 cup chopped orange sections
In a large bowl, stir together orange marmalade, cilantro, jalapeno peppers, vinegar, garlic and salt. Add watermelon, onion and orange; gently toss together until coated. Chill at least 30 minutes before serving.
Makes 4 cups salsa