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Friday, November 29, 2013

Cooking 4 Guys - The Big Game

Since the NFL has decided to copyright the official name of the "Big Game", you have to give it this name so they don't have their lawyers come at you with officious cease and desist orders for using the official name. But, we all know what you are talking about, and isn't that super.

On the first or second Sunday of February, after 17 weeks of NFL football, and 3 rounds of play-offs, we have the 2 "best" teams in each conference of the leagues facing off in the Big Game. Whether it's Peyton Manning, with his genius at the helm, or Geno Smith doing his best Joe Namath imitation and guaranteeing an upset of whoever they might be playing, or Big Ben and the Steelers right the ship and Ben goes for another ring, getting him closer to that other great Pittsburgh QB, Terry Bradshaw, the game now takes a back seat to the spectacle that occurs, both at the stadium, and in homes around the world, the biggest one day holiday/party of the year. Mardi Gras, New Years Eave, and the 4th of July rolled up into one big event. It may be at the stadium or in the parking lot, or at an organized club or bar, or just friends watching the game on your new Christmas Present, the 102" big screen tv (OK so mine is only 21", I can see as long as someone doesn't get up and stand in the way), people who don't know the difference between offense and defense, who never heard of Vince Lombardi, to those who know Joe Namath as a playboy and stocking salesman (OK that was years ago), are watching the Game (some only for the new commercials, some just for the party). The Big Game get together is not your ordinary Fall/Weekend Sunday guys come over football game. It takes time, and for the best atmosphere, you have to start getting ready ahead of time.

First on the list is beverages. Is it a sophisticated gathering with wine. What wine goes well with the sounds of bodies crashing together, or the thrill of victory, and agony of defeat? Is it going to be hard drinkers doing shot of Jack or Jim or tequila shooters? Or just a bunch of guys drinking their favorite malt beverage?

I'm not much of a wine drinker so I say if that's your choice, the only advice is to make it a drinking wine, not a sipping, appreciate the aroma and taste wine. Nothing too expensive, except for that one bottle for the end of the game, to toast when your team has just become the NFL Champions.

As far as harder drinks, I say make it a game within the game. Take a shot when a team scores a touchdown, a sip or half shot for field goals, and a double shot for safeties. Hopefully it's not a game where the teams light up the score board, tossing touchdown after touchdown, or some people won't make it to the end, and you'll have the morning after look of a typical Saturday morning at a frat house.

Beyond the battle between Coke and Pepsi, and their variants (whatever happened to 7-up?) and Sweet Tea here in the South, the final choice is Beer. With beer comes a few questions. Do you get a Keg? A couple of cases? or is the party small enough that you just have everyone bring their own? With the first 2 choices you have to make sure that it's a beer that a majority of the people like, with the last choice you have a smorgasbord or flavors and choices (as long as it's put into a communal cache for anyone to pick and choose). Like I said with the wine, you need a drinker's beer, most Americans will want one of the product from the big 3 of American beer, Anheiser-Busch, Miller, or Coors, but there are plenty of craft and small brewery choices that are good for times like this. I'm sure you have your own opinions as to which you prefer. Just make sure it's one that you can drink without the beer being the center of attention, and just something that tastes good while you are munching and cheering your team of the day to victory.

Now on to food.

You are definitely going to want your choice of a plethora of chips and dip. Whether it's potato chips and french onion dip, or tortilla chips and salsa or guacamole, or pita chips and humus (where did that come from???). You can either buy or make your dip, from the French Onion soup mix and sour cream, to queso dip from Rotel tomatoes and Velveeta, to guacamole made from fresh avocado. With potato chips, you usually want a couple of flavors of dip. With tortilla chips, salsa, and quacamole, and queso dip. No idea where to go with pita chips, but that wasn't what I grew up with. Talking about dip, if this is going to be more then just the guys, with wives and girl friends, and even the girl who is a friend who you grew up with who enjoys football almost as much as a guy, a good choice is a veggie platter with a dip. Unless you've done these before, it's best to just get one in the produce section of the grocery store. I used to have to cut veggies for an appetizer item at a restaurant I worked at, and it's a time consuming job, that I let it to the professionals now. With the veggie platter, you want a good cream cheese or sour cream based dip. A good spinach dip, or french onion, or any other dip you will find in the dairy section between the cheese, and sour cream and yogurt will do.

Next is the finger food for during the game. You want something you can grab and put on a paper plate to eat in front of the tv while watching the game. Stuff like meatballs and little sausages, cheese and crackers, wings, wings and more wings, and of course pizza, or a favorite in the Philadelphia area, tomato pie. This is all things you can place in a slow cooker, or on a platter for people to pick and choose. Like the beer, this is something you don't want to have to think about during the game, just something to munch on while the game is being played.

Now comes half time. You want something that can be ready and eaten in 15 to 20 minutes, even with the extended half time show, you don't want to linger and miss the 2nd half kick-of. Sandwiches are great, cold cuts and sliced cheeses, pulled pork or hot beef usually served on hardy buns rather then bread, subs and hoagies. The sandwiches can be make it yourself, with hot items in a slow cooker or other heated serving pan, the cold items, on trays (with lids you can remove at half time and replace to keep them as fresh as you can) which can be kept out during the 2nd half. Meatballs, Hot Dogs, Brats, Kielbasi, or any other meats you can shove in a bun. Home made fried chicken, or a bucket of the colonel's finest from KFC. Any of the salads you might have at a picnic like cole slaw, or potato salad. Pickles and olives, and spicier items like peperoncini or banana peppers, or hotter peppers if you like them, these are something you would probably have out early with the finger foods pre-game as well as now. Stuffed peppers with prosciutto and cheese.
And of course chili, I've heard of some Big Game parties that turn into chili cook-offs with people bringing their home made chili, and whether judged officially, or by how much is left at the end, you can make and try a large variety of Texas' state food.

Finally you have dessert, ok, not really a full dessert, but just some cakes or pies, or fudge or brownies. Something sweet is always a good thing. Fruit is another good choice, especially small fresh fruit you just set out, grapes are great, and of course orange wedges, a reminder of glory days of midget football.

Like any culinary event, or just guys getting together, the choices are yours to make. Go with a tradition you've had since the first NFL-AFL championship. Go with the meat based menu you used when da Bears did their Shuffle. Or go with sandwiches on sourdough bread from the days of Joe Montana and San Francisco reigned supreme. The Big Game is a party, an unofficial holiday, celebrate it like you would New Year's Eve, or the 4th of July. Have fun, enjoy the game, and try not too get too stuffed or drunk, remember tomorrow is Monday, and you have to work. Though you have a memory, and possibly stories to tell to last you until next February and another Big Game.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


A friend posted a graphic on Facebook today, it was one of those awareness types of posts for people with special needs. I agree with the spirit of his one comment in that we all have special needs. They could be severe needs that are life threatening, or mild needs that can be easily taken care of. Each one of us has needs that, with the help of others, can be lessened.

An African proverb that Hillary Clinton shared was "it takes a village to raise a child", unfortunately because of her political aspirations, this concept has been attacked. This concept is not unique to Africa and is how most people born before the 90s were raised. You knew your neighbor, you had no fear of letting your children go out to play, if something happened, you knew that there was someone who would be there to help. The special needs child was not a source of ridicule, or someone else's problem, but a person who was part of your life.

People ask "What went wrong with America?", maybe it is the loss of community that we once felt, but if you look around, that community is still here. To some it is online, like Facebook, Google+, or Twitter. To some it is offline, like Little League, or PTA, or the local bar, or the church. If you need help there is someone who you know that can help. In business, that is known as networking, in life it is known as community.

A community is not only where you are, but who you know. Everyone is there for a reason, some are there for more practical reasons, some are there just to make you smile, or for comic relief, some are there to be antagonists to make you stronger. Your community is probably larger then you realize. Maybe if we embraced our community again, and even spread it, we would make America strong again, and remove the feeling of fear and distrust we have enveloped ourselves with.