Shopping and a show

When I’m bored, I like to wander around Grand Asia Market in Cary. I’ll always find something to liven up dinner, and the passing show of shoppers comes with it for free.

Chinese New Year is Friday, so the store was decked in so much red – the Chinese lucky color – and gold that it glowed. As I stuffed bags with pea shoots and Shanghai bok choy, I heard snatches of Chinese, African and Spanish in the crowd sorting through produce. Japanese women were two deep around the self-serve seafood area.

I next set out for Vietnamese fish sauce. I know they have it, but I always have trouble finding it. As I squinted at labels, a young Asian woman with a middle-aged Western lady came bustling up. “Fish sauce? Fish sauce?” the young woman said. “I’m looking for it, too,” I answered. They started on one side of the aisle and I took the other. She found it. “This from my country,” she said, pointing at one brand of the dozen or so there. “But why big bottles? Why no small bottles? But this one good.” Then she excitedly grabbed a different one, whose label had a picture of an anchovy. It uses a “special fish,” she said and is better, although she maintained that the first one was good, too. “Well, I’m going with the special one,” I said. She smiled and nodded.

Frozen Chinese buns in an open case caught my attention, and as I looked them over, a Chinese man came up and said, unhesitatingly, that they were good and come from New York, but that the vegetable ones were old. He pointed out where the dough was dry. “Don’t get those,” he said, and pointed at some pork ones. “Those are good.” So, pork buns it was.

As I was paying for my items, the clerk began talking in rapid Chinese with a woman behind me. I glanced at her, and the woman apologized for the Chinese. Not at all, I said. She said in English, “We were just talking about her pants,” pointing at the clerk’s lacy slacks, “And how I can’t wear that, but she’s so thin, she can.” “Me either,” I said, waving off the whole idea, “But your hat is cute.” “If my hair doesn’t look so good, it’s a good thing to wear,” she replied.

We all laughed and I gathered my bags. “Happy New Year!” the young woman called. “Happy New Year to you!” I said.

Game? There’s a game?

When it comes to the American holiday that Super Bowl Sunday has become, the game itself is as necessary to the celebration as a Christmas tree is to Christmas:it might be nice, but isn’t really required. With all the food, parties and scoping for possible wardrobe malfunctions, who is wearing the uniforms on the field is almost secondary. Or perhaps that’s just the Panthers fan in me talking.

People who don’t know a tight end from a tackle can still have a great time at the party, which is a little over two weeks away. And the food is vitally important. It must fuel fans for quite a period of time, since I think the pregame shows are starting in about five minutes.

Whatever else you choose to serve, wings are the classic sporting event food. And making them yourself is better than ordering out, for so many reasons. You can save money and they’ll taste much better. You can tailor the heat level, or make wings that have lots of flavor without the fire. Save even more on your spread by purchasing whole wings and cutting them up yourself. It’s easy. Just use a sharp knife to cut at each of the three joints. Keep the drumette and the long piece (called the flat). The pointy part, called the flapper, throw those in a freezer bag and use them to make chicken soup.

Wings can be grilled, baked, fried, even cooked in a slow-cooker, as I wrote in my book “Wings: More Than 50 High-Flying Recipes for America’s Favorite Snack” published by John Wiley & Sons. And they don’t have to be covered in hot sauce to have a lot of flavor.

I enjoy hot food, but I prepare these for the Super Bowl spread to entice those of more tender palates. And for more of my Super Bowl tips and recipes, come to my class at Southern Season in Chapel Hill on Jan. 25. More info on that here.

Hoisin Honeys

1/3 cup hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons orange juice

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger

1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic

1/2 teaspoon honey

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

12 wings, cut in half at joints, wing tips removed and discarded

In a small bowl, stir together the hoisin sauce, orange juice, ginger, garlic, honey and cayenne, Set aside 3 tablespoons of the sauce.

Place the wings in a large reclosable plastic zipper bag. Pour the remaining sauce in over the wings and coat them well. Refrigerate the wings in the marinade for 2 to 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover a rimmed baking sheet with foil and spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray.

Remove the wings from the marinade and discard the marinade. Place the wings on the baking sheet.

Roast the wings for 25 minutes. Brush the wings with the reserved sauce and bake another 5 minutes or until the wings are done.

Makes 24 pieces

Green grows the guacamole

Don’t like football? Who cares! It’s the NFL playoffs with the Super Bowl looming. And it’s all about the food at this point.

My friend, author and food blogger Becca Gomez Farrell, recently moved from Durham to San Francisco. And since the 49ers are playing my state team, the Carolina Panthers, this Saturday, I asked her if she has heard of any interesting game-day food phenomenons.

“Having best-guacamole competitions is pretty common in California for Super Bowl Sunday parties,” she writes. “Everyone learns a different way to make guacamole, so people bring in their preferred blend, dips are sampled, and a winner is declared. Or they just eat a lot of chips and get too distracted by the game to bother declaring a winner.”

Becca says her mother adds sour cream to her guacamole to smooth out the flavor. Becca likes to include pico de gallo. But everyone has their own twist – like we do with barbecue sauces in North Carolina. But, she adds, “you don’t want to know about the new friend we have in this area who thinks adding a handful of habaneros is a good idea.”

I personally don’t see a thing wrong with that, Becca. But for those who prefer a mellower guacamole, here’s an excellent basic recipe from my cookbook “Fan Fare: A Playbook of Great Recipes for Tailgating or Watching the Game at Home,” published by Harvard Common Press.

Goal-to-Go Guacamole

2 small, ripe avocados

1 small tomato, peeled and chopped (about 1/2 cup)

1 fresh green serrano chile, seeded and finely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons canned chopped green chilies, drained

2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Salt to taste

Tortilla chips for serving

Cut the avocados in half, remove the pits and scoop out the flesh into a medium-sze bowl. Mash coarsely. Stir in the tomato, serrano chile, green chilies, garlic, lime juice and cilantro. Taste, and add salt.

Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve with tortilla chips.

Note: You can make this a few hours ahead, but press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the guacamole to prevent it from browning, then cover and refrigerate.