It’s all about the food, of course

Some teams from somewhere are playing football someplace this Sunday. It doesn’t matter who or where – or how inflated their balls are – because Sunday actually is the Super Bowl of food.

A rainbow of chips and dips festoons supermarket aisles in a glowing display unseen since Christmas. The price of wings usually spikes like gas on Memorial Day weekend, and for the same reason: supply and demand.

If you do care about the game, you are aware that the quality of the food affects the outcome, right? In the course of writing my cookbook “Fan Fare: A Playbook of Great Recipes for Tailgating or Watching the Game at Home” (Harvard Common Press), I developed a couple of approaches to planning for the Super Bowl feed.

First of all, prepare for a marathon, not a sprint. Fans will be there for many hours (I think the pregame hoopla started this morning).

One approach is what I call Continuous Grazing. Think of your guests as ravenous animals prowling the African savannah. For this, put out a variety of finger foods and snacks. Chips and dips are OK, but you also need more hearty offerings. During the lengthy halftime, bring out some wings, baby quiches or roast beef sliders.

Another way to organize the food is Big Bowls. Chili is always a hit, especially since it’s usually cold in early February and spicy chili offers that obligatory macho component to the day. Set up a slow-cooker or two with chili or soup, and let fans help themselves. Provide crackers or cornbread on the side; a salad if you feel vegetables are really necessary.

Yes, you could resort to the prepared food cases at your megamart. But would your team take the easy way out? Do you want to take the risk that your inadequate party spread could doom your squad? Just asking….

This recipe from “Fan Fare” makes wings with lots of flavor but no fiery heat. I picked the name because I also serve them during basketball season.

Teriyaki Tip-Off Wings

8 whole chicken wings, split at joints and wing tips discarded

3/4 cup unsweetened pomegranate juice

1/4 cup orange juice

1/2 cup reduced sodium soy sauce

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Place the wings in a large zipper-top plastic bag. In a medium-size bowl, combine the pomegranate juice, orange juice, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sugar and vegetable oil. Stir well to dissolve the sugar. Pour the marinade into the bag. Seal and shake gently to coat. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil or spray it with nonstick cooking spray. Drain the wings well (discard the marinade) and place them on the baking sheet. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until done. Serve warm.

Makes 16 pieces

Note: These wings could also be grilled, but watch them carefully to avoid burning.

From “Fan Fare: A Playbook of Great Recipes for Tailgating or Watching the Game at Home” by Debbie Moose, published by Harvard Common Press.

Battle of the chilis

Whenever you have a room full of chili competitors, you’re bound to find some unusual approaches, for chili is a canvas for individuality. And although this particular competition took place among representatives of churches, there was plenty of devilish fire.

My friend Fredi Morf, a Wake Tech culinary instructor, asked me to help judge the competition at St. Saviour’s Center in Raleigh. The center offers wellness programs for seniors and infants, including the Diaper Train, which provides diapers to needy families, and Wake Relief food pantry. Proceeds from admission went to the programs.

The third judge was Bob Passarelli, executive chef at US Foodservice and spice rub maker, who I hadn’t seen since he was a chef at the governor’s mansion. We discussed heat level before we got started and I discovered that I exceeded the others in tolerance for flame.

The nine chilis were prepared by First Presbyterian (who entered two), Hillyer Memorial, Christ Church, St. Paul AME (last year’s winner), St. Michael’s Episcopal, White Memorial Presbyterian (who entered two) and Wake Relief.

As those attending voted for a people’s choice award, we judged in two categories: meat and vegetarian. Since only one chili was vegetarian, the winner was rather obvious. But the other chilis were as varied as the fiendish minds of cooks can make them. Some were chicken, some included pork, one had canned pumpkin as an ingredient, one had such a strong cinnamon aroma I thought more of a muffin. One richly dark chili had an afterburn that snuck up from behind. “Too hot for you, boys?” I said sweetly to my fellow judges. They smiled, temporarily unable to speak.

We picked the Bo-dacious Southern Chili  from St. Michael’s as our meat-category winner. And it had plenty of meat – ground beef and sausage – in addition to poblanos, ancho chile powder, chipotle, canned green chiles and beer. The people’s choice winner was St. Paul AME, and it was a very fine chili.

White Memorial’s vegetarian chili was a default winner, but it would have been a strong contender in any case. It was more hearty, thick and flavorful than I’ve found many vegetarian chilis to be and contains some unusual ingredients. The cooks were glad to share their recipe with me. I haven’t tested it myself yet; these are their directions.

White Memorial’s Vegetarian Chili

1 cup bulgar

1 ounce dried ancho peppers

1 ounce dried anaheim peppers

1 ounce dried guajillo peppers

4 cups vegetable broth (divided use)

2 cups diced yellow onions

1 cup diced red bell pepper

6 cloves garlic

3 tablespoons safflower oil

3 (14-ounce) cans diced fire-roasted tomatoes

1 (14-ounce) can kidney beans, drained

1 (14-ounce) can black beans, drained

1 (14-ounce) can corn

1 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms, ground to powder in a blender

1 1/2 tablespoons cumin

1 tablespoon Mexican oregano

1 or 2 canned chipotle peppers, chopped

2 tablespoons adobo sauce from chipotle peppers

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter

2 bay leaves

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Salt and pepper to taste

Soak the bulgar in 2 cups boiling vegetable broth for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, toast the ancho, anaheim and guajillo peppers in a frying pan over medium heat until fragrant. Don’t let them burn. Remove the seeds, tear them into small pieces and puree in a blender with about 1/4 cup water. Add 2 garlic cloves and a pinch of salt. You will end up with a chile paste. Set aside.

Drain the bulgar. Set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed 5-quart pot, saute the onions and red bell peppers in the oil until soft but not brown. Add the powdered mushrooms, cumin, oregano, remaining garlic and bay leaves. Cook 2-3 minutes or until fragrant. Ad the tomatoes, corn, beans, honey, bulgar, chile paste, chipotle, adobo and peanut butter. Add remaining vegetable broth. Bring to a boil then simmer for 1 hour. Sprinkle on the cilantro just before serving.

Big game, Super Bowl food

Not viewing at least a little of the Super Bowl, which will be on this Sunday, is like saying you hate fireworks on the Fourth of July. It’s not a football game, it’s a national eating holiday. Sort of like Thanksgiving, but without the family drama.

There are a couple of philosophies you can have about feeding the mob. One, provide a continuous stream of munchies. Two, offer some snacks early, then bring out the big food at halftime. There’s no need to look for more wardrobe malfunctions, so you might as well be eating. And the Hub and I can’t imitate the Black Eyes Peas. We did, I feel, a credible version of The Who last year, although I almost threw out my shoulder doing the Townsend Guitar Swing.

Chili is classic Super Bowl big food, and sometime you have to go with tradition. Here’s a recipe from my cookbook “Fan Fare: A Playbook of Great Recipes for Tailgating or Watching the Game at Home.” It was inspired by the flavors of Mexican mole sauce. Add cornbread to the bowls for something different.

Marvelous Mole Chili

5 dried ancho chilies

4 dried pasilla chilies

5 dreed guajillo or New Mexico chilies

2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 pounds beef chuck roast, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 cup chopped onion

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce

2 quarts chicken broth

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt to taste

Place the chilies in a bowl, pour in enough boiling water to cover them and let soak for 30 minutes. Use a sauce to weigh down the chilies if they float to the surface. Meanwhile, heat a tablespoon of the oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Lightly brown the beef but do not overcook it. Remove the beef from the pan and drain out any liquid from the pan.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in the same pan and cook the onion and garlic until soft but not browned. Remove the pan from the heat.

When 30 minutes are up, drain the chilies, remove stems and seeds by holding under running water, and pat dry. Puree the chilies to a smooth paste in a food processor.

Put the pan back over high heat, add tomato sauce and chicken broth, and bring ot a boil. then stir in the beef, chile paste, bay leaf and cinnamon. Reduce the heat to simmer and cook uncovered, for 1 hour. Then add the oregano, cumin and cayenne. Let simmer uncovered, for 1 hour. Add a little water or broth if the chili becomes dry or overly thick. Taste, then add salt.

Makes 6 servings.

Feel the thud

The winter urge for Thud Food has arrived. The Hub defines Thud Food as victuals that settle satisfyingly in the tummy, as opposed to feathery things like salads and steamed spinach. When the highs are in the 40s, humans in my house crave warm food that will hang around a while. Meat loaf, spaghetti (old-school spaghetti sauce made from ground beef and tomatoes, cooked for half a day) or chili. You’ll notice that Thud Food is generally beefy.

A pot of chili is in the slow-cooker right now. It’s a combination of chunks of sirloin, onions, garlic, tomatoes and beer. I altered the recipe a bit. Mine uses only black beans because the Hub prefers them, and I threw in some Chimayo chile I got in Santa Fe.