Bye, bye brunch

OK now, ACC. I have tried my best to accept that you have added teams who can’t see the Atlantic Coast from their houses. And that the tournament will now last  longer than a midseason replacement series.

But this is too much. What in the world am I supposed to serve for a Saturday night final?

All of my ACC Tournament recipes are for brunch. For years, I had a civilized gathering of like-minded sports fans, a time to sip of morning nectars and enjoy quiche and seven-layer salad before the battle began. Something that a dowager countess might not be embarrassed to attend, provided she was wearing the correct shade of light blue.

Now what? I can’t possibly serve bloody marys after 5 p.m.

Blazing chicken wings, tubs of salsa, cold beers, these are the foods of nighttime game viewing. Less elegant, but welcome to the new ACC.

However, I refuse to give up without a fight. This recipe from my cookbook “Fan Fare: A Playbook of Great Recipes for Tailgating or Watching the Game at Home” published by Harvard Common Press, will bring a touch of a Southern brunch to a munchie-central experience.

Marylynn’s Okra Roll-Ups

1 (16-ounce) jar pickled okra, well drained

10 ounces thinly sliced deli ham

1 (9-ounce) tub soft spreadable cream cheese

Pat the okra pods dry. Trim the stems and tips from the pods.

On a cutting board, spread 1 ham slice flat without tearing it. Gently spread a thin layer of cream cheese on the ham. Place 1 trimmed okra pod at one end of the slice and roll the ham up around it, pressing gently to make a tight roll. Trim any overhanging ham to fit the pod, the slice the roll into approximately 1/2-inch slices. Repeat with remaining okra pods. Keep chilled until ready to serve.

Note: These can be made the night before and refrigerated. Store in airtight containers in a single layer or in multiple layers separated by waxed paper to prevent sticking.

Greetings from the asylum

If it’s March Madness, then I’m planning to feed the inmates well. When the ACC Tournament starts tomorrow, the odd sausage ball will be thrown here, the occasional adult beverage will be consumed there. But the occasion just screams for dip.

A friend, who is as nutty as I am, hosted a lunch-game viewing a couple of years ago. In an excess of patriotism, she tried to create a Carolina Blue onion dip. It was….um…interesting. It tasted like the usual onion dip, but it’s amazing how the color changes one’s perception of one’s food.

I like a good onion dip, and I’ve been trying to avoid the guilty salt-lick pleasure of the onion soup variety. I came up with this recipe for my new book, “Buttermilk: A Savor the South Cookbook,” published by the University of North Carolina Press. Just keep away the food coloring.

Roasted Sweet Onion and Garlic Dip

1 sweet onion, such as Vidalia

1 head garlic

Olive oil

1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

3/4 cup buttermilk

2 tablespoons sour cream

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground mustard

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Lay out 2 doubled pieces of aluminum foil. Place the onion in one piece and the garlic in the other and drizzle both with a little olive oil. Wrap each one tightly, place them on a baking sheet, and roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour. The onion may take slightly longer to roast than the garlic. Remove each from the foil and let cool to room temperature or wrap tightly and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Remove the outer skin from the roasted onion and place the onion in a blender. Press the roasted garlic cloves out of their skins and add them to the blender. Add the dill, thyme, buttermilk, sour cream, salt, pepper and ground mustard. Puree until smooth. Cover and refrigerate.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

I’m blue and I’m proud

“They may not do so good tonight,” said the woman in my aerobics class who was wearing a shirt the same shade of light blue as mine. “That’s why they play the game,” I loudly responded. “You never know what will happen!” Two other women dressed in neutral colors, attracted by my vehemence, came over and said, “It’s just a game.”

No, it’s not.

It’s the reason for stocking my freezer with sausage balls. (They’re expressive projectiles AND snacks!) It’s why the house rule is that all present must shout “Ferret! Ferret! Ferret!” whenever Coach K’s face appears on the TV screen. It’s why The Hub will come home tonight and ceremonially don the lucky Carolina Blue argyle socks.

It’s Carolina-Dook. Yes, that’s “Dook.”

My father and I were basketball nuts together. My mother never got it, never understood why he and I would spend an hour on the phone talking about something that happened three nights earlier. She really didn’t understand why he once drove three hours on icy roads to Raleigh because I’d gotten tickets for the two of us to the Dean Dome. Or why, as a child, he tried to convince me that they called him Dean Smith because he was dean of the whole school.

Recent developments indicate that he might not have been too wrong about that last part. I know that college basketball is riddled with problems that need to be solved and as a graduate, I do resent the cheapening of college degrees by allowing athletes to take no-show classes and other such things.

But I need one thing in my life that I can be childish and stupid about. Just one. Please. About everything else in my existence, I’m a grownup.  I do weight-bearing exercise, try to eat more kale, save for retirement, meet book deadlines, avoid drinking to excess, make sure my cats’ rabies shots are current and get my car’s oil changed on time.

Those few hours from November through March when I become a screaming, trashy-food-eating, in-the-moment crazy woman are my right. I’ve earned them.

So, no, it’s not just a game. Especially if the Heels win.


Fowl ball

I am the designated complainer in our house, and I have often asserted that complaining pays. But never has my squeaky wheel received this kind of grease.

When The Hub and I arrived at the light blue House of Dean recently to see the Tar Heels play, we hiked to our seats to discover that mine was covered in dried, sticky Coke that someone had spilled while leaving the previous game.

For the record, let me state that I don’t care where our seats are as long as they’re inside the building, and that I’m grateful to generous friends who allow us to share their tickets. Let me also state that, yes, I am a Tar Heel and bleed light blue and if you don’t, you shouldn’t come near my house next Wednesday to see what colorful rodent names I call Coach K.

So, sitting on plastic seats tacky with dried Coke was too much. I went down to the usher and complained. Minutes passed. Tipoff approached. A guy arrived with a dry towel, no cleaner and disappeared. I went back to the usher who issued another summons. Two minutes until tipoff, someone arrived with a mop. Not exactly the right tool.

Then The Hub and I saw the usher gesture to us.  “Just sit here,” he said, pointing to two cushioned seats in the high-rent zone, about eight rows closer and not fragrant of aged Coke.

“I could get used to this,” The Hub said, settling in. “Feel free to thank me now,” I replied.

We could see the players’ faces. And the seats were next to the helpful usher, who happened to be a food fan. We discussed recipes during halftime (oh, you bet we stayed for the entire game; the seats’ owners never showed). He told me about a recipe for chicken that he got when he worked as a waiter in a Greek diner. He liked it so much and asked the cook to make it so many times that the cook finally ordered him to come to the kitchen and learn to make it himself.

Here’s my version, based on the list of ingredients the usher gave me, plus my addition of potatoes. I’ve found out that it’s a fairly typical Greek recipe. Some people marinate the chicken overnight, some don’t marinate at all. Either way, this dish produces an exquisite perfume as it roasts. Smells like victory to me.

Greek Chicken from the Usher

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup lemon juice

2 tablespoons Greek oregano (it tastes sweeter and is more fragrant than Italian; try it)

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

4-6 pieces chicken, bone in (use quarters, thighs, breasts as you prefer, but do not use boneless)

4-6 Yukon gold potatoes

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, chicken broth, lemon juice, Greek oregano, salt and pepper until combined. Stir in the garlic. Place the chicken in a large bowl and pour the mixture over it, covering all the pieces. Let sit for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Cut the potatoes into wedges (no need to peel them). Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the chicken from the marinade and place the pieces in a single layer in a large roasting pan. Arrange the potatoes around the chicken pieces. Pour in about 1 cup of the marinade or enough to just coat the bottom of the pan (don’t use all of it). Roast, uncovered, for about 1 hour or until the chicken is completely cooked through and golden, and the potatoes are browned.


At least the food was good

Things didn’t go as my light blue heart had hoped on the basketball court Saturday night. But you can’t blame the food. Perhaps these sliders can redeem themselves on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 3.

Turkey Sliders with Cilantro-Lime Mayonnaise

1 1/2 pounds ground turkey

1/4 cup finely chopped jalapeno

1/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper

1/4 cup finely chopped red onion

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 1/2 teaspoons chili powder

1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1 egg

About 1/4 teaspoon each salt and black pepper

Dash of olive oil

Vegetable oil for frying

Small slices Monterey Jack cheese

16 small French rolls

1 cup mayonnaise

About 2 teaspoons lime juice

3 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves

Sliced avocado

In a bowl, combine the turkey, jalapeno, bell pepper, onion, mustard, chili powder, garlic powder and cumin. Stir in the beaten egg. Stir in a good dash of olive oil.

Combine the mayo, lime juice and cilantro in a small bowl. Add more or less lime juice to get the consistency your prefer.

Heat about an inch of vegetable oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Form small patties of the mixture, about the size of a large soup spoon or what will fit the size of your rolls. Fry the patties on each side until brown and done through. Place cheese on top after turning the patties, if you want cheese. Drain the patties on paper towels and keep warm as you continue cooking.

Cut the rolls lengthwise and spread a thin smear of the mayo on each side. Place the patties inside and top with avocado slices. Keep warm until serving.

Makes about 16 sliders

Fan fuel

I know that coaches say not to look beyond the next game, but days before yesterday’s UNC- Maryland game  I starting thinking about what I’d serve for the UNC-Duke game on Saturday. Real fans know that the food served during game viewing is as important as a good defense on the court. We have to do our part by serving verified lucky food.

Mine is sausage balls. They work in many ways. They contain protein, useful for soaking up beverages. And they help one express one’s opinion of a bad call. And you can cook them ahead and freeze them, too. They’re pretty much the perfect food.

I’m going a grazing route Saturday, rather than making main dish-y things that we’d have to sit down and eat. Besides the sausage balls, I’m thinking lemon-pepper wings, cheese, crudites and hot spinach-artichoke dip that will fulfill the need for a vegetable. We also consider Oreos lucky, so I’ll have them, too. Now, if The Hub remembers to wear the lucky socks, the Dookies need to watch out.

Menu madness

Be prepared with the right kind of fuel for the long month of madness that is March. It’s been a long season, basketball fans – longer for some than for others, if you get my meaning; and, yes, I’m feeling…blue… But my secondary favorite from my hometown of Winston-Salem, N.C. Wake Forest University, is still alive. All of us must maintain our strength.

The traditional food that stokes basketball fans is wings. Usually, hot wings, obtained greasily from some dubious take-out emporium. People, you can do so much better. And your favorite team deserves better. It is so easy (and less expensive) to prepare your own wings. Whether fried, roasted or grilled, there’s a world of flavor in this little package. Save even more by purchasing whole wings and cutting them into parts yourself. It’s easy: Cut at each of the three joints with a sharp knife. Discard the pointy flapper.

Here’s one of my favorite easy recipes for mild-but-flavorful wings that will please the crowd around the TV. Just don’t let them throw the bones at the set to protest bad calls. The recipe is from my cookbook “Wings: More Than 50 High-Flying Recipes for America’s Favorite Snack” (John Wiley & Sons, 2009). Add more cayenne if you like heat or remove it if you don’t, although this recipe is not hot.

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 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.

From “Wings: More Than 50 High-Flying Recipes for America’s Favorite Snack” by Debbie Moose (John Wiley & Sons, 2009)