Panther fans! The drought is over! Are you ready for playoff football?
This Sunday, your NFC South Champion Carolina Panthers will take on the San Francisco 49ers with a ticket to the National Football Conference championship on the line. And yes, down the road, the winner of that will end up at the Super Bowl. So theres a lot at stake.
Football is something we take seriously. As the bloggers behind the website Taylor Takes a Taste and the authors of The Southern Tailgating Cookbook, which came out last fall, we spend more time than most people standing outside stadiums with food in our hands. With such an important football game coming up, the Observer asked us to come up with food thats fitting for the occasion.
This Sunday, Taylor will be at the game, along with a few thousand of your friends, neighbors and co-workers. But Sally will be entertaining at home. You dont have to be inside Bank of America Stadium to show your support. You can host a playoff staygate at your home.
Football entertaining is now so popular that there are now terms for it: Staygate, couchgate or homegate. All you need is a TV, some friends and family and a menu.
There are three key elements to considering the perfect football menu:
1. Keep in mind that you want to watch the game. By preparing ahead of time, you can ensure you will be able to watch with your guests and not be stuck in the kitchen.
2. Unlike a seated dinner party, a playoff party is centered on the TV. You and your guests will most likely eat standing up or sitting with a plate in hand. The ideal foods are ones that you can eat with one hand while your other hand holds a beverage, plate or bowl.
3. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:05 p.m., but that doesnt mean everyone will show up then. Its best to have a main dish that can hold for serving at any time throughout the game.
Keeping these things in mind, Sally and I developed a Panther playoff-inspired menu that is perfect for cheering on the Panthers from the comfort of your own home.
For an appetizer, start with Bacon Chipotle Gouda Potato Skins. These red and gold potato skins resemble the 49ers colors on purpose: The best way to begin a staygate is to take a bite out of the competition. You make the potato skins the night before and fill them before guests arrive. Then you just have to heat them in the oven for about 10 minutes. They are great hot or at room temperature, and a potato skin is the perfect appetizer to eat standing up.
For the main course, we suggest a chili bar with a wide range of toppings. This classic beef-and-bean chili can be made the day before or the morning of the game and kept warm in a slow cooker during the game. Put out green onions, sour cream, shredded cheese, hot sauce, corn chips, sliced jalapeños, or any other topping that suits your fancy. Serve in large bowls, allowing guests to easily eat while sitting or standing up. If there are leftover potato skins, pour chili over top; you wont regret it.
Nothing completes a Panther-inspired staygate meal better than a giant sheet cookie. We hid the 49ers gold in a large toffee-studded sugar cookie and covered it in creamy Panther-blue frosting. The beauty of a sheet cookie is that guests can cut a piece that fits their appetite. Serve in the pan with a knife and let guests decide how much they want. Squares of deli wax paper are a great way to hold your cookie and keep your fingers from turning blue. This sheet-cake cookie is great for any sporting event you are watching at home. The icing can be dyed to match the Bobcats, Checkers, or any favorite college team.
Being in the playoffs again is an exciting time for the Carolinas. Making a menu that can be prepared ahead of time, accessible throughout the game, and eaten while standing will give every party-goer a chance to cheer with a full stomach. And that will make this weekends victory that much sweeter.
Bacon and Chipotle Gouda Potato Skins
5 pounds (about 12) russet potatoes
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon each salt and coarsely ground black pepper
16 ounces chipotle Gouda (see note)
12 slices thick-cut bacon, cooked and drained on paper towels
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped green onions, white and green parts
PREHEAT the oven to 400 degrees. Wash and dry the potatoes. Pierce each potato several times with a fork. Bake potatoes for 45 to 55 minutes until they are done and the skins “give” when pressed with the back of a fork. Remove from the oven. Cool on the pan for 15 minutes. Keep oven on.
SLICE each potato lengthwise. Scoop out the flesh with a spoon, leaving about 1/4 inch of potato on each skin. Place each potato skin cut side up on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone pan liner. Set aside.
MELT butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the salt and pepper. Remove from heat. With a pastry brush, baste each potato half with the butter mixture. Place on baking pan and bake at 400 degrees for 5 to 7 minutes until butter bubbles. Remove from oven and flip potato skins over. Baste the skin side with butter. Put the skins back in the oven and bake for 5 to 7 minutes, until the butter bubbles. Remove the skins from the oven. Skins may be cooled to room temperature and refrigerated overnight at this point. Bring back to room temperature before filling and baking.
TO FINISH the potato skins, cut the bacon and chipotle Gouda into bite-sized pieces. Divide the bacon and cheese pieces equally between the potato skins. Top the skins with red bell pepper and sprinkle with green onion. Bake at 400 degrees for 5 to 10 minutes, until the cheese melts. Serve warm or at room temperature.
NOTE: Chipotle Gouda is made by Boar’s Head and is available at many supermarket delis.
Yield: 24 potato skins.
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups chopped yellow onion
1 1/2 cups chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped poblano pepper
1/4 cup seeded, finely chopped jalapeño pepper (see note)
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
1/3 cup chili powder
1/3 cup ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano (can use Italian oregano)
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 1/2 pounds ground sirloin
1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes with chiles
2 (28-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
1 (12-ounce) can tomato paste
4 cups chicken stock
3 (14-ounce) cans kidney beans, drained
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Tabasco sauce to taste
Toppings as desired: Green onions, sour cream, shredded cheese, hot sauce, corn chips and sliced jalapeños
PLACE the olive oil, onions, peppers and garlic in a large pot. Cook over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent and the peppers are soft. Add the chili powder, cumin, salt, oregano, pepper, thyme and cayenne. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the ground sirloin and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
ADD the tomatoes with chiles, diced tomatoes, tomato paste and chicken stock. Stir until well-mixed. Add the kidney beans and Worcestershire sauce. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the chili for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Add Tabasco sauce to taste.
KEEP the chili on low heat until ready to serve, or chill overnight in the refrigerator and reheat on the stove or in a slow cooker the next day.
NOTE: To make a milder chili, reduce the amount of the jalapeno peppers. To amplify the heat, include the seeds and membranes of the jalapeno pepper.
Yield: 12 servings.
Sheet Cake Sugar Cookie with Fan-Favorite Frosting
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus extra for pan
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/3 cups (8-once bag) English toffee bits
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 (1-pound) box confectioner’s sugar
PREHEAT the oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 18-by-13-inch sheet pan and set aside. To make the sugar cookie base, put 2 sticks of butter into a mixer bowl. Beat the butter until it is light and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat on medium speed until well blended.
BEAT in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the lemon juice and vanilla and mix to blend.
COMBINE the flour, salt, soda and toffee bits in a separate bowl. Stir until the flour mixture is well blended. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix on low speed until the dough is just blended.
EMPTY the sugar cookie dough onto the prepared sheet pan. Use your fingers to spread dough evenly over the bottom of the pan. (The dough will be sticky. Wetting your fingertips will make it easier to handle.)
BAKE the cookie for 25 minutes, rotating the pan after 15 minutes so it bakes evenly. Remove the cookie from the oven and cool in the pan on a wire rack.
MAKE the frosting while the cookie is cooling: Put 2 sticks of butter and the cream cheese into the bowl of a mixer. Mix on medium speed until the butter and cream cheese are well blended. Add the salt, vanilla and lemon juice. Mix until blended. Add the confectioner’s sugar. Mix on low speed until the sugar is incorporated. Beat on medium-high speed until fluffy. Add food coloring, if desired, and mix on medium speed until blended. Frost the cooled cookie. Serve.
Yield: Varies, depending on how big you cut the cookies.
Sally James Mathis and Taylor Mathis are a mother-and-son duo from Charlotte. Sally is a professional recipe developer and Taylor is a professional food and lifestyle photographer. They are the creators and authors of the food blog taylortakesataste.com and worked together on The Southern Tailgating Cookbook (UNC Press, 2013).