It’s time for Panthers fans to pull out the football food that’s been lucky for us before.
After watching the Panthers win game after game this year (with that one sad exception), this Sunday’s playoff game makes us nostalgic for 2003, that Cinderella season when the underdog Panthers won two playoff games and nearly beat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Yes, we have faith that the Carolina Panthers will go all the way this year. But instead of crossing our fingers and waiting for Feb. 7 for Super Bowl 50, we’re kicking off the celebration now, with a menu for Sunday’s first playoff game.
We reached back into our files for some of the best football-food recipes we’ve run over the years. Pico De Guac is still our favorite version of guacamole, a recipe that gives you both a great guacamole and extra pico de gallo to serve with it. We have the perfect football-day soup, Buffalo Chicken Soup.
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We have a fine rendition of shrimp dip, shared by Winston and David Ammann of the old Bayou Kitchen in Charlotte as a consolation prize in 1997, when the Panthers lost in the conference championships for their shot at the Super Bowl in New Orleans.
And we have Touchdown Brownies. Back in 2004, Kathy Poe, a teacher at the Fletcher School, sent them to us just before that last Super Bowl run when she discovered that Betty Crocker’s Easy Flow Icing came in the perfect shade of Carolina blue. That product has been replaced in Charlotte-area Harris Teeter stores by a Wilton version, but we were delighted to discover that it’s also just the right shade of Panthers blue.
Here’s hoping that you’ll need plenty of food for football parties between now and Feb. 7. And if it all ends this Sunday, save the recipes. The Panthers always come back stronger.
Pico De Guac
Adapted from “The Pioneer Woman Cooks,” by Ree Drummond (Morrow, 2009). You can make the salsa up to 24 hours in advance, but make the guacamole just before serving.
6 to 8 plum tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
2 yellow onions
Large bunch fresh cilantro
1 to 2 jalapenos
Salt to taste
3 to 4 ripe avocados
Pico De Gallo: Use a paring knife to cut the round stem end out of the tomatoes, but don’t peel or seed them. Cut into 1/2-inch slices, then into 1/2-inch dice. Pile up on one side of your cutting board.
Peel and dice the onion into 1/2-inch dice. Pile up the onions until you have a pile about the same size as the pile of tomatoes. Chop enough cilantro (mostly leaves but some stems are OK) to make about the same amount as the pile of tomatoes. Combine tomatoes, onions and cilantro in a large serving bowl.
Cut off stems from jalapenos and cut in half lengthwise. Use the tip of a small spoon to scrape out the seeds and membranes. (If you like it hotter, leave in some of the membranes.) Mince jalapeno finely and add to the tomatoes. (Wash your hands well after handling jalapenos so you don’t burn yourself.)
Cut the lime in half and squeeze it over the pico de gallo. Add salt to taste and mix it all together. Cover and refrigerate up to 24 hours.
Guacamole: Halve avocados and discard each pit. Cut each half in half, then peel off the skin. Roughly chop the avocado quarters and place in a serving bowl. Sprinkle with salt and a little lime juice. Mash with a fork, potato masher or wooden spoon until it is mostly mashed up but still has lumps.
Stir in 1 cup or more pico de gallo. Stir together gently. Taste and add more salt and lime if needed. (If you have to make it a little in advance, press plastic wrap into the surface to keep it from browning.) Serve guacamole and the rest of the pico de gallo with tortilla chips.
Yield: About 8 servings.
Buffalo Chicken Soup
Although we first encountered buffalo soup as a slow-cooker dish, we came up with another version that comes together quickly and easily on the stove. You could keep it warm in a slow cooker if needed.
1 to 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts and 2 to 3 boneless chicken thighs (see note)
3 to 4 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup butter
3 stalks celery, minced (about 1 cup)
1 small onion, peeled and minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup half-and-half
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup Buffalo wing sauce, or to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese, divided
Place the chicken and stock in a large pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover and simmer about 15 minutes. Turn off heat and let the chicken sit for about 10 minutes, until cooked through. Dice the chicken, discarding any fat or cartilage. Pour the broth into a heatproof bowl and set aside.
Return the pot to the stove. Melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the celery and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add the flour, stir well and cook about 2 minutes, until just beginning to brown a little. Stir in the half-and-half and 3 cups of the reserved broth.
Stir in the chicken, wing sauce, mozzarella and 1/4 cup blue cheese. Reduce heat to low and cook about 10 minutes, stirring often to keep the cheese from sticking. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more wing sauce if needed.
Serve hot, with a little blue cheese sprinkled on each serving.
Note: Instead of cooking the chicken, you can use 3 to 4 cups chopped, cooked chicken and use prepared chicken stock in the soup.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings.
Bayou Shrimp Dip
From David and Winston Ammann, owners of the now-defunct Bayou Kitchen in Charlotte. Make it one day in advance to give the flavor time to develop.
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup chablis or dry white wine
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon garlic salt
1 pound peeled, raw shrimp, 60 to 70 count
3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
3 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup finely diced celery
1/4 cup grated onion
1/4 cup finely chopped green onion tops
In a large saute pan, bring Worcestershire, chablis, butter, black pepper, cayenne pepper and garlic salt to a boil. Add shrimp and return to boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Allow mixture to sit in pan for 15 minutes (shrimp should be pink.)
Mix both cheeses, mayonnaise, celery, onion and onion tops in a large bowl. Place half the shrimp and the liquid from the saute pan in a food processor and pulse until very fine. Add remaining shrimp and pulse briefly so remaining shrimp stay in chunks. Add shrimp to cheese mixture and blend well. Add just enough milk to reach desired consistency (thinner for a dip, thicker for a spread). Refrigerate overnight. Mixture will thicken, so thin with a little more milk just before serving.
Yield: 4 cups.
From Kathy Poe of Charlotte.
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa or Dutch-processed cocoa
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped pecans
Foil cupcake liners
Blue icing (see note)
Place butter in a large microwave-safe mixing bowl. Microwave on high (100 percent power) about 1 minute, then 10 to 30 seconds at a time until melted. Whisk in cocoa, then whisk in brown sugar and granulated sugar until smooth. Whisk in eggs and vanilla. Stir in flour and pecans just until blended.
Place about 2 tablespoons batter in each foil cupcake liner. (It’s easiest to use two spoons, so you can scrap the batter off each one and smooth the tops.) Place on baking sheet and pinch the opposite ends of each foil cup, pulling down to the sheet to create the football shapes. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 22 minutes. When the brownies come out of the oven, pull the ends back down to reshape them while they’re still warm if they get too round.
Cool completely and remove each brownie from the cup if desired. Using blue icing, add strips to each brownie for claw marks, or dot with circles of icing to make paw prints.
Note: Blue Wilton Ready-to-Decorate Icing is the right color and comes with several tips, but we got better results by squirting the icing into a pastry bag and using a small round decorating tip.
Yield: About 2 dozen brownies.