Planning, spices will add variety to your football food

For football fans, weekends and Monday nights have suddenly become exciting. The blitzes, the touchdowns, the cheers, the chili. While there’s something uniquely satisfying about hunkering down in front of the TV with a bowl of spicy red chili, football fare doesn’t have to begin and end there.

Advantages like extra daylight and a bounty of late summer and early fall produce, coupled with simple techniques, can serve as major assists for home cooks looking to feed a crowd of fans.

For cookbook author Bruce Aidells, the start of football season heralds a decadeslong tradition with his buddies.

Every Monday night, the seven friends get together at one of their homes to watch the game. The host is in charge of the meal, which is served during halftime.

“We tend to be much heavier on the barbecue stuff this time of year and then move to a lot of one-pot dishes and roasts as we get into the winter,” Aidells said.

Ribs and meat that can be grilled quickly during halftime are popular. And don’t be surprised to see unusual spices creeping into game-day menus, he said.

“Particularly Moroccan flavors, which is great,” Aidells said.

Preparing food in advance of the game is a great way to guarantee time with friends. A thick, rich bowl of chili might not be appetizing this time of year, but a crockpot full of white chicken chili can be made the day before and kept warm in a slow cooker, allowing guests to serve themselves.

Or assemble a tray of green enchiladas even weeks before, freeze them and pull them out to bake right before the big game.

Jessica Williams, a chef instructor at Le Cordon Bleu in Sacramento, said appetizers and small plates remain the big trend in party food. That explains the slider-size burger patties at Trader Joe’s. But for football parties, don’t get hung up on complicated hors d’oeuvres. Finger food like wings and nachos are fine; just rework them. “All you have to do is put a spin on what’s to your liking,” she said. “Make your wings Asian wings instead of spicy. Make Mediterranean fries with olive oil, chopped olives, capers and parsley.” A menu as exciting as the game itself? That could help you score a culinary MVP.

White Chicken Chili

1 tablespoon butter, more if needed

1 tablespoon olive oil, more if needed

5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 lbs.)

1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste

1/2 teaspoon pepper or to taste

2 large onions, chopped

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided use

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup chicken broth

2 cups half and half

1 teaspoon Tabasco

1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

One can (15 to 16 oz.) white beans

Two cans (4 oz. each) whole mild green chilies, drained and chopped

1 1/2 cups grated Monterey Jack

1/2 cup sour cream

Heat a large skillet over moderately high heat and put in some butter and oil. Meanwhile, coat the chicken with salt and pepper and maybe some chili powder. Place chicken breasts in the skillet and resist the urge to turn them over. Leave them for five minutes, or until nicely browned, then flip them. Brown the other side, then flip them every few minutes until they are cooked through and no pink remains.

Remove the chicken from the pan. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it with your fingers and set aside. While waiting for chicken to cool, cook the onion in the same pan with 2 tablespoons of butter until softened.

In a heavy pot large enough to hold all the ingredients, melt remaining 6 tablespoons of butter over moderately low heat and whisk in flour. Cook the roux, whisking constantly, for three minutes. Stir in the onion and gradually add the broth and half and half, whisking the whole time. Bring mixture to a boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes, or until thickened. Stir in Tabasco, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper. Add beans, chilies, chicken and cheese, and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. Add sour cream. May be served immediately or the next day. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Per serving: 433 calories, 32 g protein, 20 g carb., 24 g fat (15 sat.); 125 mg chol.; 432 mg sod.; 3 g fiber; 6 g sugar; 52 percent calories from fat.

-- The Wichita Eagle—09/15/10

Lofing's Legendary Green Enchiladas

The secret is dipping the tortillas in warm milk before assembling.

One can (16 or 20 oz.) green enchilada sauce, mild or medium

1 lb. cooked chicken, shredded

3/4 lb. pepper Jack cheese, shredded

One carton (12 oz.) sour cream

1 cup milk

10 to 15 flour tortillas

One can (4 oz.) mild green chilies, diced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Take all ingredients out and form an assembly line near the stove and place an empty plate and a lasagna pan on the counter. Arrange the following ingredients near the plate: enchilada sauce, chicken, cheese, sour cream, green chilies.

Spread about 1/2 cup of enchilada sauce, or enough to coat, in the bottom of the lasagna pan.

In a skillet big enough to fit a tortilla, warm the milk over low heat (but don't let it scorch; it should just be warm to the touch). Run one tortilla through the warm milk and then place it on the plate. Spread a small palmful of chicken, about 1/4 cup, toward the top of the tortilla and top with a sprinkling of cheese and a dollop of sour cream. Wrap up the tortilla like a burrito and place in the lasagna pan. Repeat these steps until the pan is full.

Top with enchilada sauce enough to cover the tortillas, but not so much that they're swimming in sauce (you may have sauce left over). Sprinkle the remainder of the cheese on top of the enchiladas and top with green chilies. Cover the pan with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Note: The enchiladas can be prepared the night before, refrigerated, and baked up to 24 hours later. They also may be frozen before baking. Simply defrost in refrigerator, or add about 30 to 40 minutes to cook time.

Per serving based on 8 servings: 699 calories, 40 g protein, 59 g carb.; 33 g fat (17 sat.), 121 mg chol.; 862 mg sod.; 3 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 43 percent calories from fat.

-- The Wichita Eagle—09/15/10

Peanut Butter Fudge Brownies

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened

1 cup good-quality smooth or chunky peanut butter

1 cup (packed) light brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup unbleached white flour

1/4 teaspoon salt (omit if using salted peanut butter)

1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup finely chopped peanuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch pan (unless it's nonstick).

Cream together the butter, peanut butter and sugars in a medium-large mixing bowl with an electric mixer at high speed. Turn the speed down to medium, and add the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla, beating well after each. Stir in the remaining ingredients and mix by hand until everything is uniformly blended.

Spread the batter in the prepared pan and bake on the center rack of the oven for 18 to 20 minutes, or until the top feels firm and a toothpick inserted all the way into the center comes out with just a few crumbs attached.

Cut into squares while still hot, but let them cool in the pan for at least 30 minutes before serving. Serve warm, at room temperature or cold. Makes about 18 medium-size brownies

Note: If desired, the finely chopped peanuts and 1/4 cup of the chips can be held out of the dough and sprinkled on top before baking.

From Mollie Katzen's "Vegetable Heaven"

Per brownie: 307 calories, 7 g protein, 36 g carb.; 17 g fat (7 sat.); 61 mg chol.; 91 mg sodium; 3 g fiber; 25 g sugar; 48 percent calories from fat

-- The Wichita Eagle—09/15/10

Chelsea's Black Bean and Roasted Corn Salsa

2 ears corn, husks removed

6 vine-ripened tomatoes

1 Walla Walla onion

2 to 3 jalapenos

1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped

Two cans (15 oz. each) black beans, rinsed and drained

Juice from 1 1/2 limes

Salt and pepper, to taste.

Wrap ears of corn in foil and grill until plump. Remove foil and grill a little longer to give kernels a smoky flavor. Set aside and let cool. Chop tomatoes and onion so they are about the same size as the corn kernels and combine in a large bowl. Drain excess liquid from bowl, if any. Remove seeds from the jalapenos and finely chop. Add to bowl. Cut corn off cobs and add to bowl.

Add cilantro, black beans, lime juice and salt and pepper to taste.

-- The Wichita Eagle—09/15/10

Chunky Bean Dip

1 can (15 oz.) black beans

1 can (15 oz.) pinto beans

1 can (11 oz.) yellow corn

1 small red onion, chopped

1 can (4 oz.) sliced black olives

1 yellow bell pepper, cored and chopped

1 orange bell pepper, cored and chopped

1 jar (16 oz.) salsa

2 tomatoes, chopped

1 avocado, chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

Drain and rinse black beans, pinto beans and corn. Combine in a large bowl. Add onion, olives and yellow and orange pepper and salsa and stir gently to coat. Refrigerate overnight. Before serving, add tomato and avocado, and season with salt and pepper.

-- The Wichita Eagle—09/15/10