Tailgating – A Great American Tradition

Turkey breast on charcoal smoker

Turkey breast on charcoal smoker

It’s 8am on a fall Saturday.  You’re fumbling around with the coffee maker trying to get the black gold percolating.  In a few hours, you’re supposed to be down at the stadium to cheer your team on.   While you’re gathering your game day gear, many dedicated fans are already set up in the parking lot with charcoal burning, food marinating and beers cooling. They are the “true” tailgaters.  It’s what they live for!

How to Tailgate Like a Pro

For many sports-loving Americans, tailgating is as important as the actual game.  The pre-game tradition of socializing, playing low-impact sports like frisbee and cornhole, showing off your team spirit, and predicting how much your team will win by are half the reason folks show up in droves to attend sporting events.  All this excitement builds up an appetite. Remember those folks that were up getting ready for the game around the time you were going to bed?  They have food, and not just any food.  They have a tailgaters dream – brats, ribs, burgers, chili, steaks  – you name it – it’s probably cooking in the parking lot somewhere.

Deviled crabs

Deviled crabs

Tailgating cuisine rules the pre-game festivities.  If you have great smelling food then you can expect to make some new friends.  When I speak of tailgating, I don’t mean a Bojangles “8 Piece Tailgate Special.” I mean real food – the kind that you plan and prep ahead of time.  I realize that many folks may believe they don’t have the culinary know-how to prepare a tailgate, opting instead to pick up fast food on the way to the game. Additionally, tailgating requires equipment like grills, charcoal, tables and chairs, not to mention dealing with putting everything away in a safe place before heading into the game.  I’ve been to too many games where a “novice” has prepared a really tasty meal right before the game starts, but has no idea what to do with the smoking hot grill and coals.  Any chef or experienced cook will tell you that careful planning of your time is one of the keys to a successful event, no matter how big or small.  So make sure to plan your meal, pack all of your supplies, get to the stadium early, and most importantly, have fun!  Master these skills and you’ll be a pro in no time.

Tips for Successful Tailgating

Beer butt chicken

"Beer butt" chicken

Here are a few tailgating tips to make your next game day safe and fun:

  1. Keep a tailgate cooler packed with items like plates, utensils, cups, paper towels, garbage bags, wet-naps and extra condiment packets (ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, soy sauce, etc.).  Just don’t forget your cooler!
  2. Start your charcoal at least 3 hours before you plan to enter the stadium.  This will allow you time to get the grill hot, cook, eat, clean up and let the grill cool before putting it back in your vehicle.
  3. Cook items like ribs or chicken wings the night before.  On game day, reheat them on a grill to save time and ensure that your food is cooked all the way through.
  4. Experiment with seafood. Oysters and clams are two examples that are easy to share with your group. All you need is crackers and hot sauce.
  5. Pack a few wood chunks in your cooler and throw them on the grill with your food.  A little smoke will add extra flavor to your tailgate!
  6. Plan on feeding extra people.  Bring more than enough food and make some new friends!
Ribs fresh off the smoker

Ribs fresh off the smoker

If you follow these tips, you are sure to have some happy tailgaters in your group! Remember, it’s important if you’re grilling to start early so that the grill cools down before you pack up and head into the game. Clean up as you go and be sure to recycle. It’s also a good idea to coordinate with your friends so that they can pick up drinks, sides and snacks. As with any event, preparation and timing are the “keys to the game.”

 

 

Happy Tailgating!

Chef Ryan

A Chef in the Garden

Some of my fondest childhood memories took place in and around our garden.  The 20 x 30 foot fenced in plot behind our house served as our personal farmers market when we were cooking at home.  Tomatoes, lettuce, zucchini, eggplant, peas, beans, yellow squash, corn and a variety of peppers were the staples each year.  I remember checking the garden each day to search for ripe cherry tomatoes and sweet peas, which I would usually just eat off the vine.  Our garden salads were true to the word and the experience of watching the veggies grow and picking them at their peak of ripeness was something that I will always carry with me.  These days the garden is smaller, but it’s still a part of my life.  I am lucky enough to have a nice 10 x 10 garden where I grow my cooking essentials.  It consists of a blend of herbs and vegetables that I use on a daily or weekly basis.  It is truly a pleasure to harvest and share homegrown produce with friends and family.  And starting a small garden is easier than you may think.

Black raspberries ripening

Black raspberries. Photo credit: Ryan Kalooky

A Practical Herb Garden

Many of us simply do not have the time to maintain a garden at home.  If this sounds like you, I encourage you to start a basic herb garden.  Many herbs are easy to grow, add great flavor to dishes and are expensive to buy on a regular basis.  You can plant them in the ground if you have space, in pots on your deck or balcony, or even indoors on a windowsill that gets some good sun.  You don’t have to plant a little bit of everything – my advice would be to plant what you like and what you will use regularly. The table below lists some of my favorite herbs that are very simple to grow.

Basil A must for fans of Italian food.  An annual, but easy start from seed and to root from cuttings.
Chives Add to scrambled eggs or accent a seafood dish.  Be sure to use the blossoms, which are a great garnish for soup!
Dill Add small sprigs to your salad or add to a buerre blanc for a salmon or trout dish.
Mint Excellent for summer drinks, spring rolls, or combined with garlic, ginger and cilantro for a unique salad dressing.  Once you establish your plants they will come back each year.  Also very simple to root from cuttings.
Oregano A versatile herb that I use throughout the year in sauces, seafood dishes, and in salads.  Easy to grow and root from cuttings.
Parsley The flatleaf or curley varieties are excellent for adding a “green” flavor to any dish.  Use the entire unchopped top of the sprigs in salads for a refreshing, clean change of pace.
Rosemary A powerful, “piney” herb that compliments pork, beef and chicken.  Chop up and add to roasted potatoes or use the leftover woody stems as skewers for chicken kebobs.
Sage Use this excellent, unique herb with scallops or roasted chicken.  Try frying whole sage leaves for an inspiring garnish.  It’s not just for Thanksgiving time!
Thyme My favorite perennial herb – add to eggs, pan sauces, stock, and marinades.  Pairs well with garlic, onions, and potatoes.  Incorporate into compound butter.

Tips for Cooking with Herbs

So you’ve planted your herbs, allowed them to grow and mature, but simply can’t find the time or enough occasions to use them?  Below are three simple suggestions to help stretch your herbs throughout the year:

Aromatic oils – add a tablespoon of your favorite chopped herbs, 5 or 6 black peppercorns and a bay leaf to about a cup or two of olive oil. Heat until simmering, strain, and allow to cool to room temperature.  Once cool, you can put the oil in a small container, label it and pop it in the fridge.  Use a spoonful to sauté veggies or to enhance a salad dressing.  Allow a few tablespoons to come to room temperature and add a pinch of salt for a fast, simple and tasty dip for fresh bread.

Compound butters– let two sticks of unsalted butter come to room temperature.  Fold in fresh herbs, garlic and freshly ground pepper (or any combination).  Roll up in plastic wrap (in the shape of a dowel – about the diameter of a half dollar or quarter) and place in the freezer.  When needed, you can cut “coins” off the roll and use for cooking.  This is a great method for inserting butter under the skin of poultry since it will hold its shape and not melt immediately in your hands like refrigerated butter.  The compound butter will keep for months and is great for finishing pan sauces or for a quick and tasty topping for a baked potato or steamed veggies.

Stock – don’t throw away those herb stems!  If you have leftover thyme, sage, or a few cloves of garlic, you can make a quick vegetable stock using a few scraps of onion, carrots, and celery as a flavor base.  After you simmer the veggies and herbs for 30 or 40 minutes, strain, cool, package and freeze.  You can easily make a few pints of stock for future use – most importantly, you won’t have to buy expensive stock from the grocery store next time you make soup.  I routinely make chicken stock and vegetable stock.  Make sure to label (name and date) your stock, as it will lessen in flavor the longer it’s left frozen.

Rosemary plant

Rosemary. Photo credit: Sean Kalooky

Happy cooking,

Chef Ryan