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From tailgates to touchdown: Football season is finally here!

Not only will it be nice to see actual fans in Memorial Stadium this fall and not cardboard cutouts, it will be nice to see parking lots full of fans devouring their favorite foods before the game.

Tailgate parties are back!

And while fun is at the forefront, food safety can't be forgotten. So before we get to the food, let's cover the basics.

The key to keeping your food safe during a tailgate is a good game plan. Do you have enough coolers and all the tools you need to cook? In addition to a grill and fuel for cooking make sure you don't forget your most valuable player, the food thermometer. Here are a few additional tips from Cami Wells, an Extension Educator in Hall County.

-- Bring water for cleaning if none will be available at the site. Pack clean, wet, disposable cloths or moist towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces.

-- Carry cold perishable food like raw hamburger patties, sausages and chicken in an insulated cooler packed with several inches of ice, frozen gel packs or containers of ice.

-- Be sure raw meat and poultry are wrapped securely to prevent their juices from cross-contaminating ready-to-eat food. If possible, store these foods near the bottom of the cooler, so that juices don't contaminate other foods in the cooler.

-- If you can't keep hot food hot during the drive to your tailgate, plan and chill the food in the refrigerator before packing it in a cooler. Reheat the food to 165 degrees F as measured with a food thermometer.

-- Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often browns very fast on the outside. Use a food thermometer to be sure the food has reached a safe minimum internal temperature. Using a food thermometer also helps you to avoid overcooking, giving you safe and flavorful meat.

Are leftovers from a tailgate party safe to eat later? Some people have so much fun at tailgate gatherings, they never actually watch the sporting event. But that doesn't mean it's safe for the food to stay unrefrigerated before, during and after the event. Holding food at an unsafe temperature is a prime cause of foodborne illness.

Game day can be fun, even if you aren't headed to the stadium. If you're having friends or family over to watch the game, simplify party prep and cleanup. Paper towels, plastic cutlery and game day-themed plates and napkins can make post-party cleanup a breeze, not to mention festive.

Make it buffet style. Let your guests serve themselves on game day. Buffets showcase a wide variety of dips, chips and snacks and are an affordable, fun option to please all your guests. This party trick also makes it easy to grab a quick bite between plays or during commercial breaks.

Here is a super easy but tasty dip or salad for your next tailgate:

Cowboy Salad

2 cans (15 ounces) black-eyed peas or black beans

1 can (15 ounces) corn

1 bunch cilantro

1 bunch green onions (5 green onions)

3 medium tomatoes

1 avocado (optional)

1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil

2 tablespoons vinegar or lime juice

1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper

Drain and rinse the black-eyed peas (or black beans) and corn. Finely chop the cilantro and green onions. Dice the tomatoes and avocados. Combine ingredients in a large bowl.

Mix oil, vinegar or lime juice, salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Pour oil mixture over salad ingredients and toss lightly. Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours.

Makes 15 servings.

Recipe from: Oregon State Extension's Food Hero website

Buffalo Chicken Dip

2 pounds chicken breasts

1 cup hot sauce

1/2 cup buttermilk ranch dressing

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons pepper

1 cup Colby jack shredded cheese

In slow cooker, combine chicken, hot sauce, ranch, cream cheese, salt and pepper. Turn slow cooker to high and cook 2 hours and 30 minutes.

Shred chicken. Add cheese to slow cooker and stir. Turn slow cooker to warm and enjoy with tortilla chips, baguettes or crunchy veggies.

Tip: For easy shredding, place cooked chicken breasts in stand mixer with paddle attachment and turn on low until shredded.

Recipe from: Chef Leigh An, Aldi Test Kitchen

Make the final quarter memorable with a fabulous dessert - Touchdown Team Brownie. It's so easy to bake and decorate, plus it can be made a day in advance of the game. Bake the brownie (use a mix for convenience) in a football-shaped baking pan, then simply add the zigzag stripes and outline stitching with ready-to-use white decorator icing. It's a winner! Cheers all around!

Touchdown Team Brownie

1 package (about 20 ounces) brownie mix (13-by-9 inch size)

Egg, oil and water to prepare mix

1 can (16 ounces) ready-to-use white decorator icing

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray football pan with vegetable pan spray.

In large bowl, prepare brownie mix following package instructions; spread into prepared pan (will only fill pan about 1/3 full). Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until brownie tests done. Cool in pan on cooling grid 10 minutes; remove from pan and cool completely.

Place cooled brownie on serving platter. Add zigzag icing stripes and outline stitching.

Makes 20 servings.

Note: If you don't have a football-shaped baking pan, bake in a regular 13-by-9-inch pan and cut to football shape.

Recipe from: Wilton Products


These Boneless Buffalo Chicken Wings can be made ahead and reheated or served at room temperature.

It's just the ticket for feeding hungry football fans.

For the blue cheese dip, you can use all reduced-fat sour cream instead of the sour cream mixed with yogurt. If you desire more spiciness, serve extra hot pepper sauce on the side.

Boneless Buffalo Chicken Wings

For spicy blue cheese dip:

1/3 cup reduced-fat sour cream

1/3 cup nonfat plain Greek-style yogurt

2/3 cup crumbled blue cheese

1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

For wings:

3 tablespoons low-fat or nonfat buttermilk (see note)

3 tablespoons favorite hot pepper sauce, divided

3 tablespoons white vinegar, divided

2 pounds chicken tenders

6 tablespoons white whole-wheat flour, such as King Arthur

6 tablespoons cornmeal

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 to 3 tablespoons canola oil, divided

2 cups carrot sticks

2 cups celery sticks

To prepare dip: In a small serving bowl, mix together all the ingredients, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

To prepare wings: In a large bowl, whisk the buttermilk, 2 tablespoons hot sauce and 2 tablespoons vinegar. Add chicken tenders and toss to coat. Refrigerate and marinate at least 10 minutes or up to 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, whisk flour and cornmeal in a shallow dish.

In a separate small bowl, whisk the remaining 1 tablespoon hot sauce and 1 tablespoon vinegar; set aside.

Remove the chicken from the marinade, letting the excess drip off, and roll each piece in the flour mixture until evenly coated. (Discard remaining marinade and flour mixture.) Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with the cayenne.

Working in batches, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high. Add about half the chicken. Cook until golden brown and cooked through, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a serving platter. Repeat with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and chicken, reducing the heat if necessary to prevent burning. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil if needed. Transfer to the platter. Drizzle the chicken with the reserved hot sauce mixture. Serve with carrots, celery and Spicy Blue Cheese Dip.

Notes: If you have no buttermilk, you can use buttermilk powder prepared according to package directions. Or make sour milk by mixing 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup nonfat milk. Look for 3-pound bags of chicken tenders in the frozen aisle or fresh in the meat case.

Makes 8 servings.

Recipe adapted from: Fine Cooking magazine, February 2007, via Susan Selasky

You can broil these in advance, then reheat them on the grill.

Jalapeño Poppers

12 large jalapeños

1 package (8 ounces) reduced-fat or regular cream cheese

1 cup cooked sausage, crab or other meat filling

3/4 cup shredded Mexican mix cheese or pepper Jack cheese, divided

6 slices of bacon, cut in half

12 toothpicks

Preheat grill to medium-high. Or preheat the broiler.

Wash the jalapeños and cut in half lengthwise. Remove the ribs and seeds; set aside. In mixing bowl, mix together cream cheese, meat and 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese. Stuff jalapeños with the mixture. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup cheese, lay half a bacon slice over the pepper and secure with toothpick. Place the stuffed jalapeños on the grill or under the broiler.

Cook the jalapeños until the bacon is cooked through and just crisp, about 10 to 15 minutes, and serve.

Makes 24 servings.

Recipe from: Susan Selasky

No watch-party menu is complete without a cheesy dip. This over the top dip brings big flavor and is perfect for kicking the party up a notch as your team works to post that next big win.

Tasty Trash Dip

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese

1 cup sour cream

2 cans (16 ounces each) refried beans

1 can (4-1/2 ounces) chopped green chilies, drained

1 package taco seasoning mix

4 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend, divided

Nonstick cooking spray

Chopped cilantro (optional)

Tomatoes (optional)

Sliced olives (optional)

Avocado (optional)

Tortilla chips

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

In large, microwavable bowl, heat cream cheese and sour cream on high 1 minute, or until cheese is softened. Remove from microwave. Mix with wire whisk until smooth. Add refried beans, green chilies, seasoning mix and 2 cups cheese; mix well.

Spread bean mixture into 13-by-9-inch baking dish sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake 25 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Top with cilantro, tomatoes, sliced olives and avocado, if desired. Serve with tortilla chips.

Recipe from: McCormick,

Add some "zing" to potato salad with smoked sausage.

Potato Salad with Smoked Sausage

3/4 regular size package smoked sausage, halved lengthwise, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices

3 small red potatoes (about 2-1/2 pounds), cooked and quartered

1 can (4 ounces) pitted ripe olives, drained and halved

2 cups Italian dressing

1 green onion, sliced (about 1/4 cup)

1 clove garlic, minced

2 teaspoons ground black pepper

In large skillet over medium heat, cook sausage 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in potatoes; cook until heated through, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.

Add olives, dressing, onions, garlic and pepper; mix lightly.

Makes 6 servings.

Recipe from:

Buffalo Ranch Popcorn

12 cups popped popcorn

1 teaspoon granulated garlic or garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon dill

1/4 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

4 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons hot sauce, like Frank's RedHot

In a small bowl combine granulated garlic, dill, cumin and sea salt. Set aside. In another bowl, melt butter and add sauce. Mix until combined. Toss butter with popcorn in a large bowl. Then toss with seasoning.

Makes 12 cups.

Recipe from:

Win or lose, there's always room for dessert. It can be surprisingly simple to create fun and tasty football-themed treats. These bite-size truffles require just five ingredients and are the perfect finishing touch(down) for your game-day spread.

Chocolate Raspberry Football Cookie Truffles

4 cups crumbled chewy chocolate cookies

1-1/2 cups marshmallow creme

2 teaspoons raspberry extract

12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

1 ounce white chocolate, melted

In large bowl, mix crumbled cookies, marshmallow creme and raspberry flavor until well blended. Shape mixture into 1-inch ovals. Set aside.

Melt chocolate as directed on package. Using fork, dip one cookie truffle at a time into chocolate. Tap back of fork 2 or 3 times against edge of dish to allow excess chocolate to drip off. Place on wax paper-lined tray. Refrigerate 30 minutes, or until chocolate is set.

Spoon melted white chocolate into small, re-sealable plastic bag. Cut small piece from one bottom corner of bag. Close bag tightly then pipe lines on truffles to resemble football stitching. Let stand until chocolate is set.

Note: Cookies can be stored in covered container at room temperature up to 5 days.

Recipe from: McCormick,

Terri Hahn of Osceola has worked in food media for more than 30 years and has won numerous state and national awards for her writing. Email her at [email protected]


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