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Upping the tailgating game

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Julianna Grisham Moorad prepares Hamburger Stroganoff Dip at home in a crockpot, which she then unplugs and brings to her tailgating parties. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

Cooking Buzz is a new column produced in partnership with The Junior League of Houston, a women’s charitable and educational organization founded in 1925.

The days of pigs-in-a-blanket, canned bean dip and store-bought cheese trays at football tailgate parties are in the past. Tailgating has become as highly anticipated as the football games themselves. The competition is as fierce in the kitchen as on the field, with weekend food warriors taking to the parking lots to show off.

At a Cotton Bowl tailgate party several years ago, my husband, Scott, and his friends fried three turkeys, cooked 15 pounds of shrimp and made chicken and andouille jambalaya for 100 people. Our 4-year-old son, Owen, begs for bold flavors and loves to help in the kitchen. So even though we all support different teams – Texas A&M for me, Oklahoma State for Scott and the St. Francis Wolves for Owen – tailgating is fun for the whole family.

Hosting a tailgate party is just like hosting a party at your house. It requires planning ahead so you can enjoy the pre-game fun. The dishes served at tailgate parties may not always be the healthiest or gourmet delicacies, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be made with lots of flavor and fresh, local ingredients. Make sure the food is finger friendly, can be prepared or prepped ahead of time, travels well, is able to sit outside for several hours and is pleasing to many palates.

The Junior League of Houston sells three cookbooks that have been prepared by Houston members. The Houston Junior League (first published in 1968), Stop and Smell the Rosemary (1996) and Peace Meals (2008) have some good recipes to consider for a tailgate party.

Begin with some easy-to-serve, retro dips to set out first. Some fun options include Avocado Jalapeño Dip, Beer Cheese Spread and Hamburger Stroganoff Dip, all from The Houston Junior League cookbook.

To keep the Avocado Jalapeño Dip and the Beer Cheese Spread at the right temperature, bring a bigger bowl that can hold enough ice and a separate bowl with the dip set on top. Warm dips like the Hamburger Stroganoff Dip can be prepared in a crockpot. Warm the crockpot at home and it will stay warm for the duration of the tailgate party. No plugs required.

For a main course, impress your guests with the $10 Hamburger from Stop and Smell the Rosemary. Grilling hamburgers at tailgate parties is nothing new, but including cream in the patties, adding mushrooms sautéed in vermouth, topping with Swiss or brie cheese and serving on English muffins ups the burger game. Everything can be prepared in advance. Separate the patties between sheets of wax paper and place in a cooler until it is time to grill. Savvy tailgaters travel with charcoal or propane-tank grills.

Lastly, you are going to want something that everyone can snack on before and after the game. Nuts on a Hot Tin Roof from Stop and Smell the Rosemary are always a crowd pleaser. Who wouldn’t love cashews sautéed in butter, seasoned with cayenne pepper, ground cumin and ground coriander?

For drinks, consider a local craft brew or the Melon Slush from Peace Meals, which is refreshing and can be made in advance at home, and even in team colors.

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