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Tackle your tailgating menu

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winter guacamole

KICK-OFF APPETIZER Consider doubling this winter guacamole, a twist on a classic tailgating dish, so it lasts through all four quarters. (Photo: The Junior League of Houston)

Cooking Buzz is produced in partnership with the Junior League of Houston, a woman’s charitable and education organization founded in 1925.

Football is in the air, which brings schedule-packed weekends with friends to cheer on our favorite teams. Wherever your tailgate may be, food is the main event. When I host, I like to prepare my menu in advance, keeping it simple, budget friendly and finger-licking good.

In addition to the classic Velveeta and Rotel queso, my kick-off appetizer – in a menu from the Junior League cookbook Peace Meals – is the Winter Guacamole. The recipe calls for serrano chiles, but I make it with grilled hatch chiles when in season. Typically, I double the recipe so it lasts through all four quarters. You can serve with seasonal veggies in addition to tortilla chips to make snacking a little healthier.

Sideline the guacamole with warm, chunky, home-style Southwestern Chicken Soup. While this recipe is simple, it does require your attention for 15-20 minutes to create the chicken stock. I like to shred the chicken and garnish each serving with crispy tortilla strips, shredded cheddar and sour cream. For larger parties, I’ll set up a soup bar with the  garnishes for my guests to help themselves.

To guarantee a touchdown, fire up the grill with spicy and sweet Maple Salmon Bites. Allow enough time for the salmon to fully marinate before cooking. You can change the bites into mini sliders with a biscuit. I like to top my sliders off with bacon jam.

Celebrate the extra point with a favorite spirit. I ask friends to bring their favorite local brew to share, and I have a batch of El Diablo on hand too. Contrary to its name, this drink is divine and can be made in advance and served in a large pitcher.

To secure your position in the playoffs with dessert, make the Chocolate Chip Biscotti. Deflate-Gate is not a worry here; these are already a softer version of biscotti. Decorate in your team’s colors by adding colored sprinkles instead of sugar, or incorporate different flavors such as almond extract in place of vanilla and top with chopped pistachios. If I have the time, I’ll make a batch of Blackberry Shortbread Bars. Because the recipe calls for frozen blackberries, they can be made year-round. And as the weather turns colder, I like to end the football celebration with a cup of Dark Hot Chocolate. This recipe tastes like a melted candy bar and is sure to win all your fans over. For a field goal, top with whipped cream, chocolate shavings and crushed peppermint candy-cane.

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