Warm-weather picnic season may be over, but no need to pack away the wicker hamper just yet. With the football and soccer season now upon us, it'll come in handy for all those tailgate parties.
Whether watching your kids, your alma mater or your favored professional team, attendance at a football game lends itself to pre-game festivities of food.
The easiest fixings for such portable parties are carryout foods -- such a fried chicken, pizza or deli sandwiches. It's possible, however, with just a little more effort, to feast in style on gourmet treats.
Replace pre-meal snack chips with pate and crackers from the market, thin-sliced pepperoni and Parmesan points or homemade crisp fried pasta flavored with garlic salt or another seasoned salt.
As a first course, serve up hot and fragrant creamy pumpkin soup or shrimp bisque from a thermal container into individual mugs. Accompany the soup with a bowl of crispy pasta as finger food.
For the entree, forgo fried chicken in favor of cold chicken strips tarragon paired with fresh sliced fruit, cherry tomatoes and fresh rolls.
Round off the meal with peanut picnic brownies, which are yards ahead of the basic ol' variety.
Part of the appeal of serving a meal that is anything but pedestrian is in the presentation. Nothing's more elegant than a picnic basket loaded with all the necessities, such as a checkered blanket to cover the tailgate, a bottle of sparkling cider, and paper plates, napkins and utensils in your team's colors.
As for avoiding food spoilage or poisoning, just use common sense -- keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
Make sure hot food is piping hot before leaving the kitchen, pack in insulated thermal containers and use within two hours. Prepare cold foods the day before and pack in shallow containers so they chill easily.
For transportation to the stadium, place cold food in an insulated chest with ice, frozen gel packs or milk cartons full of frozen juice, which you can thaw and drink later.
Here are a few sure-fire recipes to get you on the road:
Crisp fried pasta
Makes 6 servings
1/2 pound pasta, any shape
oil for deep frying
Cook pasta al dente according to package directions. Drain and pat dry on paper towels.
Heat oil in deep pan to 375 degrees. Add pasta, a few pieces at a time, to hot oil and fry until lightly browned and crisp. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with seasoned salt. Cool and store in airtight container.
Creamy pumpkin soup
Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 (16-ounce) can pumpkin puree
3 cups chicken broth
1 potato, coarsely chopped
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 cup half-and-half
salt to taste
nutmeg to taste
Combine pumpkin, broth, potato and onion in large saucepan and bring to boil. Lower heat, cover and simmer 15 minutes or until potato is tender.
Puree in food processor in batches and return to pan in which soup was cooked. Add half-and-half, salt and nutmeg, and bring just to boiling point. Serve warm.
Chicken strips tarragon
Makes 6 servings
1/4 cup margarine
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
6 to 8 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 cup dry white wine
2 teaspoons dried tarragon, crushed
Melt margarine in skillet. Sprinkle salt, pepper and paprika on chicken breasts. Brown in melted margarine, then remove and set aside.
Pour wine into skillet and stir to scrape up brown bits in pan. Add tarragon. Return chicken to skillet, turning to coat well. Cover and simmer 15 minutes.
Cool thoroughly in cooking liquid, then chill.
To serve, slice chicken thinly and arrange on platter.
Yields 2 dozen
1 (18-ounce) package brownie mix
1 cup quick-cooking oats
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup peanut butter chips
1/3 cup chopped peanuts
L Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom of 9-by-13-inch pan.
In large bowl, combine brownie mix, oats, egg, water and oil. Stir with spoon until well blended. Stir in chips; spread in pan. Sprinkle with peanuts.
Bake 25 minutes or until set. Cool completely before cutting into bars.
You may not be able to locate other fresh herbs, but you can always find fresh parsley in the produce section. Combine 1 tablespoon fresh parsley with 1 teaspoon of any dried herb to make a passable substitute for 1 tablespoon of the fresh variety. It will not replace the fresh flavor, but it will add color and texture to a dish.