FOOD WISE: Make-ahead snacks for game-day entertaining

By CHEF RENEE MORGAN

Considering how much I’ve written on the subject, it’s no secret how much I love fall. I love everything about it. The colors, the cool, crisp air, boots and cute sweaters, gorgeous fall veggies like kale, chard, pumpkin and butternut squash, and those cooler weather foods I’ve been craving.

This time of year, I love a big, hot and hearty mug of soup or any number of crock pot meals. I have a desire to decadently add Bailey’s to my coffee, to sit curled up in my sweats and heavy socks with a good book and a cup of hot tea and to get my chili on.

I said I have desire for it, not that I actually have time to do it. I mean, come on now, I am a chef and this is our busiest time of the year. As my favorite auntie used to say, I’m so busy I don’t know if I’m washin’ or hangin’ out!

Here’s the thing…the one fall tradition I don’t really care for, and I’m taking a big risk here by telling you this, is football. I know, I know, strong, proud, Texas tradition, blah, blah, blah. I’ve tried to like football, really I have. I’ve dutifully donned the appropriate football attire for the occasion. Adorable hubby, who is a football freak, has patiently explained plays to me. I even tried jumping up and down and screaming at the television like all the big football fans do. The one exception to my football dislike was when my grandsons were playing. Go Panthers!

Having given it the old college try, so to speak, to no avail, my sweet husband and I have reached a, shall we say, understanding. I don’t protest his constant football watching (OMG-how many games are there in a season anyway!) and he doesn’t ask me any questions about my shopping trips. That’s a good deal, right? This is the stuff truly great marriages are made of.

Sometimes, if I’m feeling especially generous and there’s a game coming on that I will, for some inexplicable reason, be forced to sit through, I even make snacks to enjoy during the big game. Aren’t they all the big game? I know Thanksgiving will be one of those times. I mean, the Cowboys will be playing after all.

In these cases, I think it’s a great idea to have some snacks made up ahead of time. You’ll probably have a house full of people. You’ll have already been working your hiney off cooking Thanksgiving dinner. You’ll want to be able to just relax and enjoy game day. Yeah, right!

When I’m planning ahead for these kinds of food fests, the most important things to me is that it’s easy and done ahead so all I have to do at the last minute is just assemble some stuff.

Of equal importance to me is that whatever I serve be of quality and served with style. Doesn’t matter if I’m serving hotdogs or caviar. It matters that I’ve made it the best I can make with the best ingredients I can find. Since it’ll be done in advance, I can just chill and act like I’m enjoying the game. Here are some things I’m planning to serve. Enjoy and happy Thanksgiving!

Chef Reneé is a classically trained, award winning chef and columnist . She earned her culinary degree at the famous Le Cordon Bleu, as well as a bachelor of music degree from Hardin-Simmons University. She has an extensive background in events planning and management. Reneé lives in Liberty Hill with her husband, John, their dogs, cats and chickens.

 Lobster Rolls 

(If lobster is too expensive, you can substitute shrimp. Make the salad ahead and assemble the sandwiches at service.) Makes 7-8 sandwiches.

3/4 pound cooked lobster meat, diced

1/2 mayonnaise

1 tablespoon drained capers

1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh dill

salt and pepper to taste

8 sub rolls, grilled or toasted

Combine all the ingredients except the rolls. Fill each roll and serve.

 Cinnamon Bun Popcorn

12 C popped popcorn

1 C pecan halves, roughly chopped

1 C brown sugar

3/4 t cinnamon

1/4 C Karo syrup (or honey)

1 stick real butter (1/2 C)

1t vanilla

1/2 t baking soda

3 squares almond bark (about 4 oz)

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Place popcorn and chopped pecans in a large bowl and set aside.

Combine brown sugar and cinnamon in a microwave safe bowl. Chop butter into chunks and place on top of sugar mixture. Pour corn syrup over the top of everything. Microwave on high for 30 seconds and then stir to combine. Return to microwave and heat for 2 minutes. Remove and stir and then microwave for 2 minutes more.

Remove from microwave and add in vanilla and baking soda. Stir to combine. Mixture will foam and rise. Pour caramel mixture over popcorn and pecans and stir very well so everything is well coated.

Spread popcorn mixture onto a foil-lined jelly roll pan. Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and spread out on a large piece of parchment, waxed paper, or foil.

Melt almond bark according to package instructions. Drizzle over popcorn mixture. When almond bark is hardened and popcorn is cool, break into chunks.

 Buffalo Wings

  The chicken can be cooked and the sauce made ahead. At service, reheat and toss together.

12 whole chicken wings

3 ounces unsalted butter

1 small clove garlic, minced

1/4 cup hot sauce

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Place a 6-quart saucepan with a steamer basket and 1-inch of water in the bottom, over high heat, cover and bring to a boil.

Remove the tips of the wings and discard or save for making stock. Using kitchen shears, or a knife, separate the wings at the joint. Place the wings into the steamer basket, cover, reduce the heat to medium and steam for 10 minutes. Remove the wings from the basket and carefully pat dry. Lay the wings out on a cooling rack set in a half sheet pan lined with paper towels and place in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Replace the paper towels with parchment paper. Roast on the middle rack of the oven for 20 minutes. Turn the wings over and cook another 20 minutes or until meat is cooked through and the skin is golden brown.

While the chicken is roasting, melt the butter in a small bowl along with the garlic. Pour this along with hot sauce and salt into a bowl large enough to hold all of the chicken and stir to combine.

Remove the wings from the oven and transfer to the bowl and toss with the sauce. Serve warm.