Gridiron grub: Kick off the football season with school spirit

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    Beer Cheese Chicken Pretzel Sliders.

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  • Are you ready for some football food?

    In honor of Saturday’s season openers for several of the area’s colleges, we’ve got a team-themed color scheme for your tailgate or your TV viewing.

    It’s still summery, so we’ll save the casseroles and the slow cookers for later in the season. The early games are a perfect opportunity to serve beautiful fresh produce.

    Plump, ripe tomatoes are just begging to represent Ohio State’s bright scarlet. And when stuffed with a creamy, cheesy rice mixture, they make an ideal vegetarian entrée or a perfect side dish for grilled meats.

    Maize and Blue for the University of Michigan is usually played up in a corn dish. But blueberries are in their prime, so a quickly made cobbler is a perfect dessert to serve for the Wolverines (or also for the Rockets).

    The Falcons’ brown and orange make great teammates in chicken sliders served on pretzel buns and topped with a beer-infused cheese sauce. Served with a simple salad, and perhaps with a chocolaty dessert to further emphasize Bowling Green’s colors, they’re hearty without being heavy.

    And the University of Toledo’s gold shines in a sparkling late summer lemonade with some peachy punch.

    Whichever team you’re cheering for, you’ll score points with these fan favorites.


    Beer Cheese Chicken Pretzel Sliders.
    Beer Cheese Chicken Pretzel Sliders.

    Beer Cheese Chicken Pretzel Sliders


    1½ pounds chicken breasts

    12 ounces beer

    2 cloves garlic, minced

    1 teaspoon salt

    1 teaspoon ground black pepper

    Cheese sauce:

    2 tablespoons butter

    2 tablespoons flour

    ½ cup beer

    ½ cup milk

    Pinch of salt

    Pinch of cayenne pepper

    8 ounces shredded cheddar

    2 tablespoons chopped chives


    8 pretzel rolls

    Dijon mustard

    Place the chicken, beer, garlic, salt, and pepper into a large skillet. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down to medium-low and cover; cook for 30 minutes, turning once halfway through cooking. When done, shred the chicken with two forks. Meat should shred easily.

    To prepare the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for 2 minutes.

    Whisk in the beer and milk and continue cooking and whisking until the sauce is smooth and thick, about 5 minutes. Stir in the salt and cayenne pepper. Turn heat to low and add the cheese, a small handful at a time, stirring until melted before adding the next handful. Stir in the chives.

    To serve, warm the pretzel buns in the oven. Spread the lower halves of the buns with mustard. Top with the chicken and the cheese sauce, then cover with the tops.

    Yield: 8 servings

    Source: Adapted from


    Rice-stuffed Tomatoes.
    Rice-stuffed Tomatoes.

    Rice-stuffed Tomatoes

    ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

    2 bay leaves

    ½ cup Arborio rice

    6 medium tomatoes (about 2½ pounds), ripe but firm

    ½ cup diced fresh mozzarella

    ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon grated Grana Padana or Parmesan cheese

    3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

    Salt and pepper, to taste

    In a 1-quart saucepan, heat 1½ cups salted water, 2 tablespoons of the oil, and the bay leaves to a boil. Stir in the rice and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat to a lively simmer and cook the rice, uncovered, until al dente, tender but firm, about 12 minutes. Most of the liquid should be absorbed and the texture of the rice should be creamy. Drain any excess liquid from the rice and transfer the rice to a mixing bowl. Discard the bay leaves.

    Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375F.

    Cut a ½-inch slice from the top of each tomato and set aside. Scoop out the pulp and seeds with a teaspoon and drop these into a strainer set over a bowl. Press on the pulp in the strainer to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Reserve the liquid and discard the pulp in the strainer.

    Toss the rice, mozzarella, ½ cup of the Grana Padano, and the basil together in a small bowl. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

    Gently stuff the tomatoes with the rice mixture, dividing it evenly. Top each tomato with the reserved tops.

    Using some of the remaining oil, brush a baking dish into which the tomatoes fit comfortably. Set the stuffed tomatoes in the dish. Add the strained liquid from tomatoes and, if necessary, pour in enough water to come about ¼ inch up the sides of the tomatoes. Drizzle the remaining oil over the tomatoes and sprinkle them with the remaining 1 tablespoon grated cheese. Cover the dish loosely with aluminum foil and bake 15 minutes.

    Uncover the dish and bake until the tomatoes are very tender and the tops are lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Remove tomatoes from oven and let rest for a few minutes. Carefully transfer the tomatoes to a serving platter, or individual plates. Swirl the juices in the pan to incorporate the oil into the juices and spoon the pan juices over and around the tomatoes. The tomatoes are best when served warm, with some of the pan juices drizzled over each serving.

    Yield: 6 servings

    Source: Adapted from Lidia Bastianich,


    Peach-Thyme Lemonade.
    Peach-Thyme Lemonade.

    Peach-Thyme Lemonade

    2 large, fresh peaches, peeled, pits discarded, flesh roughly chopped

    1 cup fresh lemon juice, from 10 to 12 lemons

    ¾ cup sugar

    Pinch salt

    1 bunch thyme

    1 liter lemon-flavored sparkling water, chilled


    Peach slices and thyme leaves, for garnish

    Combine peaches, lemon juice, sugar, and salt in a blender. Blend on high speed until smooth, about 1 minute.

    Meanwhile, place thyme in bottom of pitcher and lightly muddle with wooden spoon.

    Strain peach purée through a fine mesh strainer into pitcher. Discard solids. Add sparkling water and whisk to combine. Add ice. Serve in ice-filled glasses garnished with peach slices and thyme leaves.

    Note: Add a splash of bourbon or vodka, if desired.

    Yield: About 1½ quarts

    Source: Adapted from J. Kenji López-Alt,


    Batter-style Blueberry Cobbler, and a piece of cobbler with vanilla ice cream.
    Batter-style Blueberry Cobbler, and a piece of cobbler with vanilla ice cream.

    Batter-style Blueberry Cobbler

    Fruit layer:

    4 cups fresh blueberries

    2 tablespoons lemon juice

    ½ teaspoon orange zest

    1 teaspoon vanilla extract

    1 teaspoon cinnamon

    ¾ cup sugar

    1 tablespoon cornstarch


    ½ cup butter

    ¾ cup sugar

    1 cup flour

    2 teaspoons baking powder

    ½ teaspoon salt

    ¾ cup milk

    1 egg, slightly beaten

    To serve:

    Whipped cream or ice cream

    Preheat oven to 350F.

    Make the berry layer: In a saucepan, combine the berries, lemon juice, orange zest, vanilla extract, cinnamon, sugar, and cornstarch. Bring just to a boil, stirring occasionally; remove from heat and set aside.

    Place the butter in an 11- by-7-inch or 8-inch square baking dish and place in the pre-heated oven until the butter is melted.

    In a medium bowl, combine the sugar with the flour, baking powder, salt, milk, and egg. Pour the batter over the melted butter in the baking dish. Do not stir. Spoon reserved berry mixture over batter. Do not stir.

    Place baking dish on a cookie sheet to catch any drips, and bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until golden brown. Serve at room temperature with whipped cream or ice cream.

    Yield: 6 servings

    Source: Adapted from Matt Rapposelli, A Taste of the Hocking Hills

    Contact Mary Bilyeu at 419-724-6155 or, and follow her at