A riff on the BLT sandwich, this chunky, tomato-y salad is satisfying as a side or main. Ellise Pierce Special to the Star-Telegram
A riff on the BLT sandwich, this chunky, tomato-y salad is satisfying as a side or main. Ellise Pierce Special to the Star-Telegram

Food & Drink

Up your football buffet game with a fresh and fun menu

By Ellise Pierce

Special to the Star-Telegram

September 25, 2017 11:28 AM

I’m not a football person, but I have dated one or two people who have been, which means that I’ve sometimes found myself going to someone’s house for several hours and hanging out around the buffet table while the game is on a big-screen television nearby.

It’s usually a predictable spread. Some version of Rotel dip (if there’s a state dip of Texas, this is it) kept warm in a slow cooker, but not so much that a skin doesn’t form on top. Giant bowls of tortilla chips. Salsa. Guacamole that’s brown by halftime.

Chex mix, almost always. If I’m lucky, someone’s made brownies. Even if they’re made from the box, I’ll eat them. It’s chocolate, after all.

Look, I get that the game is the focal point, but I think that the food can be just as interesting — and without being too much trouble to prepare. I’ve suggested a menu (below) that can be prepped in advance, and the little pizzettas made in a while-you-wait way — they just take 10 minutes in a hot oven, which is about the length of the commercial breaks, right?

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I tinkered with my regular hummus recipe using white beans instead of chickpeas, and using a little less tahini, and I think this is actually my new favorite — the trick, I’ve found, is to make it in your blender instead of the food processor for an even creamier consistency.

It’s fine served with tortilla chips, but even better with these super seedy, gluten-free crackers, which can be broken up in different sizes. The hummus recipe is easily doubled, tripled, etc. and besides serving it for a party, I like to keep it on hand all the time — for those evenings when I’m too tired to make anything for dinner. Or lunch.

The bacon and tomato salad is one of those that everyone will love, because, well, bacon. Inspired by the BLT and club sandwich plus the Italian bread salad, this is a chunky, filling salad that will please a grazing crowd or can be a weeknight dinner.

The key is finding really good country bread, then slicing it yourself so you have nice oversized croutons. The challenge is not to eat all of the croutons before you assemble the salad — or you can just make extra. That’s what I do.

Finally – ta da! – dessert. I don’t remember ever having a carrot cake ice cream sandwich, but it seemed like a good idea to me, so I came up with a recipe for a cookie that would be big enough to hold, flat enough to not be too much cookie for the ice cream, and soft enough to eat easily, because there’s nothing worse than biting into an ice cream sandwich with a cookie that’s too crisp — you’ve got a mess in your hands before you’ve even finished the first bite.

These are kinda perfect in that way. Know that they’re a little bit crisp on the bottoms the first day you make them, but they soften up to the perfect consistency overnight. So plan to make the cookies the night before you want to serve them and you’ll be just fine.

With a spread like this, I just might be able to get behind the whole football thing.

Ellise Pierce is the author of “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent” (Running Press). Read her blog (www.cowgirlchef.com), and follow her on Twitter (@cowgirlchef) and Instagram (cowgirlchef).

Bacon and tomato bread salad 

Serves 8

4 thick slices country bread

Olive oil

Sea salt and pepper

3 eggs

4 pieces bacon, cooked 'til crispy

16 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved

2 handfuls arugula

2 handfuls mesclun

Balsamic vinaigrette, recipe follows

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. Slice the bread into 1-inch cubes. Toss with olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and pepper, and lay on a large baking sheet. Bake until crispy and light brown, about 10 minutes. 

3. Put the eggs in a saucepan with enough water to cover. Turn the heat to medium-high, cover the saucepan, and when it boils, turn it down to a simmer. Set the timer for 10 minutes. Pour off the water and run cold water over the eggs. Chop the eggs.

Save time: Make the hard-boiled eggs ahead of time and keep in the fridge in the shells until you’re ready to make the salad.

4. To make the salad, put the croutons, eggs, bacon, tomatoes, arugula, and mesclun in a large bowl. Chop the eggs and add them, too. Drizzle some of the balsamic vinaigrette on top and serve.

Balsamic vinaigrette

Makes about  3/4 cup

 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon chopped shallot

Sea salt and pepper

3/4 cup olive oil

Put the balsamic vinegar, mustard, shallot, and a little sea salt and pepper in a jam jar. Give it a good shake, then let it rest for 15 minutes. Add the olive oil, shake again and taste. Will keep in the fridge for a week. 

Carrot cake cookie ice cream sandwiches 

Makes 12

2  1/2 sticks/1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg, room temperature

1 egg yolk, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 heaping tablespoon molasses 

1 1/2 cups flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon fresh nutmeg

2 1/2 cups quick oats

1 cup finely grated carrots

1/2 cup currants

1 (28-ounce) container vanilla ice cream

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment or a siplat. 

2. Cream the butter and sugars in a mixer until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the egg and yolk and beat for 3 or 4 minutes. Add the vanilla and molasses and mix well. 

3. In a bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, sea salt, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Add this to the bowl and gently mix until it comes together. Fold in the oats, grated carrots, and currants. 

4. Scoop the dough with a large scoop onto the baking sheet, leaving 3 inches between them. Press down the dough balls with the palm of your hand to be about  1/4 inch thick. This will help them spread more easily. Bake for 10 to 13 minutes or until lightly browned on the edges. Let cool for a few minutes on the pan, then transfer to a rack.

Note: It’s best to make the cookies the day before you want to make the ice cream sandwiches. They’ll soften up overnight. 

5. To make the ice cream sandwiches, take our the ice cream and let it soften slightly. Spread about 1 large scoop on the inside of one cookie, all the way to the edges, and put another cookie of similar size on top. Press down gently. Put back in the freezer until the ice cream firms up, then wrap individually in plastic wrap, and return to the freezer until you’re ready to serve them. 

Pizzettas with pesto and chicken 

Makes 8

1 package yeast

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for greasing the bowl

1  1/3 cups warm water

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 3/4 cups bread flour

1 (8.5-ounce) jar sun-dried tomatoes in oil

1 rotisserie chicken, shredded

16 ounces shredded mozzarella

Pesto 

2 cups fresh basil leaves (packed), plus more for garnish

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

1/4 cup grated Parmesan 

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1. Put the first 5 ingredients in a mixer bowl. Stir. Let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the flours and mix well. Put into a bowl with olive oil, cover, and let sit out for 4 hours, at least, or until doubled in size. 

2. Make the pizzetta crusts. Divide the dough into eight portions and roll out each one onto a lightly floured surface. One by one, cook them halfway in an ungreased skillet over medium-high heat. Set them aside on a plate as you cook them. 

Save time: Make the pizzetta crusts in advance and keep in the freezer. 

3. Make the pesto. Put the basil leaves, pine nuts, Parmesan, olive oil and sea salt in a food processor or blender. Pulse until well mixed. Refrigerate until ready to make your pizzettas. 

Save time: You may also make your pesto in advance and keep in the fridge. 

4. Heat the oven to 500 degrees. 

5. To make your pizzettas, organize the ingredients in bowls so it’s easy to put them together quickly. Chop the sun-dried tomatoes. Put the shredded mozzarella in a bowl; the chicken in another. Spread 1 to 3 tablespoons of pesto onto each precooked crust, then add the chicken, sun-dried tomatoes and mozzarella. Put the pizzettas on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes or until the crust has browned and the cheese is bubbly. Serve with more fresh basil on top. 

White bean hummus

Makes about 1  1/2 cups

1 (15-ounce) can Great Northern or cannellini beans

3 tablespoons tahini

Sea salt to tastejuice of 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon cumin

Drain and rinse the beans. Put them in a blender or food processor along with the rest of the ingredients. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of water at a time until you reach a smooth, creamy consistency. Taste for seasonings. Refrigerate until ready to serve. 

Seedy crackers

Makes enough for 6 to 8

Adapted from a recipe by Anna Jones in Bon Appétit

2 tablespoons flax seed meal

1 cup old-fashioned oats

 3/4 cup raw pepitas

1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds

1/3 cup sesame seeds (white, black, or a mix of the two)

5 tablespoons chia seeds

3 tablespoons hemp seed

1 teaspoon sea salt (fine)

1 tablespoon canola or grapeseed oil

1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Put the flax seed meal into a small bowl with 2 tablespoons water. Mix and let this sit until thick.

3. Put the rest of the ingredients into a medium bowl, add the flax seed meal, and  3/4 cup room temperature water. Stir to combine and let rest for 10 minutes or until the water softens the oats and the seeds.

4. Pour this onto a baking sheet, gather together a bit (it doesn't need to be a solid mass) and cover with a second piece of parchment the same size. Press down and with a rolling pin, roll this out until you have an even, thin cracker of about  1/8th of an inch. Remove the top layer of parchment and slide into the oven for 15 minutes or until the edges start to brown.

5. Take the cracker out of the oven. Put a clean piece of parchment on top and — this is a little tricky, but stay with me — put a baking sheet of the same size on top and give this a flip, so the bottom is now on top. Slide this back onto the original baking sheet and remove the original piece of parchment. Bake for 10 to 12 more minutes or until the cracker is firm. Let it cool in the baking sheet and then break it into pieces for serving. Store in an airtight container.