Panther fans! The drought is over! Are you ready for playoff football?
This Sunday, your NFC South Champion Carolina Panthers will take on the San Francisco 49ers with a ticket to the National Football Conference championship on the line. And yes, down the road, the winner of that will end up at the Super Bowl. So there’s a lot at stake.
Football is something we take seriously. As the bloggers behind the website Taylor Takes a Taste and the authors of “The Southern Tailgating Cookbook,” which came out last fall, we spend more time than most people standing outside stadiums with food in our hands. With such an important football game coming up, the Observer asked us to come up with food that’s fitting for the occasion.
This Sunday, Taylor will be at the game, along with a few thousand of your friends, neighbors and co-workers. But Sally will be entertaining at home. You don’t have to be inside Bank of America Stadium to show your support. You can host a playoff “staygate” at your home.
Football entertaining is now so popular that there are now terms for it: “Staygate,” “couchgate” or “homegate.” All you need is a TV, some friends and family and a menu.
There are three key elements to considering the perfect football menu:
1. Keep in mind that you want to watch the game. By preparing ahead of time, you can ensure you will be able to watch with your guests and not be stuck in the kitchen.
2. Unlike a seated dinner party, a playoff party is centered on the TV. You and your guests will most likely eat standing up or sitting with a plate in hand. The ideal foods are ones that you can eat with one hand while your other hand holds a beverage, plate or bowl.
3. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:05 p.m., but that doesn’t mean everyone will show up then. It’s best to have a main dish that can hold for serving at any time throughout the game.
Keeping these things in mind, Sally and I developed a Panther playoff-inspired menu that is perfect for cheering on the Panthers from the comfort of your own home.
For an appetizer, start with Bacon Chipotle Gouda Potato Skins. These red and gold potato skins resemble the 49ers colors on purpose: The best way to begin a “staygate” is to take a bite out of the competition. You make the potato skins the night before and fill them before guests arrive. Then you just have to heat them in the oven for about 10 minutes. They are great hot or at room temperature, and a potato skin is the perfect appetizer to eat standing up.
For the main course, we suggest a chili bar with a wide range of toppings. This classic beef-and-bean chili can be made the day before or the morning of the game and kept warm in a slow cooker during the game. Put out green onions, sour cream, shredded cheese, hot sauce, corn chips, sliced jalapeños, or any other topping that suits your fancy. Serve in large bowls, allowing guests to easily eat while sitting or standing up. If there are leftover potato skins, pour chili over top; you won’t regret it.
Nothing completes a Panther-inspired staygate meal better than a giant sheet cookie. We hid the 49ers gold in a large toffee-studded sugar cookie and covered it in creamy Panther-blue frosting. The beauty of a sheet cookie is that guests can cut a piece that fits their appetite. Serve in the pan with a knife and let guests decide how much they want. Squares of deli wax paper are a great way to hold your cookie and keep your fingers from turning blue. This sheet-cake cookie is great for any sporting event you are watching at home. The icing can be dyed to match the Bobcats, Checkers, or any favorite college team.
Being in the playoffs again is an exciting time for the Carolinas. Making a menu that can be prepared ahead of time, accessible throughout the game, and eaten while standing will give every party-goer a chance to cheer with a full stomach. And that will make this weekend’s victory that much sweeter.
Sally James Mathis and Taylor Mathis are a mother-and-son duo from Charlotte. Sally is a professional recipe developer and Taylor is a professional food and lifestyle photographer. They are the creators and authors of the food blog taylortakesataste.com and worked together on “The Southern Tailgating Cookbook” (UNC Press, 2013).
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