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I don't want to be the mom who always brings the salad...

My son plays on a college football team and for home games the parents put together a post-game buffet. There are the usual suspects like baked ziti, sausage & peppers, giant taco salads. My latest contribution was caesar salad. My son said "I bet my mom made the salad because she can't really cook." While not entirely true, I haven't produced anything that makes anyone say "Wow, who made that?", nor have the pans I've brought been emptied. I'm looking for a little help.

There are a couple of tricky points: one is that if it's a hot dish it has to stay hot for several hours (like at least 4) or easily rewarm on chafing dishes after halftime. The other is that while it's not the only thing feeding the team, the quantity needs to be a little higher. Probably a pretty hefty half-size chafing pan. Lastly, we leave in the morning so I need make-ahead or something that can be pulled together pretty easily on a Saturday morning. See why I ended up with caesar salad?

Thank you in advance for any suggestions you can provide.

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  1. Take a round, unsliced bread loaf and lop off the top... low enough so that the "lid" is almost the diameter of the bread. Scoop out the soft bread interior by hand. Squirt some Italian salad dressing in the bottom, or layer with a chopped olive salad. Layer your choice of deli meats, cheeses, thinly sliced and peeled cucumber, tomotoes, etc., more Italian dressing, etc. Put the lid on and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Put a weight on top and refigerate for a couple hours, to overnight. Slice into wedges to serve... an electric knife is best for the slicing. Make two, or more if you plan to serve a crowd.

    1 Reply
    1. re: DigitalVelvet

      Perfect, a muffuletta style pressed sandwich. These are crowd pleasers.

    2. Offer to bring the bread!

      OK: seriously this is a job for a slow-cooker (notice I did not call it a crock-pot because that is SO-O-O 80's) Then you can put together your Adobo Pork stew (the hockey team I had to cook for loved this), or your chili or your beans etc. the night before, let it do its thing overnight, grab it while it is still hot, secure in carboard box and plug back in as soon as you get there.

      Good luck with this, but, for the record, I think Caesar Salad is a great contribution.

      1. I also see nothing wrong with Caesar salad (especially if others are contributing more "main dish" type things) but you might want to take a page from the book of the other contributors and think about pasta/casserole type things. If you have an insulated bag to store it in, generally anything that is put into the bag hot will stay hot for a good long while, so I wouldn't worry about that too much.

        Some of my recipes that can be made in large pans and have been crowd pleasers in the past are lasagna (not the fancy Bolognese kind, but my mom's old American recipe with tons of ground beef and mozzarella), enchiladas (either as a layered casserole or as individually rolled pieces), stuffing (the one I make for thanksgiving could be an entree on its own but makes a nice side dish - has tons of roasted vegetables, sausage and of course bread), lentils with sausage (this can be served hot, cold or at room temp, so very versatile) and of course beef stew/chili type things. As long as the pan fits in your fridge, any of these can be made the night before and either baked off or reheated the morning of.

        ETA: The crockpot suggestions above are great and if you have one that has a removable ceramic liner, you don't even need to bring the electric part - the liner will keep the contents hot for a while!

        2 Replies
        1. re: biondanonima

          Devilled eggs are usually popular. If you don't have a good transporting container, put the filling in a baggie and when you get to the venue, snip off a corner so you can pipe the fillling into the cooked whites on a tray. Some hot finger foods like pigs in blankets and chicken nuggets might be appreciated.

          If you don't have an insulated bag, a hot pan wrapped in newspapers and blankets, then placed in a cooler will stay hot for a long time. You can take along some of those chemical-reaction handwarmer packets and put them inside the cooler if the food temp starts to get too low.

          1. re: greygarious

            I have to agree. Find a good devilled egg recipe - they go like a hot damn :-) I learned this over the summer when I found myself with no time to put something spectacular together for a potluck so opted for devilled eggs. There wasn't a single one left.

        2. Maybe Stromboli? If you're pushed for time, you could use the kind of bread dough that comes in a can, or the frozen kind, thaw, and layer with meats and cheeses. Fold over or braid, paint with an eggwash, and bake. Could be briefly re-heated - even a chafing dish would work - or served sliced at room temperature. Another option might be a great big pot of taco meat, with a stack of tortillas (which again can be warmed in a chafing dish) and a one-stop salsa instead of all the usual individual condiments: cubed tomatoes, avocado, diced onion, cilantro, olives,and lime juice and cumin, s&p, all mixed together and allowed to blend. My son's teams loved this one.

          1. Sausage & Peppers is my go to. I get the sausage at Costco, get some jarred sauce (Costco or whatever is on sale), Peppers & Onions. I brown the sausages the night before (all laid out on an electric griddle - not cooked all the way through, just enough to crisp up the outside). The next morning I put a jar of sauce in a HUGE pot, then the peppers & onions, then more sauce, then the sausage, then more sauce. And simmer for at least 4 hours (which is the only downfall since you leave in the morning - unless you just don't go to bed). About an hour after it start boiling slow, I'll taste the sauce and add some red wine, parsely, garlic, etc (italian stuff I have laying around). It's easy to keep warm and won't dry out and tastes great (I just cooked up a bunch for a wedding shower).

            1. http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

              Try this salad. I have been making it for years and it always gets raves. Someone always asks for the recipe. It says it serves 20. You can make it all ahead the night before, then just toss it together in the morning.

              1. I'm not sure I can be of much help in figuring out what would be good for this particular event with it's given limitations, but in terms of laying to rest the criticisms of your cooking, I'll tell you who has been a life-saver for me: Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. Her recipes are pretty simple (the ones I pick, at least), always made with quality ingredients, and always delicious. They are un-hokey, un-fussy, and just plain good. Dinner guests give consistently rave reviews. She has a lot of cookbooks on the market. Perhaps browse a few and see if the dishes appeal to you. You can also google some of her recipes online.

                3 Replies
                1. re: MiriamWoodstock

                  What about a few antipato pressed sanwiches. Below is a link for suggestions, but you can really fill with anything you like, salami, olive tapenade, marinated veggies, assorted italian meats, pesto, etc..... Best weighted down and made the night before. The day of the game unwrap and slice into smaller pieces.

                  http://www.examiner.com/cooking-in-or...

                  1. re: MiriamWoodstock

                    Love her, her recipes are great.

                    Yes, xeniagaze, I think the pressed sandwiches are an awesome idea, and will go over well.

                    But for when you want something hot, as football season spans into the winter, think about a pulled pork in the slow-cooker, that you can do overnight, then shred & degrease a bit the next am, and pour bbq sauce over and then keep slow-cooker on warm, if you have that setting. Then just bring a cole slaw bag or two to mix up with it when it's mealtime, and some soft small sized buns, and your have bbq pork sliders, which I am sure will be inhaled.

                    1. re: Phurstluv

                      I agree, easy peasy on the pulled pork in crockpot. Everyone loved them.

                      or a great chili too

                  2. It is better to be the Mom who brings salad than the Mom who makes a box cake mix! I can always taste the box. C'mon, how long does it take to measure butter, flour and sugar, really! Sorry, it is and always has been my pet peave!

                    1. First -- smack your son for not falling on his knees to thank you for raising him, keeping him healthy enough to play college football, supporting him by coming to his games AND making a salad. Few kids are so lucky.

                      As to your dilemma -- my mom had a potluck recently and the most RAVED about dish was the coleslaw. The generous cook gave us all the recipe, and I've served it twice to guests now, who also raved about it, and asked for the recipe. It's simple, tasty, healthy and can be served under your circumstances.

                      Mix in very large bowl --
                      one pound cabbage chop-chop-chopped
                      1 cup dried cranberries
                      1/2 cup pecan halves
                      2 T red onion, chopped very fine

                      Mix together and pour over--
                      1/4 cup sugar
                      1 cup mayo
                      1T cider vinegar

                      Just before serving, mix in
                      8-10 slices crispy bacon, crumbled

                      They will love it.

                      3 Replies
                        1. re: VJA

                          I too love a great cole slaw, everyone always enjoys those asian slws as well with walnuts or almonds, ramen noodles and golden raisins.

                          VJA, yours reminds me of one that I did from Weight Watchers cookbook that had cherry tomatoes, turkey bacon and shredded turkey. I can't ever find it on line but I could eat the entire thing!

                          1. re: VJA

                            I agree with VJA on both accounts... this coleslaw looks like something that people will polish off and ask you to bring again! And a little cuff upside the head for the stinky comment from your son, Xenia, who is very lucky to have such a great Mom who raised a scholar-athlete and who also contributes to game day celebrations! Keep on rockin' in the free world, Momma!

                          2. A make-your-own taco bar could work. Taco meat is in the slow cooker, shells and toppings laid out for people to assemble their own. Be sure to bring enough tongs and spoons.

                            1. How about a ham and some rolls?
                              I send stuff to my husbands fire house (also big eaters) and chicken and dumplins always go over well.
                              a soup can be served in styrofoam coffee cups would be good.
                              A big hearty gouloush would be good...and forgiving!

                              1. Bring salad in the form of cole slaw and then make this carolina style pulled pork. It's always a huge hit, especially among young meat eaters.

                                http://www.grouprecipes.com/9727/spic...

                                1. The day before, make a nice big bowl of chicken salad. Then take some sliced croissants and they can make their own chicken salad sandwiches. Or, you could also use pita pockets. But to me, the croissants are just a little more special. You can take the chicken salad in a cooler, as well as some lettuce for the sandwiches and you are good to go.

                                  And I know this is still a salad but this is a definitely one to make the day before. Make a layered salad of iceberg lettuce, green onion, diced celery, diced water chestnuts, diced red pepper, frozen peas, thin layer of mayo, sprinkle a thin layer of parmesan cheese and 1-2 tablespoons sugar over the top. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Toss just before serving. I never have any left to take home! You can vary what the layers are, but make sure to use something like the water chestnuts and celery to give it that extra crunch.

                                  The reason for these suggestions is I don't know if you have power for a slow cooker, but you always have room for a cooler. You have to remember, you may be traveling farther than some of the other people. So you can do what you can do. Whatever that is, you can do it well.

                                  1. One thing I failed to mention is slow-cooker "Inside-Out Ravioli", layers of cooked egg noodles, meat ragu, sauteed spinach and a ricotta/grated smoked mozzarella or provolone mixed with Italian seasonning and a beaten egg, slowcooked for 6 hours on low. This will stay hot forever and disappears in a flash. Serve w/ a bowl of shredded parm on side. And, IMHO, boyzoma's salad is one of the alltime best most favoritest potluck salads ever conceived, and the layer of crunchy, icy water chestnuts is critical.

                                    1. A great alternative to the slow cooker is a thermal cooker - it works on similar principles - I started a thread on it awhile ago - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/710290

                                      I love it because you don't need power, once you've done the prep. You just place the inner pot in the insulated casing and forget about it, and it keeps cooking over the next several hours. Great for the environment too. I love my thermal cookers!

                                      1. How about a Crockpot Polenta Lasagna - cook polenta stirring in butter and parmesan. Layer some in the bottom of a crockpot; top with a layer of bolognese and some dollops of ricotta; repeat layers, ending with polenta and sauce; sprinkle top with mozzarella and parmesan. Set to cook for a couple of hours. Reheat at halftime.

                                        Or, large flatbread pizzas; thin crust spread into large rectangles spread with favorite toppings of choice (do 4 different types on each rectangle); cut into small squares.

                                        Spinach artichoke dip held in a crockpot; served with bread or chips or pita...

                                        Would they eat frittatas?

                                        Mini tacos -- the little tiny shells with meat, fajita veggies; serve lettuce, cheese, and salsa on side

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Emme

                                          Mini frittatas are my go-to and always the first thing gone. I make tgem the day before the event and either reheat them the next day or just serve them room temperature. Lots of protein and great for cleaning out leftover cheese, veggies, herbs, meats, etc.

                                        2. I am very grateful and surprisingly hungry for this hour of the morning after reading your posts. Everything sounds delicious. It never occurred to me to try to bring my slow cooker but I'll do some recon to find out if I have access to electricity. The buffet is usually outdoors adjacent to one of the school buildings. The pressed sandwiches, stromboli, and salads are all things I can try right out of the gate and would love to try. I have an insulated bag and a larger cooler, so I'll try those with bricks (ingenious) to keep stuff warm. I'll also investigate the thermal cooker.
                                          Thank you all for your ideas, and YES I'll keep reading so keep suggesting!

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: xeniagaze

                                            If you don't have access to a crockpot, what about doing something like a stuffed braided bread? You can be creative with the filling--anything goes for me. Bacon, egg, cheese: salami and cheese: smoked salmon and cream cheese: hot dogs (probably the most popular): roasted veggies: etc. I make my own dough but you can buy it frozen. It looks nice, easy to serve, easy to eat. Here are easy directions.

                                            http://fulltummies.blogspot.com/2008/...

                                            1. re: chowser

                                              I like to do the stuffed braided bread as a Rachel, but a Rueben would work if everyone eats beef. I make a rye dough, then stuff it with smoked turkey, drained sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing. Never have had any left over. If you want to be fancy, you can even make a combo of light and dark rye doughs to make the braid.

                                              Still and all, I am one of the Moms who LIKES to always bring the salad. Sometimes I do only salad, but sometimes it's in addition to something else. That layered salad with the water chestnuts is always a hit. Broccoli salad (with grapes, nuts, bacon, etc) goes over well, too with most groups. Plus there are tons of pasta salads that are delicious and filling. A green salad favourite uses romaine lettuce, olives, chopped red bell pepper, and mini marinated mozzarella balls. Pine nuts can also be sprinkled over it. The marinade from the mozzarella balls makes the dressing. You can get large containers of the mozzarella at Costco. Crunchy Pea Salad works well and is just as good made a day ahead.
                                              http://decolady-randommusings.blogspo...
                                              I normally leave out the bacon and add some extra pecans.

                                          2. Another crockpot option - for a little variety after you do the pulled pork, perhaps the next game you can do one (or both) of these Drip Beef recipes. I've done the Italian version in a crockpot and it was great.

                                            http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/20...

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Bryan Pepperseed

                                              People flip when I make pressed sandwiches. So easy and the combinations are endless. A lots-of-bacon BLT variations are always a hit. I often use leftover roasted chicken, which makes for a hearty sandwich. Pre-slice the loaf ahead of time as I learned it is best to not let it whole for a party.

                                              What about a cold meat dish? That could be cooked ahead of time. A sliced turkey breast or ham with a side of rolls, mayo and mustard. Or a sliced beef tenderloin done in a jerk marinade. Or sliced flank steak for a less expensive option.

                                              I have also made this meatloaf recipe with great success - http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/clas...

                                              You could do it in the oven the day before and transport it in a pre-warmed crock pot.

                                              From the same site - this recipe is really good http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/moms... I could see this being very warming on a cold day. You could present it on a bed of rice and let people portion off the amount they want. Or just put the rice on one side of the slow cooker/buffet pan and the beans on the other, the dish isn't so "saucey" that it would run into the rice.

                                              What fun to cook for the type of gathering you describe! I look forward to doing things like that.

                                            2. A big old fashioned Chicken Pot Pie in one of those aluminum pans that the lasagne and the ziti probably arrived in. Rib sticking, good and steamy and will not be a competitor to the other items already on the menu.

                                              1. Hard to top a lot of these, but you know what travels well and that I imagine a bunch of football players would go nuts over? Buffalo chicken dip. There are recipes available, but pretty much shredded chicken, mayo, Pete's hot sauce, blue cheese, cheddar, baked until creamy. Serve withc crackers and celery.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: katecm

                                                  This one is going into my recipes! Never heard of it but sounds YUMM!

                                                  1. re: katecm

                                                    i do it similarly with chicken, ranch dressing, cream cheese, Frank's Hot Sauce, cheddar and jack, served with celery and bread. always a hit.

                                                    was also thinking a big tray of fried rice would be easy and a big tray of dumplings with sauce.

                                                    a strata would also be easy to layer ahead and bake the morning of. reheat at site or just serve room temp.

                                                    one more idea is a chicken satay (thigh is easy and holds well). serve warm or room temp.

                                                    1. Another great thing, which stays great in a chafing dish + is virtually impossible to go wrong, is slow-cooked pork. If you get a shoulder butt with a decent amount of fat on it, the fat will keep it moist and reheatable for some time + make it taste super-sexy.

                                                      All it takes is to wrap it up in foil in a big pyrex or roasting pan with some good stuff on top and bottom. Then pop into a 275º oven for about 4-5 hours the day before. I reheats well to make ahead (hooray pork fat!).

                                                      You can do lots of variations, too.

                                                      For tacos, layer cilantro, garlic, onion, tomatillos, and maybe chiles or some minced jalapeño on top and bottom and squeeze lime over everything before closing and throw together some veggie toppings like roasted tomatillo salsa, shredded cabbage, shredded carrots and radishes, avocado, etc.

                                                      Or you can do spring roll wrappers or lettuce leaves and Asian veg. For Thai flavors, layer cilantro, ginger, scallions, lemon grass and pour in a mixture of tom yum paste, mild chili paste (with more garlic + tamarind), and lime juice. For a more Chinese, use scallions, ginger, garlic and a mixture of black vinegar, xao hsing, tomato paste, and sesame oil, maybe some chili paste if you want a bit of heat.

                                                      Hope you have fun impressing your son with all the great new foods you'll be cooking!

                                                      1. There's nothing wrong with salad. Just get creative with the salad. When my brother played basketball, I would always bring a chopped salad. The boys loved those salads! Once, I didn't bring a salad and one of the boys was so disappointed and said, "your salads are totally grub."
                                                        I did a seafood cobb with romaine, tomatoes, capers, feta, red onion and shrimp. Then, I made a simple dressing. I made all kinds of salads. BBQ chopped, smoked chicken with green apples and candied pecans. Potlucks never have enough greens and I always think "colon cancer" when I look at a table without veggies. You may be a really important influence in the way the kids eat in the future. Show them salads are "grub." My husband's cousin hated salads and then we had our first potluck and after 17 years of not eating salads she said, "I think I like salad." Please don't abandon the salad. I for one always love the person that brings the salad!

                                                        1. I'm a fan of pork bbq but an even bigger fan of pulled turkey bbq.. It should be made a day before and I normally cook the bird on the grill or can be done in the oven. Once cooked, pull the meat off the bone, shred and mix with sauce of your choice (I make a carolina vinegar based sauce); I usually simmer the meat in a slow cooker or in a covered roaster in the oven over low heat. A simple slaw & some rolls are all you need. Most people say that it's better than pork Q.

                                                          A big pot of chicken & dumplings, beef or pork stew, chili, or your favorite soup would be good, especially now with the weather changing and can be kept hot in a cooler. Along with a ham, you could put out a couple roasted turkey breast, a pork loin or a beef tenderloin so people can slice off.

                                                          Another good salad (if you're not tired of them yet) is an antipasti salad: juilenne ham, salami, etc., some diced mozzarella and/or provolone, roasted red pepper strips, marinated veggies etc. all mixed with lettuce & whatever other veggies you'd want to add to an antipasti platter marinated overnight (toss with the lettuce at the last) & served in a bowl with maybe some garlic crostini which can be made the night before and kept in a zip lock.

                                                          Finally, if you've got a chafer, who can resist mac & cheese; can also be done in a slow cooker...you'd probably want to make alot since it's so popular you might run out! If you want to elevate it to the next level, add some peas & carrots, broccoli or diced beef to it.

                                                          1. A big tray of fried chicken!!!! Or, I would make buffalo style wings..and carrots/celery

                                                            1. If I were a college football player I'd want a big tub of King Ranch casserole. I also really like the pork stew idea. Or a smoked turkey breast with a bunch of home made rolls and chipotle mayonnaise.

                                                              1. don't know if this appeared already, but pulled pork is cheap can be made ahead and usually gets devoured. i make a savory, rather than sweet, version. braised in beer and oj, with lots of onions and garlic.

                                                                and why not make dessert? cakes are easy and impressive, or a big pan of brownies come together in a snap.