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Help - Dinner Club Theme- American Tailgate..Done Upscale

My dinner club theme has been decided. American Tail gate party. Ugh. Everyone in the group is Canadian except the fellow who picked the theme. I'm beginning to think that our Mr. USA member is trying to set up us for failure!

So stereo-typically I would think you would serve beer and hot dogs, but I need something waaaaaaaaaay more upscale for this crowd. The typical 'go to' dish is not what our dinner club group is about. We strive to try to introduce some new foods, or do a special 'take' on an old classic, or at least make the presentation super-cool.

To make matters much worse for me, I am designated to bring side dishes only!!! That means veggies, salad, starches and bread. I have no clue to where to begin to take this theme to another level! I hope my Chowfriends, particularly any american tail gaters will be able to shed some light on this. I would love to hear any suggestions you have, as long as they fall into Tailgate: veggies, salad, starches or bread.

Maybe that is Mission Impossible?!? Let's hear what you got US ChowPals!


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  1. TSAW, we here are rabid tailgaters and do like to mix it up by serving things that are a bit more complex than just the old hot dogs and beer, although the beer or thermoses of mixed beverages are utterly neccessary to a Real Good Time Being Had By All - that is, if you're us. You certainly haven't got an impossible mission on your hands, so start by considering what kind of cooking facilities or implements will be available to you for on-site work. I'm assuming a decent-sized grill, yeah? What about grilling assorted marinated vegetables - thick slices of onion with tarragon, thick sliced tomatoes with basil, topped off with a drizzle of vinaigrette, asparagus, zucchini......beautiful and delicious laid on a platter with some grilled bread. You could do an upscale potato salad; instead of marinating in vin. before adding mayonnaise, try marinating the potatoes in a bit of white wine, then blending. You might consider bringing in some cultural staples: Baba ganoush, tabbouleh salads, hummous bi tahini, etc - don't know how much of that cooking you all eat there, but it's worth a shot.

    The nature of the tailgate is casual dining. You can certainly upgrade any plebeian ingredients that you use, but it sounds like since only one of your group is conversant with the tailgate party on a personal level, whatever you choose to do is going to be somewhat exotic. For desserts, you can grill fruits, stone fruits especially, and serve w/ a caramel or dulce de leche dip with it, along with cookies. One of my favorite pre-game desserts is an enormous bag (or two) of Mallomar cookies; nobody remembers them, but everybody loves them and it's kinda such a tacky thing to do that it's almost classy.

    Most important: with enough ice and coolers, you can do SO much of the prep. at home, and can transport just about anything in ziplocks to be assembled at the parking lot.

    Enjoy. If he IS setting you up, well hey, just meet the challenge and blow his natural mind.
    Finally - use the search function here to enter "tailgate." You'll be amazed.

    1. Some things I've made in the past at these type of events:

      Red, white & blue potato salad - use a mix of potatoes, red skin, white & blue Peruvian. You can mix however you want, and my secret ingredient is usually pickle brine poured on the potatoes while still hot. Gives it a lot of flavor.

      Orzo salad with roasted bell peppers, kalamata olives & feta

      If you can get good avocados, you might try grilling them lightly first, then making up a guacamole with them & some salsa, and get some red & blue tortilla chips

      Baked beans in a crock pot is super easy, can even use canned and dress them up with some chopped onion (cook it first before putting in slow cooker), chili powder & cumin, and yellow mustard.

      You can also do killer garlic bread - slice a large loaf of French or Italian bread in half lengthwise, spread with softened butter mixed with softened Boursin cheese. Wrap in foil and put on a hot grill.

      Macaroni salad is all American, you can dress it up by using a nice noodle shape like penne, and use chopped hb eggs and bacon, pickled red onions, baby spinach or arugula leaves & chopped parsley added at the end. Or add some sliced grape or cherry tomatoes to it, again, just before serving. Dress a garlicky ranch dressing, bottled is fine.

      You can also do cubed fresh fruit on skewers with a honeyed yogurt dipping sauce.

      I also really like Mama C's grilled veggie platter. Hope that helps!

      3 Replies
      1. re: Phurstluv

        Hey HEY, Phurstluv: on the bread tip? is it about a 50:50 ratio with the boursin? Sounds delicious and easy.
        Note to OP - part of the fun of the tailgate is in the casual feel of the event. Any food can be dressed up or down to fit your parameters......seriously, if your group was into pheasant under glass, that could be arranged, but in that context it sounds very awful to me. I love the idea of upscaling the casual vittles to fit the bill, but as I noted before, the theme is already exotic to your bunch, so the food probably will be too.

        1. re: mamachef

          Hi Mama C! Yes, I do about fifty fifty ratio. It is super easy, and hard to mess up, since Boursin is mostly butter anyway!! And you can always sprinkle with grated parm as well and broil it openfaced. It is delicious, and everyone will wonder how you made it so GOOOOD.

          1. re: Phurstluv

            Well then, I guess everybody WILL be wondering at our next tailgate, since I plan to do exactly this. And it can be "our" little secret. : )

      2. I kind of feel like the task here isn't to make really good tailgate food, but to make good food that makes one thing of tailgate. How about riffing off buffalo wings by making a buffalo salad: Mix diced celery, diced carrots, chickpeas, red onion and romaine lettuce with crumbed blue cheese and a vinaigrette using Frank's Red Hot to capture the buffalo flavor?

        2 Replies
        1. re: katecm

          I love your salad idea, but the OP does state that he wants to make really good, upscale tailgate food.

          1. re: katecm

            Katecm. Wanted to let you know I made your idea on the buffalo salad for some vegetarian friends. Called it 'buffalo wingless' salad. I cut the carrots and celery like tiny stix and roasted the chickpeas so they were a little crunchy. Big hit! Thanks Chowfriends for inspiration.

          2. TSAW How about a muffaletta sandwich or a variation thereof? From my experience, a round loaf works better than an oblong as far as slicing. The olive salad on a muffaletta is traditional, but I often use basil pesto on top and black olive tapenade on the bottom. Use a generous mix of good meats and cheeses (mortadella with the pistachios). Roasted red peppers are a bit slippery but delicious. Wrap, weight overnight in the fridge, slice when you get to the venue.

            If you don't want it meat-centric, use the roasted vegetable idea from the other posters and layer them like ratatouille in a bun. Cheese, of course, OO and/or pesto to moisten.

            1. TSAW - another couple of ideas:

              Homemade corn bread, or corn muffins
              Baked potato bar - bake as many potatoes as people, line them on a sheet pan, rub each skin with a little oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Takes about an hour at 350, unless you have a lot of them, it may take longer. But when they are done, wrap in foil and put in an insulated carry all. Then take the fixings with you, already prepped - chopped bacon, shredded cheeses, sour cream, chopped chives, steamed & cooled broccoli florets, etc. Whatever you desire. Then you just need to set it out in dishes, with the potatoes waiting in your bag.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Phurstluv

                Wow. Great ideas everyone. Thanks so much. It's going to be so hard to decide now!

                The weather is expected to be only about 40F, maybe 50F is we're lucky! So I'm not looking forward to that. Maybe that's the reason we don't do much tailgating here!

                Thank you everyone for the crash course on tail gating. I appreciate it! I think my American friend is going to be pleasantly surprised!

                Thanks again all!

              2. Well to me tailgating means primarily grilling, though it doesn't have to be only that. I love the grilled veggie suggestion - I really like grilled zucchini, yellow squash, peppers and onions. That can be done on skewers or in grilling baskets. Grilled asparagus is a family favorite here, and I also like grilled Brussels sprouts, and grilled Caesar salad too! Grilled breads and flatbreads are great too. I recently grilled some fingerling potatoes with rosemary and garlic, and they were great. Frying is another thing I've done for tailgating; obviously, the possibilities are rather endless there. Some sort of a bean dish as well, maybe black beans, pintos, whatever you like, and whatever seems to compliment the main dishes. Many of those can be made ahead and then heated or finished on a grill or portable stove.

                1. Any clues as to what "mains" will be on the menu? For me it's easier to come up with sides that are related to the other items on the plate.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: KatoK

                    no clue on the mains. It's all 'top secret' until the meal. It's made for some interesting combinations at past dinner clubs. Unfortunately, I don't think I will have any access to a grill unless I had a portable one, which I don't and won't be buying for this 'one time' thing. So anything I do will be pre-prepped at home and brought to the site.

                    1. re: TSAW

                      No grill? I retract most of what I said ;-)

                      1. re: TSAW

                        A tailgate consists of securing parking spots near the stadium approximately 5 hours before game time, your friends joining you at surrounding parking spots, tables, chairs and grills being pulled from the vehicles and set up. Some people who bring food to cook on their grills, some people bring ready to eat at room temperature food, some people (I call them bachelors) bringing ready to eat food (cole slaw, potato salad, fried chicken, chips, pretzels and canned dips) from the grocery store. There is lots of alcohol and eating by grazing, usually re-using the same disposable plates and utensils. All of this is done until game time, when everyone packs everything into their respective vehicles and goes into the stadium to watch a game for at least four hours. In other words, one long day.

                        It sounds like you are having a potluck picnic. Plan your foods that way. Salads, bean based casseroles, chips and salsa, finger foods. Items which won't go bad in heat and taste good if not heated or cooled.

                        1. re: Cathy

                          I do get the very basic idea of tailgating and what to do and what to expect. Would you believe in our city, our football stadium holds 40,000 people. Parking spaces are reserved for season ticket holders only but they don't have half enough spaces. So if you decide to buy a seasons ticket this year, you go on a wait list and hope to start tailgating in about 7 years. Seriously!! People lucky enough to have a spot do tailgate there, but they don't do it up quite as big as in the US.

                          A big thanks to Chowfriends for getting me up to speed and giving me lots of inspiration! I have so many great ideas now.

                          1. re: Cathy

                            And then come back after the game and eat some more while the parking lot empties out :) lol

                      2. Here is a macaroni salad that is a favorite. I always double it to take to gatherings. Very easy and very portable.

                        Sour Cream Macaroni Salad

                        I have absolutely no recollection of where this recipe came from. I just know I have made it for years and years.
                        1 8-oz package elbow macaroni (2 cups uncooked)
                        1/2 - 1 cup diced green pepper
                        1/4- 1/2 cup sweet pickle relish
                        1 T grated onion
                        2 – 3 red pimentos

                        1/2 cup mayonnaise (I use Miracle Whip for this salad)
                        1/2 cup sour cream
                        1 1/2 t salt
                        1/4 cup milk
                        Pepper to taste

                        2 hard boiled eggs, chopped
                        Cherry tomatoes

                        Cook macaroni for 11-14 minutes or until tender. Rinse with cold water and drain.

                        In a large bowl combine green pepper, pickle relish, onion, and pimentos; mix well. Add macaroni.

                        In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, milk, salt and pepper and blend well. The dressing will seem thin at first. Pour over macaroni and mix well. Sprinkle chopped eggs on top. Chill for several hours.

                        Before serving, garnish with whole cherry tomatoes.

                        Serves 6 – 8.

                        1. i have made this dish a few times to bring to such occasions (tailgating) and it was greatly enjoyed.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: smilingal

                            These are really good - have made for many bbqs and always a success.

                            1. re: Siobhan

                              thanks - yes, I too, have enjoyed the success!

                          2. Could you do crostini with different toppings that riff on tailgate foods? Like roasted potatoes, dill, bacon crumbles, and creamy vinaigrette (potato salad)... sausage, tomato-onion chutney and spicy mustard (brats)...shredded beef, sharp cheddar, roasted pepper, cilantro (carne asada)... chopped chicken, diced celery, hot sauce, bleu cheese crumbles (wings). Put stuff on toasted bread or inside tortillas for wraps. You could even go Dodger Stadium and make sushi. Hope you're a smashing success!

                            1. I would make ABTs ...that would blow them away!

                              4 Replies
                                1. re: Siobhan

                                  The ABTs I think LaLa is referring to are "Atomic Buffalo Turds" Jalapenos stuffed with cheese and in our house wrapped with bacon and baked: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/20...

                                  1. re: maplesugar

                                    I was....if you google it there are hundreds of recipes. People go crazy for them!

                                    1. re: LaLa

                                      Tell me about it! When I make PW's version for a football game I always double the recipe and they're gone almost immediately.

                              1. i think the baked potato bar is an excellent idea! then to dress it up,you could have some upscale toppings: fried pancetta, roasted asparagus, homemade creme fråiche (i just made some so it is on my mind today), smoked cheddar... mmmm.

                                if you're looking for a good southern item to take, i LOVE a good, vinegry texas caviar!

                                1. I would love to hear about the creative drink alternatives!!! Can't forget those!!! LOL With Alcohol of course!!

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: smilingal

                                    i was at a birthday party saturday night of a "good ole boy" and they served something called a bourbon slushie. i don't know the exact recipe (the person who brought it is going to get me the recipe) but was told it is lemonade, iced tea and bourbon. it is frozen solid-ish for 3 days! and then you add ginger ale. it was SO DARN GOOD!!!! i usually make mango mojitos or sangria for parties, but i think that the bourbon slushie is going to be at my next party!!! :)

                                    1. re: raygunclan

                                      ohhh -that sounds good - I have only made two signature drinks for parties- one is a great champagne punch and the other - cherry mojitos. Would love that recipe if you can share it!