The thermostat may still read summer, but when fall arrives, it's football season.
Which means putting out a game-day spread that's easy to make ahead of time so you get to the more serious business of the day.
Admittedly, I never watched much football in America or paid much attention to the football games when I lived in France, either -- and by football, of course, I mean soccer, a game that has always seemed more interesting to me simply because of the outfits -- so I'm a little in the dark on the game particulars no matter where I am.
In France, as far as I know, le foot never included any sort of pregame tailgate party, or even a gathering of friends for an all-afternoon soiree. In fact, when I went to the movies in Paris, I hardly ever witnessed anyone eating while watching the film. Which is typical. In France, food -- and dining together -- is an occasion in itself. The only thing I saw people eating on the street was the end of a baguette.
I don't claim to know much about football, but I love the idea of a party, no matter what the occasion. Melty cheese dip and tortilla chips are fine -- and I've certainly eaten plenty -- but to celebrate this year's football season, I wanted to come up with a menu that was a bit more meaty, yet as simple to prepare as a microwavable dip. Or just about.
So I thought: pulled-pork sliders, little barbecue-ish sandwiches with sweet jalapeño-spiked pickles, and a bacon-potato salad that's a lot like one my mom used to make. Food that's as filling as you want it to be, because those games can go on (and on). Plus a dessert that's fun and not fussy: ice cream sandwiches -- easy to make and even easier to eat.
With a spread like this, I could surely become a football fan. Anywhere in the world.
Is it time for kickoff yet? PULLED-PORK SLIDERS
Makes 15 to 20 sliders
For the sliders:
1 heaping teaspoon ground mustard
1 heaping teaspoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 12 pounds pork shoulder
15 to 20 small buns or rolls
Sweet jalapeño-spiked pickles (recipe follows)
For the sauce:
1 cup ketchup
14 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 heaping tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
12 teaspoon black pepper
1 large clove garlic, minced
A few dashes Worcestershire sauce
A big pinch cayenne
Mix ground mustard, smoked paprika, salt, pepper and brown sugar in a bowl, then press all over the pork shoulder and place in a glass baking dish. Cover and refrigerate for an hour or two, or overnight.
Heat oven to 300 degrees. Cook pork for 4 to 5 hours, or until the pork is tender and pulls apart easily. While the pork is still warm, shred it with a fork.
Make the barbecue sauce: Put all ingredients in a saucepan and let cook for 10 minutes, stirring until all of the sugar has dissolved. Pour some of the sauce over the shredded pork and toss until well covered.
To serve, fill the slider buns with pork and top with sweet jalapeño-spiked pickles. Serve the rest of the sauce on the side.
Note: If you've made this in advance, to reheat the meat, simply place in a glass dish, cover with foil and warm through in a 200-degree oven for 30 minutes or so.
Nutritional analysis per slider, based on 15: 351 calories, 18 grams fat, 21 grams carbohydrates, 24 grams protein, 59 milligrams cholesterol, 617 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 48 percent of calories from fat.
SWEET JALAPEÑO-SPIKED PICKLES
Makes about 18 ounces
1 (16-ounce) jar dill pickle slices, drained
2 heaping tablespoons pickled and chopped jalapeños, with about 1 cup
of the juice from the jar
1 cup sugar
Mix together pickles, jalapeños and sugar. Refrigerate overnight.
Serve with pulled-pork sliders.
Nutritional information per 1-ounce serving: 49 calories, trace fat, 12 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, no cholesterol, 337 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 1 percent of calories from fat.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 12 pounds potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, cut into 3-inch chunks
3 pieces bacon, cooked till crispy and crumbled
2 green onions, chopped
1/3 cup Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons good mayonnaise, such as Hellmann's
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Sea salt and pepper
Heat potatoes in a large pot with salted water. When it reaches a boil, turn down heat and let simmer 15 to 20 minutes or just until tender. Roughly smash them, with a hand masher or fork, making sure to leave large pieces.
While the potatoes are cooking, make hard-boiled eggs. Place in saucepan, cover with water and heat. When water reaches a boil, set timer for 10 minutes. When done, rinse eggs in cold water, then peel and chop.
Add chopped egg, bacon and green onions to potatoes.
Whisk together Greek yogurt, mayo and mustard, and fold into the potatoes. Taste for seasonings. Serve warm or cold.
Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 4: 270 calories, 11 grams fat, 32 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams protein, 114 milligrams cholesterol, 220 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 37 percent of calories from fat.
ICE CREAM SANDWICHES
Makes about 25
My friend Barie Pinnell (who, like me, lived in France for a number of years) served these ice cream sandwiches for dessert one night at her house in Bernalillo, N.M., and she called them "Texas macaroons" -- which was totally fitting because, one, they're bigger than a traditional French macaroon, and two, because it's so hot in the summer in Texas, an ice cream sandwich instead of a meringue cookie filled with ganache is far more appropriate. This recipe is an adaptation of recipes from Barie and the owners of Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco.
2 2/3 cups flour
2 cups unsweetened cocoa
4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 pound (4 sticks) butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 pints of your favorite ice cream (I used Talenti raspberry sorbet)
Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt, and set aside. In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugars until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating a minute or so between each addition.
Add flour-cocoa mixture, mixing just until it comes together.
Refrigerate dough for 2 hours, or until firm. Place racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and scoop out 2-inch balls of dough, leaving 3 inches between them. Flatten the dough with your hand so each ball is a 12-inch-thick disc.
Bake both sheets (on top and bottom racks) for 5 minutes, then switch them, making sure to rotate the pans, too. Bake for another 5 to 6 minutes, or until the cookies are slightly cracked on the surface and feel dry and slightly firm in the middle -- you're going for a flat cookie. Cool for a minute on the baking sheet, then transfer to a rack. Let cool completely and store in an airtight container.
To make the sandwiches, let ice cream soften so it will spread easily. Then spread about a scoopful on each cookie and top with another cookie. As you assemble these, put them in a large plastic zip-top bag and place them in the freezer. The ice cream sandwiches need to freeze for at least 2 hours before serving.
Note: You may freeze the cookie dough to make sandwiches later. Simply scoop dough balls and place in a zip-top bag. When you're ready to bake, let them warm up a bit so you can press down the dough (per instructions).
Nutritional analysis per sandwich: 329 calories, 19 grams fat, 41 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams protein, 75 milligrams cholesterol, 456 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber, 48 percent of calories from fat.