Miss A Columnist

Allison Cunningham is somewhat of a rolling stone, and a bit of a culture vulture. Growing up in Houston, Charlotte, and Maryland, she obtained her Bachelor's degree at Oklahoma State, and a Masters in London before spending two years on Capitol Hill. After finding her Southern Prince Charming, Allison resided in Charleston, South Carolina, but is now back in the rat-race working on the Hill. She is the former Vice President of Social Affairs for the Oklahoma State Society of DC, and is very involved in her Hill-Centric social life, filled with events, parties, receptions, and happy hours.

Sophisticated Southern Tailgate Tips

As I mentioned in my previous post about football fashion, different places have different traditions when it comes to football. I learn more and more by each new school I visit, but one thing is for sure: now that I’ve officially reached my “Late-twenties”, I can’t party like a college kid any more. There are certain behaviors one shouldn’t engage in at my age, even on a game day. Pairing this realization with my well-documented love of food, I thought this would be a perfect way to investigate more refined ways to tailgate.

I wanted to ask an expert, so I contacted long-time-friend and Gourmet aficionado, LaDonna Cullinan, of LaDonna’s Fancy foods. LaDonna has been seen in the news lately giving advice on making cheese and wine parties an accessible, affordable event, so I thought she would be the perfect person to ask about more refined food in a less-refined environment. Though cheese and crackers may seem more sophisticated than beer and hot dogs,  with weather considerations, I knew LaDonna would have the answers to questions most of us might not think of when planning the perfect tailgate menu.

What foods would you suggest for a tailgate and why?

Believe it or not a tailgate can be as sophisticated as you want. There is absolutely nothing wrong with beer. It actually is much easier to pair cheese with than wine. Seems like everything goes with beer. That being said, I would stick to finger foods first and foremost. Rather than hamburgers, hot dogs and chips,  I would go ribs and Fried Chicken.  Cheese is great – you can make things with it or just slice/cube it up and serve it – no refrigeration necessary – the easiest, tastiest appetizer on the planet. Coleslaw and potato salad work great. Then you can do hummus with veggies instead of chips. Maybe a salmon dip with crackers. Fun (school themed decor) cupcakes, brownies might be fun for dessert…or perhaps fried pies you make ahead!

Are there any temperature considerations involved?

If it’s really hot, you sure don’t want to leave things sitting out without something to keep them cool. – Ice Packs are an easy way of keeping things cold without water dripping into your food. They’re not that expensive and they are reusable. We normally always have them for free, because we get so many in shipments.

Do you have any recipes that fare-well if you prepare them in advance?

One of my favorites is Blue Cheese Coleslaw. Sophisticated and delicious, and works well with a plastic fork and paper plate! Buy a package of cole slaw mix (14oz), buy a package of broccoli cole slaw mix  and toss them together. Cook a 4oz. package of thin sliced Pancetta…dice it up and toss into the cole slaw mix. Crumble 4 oz. blue cheese (I like Pt. Reyes Original Blue best for this salad). The dressing is 6 oz. Hellman’s mayonnaise, 1 Tbs. honey and 2 Tbs. red wine vinegar. Toss all together. The broccoli slaw mix keeps it crunchy – so you don’t have to worry about it getting soggy. Just mix it up before you leave for the tailgate. You can even put the dressing in a jar and pour it on last minute.

What supplies would you suggest for a sophisticated tailgate?

Stick with paper plates and plastic utensils. Just get good quality! You don’t want to clean up any more than you have to – that’s not what you are there for! You could even do bamboo plates that are disposable and very sturdy. A little pricier, but hey we’re wanting sophisticated! We have wine and cheese totes with school logos on them as well as Beer/Soda Totes that hold a six pack cans or bottles. Take fabric napkins, they’re easily taken home and washed the next day. You could also do wine glasses that you would normally get for your pool – sturdy, unbreakable and you can take them home to wash the next day. But, perhaps harder to find this time of year than early summer – depending upon where you live.

Which wines would you suggest for these types of snacks?

Go to your favorite liquor store and find your favorite sales person. Tell them you are tailgating with 50 of your very best friends in the world. You don’t want to serve swill, but don’t want to go broke either. It’s a tailgate, not a sit down intimate dinner. They will help you find the best wine for the buck. If you’re doing white meat/fish – go white wine. If beef or game, red wine. For cheese the basic rule of thumb is soft cheese, white wine – hard cheese, red wine. Normally, most folks don’t care. They have a preference for what kind of wine they like and that’s what they drink.

For the colder months, is there anything specific you would recommend in terms of warmer  foods, beverages, etc?

Take some really good hot chocolate…we have great ones to choose from, that you add milk to. Don’t go with the water added kind. Then get a good bottle of peppermint schnapps. Maybe a can of spray whipped cream to top it off. That sounds like a party drink to me, and it’ll warm you up for sure! Perhaps add some peppermint sticks to add an extra bit of flavor.

The best thing about these products is that you won’t be stuck with left over hot dogs or hamburgers for the next few weeks. If you find yourself with extra cheese dip (based on experience, this is highly unlikely, as most of LaDonna’s recipes are addicting), you can always invite your girlfriends over for a wine and cheese night. And those rubs you had for the meat, those are perfect for spring barbecues as well. If you’re finding that you’re the attending a tailgate but don’t want to come empty-handed, consider a custom-made gift basket, filled with delicious goodies the hostess can serve that day, or at another equally chic event.

For information on recipes, cheese tips, or to order from LaDonna, visit www.ladonnasonline.com

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