Super snacks for the Panthers’ big day

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 2, 2016

By Deirdre Parker Smith

Keep pounding! But don’t wear yourself out getting ready for the biggest sporting event of the year.

Look for a theme or just go with what you know your friends will enjoy. There’s not a whole lot of food that is Panthers blue, and if there were, you probably shouldn’t eat it.

And there’s a rule for Super Bowl Sunday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. — no “hardcore” tailgating at the game: no barbecues, smokers or grills. No open flames, no tents or other shelters, no spilling outside the lines of your parking space, which will cost between $80 for a car and $250 for a bus. And you likely won’t be getting an invitation to the NFL Tailgate Party, which has an intimate crowd of 10,000.

Outside the stadium, you can find Gameday Plaza, serving NFL-approved (sponsor-supported?) foods.

Levi’s Stadium has plenty of food vendors, including hot dogs, burgers, international foods, ice cream, barbecue, pizza, a tap room with 42 different draft beers, wine and a pub.

A hot dog there will set you back $7 during a regular-season game. Prices may go up on Super Bowl Sunday. Bag of M&Ms, $6;16-ounce beer, $10.25 or more — these prices were listed in 2014 and have not been updated.

With tickets scarce and wildly expensive, jacked-up air fares and outrageous hotel prices, why not stay home and watch it on the big screen TV you got on Black Friday?

A party is no fun if the cook is worn out, and the big game brings big expectations and big appetites.

Think about flavor, quantity and finger-ability — stick to finger foods that don’t require a lot of utensils. Maybe you have to have wings, or maybe you’re looking for an alternative. Buffalo Tots are a great choice, smothered in sauce, one-bite easy and good dipped in anything.

Pigs in a blanket? Try something even easier — corn muffin dogs.

Add something a little dressy, stuffed mushrooms, and you’re ahead of the game. Then you can buy potato chips and dip, corn chips and salsa or cheese cubes, pre-sliced veggies with ranch and you’ve got a spread sure to fill your guests.

Preparing these three recipes took very little time. The tots and the stuffed mushrooms cook at the same temperature and can be cooked together.

Buffalo Tots

1 bag tater tots

1 bottle Frank’s Red Hot sauce or Bufflo Wing sauce

4-5 stalks celery

Prepared ranch or blue cheese dressing or dip.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees, per package directions. Liberally spray baking sheet with cooking spray, or grease well with butter. Remove tater tots from bag and toss with 1/3 to 1/2 cup hot sauce or wing sauce. If desired, melt 4 tablespoons butter to mix with sauce. Spread tots on baking sheet and cook 15-20 minutes, until crispy.

Meanwhile, cut celery into 3 to 4 inch sticks and put dip or dressing in a separate bowl to serve with hot tots. Sprinkle with blue cheese crumbles, if desired.

The absolute easiest way to make these mini corndog muffins is to buy a package of corn muffin mix and a package of skinny hotdogs, such as Nathan’s. You want a small hot dog to fit in the mini muffin tin. One package of muffin mix will make 12 mini muffins, with a 1 inch piece of hot dog in each.

If you’re feeling more ambitious, this recipe makes 48 mini muffins.

Corndog Mini Muffins

1/2 cup melted butter

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 cup cornmeal

1 cup flour

1/2 tsp. salt

8-10 all beef hot dogs, cut into 1-inch bites

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray the mini muffin tin well with non-stick spray. Combine butter and sugar in a bowl, then whisk to combine. Add eggs, then whisk to incorporate. Add buttermilk and whisk.

In a separate bowl, mix baking soda, cornmeal, flour and salt and stir to combine.

Stir the flour mixture into the wet ingredients in two batches and mix.

Spoon 1 tablespoon batter into each mini muffin cup. A 1-inch scoop is just the right size. Place one hot dog bite into the middle of each cup.

Bake 8-12 minutes or until the muffins are golden brown. Cool 5 minutes before serving. Serve with ketchup and mustard, or barbecue sauce.

Leftovers can be reheated in the microwave for 20-30 seconds.

Mushrooms stuffed with vegetables are a good way to sneak some good into your snacks.

Spinach-stuffed Mushrooms

12 baby portobello or cremini mushrooms

1/2 cup frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and drained well

2 Tbsp. sun dried tomatoes, chopped

6 ounces softened goat cheese

1 tsp. dried basil

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray.

Remove stems from mushrooms and discard.

Mix well-drained spinach with goat cheese, tomatoes and spices.

Using a teaspoon, stuff each mushroom, mounding the filling slightly over the top. Goat cheese does not spread when heated.

Bake in oven for about 20 minutes, or until browned on top. Cool for about 5 minutes before serving.