Football season has arrived, and that means it's time to think about wins, losses and what to eat during the game. We have no control over draft choices or who's calling the plays, but we can put our stamp on the tailgate party.
By tailgate, of course, we mean the food that you eat before, during and even after the game, at the stadium or in your living room.
The sub sandwich has always been a mainstay of football food. Stop by a grocery store deli just hours before a Bucs game and get in line to place your order. Subs are transportable and easy to eat because they don't require utensils. Plus, each nosher can get the combination of meat, cheese and crunchies that he wants.
Making subs at home allows you to put your own flourish on the foot-long sandwich. Add fresh herbs or garlic to mayonnaise. Pile on flavorful cheeses such as feta or Roquefort. Go beyond shredded iceberg with tender spring greens, baby spinach or peppery arugula. Pick your bread, too, from thin baguettes to soft Cuban loaves to more traditional French bread and individual rolls.
We used to be nervous about mayonnaise in take-along sandwiches, but since so many people bring coolers loaded with ice or ice packs, spoiling isn't much of an issue as long as the sandwich is as close to the ice as the beer. However, if you're traveling far — to Gainesville, for instance — you might want to pack subs that are flavored with mustard or oil and vinegar.
For at-home parties, consider making one or two super-long subs and cutting them in 2- to 3-inch lengths. That way, they are like finger food. Get sturdy rolls for your stadium sandwiches.
When making subs, aim for a good ratio of fixings to bread. Nobody likes a sandwich that's all bread or one that's so overstuffed the filling falls out with one bite. If you want to go lighter on the meat-cheese-veggies, hollow out the bread. Save what you pick out for bread crumbs or give to the birds.
The following sub suggestions are inspired by football and fueled by classic flavor combinations. Yes, you can rely on the standard lunch meat offerings, but we like the idea of starting the season on a high note. That's the time when hope springs eternal.
West Coast Offense
Spread on spicy mayonnaise then add romaine leaves. Layer on avocado slices, crispy bacon and tomato. Add poached chicken if you want more protein. (It is football, after all.) Buy spicy mayonnaise or make your own by mixing mayonnaise with a chipotle pepper in adobo sauce. Start with a little — it's quite hot — and add more as needed.
Standard turkey gets a boost here from a Thanksgiving classic, cranberry sauce. By the time the holiday comes around, you'll know if your team is a turkey. Chopped romaine or red leaf lettuce is the base for smoked turkey, Havarti cheese, whole cranberry sauce and brown mustard.
This veggie sub is all about the supporting players getting the job done. On top of shredded iceberg, load the sub with sliced cucumbers (peeled or not) and tomatoes, marinated roasted red pepper strips, sliced black olives, feta cheese crumbles, a few shakes of Greek seasoning or Italian herbs and oil and vinegar.
You'll get points for this sub whether you grill or saute the shrimp. Drizzle peeled shrimp with olive oil and sprinkle with red pepper flakes and a seasoning blend such as garlic and herb. Saute or grill until pink. Do not overcook. Add fresh chopped dill to prepared tartar sauce and use a spring greens mix for color, texture and taste. The Fair Catch is delicious warm or at room temperature.
Caramelized onions put this sandwich over the top. Lay down crisp romaine and follow it with slices of roast beef, shards of sharp blue cheese, the onions and horseradish sauce. To caramelize onions, cook them low and slow in a skillet with olive oil. To bring out the sweetness and turn them golden brown, you can't rush them. Slice onion and cook on low for about 30 minutes. This can be done the night before.
This sub is all about brawn, and that means meat. Go Italian all the way with sopressata, capicola and prosciutto, with thick slices of provolone. You won't need mayonnaise if you top it all with giardiniera, marinated vegetables. Greens? That's your choice.
A sub fit for small appetites or small hands. You could even call this a sub slider. Use small rolls and go simple with sliced chicken breast, American cheese, an iceberg lettuce leaf and mustard or mayonnaise, but not both. This is a sandwich for beginners.
A playmaker sub loaded with pastrami, Swiss cheese and mustard. If you're headed to the game, pack the coleslaw in a separate container and add just before eating.
The Salary Cap
Times are tough and fixings can be expensive. Tuna and egg salad are economical, but you can still build a winner even when you have to keep costs low. Have a bit of Parmesan in the fridge? Shred it and add to the tuna. Is that a jar of pimentos in the door? Chop and stir into egg salad. Leftover fresh herbs can be added, too, as can celery, pickles, olives and onion.
Every team has a player it can't win without, and often it's a quarterback. We feel confident that Pepper Jack will wake up the team, and your taste buds. Pair the spicy cheese with salami, pepperoni, hot peppers and yellow mustard. There will be no fourth-quarter doldrums with this hot number.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8586.