Sunday, February 25, 2018
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Step out of the batter's boxready toparty

Going to a picnic this afternoon? Last-minute barbecue? • Have no idea what you're going to bring? • (Kind of figured that, since you're reading this instead of cooking or chopping or peeling or paring.) • We've come to your rescue, and we brought reinforcements. We traipsed over to Tropicana Field and brought back some suggestions from players of the game that is as American as apple pie and hot dogs.

If any of the Tampa Bay Rays do gather today for a Fourth of July event, it might have to be a late one. They take on the Yankees at the Trop this afternoon at 3:10.

Manager Joe Maddon was the most eager to share a recipe — sausage and peppers. His dad was Italian (their name used to be Maddoni) and his mom is Polish (she still works as a waiter at the Third Base Dugout restaurant in Hazleton, Pa.), so he knows good food.

"It makes my mouth water just thinking about it," he said.

Designated hitter Hideki Matsui added an international flair via his translator, Roger Kahlon.

His Japanese was translated to onigiri, rice balls or triangles wrapped in seaweed with something — like salmon or plum — stuffed in the center.

Elliot Johnson said he'd bring chocolate-covered almonds, though he fretted about them melting in the heat. Pitcher Jeremy Hellickson deemed himself the fruit guy: "I'd take watermelon and strawberries, my two favorites."

So, if you find yourself suddenly in need of a dish to share today, you can always take a suggestion from one of the players. It'll be a conversation starter, if nothing else.

For something a little more traditional, we offer these tried-and-true crowd pleasers at right — ordered by how much time you have to prepare — that use common and/or few ingredients.

6 hours to picnic time

(Recipes below)

1. Not Your Ordinary Mac 'n' Cheese: Make from scratch or doctor a box mix.

2. Ice Cream Sandwich Cake: So fancy, they'll never know its origins.

3. Corn Pudding: It's a little heavy, but deeelicious.

4. Sweet and Sour Meatballs: The Crock-Potting takes the time for this easy recipe.

5. Party Potatoes: There's a reason this recipe has been around forever: When you take these potatoes to a party, you never bring any home.

4 hours to picnic time

1. Pistachio Pudding (or variations)

What you'll need: 2 boxes instant pistachio pudding, 4 cups milk, 1 regular-sized tub whipped topping and a can of crushed pineapple in its own juice

Make pistachio pudding as directed. Gently stir in whipped topping. Even more gently, stir in the can of drained pineapple.

No pistachio? Make your own combo. How about vanilla pudding, whipped topping and sliced bananas in a dish lined with vanilla wafers? Or chocolate pudding and raspberries?

2. Noodles and Cabbage

What you'll need: 1 pound of bacon, a package of pasta (bow-tie or your favorite), a small head of cabbage

Cut the bacon into half-inch slices and fry. Dump out some of the grease, keeping as much as you can in good conscience. Then chop up or, even better, grate the cabbage and fry it with the bacon until tender. In another pan, cook the pasta as directed (al dente). Drain and put it back in the pot, pour the bacon-cabbage mixture over it and mix well. Salt and pepper to taste. It's a crowd favorite.

3. Rotisserie Chicken Salad

What you'll need: a rotisserie chicken, mayo, cranberries

Cut or pull the meat off the bone in bite-sized pieces, discarding the carcass and the skin. Put it in a bowl. Add low-fat mayo to desired consistency and then sprinkle in some dried cranberries. That's the basic recipe. Add whatever else strikes your fancy, perhaps almonds or celery.

4. Tostados Con Frijoles Negros y Queso Fresco (Refried Black Bean Tostados)

What you'll need: vegetable oil, corn tortillas, canned refried black beans, grated Parmesan and grated queso fresco (find it in the refrigerated section)

Heat a saute pan over medium heat. Add a generous splash of vegetable oil and fry the corn tortillas on both sides two at a time until you get as many as you need. Place the fried tortillas on paper towels to drain excess grease. Heat a can (or two if you need) of refried black beans over low heat, adding a splash of water to get to spreadable consistency. Take the tortillas, beans and cheeses to the picnic. Once there, spread a thin layer of warm refried beans on each tortilla and sprinkle with the cheeses. Simple and scrumptious.

5. Thai Salad

What you'll need: 1 package ramen noodles, 1 bag shredded cabbage, ⅓ cup vinegar, 2 to 3 tablespoons of sugar, almond slivers, 2 tablespoons olive oil

Cook the ramen noodles, drain. Put in bowl and mix with vinegar, sugar and the noodle seasoning packet. Add cabbage, slivered almonds and olive oil. Refrigerate until you leave.

2 hours to picnic time

1. Chili Dip

What you'll need: 1 package cream cheese, 1 can chili (no beans), 8 ounces cheddar cheese, tortilla chips

Flatten a softened package of cream cheese in the bottom of a glass pie plate. Top with chili and then sprinkle with shredded cheddar. Put in 350-degree oven and bake until edges bubble (15 minutes or so). Stop and get a bag of tortilla chips for dipping.

2. Buffalo Chicken Dip

What you'll need: 2 packages cream cheese, ¾ cup hot sauce (i.e. Frank's Redhot Buffalo Wing), 3 cans chunk chicken, 1 cup ranch dressing, 2 cups cheddar cheese

Melt the cream cheese in the hot sauce in a pan on the stove. Add the rest — except 1 cup of cheddar. Put in a Crock-Pot to keep warm and sprinkle the remaining cheddar on top. Serve with tortilla chips.

3. Chex Mix Puppy Chow (a.k.a. Muddy Buddies)

What you'll need: 1 box rice or corn Chex (9 cups), 1 cup chocolate chips, ½ cup peanut butter, ¼ cup butter, ¼ teaspoon vanilla, 1 ½ cups powdered sugar

Put cereal in large bowl. Melt chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour over Chex cereal, put into a large plastic bag with powdered sugar and shake well to coat. Spread mixture evenly on wax paper and allow to cool. Take in covered plastic container.

4. Mexican Grilled Corn

Not much to do at home. You cook it on the grill when you get there. (Recipe below)

5. Champagne Punch

What you'll need: 1 bottle of Champagne, 2 cups cranberry cocktail juice, 2 liters of ginger ale, 1 package frozen raspberries

Mix all ingredients, add a little ice. Serve over ice.

Grab and go

Okay, you don't have time to fix anything. We get it. At least buy something good or unusual when you screech into your local market.

1. Watermelon: You can never go wrong and you can never have too much. Just make sure it's cold.

2. Chicken McNuggets: Make sure you buy enough. Overbuy, even. And then put them on the table and run before you get trampled by small children.

3. A bottle of white wine: A hot day calls for a cold and refreshing — and a little sweet — thirst-quencher. A Moscato or Riesling would be a fine choice.

4. Ice cream cups: Most ice cream treats are too risky, but these little self-contained servings of ice cream that we all loved as kids are pretty safe to tote if you have a cooler in the car.

5. Spread the love: Grab a large order of your favorite takeout from your neighborhood hangout — barbecue wings, specialty pizzas, a 10-pack of tacos, refried rice. Chances are if you like it, so will everyone else.

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