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Great taste, no matter who you cheer for . . .

(ran TNP edition)

What's a great tailgating party without a strong finish?

And we're not talking about the scoreboard here.

We're talking desserts.

Joyce Grant is known for her banana split pie. Chris Fulmer enjoys wowing the 50-plus members of his Ultimate Tailgaters crew with his candy bar meltaways. And Kathy Louthian spreads her child-friendly picnics and desserts such as sour cream pound cake on the lawn.

"With children, you have to accommodate," Louthian said.

Slices of pound cake are easy to pick up, and children lap up the sweet cake.

For Grant, the banana split pie is "a real crowd-pleaser." She especially likes serving it at homecoming games.

"I make a great big pan of it, and they love it," she said.

And for Fulmer, the dessert decision is just one of many that his tailgating group makes each summer.

"We plan it out so we don't get 13 dips," Fulmer said of the menus for each of the University of South Carolina games, home and away.

Each event features a different menu, including a live lobster fest offered by some Massachusetts tailgaters that Fulmer's group befriended several years ago.

"That's turned out to be one of our big deals," Fulmer said. Last year, 80 people showed up for the event.

But we digress. Lobsters have little to do with dessert, though they certainly are delectable enough to stand alone.

Nina Swan-Kohler of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, longtime recipe developer and author of Tailgates to Touchdowns: Fabulous Football Food, recommends doing dessert up big, just as with the rest of the menu.

Carry out a theme with the dessert and don't be bashful, she said. The effort will pay off because it will make the party more memorable.

"Why not have fun with the food as opposed to just picking something up at the grocery store?" Swan-Kohler said.

Use team colors for decorating. Make cookies into football shapes. Dream up fun names that highlight the game to be played.

Swan-Kohler learned how important these extra steps are to guests when she started serving football-shaped spicy sugar cookies.

"I would have probably thought, "I don't really need to make those football cookies. The guys don't really care about that,' " she said. "It's not true. The guys comment about that all the time.

"It's not just a froufrou girl thing."

Swan-Kohler also recommends desserts that can be picked up easily, as opposed to messier, harder-to-serve sweet endings.

But Grant encourages tailgaters simply to get into the spirit of things and not worry too much about rules.

Handheld foods can be easier, but when someone has a special dessert she makes, that's what friends look forward to.

"People tend to do their best" for these special gatherings, Grant said, and that's what makes them fun.

In the end, Swan-Kohler said, what matters most is that "people will talk about it, "Remember the time when so-and-so did this?'

"Sometimes just the littlest extra effort makes a huge impact."

Peanut Butter Yummies

1 package graham crackers, finely crushed

1 pound powdered sugar

2 cups peanut butter

1 cup butter, divided

1 cup jam, any flavor

12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

Combine graham cracker crumbs, powdered sugar, peanut butter and cup butter by hand until blended. Press into an 8- by 8-inch square pan. Spread jam on crumb mixture. In small saucepan, combine remaining cup butter and chocolate chips; heat until melted. Spread over jam. Refrigerate for 1 hour and serve in small pieces or squares. Makes about 36 squares, or 18 servings.

Nutritional information per serving: calories, 626.8; protein, 10.5g; carbohydrates, 77.4g; total fat, 34.5g; cholesterol, 29.1mg; saturated fat, 13.7g; dietary fiber, 3.8g; sodium, 490.8mg; sugar, 36.1g; vitamin A, 100.9 retinol equivalents; vitamin C, 0mg; calcium, 28.2mg; iron, 2.5mg; alcohol, 0g.

Source: "All that Jam," Hollee Eckman and Heather Higgins (Shadow Mountain, $12.95).

Game Day Apple Cake

For cake:

1 package yellow cake mix

1 cup sour cream

{ cup oil

1 package vanilla instant pudding

4 eggs

For filling:

2 cups sliced apples (Granny Smith)

} cup sugar, divided

{ cup chopped nuts, divided

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine all cake ingredients. Place half in a greased bundt pan. For filling, mix apples, { cup sugar, \ cup nuts and cinnamon. Place on top of cake mix. Place remaining batter on top of filling. Sprinkle with remaining sugar and nuts. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes, until cake pulls away from pan slightly. Makes 16 servings.

Nutritional information per serving: calories, 295.3; protein, 4.2g; carbohydrates, 44.5g; total fat, 12.3g; cholesterol, 59.3mg; saturated fat, 3.5g; dietary fiber, 1.7g; sodium, 217.1mg; sugar, 15.2g; vitamin A, 55 retinol equivalents; vitamin C, 2.2mg; calcium, 55.5mg; iron, 0.9mg; alcohol, 0g.

Source: "Southeats: Tastes and Tales of Championship Tailgating."

Oatmeal-Apple-Cinnamon Bars

1 package (8.1 ounces) cinnamon-raisin or apple-cinnamon muffin mix

2 cups old-fashioned or quick oats

cup butter or margarine, melted

cup honey

\ cup packed light brown sugar

1 tablespoon milk

cup prepared apple butter

{ cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In medium bowl, stir together muffin mix, oats, butter, honey, brown sugar and milk. Reserve 1 cup of oat mixture; press remainder into 8- by 8-inch baking pan coated with cooking spray. Spread apple butter over crust. Stir nuts into reserved oat mixture; sprinkle over apple butter. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until bars just begin to brown. Makes 16 servings.

Nutritional information per serving: calories, 197; protein, 3.5g; carbohydrates, 29.3g; total fat, 8g; cholesterol, 15.2mg; saturated fat, 3g; dietary fiber, 1.9g; sodium, 107.5mg; sugar, 8.9g; vitamin A, 41.1 retinol equivalents; vitamin C, .6mg; calcium, 22.2mg; iron, 0.9mg; alcohol, 0g.

Source: www.whitelily.com.

Oatmeal-Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground allspice

\ teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

\ cup granulated sugar

3 tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 cups quick-cooking rolled oats

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Remove from heat and reserve. In a small bowl, sift or stir together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat eggs with a whisk or fork until blended. Using a wooden spoon, mix in sugars. Add melted butter and stir until mixture is smooth. Stir in maple syrup and vanilla; stir in flour mixture. Stir in rolled oats and chocolate chips. Dough will be thick.

Scoop up tablespoon-sized dollops of dough and place on nonstick baking sheet, spacing dollops about 2 inches apart. (The cookies will spread while cooking.) Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and let sit for a minute or two on baking sheet to firm up. Then, using a spatula, transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Store cookies in airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days. Makes 36 cookies, or 18 servings.

Nutritional information per serving: calories, 297.7; protein, 4.1g; carbohydrates, 37.5g; total fat, 15.2g; cholesterol, 52.6mg; saturated fat, 8.7g; dietary fiber, 2.1g; sodium, 226.4mg; sugar, 21.3g; vitamin A, 112.8 retinol equivalents; vitamin C, .1mg; calcium, 33.3mg; iron, 1.6mg; alcohol, 0g.

Source: "The Working Parents Cookbook" by Jeff and Jodie Morgan (Chronicle Books, $22.95).

Rich and Chewy

Honey-Peanut Butter

Cookies

1 cup pure clover honey

1 cup creamy or chunky peanut butter

cup shortening

2 large eggs

3{ cups biscuit and baking mix

1 cup granulated sugar

\ teaspoon baking soda

Additional granulated sugar for rolling

In mixing bowl, beat together honey, peanut butter, shortening and eggs until well-blended.

Combine baking mix, 1 cup sugar and baking soda. Add to peanut butter mixture and mix well.

Chill dough for at least 1 hour.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls and roll in additional sugar; place on cookie sheet coated with nonstick cooking spray.

Flatten slightly with the bottom of a smooth glass dipped in sugar; make an indentation using a football-shaped cookie cutter (available at www. footballfood.net).

Mark the laces in the center of the football with a knife.

Bake at 375 degrees for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 5 minutes; remove to rack to cool completely.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies, or 30 servings.

Nutritional information per serving: calories, 178.7; protein, 3g; carbohydrates, 21.5g; total fat, 9.8g; cholesterol, 14.2mg; saturated fat, 2.1g; dietary fiber, .6g; sodium, 126.4mg; sugar, 16.3g; vitamin A, 6.4 retinol equivalents; vitamin C, 0.1mg; calcium, 10.2mg; iron, 0.4mg; alcohol, 0g.

Source: "Tailgates to Touchdowns: Fabulous Football Food" by Nina Swan-Kohler (Swan-Kohler & Associates, $18.95).

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