Game day grub: Whether you tailgate at home or at the stadium, these recipes will have you ready for kickoff

Staying at home on weekends to watch football on TV means you’ll miss the camaraderie of tailgating with thousands in a parking lot, along with hearing “Zombie Nation” blasting from the stadium speakers or the Blue Band playing “Fight on State.”

But you can also avoid inconveniences like heavy traffic – or the rain that soaked 93,000 fans at Beaver Stadium this past Saturday.

Whatever your reason for staying home, you can still get some tailgating-like action with great game-day food.

Cowboy Caviar is a regular fixture on Saturdays at the Nashville, Tenn., home of my friend, Kristen Hayes, a devout Vanderbilt fan (By the way, she said she doesn’t care for the Nittany Lions’ coach after he left her Commodores for Happy Valley two years ago).

It is a perfect salsa-like dip for tortilla chips and includes black beans and black-eyed peas.

As one Black Eyed Pea sang “Just can’t get enough,” Hayes described Cowboy Caviar as “ahhhhhmazing” and “highly addictive.”

Go ahead and try Hayes’ recipe listed below, which she got from – in case you need it for bowl games on New Year’s Day, when eating black-eyed peas is supposed to bring you good luck.

Over in the Midwest, specifically Horicon, Wisc., another friend, Matt Kollath, said game day is “all about the brats.”

He said national brand bratwurst classics include Usinger, Klements and Johnsonville, but recommends checking out local meat markets. In Blair County, Gearhart’s Country Store near Hollidaysburg promotes its brats as much as it does other area popular sausages, such as kielbasa and Italian sausage.

Kollath likes to grill his brats and put them on buns from his local bakery – “none of those mass-produced” buns, he said. Add good kraut, peppers, onions and relish, and the life-long Cheesehead was ready for the Packers’ win over the rival Bears on Sunday.

My sister in South Alabama suggested Cheese Stuffed Meatballs, a recipe she found at and one I tried this past weekend. I doubled the recipe below to get about 22 2-inch balls, and I substituted the onion powder – after I realized mine on the spice shelf had hardened to a small rock – with a small, finely-diced onion.

It’s hard to go wrong when cheese is involved, and in this case, it’s easy: Insert a small chunk of string mozzarella into the meatball before cooking either in the crockpot or oven. Place on a nice platter of your choice – mine is in Florida Gators orange and blue – and brush on your favorite sauce. I used a store-bought spicy barbecue sauce.

Co-worker Brenda Carberry of Duncansville goes all out on game day for her husband and his friends with a batch of Spicy Italian Meatballs.

She uses DelGrosso’s meat-flavored sauce, but any marinara sauce would do, she said.

Carberry generously shared the recipe for her meatballs (below), along with recipes for accompaniments that include Macaroni Salad and her special and spicy Creamy Buffalo Chicken Dip.

Carberry also uses a number of Penn State accoutrements, including mini-Penn State banners inserted in the food and tablecloths to keep all the guests in true game-day spirit.

So, get your game face on and try these out:

Cowboy Caviar


1 15-ounce can seasoned black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained well

1 15-ounce can seasoned or plain black beans, rinsed and drained well

3/4 cup frozen sweet corn, thawed

3 green onions, chopped

1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper

2 or 3 tomatoes, diced

10 jarred jalapeno papper slices, diced

1/3 cup cilantro, chopped

1 ripe avocado, chopped

Tortilla chips


1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1/2 lime, juiced

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine black-eyed peas, beans, corn, green onion, bell pepper, tomatoes, jalapenos and cilantro in a medium bowl. In a small bowl whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, lime juice, Dijon mustard and salt and pepper. Pour over bean mixture. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Just before serving, add avocado and gently stir to combine. Serve with tortilla chips.

Cheese Stuffed Meatballs


1 pound ground beef

1 cup bread crumbs, plain, seasoned, panko or regular

1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk

1 teaspoon minced garlic (or 2 teaspoons garlic powder)

1 teaspoon onion powder (or finely chopped small onion)

1 tablespoon Italian seasoning

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

3 mozzarella (string) cheese sticks

Sauce for dipping, such as marinara, alfredo or barbecue

Chop each cheese stick into half-inch pieces, about 6 to 8 pieces for each stick, and place on a plate in the freezer until ready to use.

Mix together in a large bowl the ground beef, bread crumbs, egg and yolk, onion, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Mush the ingredients together with your hands until all ingredients are mixed well.

Remove cheese from freezer. Scoop out small ball – about 4 tablespoons – of meat mixture and roll into a ball. Gently push the chilled mozzarella into the middle of the meatball and roll the ball over in your hands to cover the hole. Place inside a greased slow cooker and repeat with remaining meat and cheese.

When all meatballs are in the slow cooker (see note for alternate cooking method), cover and cook on high for 1 to 2 hours or on low 3 to 4 hours until meat is cooked through and no longer pink. The cheese may start oozing out of the meatballs; that’s OK.

If desired, sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley or dried Italian seasoning for garnish and serve with your favorite marinara, alfredo or other sauce.

Alternate cooking method: Instead of placing in the slow cooker, place meatballs 1 inch apart on a greased baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 to 20 minutes until browned and cheese is melting.

Spicy Italian


3 pounds 85-percent lean hamburger

3 tablespoons each, dried oregano, dried basil, garlic powder, crushed red pepper

1 cup Italian-style bread crumbs

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 egg

Salt and pepper, to taste

Sauce, such as marinara

Mix all dry ingredients in a small bowl. Add to hamburger, egg and onion and blend well with your hands.

Shape into meatballs and place on a cookie sheet, cake pan or broiler pan.

Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes, depending on the size of your meatballs.

Put in crockpot with sauce about two hours before gametime.

Serve on your favorite roll.

Macaroni Salad

1 1-pound box elbow macaroni, cooked, drained and cooled

12 eggs, hard-boiled, peeled, cooled and chopped

1 pint Miracle Whip salad dressing

Several teaspoons yellow mustard, to taste

Several ribs of celery, diced

Several tablespoons sweet and tangy relish, to taste

Salt and pepper, to taste

Celery salt and celery

seed, to taste

Mix all ingredients and chill.

Creamy Buffalo Chicken Dip

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened

1 cup Frank’s Red Hot

1 cup ranch salad dressing

2 cups (approximately) shredded cooked chicken breast (some people use canned chicken or rotisserie chicken to save time)

2 cups finely shredded cheddar cheese

Corn or tortilla chips

In a small bowl, combine the cream cheese, hot pepper sauce, cheddar cheese and salad dressing.

Stir in the chicken.

Spread into an ungreased 11×7-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with additional cheddar cheese, if desired.

Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 25 minutes, or until heated through.

Serve with chips.

Mirror Staff Writer Cherie Hicks is at 949-7030.