Somewhere along the line, tailgating picnics got indelibly identified with football games. Summer, however, is the perfect time to rescue this very efficient entertaining format for other good party times.
Cookbook authors Joanne Lamb Hayes and Bonnie Tandy Leblang also suggest tailgating for baseball games, tennis matches, mountain trips or even the beach. This is but one of the many good suggestions in their handy book "The Weekend Kitchen" (Harmony Books).
The two writers wisely observed that the hectic week begins to wind down Friday evening; that's when family life and leisure time begin to meld together. Thus the first chapter in the book is devoted to Friday evening menus; the book goes on to Saturday mornings, Saturday evenings and so on.
The Southwestern tailgate party neatly fits into the "Saturday Midday" section. Consider the baseball game idea. Why limit yourself to the overpriced and predictable fare sold in the stadium? If you choose to take along your own meal for autumn football games, why not also in the summer? You have total control and can put together a much more refreshing menu than any concessionaire would bother with.
Equally practical is a tailgate party at the beach. Why spread out your carefully prepared food on a sandy blanket? No matter how careful you are, sand will find its way into the coleslaw. Count on it.
Lots of finger food is the hallmark of a good tailgate picnic, with only the main dish requiring a plate. The Southwestern-flavored menu proposed in "The Weekend Kitchen" has plenty of pickup food, portable na
chos (with two dips) and/or Gulf Coast shrimp to begin with.
Desserts also are nibbled -- fresh fruit, meringue cookies and almond macaroons. As a real tribute to summer, white sangria is poured for the picnic and Mexican coffee tops it off.
The main part of the tasty meal comprises jicama salad and black bean-spiced chicken-and-avocado fajitas.
Helpful tips that accompany each menu are cleverly presented in the margins. So you are advised to pack the sangria and ice separately in vacuum bottles to avoid diluting the wine-based drink. That may seem obvious, but not so apparent is the suggestion of packing a long-handled pickle fork to retrieve the fruit from the bottom of the bottle.
And no, you do not have to go out looking for Mexican coffee beans. You are instructed to make your favorite freshly ground coffee, but add one teaspoon of cinnamon to the grounds before brewing for each six cups of coffee. Some Kahlua can be added to each cup as the coffee is poured.
Nachos, a great favorite any time, come with two dipping sauces that carry out the Southwestern theme. The tip given for making the tomato salsa is to use Italian tomatoes because they are meatier. To remove as many seeds as possible, cut the tomatoes into quarters and shake out the seeds while gently squeezing or remove them with a spoon.
Start with 1 (8-ounce) bag yellow corn tortilla chips and 1 (8-ounce) bag blue tortilla chips.
.` Here are recipes for the dips:
Yields six servings.
2 large ripe tomatoes, chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
L 1/2 (4-ounce) can chopped green chilies (mild or hot), drained
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 to 4 drops Tabasco
Several hours before serving, combine all the ingredients in a plastic container and refrigerate until ready to use.
Yields six servings.
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded mild Cheddar cheese
Just before ready to serve or pack for tailgate, combine milk and flour in 1-quart saucepan. Bring mixture to boil over medium heat, stirring constantly until smooth. When mixture has thickened, stir in cheeses and continue cooking just until cheeses are melted and mixture is smooth.