The return of mini ravioli

This is a tale about mini ravioli. Once beloved, then lost and now found again.

When my son was a little boy he only ate white things – white bread, mayonnaise, mashed potatoes and pasta. Specifically, fresh mini ravioli made by Buitoni. Specifically. It was the only thing he knew how to make himself and he ate it almost every day. No, that’s a lie. Every day. I realize that if I wasn’t before, I am now a candidate for Worst Mother In The World. But the boy was a stick and it didn’t seem to do him any harm.

But I did not realize his emotional attachment to tiny pillow-shaped pasta. One day I came home from the grocery store and he went through the bags looking for the mini ravioli. It was not there. “Where’s my mini ravioli?” he asked in that slightly squeaky voice that boys who are about to reach puberty exhibit. “They didn’t have any,” I told him. “Publix has stopped carrying it.”

I’ll let Noah pick up the story as published in a Facebook poast.

I was devastated. I was, in fact, so offended that 10-year-old me confronted the manager of Publix and demanded that they stock my beloved mini ravioli. It briefly worked, but only briefly.

I remember this vividly. Naturally, because he was 10 years old, he was forced to ask me to drive him to the Publix. But I decided this was a lesson in self-reliance and I made him negotiate the entire process of seeking out the manager and requesting the return of the mini ravioli himself. And, yes, he did demand it. Kind of pushy for a 10 year old but I was proud of him.

Twelve years later, Noah is an adult. A college graduate. A fine cook with a sophisticated palate. I sent him to the Publix for some things I needed. And he came home with this:

Mini Ravioli

Now it’s called ravioletti, but it’s the same stuff. Maybe Buitoni lost the mini ravioli name because they were convinced Noah was still after them. But, no, he hasn’t gone away. And he doesn’t care what they call it.

Noah Mini Ravioli

Can you see that 10-year-old boy in there somewhere? I can.


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Pounding the Preacher

The parishioners of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church just ooze hospitality.  Recovering from surgery? We will break down your door to bring you a casserole. Need a ride to the doctor? We practically create a traffic jam getting to your house. We might as well run around with pineapples hung around our necks we’re so hospitable.

We are getting an interim rector to temporarily replace our beloved Father Bob. It’s an Episcopal thing. Priests, usually retired, specialize in shepherding the flock for a period of time while a new rector is chosen. And we have ours now. The Reverend Dr. J. Wesley Smith and his wife, Christina, moved into the rectory yesterday. And we were ready for him.

We revived an old custom called Pounding the Preacher – bringing our new spiritual leader a pound of this and a pound of that to stock his larder before he moved in. And this should give Father J. or Father Wesley or whatever he desires to be called an indication of what he has gotten himself into. As usual, we did it excessively. I hope we didn’t scare him off.



Seriously. Really. Nothing succeeds like excess. Wait until the reception after his first Sunday preaching. We have glass plate receptions and silver platter receptions. This will be a silver platter situation. The man has no idea.

I made my award-winning-in-my-own-mind Chicken Divan for the Pounding so the Smith’s would have a nice home-cooked meal on their first night in the rectory. In a disposable aluminum pan. That is the first rule of hospitality when it comes to banging down the door with a casserole. Never make the recipient wash a dish and have to return it.  We have many more rules. Iron-clad rules. But you have to know the secret handshake to get them.


Chicken Divan
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
  • 1 Rotisserie chicken
  • 2 cans cream of chicken soup
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • ½ teaspoon curry powder
  • Shredded Cheddar cheese
  • Milk to thin
  • 1 10-ounce package frozen French-cut green beans, thawed
  • 2 pouches Trader Joe's frozen organic brown rice
  • 1 cup Panko bread crumbs mixed with 2 tablespoons melted butter
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Remove the chicken meat from the carcass and shred it. Reserve.
  3. Mix together the soup, mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice and curry powder.
  4. Add the cheese, combine thoroughly and add enough milk to thin the sauce.
  5. Microwave each rice pouch according to the package directions and put in the bottom of a casserole dish. Sprinkle the green beans over the rice. Mix the chicken in with the sauce and top the green beans. Finish by sprinkling the bread crumbs over the top.
  6. Bake for about 30 minutes.


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Music City Food and Wine: My Top Picks

Oh, I am so depressed. Almost suicidal. They let me in to the Disneyland of Food for two days and then shut the gates for almost a year. The Music City Food and Wine Festival has become one of the premiere food events in the nation in just two years. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have put on our big boy pants.

Fantastic demonstrations by world-famous chefs like Jonathon Waxman, Masaharu Morimoto, Michael Symon, Tyler Florence and Aaron Sanchez who then walk among you and exchange pleasantries. Regional chefs like Ashley Christensen, who is about to become a superstar, so approachable that when we told her we were going to make her tomato recipes that night, she gave us some heirloom tomatoes. And food by Nashville chefs who can hold their own with anyone in the nation.

Fueled by a wee bit of world-class wine, I grazed at the tables of 28 local chefs and I admit I grazed more than once at a few of them. It was all fantastic, but in the interest of time here are my Top Picks for best food at this year’s festival.

Butter Poached Lobster with Popcorn

Butter Poached Lobster with Popcorn by Kayne Prime

OMG. So simple and yet so delectable. The lobster was perfectly poached and then the popcorn soaked up all that lobster butter goodness. I went back four times.

Smoked Wagyu Short Ribs with Brussels Sprouts Slaw

Smoked Wagyu Short Ribs with Brussels Sprouts Slaw and Butternut Puree from Mason’s

This was my first taste of Wagyu beef and I went back multiple times. I hope that is not frowned upon.

Noodles with Sesame Chile Sauce and Cured Egg Yolk by Otaku South

Noodles with Sesame Chile Sauce and Cured Egg Yolk by Otaku South

I’m a sucker for noodles. This was one of Noah’s favorites because of the spicy chile sauce.

Duck Meat Loaf with Peach Jam from Etch

Duck Meat Loaf with Peach Jam from Etch

Seriously. The meatloaf was packed with spicy flavors. I could have eaten the whole meatloaf but I refrained.

Shaved beef, horseradish and green tomato jam on cornbread by The Capitol Grill

Shaved beef, horseradish and green tomato jam on cornbread by The Capitol Grill

Chef Tyler Brown has the coolest chops, literally and figuratively. He used beef from his own Double H Farms to make these delectable open-faced sandwiches. I love this dude so much that we dined on his food for Noah’s 21st birthday.

French Toast with Poached Pears from Sinema

French Toast with Poached Pears from Sinema

By the time I got to this little gem, I was literally too full to eat another bite and I gobbled down the whole beautiful piece of sugar-crusted French toast and a wine-poached pear.

Martin's Bar-B-Que and Friends

Martin’s Bar-B-Que and Friends

And how can you not love Pat Martin, who set up a cornucopia of grilling equipment, invited all his chef friends to help and turned out mass quantities of pork, chicken, fish and vegetables for two days. Well done, sir. Well done.

Yes, the tickets are expensive at $150 a day.  But the food, the instruction, the fun, the wine- so worth it. And this…priceless:

Noah with Morimoto

Noah with Morimoto

Noah started watching the original Iron Chef with me when he was a little boy. Because of Morimoto, he became fascinated with Japanese culture and food. He’s an advanced sushi eater and he got to watch Morimoto teach a primer on sushi. Money well spent.


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Filed under appetizers, beef, eggs, pasta, pork, sauces, snacks

Food nerds on parade

John Besh, Tim Love, Aaron Sanchez...and me!

John Besh, Tim Love, Aaron Sanchez…and me!

I pretend not to notice when Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman are at my local Starbucks. I barely register a second glance when I run into Faith Hill and Tim McGraw at the Waffle House. I once stood next to Alison Krause at the check-out counter at an Indian restaurant and didn’t even know who she was (somebody told me later).

But here I was at the inaugural Music City Food and Wine Festival last year clamoring to wedge myself into a photo with John Besh, Tim Love and Aaron Sanchez. It’s embarrassing, really. Nerd. And I meticulously photographed everything I ate. Here’s The Catbird Seat’s take on bacon and eggs – thyme-infused custard with Benton’s bacon:

Bacon and Eggs NERD.

But I won’t be alone in my nerdiness this year. My son, Noah, and my good friend, Mary Ann, are coming with me. We will be nerds on parade.

I met Mary Ann in possibly the most unusual way ever. Back a few years ago, I became part of an all-girl competition BBQ team, Chicks in Charge, with two other friends. And I was discussing this on a BBQ bulletin board on the web when a complete stranger said she’d like to join the team.  Why the hell not? It was Mary Ann.

Me with Tatty and Mary Ann picking up a prestigious award in Mobile.

Me with Tatty and Mary Ann picking up a prestigious award in Mobile.

We did pretty good in our first contest in Mobile, something like 14th out of 70 teams. The team has since disbanded, but my friendship with Mary Ann has endured. There are very few people I would ask to spend $300 for tickets, plus airfare from Washington, D.C., to come to Nashville to eat all day and fawn over Food Network stars. I just love that girl. There are also very few people I know who are starstruck by Masaharu Morimoto, who will be at the festival. No, not Mary Ann. This guy:


Noah has been watching Morimoto since he was on the original Iron Chef and Morimoto is going to demonstrate how to make sushi, Noah’s favorite food. Nerd. Noah, not Morimoto.

Of course, I’m obsessing about all food all weekend since you never know. We might get hungry after a non-stop day of eating. So I’m laying in some steaks from The Butcher Block and vegetables from the Farmer’s Market and snacks like pub cheese, marcona almonds and designer olives from the Fresh Market. And I already have some mini croissants for Saturday morning, just to get those digestive juices flowing.

And I have not given this advice to Mary Ann and Noah yet, but I will. Wear your fat pants.


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Portobello Patty Melts with Comeback Sauce

Patty Melt 1

So bad and yet so good. A patty melt is just a hamburger on a piece of bread, but when you add comeback sauce to it…well it’s that whole new level thing.

Comeback sauce was invented in Mississippi and the name says it all – it’s so good you’ll want to come back for more. Down in Mississippi, they use it for sandwiches, salad dressings and just as a dip for something equally sinful like fried pickles.

I made this gut bomb of the hamburger world for my friends at Char-Broil. Hop on over and take a look. I think you’ll want to come back for another.

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Cholula Roasted Baby Potatoes

Cholula Roasted Potatoes

I’m pretty proud of my kiddo, Noah, on a number of levels. He’s a smart cookie who just graduated from UT. He knows how to work a crowd. He is compassionate towards those who need a hand up. He’s funny. That counts for a lot. Funny. I am also proud that he is becoming a really good cook, no qualifiers.

Noah's getting to be a grill master, too.

Noah’s getting to be a grill master, too.

Noah started cooking in high school. He was particularly noted for his extremely greasy quesadillas. He must have made them 67 times, always with way too much butter or oil. I worried for a bit that he’d never get beyond that stage, but he did. He got beyond the “too much salt” phase and the overcooked meat stage and the “way too much hot sauce” phase. Noah is a Hot Head and he loves his chiles. But he’s learned to calm it down a bit.

This is his recipe for Cholula Roasted Potatoes. I would not put a recipe on this blog for anything I didn’t love. Yes, there’s hot sauce in there but somehow the roasting process tames it. Cholula is a relatively mild hot sauce and has a nice fruity finish. I’ve now asked him to make this recipe twice and will again.

Cooking, to me, is more than a way to sustain life. It is a passion and a joy. It is the ultimate expression of love and friendship. Come to my table and let me feed you, body and soul. I pity the young adults who live on take-out pizza, ramen and Sonic. I get it that cooking may not be their thing, but I’m so proud it’s Noah’s.

Cholula Roasted Baby Potatoes
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
  • 1 ½ pounds baby Dutch yellow potatoes
  • 2 teaspoons Cavender’s All-Purpose Green Seasoning
  • ¼ cup Chili Garlic Cholula hot sauce
  • ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat it in the oven for about 15 minutes.
  3. Cut the potatoes into 1-inch pieces.
  4. Add the potatoes, Cavender’s, Cholula, olive oil and pepper to a bowl and mix thoroughly.
  5. Carefully remove the hot baking sheet and add the potatoes, spreading into an even layer.
  6. Roast for 15 minutes and then drizzle the potatoes with more Cholula. Continue roasting until the potatoes are tender and browned, approximately another 15 minutes.


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American Grilled: Defeated by an egg

The four of us

I look down at my hands. They are visibly shaking. I can barely hold the third cigarette I’ve smoked in two minutes or get a firm grasp on the bottle of beer I’m chasing my smokes with.  It is nine in the morning on a cold rain-soaked spring day in Memphis and I have just discovered what it feels like to compete in a timed reality cooking show. Honestly, it doesn’t feel good.

I hate what I made. I’m embarrassed at my lack of creativity. I should get the ax immediately. Oh, Lord, please let me last another round.

American Grilled is a Travel Channel show about grilling. I know all about grilling. I get paid to do it. I am competing against three guys half my age. That I even made it to this show is a friggin’ miracle. Maybe they were going for the geezer demographic. I’m okay with that. I’m here and hundreds of other applicants are not.

First round: Smoked bologna and red cabbage

I made a list before the competition of about 450 items native to Tennessee that the producers might choose for this show. Bologna and cabbage were not on the list, but there they are under the lid of the mystery grill. Shit. The boys and I got a quick 60-second tour of the “larder” – everything from spices to dairy to, yes, beer we can use to create our slap-dashed ill-thought-out 20-minute recipes. Okay. I’ll just say mine was slap dashed and ill thought out. I couldn’t see what those boys were doing.

Those boys. We awkwardly met two days before at the first producers’ meeting. Clint Cantwell is a pro – the editor of Grilling.Com. Blake Carson owns a skewer company as in the skewers they use to grill meat in Argentinian restaurants. And Kevin Jacques is more of a backyarder like me. The first day of shooting – starting at 7 a.m. – should have been, well, shooting but constant tornado warnings and torrential downpours had the four of us either huddled under an E-Z Up or sitting in the Hampton Inn hotel lobby across the street.

The show staff confiscates our phones. There’s nothing to do but talk to each other. We talk. And talk. And talk. Hey, this is kind of like the longest cocktail party you’ve ever been to but without the cocktails. The hotel staff feels sorry for us. They give us free breakfast. After eight hours and a thorough review of each other’s life histories, the director calls it a day and we retreat to our hotel without a single frame shot.

Another shot American Grilled

Twenty minutes is like 20 seconds:

From my perspective, here’s how the first round went. I lug the five-pound chub of bologna back to my station, which is about four feet wide. I turn to get my knife and the chub falls on the ground right in front of the cameraman who will be in my face the entire time. I expect him to be a good Southern gentleman and pick it up for me but I quickly realize that there are no social graces in reality TV. And no crying, either. I decide to cut the bologna into strips to make “croutons,” season them with BBQ rub and flash grill them on this incinerator thingie at the end of the grill. Put them on, turn around to cut the cabbage, turn back and they are burned. Shit. People are going to see this on national television. Shit.

All I can think of to do with the cabbage is make some ridiculously uninventive coleslaw. I am an idiot. Why did I think I could do this? I grill the cabbage, slice it up and make a quick citrus dressing. This sounds inventive, at least to me.

Five minutes. I don’t even have plates out yet. I make a second try at the croutons, pile the dressed cabbage on the plates, top them with the bologna and think, “My god, this just sucks.”

We present our dishes to the judges. No crying. Put on a happy face. Sell that sad, lifeless plate of cabbage and bologna. SELL IT. The judges are professional chefs. I understand as my faux chirpy upbeat explanation of my “dish” is coming out of my liar-liar-pants-on-fire mouth that they are just not buying it. And, unlike me, they were born yesterday.

Back in the tent. Beers all around. What the hell. Let’s just inoculate ourselves with some amber liquid courage. There’s a saying in our family: Whatever the situation, no matter how dire, if you can get a joke and a story out of it you’re all good. We’re laughing, somewhat hysterically, me and the boys. We’ll get a story out of this.

We are called out to one of our executions. We stand before the judges.  And it’s not my name they call. It’s Kevin. And because I know now after eight hours of camaraderie that as the director of residence halls at the University of North Alabama he has hilarious stories to tell, that he has a lovely wife and precious little boy, that we share many of the same competition BBQ circuit friends – I am just sad. Just like in grade school, I want all of us to get a ribbon.

Round two: Pork belly, moonshine and sorghum.

The lid goes up and it’s three things I had also not put on my extensive list. A massive pork belly, probably at least 10 pounds, a jar of sorghum which I am ashamed to admit as a Southerner that I have never used and cherry moonshine.

And my mind is completely blank. Not a wisp of a thought in there. Breakfast for supper. Pork belly is just bacon on steroids. I’ll make breakfast for supper.

Grab potatoes, onions and peppers. Slice the potatoes, throw them in foil packets and get them on the grill. Put the peppers and onions on the grill. Slice a few strips off the pork belly and heave the rest of it on to the ground. Yes, on to the ground. I realized during the first segment there is no room on that blasted small station. Brush the pork belly with sorghum to kind of/sort of/maybe resemble pig candy and hurl it on the grill. Massive flames. Just like the ones I would like to jump into right now.

The moonshine tastes like cough syrup. Grab some strawberries from the larder, throw them in a pot on the grill, add some of the moonshine and some vinegar to smooth out that awful taste. I shall call this a strawberry moonshine compote.

At the end of the round, Clint comes back to our little tent with a third-degree burn on his thumb from grabbing a hot skillet bare handed. He genuinely looks like he’s about to cry. Mustard. Get me some mustard, I tell a producer. It’s good for burns.

Back to the firing squad. I hear some vaguely encouraging words from the judges and then this from the head judge, David Gaus. “I wish you would have put a fried egg on top of the hash since you’re calling it breakfast for supper.” Oh, oh. I would like to think that I thought of a fried egg, but rejected the notion because that’s not grilling. But it never entered my mind.

And I am out. And, honestly, slightly relieved. It does not occur to me until the long ride back to the hotel that it is my birthday today. I am 62 years old.  And I didn’t embarrass myself, except in my own mind. I didn’t quit. And I didn’t cry.


Clint won, as he should have. He smoked us all. He made corn cakes on the grill. He made bacon-wrapped bologna. He made a barbecue sauce with the moonshine that the judges were licking off the plate. Well played, sir.

The judging was imminently fair. The producer/director was kinder than he needed to be. The production staff was warm and encouraging. For two days only the boys and I were “talent.” Would I do it again? Honestly, I’m not sure. Childbirth was less stressful. But I’m glad I got to do it once. And, yes, I would add the damned fried egg to the hash.




Filed under bacon, eggs, pork, veggies

Smoked bologna and red cabbage – American Grilled

Competitors This is what four schmoes who said “what the hell” when invited to compete on the Travel Channel’s American Grilled look like after the first 20-minute challenge. Not a pretty sight.

It was 9 a.m. in the morning, our hands were shaking so badly we couldn’t write down the ingredients of our dishes and we’d just invited ourselves to steal some of the beer meant for the contest for a little liquid courage. The producers appeared not to notice that “the talent” was drinking. Without regret.

Despite the seven-page confidentiality agreement, I can now talk just a little about the first ingredients since two commercials are out that reveal them.

I had compiled a long list of traditional Southern ingredients that might be in the competition and I can honestly say that smoked bologna and red cabbage weren’t on there. This despite the fact that I’ve eaten smoked or fried bologna sandwiches all my life and I buy red cabbage at the farmer’s market almost every week. You do not understand the level of fear that surfaces when you are confronted with a 5-pound chub of bologna.

My episode with my barbecue band of brothers – Kevin Jacques, Clint Cantwell and Blake Carson – airs next Wednesday on the Travel Channel. I believe my 5-year-old granddaughter, Sydney, will be watching her Nana compete. I hope I didn’t drop the F-bomb.


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Squash casserole (don’t hate me)

Too much squashWe are a little dim in the South. You know that old saying from Edmund Burke, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”  We do that every year. We plant squash.

We have been doing this for hundreds of years. As I said, we’re a little slow down here. In late April, it seems like a good idea. One plant. A few pounds of yellow squash, just for a squash casserole. Let me just say that anything, even one plant, that produces a vine is trouble. Here’s how the season goes.

April: Ah, spring. Time to get our hands dirty and grow our own vegetables. I will put the squash plant off to the corner of the garden so as to minimize its naturally invasive  nature.

May: The tomato plants next door to the squash plant become visibly upset as the squash plant has now turned into ground cover and is creeping slowly but confidently straight for them.

June: I move the tomato plants to the other side of the garden. It is my only hope of a tomato sandwich as the squash vine has now encircled them and is heading toward the peppers.

July: Well, I don’t really like peppers anyway. They have succumbed to the squash vine, which is now approximately the size of Delaware.

August: The squash are ready to harvest – all 10 acres of them. That is a substantial accomplishment considering I have a 10-by-12 foot garden. I make my squash casserole in a 9-by-9 inch pan. I need approximately six squash for this. That leaves me 857 squash to creatively give away. It starts with subtle subterfuge. I tell the neighbors, “I have a little extra produce from the garden – would you like some?” They know this is code for she’s going to try to force 10 grocery bags of squash on us. They do not make eye contact and politely refuse.

Church. I will take the squash to church. It will only taken seven trips.  If I go after dark, leave it on the steps of the parish hall and run quickly away no one will be the wiser. NO! God will know what I’ve done and who knows if that’s one of those things that’s a deal breaker in the afterlife. Squash dumper. Murderer. Rapist. It may be all the same to Him.

As I said, we are a little slow down here. This sad story repeats itself each and every year and it’s multiplied by the fact that we are all growing squash like it’s our birthright as Southerners.

Squash CasseroleSo here is my squash casserole. There are two schools of squash casserole makers – those who prefer the squash chunky and those who like it as a more homogenous part of the casserole. I am in the latter camp  so I grate my squash. There is also a divide between grated Cheddar cheese and Velveeta. I think you know where I stand on that.

5.0 from 1 reviews
Squash casserole
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
Summer on a plate -squash casserole made with Velveeta and a buttery cracker topping (euphemism for Ritz Crackers).
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cups seeded grated crookneck squash
  • ½ medium Vidalia or other sweet onion, diced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 ounces Velveeta, cubed
  • 24 Ritz crackers, crushed and divided
  • 1 egg, beaten
  1. Melt the butter in a sauté pan and add the squash and onion. Season with salt and pepper. Saute over medium heat until the squash begins to brown.
  2. Put the squash and onions into a bowl and add the Velveeta cubes. Then add ⅔ of the cracker crumbs and the egg. Mix thoroughly.
  3. Put squash mixture into a casserole dish, sprinkle with remaining cracker crumbs, and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.



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Filed under casseroles, cheese, sides, veggies

Grilled Filipino adobo chicken wings

Filipino Adobo Chicken Wings 1My beloved Tennessee Volunteers will take the field once again a week from today. We are going to battle Utah State and I believe we will prevail. It’s been a tough few years to be a UT fan. I will not disparage the two worst ever in the world coaches who got us into this pickle, but I’m counting on Butch Jones to get us out of it.

King Daddy and I always watch the games in separate rooms. I cannot stand the yelling. When Noah was little he actively became afraid of football because of the screaming at the screen. Normally, King Daddy is a very composed individual, but not on UT game days. He watches in the den and I watch in our bedroom and when he hollers at the TV I can still hear him. Chardonnay helps. With both the yelling and, in the past few years, the games.

But I always do football food in the hoped-for spirit of victory. This has backfired on me more than once since the more the game deteriorates so does King Daddy’s appetite. One game last year, I couldn’t even get him to try the hot Rotel, Velveeta and Tennessee Pride Sausage dip. The man loves his hot cheese and sausage dip (he can take or leave the Rotel since tomatoes are a vegetable – actually a fruit, but that’s another discussion).

By the way, the first game of the year is on a Sunday. I take that as a sign of divine intervention because we’re going to need a lot of that this year. I will be making Char-Broil’s Filipino Adobo Chicken Wings. You will be alarmed when you see what they’re marinated in, but I guarantee they will cure even the most forlorn UT fan. The recipe is over on the Char-Broil LIVE site. Go on. Get on over there and you can thank me later.

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Filed under appetizers, chicken, snacks