CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Football season means fabulous food to Michele Crist. She combs her sources for recipes to try on her grateful family and friends who attend her game-watching parties or accompany her to tailgates.
She's starting the season with a sizzle this year, serving the spicy foods her friends and large extended family favor. Buffalo Chicken Balls feature the flavors of chicken wings without the mess of sticky fingers or the hassle of juggling a plate of discarded bones. Crist tweaks the recipe each time she makes it and is sharing the version she considers just right.
"They're great for parties and are good at room temperature, but they don't usually stay around long enough to cool," she said.
The concept of pepperoni rolls, classic West Virginia fare, gets a zippy update with Roasted Jalapeno Rolls stuffed also with sausage and Monterrey jack cheese. Crist went out on a culinary limb with Ahi Nachos with Thai Chili Vinaigrette. She based the appetizer on the recipe shared by the Black Marlin restaurant, where her family sampled the dish while vacationing on Hilton Head Island.
She backed off the heat a bit in the sweet chili vinaigrette, so it didn't overwhelm the creamy wasabi sauce when layered on avocado and seared Ahi tuna.
Banana peppers stuffed with Italian sausage are also a longtime family favorite. She makes big batches, and then freezes them for future use. Her twenty-something nephews regularly raid her freezer for a to-go bag of peppers whenever they visit her house.
The original banana pepper bruschetta recipe was intended to be a salad, but Crist often uses it as a topping for crusty bread slices at parties.
Crist, who is the executive director of the West Virginia Broadcasters Association when she isn't hosting parties, loves to entertain. As the youngest child in a family with six children, she learned to cook with her mother, who naturally prepared generous quantities for her large family.
"All these recipes transport well, either prepared beforehand or assembled at a tailgate," she said. She'll take most of these dishes to Morgantown Sunday for the Friends of Coal Bowl between WVU and Marshall.
"I look forward to football season and love to go up to the games," she said. "You see half of Charleston up there."
She'd better make double recipes, as half of Charleston might just look for her tailgate and beg a few samples.
@tag:Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.
Buffalo Chicken Balls
Yield: 75 balls
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup Frank's Red Hot hot sauce, plus more for serving
2 pounds ground chicken
2 eggs, beaten
2 ribs celery, minced, about 1 cup
1 3/4 cups dried breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons coarse salt
Ranch or blue Cheese Dressing for Dip
Celery sticks, for serving
HEAT oven to 400 degrees. Lay sheet of parchment paper on cookie sheet or evenly coat a large rimmed baking sheet with olive oil and set aside.
PLACE butter and hot sauce in a small saucepan over low heat. Cook, whisking, until butter is melted and hot sauce is well incorporated. Remove from heat and transfer to a large bowl; let cool to room temperature, about 10 minutes.
ADD chicken, eggs, celery, breadcrumbs and salt to bowl with butter mixture. Use your hands to mix well but lightly, until well combined and the chicken is very soft.
ROLL chicken mixture into firm, 1-inch round balls and arrange meatballs in rows on prepared cookie sheet. Bake until cooked through, about 16 minutes. Do not over bake.
REMOVE from oven and let stand 5 minutes before removing from baking sheet. Place on a serving platter and drizzle with hot sauce; serve with dressing and celery sticks.
Ahi Nachos with Thai Chili Vinaigrette
Makes 30-35 strip tortilla chips
2 Ahi Tuna Filets
1/3 cup of sweet chili vinaigrette, available in Asian section of grocery store
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/3 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon wasabi paste
1 teaspoon lime juice
Picked ginger, available in Asian section of grocery store
Sesame seeds, optional
SEASON tuna with desired amount of Cajun spices and sear on both sides. Cool in refrigerator before slicing.