5 new plays to up your tailgate game

Tailgate food
The home team cheers the Eagles to victory at the man cave party in the Medford home of Maurice "Mo Man" Perez (left) and Lauralee Dobbins. (Donna Connor/For the Daily News)

Ok, so the Eagles haven't exactly crushed the opposition with their lackluster 1-3 start this season. But that doesn't mean that serious tailgaters have to lose their appetites.

As you look toward Sunday's home game against the Saints, forget about serving typical ho-hum fare, whether in the Linc parking lot or your family room. With a little ingenuity and some strategic plays in preparation and presentation, your game-day spread can be championship material.

Come on - no matter how low our Birds are flyin', ya still gotta eat!

During football season, the mancave at the Perez/Dobbins casa, in Medford, N.J., is a hive of activity. Lauralee "Lolly" Dobbins and her husband, Maurice "Mo" Perez, recently returned to their home in Jersey after four years of working in the D.C./Virginia area. To say that they're glad to be back in the Garden State is like saying the Eagles' offense needs some work.

Typically on game day - a tradition that Dobbins and Perez have been thrilled to revive - they host a gang of 12 to 25 high school and college friends and neighbors in the basement-turned-retro-mancave of their otherwise traditional suburban home.

The room is outfitted with five TVs of varying vintages "so everybody can watch their favorite team," said Perez. Does he have to mention that the biggest flat-screen is always reserved for the Eagles?

Dobbins, who runs her Write Touch Public Relations business from home, admits that she's not a die-hard football fan, but she loves feeding a crowd and always amps up her game, be it a dish humble or haute.

While a typical tailgating spread is usually rib-sticking fare, Dobbins can't help but tweak even a basic menu of burgers, brats and beer-can chicken. For last week's loss against the Redskins, she served chili fit for a winning season.

Consider upping your game with these Super Bowl-worthy football feasting recipes.

The classic tailgate drink: Bloody Mary The upgrade:

A Dirty Mary, with Dirty Sue Premium Olive Juice and up-the-ante garnishes.

Why the upgrade matters: "Some people just dump vodka and tomato juice or prepackaged Bloody Mary mix in a glass and call it good," said Philly native Eric Tecosky, founder of Dirty Sue, a specialty olive and olive-juice company. "With the Dirty Mary, the key is using fresh ingredients to build a batch of Bloody Mary mix from scratch."

The secret to this Dirty Mary is Dirty Sue premium olive juice, herbaceous Penn 1681 Rye Vodka from Philadelphia Distilling and a touch of seasoned salt. Also, the garnish game has to be tight, with blue-cheese-stuffed olives and jalapeno-stuffed onions for flavor that is anything but ordinary.

DIRTY MARY

6 ounces Dirty Sue olive juice

1 ounce Tabasco

3 ounces Worcestershire sauce

3 teaspoons celery salt

3 teaspoons Lawry's Season Salt

3 teaspoons black pepper

1 ounce hot horseradish

60 ounces quality tomato juice

1 bottle Penn 1681 Rye Vodka

Blue-cheese-stuffed olives

Jalapeno-stuffed onions

Mix all but the last three ingredients in a large pitcher and stir.

Pour 4 ounces of the mixture and 2 ounces Penn 1681 Rye Vodka into an ice-filled shaker.

Shake to mix, pour in glass and garnish with olives and onions. Serves 12.

Source: Eric Tecosky, Dirty Sue

Classic tailgate dish: Chili

The upgrade: A toppings bar and an all-vegetarian alternative.

Why the upgrade matters: "Why be average?" said Dobbins. "This way everybody can have it their way - and the presentation is eye appealing and fun. It's also super easy [and] looks great but takes very little time to pull together."

MANCAVE CHILI, JERSEY STYLE

1 pound kidney beans

1 pound black beans

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 to 2 large onions, diced

5 large cloves garlic, smashed

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 yellow bell pepper, diced

1 orange bell pepper, diced

2 jalapenos, seeded and diced

2 pounds ground beef

2 pounds ground pork

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin

4 24-ounce cans of diced tomatoes

2 tablespoons chili powder

2 teaspoons cumin

4 chipotle chilies in adobo, chopped

The day before the game: Rinse kidney and black beans and place in a nonreactive bowl. Cover with cold water and soak overnight.

On game day: In a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat and saute the onions, garlic, bell peppers and jalapenos until softened, about five minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.

In the same pan, brown the ground meat in batches and drain.

Into a large Dutch oven or stew pot, combine the vegetables, meat and beans. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer until beans are tender, about three hours.

Serve with: Grilled hot dogs, cooked elbow or ditalini macaroni, corn bread, shredded cheddar, sour cream, sliced jalapenos, minced cilantro, sliced scallions, crumbled bacon, diced avocado. Serves 15.

Source: Lauralee Dobbins

Classic tailgate dish: Nachos

The upgrade: Super Nachos by chef Maria Schmidt, as served at Distrito Taqueria, Distrito's recently renovated first-floor casual eatery.

Why the upgrade matters: "Because good nachos are all about the perfect bite," according to Schmidt. "Super nachos are composed with just the right amount of each garnish and are constructed flat so that each nacho gets the perfect mix of melted cheese, the richness of the chosen protein . . . the creaminess of Mexican crema, the texture of the poblano rajas and a burst of herb flavor from the micro cilantro."

These carefully composed nachos also allow each tortilla chip to stay at its crispy best.

SUPER NACHOS

4 chipotles in adobo

1 cup ketchup

2 tablespoons roasted garlic

1 cup chicken stock

2 tablespoons sweet smoked paprika

4 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs

1 Spanish onion, thinly sliced

1 bay leaf

4 tablespoons salt

2 tablespoons oil

2 Spanish onions, julienne

4 red bell peppers, julienne

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup cooked black beans

4 ounces roasted poblano rajas (strips) (roasted poblano chilies, peeled, seeded, stemmed and julienned)*

12 ounces good-quality store-bought tortilla chips

2 ounces pickled jalapenos

3 ounces shredded cheddar cheese

3 ounces queso Chihuahua

2 tablespoons Mexican crema

3 tablespoons thin julienne radish

Vegetable spray

To make the chipotle sauce, combine the chipotles, ketchup, roasted garlic, stock and paprika in a blender and puree until very smooth. Season to taste with salt.

To poach the chicken, bring a large saucepan of water to a boil and add the onion, bay leaf and salt. Add the chicken and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, until just cooked through. Lift the chicken out of the water with a slotted spoon, drain it and set aside to cool. (Discard the cooking liquid.) Shred chicken by hand into bite-size pieces.

To make the ropa vieja, heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Cook the onions, bell peppers, and garlic, stirring often, until translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add the chipotle sauce and cook at a gentle simmer until the whole mixture has reduced by one-quarter, 15 to 20 minutes. Fold in the chicken and season to taste with salt.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a cast-iron griddle or frying pan with vegetable spray. Spread the tortilla chips in a single layer. Top the tortilla chips with a generous amount of black beans, making sure that all tortillas have an equal amount. Repeat with poblano rajas/green chilies and cheese. Cook in the oven for five minutes or until cheese is melted and golden brown. Remove from oven and top with Mexican cream, radish and pickled jalapenos.

Serve and eat immediately. Serves 10-12.

*Note: You can substitute sliced canned green chilies for the poblanos.

Source: Chef Maria Schmidt, Distrito Taqueria

Classic tailgate dish: Chicken wings

The upgrade: Whetstone chef Jeremy Nolen's Kung Pao chicken wings.

Why the upgrade matters: "Where I grew up, in Reading, most of the bars have wing nights and feature all kinds of different sauces," said the chef. "I wanted something different from the regular Buffalo sauce. I took the idea from Chinese take-out restaurants and wanted to make it spicier and more exciting, but not quite as spicy as some Szechuan recipes."

KUNG PAO CHICKEN WINGS

1 bulb ginger, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

8 dried red chilies

1/2 cup Chinese black vinegar

1/4 cup sesame oil

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/4 cup chopped peanuts

1/4 cup chopped scallions

1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon spicy sesame oil

4 pounds chicken wings

Place all sauce ingredients except chicken wings in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour the contents of the blender into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain through a sieve and cool. Note: Sauce will keep in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Cook wings by preferred method (Nolen likes to fry them, but you could also bake or grill). If you're baking, preheat oven to 400 degrees and cook the wings on a baking dish for 45 minutes or until crispy.

After the wings are cooked, toss them with the sauce until completely coated. Garnish with the peanuts, crushed red pepper, spicy sesame oil and scallions. Serves 10-12.

Source: Chef Jeremy Nolen, Whetstone

Beth D'Addono has been writing about the Philadelphia and national restaurant scene for more than 17 years in local and national publications. Read more at bethdaddono.contently.