Game Day Queso Fit for a (Vi)king

I grew up in a football-observant household. On Sundays during the frigid Vikings season we were in for a double-dose of devotion: after church we sat down in the living room in front of my dad’s pride and joy, his enormous console television fairly festooned with wood trim. My mom set up a line of TV trays, and started laying out the spread: chili, dips, beef tartare, raw kohlrabi. Watching my dad pick through the offerings from his outstretched perch in the lay-z-boy, the dog curled on his legs, was the other show.

When the Vikings scored, my dad hailed them loudly and slowly transported a cracker loaded with raw beef to his mouth with the reverence some people afford high-end sushi. When they were blitzing, he pawed at the dip with a chip, his eyes glued to the telly. When they fumbled, he grew quiet and shook salt from the shaker furiously over the chunks of raw kohlrabi. When things got really bad, when those little purple men were really letting him down, he cranked the lever on his la-z-boy (spooking the dog), stood up, stomped his blanket down to his feet, and walked away sadly to go refill his glass of ice water.

It’s because of this kind of devotion that I believe that the best kind of football food should be blind—meaning that you shouldn’t have to tear your eyes away from the screen to eat it. Dips are perfect. Hot bubbling layered cheese dips made in cast iron, which stay hot for a long time, are even better.

Over the years, my cravings for hot, meaty, cheesy football-watching food hasn’t changed, but my go-to recipe has. I’ve since discovered something: I don’t need to use processed cheese spread to make a melting dip. Any respectable chunk of cheese can be grated and tossed it with a single teaspoon of cornstarch—so that it has the same whitish bloom of pre-shredded cheese—and it will melt into the mixture of meat, tomatoes and beans like a charm.

That blind scooping is what it’s all about. Sitting in your favorite chair watching little brightly colored men scurry around the line of scrimmage is the real delight, and the snacks–not “good for you,” not “diet,”–are the bonus. Preferably the little men will purple and gold, and they will be winning—that is, if you are a Vikings fan, which I am. With apologies to my dad, I’m less often by his side these days, but the next time I’m there to watch the game on his new sprawling flat-screen, I’m not only game to make some serious bets, I’m also bringing the food.

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Bacon Tomato Queso Skillet

8 ounces bacon, 8 thick-cut slices, cut into 1/2 pieces

8 ounces block of jack or pepper jack cheese (2 cups), divided

1 teaspooon cornstarch

1 can butter beans, drained and rinsed

1 10-ounce can Red Gold petite diced tomatoes with green chiles

2 ounces full-fat cream cheese

2 teaspooons whiskey (optional)

1 large avocado, sliced thinly

Cilantro, for garnish

Preheat a broiler, setting the top rack 6 inches below the coil. Heat a large oven-proof (preferably cast-iron) skillet over medium heat.

Grate the cheese and toss with the cornstarch.

When the pan is hot, add the bacon and cook until browned at the edges. Transfer to a bowl, leaving 2 tablespoons of bacon fat in the skillet. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the butter beans, tomatoes with their juice, the cream cheese, and the optional whiskey, stirring to combine. Cover the pan and cook for 2 minutes, until the cream cheese melts. Add half of the cheese and stir until melted.

Garnish the top with the remaining cheese and broil until the top is browned, about 8 minutes.

If you want to get fancy, garnish the dip with sliced avocado and a few tufts of cilantro. Serve with chips.

Thanks to Red Gold for sponsoring this post! To find more recipes I developed for them, go to www.redgoldtomatoes.com

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