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Huddle up around the table: For the big game, food can make all the difference

In just a short amount of time, the NFL season will be deep into its playoffs, marching quickly up to the big game itself — the Super Bowl.

It’s one of the most anticipated sporting events in the world as fans will sit down on a Sunday night in February, regardless of their favorite team, to watch the spectacle of professional football’s pinnacle.

There will be parties and get-togethers and there will be food.

Man, will there be food.

If there is anything that goes hand in hand with the NFL’s premier game, it’s food. At parties and bars around the nation, people will be sitting down to eat a variety of goodies.

While not a football fan per se, Kristine Wolner, executive chef for Food Service at Mayo Clinic Health System-Austin and Albert Lea, is certainly a fan of food and that’s enough to pique her interest.

“My husband is a huge football fan,” Wolner said one afternoon in the cafeteria at Mayo Clinic Health System in Austin. “I just show up for the food and drink.”

The idea of good food and a good game are common traits with most any sport. It’s almost a symbiotic relationship that heightens the fun.

“It gets you amped up a little more,” she agreed.

A good football party can sometimes be defined by its good food. If you’re eyeing a party this football season, jump on these ideas from Chef Kristine Wolner. Photos by Eric Johnson photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Unlike other social gatherings where the menu is planned and hashed out, Wolner doesn’t put a lot of time into her Sunday football plans.

On those days, it’s all about ease and convenience.

“You should have it prepped,” she advised. “Something like my chicken chili, it shouldn’t take any more than an hour and a half. Whatever is easiest.”

It goes well with the fly-by-the-cupboard attitude one would find in Wolner’s house on game days.

“Sundays are munchie days,” she said. “There’s no real meal plan. Just good food and good sports.”

Find this story and much more including a story on long time executive director — now retired — of the Austin Chamber of Commerce Sandy Forstner.

When there is planning, Wolner suggests working with the situation rather than coming up with two different things. Look at what you have and then go from there.

“A lot of times, the day before, I’ll see what I have and pull it out,” she said. “If I have a plan I’ll work around it. With family-sized meals there are always going to be leftovers.”

Coming full circle, that’s where the leftovers come into play when coming up with speedy and convenient dishes.

So what does the Wolner family do?

“We do a lot of bacon-wrapped things,” she revealed. “For bigger parties I’ll do a baked potato bar.”

The food you serve for the big game, though, is more than just taking care of appetites. There’s something about good food and a party that contributes to the human experience.

“For people like me it provides a little entertainment,” she said. “It’s coming together and sharing. Think of all the full bellies. The good and full bellies.”

“It’s a good excuse for loved ones and friends to gather together and share,” she finished.

Try these treats for the big game in February:


Smoked white chicken chili.

Chef Kristine’s Smoked White Chicken Chili

Makes 1 gallon

All You Need

  • 1 cup celery, sliced thin
  • ½ cup yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • 2 red peppers, diced small
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 can (10.5 ounce) golden mushroom soup
  • 1 tablespoon chicken base
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1½ tablespoons cumin
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons white pepper
  • 2 pints heavy cream
  • 3 cans (15 ounce) Great Northern beans
  • 3 cans (15 ounce) red beans
  • 2 cups smoked chicken, shredded
  • 1 (8-ounce) bag pepper jack cheese
  • 8-ounce butterkase white cheddar cheese

All You Do

  1. Take a stock pot and put on medium heat with the ¼ cup butter added to pot. Add the first 3 ingredients and sauté for 5 minutes until onions are translucent. In a separate sauté pan melt the butter over medium-high heat, add peppers to sauté pan and cook for 5-7 minutes or until the red peppers are darkened. Add the red peppers to the stock pot with the rest of the sautéed veggies.
  2. Add broth, golden mushroom soup, chicken base, thyme, cayenne pepper, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper to the stock pot, bring to a boil and then turn down to a low simmer. Simmer for about 30 minutes.
  3. Add beans, chicken and heavy cream and let simmer for another 15 minutes. Add the cheese and cook for another 5 minutes or until cheeses are melted and blended. ENJOY!

Shrimp Spring Roll Chip Dip, served with sweet chili brown crisps or sea salt rice chips (gluten-free).

Chef Kristine’s Shrimp Spring Roll Chip Dip

All You Need

  • 1 pound pre-cooked shrimp
  • 2 teaspoons cilantro, minced
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons ginger powder
  • 2 cups mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons white vinegar
  • ¼ cup green onion
  • ¾ cup grated carrots
  • 1 bag Riceworks sweet chili brown rice crisps or sea salt rice chips (gluten-free)

Add shredded red cabbage to add more color

All You Do

  1. Rinse shrimp, and dice into small pieces.
  2. Mix shrimp in a bowl with cilantro, lime juice, ginger, garlic and soy sauce; set aside.
  3. Chop the green onion and carrots; add to shrimp mix.
  4. In another bowl place mayonnaise, vinegar and sugar and mix well. Add to the shrimp mix and stir until blended. ENJOY.

Dill Pickle Roll-up Dip, served with plain bagels or Hawaiian bread.

Chef Kristine’s Dill Pickle Roll Up Dip

Makes 2 cups

All You Need

  • 8-ounce package cream cheese
  • ½ cup pickle relish, drained well
  • 8 slices thin cut ham, diced small
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • Plain bagels or Hawaiian bread

All You Do

  1. Drain the pickle relish from its juices as best you can, dice the ham, and then place all ingredients into a bowl and mix well.
  2. Rip your bagels apart, serve and enjoy.