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Foodie Friday: Bowl Season!

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Bowls and Bowls of Football, Bowls and Bowls of Homemade Chex Mix

HDY-CHEXMIX Photo by David Stephenson/Lexington Herald-Leader/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Today’s an extended Foodie Friday in 3 parts:

Part 1: Boorish End of SEC Season Rant Manifesto: Officiating
Part 2: Homemade Chex Mix
Part 3: All I want for Christmas is Foodie Gear

FF Rules: (1) #nopolitics. (2) Share your experience. As I told Ma Deuce last week, this is a really smart room, and this weekly feature, for me, is mostly about being a space to compare notes and ideas. If you enjoy food, you’ve got something to add. Trust me. But first...

Part 1: Boorish End of SEC Season Rant Manifesto: Officiating

Check out the following video. As you watch it, think about what a safety should be doing on an off-tackle run that hits the second level. Watch what Virginia’s Blount does instead.

I’m not going to post some still shots, but you can see it on video. The safety targets (literally) UNC’s best receiver 20 yards away from the ballcarrier. This one’s got everything. The gratuitous shot on a defenseless player from behind. A running start and a launch. Head shot with his helmet. Textbook targeting and about as blatant a cheap shot as you will see. Exactly the kind of behavior league offices say they have to get out of the game when they defend all the borderline targeting calls every week.

Officials missed it in real-time, which… ok, they were following the ball. Understandable. Replay missed it, too. Alright, that happens, off-the-ball shenanigans often get missed. But, here’s the key point of this example: the ACC office declined to do anything about it after UNC sent a tape. Wouldn’t even comment to UNC privately about it. Blount sat a game, but only because he injured his arm later in this game. It wasn’t internal or league discipline. UNC’s coach, Mack Brown, was upset enough that he ripped the conference office in a press conference later that week.

There’s not a mission for a conference office much more basic than player safety, is there? Why the reluctance by the conference to issue a post-game targeting or even release a statement? Or even back-channel between UNC and Virginia? (Hold that thought.)

Closer to home, just a smattering of SEC Officiating and Replay “highlights” just over the past three seasons (I’m deliberately avoiding any Bama ones here, don’t @ me for the play selection):

  • Clemson-Ohio State 2019 Semi-Final: SEC Replay says this was not a catch.
  • Florida-Georgia 2019: But this was! (I picked this tweet because it’s the only extended video of the “catch” I could find)
  • Auburn-Georgia State 2021: And this!
  • Auburn-Penn State 2021: 1, 2, 4…
  • Auburn-Arkansas 2020: Not a backwards pass!
  • Auburn-Kentucky 2020: Not a touchdown!

And yes, Bo Nix then had the gall to go on a podcast to claim that SEC refs favored Alabama. Hey, Bo: go find 4 SEC calls for ‘Bama over the past two decades as (a) wrong and (b) game-impacting as those four. I’ll wait. And I didn’t even include the BS calls that tilted the 2013 and 2017 Iron Bowls your way.

But, you know why I’m still talking about that? Because it worked. Spectacularly. Refs threw 129 yards of flags on Alabama.

  • 129: the most for Alabama this century. Maybe longer, I stopped looking at 2000.
  • 129: a 350% increase over Auburn’s opponent average up to that point. For comparison, Georgia, Miss St, Arkansas, and Texas AM combined for 129 penalty yards against Auburn. We got 4 games worth of flags thrown into 1. Value!
  • 129: the most penalty yards SEC refs flagged any team this year. We’re #1!
  • 129: a “Top 5” performance in SEC play over the last decade. 1,130 games. Maybe longer, I stopped looking after 2012.

All while fAU DBs manhandled Alabama WRs with impunity all game long. And then, we saw a completely different threshold for DPI one week later in the SEC Championship. Because, of course. (Hold that thought, too.)

Btw, this wasn’t the first time someone tried that strategy. LSU mounted a successful campaign to intimidate officials heading into their home game against Alabama in 2018, getting in two cheap shots early without consequence. Think about that. Two times in recent years, with SEC officials getting ready to work in front of frenzied, sold-out crowds at LSU and Auburn, these programs outsourced accusations of corruption against SEC officials. Both times it worked. Which means only one thing: someone’s going to try it next year. Why not? Nothing to lose, and you might get some calls. It’s not like the SEC is going to do anything about it.

I could find similar examples and write similar paragraphs about the other major conferences. This isn’t really unique to the SEC. Example: The P12 2 years ago had their general counsel, with zero training as an official, hanging out in the conference’s central replay booth, munching on a sub and overruling targeting calls. Just a total lack of internal controls or even basic professionalism. Literally winging it.

So, where exactly are all these haphazard examples leading?

Point 1: There’s no real accountability anywhere in this process. None. Conferences just don’t want to talk about officiating, no matter what. At most, they’ll post a short statement admitting a call was blown (but not always), and even then statements can be misleading as to context and the gravity of error. Most of the time, they just turtle. And that reluctance is a much larger problem. Because…

Point 2: If officiating can be this consistently bad and this easily manipulated, with no accountability and almost no transparency, who might notice that? How could they use that?

Let me be clear: I’m not saying refs are actively fixing games. However, I am saying, given what conferences are willing to tolerate and how reluctant they are to police things, it would be insanely easy thing to do.

DPI interpretations can swing wildly game to game. That’s just considered normal. So can holding. Ever see a ref, 25 yards away from the line of scrimmage, throw a flag on a offensive lineman for holding the moment it’s apparent the offense sprung a big one? And replay shows nothing that didn’t happen play prior or won’t happen next play? The only thing consistent about college sports officiating is its inconsistency. What about interceptions negated, or 3rd and longs converted, by someone breathing on a QB? Replay rulings that routinely ask us to not believe our lying eyes? Etc.

I’m willing to say all of this is just rank incompetence, courtesy of conference offices that don’t see it impacting their bottom lines no matter how bad it gets. Seriously. It sometimes feels like conferences compete to see who can get away with the worst officiating operation. You routinely see a ref wearing out their welcome in one conference and working a week later in another. (Hello, Penn Wagers and Karl Hess.) None of this seems to affect ratings, which means it’s not affecting media money. Why overhaul something that’s not impacting your bottom line?

But: without accountability and transparency, how hard would it be for some organized crime people to look at college sports and think, “As long as we’ve got a bullet-proof way to compensate these guys, they get away with murder. I can use that!”?

When we see high-visibility games with playoff implications affected by such inconsistent officiating, with nary a word of concern outside a fan base or maybe a viral tweet, it makes you wonder exactly what it would take for an actual discussion. Probably the FBI showing up at someone’s door? And by the way: college basketball is even worse. Way more games, way more officials, way more noise, way more opportunity for an official or two to put a finger on the scales.

There are real parallels at the moment between college sports officiating and the pre-scandal NBA. Insanely inconsistent rules applications considered par for the course. Overly defensive administrative offices who won’t talk and fine coaches for calling attention to anything odd with the stripes. A heavy emphasis on “moving on.” Zero transparency. All of that with ridiculous amounts of money surrounding the game in combination with a large expansion in legalized gambling. Also: exponentially more games and crews than the NBA, with oversight left to a set of sleepy conference offices that see each other as competitors, not collaborators.

Hey, maybe the conference offices are quietly on the mother? Lol! Right.

Well, after that appetizer, let’s move on to the eats.

Part 2: Homemade Chex Mix

We’ve officially entered Bowl Season. And Bowl Season, as far back as I can remember, for me means… homemade Chex Mix. My mom was a pro. A new batch every weekend, lasting (maybe) through all that week’s games. Fill a bowl at kick-off and again at half-time.

Chex Mix? Heck, I can buy that. Yes, you can. And it ain’t bad. But it’s also not good, much less great. They sell you the seasoning mix now, and you can make it in the microwave! Sure. You could do that. This is one of those things I used to do with my mom, and I’m not interested in convenience, just the ritual and the eats. And I can’t imagine microwave Chex Mix really tastes good, but I could be wrong. If you’ve tried it, feel free to tell us about it in the comments.

Here are my accumulated experiences and tricks with homemade Chex Mix over the years. If you’ve got your own versions, I’d love to hear about your secret ingredients or family versions.

Salt: The hardest part of homemade Chex Mix for me has been getting the salt right. If I’m using nuts, I use unsalted. If I’m using pretzel sticks, I’m cutting back salt elsewhere, because those suckers are loaded. Frankly, the sodium content in any of the snacks you might include will already be pretty high, including the cereals. I’ve killed more than a few batches of homemade Chex Mix that have come out too salty. However, unlike a soup or some other dish, you can’t just add more at the finish if you cut too much. You’re pretty much stuck with whatever comes out of the oven, so this is an area to be extra vigilant.

The original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (liquid salt) and 1.5 teaspoons seasoned salt, which are just prepackaged 50/50 blends of table salt and different spices. I typically use an extra tablespoon Worcestershire sauce and my own spice blend that contains no salt at all.

Butter: the original recipe calls for margarine, which I just don’t use. It’s less about trans fats (though there’s that) and more about brown butter. Brown butter is a huge flavor accelerant in a ton of recipes. It’s an insanely easy thing to master. It took me all of one evening, a couple of pounds of butter, and a 3 minute YouTube video to figure out.

The original recipe calls for 6 tablespoons of butter for 12 cups of mix. You can do that. Or you can double it. I double it, using 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter (pre-browned) for each cup of mix. This isn’t health food. It’s not a pantry staple. It’s an annual food rite. Ok, a month-long annual food rite, and probably the largest culprit in my clothes being a lot snugger at the end of the month. But worth it.

Worcestershire sauce: If I am doubling the butter, I’m doubling the liquid component too. I tried doubling the Worcestershire sauce, but that just drove the saltiness right up to the edge and sometimes over. So, I go from 2 to 3 tablespoons for a 12 cup batch (3/4 teaspoon per cup of mix) and then add a tablespoon of Frank’s hot sauce (1/4 teaspoon per cup of mix). Can I add more Frank’s? Yep. My son is a buffalo wings sauce nut, so I actually triple that for his batch.

Garlic and Onion Powder: the original recipe calls for 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder and 1/2 teaspoon onion powder for a 12 cup mix. I use a ratio of 1/4 teaspoon garlic and 1/8 teaspoon onion powder per cup of mix. 16 cups of mix? 4 teaspoons garlic powder and 2 teaspoons onion powder.

Seasoned Salt: As stated above, I use one of my own spice blends that includes no salt for this. A batch of my most-used spice blend looks like this: 8 tablespoons paprika, 4 tablespoons onion powder, 3 tablespoons garlic powder, 3 tablespoons turmeric, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, 1 teaspoon ground celery seed. I use about 1/2 teaspoon of that per cup of mix. I usually make a 16 cup batch, so that’s 8 teaspoons, which I just round up to 3 tablespoons.

Extras: I like adding Marie Sharp’s Green Pepper Habanero sauce on top of the Franks. My son likes his Chex Mix really spicy, so about a tablespoon for his. For my wife’s and my mix, maybe a teaspoon. And when no one in the family’s looking, I sneak a couple of teaspoons of Thai fish sauce and maybe a couple of teaspoons of smoked paprika into the mix as well. I’ve thrown chipotle chili powder at some batches - works great, but back way off the hot sauce if you do. Pairs really well with M&Ms if you really dig that salty/sweet/spicy thing (which is usually my daughter’s requested batch).

Snack Mix Components: Besides the rice and corn chex, the kids love Cheezits and pretzels in theirs but hate the Wheat Chex. My wife is big on pretzels, sesame sticks, and extra Wheat Chex. I’m big on the peanuts. My mother-in-law digs almonds. By the time Christmas week rolls around, everyone’s got their own batch, and everyone has to share. Bowls and bowls of Chex Mix. To go with the bowls and bowls of football.

Assembly: I pour all the dry snack mix into a 24x16 roasting pan. I mix all the spices in a small bowl, then that gets tossed with the dry goods. I measure out the Worcestershire and hot sauces into a ramekin. I brown the butter, and when it starts to turn, I move it off the stove and whisk in the Worcestershire and hot sauces. I drizzle all of that over the snack mix and use two silicone dough scrapers to get underneath the mix and toss it. I keep going until everything seems really well coated. I pop that into a 250 degree oven for 15 minutes, pull it out to toss, and repeat 3 times, for an hour total in the oven. When it comes out, I spread it over parchment paper in sheet pans to cool.

And that’s my family’s Bowl Season Fuel.

Part 3: All I want for Christmas is Foodie Gear

I’m hearing great things about air fryers. I’m also hearing it’s a waste of money. Seems to be a huge debate. I know my sister and brother-in-law loved theirs, cooked a ton of stuff with it, especially wings… and now it never seems to come up anymore. Seems it was a fad with them? Any of y’all use one? How often? What does it do well for you? Poorly? How easy is it to clean?

Here’s my experience with three Foodie Gear Christmas gifts over the past 4 years that I think were really worth it.

Grill Grates: Love them. My Big Green Egg’s major weakness is grilling. These provide much more even heat distribution, eliminating hot spots. They catch anything dripping off the meat, so no flare-ups. Grill marks look great. I’m mainly using them for fajitas and burgers, and both are a much better product coming off the Grates. Much more evenly cooked, much less often overcooked, which is usually where I screw up grilling, especially when I’ve got different meats on there at the same time. Fish fillets were a disaster - they disintegrated, and the meat fell into the cracks between the sear bars. I’m the world’s worst at grilling thin, flaky fish like flounder and tilapia. Anyone with a recommendation for that, I’d love to hear it. I think their web site is very accurate representation of their product if you’re interested in looking further.

Sous Vide: I use a Joule, and I love it. Seafood comes out perfectly cooked, and this is really the first tool I’ve found that allows me to do that consistently. Prior to sous vide, perfectly cooked seafood for me was like a bulls-eye in darts; I could hit occasionally, but mostly by accident and never when I needed it the most. I’ll cook bone-in pork chops in it the night before, throw the bags into an ice bath to cool them down, then move them into the fridge overnight. You can do the same thing with bone-in chicken thighs. Searing or frying them them in a cast-iron skillet the next day warms them up, and I can do that quickly, because they’ve already hit internal temp the night before.

Once I got comfortable cooking larger volumes of food with it, I got a 12 gallon food-prep container and a lid with a cut-out to hold the sous vide in place for about $15 via mail order. My only hesitation with SV is the amount of plastic bags I go through. I’ve been on the look-out for something reusable, but I haven’t seen anything really viable on that front yet. There are a ton of good blog posts on sous vide out there, so I won’t repeat them. I’ll just say it’s worth your while to research the tool.

Whynter ICM 15LS Ice Cream Maker: I love this thing, got it 4 years ago. It uses a built-in freezer, so it makes ice cream on your counter without pre-chilling any parts. Ice cream base out of the fridge turns into soft serve ice cream in about 30 minutes. A few hours in the freezer gets it closer to the stuff you buy in the freezer section at the grocery store. Textures are smooth, not uneven, which you often get with pre-chilled canisters.

Soak some coffee beans in some heated half-and-half for about an hour, strain, then add some dutch-process cocoa and let that bloom for about an hour. Add some cream, heat, work that into your egg yolks and sugar, bring it all back up to temp, refrigerate overnight, and mix: world’s best mocha ice cream. You can throw it into the mixer about 30 minutes after it comes off the stove-top if you want, but the flavors develop better overnight, and you’ll get a slightly creamier product if you use a chilled base. Or: make some vanilla ice cream using a Mexican vanilla bean and a tablespoon of Glenlivet 12 per cup of dairy. This is where homemade ice cream really takes off - tinkering the fat levels and your own add-ins.

My only complaint is reusing a single canister on multiple batches. Let’s say you’ve made a vanilla base during the summer and want a run of strawberry, a run of peach, and a run of vanilla. Heck, if you just want one flavor for more than 4 people, you’ll still need to use the canister twice. It’s small. It says 1.6 quarts, but you can only fill it halfway given how much the base will expand as it freezes. It freezes fast, so that’s ok, but... removing the cylinder, scraping out the ice cream, and then refilling it can be a hassle. Why? Biggest problem: the metal comes out at -16 degrees, which you’re not handling it with bare hands for any length of time. I use one of my cut gloves to hold the cylinder and a silicone dough scraper to get out the ice cream. Next problem: if anything liquid gets on the exterior surface, and if that surface then goes back into the ice cream maker for another run, then the cylinder freezes to the maker and becomes almost impossible to remove until it’s warmed up appreciably, which means the ice cream in it has mostly melted. Removing the ice cream can be a messy affair; there will be drips. This could all be easily solved with a second canister and paddle, which was a Christmas gift two years ago. Now I just pop the clean one in while I clean out the other and then get it ready. Nonstop ice cream production for big birthday meals or summer cookouts.

Those are probably my 3 favorite Foodie Gear additions via Santa over the past few years.

What are yours? How do they make your food better or kitchen easier (or ideally, both)?

Dessert: Funniest CFB thing I saw on Twitter this week: