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Taste of NFL fundraiser takes dining to big leagues

| Sunday, Jan. 25, 2009

Thankfully, one of this year's top Super Bowl destination parties, the Taste of the NFL, doesn't take itself too literally -- so don't expect endless variations on pigskin with a garnish of AstroTurf.

It's kind of a Super Bowl for fans of fine dining, featuring a top chef from each NFL team city. The event raises money for hunger-relief charities -- $6.8 million since it began in 1992.

It even spawned "NBC Sunday Night Football Cookbook" (Melcher Media, $27.95), featuring recipes from Taste of the NFL chefs and NFL players such as Hines Ward and Jerome Bettis. Part of the proceeds from book sales also go toward the hunger-relief effort.

"Each city's food bank benefits from this Taste of the NFL," says Anthony Zallo, 41, of Bethel Park, Pittsburgh's representative and chef of the Bigelow Grille, Downtown. "I don't know why I was chosen for it. The chef here before me, Kevin (Sousa), did it before. I guess I kind of inherited it."

The honor came as a bit of a surprise, he says.

"I had just started this job, and I got a phone call from the NFL, and they asked if I wanted to do it," Zallo says. "They said, 'OK, we need a recipe by tomorrow afternoon.'"

The cookbook was to contain recipes by brand-name chefs like Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse -- and Zallo had only a few hours to come up with something that belonged in their company. So he started thinking about football, and things you'd actually want to eat while watching a football game.

"It's an upscale event, but at the same time, I looked at what some of the people were doing and realized -- this is not football food," Zallo says. "It's not even close to being football food."

The result was Peppery Glazed Chicken Wings with Garlic Chips.

"I wondered -- how can I 'upscale' wings• So I started putting stuff together, and this is what I came up with. Bottom line is, they're wings," he says. "The guy in charge of the whole thing called me and said, 'You know, out of all the people doing this, you hit the nail on the head.' That's cool."

So far, the wings have been successful at the Bigelow Grille, fitting in well with the bar menu. Under Zallo's direction, the restaurant focuses on regional American cuisine.

"Our menu changes quite often," Zallo says. "I hunt for the best ingredients we can possibly find -- hopefully local, if it can be. This time of year, that's kind of tricky. It's done in an American style, but I use a lot of European techniques and touches.

"My goal here is to bring this restaurant to above 80 percent organic products. Everything we do is in-house. The only thing we don't do is the bread."

"NFL Sunday Night Football Cookbook" also features local recipes from Bob Malone, chef of Treesdale Golf and Country Club in Gibsonia -- Fiery Filet Mignon with Corn Cakes, and Asian-Style Salmon with Soba Noodles.

Other recipes of local interest include Steelers receiver Limas Sweed's Chicken and Shrimp Fettuccine, Hines Ward's Korean-Style Braised Short Ribs and Jerome Bettis' Bison Burgers.

Peppery Glazed Chicken Wings

For the garlic chips:

• 1/2 cup grapeseed oil

• 15 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced

• Salt

For the chicken wings:

• 1/2 cup sesame oil

• 2 tablespoons minced garlic

• 4 pounds chicken wings

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

• 2 cups cider vinegar

• 1 1/2 cups sugar

• 1 cup water

• 3 tablespoons cracked black pepper

• 5 garlic cloves, crushed

• 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper

To make the garlic chips: Heat the oil in a medium-size skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and fry until lightly browned, for about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain, and sprinkle with salt. Set aside.

To make the chicken wings: Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil.

In a large bowl, combine the oil and minced garlic. Add the chicken wings and turn to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place the chicken wings on the baking sheet in one layer and bake, turning once, until cooked through and lightly browned, for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar, water, black pepper, crushed garlic and crushed red pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the mixture becomes syrupy, for about 30 minutes. Transfer the cooked chicken wings to a large bowl and toss with the glaze.

Divide the wings among 4 serving plates. Garnish with the garlic chips and serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Fiery Filet Mignon

For the filet mignon:

• 6 (7-ounce) center-cut filets beef tenderloin, preferably Black Angus

• 1 cup olive oil

• 1 teaspoon salt

• 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

• 1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder

• 1 teaspoon ground cumin

• 1 teaspoon chile powder

For the roasted vegetable mayonnaise:

• 1/4 pound cremini mushroom caps

• 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

• 1/4 pound asparagus, ends snapped off

• 1 cup mayonnaise

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the corn cakes:

• Water

• 2 medium ears white corn, shucked, or 1 1/2 cups frozen corn, defrosted

• 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal

• 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

• 1 cup buttermilk

• 2 large eggs

• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooked, plus more for brushing the griddle

• Fresh chives

To make the filet mignon: Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Pat the steaks dry. In a large bowl, combine the oil with the remaining ingredients. Reserve 1/4 cup of the marinade and rub the remaining marinade over the steaks. Set aside to marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Heat 2 large skillets over medium-high heat. Put the steaks in the skillets and brown on both sides, for about 5 minutes total. Transfer to the oven and roast for about 10 minutes, or until a meat thermometer registers 145 degrees for medium-rare. Lower the oven temperature to 250 degrees. Transfer the steaks to a cutting board, cover loosely with aluminum foil, and let stand while finishing the recipe.

To make the roasted vegetable mayonnaise: Heat a stovetop grill pan over medium-high heat. In a large bowl, combine the mushrooms, pepper and asparagus, and toss to coat with 2 tablespoons of the reserved marinade. Put on the grill pan and cook, turning with tongs, until softened and browned, for about 5 minutes. Cool, then transfer to a food processor. Add the mayonnaise and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

To make the corn cakes: Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add the corn, return to a boil, then cover and remove from the heat. Let stand for 10 minutes, then drain. Let cool slightly, then pat with paper towels to dry.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Brush the corn with the remaining 2 tablespoons reserved marinade and put on the skillet, turning occasionally with tongs, until blackened in spots, for about 5 minutes. Remove from the skillet, cool, then cut the corn from the cobs and put in a large bowl.

In a separate large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking soda, salt and pepper. In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs and butter. Stir in the corn kernels. Add the buttermilk mixture to the cornmeal mixture and whisk just until blended.

Heat a griddle over medium-high heat. Brush with butter, and, working in batches, drop the batter in 1/4 cupfuls onto the griddle. Spread the batter to form 3-inch cakes and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until golden. Place the corn cakes on a baking sheet as you go along and keep warm in the oven. You should have 12 corn cakes.

To plate: Cut the steaks into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place the 2 corn cakes on each of 6 plates. Fan the steak over the corn cakes, top with a dollop of the mayonnaise, and garnish with chives.

Hines Ward's Korean-Style Braised Short Ribs

• 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

• 4 (3- to 4-inch) beef short rib pieces with bones (about 3 pounds)

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

• 1 white onion, chopped

• 4 garlic cloves, chopped

• 2-inch piece ginger, chopped

• 1/4 cup rice wine (mirin)

• 1/2 cup soy sauce

• 3 tablespoons rice vinegar

• 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

• 1 small apple, peeled and chopped

• Water

• 3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

• Hot cooked white rice

• Chopped green onions

• Sesame seeds

In a large, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Season the short ribs with salt and pepper. Working in batches, sear the ribs, turning, for 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer the ribs to a large plate.

Add the onion, garlic and ginger to the fat in the pan, reduce the heat, and saute for about 5 minutes. Add the rice wine and cook until almost evaporated, stirring. Add the soy sauce, vinegar, brown sugar and apple, and stir to dissolve the sugar. Return the ribs to the pan and add water to cover. Raise the heat, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, turning occasionally to keep the meat fully covered, until the meat is very tender and falling off the bone.

Remove the ribs from the braising liquid, pat dry with paper towels, and place on a wire rack above a roasting pan covered with aluminum foil.

Heat the oven to 450 degrees.

Strain the braising liquid and return half of the liquid to the pan. Cook over medium-high heat until reduced by about half and slightly thickened, for 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, brush the short ribs with the sesame oil. Roast until browned and crisp, for 10 to 12 minutes. Let rest for a couple of minutes.

Spoon the rice into shallow serving bowls, place the ribs on top, and drizzle with a small amount of the sauce. Garnish with green onions and sesame seeds, and serve immediately.

Additional Information:

Taste of the NFL

What: Strolling wine-and-food event to benefit hunger-relief charities

When: 7 p.m. Saturday. Strolling wine-and-food event, 7-9 p.m.; entertainment, 9:45 p.m.

Where: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Tickets: $500; $600 for VIP

Details: Web site

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