Big Game Hunting
The Friday Newsletter is dreaming of a Super Bowl Someday
What’s orange and brown green with envy?
Through a series of decisions in my life—mostly, attending the University of Cincinnati and much later returning to region to live and work in Louisville, Kentucky—I have found myself surrounded by Cincinnati Bengals fans, all of whom are deeply excited now. They’ve got good cause to be excited, too! Their team plays in the Super Bowl this weekend, the franchise’s first appearance in the game in 33 years, and the future looks bright.
Me? I’m jealous as hell.
As much as I’ve intertwined my public image with the culture and cuisine of the Queen City—especially during my beloved Bearcats’ storybook run to the College Football Playoff this fall—I am not, as a few people have erroneously assumed in congratulating me this week, a Cincinnati Bengals fan.
No, in a tragic twist of fate set in motion before my birth, I am a devoted fan of the Cleveland Browns, one of only four teams (along with the Detroit Lions, Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars) that has never once played in a Super Bowl. I had high hopes going into this season, with the Browns coming off their first playoff victory in 26 years, but the storybook Super Bowl run I envisioned for my team happened 250 miles to the southwest instead.
I’m very happy for the Bengals fans in my life, and I hope they pull it off on Sunday—I don’t know any Rams fans, so I don’t need to equivocate here—and I’m going to try to channel my jealousy instead into hope. When LeBron James first left Cleveland in 2010, I never could’ve imagined that I’d find myself sobbing on the floor of my living room six years later as a Cleveland team hoisted a trophy for the first time in a half-century. When the Bearcats bottomed out at the end of the Tommy Tuberville era in 2016, it would have been inconceivable to think that five years later I’d be standing on the Nippert Stadium turf celebrating a conference championship and playoff berth.
The impossible is only impossible until the moment it happens, and this Sunday’s matchup is proof. Someday it will be our turn.
Okay, enough rambling. It’s Super Bowl weekend, and for a newsletter devoted in part to improving the food and drink prospects of your weekend, it’s crunch time. I’ve got a heck of a slate for you today, including a killer dish for your Super Bowl party, a delicious cocktail that’s the appropriate amount of on-theme and no further, great music/book/TV recs and more!
It’s Friday, friends. Let’s win it all.
7) I’m not gonna do what you all think I’m gonna do and just FLIP OUT
It’s no secret to anyone who reads this newsletter or follows me on Twitter that I am a fan of Cincinnati chili, and it’s possible the regional delicacy has never been in the spotlight quite as much as it is in this very moment, with its hometown team playing in the big game. People all around the country and all over the world are looking quizzically at recipes, major outlets like the Washington Post are singing its praises, and native Cincinnatians far from home are frantically searching for a can of that good stuff. I have very publicly embraced the unnecessarily-controversial dish in the past, and this has led more than a few people to assume—quite naturally—that I’ll have some Skyline-themed creation for your consumption today.
I am thrilled that people are discovering the joys of a Five-Way this weekend; some may decide they don’t like it, but surely a few converts will be won. That said, a mere three months ago, I put Skyline Chili in a football-shaped arancini and deep-fried it.
When Alexander reached the sea, he wept, for there were no more lands to conquer.
No, today, I’ve got something completely unrelated to Cincinnati chili for you, but a dish that’d be a fine addition to your Super Bowl menu in its own right.
A while back, I shared my family’s cherished recipe for Pastitsio, a Greek lasagna-like dish that’s been a staple of holiday gatherings for as long as I can remember, despite us having no actual Greek heritage. It’s delicious, and it’s perfect; the recipe needs no tweaks.
So I decided to tweak it.
I used the same basic framework—a baked casserole of tubular pasta, meat and cheese—but switched up the flavors. Where the original dish is built on a meaty filling of beef, tomatoes, onions and spices, I’d take a left turn, and embrace what might be the quintessential flavor of Super Bowl Sunday: buffalo chicken.
Topped with a rich, blue cheese-tinged Bechamel sauce and a savory sprinkling of seasoned bread crumbs, an old family favorite became something powerful and new.
It’s Action Cookbook’s Buffalo Chicken Bake, or the ACBBCB.
There’s a handful of distinct parts to the process here—buffaloing the chicken, making the Bechamel, seasoning the bread crumbs and assembling the whole thing—but overall, it’s easier than it might seem, and I accomplished it in a few hours of intermittent work. You can easily make it ahead of time and reheat, too.
Here’s the process…