Tailgating, tater salad and "ol' Nathan Pepper"

By Ann Thrash

Editor's note: Ann is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Post and Courier newspaper in Charleston. Visit GamecockCereal.com each week during football season for a new food and tailgating column.

The best thing about this time of year is that the Gamecocks are getting ready to play football again. The second best thing about this time of year is made possible by the first—and that's tailgating.

Ever since we turned the calendar page over to August, my husband and I have been kicking around ideas for that first game day feast. Bill graduated from Carolina in 1985 and has been a fan his whole life, but since I went to Davidson, I've become a Gamecock fan more recently by marriage. In the decade we've been together, Bill has taught me a lot about Joe Morrison, the Fire Ant Defense, the lean years in the late 1990s, and the magic of "2001." I've been to two of Coach Spurrier's Ladies Clinics, so I've run screaming through the tunnel and "scooped and scored" a touchdown—and when an assistant coach one year told us sternly, "Don't be like ol' Nathan Pepper," I knew who and what he was talking about.

Despite all that I've picked up so far about Gamecock football, I've still got a lot to learn about the technical side, like the merits of the four-three vs. the three-four defense and which linebacker is Mike. I can't contribute a lot to that sort of tailgate talk, but I can definitely contribute when it comes to talking about food. Six years as the food editor at The Post and Courier in Charleston put me in touch with a lot of great cooks, and I know one thing for sure: With food just as with football, there's always something worth talking about.

Whatever you're cooking for game day, whether you're at the stadium or watching from home, please post it here—and if you're looking for ideas or recipes, throw your question out there—my bet is that someone in Gamecock Nation will have your answer.

To get things started, here's my favorite potato salad recipe, which we've renamed "tater salad" in honor of "that big orange team from the Upstate," as the Head Ball Coach once said. Maybe ol' Nathan Pepper wouldn't have slowed down if there had been a bowl of this in the end zone. The recipe is based on one from Emeril Lagasse ("Bam!" Whatever happened to him?), but with a few tweaks. This is great anytime, but it's ideal for the beginning of tailgating season because it's still so hot outside and this is good late-summer fare.

A few quick tips: 1) The potatoes will cook more evenly if they're all cut into about the same size pieces, so if you get one or two potatoes that are oversized, cut them in six pieces instead of four. 2) Seasoning the potatoes and mixing them with the dressing while they're still warm helps the potatoes soak up all those awesome flavors. 3) If you want a garnish, cook an extra piece of bacon (or two) and crumble it on top of the salad when it's in the serving bowl. Of course, you could also do that with extra parsley—but why? We'll take the bacon, thanks.   

Bacon Tater Salad
2 pounds small red potatoes, quartered
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground red pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 strips bacon
1 medium onion, finely chopped
¾ cup finely chopped celery
1 tablespoon chopped parsley leaves
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and coarsely chopped
¾-1 cup mayonnaise
1½ tablespoons Creole or whole-grain mustard

Put the potatoes in a saucepan and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook, partially covered, until fork-tender, about 10 minutes. Drain potatoes and transfer to a large mixing bowl. While the potatoes are still warm, season with the salt, red and black pepper, and lemon juice, tossing well to combine.

In a skillet on top of the stove, cook the bacon until crisp, then remove from pan and set aside. Drain off all but about 2 tablespoons of the bacon drippings in the pan, then add the chopped onion and cook until tender and translucent. Add the onions to the bowl with the potatoes. Add the celery, parsley and eggs, stirring gently to mix.

In a smaller bowl, combine the mayo and mustard, then stir the mixture into the potatoes. Crumble the bacon and sprinkle it over the salad, then toss gently but thoroughly to mix. Serve immediately while slightly warm, or refrigerate and serve slightly chilled. Makes about 6 servings.