Well college football season kicked off with a bang this past weekend. As you might already know, I live in a “house divided.” A house what? Walt happens to be a devout Georgia bulldogs fan, and I am a born-and-bred Auburn Tigers devotee. It’s our conference affiliation that brought us together in California, but it’s our rivalry that keeps things interesting. Which means for 364 days out of the year we like each other, but on that other day of the year… Let’s just say that it’s every man for himself.
Despite Georgia’s opener being held at The Dome and having easy access to tickets, we made the executive decision to watch both teams’ games from the comfort of our own home. Being the couch potatoes that we are, the idea of watching instant replays, hurling iPhones, and screaming profanities without bias or judgment from strangers was simply a no-brainer. And you know I never need an excuse to cook for a crowd.
I woke up early on Saturday (with a bit of a hangover from pitchers and bowling the night before) and set to work on the eggs benedict. Eggs benedict is a Thompson-Dozier game day tradition that started when we lived in Los Angeles and were forced to watch football in the wee hours of the morning. Paired with Bloody Mary’s and Irish Coffees (“Ire Coff’s”) and you were in decent enough shape to watch a football game. Unfortunately Walt slept through my homemade breakfast and rose just in time for a lunch of 95 leftover McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets. (Just trust me here, that’s another story for another time.)
Auburn kicked off at noon against Utah State, and I spent the next three hours watching the game peering from the kitchen — spatula in hand and jaw on the floor. Good thing I had this chicken & mushroom lasagna to take out my aggressions on. It was only in the last minutes, seconds even, that we won the game by a hair. Holy S*@t! Losing our first game of the season as reigning national champs would have put us in the same statistical category as the University of Miami circa ’91. Need I say more? The roller coaster of emotions brought on some serious déjà vu, and I was quickly reminded that football season is not all about touchdowns and glory. It’s funny how easily over the course of a year we forget that small little detail.
The Georgia game didn’t kickoff until 8 pm, so we had plenty of downtime to discuss and analyze all of the possibilities that could occur between the no. 23 Dawgs and the no. 5 Boise State Broncos. The hour before game time was a painful one. By 7:49 pm you could cut the tension in the room with a knife. Tequila shot anyone? Don’t mind if I do. Walt and the boys paced. I set out the beer cheese, refilled whiskey glasses, and prayed for the game to begin.
The first offensive series of the night was a forewarning of what was to come. In a few quick plays the hopes and dreams of it being “Georgia’s year” were seemingly dashed. The same penalties and missed opportunities of last year were more apparent than ever. The brutal pounding went on for what seemed like an eternity, and I’ve never been so happy for a game to end. But in spite of my allegiance to Auburn, I do fully support Georgia, and I really was (and am still) rooting for their success. Happy games mean happy boyfriends.
But this isn’t meant to be a depressing tale. Yes, it was a rough day for a lot of us SEC fans. But last Saturday meant more than a W or an L. It meant that football season is back. And football season is so much more than the four quarters played out on the field. Football season is gathering with friends around the fire pit while waiting for the Thompson barbecue to come off the grill. And it’s shopping for two perfect game day dresses so that I can sport my orange and blue and then make a mad dash into my red and black. It is Walt’s original Air Jordan’s, worn only for the most special of occasions. (Yes, game day being one.) It is the friendly banter amongst friends and even the occasional low blow against the ultimate rival. To me, it is Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving all wrapped into one.
So I’ll always keep on cheering until the last play of the game. And I’ll keep coming back, year after year, until the very end. I’m all in. War Eagle and Go Dawgs! May we celebrate two wins tomorrow…
CHICKEN AND MUSHROOM LASAGNA
I’ve been on a mushroom kick lately. And a béchamel kick, too. This creamy, cheesy spin on lasagna seemed like a great way to feed a crowd on game day, as well as welcome in the cooler fall weather. Someone else actually pointed out to me that it was just like Chicken Tetrazzini but in lasagna form. That’s exactly what it is! I can’t believe I didn’t actually make the correlation while I was cooking it (Chicken Tetrazzini is one of my all time favorite meals). I’d been hoping for some leftovers to enjoy the next day, but by the time I went to wash the pan, every last bite was gone. Oh well.
1 stick (4 ounces) butter plus 2 tablespoons, divided
1 pound mixed mushrooms
1/2 cup flour
4 cups scalded milk
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 cups cooked and shredded chicken
12 lasagna noodles, cooked al dente
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2 cups grated gruyere cheese
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
In a large dutch oven, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until golden brown and tender, about 10 minutes. Pour the mushrooms into a strainer set over a bowl and set aside.
In the same dutch oven, melt the remaining stick of butter on medium-low heat. Add the flour and whisk until smooth (and flour taste is cooked out), about two minutes. Pour in the scalded milk and cook, stirring constantly, until very thick. Season with the salt, garlic powder, and cayenne. (Note: the béchamel sauce is purposefully salty in order to season throughout the entire lasagna dish.) Set aside 1/2 cup of the white sauce. Stir the mushrooms and shredded chicken into the remaining white sauce in the dutch oven. In another bowl, combine the cheeses.
Spread the reserved 1/2 cup of white sauce (without the mushrooms and chicken) into the bottom of the lasagna pan. Arrange 4 noodles into the bottom of the pan, overlapping if necessary. Spread 1/3 of the chicken and mushroom mixture over the noodles, followed by 1/3 of the cheese mixture. Repeat layers, ending with sauce, then cheese on top. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake until hot and bubbly, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven, uncover, and allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving.