Time has flown since my husband, Doug, and I went to our first Saints game. It is memorable because it was also the Saints’ first game. Yes, back in the old Tulane Stadium we watched our team begin its long march to the top. I recall him pushing me up the steep ramp to our seats when I was in late pregnancy and couldn’t make it alone.

I was lucky enough to cover the Louisiana Superdome Commission meetings in the new Superdome, watching the late Dave Dixon and his lieutenants in their brightly colored sports coats put the final touches on the stadium and its controversial workings. The ’Dome generated top news stories, and I loved nothing better than being a part of it as a reporter for the States-Item.

There were years when I didn’t think the Saints would ever reach the top, but Doug never gave up. There were very few games that he didn’t see in the stands or on TV. We were reduced to listening on the radio for one historic game when we were driving out of town. It was the one – Wouldn’t you know? – when Tom Dempsey kicked the 63-yard field goal that won the game and broke an NFL record.

We rarely go to the games any more, preferring the comfort of watching them at home, often keeping grandchildren while our daughter and son-in-law are in the ’Dome. They love the on-site action as we once did, as well as the away-game parties that we, too, always participated in – and still do.

The question when hosting one of these parties is how to serve good food and not miss a single play of the game. We used to eat a full meal at halftime with the host rushing to heat things up at the two-minute warning. Red beans and rice and lasagna were typical fare. Then, we’d have dessert after the game while hindsighting the plays. But this was too much work, and we switched to putting food on the table at the very beginning with an every-man-for-himself sort of arrangement.

My daughter prefers boiling seafood or ordering pizza. I always liked a pot-luck, taking the heat off the host. And, much of the time, a variety of hors d’oeuvres suffices. If you ever need a slow cooker, this is the time – not as much for the cooking as for the serving. Set it on low and the food stays hot throughout the game. Now, that’s my kind of technology. Chili, red beans, vegetable soup and hot dips are all inviting hot from the warming pot as the weather gets cooler.

I am always looking for new ideas for football party food. There is nothing tastier than a layered Mexican dip, but how many hundreds of times have we had that? Why not update the menu? Here are some starts:

Onion Dip
2 Tablespoons butter
4 Vidalia onions, chopped
2 cups Swiss cheese, grated
2 cups mayonnaise
1 can sliced or diced water
2 Tablespoons white wine
1 2/3-cup package sliced

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Sauté onions in butter. Mix in all but almonds. Spoon into a 10- or 12-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with almonds and bake for 25 minutes. If almonds aren’t slightly browned, place under a broiler for a couple of minutes. Serve with crackers.

Serves a crowd.

White Bean Salad
2 cans great northern beans,
  flavored with sausage,
2 medium tomatoes,
2 hard-boiled eggs, roughly
8 large Greek black olives,
  cured or marinated, seeded
  and roughly chopped
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh
  flat-leaf parsley
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin
  olive oil
2 Tablespoons white wine
2 cloves garlic, pressed
Salt and freshly ground
  pepper to taste

Place drained beans in a serving bowl. Add all other ingredients and toss gently. Marinate in the refrigerator for several hours. Toss lightly again before serving.

Serves a crowd.

Bloody Mary Soup
4 Tablespoons olive oil
4 ribs celery, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, chopped
2 cups drained canned
4 cups tomato juice
Grated zest of 1 lemon
3 Tablespoons refrigerated
  prepared horseradish
Several shots of Tabasco
  to taste
Salt and freshly ground black
  pepper to taste
1 cup vodka
1 teaspoon celery salt
Juice of 2 lemons
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire
3/4 cup beef broth
Celery leaves and thin lemon
  slices for garnish

In a heavy pot, sauté celery, bell pepper and jalapeño pepper in olive oil until soft – about 5 minutes.

Stir in tomatoes, tomato juice, lemon zest, horseradish, Tabasco, salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.

Purée the mixture in a food processor until smooth but slightly chunky. Return to the pot and add vodka, celery salt, lemon juice, Worcestershire and beef broth. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Serve hot from a large soup terrine garnished with celery leaves and lemon slices.

Serves a crowd.

– adapted from The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook, by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins

Lettuce Wraps
4 cups water
2 cups rice
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 pounds ground beef
1 bunch green onions,
  thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 inch fresh ginger root,
  peeled and minced
2 carrots, shredded
3 Tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon hot chile paste
2 heads iceberg lettuce

Bring water to a boil, add rice, cover and simmer over very low heat until water is absorbed – about 15 minutes.

In a large skillet, heat oil and add ground beef, green onions, garlic and ginger. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until beef is brown. Add carrots and sauces and cook for 2 minutes, stirring. Add sesame oil and chile paste and heat when ready to serve.

Cut heads of lettuce in half through the stems. Rinse and drain well. Refrigerate until serving time.

When ready to serve, pull off the large leaves of lettuce and stack on a serving plate. Use remaining lettuce for another purpose. Place meat mixture in a small, slow cooking pot to keep warm. Serve next to lettuce leaves, rice and sauce, if desired. Instruct guests to spoon a little rice topped with meat mixture into lettuce leaves and roll up.

Optional sauce: For those who like it hot, mix together a small bowl of hoisin sauce, hot chile paste and soy sauce in equal parts for serving over meat mixture when making wraps.

Shrimp in Asian Sauce
2 pounds large shrimp
4 Tablespoons vegetable oil
4 Tablespoons freshly
  squeezed lime juice
4 Tablespoons freshly
  squeezed orange juice
4 Tablespoons soy sauce
3 Tablespoons light brown
1 teaspoon Asian chile paste
2 Tablespoons minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped

Peel and devein shrimp. (Or use 1 pound frozen large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined.) Bring a pot of water to a boil. Drop shrimp in water and bring to a boil again. Cook for 1 minute, take a shrimp out and cut in two. When white all the way through, shrimp are done. Drain and place in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Soak until chilled and drain. Place in refrigerator until ready to use.

Mix all other ingredients and chill until ready to use.

To serve, mix shrimp with sauce and offer toothpicks on the side.

Serves a small group; to serve a crowd, double recipe.

Note: One pound of frozen cooked shrimp, thawed, can be used, but for ultimate results use fresh.