Search This Blog

Monday, January 30, 2012

Cooking With Banshee: Artichoke Bacon Dip

It's Super Week.  For the Giants and the Patriots and the media, that means a trip to Indy.  Well, for the rest of us, that means we need to start planning our game day menus.  Whether you're hosting a Super Bowl bash, heading to a friend's house or just staying at home for serious concentration on the game, food is a big part of the event.  So, in honor of Super Week, I will be posting several recipes to help you get ready for the big event.

Warm Artichoke Bacon Dip

This recipe came from Giada De Laurentis.  I've tweaked it just a little.  This recipe includes making your own pita chips.  If you can find similarly flavored chips in the store, it's probably not worth the extra hassle of making your own.  Plus, more is better when it comes to chips.  It's easier to buy more than to make more.

This dip has a pretty strong flavor.  If you do not like artichokes, you will not like this dip.  For some reason, this has a stronger artichoke flavor than most spinach and artichoke dips.

Pita Chips Ingredients:
1 Tbs chili powder
1 Tbs ground cumin
1 Tbs kosher salt
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
5 pita breads

Pita Chips Directions:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Combine chili powder, cumin and salt in a small bowl.  Drizzle the pita breads with olive oil.  Sprinkle the spice mixture over the pita breads.  Cut the pita breads into wedges.  Arrange the wedges in a single layer on baking sheets.  Bake until crisp.  Approximately 10 minutes.  I had to use two baking sheets and switch their positions in the oven throughout the baking process.

Dip Ingredients:
6 strips of bacon
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 chopped shallots
2 cloves minced garlic (4 tsp if using garlic from a jar)
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
16 oz marscapone cheese
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonaise
1/4 cup lemon juice

Dip Directions:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Grease a 1 quart baking dish.

Add the oil to a large skillet.  Fry the bacon until crispy.  Remove the bacon and allow it to drain on paper towels.  When it's cool enough to handle, give it a rough chop.

Add the shallots, artichokes, garlic, salt and pepper to the bacon grease in the skillet and sauté over medium heat until the shallots get translucent and the artichokes begin to brown.  About 8 minutes.  (Hint: add the garlic a few minutes after the other ingredients.  Garlic tends to burn quickly in the skillet.)

Transfer the sautéed ingredients to a food processor.  Add the marscapone cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, lemon juice and 1/2 of the chopped bacon.  Pulse until combined, but leave it a little chunky.  (Hint, food processors are powerful things.  If you want the dip to have a little texture, don't chop the shallots or the artichokes too much before adding them to the skillet.)

Spoon the dip into the greased baking dish.  Sprinkle the remaining bacon on top of the dip.  Bake uncovered for about 10 minutes.  You want it to be warm but not boiling.

Serving directions:
Serve this dip warm.  It is best with the chili pita chips, but tortilla chips are good, too. 01 09 10

Friday, January 27, 2012

Sports Tantrums of January

This week the NHL will take advantage of the absence of football and their annual all-star weekend in Ottawa, Canada.  Unfortunately for the NHL, Alex Ovechkin, the Great Eight, will not be participating in the event.  He's not injured.  He's just mad.  Ovechkin, one of the league's most exciting and recognizable figures, was recently given a three-game suspension for a hit against the Penguins.  Opinions from the sports pundits have been mixed as to whether Ovechkin's hit was violent enough to warrant such a suspension.  But Alex's opinion was clear.  If he can't help his team in the games that count then he's not going to help the league in their annual PR stunt.  In other words, Alex is going to take his puck and stay home.

But Ovechkin is not the only athlete who showed a childish temper during the month of January.  In fact, compared to the group assembled below, Ovechkin is the model of decorum.  So, I present to you three outrageous meltdowns from the month of January.

1.  Soccer Stomp.  Soccer has a reputation here in the States as being a sport for sissies.  So much diving and writhing around.  And so many silly stretchers for a guy that comes back into the game after a few squirts on the leg from that magic European aerosol spray.  But, I think the pain in this video is real.  This comes from the Barclay's English Premier League on January 22.  In this video, Mario Balotelli of Manchester City, apparently feels that that he was fouled by Scott Parker of the Tottenham Spurs.  I am not a soccer expert.  I do not know if an infraction should have been called against Parker.  But as a human being, I do know that the reaction by Balotelli is disproportionate and uncalled for.

2.  Big Baby with his pants on the ground.  You know those times when you are so frustrated that the only thing you can think to do is pull down your pants in front of 15,000 people?  What?  You've never been that frustrated?  Well, Glenn "Big Baby" Davis knows what I'm talking about.  In a game against the Spurs this month, Big Baby expressed his outrage over a foul that was called non him by dropping his drawers.  Amazingly enough, the ref did not respond by rescinding the foul.  Instead, Davis got a technical.

3.  What a racquet!  The first major of the 2012 tennis season is underway in Melbourne, Australia.  It's not a secret that many tennis players are wound as tight at the strings in their racquets.  Many years ago, after listening to John McEnroe complain about the stresses of his profession, Abe Lemons, a famous Oklahoma University basketball coach, once quipped, "I know when I was 18 years old and lying on my belly in Iwo Jima, I used to comfort myself by thinking, 'Boy, am I lucky not having to deal with the pressures of big-time tennis.'"  I'd love to hear Mr. Lemons' reaction to the tantrum that Marcos Baghdatis threw earlier this week during his match at the Australian Open.  I cannot throw stones at someone who loses their temper and lashes out in a physical way.  My office walls can attest to that.  But, there are some hilarious things in this outburst.  The thing that gets me every time is how he ends each racquet thrashing by calmly handing the rubble to some unseen assistant.  And, just when you think it's over, he grabs a new racquet and goes right back at it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Tribute to Joe

This afternoon, Joseph Vincent Paterno was laid to rest in State College, Pennsylvania.  I never met Joe Pa, but I can honestly say that he shaped my outlook on life as much as any man besides my own father.  You would expect to hear former players say such things.  And they have.  I spent most of the day on Sunday watching gridiron legends choke back tears as they talked about how they grew from boys to men in their four years with Coach Joe.  And almost none of them talked about the game of football.  They talked about tutoring sessions at the Paternos' kitchen table. They talked about how Joe treated their mother during the recruiting process.  And they talked about being visited by Joe in the hospital even when they were no longer contributing to the team.

I was unable to push aside the responsibilities of my job to head to State College to pay my respects.  But, through the phenomenon of social media, I was able to mourn in some way with like-minded folks ... some famous athletes, some members of the Paterno family, and some folks who are just 19 year-old college students who have lost a man they loved like a grandfather.  Since I have no words to pay appropriate tribute to Coach Paterno, I have, instead assembled a collection of photos that have been posted by others over the last few days across Twitter and Facebook.

Lights at Beaver Stadium were turned on Sunday night and will remain
lit until after the final public service is held on Thursday afternoon.
One last "White Out" for Joe.
This picture was taken by a student on Sunday night. 

On Sunday night, Jay Paterno made a clandestine trip to his
father's statue outside the stadium.  He posted this picture to Twitter.

Students began gathering at Joe's statue as word leaked out on Saturday night that Coach might not live through the night.  This picture was taken on Sunday night.

Over 30,000 people attended the 2-day public viewings.  After the private family service on Wednesday afternoon,
thousands lined the processional route to the cemetery.  This picture was taken from above
 Gate A at the stadium.  The photographer captioned it, "Waiting for Joe Pa one last time."
Funeral procession on College Ave.  SuePa rode in the front seat of the lead bus,
same seat her husband rode in to games.

Thank you, Joe Pa.  You will never be forgotten by this blog or the girl who runs it.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sports Fashionista

Football Fashionista has a better ring to it.  But, fear not, the fashion commentary will not end just because the college football season is over.

Wicked Witch of the East.  This week Michigan upset their in-state rival Michigan State in Ann Arbor.  It was a fierce and hard fought game.  But, the whole time I was watching, I was distracted by Michigan's heinous socks.  Images of the Wicked Witch of the East's stocking feet recoiling up under Dorothy's house kept popping into my mind.  Not every player had the socks pulled up high enough to give this triple layer stripe display.  But all of them were wearing the socks.

Yoga Unis?  The NFL is pretty strict about their uniforms.  The teams have a limited number of jersey and pant combinations that they may use.  No alternate helmets are permitted.  And teams must wear high socks that meet the pants.  No bare calves allowed.  So, it's rare for an NFL team to do something in the fashion department that warrants a mention by the Banshee.  But, the Ravens found a way to get my attention.  All black pants meeting all black socks flowing into black shoes.  It looks especially bad when the player turns this into a leotard by skipping hip pads, thigh pads and knee pads.  Is this a football uniform or an outfit for yoga?  To be fair, the Saints commit this fashion crime, too.  But, since they got eliminated last week, it seemed like piling on to rip their uniforms right now.

The Circus is in Town.  It isn't news that Marquette's men's basketball team has unusual uniforms.  At home or on the road, they manage to put more striping on a basketball uniform than any other school.  But this week, Marquette decided to eschew the home whites in favor of the baby blues.  Before writing this post, I did a little searching through Marquette's website.  The official school colors are blue and gold.  The other sports teams, including the women's basketball, team stick to traditional looking uniforms featuring dark blue and gold.  But, that apparently is not good enough for the men's team.  I watched this game against Louisville.  Marquette mounted a strong comeback in their upset victory.  But, the uniforms significantly detracted from my enjoyment of an otherwise great game.  Seriously, what is happening on the side of these uniforms?  And check out the guy in the background who decided he needed baby blue sneakers to complete the ensemble.  

Friday, January 20, 2012

NFL Playoff Predictions: Conference Championships


Baltimore at New England.  Sunday at 3:00 on CBS.  This has been the Year of the Offense.  Now that the Packers and Saints are out of the playoffs, the Patriots are the glamour team left in contention.  The Pats were 13-3 in the regular season.  But here is a little secret, the Patriots did not beat a single team that finished the season with a winning record.  That includes the Broncos who ended up 9-9.  Contrast that with the Ravens.  The Ravens swept the Steelers and the Bengals. They beat the Texans twice, and Matt Schaub played in the first game.  The Ravens also beat the 49ers.  Those are all playoff teams.  The game has been framed by many as a classic clash of the Patriots potent offense against the Ravens defense.  But that is not how I see this game.  The Ravens defense will play well.  But no one can shut Brady and his tight ends down completely.  So, the real question in the game is who will put their team over the edge: the Ravens offense or the Patriots defense.  Last week notwithstanding, the Ravens offense has shown at different times during the season that they are quite capable.  But, in the end, I think the Patriots defense will do just enough to protect the lead that Brady and the Gronk will give them.  Banshee prediction: Patriots 28, Ravens 24.


New York at San Francisco.  Sunday at 6:30 on FOX.  Last week, the Giants showed America (and the Banshee) why they were the sexy pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.  And now they are only one win away.  Meanwhile, the 49ers bested the Saints (as the Banshee predicted) in one of the best games I've ever watched.  This weekend's game is hard to predict because the Giants team we've seen the last few weeks barely resembles the Giants team that took beatings from the Deadskins and squeaked into the playoffs.  Most notably, the Giants have finally gotten their running game in gear.  However, the 49ers have had their running legs under them for the entire season.  And while Alex Smith is no Eli Manning, Smith proved last week that he can rise to the occasion when needed.  The 49ers proved all season that they have a dominant defense.  Last week, they proved they can also win a 4th quarter shootout.  So, my nod goes to the 49ers at home.    Banshee prediction: 49ers 24, Giants 21

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Movie Review: Moneyball

Before I begin, I want to make something perfectly clear.  I am not a movie critic.  I am just a girl who likes movies.  When I review movies on this blog, it will be from the perspective of someone who wants to be entertained.  It won't be from the perspective of an artsy insider.  And with that, I present my thoughts on  Moneyball.

The movie is about Billy Beane, GM of the Oakland A's.  He faces the daunting task of building a winning baseball team on a shoestring budget.  The movie is based on the non-fiction book by the same name.  Moneyball obviously centers around baseball, but in many ways it is not really a sports movie.  It is as much about business and innovative leadership as it is about sports.  There are very few scenes of the team actually playing ball on the field.  It makes sense that the drama is not driven by game action because the people who anticipated this movie the most already know how the important games will end.

Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane.  Pitt is very natural and comfortable in this role, including his nonchalant use of a spit cup during team meetings.  Jonah Hill plays a character named William Brand.  Beane and the Brand character, as played by Pitt and Hill are striking contrasts in age, affect and appearance.  It's highly entertaining to watch their interaction as they team up in the A's front office.

In summary, I heartily recommend Moneyball.  It is a good use of two hours.  It will appeal to hardcore baseball fans.  It will appeal to movie fans who enjoy well-written dialogue.  And, it will appeal to those who just enjoy spending two hours with Brad Pitt.  In other words, it will appeal to virtually everyone.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

NFL Playoff Predictions: Divisional Round


New Orleans at San Francisco.  Saturday at 4:30 on FOX.  San Francisco was at home resting and watching as the Saints destroyed Detroit in their opening round game last weekend.  The Seers in the Desert have installed the Saints as a favorite on the road.  The Saints are really rolling.  No doubt.  And Drew Brees absolutely shredded the ballyhooed Lions defense last week.  But this game won't be played in the raucous Superdome.  And, the Niners have two things that the Lions did not have.  The Niners have a more consistent and more disciplined defense.  And, more importantly, the Niners have the kind of running game that can keep the ball out of Drew Brees' hands.  The Niners will today that their 13-3 regular season record was no fluke.  Banshee prediction:  Niners 21, Saints 17.


Denver at New England.  Saturday at 8:00 on CBS.  Before I give any analysis, I need to issue a warning.  If you do online banking or have treasured photos saved in the cloud ... back up your data.  If Timmy Tebow leads his team to victory tonight, the Twitter explosion will cause the Internet to melt down.  But, I think the Internet is safe.  Tom Brady is just too good.  And, unlike Big Ben last week, the Golden Boy is healthy.  Last week, the Broncos surprised the Steelers with deep throws early in the game.  Well, that won't come as a surprise to the Patriots this week.  As usual, the Patriots have 37 players listed as "questionable" on the injury report, but Patrick Chung will undoubtedly play.  That will sure up the Pats D against those schoolyard deep routes.  I think the Broncos will score enough to stay competitive, but in the end the Patriots will advance.  Banshee prediction:  Patriots 31, Broncos 21.


Houston at Baltimore.  Sunday at 1:00 on FOX.  The Texans played well last weekend in a blowout of the Bengals.  But, the Texans benefitted from some terrible coaching decisions by Marvin Lewis.  They won't get that break from Harbaugh and the Ravens.  The Texans defense will play well enough to keep the score low, so the game will remain in doubt till the end.  The Ravens defense is getting older.  It is not the fearsome force that it was a few years ago.  But, with age comes experience.  The savvy Ravens will confuse the Texans rookie QB T.J. Yates into a big mistake that will change the game.  Banshee prediction:  Ravens 17, Texans 14.


New York at Green Bay.  Sunday at 4:30 on FOX.  The Giants are the sexy pick amongst talking heads and pundits.  I know all about the similarities between the this Giants team and the one that won the Super Bowl in 2008.  And I know that Eli Manning is playing great football right now.  And I know that the Packers defense has been vulnerable to the run at times.  But, I also know that the Packers are the defending Super Bowl champions.  They are healthier this year than they were last year.  And I also know that the Packers went 15-1 during the regular season.  The Packers will play enough defense to give their powerful offense the cushion it needs.  Banshee prediction:  Packers 35, Giants 21.

Monday, January 9, 2012

BCS Championship Breakdown

Here is a quick look at tonight's BCS national championship game.  The game is a rematch between Alabama and LSU.  LSU comes into the game undefeated.  'Bama's only loss of the season was against LSU.  That game was played at Alabama.  LSU won a defensive struggle by a score of 9-6.  Tonight's game is being played in the Superdome in New Orleans.  Geographically, that is closer to LSU's campus, but it is a neutral site.  Neither team is sleeping in the own beds, and the fans will be evenly divided.

Predictions in college championship games are extremely difficult.  Unlike any other sport, the championship game is played a month and a half after the last time either team's last game.  So, in many ways, tonight's game is an independent spectacle that is not particularly related to what happened in the regular season.

First, my hopes.  I am rooting for LSU for two reasons.

#1.  Tonight's winner will be named the champion for this season.  I accept that this is the system in college football right now.  But, the NCAA continues to shout that in college football, every game counts.  Well, if LSU loses tonight, then none of their games counted except this one.  LSU had the strongest body of work over the course of the season.  Alabama had a very strong body of work, too.  A great body of work.  But, not as great as LSU's.  LSU beat a total of eight ranked teams over the course of the season.  LSU's opponents included Oregon on a neutral field, West Virginia in Morgantown and ... oh yeah ... Alabama at Alabama.  LSU deserves to get the crystal trophy at the end of a season like that.

#2.  If LSU wins then we do not need to hear nine months of whining out of Baton Rouge and Stillwater and even Tuscaloosa.  If LSU wins, they will be the only undefeated team in the nation.  No one will dispute the legitimacy of a title for the Tigers.  But, if Alabama wins ... let the crying begin.  Oklahoma State will renew their claims that their one-loss team had as much right as Alabama to play in the BCS championship game tonight.  And then there will be the Tigers fans who will argue that a season split deserves a split championship.  And, there is merit to that argument.  After all, there is historic precedent for splitting the college football championship.  But, if that happens, Bama fans will have a fit.  In fact, Bama fans will have a fit that Tiger fans even suggest that such a thing should happen.  In fact, Bama fans are already having a fit because people like me have mentioned this scenario.  I don't want to hear all that for the next few months, so I am rooting for the Tigers tonight.

As far as predictions go, I think that this game will be much prettier to watch than the first match-up.  I think both offenses will play better this time around, but this will not be a shootout.  Both teams have ferocious defenses.  I think the game will be decided by LSU's playmakers.  I think that LSU has more players on offense and special teams who are capable of making a big play that swings the game.  Banshee Prediction:  LSU 20, Alabama 14.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

NFL Playoff Predictions

Bengals at Texans.  Saturday at 4:30 on NBC.  I'm sad these two team are playing each other.  I've enjoyed both of their stories this year.  On Saturday, one of the stories will end.  Both teams play good defense.  I think the Texans running game will be the deciding factor.  Banshee Prediction: Texans 17, Bengals 14.

Lions at Saints.  Saturday at 8:00 on NBC.  I know the Lions played pretty well in New Orleans a few weeks ago.  And I also know that Suh did not play in that game.  But the Saints offense is really humming right now.  And the Saints have a dominant offensive line that allows them to switch to a power running attack when they choose to.  I don't think this game will actually be close.  Banshee Prediction:  Saints 38, Lions 21.

Falcons at Giants.  Sunday at 1:00 on FOX.  This is a tough game to predict.  The Falcons are steady.  We know what we'll get from them.  The Giants are mercurial.  But, I think the good Giants show up for this game at home.  Banshee Prediction: Giants 28, Falcons 24.

Steelers at Broncos.  Sunday at 4:30 on CBS. This game has all the makings of a dramatic upset.  The Steelers are playing without their starting center, their starting running back and a starting safety.  Big Ben is hobbled.  The Broncos play good defense and Tim Tebow is ... well ... he's Tim Tebow.  But, in the end, I think the creative Steelers defense will contain and confuse Tebow and grind out a win.  Banshee Prediction:  Steelers 14, Broncos 3.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Five Reasons to Care about the NBA

This summer, America faced a national emergency as the NFL lockout dragged on through the summer months.  In the end, America breathed a sigh of relief as a labor deal was signed just in time to give us a full NFL season.  Meanwhile, the American public was barely aware that the NBA was also engaged in a lockout.  And even sports fans barely yawned as actual regular season games were canceled.  A deal was finally signed into place in time for the NBA to kick off its truncated season on Christmas Day.  Now, we're a little more than two weeks into the season, and many of you may still be giving a who-cares-shrug even as you read this.  I am going to give you five reasons why you should care about the NBA season this year.

1.  Football Season Can't Last Forever.  Yeah, NBA Commissioner David Stern would not approve of this being the #1 reason to care about his sport.  But, let's be honest.  Football is king in America.  But, on February 6, 2012, Americans will wake up and the Super Bowl will have been yesterday.  It will be seven more months until a meaningful football game is played.  Something needs to fill that void.  The NBA playoffs are a good candidate in the spring and early summer.  Like anything else, the playoffs are much better if you have paid enough attention to the regular season to care about the players and teams.

2.  New and Different.  Change is in the air.  The balance of power is shifting, particularly in the Western Conference.  The Mavericks, the Spurs and the Lakers will all flex their aging muscles at some point in the year.  But, if the playoffs started today, they would include the Trail Blazers, the Thunder, the Clippers, the Nuggets, the Grizzlies and the Jazz.  Based on last year's results and offseason moves, there is no reason to think any of these new and different teams will be going away quietly.  The Thunder and the Clippers are particularly fun teams to watch and have stars that are easy to like.

3.  NBA Makes Accountants Cool.  In the NFL, the salary cap and signing rules are simple.  In Major League Baseball, there are no rules.  Anything goes.  But, the NBA has a system that will make accountants the most popular guys around the water cooler when office banter turns to NBA rosters.  The new collective bargaining agreement is so complicated that you cannot have an intelligent discussion about a potential trade without a CPA on hand.  If you don't know any CPAs then keep a copy of this Grantland explanation and an abacus handy.

4.  Raptors in 3D.  The Toronto Raptors did not appear on my list of new and different teams to keep an eye on come playoff time.  But, the Raptors are making a splash this year by becoming the first NBA team to use a 3D logo on their baseline.  The logo is created by a company called LogoPaint.  Apparently, the logo looks 3D from the seats and on TV.  Check out this video from a preseason game.

5.  66 Game Season.  "We play to win the games."  Herm Edwards was right about the NFL, but in the NBA, many teams play to win just enough games to get into the playoffs.  Then the real season begins.  Well, this year there isn't time to laze around.  With sixteen fewer games this year, each game matters far more.  None of them can be taken for granted.  It will be a tough three months for the players, but it should be a fun three months for the fans.

Oregon Ducks Win Banshee Sports Playoffs

Oregon 90, Oklahoma State 42.  I watched this entire game.  And, when it was over, I thought the score was so absurd that I was ready to declare the entire Banshee Sports College Football Playoffs experiment a failure.  And then I saw the absurd offensive outputs in the real BCS bowls.  It sounds silly to say this when 90 points are scored, but this game was decided by the Ducks defense.  The Ducks forced eight turnovers and scored three defensive touchdowns.  The game ended on a sour note as Oregon showed a shocking lack of class in the fourth quarter.  The Ducks never removed their starters and threw the ball till the final horn.