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Kickoff cuisine
Story by Margie Wuebker; photos by Cheryl Bach
September 24, 2014
Sisters Jen Elsner and Julie Metzler are not novices when it comes to tailgating. After all, they wrote a book on the subject with a decidedly Ohio State Buckeyes theme.
The sisters, who grew up in the Anna and Pioneer Rural Electric Cooperative area, collaborated on The Ohio State University Cookbook, published by Gibbs Smith in 2013.
Elsner, who has a passion for cooking and hosting game-day parties, wrote a cookbook in 2012 for the University of Oklahoma, where she earned a master’s degree in professional writing.
“Gibbs Smith publishes a whole line of university cookbooks, and I noticed they did not have one for OSU yet,” she says. “No matter where I live, I will always be a Buckeye, so I wanted to jump on the opportunity before anyone else did.”
She collaborated with her sister, an OSU alumna, and together they came up with recipes and themed titles to pitch to the publisher.
Their cookbook supports the tailgating theme with the likes of Tackle ’Em Taco Soup, Brutus Burger Sliders, Tunnel of Pride French Onion Dip, The Silver Bullets Pepper Jack Cheese Sticks, Scarlet and Gray Hot Cocoa and, of course, Ohio State Buckeyes.
“Tailgating is an amazing experience,” Metzler says. “The sense of pride among the fans is like no other. The tradition is centered around an outstanding university or professional football team, good people and, most importantly, delicious food.”
Elsner also enjoys tailgating with special events taking place every home game.
“Tailgating seems to be getting more popular each year,” she says. “Many people are even opting to host ‘tailgating’ parties at home — in their backyards or driveways — without the parking/traffic hassles that come with the traditional game-day territory.”
Metzler, the mother of two daughters ages 9 and 7, has joined the tailgate-at-home enthusiasts these days.
However, she vividly recalls game days during her years at OSU. “I always knew I would eat well,” she adds. “The smell of meat grilling, people chanting ‘O-H-I-O’ and bonding with friends — there is nothing better.”
The women score points with family and friends with recipes like Championship Chicken Wings, Field Goal Nachos and Victory Bell Veggie Pinwheel Wraps.
Brown sugar and honey tone down the effect of hot sauce in the wings recipe, but the sisters quickly point out that those who want less heat can adjust the amount to suit their palate.
The hearty nachos recipe, which appears on the following page, combines ground beef, taco seasoning mix, pinto beans, salsa con queso, taco sauce, pepper Jack cheese and Colby Jack cheese into a flavorful topping for restaurant-style tortilla chips and Nacho Cheese Doritos®.
Both maintain the biggest mistake tailgaters can make is not prepping ingredients beforehand. Things like making hamburger patties, marinating meat and washing/cutting vegetables beforehand not only save valuable time on game day but also ensure the host/hostess has everything done before the first kickoff.
“Crock-Pot soup/dishes and oven recipes obviously need to be made at home first,” Elsner says. “Grilling and finger food items are generally made on site.”
The sisters claim aluminum foil and Ziploc bags are staples for tailgaters. Since neither sister has a special tailgate vehicle equipped with all the comforts of home, they advocate making a checklist of “must-haves” in advance so that nothing is forgotten in the rush.
They also recommend periodically checking to see whether rules have changed, as universities and professional teams sometimes alter guidelines. It is important to know all the do’s and don’ts before you arrive and — most importantly — to arrive early.
“Tailgating is a fun slice of Americana where you can see and feel the hype and excitement of your team through sharing fandom,”
Elsner says. “It’s a cultural experience you don’t want to miss.”


Make use of tailgating cookbook, football fans
Posted: Friday, September 12, 2014 7:00 am | Updated: 10:08 am, Sat Sep 13, 2014.

During the first home game, I wandered down to Sooner Village at the Lloyd Noble Center and conducted a quick recipe straw poll. Although burgers ruled the day, they aren’t the only items on the grill this football season.

I came across the Smith family. Actually, James and “Mama Mary” Smith and their friends, who have become family. They were a loud, energetic group that clearly enjoyed being together. They were cooking Bevo Burgers, which sounded promising. The recipe called for a regular burger consumed by those who despise the University of Texas.

The other tailgaters, be they at the Sooner Village, on Jenkins Avenue or on Lindsey Street, were preparing largely the same thing: burgers and chips. But before the end of the season, that menu is going to wear thin.
That is where “The University of Oklahoma Cookbook” comes in handy, written by OU's own Jen Elsner.
Elsner actually wasn't the book's original author. The original author withdrew from the contract at the last minute, and the publisher phoned the OU English Department in desperation to see if there might be anyone in the department with both the cooking and writing skills to write the cookbook. The only catch? They had to finish it in three weeks.
Elsner, who works in the English Information Technology department, is also a food blogger. She was forwarded the information, contacted the publisher and spent a feverish weekend selecting recipes and concocting titles for all 30 dishes in the cookbook.
“I really enjoyed doing the cookbook a lot. I love entertaining, and I love coming up with new recipes,” Elsner said.
Most of the recipes in the cookbook came from Elsner's own dishes, which she makes for her and her friends’ game day watch parties. The book's publisher actually pitched the book as a collegiate-themed cookbook, not a tailgating cookbook. However, most retailers shelve the cookbook with tailgating cookbooks, and one of Elsner’s first book signings was during an OU home game.
“Tailgating is a really neat culture, so incredibly diverse,” Elsner said. “And the trend of home tailgating seems to be on an upswing.”
While many of these recipes are geared toward home tailgating, they travel well and can easily be made before the game and brought to the tailgate party or prepared while tailgating.
Elsner and her publisher agreed to share two recipes with the OU Daily, which are presented in the sidebar accompanying this article. Elsner’s favorite recipe to prepare when she is hosting a party is the Land Run Casserole.
“This includes all my favorite things, and it’s all in one dish,” Elsner said.
The casserole can be used as burrito filling or a dip for tortilla chips, Elsner said.
When traveling to someone else’s party, Elsner’s favorite take-along dish is the Pride of Oklahoma Pumpkin Dip.
“It’s super cheap, super fast, one-bowl cooking,” she said. “The dip tastes like pumpkin pie, and when you take this to a party there’s never any left to take home.”
Visit Elsner’s blog, “OMG, have you tasted this?” at for more information on where to buy the cookbook, as well as bonus recipes like Baja Nachos.


6/5/2013 9:34:00 AM

Cooking for relief
Sidney native helps tornado victims 
Kathy Leese
JEN ELSNER, formerly of Anna, has written a tailgating cookbook.
All proceeds from the sale of the cookbook will go to
 the relief efforts for tornado victims in Oklahoma.

NORMAN, Okla. - A former Sidney resident who was seven miles from where a tornado packing winds of more than 200 mph struck near Oklahoma City last week is helping the community recover.

Jen Elsner, 38, a 1992 graduate of Anna High School and daughter of Wes Elsner and Jill (Gibson) Givens, both of Sidney, knows the reality of bad weather in a state that is part of tornado alley. She also knows what it is like to lose nearly all of her belongings.

Elsner, who is the granddaughter of Eddie and Barbara Gibson and Margie Elsner, all of Sidney, has resided in Oklahoma for 16 years and currently lives in Norman. She has a bachelor's degree in history, a bachelor's degree in archaeology, and a master's degree in professional writing. She works as an IT specialist for Oklahoma University.

Elsner quickly learned about Oklahoma's infamous weather and how to deal with the realities of tornadoes. "The Moore (Oklahoma) tornado on May 20 was seven miles from my house and the debris field had a span of 2.5 miles wide. That was close enough for me," she said.
Moore is a place that is special to Elsner, since she spends a lot of time there. It is one of the reasons she wanted to help. "I knew people who lost their homes or were affected personally by the tornado outbreak," she said. "Moore is also like a second home ... to me. It's where my movie theater is, my eye doctor, my favorite shops and restaurants."  Elsner has not been to the tornado-ravaged area yet.
"I haven't actually been down there yet personally, but some friends that helped in the cleanup efforts said that it was ... a mess," she said. "The chopper pilot for local news Channel 4 said that it literally looked like a war zone and he is an actual war veteran. Seeing the before-and-after images of the schools ... on TV, that really hit me more than anything emotionally."

Elsner knows people affected by the Moore tornado.
"A woman I used to work for lost her home completely and an acquaintance had some moderate damage," she said. "Most of the people I am close to lost power, cell service..."
"I am getting tornado fatigue as are many Oklahomans," Elsner said, noting this year's tornadoes are not typical, including not only the Moore tornado, but another tornado that struck near the same area on Friday. That tornado left 14 dead as of a report on Monday and was reportedly an EF3 tornado packing winds of 136-165 mph; 115 people reportedly were injured.
"Usually there is a total of about three to four weeks of severe weather to watch out for and it's usually spread out - a day here, a couple of days there and generally runs from March to May," she said. "But it has been nonstop since May 20, with only a couple of days off here and there. It is exhausting even if a town does not get hit by an actual tornado, because there are several hours of watching and preparing and waiting to see if tornadoes will form out of a severe storm and trying to figure out where, so that we can take the precautions necessary. The weather teams and storm chasers in this part of the United States are amazing."

Three storm chasers lost their lives Friday when they were caught in a tornado's path.
While the weather has been severe, Oklahomans are trained how to react.
"When severe weather begins to develop, people in Oklahoma don't mess around," Elsner stated. "My general routine is to pull up the National Weather Service radar online and when severe storms start popping up in the Southwest, I get to the basement of one of the OU ... buildings. I set up my watch station on my laptop, which includes the NWS radar, live streaming coverage from two of the local news stations ... plus the U.S. National Weather Service for Norman, Okla., Facebook page."
"All four of these media outlets give a good detailed overall picture of what is happening outside around you while you are safe in what is affectionately known as the 'hidey hole.' It is also a good idea to make sure that you pack a weather radio with good batteries in case the Internet goes out or you run out of power," Elsner stated.

Elsner believes the warning time helps save lives.
"That 16 minutes of warning is generally plenty of time to get to safety, but many do not have safety to get to," she said. "The F4 and F5 tornado classes, like what went through Moore, Okla., are not generally survivable unless you are underground or in a specially reinforced storm room. Getting in a bathtub or the center of your house is not going to be enough to save your life. There really needs to be more storm shelters in high-risk areas, especially for public school buildings."

Elsner decided to help those affected by the tornadoes and began by using her technology skills. "I did a lot of information sharing and redirection through social media outlets like Facebook," she said.
Elsner also found herself rescuing a dog lost in the storm.
"I ... found a displaced dog and took it to a local tornado pet shelter where they have around-the-clock volunteers and vets (veterinarians) on site to help with the reunification process and I decided to help with fundraising in the small way that I could by offering to donate proceeds from the sales of my (recipe) book," she said.

Elsner has a very personal reason to want to help, since her own family lost their belongings in a fire in Shelby County when she was a girl.

"I know what it is like to lose your home in the blink of an eye and others stepped up to help me and my family when our house burned down and I will always be grateful for that," she said.
"Our entire farm house was lost to a fire when I was young. We were lucky enough to be out of town when the fire started, but when we pulled up to what was left of our home, I knew everything was about to change. We were allowed to go in to get whatever personal things we could salvage ... I will never forget seeing the rainbow colors of crayon wax streaked across my partially melted stuffed animals," Elsner recalled. "And I will never forget the elderly woman from the Red Cross who was there when I walked out, devastated and in shock. She wrapped me in a warm blanket, offered soothing words and gave me a small baggie that contained a toothbrush and other bare necessities that I would need to start my life over. It may seem odd, but I can honestly say that in that moment, that baggie was the most important thing in my life and I will never forget how such a ... small gesture meant the world to me. It gave me hope and let me know that eventually everything was going to be all right. I want to support and encourage that kind of hope for others in whatever small ways I can," Elsner stated.

Elsner said the people of Oklahoma, and particularly Moore, are no strangers to devastating tornadoes.
"The people of Oklahoma, especially Moore, have been through it before. However there is a strong movement right now circulating about mandatory storm shelters in the public schools and other places, so that is something new. People are ... resilient around here and will pull together quickly in the face of tragedy," she said.

Elsner recently had a tailgating recipe book published by Gibbs Smith Publishing. They publish university tailgating cookbooks, and after submitting ideas, she was asked to write a recipe book with a tailgating theme that tied to OU football. It includes recipes that were developed by Elsner or are family recipes. The book includes full-color professional photos of the dishes. She has also published a similar book for the Ohio State University together with her sister, Julie, due to be published in the fall.

Elsner is selling her cookbook to help those affected by the tornadoes.
"I am donating 100 percent of the profits made off of the books that I have ... after I run out, the fundraising for it will end," she said.
She said the recipe book is for sale for $15 plus shipping.
"People can only order the book through me for the relief effort," she said. "This fundraiser is not through my publisher or anywhere else. "Please make it clear that no money will be sent to relief efforts if ordered anywhere else. They can go to my Facebook page and message me and I will then tell them the address where they can mail me a check."  Elsner said she will autograph and personalize the book if a person would like that. There is a $3 media mail shipping rate. She plans to sell the books through the end of June or until she runs out.

Elsner said that the effort to help pets and farm animals in the area has been helped by social media.
"Sometimes, media and viewers don't think about what happens to the pets or farm animals," she said. "This time, however, traditional as well as social media really have been doing a fantastic job at coordinating recovery and reunification efforts for displaced pets from tornadoes.
"I have witnessed a really amazing phenomenon throughout all of this. The most ordinary people can and will rise up and become heroes without thinking twice about it. The ... teachers who shielded someone else's children with their bodies, the groups of volunteers ... the storm chasers, meteorologists and reporters who risk their lives to give Oklahomans those precious minutes of warning and who direct us on how to help after it happens ... the loved ones and the strangers alike who come together to help ... without thought of getting something in return. These are the examples of heroism ... I have seen come out of the devastation and loss from these Oklahoma tornadoes."

To purchase one of Elsner's cookbooks to help the relief effort in Oklahoma, contact her at You can also go to the American Red Cross website at To learn more about how pets are being rescued, go to


Make your tailgate a tasty touchdown.

Christina NihiraOctober 3rd, 2012 
Tackle the fun at tailgates by bringing a whole lot of spirited food.
Just in time for kickoff, Jen Elsner has released The University of Oklahoma Cookbook, which offers recipes for game day and more. You can pick it up at Full Circle Bookstore, 1900 Northwest Expressway; the University of Oklahoma Bookstore, 1185 Asp in Norman; and metro-area Barnes & Noble locations.
The full-color cookbook is organized by appetizers, main course, veggies, dips, beverages and sweets.
A resident of Norman, Elsner points out that the book goes outside the gridiron. These dishes easily lend themselves to occasions like other sporting events, watch parties, holiday and birthday parties.
“These are family recipes I have enjoyed my entire life,” she said, “or ones that I’ve created by sitting around and theorizing about what might be tasty.”
Boomer Sooner Sugar Cookies, Touchdown Taters and Tornado Alley Pumpkin Dip are delicious delights. And before Oklahoma State University fans start to feel left out, recipe names are not limited to just Sooner lingo; Elsner pays homage to the entire state.
“Coming up with the themed names was the most fun for me,” she said.

More than eats 
But hardcore tailgaters know they have to prepare more than food.
“We have a preseason planning meeting with three other families,” said Dan Tero, a devoted OSU graduate. “You can’t just open a package of hot dogs. We don’t have the same menu at every game.”
Tero; his wife, Whitney; and their friends make it a weekend event. The longtime Cowboys fan even purchased a vehicle for the celebrations.
“We took one of my company’s old vans and painted it bright orange,” he said. “Now we have a vehicle to just tailgate.”
Inside this OSU-mobile is where Tero keeps his essential supplies. A large tent, rugs, a television, a stereo with speakers, a generator and decorative lights to decorate outside are some of the provisions besides the two gas grills.
Setup begins on Thursday nights before a game. That’s when the tailgate space is staked out and the tent put up.
On Saturday, Tero and his crew usually arrive six to eight hours in advance of the game to begin organizing items and cooking.
He noted that his tailgate, which often has 40 or 50 guests, wouldn’t be possible without his pals.
Tradition and school enthusiasm enhance the feeling, too.
“If you did this by yourself, all of it would just be a job,” he said. “A good group of friends counts.”
Elsner, a Sooner faithful, recommends making a to-do list and getting to the stadium site early.
Local grocery stores get in on the action, which helps if you are pressed for time or want something special. Check out the new Uptown Grocery Co., 1230 W. Covell in Edmond, or Whole Foods, 6001 N. Western, for prepared food options.
Crest Foods, with several metro locations, features ready-to-cook steaks, burgers and a sausage custom-made for the football season.
At the end of the day, tailgates are about quality time just as much as quality food.
“The culture of tailgating seems to be about camaraderie that is shared between fellow tailgaters,” Elsner said. “It cultivates and boosts a collective sense of team spirit.”
Tero couldn’t agree more. “I couldn’t imagine not doing tailgates,” he said. “Having all your friends there is the reason you do them.”


Food Dude  ~The Oklahoman's NewOK

Tailgating Tome from Soonerland

Just in time for tailgating season is “The University of Oklahoma Cookbook” (Gibbs Smith, $14.99)
This hardcover with concealed spiral binding is the brainchild of Jen Elsner, whose passion for cooking and hosting game-day parties is only exceeded by her love of the Crimson and Cream. Elsner, who has a Masters Degree in Professional Writing from OU, works for the university’s English Department and is a Norman resident.
The book contains a variety of tailgate-friendly recipes like Touchdown Taters, Conestoga Kabobs, 7-Point Salad, Tornado Alley Pumpkin Dip and Boomer Sooner Sugar Cookies. Look for it in bookstores in September.

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David Cathey

Oklahoman food editor Dave Cathey keeps his eye on the culinary arts and serves up news and reviews from Oklahoma's booming food scene. Follow Dave on Twitter and check out his website.

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