Soup Up Your Big Game Spread

By Anita McVey, Picnic Life Foodie

Let's go bowling! No, I’m not referring to that highly frustrating game of gutter balls and missed spares (in my experience, that is) … I’m talking football! It’s still bowl season with the granddaddy of all bowl games right around the corner. Before I leave you with the impression that I object to traditional bowling or am an avid NFL fan, let me just clarify that, like all sports, I am in it for the food.

Aren’t we all?

At the risk of having said food thrown my way, I must admit I do not follow a particular NFL team. I’m a baseball girl (33 days ‘til Spring Training!), but I do get caught up the pomp and circumstance of the big game. I love the commercials (those that aren’t spoiled in the media before the game itself), the halftime show (a Justin Timberlake encore without the Janet Jackson faux pas) and the buffet of food that always accompanies a game-watching experience.


My choice for game-watching party food might surprise you: soup. Yes, there’s the obvious “Soup-er Bowl” tagline and the less-than-clever reference to the vessel in which the soup is served, but soup covers all the bases (sorry, unintentional baseball reference!) for your party. More than that, the reasons are very practical:

No Fuss on Game Day: Soup tastes better if it is made a day (or two) ahead. Line up the crock pots, and your guests will have hot soup available before, after and all through the game.

Portable: A game-watch party is like an indoor tailgate: people move around and want food they can carry. One might not consider soup a convenient portable choice, but it just must be served in the right container! Small coffee mugs make the ideal choice: they have a handle, they keep food hot, and they aren’t heavy.  Styrofoam cups or bowls (like what you would get for takeout at a deli or Chinese restaurant) work well too. Guests can put their initials on the bowls for identification. Make it a contest and have guests write their prediction for the final score on their cups/bowls and send the winner home with some leftover soup!

Self-Serve: The host does not want to be confined to the kitchen during the game (or the commercials, for that matter). Everyone can help themselves and graze throughout the evening.

Customizable: Choose soups that are complimented by condiments. Offer a selection of garnishes that encourage conversation and creativity. Sliced radishes add a peppery crunch to soups and stews with Mexican or Asian influences. Toasted nuts, such as walnuts or cashews give texture to pureed soups. Herbs and spices (e.g., nutmeg for cream-based soups, cinnamon for chili, fresh thyme or parsley for tomato-based soups) encourage guests to try something new. If they don’t love it, they can try again!

Tasty: Homemade soup does not have to be complicated, but your guests will be bowled over by your efforts (sorry … couldn’t resist).

Although I am not qualified to help you make any predictions on who will win the big game, I can provide you with a few soup suggestions that will help make your party successful: Turkey/Poblano Chili, Pigskin Soup (extra point for the football reference) and Hearty Beef & Vegetable Soup. Make a pan of cornbread and a plate of deviled eggs and get ready for kickoff.

Be prepared for the party with a simple trivia question (especially if like me, you cannot speak intelligent “football-ease”):

Which of the following is closest in size to one acre of land?

  • MLB Baseball Diamond
  • NFL Football Field
  • NBA Basketball Court
  • NHL Hockey Rink

Answer: football field without end zones = 1.1 acres; baseball diamond = 0.2 acres; basketball court = 0.1 acres; hockey rink = 0.4 acres)

Not watching the game? Maybe there are a few of you out there who do not enjoy a single part of the football festivities. Soup is still a good idea. You know what else is a good idea?


I never said I didn’t have fun throwing gutter balls …

Turkey Poblano Chili

Turkey Poblano ChiliChili is a game-day staple. Mix things up a little with this slightly smoky, mildly spicy version made with ground turkey. There are two kinds of corn in this recipe: sweet corn (that wonderful stuff we love from the garden) and hominy (from corn that is grown in the field). If you are lucky enough to have some sweet corn in the freezer from last summer, use it here! If not, look for the “baby white” or “petite” varieties in the frozen foods section as they will be smaller and more tender. Hominy is made from field corn by removing the hull and germ of the kernel. It provides a wonderful, potato-like texture and mild corn flavor to

Fun fact: Only one percent of corn planted in the United States is sweet corn. The other 99 percent of corn grown in Iowa is “field corn.” A small portion of field corn is processed for human consumption (think corn starch, corn oil and corn syrup, for example) but it is primarily used for livestock feed, ethanol production and manufactured goods.


  • 5 large poblano chiles
  • 3 tablespoons olive/avocado oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground turkey (white and dark meat)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground ancho Chile powder or chili powder blend
  • 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano, lightly crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups turkey or chicken broth/stock, divided
  • 3 cups tomato juice
  • 1 can (15 oz.) pinto beans, drained
  • 1 can (15 oz.) hominy, drained
  • 2 cans (15 oz. each) fire-roasted diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup frozen sweet corn
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Fresh limes
  • Radishes
  • Sour cream
  • Toasted pumpkin (pepita) seeds
  • Green onion
  • Shredded pepper-jack cheese
  • Pickled or fresh jalapeño slices


Roast the poblanos: Cut poblanos lengthwise in quarters, removing the stem, seeds and membranes. Lay the pepper pieces, skin side up, on a rimmed baking sheet.  Drizzle the skin side with 1 tablespoon olive/avocado oil, and place under the broiler for 5-6 minutes, or until skin is blistered and charred. Remove the peppers from the broiler, place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to steam (5-10 minutes). Place pepper pieces on a cutting board and gently scrape the loose skin from the peppers (no need to remove all the skin). Dice 3 of the peppers (12 pieces) into 1/2” pieces; set aside. Cut the remaining 2 peppers (8 pieces) into thin strips; set aside.

Chili: Heat a large Dutch oven or stock pot over medium-high heat. Drizzle remaining olive/avocado oil into pan and add ground turkey, breaking the turkey up as it cooks. When browned (no longer pink), add salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, chili powder, oregano, cinnamon, onion and garlic to the pan. Reduce heat to medium and stir to distribute spices evenly; cook for 3-4 minutes or until onions begin to soften. Add 2 cups turkey/chicken broth/stock, tomato juice, beans, hominy, tomatoes and the reserved poblano pepper strips. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Poblano puree: Place remaining reserved diced poblanos in a food processor with a small handful (at least 1/4 cup) fresh cilantro, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice. Pulse until evenly chopped. Add 1/2 cup broth/stock and process into a thick puree. Add the remaining 1/2 cup broth/stock, puree and corn to the soup, stirring to combine. Simmer gently for 30-40 minutes to break down tomatoes and combine flavors.

Garnish with sour cream, toasted pumpkin seeds, sliced radishes, finely diced onion, shredded cheese and jalapeño slices.

Pigskin Soup


Pigskin SoupWhat better way to celebrate a football game than with soup that combines our favorite pork products and that wonderful cheesy appetizer of potato skins? Salty ham and melty cheeses combine with diced potatoes to make a bowl of rich soup that is only improved with a sprinkle of crisp bacon, a bit of sour cream and a few strips of baked potato skins.

Fun fact: Iowa leads the U.S. in pork production, raising approximately one-third of the nation’s total each year!


  • 8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled (reserve drippings)
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dry ground mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup white wine (preferably Chardonnay), optional
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 1-2 cups washed, peeled and diced potatoes (reserve peelings)
  • 1 cup diced ham
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (Havarti, cheddar, Swiss - soft, not aged)
  • Dash of nutmeg
  • Green onions


Sauté onions and celery in bacon drippings over medium heat until tender (4-5 minutes). Sprinkle flour, thyme, ground mustard and black pepper over vegetables and stir to coat; cook and stir for 2-3 minutes. Add Worcestershire sauce; cook and stir for 2-3 additional minutes. Add bay leaf and white wine, cook and stir for 3-4 minutes while flour and seasonings thicken the wine and the alcohol evaporates. Stir in chicken broth, carrots, potatoes and ham; simmer for 10-20 minutes or until vegetables are tender (time varies based on the size of the vegetable pieces). Slowly stir in one cup milk, stirring constantly, until milk is thoroughly warmed. Repeat two more times with remaining milk. Add shredded cheese, a little at a time, stirring to allow it to melt in the soup. (Adding the milk and cheese in intervals creates a smoother texture.) Finish with a small dash of nutmeg. Remove from heat. Remove bay leaf before serving.

Potato Skins: Use the reserved potato peels to make a potato skin topper for the soup. Toss peels with a tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper. Spread out on a large cookie sheet and bake at 425 degrees until crispy, about 15-20 minutes, turning every 10 minutes.

Garnish with shredded cheese, green onions, potato skins and bacon.

Hearty Beef & Vegetable Soup


Hearty Beef and Vegetable SoupThis soup is the epitome of comfort food. It is simple, inexpensive and has deep flavor. There are two keys to developing that deep flavor: bay leaf and quality ground beef. The bay leaf, added whole and removed before serving, adds a light herbal note to the soup and acts to integrate the flavors of the other ingredients. When purchasing ground beef for soup, choose one with a lower fat content (less than 15%) and slightly higher price. The extra dollar or two you spend will be well worth it in that stock pot on your stove.

Fun fact: Beef cattle are raised in all of Iowa’s 99 counties and outnumber the human population in the state!


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 pounds ground beef (85/15 or higher)
  • 1 1/2 cups diced onion
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups tomato juice
  • 6 cups beef broth/stock
  • 1 1/2 cups diced celery
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced carrots
  • 2 cups diced potatoes


Heat a large Dutch oven or stock pot over medium-high heat. Drizzle olive oil into pan and add ground beef and onion, breaking up beef as it browns. When beef is no longer pink, remove the excess fat, reduce heat to medium and stir salt, pepper, tomato paste, dried thyme and crushed red pepper into the ground beef and onion. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add remaining ingredients and simmer 20-30 minutes, until carrots and potatoes are tender. Remove bay leaf before serving.

Garnish with chopped fresh parsley or thyme and croutons.

A la carte topping suggestions

  • Sour cream
  • Potato skin strips
  • Sliced green onions
  • Shredded cheese
  • Radish slices
  • Cilantro
  • Bacon
  • Fresh or pickled jalapeño slices

 Suggested Sides

  • Cornbread
  • Deviled eggs
  • Tortilla chips

All of these recipes feature ingredients that are grown or raised on Iowa farms. We are grateful to the farmers and businesses who devote their lives to bringing high-quality, affordable products to our tables.

Soup Buffet

No time to make soup before the big game?

Pizza and subs never disappoint! Casey’s, Subway and Jimmy John’s rely on Iowa agriculture to build their pizzas and sandwiches.


Did you know?

  • Iowa turkey farmers are the number one supplier of turkey for Subway and Jimmy John’s restaurants.
  • Iowa-based Casey’s Pizza uses 2 million pounds of eggs for the breakfast pizzas and 10.5 million pounds of toppings each year.

Your Iowa farmers have your back when it comes to gameday food!