Sure, we know they can play. But how do pro athletes deliver at a different sort of crunch time?
The Star Tribune dropped in on three players known for getting their hands on the ball — United FC goalkeeper Matt VanOekel, Vikings center John Sullivan and Lynx guard Maya Moore — and asked them to show us how they handled one of their cooking specialties for one of those postcard-pleasant summertime meals in Minnesota.
Here’s what an admitted carnivore, a self-proclaimed foodie and a squash convert cooked up for Instagram-posting consideration, along with a peek at their special touches.
Whether serving spaghetti dinners to rookies or playing host to teammates unable to travel for Easter, Minnesota United FC goalkeeper VanOekel and his wife, Jen, are known for their good food and hospitality. So when VanOekel announced he was making kebabs, five teammates rushed to his Apple Valley home for a midsummer lunch.
“If you give me meat,” VanOekel said, “I’m going to grill it for you and it’s going to be good.”
VanOekel did not disappoint, making up 26 skewers of marinated chicken, top sirloin steak — seasoned with a special house blend of spices he discovered back home in Chesapeake, Va. — and deer sausage. At his wife’s behest, VanOekel, a proud carnivore, began mixing in vegetables, red, yellow and orange peppers and purple potatoes.
Those elements, VanOekel discovered, have a practical purpose. He said he bookends the skewers with peppers “because they don’t slide as much.”
But the meats take center stage. Connor Tobin was scolded for eating half of the deer sausage, the favorite among VanOekel’s teammates.
An avid griller since his days at Rutgers University, VanOekel does not let the Minnesota winters dictate his diet. He grills on the deck, in the snow, sometimes wearing flip flops to further defy the elements. His other specialties are bratwurst and his version of the Juicy Lucy cheese-stuffed hamburger.
“It’s always nice when you can make something good,” VanOekel said.
Growing up in Connecticut, Vikings center John Sullivan and his three brothers rarely ate out at restaurants. Their mother, Marilyn, cooked with mostly organic ingredients.
Sullivan, considered a “foodie” within the Vikings organization for his knowledge of contrasting flavors, still consumes organic meals and grass-fed beef almost exclusively. He recently prepared a honey jalapeño flank steak and grilled it on a Big Green Egg, a ceramic cooker in which he’s made everything from chocolate chip cookies to steaks to pizza.
“I enjoy watching cooking shows and eating good food at restaurants around the country,” said Sullivan, who played college football at Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. “And I enjoy the process of cooking.”
Sullivan’s myriad culinary skills went into the honey jalapeño marinade. Showing great dexterity beyond snapping the ball and then clearing blockers for Adrian Peterson on Sundays, Sullivan cut up jalapeños and removed most of the seeds, thereby keeping the jalapeño’s flavor without the considerable heat. Then he added soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, honey and crushed red pepper to a freezer bag of wet ingredients, topped off with peeled ginger root.
“I saw that online,” Sullivan said of the ginger root.
Moving to the spacious deck outside his home on Lake Minnetonka, Sullivan grilled the steak without fretting too much about exact temperature or time.
“I don’t have a real formal education,” he said. “I get the recipes, then make changes. Grilling is not an exact science.”
Sullivan shared food ideas with former teammates Jim Kleinsasser and Steve Hutchinson; the latter he credits for teaching him how to smoke various foods.
Lynx standout Maya Moore said her evolving interest in preparing bright, colorful dishes with less guilt led her to a new favorite, spaghetti squash with marinara sauce. A friend showed her how squash, which Moore previously considered just “a big yellow thing you see in stores,” could replace pasta. It was love at first bite.
“The first time I tried it I was sad because I knew I was leaving pasta.” Asked how Geno Auriemma, her former coach at Connecticut and a proud Italian, would take the news, Moore joked, “I haven’t told him yet.”
He might be swayed. Moore cooked the squash in the microwave for six minutes per side, leaving her time to blend seitan (a meat substitute) with marinara sauce in a pan.
Moore, who listed her mother’s macaroni and cheese casserole among the former staples of her diet, said she is “starting to get more into food and what I am putting it my body.” Less dairy and red meat has improved her energy and recovery. “I only took two naps in the last month,” she said.
After the squash cooled, Moore cut off the stem, then sliced the squash open lengthwise. She removed the seeds and scraped out the noodle-like strings of squash. She poured the seitan and sauce over the squash to complete a dish that looks and tastes like conventional spaghetti — with an added crunch from the squash.