There are three great feast days in winter: Thanksgiving, Christmas and Super Bowl Sunday. Of these, only the Super Bowl involves food that is actually popular. Out goes cranberry sauce and in come chicken wings, chips, guacamole, pizza and beer. On this day of days, we not only eat our favorite things, but we also come to it with high feeling and great sense of occasion. It is the Last Snack. There won't be another license to graze like it until March Madness strikes.
As the day approaches, all we need is a game plan. Not so much what to eat, but in what order? The way food goes down, or, indeed, whether we should attempt to eat at all, will depend entirely on how our guys are doing.
The commander in chief's nemesis, pretzels, along with tortilla chips and black bean salsa, should be served first, while the choking risk is lowest and everyone's sitting up straight, before sacks, fumbles, interceptions and blown field goals assume cataclysmically throat-tightening proportions.
As Tom Brady shoots a bullet past Jevon Kearse, it's time to move on to tension-relieving foods, stuff that can be gnawed, ripped and torn: pizza, chicken legs, more pizza. Come to think of it, maybe fried chicken would be the idea this year, since the game's in Jacksonville, Fla. Fry up a lot of it; it's almost as good cold.
The mangos in the black bean salsa extend the Florida metaphor; the queso fresco will please guests who only pretend to like the sport.
The menu's the same for losers and winners, with the note that losers may wish to skulk to the kitchen to run down the clock building elaborate sandwiches to supplement the fried chicken; either can be chewed in a sulky reclining position, while inspiring envy in fans of the wrong team. And coleslaw goes with both.
Anything that can be spilled, stain the sofa or end up on the drapes should not come out until halftime, during which there's no chance that an Akers kick might bounce off the goal post.
We thoughtfully left out the gravy because if Donovan McNabb is sacked for a 20-yard loss, the only righteous reaction for an Eagles fan would be to thwack the drumstick against the sofa.
Armed with menu plans for an exciting game, we do have to face the possibility of a rout. The average margin of Super Bowl victories is 16 points, and only eight games of the 38 have been decided by fewer than seven points.
This can't be fixed with pizza. You either have to switch sports, or go to the video store, rent "Friday Night Lights" and go back to the snacking strategies A or B.
Then, real game or fictional, all you need is a prize. Key lime pie is as good for winners as losers, at once sour and sweet.
American fried chicken
Total time: 50 minutes
Note: Adapted from a recipe by Michael Field in "Michael Field's Cooking School" (1965).
1 (3 1/2 to 4 pound) frying chicken, separated into thighs, drumsticks, wings and breasts
Juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup lard
1. Wash the chicken pieces in cold water, pat dry with paper towels and cut the breasts in half so all of the pieces will be of similar size. Sprinkle the chicken with the lemon juice and one-half teaspoon salt.
2. Mix the flour, dry mustard, white pepper and remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and put the mixture into a paper bag. Drop the chicken pieces in the bag one by one and shake the bag to dust them. As you remove a piece from the bag, shake it thoroughly to get rid of the excess flour and place the piece on a long strip of wax paper near the stove, where it will be easy to reach when you're frying.
3. Add the shortening and lard to a heavy cast iron pot with a lid over medium heat. The fat should be about one-fourth inch deep. While it is heating, heat the oven to 250 degrees and put a large shallow baking dish in it.
4. When the fat is hot but not smoking, add the legs and thighs and cover the pan at once. Turn the heat to low and let the chicken fry, lifting the cover every now and then to check its progress. When the pieces are deep brown on one side, turn them over with tongs and cover the pan again. As each piece of chicken is done (about 14 to 20 minutes, depending on the piece), transfer it to the baking dish in the oven and replace it with an uncooked piece.
Each serving: 720 calories; 59 grams protein; 25 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 41 grams fat; 12 grams saturated fat; 229 mg. cholesterol; 1328 mg. sodium. **
Black bean, tropical fruits and queso fresco salsa
Total time: 35 minutes, plus chilling time
Servings: Makes about 4 1/2 cups
Note: Adapted from "Norman's New World Cuisine" by Norman Van Aken
1/2 tablespoon minced shallot
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped Italian parsley
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon pepper
kosher salt, to taste
2 tablespoons Spanish sherry wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1. Combine the shallot, garlic, parsley, cumin, pepper, salt, vinegar and oil in a small bowl and whisk them well. Chill.
Beans and assembly
1 cup cooked black beans, drained, not rinsed
1/3 cup finely diced red bell pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped green onions, white and light green parts only
1 Scotch bonnet or habañero chile, stem and seeds discarded, minced
3/4 cup crumbled queso fresco
3/4 cup diced mango
1/2 cup coarsely chopped orange
1/2 tablespoon Sherry wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 cup diced avocado
Corn or tortilla chips
1. Combine the beans, bell pepper, green onions, Scotch bonnet, queso fresco, mango, orange, vinegar, salt, pepper and orange juice. Chill.
2. Just before serving, add the avocado and dressing and very gently fold the mixture together, taking care not to mash the ingredients. Season to taste. Serve with corn or tortilla chips for dipping.
Each tablespoon: 20 calories; 1 gram protein; 1 gram carbohydrate; 0 gram fiber; 1 gram fat; 0 saturated fat; 1 mg. cholesterol; 24 mg. sodium. **
California Key lime pie
Total time: If making graham crackers from scratch, 1 hour, 40 minutes plus 3 to 4 hours chilling time; if using purchased graham crackers, 35 minutes plus 5 to 6 hours chilling time
Note: Adapted from recipes by Nancy Silverton. You may substitute store-bought graham crackers to make the crust. Key limes are also sold as Mexican limes at farmers markets and specialty grocery stores.
2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons
unbleached pastry flour or
unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and
1/3 cup mild-flavored honey,
such as clover
5 tablespoons whole milk
2 tablespoons pure vanilla
1. In a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda and salt. Pulse or process on low to mix. Add the butter and pulse on and off, or mix on low, until the mixture is the consistency of coarse meal.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, milk and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture and pulse on and off a few times or mix on low until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.
3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat it into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours or overnight.
4. Divide the chilled dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle about one-eighth inch thick. The dough will be sticky, so flour as necessary.
5. Trim the rectangle to 4 inches wide. Cut the strip crosswise every 4 1/2 inches to make 4 crackers. Gather the scraps together and set aside. Place the crackers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle with the sugar-cinnamon mixture. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough.
7. Adjust the oven racks to the upper- and lower-third positions and heat the oven to 350 degrees.
8. Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm and reroll. Dust the surface with more flour and roll out the dough to get two or three more crackers.
9. Mark a vertical line down the middle of each cracker, being careful not to cut through the dough. Using a toothpick or skewer, prick the dough to form two dotted rows about one-half inch from each side of the middle dividing line.
10. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating the baking sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. Makes about 10 large crackers.
4 large (whole) homemade graham crackers or
11 purchased double
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) butter, melted
1. Pulse the graham crackers in a food processor with the sugar. Drizzle in the butter, pulsing until combined.
2. Press into a 9-inch pie pan. Chill for 30 minutes (or less, in the freezer).
3. Bake for 10 minutes at 325 degrees. Cool on a rack.
Filling and assembly
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
3 egg yolks
3/4 cup Key lime juice (from
26 to 30 small limes)
1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
1 tablespoon grated lime zest
1. Whisk the condensed milk into the egg yolks. Add the lime juice and whisk to combine.
2. Pour the mixture into the graham cracker pie shell and bake at 325 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes to set the filling. Cool slightly, then chill for several hours.
3. Serve with unsweetened whipped cream sprinkled with grated lime zest.
Each serving: 462 calories; 7 grams protein; 61 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 22 grams fat; 13 grams saturated fat; 144 mg. cholesterol; 213 mg. sodium. **
Coleslaw with buttermilk dressing
Total time: 20 minutes, plus chilling
Servings: 6 to 8 (makes 6 cups)
Note: Adapted from "The Best Recipe: American Classics" by the editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine (2002).
4 cups shredded green cabbage ( 1/2 medium head)
2 cups shredded red cabbage ( 1/4 medium head)
1 medium carrot, peeled and shredded
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 small shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt or more to taste
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1. Place the shredded cabbage and carrot in a large bowl.
2. In a small bowl, stir together the buttermilk, mayonnaise, sour cream, shallot, parsley, vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper.
3. Pour the buttermilk mixture over the cabbage, stir to combine and refrigerate until ready to serve, 1 to 2 hours. Toss well to distribute the dressing before serving.
Each of 8 servings: 59 calories; 2 grams protein; 6 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 4 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 4 mg. cholesterol; 126 mg. sodium.