GET SMART THIS YEAR. DON'T LET THE football fans get you down. Make the Super Bowl party super easy.
Sure, you can knock yourself out and make a ton of expertly seasoned food that only gourmets will appreciate. And, as usual, your crowd will ignore the culinary effort as they go into a trance watching the battle of Super Bowl XXV scheduled for Jan. 27. These die-hards might as well be eating mothballs.
So, this year as the fans sit on the edges of their chairs hunched over in their players-on-the-bench posture waiting to be called in by the coach, give them what they want. Give them real food for real fans.
Consider some simple rules of this annual Super Bowl party game:
Rule 1: Make the game time a utensil-free zone. All food that is served during the game should be able to be eaten with one hand, so one is free for waving and drinking. Anything that requires concentration (such as soup) should be served as a warm up before the kick-off.
Rule 2: Make sure drinks are easily accessible so fans won't have to get up and down to quench throats sore from yelling. The easiest way to do this is to put an ice chest filled with beer and soft drinks near the cheering section.
Rule 3: Forget the fancy dishes you will have to clean up afterward. In this ecology-conscious time we don't want to stray from the good of the planet too often, but this is the exception. Go for sturdy paper plates. But skip the roses and fussy-looking stuff. For example, the three stores in the Paper Warehouse chain have an assortment of products in a festive football theme. Deep, hold anything, 11-inch diameter plates have a football in the center and blue, green and red colors. Napkins, table covers and cups are decorated with a whistle and black and white stripes. There are even toothpicks decorated with footballs.
Rule 4: These games can last several hours so make sure you have plenty of food and plenty of variety.
Rule 5: Set up an alternate activity for the anti-football crowd, who may come for the fun and not the football game. You may want to set up card games and board games in the kitchen so these guests can hear each other talk and concentrate on their own fun.
Rule 6: The food doesn't have to be fancy, but it should be hearty. Selecting a menu based on a party platter of cold cuts and cheese from the supermarket is for wimps. Get a theme and run with it.
The theme is the most difficult part of this pre-game exercise. Typically, Super Bowl party-givers tie their food to the teams playing. Buffalo chicken wings for the Buffalo Bills, for example.
But this year we won't know who the teams will be until Sunday, and that may be too late for the overly organized among us to make up a menu. So, we have come up with an appropriate theme that you can plan ahead. Since this year's Super Bowl is being played in Tampa, make it a Tampa-style party.
Tampa is the western Florida city where Jose Marti spoke of Las Revoluciones, the program that led to the independence of Cuba from Spain in 1898, and a haven for the convergence of Cuban, Spanish and tropical cuisines. Our Super Bowl menu is based on Cuban specialties -- black bean soup, Cuban sandwiches, plantain chips and Cuban coffee. Sangria and guacamole are the Spanish offerings. And the Florida influence is represented by Key lime pie.
Most of the ingredients can be found at the supermarket, but you will have to go to a Latin American store to get a few things. Although Cuban ingredients are more readily available in the Washington area, Baltimore pickings are slim. The International Market in downtown Baltimore is the best bet for plantain chips, Cuban coffee and a good selection of other Latin American products.
Sangria, a festive Spanish drink, makes a colorful party drink. This version has less alcohol than some of the classic Spanish fruit punches. Taste the punch and adjust it for your guests. Club soda can be added to dilute the mixture.
Makes 12 to 14 servings.
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup lime juice
1 (fifth) bottle Burgundy wine
1/2 cup light rum
1/2 cup sugar
2 oranges, cut in slices
2 limes, cut in slices
1/2 cup maraschino cherries, optional
1 stick cinnamon
Combine juices, wine, rum and sugar in a large glass bowl or pitcher. Stir to dissolve sugar. Add orange and lime slices, maraschino cherries and cinnamon stick to wine mixture. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Remove cinnamon stick. If you want to add club soda, do it right before serving. Serve in tall glasses with cracked ice. From "Clarita's Cocina" (Surfside Publishing, $19.95) by Clarita Garcia.
Guacamole a mi gusto
Makes 6 servings.
1 garlic clove, unpeeled and crushed
3 large ripe avocados (see note)
2 large ripe firm tomatoes, peeled and seeded
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 level teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup commercial sour cream
1/4 cup finely chopped toasted almonds or pecans, optional