When it comes to Super Bowl Sunday, take a hint from the host city: Make it the Big Easy.
New Orleans hosts the Big Game, providing inspiration enough for a bon temps buffet. But add the 49ers into the mix, and NorCal party planners must kick it up a notch.
In their first Super Bowl appearance since 1994, the Niners meet the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII. Kickoff is 3:30 p.m. PST.
That's not the time to serve the food. Poor timing has doomed many a Super Bowl meal. Remember: This Sunday has always been about football; it just happens to be the No. 2 food holiday in the United States, too.
Instead of competing with kickoff, have the buffet laid out when the guests arrive hopefully by 1 p.m. Add hot items at the last minute, but get as much done in advance as possible. That gives guests plenty of time to eat and mingle before game time.
Restaurateur Emeril Lagasse, a chef synonymous with New Orleans, recommends getting a head start as key to a winning game plan. Chop items the night before and store them in plastic containers. He uses color-coded lids or containers so he can tell at a glance what's inside.
"Party prep makes all the difference when entertaining," Lagasse said.
Cookbook author and QVC star David Venable (his latest book is "David Venable: Comfort Foods That Take You Home!") stresses the easy approach.
"The Super Bowl just isn't the Super Bowl without all that food," he said. "Dips, wings, sandwiches, beer you name it, your guests want it. In fact, the USDA says aside from Thanksgiving, there's no other day of the year when Americans consume more food."
Don't try to make a tailgate take on Thanksgiving; that gets way too complicated. No fine china, no crystal, no sit-down dinner. Think of Super Bowl as a buffet, heavy on finger foods and munchies.
Instead, focus on a couple of favorites and some sure touchdowns that people can eat standing without worrying about spills.
"Set your sights on a few key recipes and prepare them ahead of time," Venable said. "Buy what is too costly or time-consuming to make at home."
Keep preparation time for any dish under an hour (not including baking); less is better. Use paper plates and napkins for easy cleanup. Set out extra trash receptacles.
What to serve? Chips, dips and beer are the only musts. Pretzels are good, too. After that, have some fun.
"Men like chips and pretzels and beer," Venable said. "Plus, I've never seen a guy turn down pigs-in-a-blanket."
Women prefer lighter snack food, he added. Don't forget veggies and crackers (they work with dip, too).
"A splurge that makes sense is a meat and cheese platter for sandwiches and perhaps a veggie platter," Venable said. "Leave beer and alcoholic drinks for your guests to bring and make your own iced tea or lemonade. You'll save a lot of money this way, and your guests will buy exactly what they like."
Super Bowl parties can't have enough munchies. Enter the "Snackadium." Pillsbury put together a 7- by-10-foot tribute to Super Bowl munchie madness for Saturday's Taste of the NFL gala in New Orleans. Fans can assemble their own versions, with or without the guacamole playing field. (See examples at Pillsbury.com/Snackadium.)
Pizza always is a buffet winner; who can turn down pepperoni in the shape of a football? Homemade pizza can be customized with favorite ingredients. It's quick with refrigerated crust or make your own. For a crowd, rectangular pizza is easy to cut and serve.
For more inspiration, look to the 49ers and Ravens. Both teams hail from hometowns with strong seafood traditions, topped by crab. San Francisco has its fresh-cracked Dungeness; Baltimore, its blue crab cakes. Likewise, it's garlic fries vs. fries soaked in gravy. Those items may not be too practical for an at-home Super Bowl menu, but beer is: Anchor Steam vs. National Bohemian.
San Francisco tailgaters swear by a simple hometown menu: Sourdough rolls with Columbus salame and Sonoma Jack cheese. Just slice and serve.
Baltimore fans would be pleased by crab cake sliders (made with preformed, ready-to-cook crab cakes) on soft white rolls.
New Orleans also provides seafood suggestions. Shrimp is plentiful, less expensive than crab and can be marinated ahead. Creole shrimp goes great with beer and adds some Louisiana spice to the party.
Jambalaya, Louisiana's famous rice dish, can anchor a Big Easy buffet. Olivia Manning, the first lady of New Orleans football, is best known these days as mom to quarterback sons Eli and Peyton Manning. (They both have this weekend off.)
Manning shared her party favorite: A jambalaya bar. She makes up a big batch of jambalaya rice; she suggests Zatarain's jambalaya mix as a convenient shortcut with a little chopped green pepper and tomato for extra color.
Instead of cooking the rice with the meat and other additions, she sets out the extras in bowls alongside the finished rice. Some suggestions: Cooked shrimp, cooked smoked or Andouille sausage, cubed chicken, chopped ham, chopped green pepper, diced tomatoes, finely chopped red onion, sliced mushrooms or diced zucchini. Diners can mix and match to their own taste.
Wings have become an expected part of the Super Bowl buffet. Bourbon wings put a Bourbon Street twist to the familiar favorite. "Iron Chef America's" Lee Anne Wong used Maker's Mark bourbon and apple concentrate to make an easy and finger-licking-good party wing variation for this Super Bowl.
Wong also puts a Bourbon Street accent on another favorite onion dip. Made the night before, this dip uses Vidalia onions caramelized in olive oil and Maker's Mark for a rich onion flavor.
Venable mixes rotisserie chicken with Buffalo sauce, creating a baked dip that's almost a casserole.
For dessert? Brownies and cookies; milk optional. Set them out by halftime.