No-fumble finger foods for the big game

01/29/2014 12:00 AM

10/08/2014 11:33 AM

To much of America, the Super Bowl has become an excuse to party and consume mass quantities of comforting chow. An estimated 110 million people nationwide will watch Sunday’s game, usually accompanied by an amazing array of munchables.

It’s America’s No. 2 “food holiday,” behind only Thanksgiving.

Pizza, chips and chicken wings form the backbone of Super Bowl fare. But why stop there?

Party expert Cheryl Najafi has done her share of Super Bowl parties. An author and nationally known lifestyle consultant, Najafi wrote The New York Times best-seller “You’re So Invited: Panic Less, Play More, and Get Your Party On!” (St. Martin’s Press, $29.99, 192 pages) and offers plenty of entertainment advice via her website.

“Actually, we’re big basketball fans,” admitted Najafi, who lives in the Phoenix suburbs. “We watch football, but I find it very, very brutal.”

But she wouldn’t miss Sunday’s Super Bowl party. “We’re there for the food,” Najafi said with a laugh.

Just like football, fumbles at parties usually lead to bad results. Spilled food means cleanup and stains. A better option: fumble-proof finger foods.

“Think in bites,” Najafi advised during a phone interview. The Super Bowl is meant to be fun and casual, so should the food.

“Start with sliders; they’re really popular,” she said. “They could be pulled pork or beef or something more creative. But they’re easy.”

Sure, some people want more healthful options, or at least something that isn’t deep-fried. Najafi came up with baked mozzarella cheese sticks, an easy alternative to deep-fried cheese sticks. Sticks in general are a popular Super Bowl party food shape.

“Anything on a stick or skewer, it’s a crowd-pleaser,” she added. That ranges from grilled chicken to bacon-wrapped cherry tomatoes to dessert.

“I love cake pops,” she said. “Just take a store-bought baked cake with icing. Smooch it up into balls, (put it on a stick) and dip it into melted chocolate. It’s super, super simple and fun. People love them.”

Another dessert idea: little bite-size cream puffs. Fill them with whipped cream or pudding tinted to match team colors – orange for the Denver Broncos and blue for the Seattle Seahawks.

Or offer chocolate-dipped strawberries; striped with white chocolate, they look like little footballs.

In fact, putting white stripes reminiscent of the leather laces on old-fashioned footballs or yard lines on a football field go a long way in making the party theme score.

“Even pizza,” Najafi said. “If you’re serving pizza, cut the pepperoni to look like little footballs and add shreds of mozzarella to look like laces. It’s really cute.”

Najafi turns her dining table into a grid-iron buffet. (Remember to remove the chairs, so people can get to the food, she reminded.) Yellow napkins become “penalty flags.” She uses artificial grass (available from most home improvement stores) as a table runner.

“Use white duct tape to form the yard lines,” she said. “The tape also holds it in place.”

Another use for duct tape: instant football jerseys.

“Have people bring a big plain T-shirt, then add numbers with duct tape,” Najafi said. “It’s a great project for kids at the party.”

To add to the football field effect: Get some wheatgrass.

“I get a whole flat of wheat grass and trim it really short, so it looks like a football field,” she said. “Add some goal sticks; it’s a centerpiece.”

Super Bowl parties are so popular because they’re so easy, Najafi noted. The theme and programming are already done; just turn on the TV. Serve the food early – at least by 2 p.m. – as not to interfere with the action in case your guests really do want to watch the game. Kickoff is 3:25 p.m.

Finger foods keep post-game cleanup simple, too. There are no (or few) utensils. Use paper plates.

Just remember: Have plenty of napkins.

Game Day strawberries

Makes 20 strawberries

Recipe courtesy the Pampered Chef.


6  squares (1 ounce each) semisweet chocolate for baking, coarsely chopped

20  large strawberries with steams, washed and patted dry

2  squares (1 ounce each) white chocolate for baking, coarsely chopped


Melt semisweet chocolate in top of double boiler; remove from heat.

Line a medium sheet pan or cookie sheet with parchment paper. Holding the leaves up, dip strawberries in melted chocolate until most of berry is coated, allowing excess to drip off. Place on parchment paper; refrigerate until coating sets (about 10 to 15 minutes).

Melt white chocolate in double boiler; remove from heat.

Pour melted white chocolate into a small resealable plastic bag and trim the corner. Pipe lines on strawberries to resemble football “stitching.” Place on parchment paper; refrigerate until set (about 5 minutes).

Mini football sliders

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 48 minutes

Makes 24 sliders

The Pampered Chef developed this recipe using its Core & More tool to scoop out the bread “boats.” A melon baller could be used as an alternative.


One 11-ounce package refrigerated French bread dough

1  pound 90 percent lean ground beef

1/2  cup seasoned bread crumbs

2  eggs

2  tablespoons Pampered Chef’s Three Onion Rub or freeze-dried onions

2  garlic cloves, pressed

1/2  teaspoon salt

One 14-ounce jar spaghetti sauce, divided

2  tablespoons shredded mozzarella cheese


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut dough into 24 discs and arrange on a pizza stone or cookie sheet. Bake 14 to 16 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool while forming meatballs.

For meatballs, combine ground beef, bread crumbs, eggs, rub, garlic and salt in large bowl; mix well.

Spread 2/3 cup of the spaghetti sauce over bottom of a square baking dish. Using a scoop or melon baller, shape meat mixture into balls and form into mini football shapes; place in baker on top of sauce. Bake 10 minutes.

Pour remaining sauce over meatballs. Continue baking 18 to 20 minutes or until internal temperature of meatballs reaches 160 degrees.

Top each meatball with cheese shreds to create laces (1 shred lengthwise and 3 shreds crosswise).

Return baker to oven; bake 2 minutes or until cheese is slightly melted.

For sliders, hollow out middle of the baked bread rounds using a Core & More tool or melon baller.

To serve, spoon one meatball with sauce into each bread round.

Seven-layer potato skins

Prep time: 25 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Serves 16

Everybody seems enraptured by seven-layer dip. And not that it’s bad, but it’s been done. And done again. And again. So for this year’s Super Bowl party, why not freshen it up a bit? Take the same concept of shoveling piles of delicious toppings into your mouth, but instead of chips use a slab of roasted potato. Recipe from The Associated Press.


8  medium potatoes

2  tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

2  large yellow onions, diced

Salt and ground black pepper

8  ounces loose sausage meat, cooked and crumbled

1/2  cup sour cream

2  cloves garlic, minced

8  slices cooked bacon, crumbled

1  cup shredded cheddar cheese

2  scallions, sliced


Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, then coat with cooking spray.

Poke the potatoes all over with a fork. Microwave on high until tender, 10 to 12 minutes depending on the wattage of your microwave. Allow to cool until easily handled.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet over medium, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the onions and cook until softened and browned, 15 to 18 minutes.

When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them in half. Scoop out and reserve the insides, leaving a 1/4-inch-thick wall of potato flesh on the skin. Arrange the halves skin sides down on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the potatoes with the remaining tablespoon of oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt and black pepper, then bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until crisped and browned.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl stir together the reserved potato flesh and the sausage. Season with salt and pepper, if needed. In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream and garlic. Set aside.

Once the potato skins have baked, start layering them. Spoon a bit of the caramelized onions into the bottom of each shell. Top with the sausage-potato mixture. This should mostly fill the shell. Sprinkle crumbled bacon over the potatoes, followed by cheese. Bake for another 10 minutes. Top with a dollop of the garlic sour cream and sprinkle with the scallions. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 160 calories; 70 calories from fat (44 percent of total calories); 8 g fat (2.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 20 mg cholesterol; 16 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 7 g protein; 210 mg sodium.

Rosemary pecans

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 12 minutes

Makes 3 cups

“Don’t let the simplicity of this recipe fool you, these nuts are simultaneously salty, rich, crunchy and deliciously complex, thanks to the rosemary,” writes Jared Koch in “The Clean Plates Cookbook.” Recipe via the Chicago Tribune.


3  cups raw pecan halves

2  tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1  tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

Fine sea salt, to taste


Arrange pecan halves on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees until brown and fragrant, about 12 minutes. (Watch carefully – nuts can burn quickly.)

Transfer while still warm to a bowl; add olive oil, rosemary and fine sea salt to taste, tossing to coat. Return pecans to baking sheet to cool.

“KFC” Korean-fried chicken wings

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook: 40 minutes

Makes 36 pieces

Adapted by the Chicago Tribune from a recipe by chef Phillip Lopez published in “New Orleans Chef’s Table” (Lyons, $24.95) by Lorin Gaudin. Melt the pepper jelly over low heat in a saucepan; sweet Thai chili sauce can sub in.


2  stalks lemongrass

5  cloves garlic, whole

1  cup soy sauce

1  piece (3 inches long) ginger, sliced

Juice of 1 lime

1/2  cup salt

18  jumbo chicken wings, tips removed, cut into 2 sections

2  cups nonglutinous rice flour

Peanut oil for deep frying

3/4  cup (6 ounces) jarred pepper jelly, melted or sweet Thai chili sauce

1  tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

1  tablespoon chopped chives


Heat a large stockpot of water to a boil. Add lemongrass, garlic, soy sauce, ginger, lime juice and salt. Cook, 5-8 minutes. Turn down to a simmer. Add chicken wings; blanch, 3 minutes only. (This will release some fat from the skin and make the skin tighter for frying.) Remove with slotted spoon; shock in ice water. Dry; tamp dry with paper towels.

Toss the wings in rice flour to coat well. Submerge wings, in batches, in hot oil at 350 degrees; fry until fully cooked inside, about 7 minutes. (Alternatively, place wings on a baking sheet and roast in a 375-degree oven, rotating the pan halfway through, 15-20 minutes.)

Place hot wings in a bowl; add melted pepper jelly or chili sauce. Stir to coat wings. Arrange wings on serving platter; sprinkle with the sesame seeds and chives.

Baked panko crusted mozzarella sticks

Makes 1 dozen

This crowd-pleasing recipe from best-selling author and party guru Cheryl Najafi ( has a lot less fat than deep-fried cheese sticks, but just as much oozy fun.


3/4  cup flour

12  cheese sticks (string cheese works great)

1  egg

1  teaspoon garlic salt

1/4  teaspoon pepper

11/2  teaspoon dried parsley

11/2  teaspoon dried oregano

2  tablespoons grated Parmesan

11/2  cups panko or bread crumbs

Olive oil cooking spray


Preheat oven to 400 degrees degrees. Pour flour into a large resealable bag. Add cheese sticks to bag of flour and shake until evenly coated; set aside.

Whisk egg in mixing bowl; set aside. Combine grated Parmesan, panko or bread crumbs, garlic salt, pepper, parsley and oregano in shallow mixing bowl.

Remove cheese sticks from flour mixture and shake off excess flour. Dredge sticks in egg, then into bread crumb mixture; place on baking sheet.

Spray each cheese stick lightly with olive oil cooking spray, turning to coat all sides. Bake 6 to 8 minutes; remove when cheese is soft.


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