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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Let's Party! Tips for a Super-Tasty, Super Bowl Sunday Extravaganza that's Super Healthy, too!

Now, as a rule, I couldn't care less about the Super Bowl or football for that matter; but, sport's history may be made this year should the New England Patriots, led by staggeringly hot & talented quarterback, Tom Brady (who himself is making a run at history as arguably the greatest quarterback ever), win this game of games. Should they win Super Bowl XLII, the Patriots would have won every game this year with a stat of 19-0, an NFL record; and won them in convincing fashion, by trouncing their opponents by almost 20 points a game. Add wide receiver, Randy Moss, and Coach Bill Belichick into the mix and you have a Patriot team that many argue will go down as the best NFL Team in history. Heady stuff; so...... since yummy foods, history and cute quarterbacks are involved, you can count me in.

Considering the fact that Super Bowl Sunday is practically an American national day of worship (with support from various political groups for actually making it a National Holiday), it's history is quite short.

Although football had been part of the U.S. national consciousness since 1920, the first Super Bowl wasn't played until January 15th, 1967 as part of the terms of a merger agreement between the then NFL & its younger adversary, the AFL, whose formation in 1960 began an intense competitive war for the acquisition of both football players and their fans. Both leagues decided they could better line their pockets if they combined forces; and, a made for television blockbuster was born. No show of any kind ever rates higher on the Nielsen Charts than the beloved NFL Championship game between the AFC and the NFC, attracting football fans and their friends and families alike.

The Super Bowl is such a major contributor to the national zeitgeist, that economic predictions, known as the Super Bowl Indicator, exist. The indicator is based on which conference wins the Super Bowl championship: suggesting that if the AFC wins, the economy will be sluggish; on the other hand, according to the Super Bowl Indicator, if the NFC (or an original NFL team which includes the Colts, Browns or Steelers) wins, the market will be bullish. These economic clairvoyants were obviously Giants fans. There are even correlations between the margin of NFC victory and U.S. economic growth. Put that in your office pool and bet on it!

Of course, one of the real products of the Super Bowl is the emergence of a category of food, truly an entire food group of its own not yet recognized by the USDA & its ever-changing food pyramid: Super Bowl Party Food. Traditionally, this is hearty, salty, gooey, fatty fare with a bit of crunch to it that can be eaten in front of the 21st century digital hearth - the almighty flat screen t.v. complete with Dolby digital 5 channel surround sound and a resolution so high you can see the beads of sweat forming on the ref's forehead when you threaten to bash his brains in for that ridiculous call.

No wonder a recent study out of Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich calls watching the Super Bowl game a health hazard. 

In that three hour span, the average American guzzles down 6 beers, a bag of tortilla chips, a flotilla of guacamole, a flock of spicy buffalo wings with a tub of blue cheese dip and a meatball hero. The more health conscious fan, might just have a handful of honey-roasted peanuts before his two light beers, plateful of chicken nachos and slice of pepperoni pizza. Then he'll up the heart attack ante with his tirade on the sad state of officiating, the conspirators against his team and a few choice words for his beleaguered buddies who may not share his views on the calls made by the refs. He's lucky to make it to the half-time show without a coronary incident.

When did our national day of cheering become an excuse for cramming crap down our throats while we increased our national risk for stroke? Anybody know????

This much we know: game day foods cannot interfere with the watching of the game. So finger foods that can be placed on the coffee table within easy reach & consumed while keeping the eyes glued to the tube without a glance downward are a must. Careful consideration is given to the opening of that jar of sour cream and onion dip and bag of Kettle chips. Those Philly cheesesteaks are not just snacks, they are football watching enhancers. Imagine tackling a messy salad of field greens with a fork while Randy Moss vaccuums the pigskin in his suction cup-like hands on the 10 yard line. Impossible!

The day itself is a day of celebration for football fans because a new king will be crowned and a food festival that commemorates this televised coronation is, therefore, a necessity.


Most people associate celebratory foods with foods that are only eaten on special occasions; more often than not, special occasions foods are extremely indulgent, i.e. fatty and/or expensive; so it follows that we try to limit them to a few occasions a year.

The problem inherent with these foods is also their allure. It's the old story of forbidden fruit. What we shouldn't have, we desire. Let's face it, to most of us, fat tastes good! We only have them on the rare occasion anyway, so who cares if we tend to overindulge in them when we do finally eat them, right? Right!

Wrong answer, folks! Too many of us eat poorly on a daily basis to begin with and take those few celebratory days as a cue to gorge ourselves like those foie gras making ducks do come din din time. Why isn't PETA outraged about this forced feeding when it happens to humans? Maybe because no one outside of Jeffrey Dahmer or Hannibal Lecter has ever acquired a taste for the seared foie gras of Patriot fan.

With the intent of showing that it is possible to do so, I will humbly try to turn the typical Super Bowl Party menu from an accident waiting to happen into a consummation devoutly to be wished (for heart healthy football fans, anyway).

At first, I thought I would approach it by making lighter versions of the fave snack foods of the big day's heroes; but, it turns out that San Mateo's own son, Tom Brady, likes onion rings and the Big Easy native, Eli Manning, (quarterback of those recession-ending- if- they- win- the- Super Bowl N.Y. Giants) likes fried chicken. While both of these traditional American foods fit the finger food criteria and can be "enlightened" by baking instead of frying, the baked versions of each aren't that compelling and both foods rate low as Super Bowl Party favorites where guacamole and chips reign supreme.

I, then, thought that we could use fun, classic foods from the cities that are represented by both teams.

For New York:
  1. Manhattan Clam Chowder served in a mug with a garnish of small oyster crackers, the traditional recipe is actually very healthy; if slightly salty. Try this recipe from our friends at Food Network.
  2. New York-style pizza, using whole wheat lavash as a crust, tomato confit, meaty shitake mushrooms & fresh mozzarella as toppings
  3. Egg creams, a NY original, which is just lowfat milk, chocolate syrup & seltzer in just the right proportions to create a fizzy, foamy, creamy drink. Click here for the recipe to this New York Classic
  4. Italian sausage sandwiches, using good quality chicken, turkey or seafood sausage and plenty of sauteed onions and red bell peppers & a little splash of marinara sauce on toasted whole wheat hotdog buns
  5. Hoagies, using store-bought foccacia (Acme Bread makes a great one they call Herb Slab) seared meaty rare ahi tuna steaks with lowfat garlic aioli (made quickly by using, smashed minced garlic or garlic puree, lowfat mayo & a drop of olive oil), kalamata & sundried tomato tapenade (using oil-cured tomatoes, pitted olives, thyme leaves, freshly ground black pepper, shallots & whirring into a paste in the food processor) with spinach leaves or arugula.
  6. Hot Buffalo wings, use chicken breast tenders (tenderloin) instead of wings, place them on skewers; and, marinate then broil them in the traditional spicy Buffalo wing sauce. You can buy the sauce from Anchor Bar Restaurant, the originator of Buffalo, New York's famed wings, available online now, or, make your own favorite version of it (mine includes sriratcha, soy sauce, peanut oil & balsamic vinegar). You can serve them with the traditional blue cheese dressing (just use a mix of non-fat sour cream, lowfat mayo & regular blue cheese or better yet, skip the dressing and use more hot sauce) & , of course, celery sticks
  7. Meatball parmigiana sandwiches, using 1-1/2 lbs. ground chicken breast, 1 egg, 1/2 cup of part skim ricotta cheese, fennel seed, fresh ground pepper, pinch of sea salt, tsp. of garlic powder, pinch of dry oregano, breadcrumbs & parmesan then gently combining & forming into golf ball sized rounds for the meatballs. Oven-braise them in a roasting pan with marinara sauce & a little chicken broth in a slow oven for 2 hours. Serve them in 3 ounces of lightly oven-toasted Italian bread with a ladleful of sauce & an ounce of fresh mozzarella; then broil the sandwich until the cheese melts on top.
  8. There's always NY cheesecake which you can lighten by using lowfat cream cheese and lowfat sour cream & place in cupcake or muffin tins to control portion size, For those of you without a favorite recipe for it, here's a good one.
  9. Nothing says NY like lox and bagels. You can get a variety of mini bagels, or just serve the smoked salmon on bagel halves with whipped reduced fat cream cheese, thinly sliced red onions or minced chives, capers & a sprig of dill
For Boston:

  1. There's New England Clam chowder, which can be lightened by using low fat milk , a Tablespoon of creme fraiche & more reduction of the stock to thicken it instead of heavy cream with a butter and flour based roux or try this chowder recipe from The Cliff House in Maine, eliminate the slice of bacon & use 2% milk instead of 1/2 and 1/2 to lighten it up.
  2. There's lobster roll, using lowfat mayo, lemon & tarragon; hold the butter on the toasted hotdog bun & make it a whole wheat roll for the extra point.
  3. In lieu of the Boston baked beans swimming in sugar & hot dog fat, use black beans which have tons of heft, fiber and iron; and, add olive oil sauteed garlic & sweet onions, cumin, chicken chorizo & hunks of pork tenderloin to the stew for extra flavor, simmer it for an hour then serve. Have a garnish of freshly chopped avocado, sliced limes, chopped red onions, chopped fresh cilantro, a few baked tortilla chips & a sprinkling of pepperjack or cotija cheese on the table and you'll have a cup of chili that combines the best of New England & Arizona (this year's venue for the game)
  4. Boston Creme Pie Cupcakes, click here for the recipe. A small individual portion is cute and also a good form of calorie control.
  5. I'm sorry to say I just can't come up with a fifth recipe that evokes "Boston". It is the home of "chowdah", scrod, baked beans, brown bread & parker rolls but none of those will go down in the Super Bowl Food Hall of Fame. I even stretched the definition of baked beans to make it more appetizing and turned them into a black bean chili con carne but don't feel too bad for Bostonians. They do have Tom Brady & an occasional glimpse of Gisele Bundchen during football season, so life's not too bad.
We can pay tribute to Phoenix & add some healthy Southwestern flair to the Super Bowl fare with seafood enchiladas, chipotle-glazed shrimp served as tacos with some warm corn tortillas, fiesta salad with tons of lettuce, jicama, pickled jalapeno chiles, black beans, a little feta or cotija cheese and the ubiquitous salsa & guacamole with baked corn tortillas as chips but what about the rest of the American melting pot. It's a big country with a lot of good healthy food choices, if we look closely. Here are a few snacks to have handy that can be Super Bowl-iffic :
  • Edamame, fresh or frozen, served them in their pods with lots of big bowls around for the empty shells
  • Popcorn, microwave or kettle-made, look for organic brands like Newman's Own and make sure to get the lowest fat, lowest sodium version then doctor them up with truffle salt or freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • Shrimp cocktail, forget what you hear about the cholesterol, shrimp have the good kind and at 5-10 calories per large shrimp are satisfying & low cal. Serve up huge platters & offer a variety of sauces including the classic cocktail on the coffee table for dipping (no double dipping, better yet encourage everyone to put their shrimps and sauces on plates).
  • Whole wheat baked pretzels, baked sesame bread sticks or whole wheat pitas, sprayed with olive oil & baked then cut into wedges, and served with prepared hummus, babaghanouge or the following dips from Martha Stewart's Living using lowfat substitutes for the milk and cheese:
Hot Spinach Dip

Baked Artichoke Dip

There you are, have a happy and healthy Super Bowl Sunday!

Go Giants!!!

(I'm just rooting for the economy really. So go NFC, go. It has nothing whatsoever to do with my being a native New Yorker, my family always rooted for the Jets, anyway. I just want the market to soar so my hubby can keep me in the manner to which I have become accustomed, with porcinis & truffles for all!!! :)

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