Dear Helena,
Every Super Bowl party I throw is the same: chips, dips, football, and beer. I want to show off my cooking chops, but I realize people don’t want to mess with complicated foods when watching the game. How can I make football-friendly food but still spice it up?
—Sick of Doritos

Dear Sick of Doritos,
Super Bowl Sunday is not the day for homemade vol-au-vents. Overly elaborate preparation can distract from the game. Nate Gordon, a picture editor at Sports Illustrated in New York, says: “Once, a friend came over and started trying to make these shrimp puffs in our crappy kitchen and it was a total mess and he blew out the party. It smelled bad for two or three weeks.”

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give any thought to the food. The worst thing you can do, says Gordon, is “order a pizza an hour beforehand when everyone else has had the same idea.” CHOW has lots of good ideas for Super Bowl snacks. Just remember that however much of a foodie you are, the grub is strictly secondary to the game. This means you should have most of your prep done in advance, and use shortcuts if necessary. That goes for guests, too: Don’t show up at someone else’s house with the fixings for a persimmon and arugula salad that requires 25 minutes of prep work.

If you really want to “spice it up,” you can do so without culinary pyrotechnics. Steven Anacker, an advertising executive in San Francisco, suggests serving food from the two cities represented at the game. “Let’s say Philly was playing San Diego: Philly cheesesteaks and fish tacos. Chicago versus Miami: deep-dish pizza/brats plus Cuban food.” This year, a New Orleans gumbo can go head-to-head with a Hoosier-friendly steak.

There’s one other way to flex your culinary muscle: a themed dessert. Even though it might seem a little froufrou for the Super Bowl, these tend to be well received. A friend recalled her father’s “bûche de Noël, but with icing in the color of his favorite team, Steelers, therefore yellow and black.” Instead of the traditional meringue mushrooms, he decorated the top with little Steeler figures.

Even better, make your dessert small enough to hold in the hand. Gordon says: “Once, our friend Megan made cupcakes with the players’ names and numbers on, and we all loved that.” Just be sure that your dessert doesn’t require any last-minute fussing. You don’t want to miss an important moment like Nipplegate because you’re busy checking on your baked Alaska.

CHOW’s Table Manners column appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena.

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