Chips and dips are fine, but throw in a hearty, pre-made soup and other tasty dishes so your Super Bowl guests can satisfy mind and body during the game. - Bob Pennell illustration

Super Party Snacks

If you spend the day of the big game in the kitchen, you're missing the point of a Super Bowl party.

Which doesn't mean you can't have great grub for the game. But getting the goods onto the coffee table shouldn't detract from your time on the couch in front of the screen.

It's easy to do a lot of the work in advance, since the very essence of sports-event eating is snack food, not complicated or exotic dishes. The key is taking flavors and presentation up a notch.

So sure, chips and dip are fine, but make sure the dips aren't your standard affair. And setting up assemble-it-yourself dishes gives those less inclined to watch every play a good gathering spot with something to amuse themselves.

Here are some ideas for assembling touchdown-worthy eats for the Feb. 3 showdown:

  • If veggies and dips are among your offerings, buy the produce washed and cut, or chop them the day before and refrigerate them in separate plastic bags, says Sarah Breckenridge, an editor at Fine Cooking magazine.
  • Dips should be done the day before, too. Most benefit from a day in the refrigerator, which gives the flavors time to develop. This is especially true if your dips involve any powdered seasonings.
  • Hearty soups and stews are a good do-ahead option, says Kemp Minifie, executive food editor at Gourmet magazine. But avoid any with seafood, as it is likely to overcook when reheated.
  • Guacamole can be tricky to make ahead, as it discolors quickly. The best bet is to do it that morning. And be sure to add lemon or lime juice, as the acid will slow the browning. Also, press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the guacamole before refrigerating. If you make it ahead, mix in some additional fresh cilantro and juice just before serving to perk up the flavors. Or buy prepared guacamole; there are many quite respectable varieties at the grocer these days, and they are easily enhanced with fresh herbs or salsa.
  • Consider a platter of cheeses, and grapes and pineapple chunks on skewers, says Barbara Fairchild, editor-in-chief of Bon Appetit magazine. The skewers can even be stuck into a football-shaped melon.
  • Don't ignore dessert. Brownies improve (and are easier to cut) with age, says Minifie. And topping them with ice cream and chocolate sauce adds nothing to your workload.
  • Chili also benefits from being made the day before, says Breckenridge. The day of the game, reheat it in a slow cooker, then set out a variety of toppings for a have-it-your-way chili bar.
  • Don't bother with salads, which wilt with time. Instead, make a slaw. If it gets watery overnight, simply strain it and add more dressing just before serving, says Minifie.
  • Do a chef's salad bar if you must have fresh salad, says Zanne Stewart, media food editor at Gourmet. Buy salami, ham, turkey breast, Swiss and cheddar cheeses and cut into strips. Set those out along with halved hard-boiled eggs, chopped lettuce and dressing.
  • Doing nachos ahead of time is not a good idea (the chips will get soggy). However, they can be prepped. Dice the tomatoes, chop the lettuce and brown the ground beef. Then it's just a matter of assembling and heating.
  • For a near instant dip that will improve overnight in the refrigerator, Minifie suggests stirring pesto into a tub of sour cream. Serve it with pita chips or sliced baguette.
  • Limit the menu to one main dish, say the editors in the Better Homes and Gardens test kitchen. The trick is to surround that main dish with add-ins, such as shredded cheese, hot sauces and other toppings.

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