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In search of Pigskin party perfection
Tips for the ultimate Super Bowl bash

We're just one week away from the sublime madness of Super Bowl Sunday. That big circle on the calendar that always means fun and friends and food and football, that 24-hour festival of Americana so vital to the fabric of our nation that it's become almost as important as the Fourth of July.

And this year, the party's at your place. No pressure, right?

Wait, you mean you're not ready? Well, don't panic. We're here to help. Here's some last-minute tips for throwing the ultimate Super Bowl bash.

The big picture

On this, the most sacred of game days, size does matter - screen size, that is. So, first thing's first: How big is the boob tube that's gonna sit front and center at your party palace? You certainly can't expect 20-some-odd guests to gather 'round a tiny set, unless you want everyone to become uncomfortably well-aquainted.

If you don't have a monstrous monolith of a TV overlooking your living room, that's fine, but know this: Super Bowl Sunday is an occasion that deserves the best. So splurge a little - you know you want to.

Who needs to be bound by a screen, anyway? You can cast a high-def display right onto the wall, as large as you want, with an HD projector. They're pricey (Sony's model runs about $5,000), but easier to install by game day than a new TV. Plus, the picture is fantastic.

For a more temporary fix (with a less heart attack-inducing price tag), you can always rent. Places like Easy Rental, at 316 Grayson Highway in Lawrenceville, or Aaron's, right down the road from that at 455 Grayson Highway (with other Gwinnett branches in Lilburn, Stone Mountain, Norcross and Buford), offer gigantic home theater set-ups that'll get you through the weekend.

Phenomenal finger food

Nothing says American excess like the glorious gluttony of Super Bowl snack food.

"The best way to start is to go ahead and write down a menu," said Janine Rahming, an event planner with Toyl Event Planning Services in Atlanta. "The point is to be very organized."

Of course, everyone knows the classics: a Chick-Fil-A chicken nugget platter here, a gigantic Subway sub there, etc. Some other ideas:

Few things pair better with championship pigskin than a plate of hot, tangy barbeque pork. Order from a local mainstay like Sonny's BBQ at 1235 Indian Trail Road in Norcross.

Catered stuff is great and all, but don't hesitate to get in the kitchen yourself.

Rahming also recommends the potluck approach: Ask your guests in advance if they have their own game day specialties. Enlist them to bring along some extra grub. Why should you do all the work?

Remember to aim for variety - not everyone is a huge hot wing fan. Prepare plenty of easy-to-serve, easy-to-grab salty stuff like big bowls of mixed nuts, popcorn and tortilla chips - "fun food," Rahming calls it. "You don't want, like, frou-frou stuff," she said.

To really stand out, get creative with the presentation. Party planning Web site "That's The Spirit" (www.thatsthespirit.com) has tips on how to carve a football helmet out of a watermelon, among other ideas.

'Brewski for youski?'

You can help a buttoned-down crowd get right into the spirit of the game with the help of a few, you know, spirits.

Not surprisingly, "That's the Spirit" also offers plenty of imaginitve drink ideas, including cocktails with names like "the kicker" and "the Montana."

The site also suggests serving your own concoction - think "spiked punch" - in a giant "super bowl." (Har, har.)

Replicate the casual atmosphere of a sports bar by serving up a bucket of brews (or two or three). Put about six bottles of beer in each bucket, buried up to their necks in ice and ready to refresh. "Beer is definitely a Super Bowl must," Rahming said.

Lastly, If you want your party to be alcohol free, let everyone know beforehand. A lack of communication in this department could end in disappointment all around, and that's the last thing you want.

SideBar: "Beer-b-cued chicken"

3/4 cup (11/2 sticks) butter, divided use

1 (3-pound) chicken, cut up

1 (14-ounce) bottle barbecue sauce

1 cup beer

Preheat oven to 350. Melt 1/2 cup butter in a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan. Add cut-up chicken, turning to coat all sides. Bake for 30 minutes.

In a medium sauce pan, melt remaining 1/4 cup butter with barbecue sauce and beer over medium-high heat. Bring to boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and set aside.

Prepare barbecue grill.

Dip pre-baked chicken in the prepared barbecue sauce and arrange skin-side down on on grill. Cook, turning and basting frequently with sauce until browned and juices run clear when chicken is pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes.

Serve hot or cold with any remaining sauce on the side.

Makes 4 servings.

Recipe from Cooks Recipes (www.cooksrecipes.com)

"Touchdown calzones"

For dough:

1 (16-ounce) package hot roll mix

11/4 cups hot water

2 teaspoons olive oil

For filling:

11/4 pounds spicy Italian sausage

3/4 cup pizza sauce

4 cups (16-ounces) shredded Italian cheese blend

For garlic butter:

2 teaspoons butter

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

For filling, remove sausage from casing. Sauté sausage in large skillet, breaking up with a fork, until sausage is cooked and browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Drain well and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Make hot roll mix according to package directions for pizza, replacing egg and butter with hot water and olive oil. Let dough stand 5 minutes. Divide dough into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into an oval about 5 x 7-inches. Place 1/4 cup of Italian cheese blend in center of each oval. Top with 1/3 cup cooked sausage. Spoon 1 tablespoon pizza sauce over sausage. Sprinkle with another 1/4 cup cheese. Bring up edges of dough and seal securely. Transfer calzone to lightly greased baking sheet, placing seam side up to form a "football" shape. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Set calzones in a warm place to rise, covered with towel, 25 minutes. Bake until lightly browned, about 20 minutes.

In a small skillet, heat butter and garlic over low heat until butter is melted and garlic is tender, about 3 minutes. Remove calzones from oven when lightly browned. Brush hot calzones with garlic butter and sprinkle each with 1/2 tablespoon Parmesan cheese. Return to oven until cheese melts, about 2 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Makes 61/2 cups.

Recipe from Cooks Recipes (www.cooksrecipes.com)

"Montana"

11/2 ozs. Brandy

1 oz Port

1/2 ozs. Dry Vermouth

Recipe from Drink Swap (www.drinkswap.com)

"Touchdown"

1 oz vodka (mandrin)

6 ozs. Gatorade

Recipe from 1001 Cocktails

(www.1001cocktails.com)