Here are two hard truths about Super Bowl XLVIII.
Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers failed to make the cut this year, you're still going to watch The Big Game on Sunday if only for the the commercials.
And you're probably going to start noshing with family and friends well before the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks face off at 6:25 p.m. in MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. In our house, at least, we've always got an ate-too-much stomachache by the time whatever star takes to the stage at halftime. (This year, it's Billboard's 2013 Artist of the Year, Bruno Mars, with a guest appearance by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.)
Super Bowl Sunday is not an official food holiday like Thanksgiving, but it comes pretty darn close. Fans are expected to wolf down an estimated 1.25 billion chicken wings during the game or about 20 million more wings than were consumed during last year's event. Guacamole is another game-day fave, with Americans dipping into some 8 million pounds of the creamy green fruit during the festivities.
Me, I absolutely adore nachos. There's something so incredibly satisfying about the mix of flavors, textures and temperatures of this crunchy Tex-Mex tailgate dish, which originated in 1943 in Piedras Negras, Mexico. Looking to feed the wives of U.S. soldiers stationed nearby who stopped by after hours, Victory Club cook Ignacio "Nacho" Anaya picked up some tostados, grated some Wisconsin cheese on top of them and put them under the salamander. By the 1970s, they were a concession-stand standard.
That said, there's nachos -- and then there's nachos.
I'm talking about the good stuff, the ones piled high with meat and/or fresh veggies and then topped with real cheese. None of that boxed, processed stuff that comes melted in little plastic cups in school cafeterias. There are no worries about the impending Velveeta shortage in my kitchen.
You also need an awesome chip, preferably a homemade one (cut corn tortillas into wedges, toss with olive oil and salt, and bake at 350 degrees until crisp) or at the very least one crafted with quality ingredients to offer a perfect mix of corn flavor, saltiness and crunch. Locally, that's the Mejico brand made by Reyna Foods in its tortilla chip factory in Cadogan, Armstrong County, and sold in its Strip District store.
Meant to be eaten with your fingers, nachos traditionally are served on a platter for all to share. But you also can prepare them as individual bites, if you're got the time and inclination. One of the many delicious-sounding recipes in "Ultimate Nachos: From Nachos and Guacamole to Salsa and Cocktails" by Lee Frank and Rachel Anderson is the Reuben Nacho. It calls for placing thin slices of corned beef and Swiss cheese on top of single chips, broiling them and then topping all with a spoonful of sauerkraut and a drizzle of Thousand Island crema. It has a similar recipe for Croque Monsieur Nachos that makes good use of thin slices of ham, Emmentaler cheese and Dijon mustard.
Nor are they just for dinner. You can make a mean breakfast nacho using sausage and sunny-side-up eggs.
The recipes below are not so persnickety. We think Super Bowl is the time to bring out the Big Guns -- i.e., sharable dishes that are as big and bold as the men duking it out on the field for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. I'm not going to lie: These are not especially waist-friendly or heart-healthy recipes. Far from it. In fact, you might gain weight just reading the list of ingredients.
But they are exceptionally tasty and pretty easy to throw together, which makes them the perfect dish for your Super Bowl parties. You can always diet tomorrow, right?
Philly Cheesesteak Nachos
I know, I know .... how could a Pittsburgher choose a dish that celebrates Philadelphia? Because Philly cheesesteaks are one of America's very best football foods, that's why. Besides, it's not like the City of Brotherly Love is in the Super Bowl, either.
I tablespoon olive oil
1/2 red onion, diced
1/2 red or green bell pepper, seeded and diced (I used both)
1/2 pound thinly sliced beef, chopped into bite-sized pieces
7 ounces corn tortilla chips, store-bought or homemade
1 tomato, seeded and diced
1 cup Bechamel Cheddar Cheese Sauce, warmed (recipe below)
In a small pan over medium heat, add olive oil. Add onion and pepper and saute until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add beef and cook until brown.
Layer chips in a large roasting pan and evenly distribute the beef mixture and diced tomato. Cover chips with warm cheese sauce and serve.
-- "Ultimate Nachos: From Nachos and Guacamole to Salsa and Cocktails" by Lee Frank and Rachel Anderson (St. Martin's Griffin, April 2013, $19.99) or $8.99 on Kindle
Yep, you can make nachos for dessert.
Made with graham cracker-crusted flour tortillas, these taste exactly like the Girl Scout campfire treat -- and are just as filling. Even my chocolate-loving teenagers couldn't finish them in one sitting.
I didn't worry about turning the tortilla wedges halfway through baking (the coating started to fall off when I tried), and they still turned out great.
5 soft taco-size flour tortillas
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
12 whole graham crackers, finely crushed
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, optional
1½ cups miniature marshmallows
Alice's Chocolate Sauce (recipe follows), warmed
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut each tortilla into 6 or 8 wedges. Pour the butter into a shallow bowl. Place the graham cracker crumbs onto a plate, and mix in cinnamon, if using. Dip tortilla wedges into the butter. Coat with the graham cracker crumbs. Place the tortilla wedges onto a baking sheet.
Bake tortilla wedges for 10 minutes or until golden brown, turning them over once halfway through the bake time. (I omitted this step.)
Place the tortilla wedges onto a platter. Top with marshmallows. Drizzle with the warm chocolate sauce and serve.
-- Adapted from Campbells.com
Alice's Chocolate Sauce
You also can make this easy sauce with milk chocolate.
10 ounces 54- to 70-percent chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 to 1 cup milk, half-and-half, heavy cream, or any combination
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, if using milk instead of cream (optional)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt, or more to taste
Put chocolate and 1/2 cup milk or cream in large heatproof bowl set in a wide skillet of barely simmering water and stir frequently until chocolate is melted and smooth. If sauce is too thick or looks curdled, add more milk. Or add more liquid if the sauce hardens more than you want it to when you spoon a little "test" over ice or a tiny scoop of ice cream. If you have used milk, taste the sauce and, if you like, tone down the flavor intensity by adding some or all of the butter, bit by bit. Remove sauce from water and stir in the vanilla, if using, and salt.
Use warm sauce immediately or set it aside and rewarm it briefly in pan of hot water when you need it. The sauce keeps in a closed container for several days in the fridge, and it can be frozen for up to 3 months.
Makes about 1 cup.
-- "Seriously Bitter Sweet" by Alice Medrich (Artisan, Oct. 2013, $25.95)
Bechamel Cheddar cheese Sauce
Super creamy and this sauce is a great base for homemade mac-n-cheese, too.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
8 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
Salt and black pepper
In medium saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add flour and stir until a smooth paste forms, 5 to 6 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a separate pan, heat milk until it is just about to boil. Be careful not to burn the milk. Burnt milk is cringe-worthy.
Gradually add hot milk to butter mixture, whisking continuously until smooth. Bring sauce to a boil. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from heat. Immediately add shredded cheese and stir together until evenly incorporated. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.
OK, so these aren't "nachos" in the traditional sense because they're not made with tortilla chips. But you're going to like them anyway, especially if you're a fan of baked potato skins. For an even more decadent treat, substitute fried potato slices (1/2-inch thick) for the waffle fries.
20- to 22-ounce bag frozen waffle fries
1/2 pound bacon (about 8 slices), coarsely chopped
2 scallions, whites and greens separated, chopped
4 ounces Monterey jack cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
4 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
1/2 cup sour cream, for garnish
Prepare frozen waffle fries according to package directions.
While fries are baking, fry bacon in skillet over medium heat until crispy, 6 to 8 minutes on each side. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain and cool before coarsely chopping.
Preheat broiler to 500 degrees.
Arrange waffle fries on baking sheet. Top fries with chopped white parts of scallions, then the chopped bacon, followed by the shredded cheese. Place fries under broiler for 5 minutes or until cheese is melted and properly gooey.
Just before serving, garnish nachos with chopped green onion tops, cilantro and sour cream. A bowl of salsa for dipping is optional.
Serves 6 to 8.
-- "Ultimate Nachos: From Nachos and Guacamole to Salsa and Cocktails" by Lee Frank and Rachel Anderson (St. Martin's Griffin, April 2013, $19.99 or $8.99 on Kindle)
Vegetable Nachos Supreme
For all you people out there who don't eat meat or are counting calories, even during the Super Bowl!
5 to 6 cups gluten-free tortilla chips, such as corn and flax seed, whole grain or blue corn
1 can vegetarian refried beans
1 to 2 tablespoons chipotle in adobo, pureed
3/4 to 1 cup vegetable stock, divided
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1 medium zucchini, seeded and chopped into small diced pieces
1½ cups frozen corn kernels, defrosted
2 green or red jalapeños or Fresno chili peppers
1 small red onion, finely chopped
2 to 3 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons thyme, chopped
1 beefsteak or 2 vine tomatoes, seeded and chopped
Salt and pepper
Juice of 1 lime
A handful of cilantro leaves, chopped
1½ cups shredded Monterey jack or Chihuahua cheese
Pickled jalapeno peppers, diced avocado dressed in lemon juice and scallions, for garnish
Spread the tortillas on a baking sheet and warm in a low, pre-heated oven (275 degrees) for 10 minutes. Remove, place a rack in the center of the oven and switch the broiler on.
In a small pot, combine the beans with the chipotle in adobo and about 1/2 cup stock. Heat through over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low.
Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add zucchini and corn and lightly brown. Add jalapenos, onion, garlic, cumin and thyme, and cook to tender-crisp, 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and season with salt and pepper; douse with lime and remove from heat; toss in cilantro.
Cover the chips with the refried beans and top with about two-thirds of the vegetable mix. Cover with cheese and broil until bubbly and brown. Remove from the oven and top with the remaining vegetables and pickled jalapenos, avocados and scallions.
Buffalo chicken nachos
This mash-up marries two of my favorite tastes -- homemade tortilla chips and creamy Buffalo Chicken dip, which if you're a Pittsburgher, you've probably eaten gallons of at neighborhood parties. Plus, they're not as messy as wings.
If your kids (think) they don't like blue cheese dressing, substitute ranch. Or do like I do, and keep it a secret between us girls. If you like, garnish the finished dish with additional blue cheese crumbles.
15 corn tortillas
For Buffalo chicken dip
2 roasted or poached boneless chicken breasts, shredded
4 ounces (1/2 package) cream cheese
8 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup blue cheese crumbles, plus more for garnish
1/3 cup blue cheese dressing, plus more for drizzling
1/2 cup of Frank's Red Hot Sauce or more to taste
Chopped cilantro, pickled jalapenos or sliced green onion for garnish
Make chips. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut tortillas into wedges of preferred size (I do 6 per round). Place in large roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil. Add salt to taste. Mix with your hands to separate, then bake until crispy, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
While chips are baking, make Buffalo chicken dip. In a large bowl, mix together shredded chicken, cream cheese (I squish it beforehand to soften it), cheddar and blue cheeses, blue cheese dressing and Frank's Red Hot. If it's not saucy (or spicy) enough, add a little more Red Hot -- You want to be able to pour the mixture over the chips.
Layer tortilla chips in a roasting or baking pan. Evenly distribute chicken mixture on top. Bake nachos for 15 minutes or until they're hot and bubbly and cheese has melted.
Top the nachos with a good drizzle of blue cheese dressing and chopped cilantro and/or green onion, if using. Watch it disappear.
Serves 6 to 8.
-- Gretchen McKay
Gretchen McKay: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.