Tips to put your Super Bowl party in the red zone

Party planning is not your thing, and yet you've invited 25 people to your house to watch the game? Do not panic. We've got your back. • First, the food you serve is almost more important than who is playing. In fact, it is, unless you're a Pittsburgh Steelers or Arizona Cardinals fan, Those are the teams that will play in Super Bowl XLIII on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. • Kickoff is 6:28 p.m. • The following tips will help you put on an affair to remember.

The setting

• To theme or not to theme? Decorate in football kitsch or go with Steelers (black and gold) or Cardinals (red and white) colors for paper products, beads and streamers. You could theme the food if you want to serve Primanti Brothers' sandwich with slaw and fries (Pittsburgh) or lay out a Mexican buffet (Phoenix). Unless you're a die-hard fan, keep the menu more about the food and less the teams and their cities.

• Make sure you have a TV big enough for the big show. Two or three might be better. Designate one TV for serious game watchers. Consider turning a third to Animal Planet, which shows puppies playing all day on Super Bowl Sunday. For the kids, wink-wink.

• Have plenty of seating. Drag the folding chairs inside or ask guests to bring some.

• Have enough toilet paper. Enough said.

• Keep an eye on trash. Pay a kid to scour the house regularly to pick up dirty plates, napkins and cups. If guests stay until the game is over, it could be a long party.

• If you're worried about rings on your furniture, set out coasters or lots of cocktail napkins. Stock up on paper plates, napkins and cups. (Or go green and rent the real thing.)

• Don't get fussy. This is football, for heaven's sake.

The food

• Call today if you're ordering takeout. .) You aren't the only one considering pizza, wings or party trays.

• Make as much food as you can ahead of time. Dips, chili, burger patties, veggie and meat and cheese platters can be put together on Saturday.

• Think finger food or one-bowl dishes. Knife-and-fork food is difficult because many people will be standing or perching plates on their laps. No pasta, unless it's in a salad of mac-n-cheese.

• Know your audience. Are you entertaining the girls or former football players? Nibblers or big eaters? Will they stay until the game is over (likely after 10 p.m.) or head home after Bruce Springsteen's halftime show? Plan the menu accordingly.

• Make a couple of show-stopping dishes and fill in with dips, chips and veggies, takeout dishes and store-bought desserts. Ask close friends to contribute signature dishes.

• Pace the food. Have nibbles set out when people arrive, and then put out the main course within an hour or so. Offer sweets a little later. Don't wait until halftime to eat big. Your guests will be starved by then.

• Have food in several places to prevent a logjam. Use a dining room table for the main show and put nibbles in the areas where the TVs are. Set up drinks in another spot, most likely the kitchen or a nearby nook.

• Keep the bar simple. Wine and beer is good, but watch for overindulgence. Have lots of soda and water on hand for nondrinkers and really push it as the fourth quarter starts for those who are indulging.

• Don't run out of dip. Or dippers.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8586.

Tips to put your Super Bowl party in the red zone 01/27/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 27, 2009 3:30am]

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