Updated: Jan 23
How To Host A Healthy Super Bowl Feast That Bridges America’s Sharp Political Divide
A HEALTHY Super Bowl feast? Talk about your oxymorons! Such gatherings are, almost by definition, high-calorie orgies of everything bad for us— salt, sugar, saturated fats, and overconsumption for its own sake as lunch seamlessly segues into dinner, and beer and soft drinks flow freely. To even consider using “healthy” and “Super Bowl feast” in the same sentence, perhaps engaging in a not-so-little fantasy might help.
Imagine that, by an unlikely quirk of fate, the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) Network is awarded the opportunity to broadcast a Super Bowl. Could such a thing ever actually happen? And might it actually help unite Red and Blue America? Maybe, and yes… stay with me here.
First, a NEW YORK TIMES death notice:
W. Ralston Bullright IV, 89; Investor and Philanthropist
Legendary Wall Street icon W. Ralston Bullright IV, known as much for his fanatical support of his beloved hometown Cleveland Browns as for his proven investing acumen, passed away last weekend after a lengthy battle with an undisclosed illness, according to a family spokesperson. He leaves his widow Whitney (DuPont), seven children, and dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Knowledgable sources who spoke on condition of anonymity suggest that a substantial portion of his estimated $10 billion estate— perhaps as much as $2.5 billion— is earmarked for the PBS Public Television Network and its broadcasting sibling NPR. The contribution, however, is said to come with an unusual and unprecedented catch…
And then, a few days later:
It is now official— PBS and NPR will reap a 10-figure bequest from the estate of W. Ralston Bullright IV, subject to the late tycoon’s stated condition that is sure to raise eyebrows in the often intertwined worlds of sports and broadcasting. Under the terms of the last will and testament, PBS is required to make a credible, good-faith bid to the NFL for broadcasting rights to Super Bowl LXII, which is scheduled to be played in Cleveland’s soon-to-be-completed Bullright Stadium.
And so the NFL owners sportingly play along, welcoming to their annual winter meetings the PBS Vice-Chairman— skinny and balding in his late fifties, almost insect-like in his sweater vest and John Lennon wire-rims… clearly a foreign or even alien presence among the arch-capitalist moguls who run the NFL like a council of sovereigns. The Vice-Chairman distributes bound briefing folders and then executes a thoroughly detailed PowerPoint presentation highlighting his network’s journalistic talent and expertise in spite of their self-evident lack of a sports division. No… none of the gathered owners has a question. They rise to politely applaud him as he leaves and then re-take their seats. “Technically we need to vote on this,” Commissioner Goodell chortles. ”All those NOT in favor…”
“Hold on just a minute.” The rumpled, white-maned owner with the only folder still open raises a hand. The others, in deference to his three-decade tenure and occasional nuggets of profitable wisdom, allow him a moment to make his point, whatever the hell it might be this time.
“From what this… interesting little fellow tells us, PBS has millions of dedicated viewers who don’t give the slightest crap about football.” The others harrumph at the obvious truth. “And probably never will… unless something really big changes. Tell us, Commissioner— how many of our regular Super Bowl viewers are we likely to LOSE if we actually do this?”
“Uh, ZERO, I would presume,” sputters Goodell. “But surely you’re not suggesting—”
The wily old warhorse continues, sensing the growing discomfort in the overpaid errand boy he’s never liked. The other owners start to nod with interest as he seemingly thinks aloud. “So maybe,” he concludes, “what we’re looking at here just might be an unprecedented opportunity to substantially expand our Super Bowl viewership, and most likely our future fan base going forward, into a demographic that would otherwise rather binge-watch a Downton Abbey marathon… WITHOUT losing any of our existing base. Am I missing something here?”
There is no form of reason quite so convincing to rational people— particularly a roomful of old white billionaires— as the logic of dollars and cents. And so it might thus come to pass that PBS would carry the Super Bowl broadcast on some February Sunday in the not-so-distant future… an NFL Championship Game that might well be long remembered as “The Big Bird Bowl.” I personally find the possibilities delicious—
Commissioner Goodell growing wide-eyed with greed as he absorbs the distinctions between underwriting and advertising. “You mean they PAY, but you don’t run any of their ads?” Goodell might ask in awed astonishment. “We really need to look into that!”
I can imagine NPR Legal Affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg interviewing Chief Justice Roberts about an egregious pass interference non-call to close out the first half… and whether the aggrieved team could actually petition the Judicial Branch for emergency relief.
Instead of another cringe-worthy halftime show featuring some lip-synching pop tart, maybe a TED Talk about concussions? Or perhaps PBS would switch to their local affiliates excitedly reeling off their 800-numbers while volunteers take calls for donations and unexpectedly expand their flock— “Thanks to Trucker Mike from Poughkeepsie and Pigskin Pete, two brand new sustaining members of WIMP-FM.”
And finally, I would watch the entire game without peeing just to not miss a PBS color commentator interrupting a discussion of zone versus man-to-man pass coverage with, “Um, shouldn’t that be person-to-person?”
But this is about the food, remember? I think it’s safe to assume that, as a group, the public television and radio audience is healthier and better-educated than the general population. So what might they teach the barbecue, pizza, and wing-gobbling rest of us Super Bowl watchers about a football feast that won’t significantly shorten our life expectancy? Such deep-Blue-State staples as gluten-free kale lasagna and plant-based “meat” are definitely out of bounds, bordering on self-parody. And yet there is, I believe, some common astronomic ground worth exploring. Here’s what I’ve come up with for a late-afternoon pre-game buffet and a simple but soul-satisfying dinner at halftime that won’t contribute to a coronary catastrophe.
Pre-Game / 1st Half Buffet
Guacamole with Chips
Lean Buffalo Drumsticks
Vegan Black Bean Chili
Crudité with Hummus
Fresh, homemade guacamole is always a welcome party treat. Instead of buying rock-hard avocados on Wednesday and then trying to nurse them to precise ripeness on Sunday, my wife Andrea has taught me that frozen avocados are a perfectly good (and perfectly ripe) shortcut. There are lots of good guacamole recipes available online. My favorite versions use red onion, tomatillos, fresh-squeezed lime juice, cilantro, and just enough bottled hot sauce to give it mild but noticeable heat. (I find it much easier to control the heat level in this and other dishes by using bottled hot sauce rather than fresh hot peppers.) Most chips are gluten-free… the trick is finding chips that don’t TASTE gluten-free. And unless you really like making your own fresh salsa, go ahead and just buy it. Lots of good options abound.
I’ve always loved traditional Buffalo wings, and yet I’ve always seen room for improvement, starting with the cut of meat itself— leg drumsticks are substantially meatier than either of the wing pieces and have a healthier meat-to-skin ratio. Furthermore, the original wings recipe uses margarine (no f-in’ way!) and entails cooking in a commercial fry-o-lator.
Equipped with only my humble suburban kitchen, I start by giving my drumsticks a few crosswise slashes to better absorb their hour-long bath in Frank’s Hot Sauce, which I purchase by the gallon at a restaurant supply store. I then coat the suckers with a rub of paprika and chili powder enhanced with a dash of granulated garlic and just enough cooking oil to form a paste. I let them sit for another hour and then roast them on a rack at 425º for a good half hour. They’re delicious just like that, but you can give them a nice finishing glaze by briefly broiling them with a smear of the aforementioned dry rub enhanced with a smidgeon of homemade BBQ sauce*, which you’ll need to make anyway for the main course. This all may sound like a lot to do, but none of this is rocket surgery, and drumsticks are quite inexpensive and therefore good for feeding a crowd.
(*At its most elemental, Homemade Barbecue Sauce is a simple mix of ketchup, mustard, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, and hot sauce; just about every recipe is a variation on that theme, with tomato puree replacing half the ketchup and a dash of this spice or that. What makes homemade superior in my judgment is the absence of chemical thickeners and artificial smoke flavor, both of which are present in every single commercial brand.)
A proper serving of Buffalo anything requires a side of celery and blue cheese dip. Organic celery bursts with exponentially more flavor and is accordingly worth the extra money. You can easily raise Blue Cheese Dressing (Marie’s is better than Ken’s) to a higher plane by enhancing it with crumbles or small chunks of your favorite blue cheese. Just keep it dippable.
My former business partner Cathy was an amazing baker and chef, and she used to make Hummus that might well have brought peace to the Middle East. Her secret? Keep it complicated— soak and cook the garbanzo beans from scratch; roast and grind your own spices whenever possible (and her recipe required about a dozen!) She used fresh organic garlic, lemon zest as well as juice, the fanciest tahini, etc. etc. However, yours need not be quite so painstaking as Cathy’s— the final result is rightly measured primarily by texture (smooth and, again, dippable) as well as the overall balance of flavors.
For the crudité, think in colors— brilliant red and yellow pepper strips, peeled organic carrots (whole, not fake “baby” carrots) and bright green (blanched*) broccoli fleurettes. After you wash your veggies and blanch your broccoli, make sure they are thoroughly dried before serving. Water can ruin this dish.
(*“Blanching” is an important hack for green veggies that makes them delightfully crunchy when eaten and more freezer-friendly when stored. To blanch broccoli, cut it into fleurettes and then give them maybe fifteen seconds in furiously boiling salted water followed by a quick drain and an immediate plunge into the coldest water you can manage.)
Along with the hummus, Vegan Black Bean Chili was a popular staple in our gourmet takeout store. Use fresh, high-quality ingredients, and no one will miss the meat, which we’ll be having at halftime anyway. Make it only mildly spicy but keep a bottle of hot sauce nearby for those who might want to crank up the burn factor. Like hummus, good chili is primarily about texture (I like my chili somewhere between soup and stew) and the balance of flavors. Fresh cilantro is a popular component of chili and may appear in whatever recipes you find for this dish. To avoid redundancy with the guacamole, consider offering chopped fresh cilantro on the side rather than incorporating it into the chili.
That should nicely cover the pre-game festivities and the first half. Meanwhile, as the Big Game unfolds and you’ve figured out that PBS won’t be running any cool Super Bowl ads, you have an organic, grass-fed beef pot roast filling your home with heartbreakingly beautiful aromas as it slowly simmers to perfection. I recommend starting this dish at 4:00pm, right after you finish cooking the drumsticks.
Red Wine (or BBQ) Pot Roast over Mashed Potatoes
Most pot roast recipes follow a similar general structure— brown a hunk of meat*, then simmer it in the oven at 325º for 3-4 hours. For our purposes here, this dish can take two different tracks— the traditional version, browned right in your braising pan and then slowly simmered with stock and red wine; or— what I recommend for Super Sunday— a more beer-friendly BBQ version in which the meat is scorched on a grill and then simmered in stock enhanced with that homemade BBQ sauce I had you make a few paragraphs back. Most pot roast recipes include onions. I have found that taking the time to thoroughly brown them BEFORE starting the braise encourages them to melt more thoroughly into the delicious sauce that pot roast magically makes by itself as it simmers.
If the game proceeds as normal— and PBS promotes their own shows where ads would normally appear instead of shortening the telecast— the pot roast will be done right as halftime starts. Set aside the meat and boil down the sauce, correcting flavors as needed. Whether you make the BBQ or red wine version, demiglace is magic here. (I buy Demi-Glace Gold® on Amazon a year’s worth at a time.) Also look around for a product called Better than Bouillon® because it actually is, and you’ll soon be famous for your gravy. Serve the pot roast with a ladle-ful of it over the mashed potatoes you made that morning and nuked back to serving temperature while you finished the gravy. If you want it thickened without using flour, simply puree what’s left of the onions with the reduced liquid. Plates and bowls work equally well for serving this, but bowls are more “lap-friendly” for watching football.
(*Braises in general and pot roast in particular involve turning tough cuts of meat— like beef chuck or brisket— into spoon tender lusciousness via a long, slow simmer at a relatively low temperature in flavor-enhancing liquid. Braising breaks down the tough connective tissue into a rich and flavorful component of the gravy that self-generates in this cooking process. While most braising recipes suggest conducting this transformation in a “Dutch Oven,” I prefer the shallower and more versatile “Braising Pan.”)
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Whether or not PBS ever carries the Super Bowl, I really hope some of you try this menu… and that you enjoy it with friends from both sidelines of the political playing field. Invite them over to watch the Big Game and maybe, just maybe, a feast like this will prove to be a really good way to help bridge the evergrowing divide between Red and Blue America, between decent hard-working people with widely divergent perspectives and yet probably more similarities than they realize.
Good food shared is always a good start toward better communication and understanding.