January couldn’t come at a better time. The chocolate-covered holiday gluttony that forced us to dive headfirst into New Year’s resolutions is officially gone, vegetables are back on the scene, and our bank accounts aren’t hemorrhaging cash like they were last month.
But just when we were starting to feel like the holiday excess and the food and the expenses that went with it were a lifetime ago — BAM! — it’s time to plan a Super Bowl menu.
We all know the stats about food consumption on Super Bowl Sunday, which is second only to Thanksgiving Day. It’s shocking how many folks give in to self-induced food comas, probably out of boredom or despair.
Hey, my team didn’t make it to the Super Bowl, either, but eating 17 deep-fried chicken wings slathered in blue cheese dressing with a side of meaty chili isn’t going to change that.
Besides, hosting Super Bowl parties can get expensive. The National Retail Federation estimated in 2019 that adults spent $81 per person on Super Bowl parties, with most of that going toward food and adult beverages.
That’s a lot of uneaten celery sticks and half-empty beer bottles.
All this to say, if you’re hosting this year — the game is Sunday, Feb. 2 — and you’d like to simplify things a bit, both gastronomically and financially, I have one word for you: crackers.
That’s right — saltines, graham, Club — each one capable of holding its own on Sunday thanks to recipes that are big on flavor and made with ingredients you might already have around. Most can be made ahead of Sunday so you can actually enjoy the day rather than stressing in the kitchen like it’s Thanksgiving, part two.
I know what you’re thinking. Saltines are those crackers you buy and never eat until you’re sick with the flu, and most of us haven’t eaten a graham cracker since kindergarten. Club crackers are a bit more sophisticated, but marginally.
So hear me out. I’ll start with the recipe that offered the most bang for my buck: Fire Crackers.
When you can spend less than $2 on a recipe and it gets immediate rave reviews, you have a winner. Apparently there are variations of this recipe all over the place, and the premise is simple: Just douse saltine crackers with a mixture of vegetable oil, ranch seasoning, red pepper flakes, garlic powder and minced onion. That’s it. You don’t even bake them — can I get an amen?
No one — not one soul — who tasted them in the office was able to stop with just one cracker. Most people circled back around several times, and even folks who don’t like heat couldn’t stop eating them.
Generic brand crackers are less than $1 at most grocery stores, and I already had everything but the ranch seasoning, which was another $1. Having a container with a lid is key, as you have to turn it several times so the mixture coats every cracker.
These crackers are simple, affordable and full of big, addictive flavors. For those who might turn up their nose at them, just smile. More for you.
If you buy two boxes of saltines, you can use the second one to counter those spicy crackers with sweet and salty cracker candy. I realize lots of people make this for the holidays, with all sorts of toppings, such as dried fruit and nuts, but I’m sticking with a plain version because we’re in bleak January-February, not fancy December.
A saltine base is topped with an easy brown sugar and butter toffee, then sprinkled with chocolate chips and sea salt. This makes an entire sheet pan of candy, which you can break into small pieces, so it’s great for a large crowd.
Again, people will come back for a piece here, a piece there. Maybe make two pans, just to be safe.
While you have the chocolate out, you can follow up with Graham Cracker Truffles. These are game day good, but also great for school lunches, office lunches, or anytime you need a quick sweet fix but don’t want to eat an entire candy bar.
These are nothing more than crushed graham crackers with a can of sweetened condensed milk and vanilla. I happen to love cinnamon graham crackers so I went with those, but you could use honey or plain varieties. What you get is a sticky mixture that needs a few minutes to chill so that it’s firm enough to be covered in chocolate.
What knocks these out of the park is the flaked sea salt on top — don’t leave that off. If, by chance, you happen to be one of the 1% of people who look to make more healthful snacks for the game, cut out some of the fat and calories in these truffles by using low-fat graham crackers, fat-free sweetened condensed milk and dark chocolate, which is better for you than milk chocolate. You’ll never miss the bad stuff.
Lastly, you wouldn’t normally think of crackers as decadent — unless you cover them with cheese, bacon, and a sweet and smoky coating that sends all sorts of happy signals to your brain.
I discovered bacon crackers only a few years ago. Deceptively simple, they were life-changing then, but I think I’ve made them better — by adding cheese for Bacon Mozzarella Crackers. Cut-up mozzarella string cheese is perfect atop rectangular Club crackers. Wrapped in bacon, these get rolled in a mixture of brown sugar and a sweet and smoky salt-free seasoning blend that’s a staple around our house.
Cooked low and slow, some of the cheese oozes out during baking, but those baked cheese ends are nothing short of amazing.
Smoky and sweet, the buttery crackers add heft and a little bit of crunch. After making these, I couldn’t help but think that pepper jack cheese would work well, too, as would a swipe of spreadable pub cheese. Those are options for next time, which will be very soon, because my husband requested that these be made as often as humanly possible.
With these cracker upgrades, whether you consider Sunday’s game super or not-so-super, at least your snacks will be a sure bet.