Tackle your super snacks

Daniel Neman

The biggest religious holidays in America, it has often been noted, are Christmas, Easter and the Super Bowl.

Nothing brings us together like Super Bowl Sunday. It is a day when we all unite in peace and harmony to enjoy a single event together. Republicans sit down with Democrats, dog lovers with cat lovers, criminals with cops, all connected in a shared appreciation of extraordinary athletes performing physical feats no mere mortal would even attempt.

Even people living in a city that just lost its NFL team will watch the game, though probably fewer than before.

And as with most religious holidays, food plays an important part of our national celebration. Oceans of Velveeta are poured over mounds of tortilla chips, pots of chili are carefully stirred and millions of chicken wings are sacrificed to the gods of the Super Bowl in the sky.

But this year, it’s time for something better than that. This is the year to rise above nachos, to soar beyond buffalo wings. This is the year to make your Super Bowl snacks special.

I’m not talking about anything too fancy here, just notable. And delicious.

The snacks I have in mind are easy to make — and one of them is ridiculously easy. Each can be eaten with your fingers, which is perhaps the most important aspect of party food. They don’t cost much, they aren’t annoyingly good for you (though they aren’t notably awful for you, either) and, most important of all, they go well with beer and football.

Let’s start with the ridiculously easy one. It was created by Joe Edwards of the Peacock Loop Diner in the Delmar Loop, and it may be the most perfect snack ever.

You start with a Triscuit. You add a squirt of spray cheese. Yes, spray cheese. Then you top it with a pimento-stuffed olive.

That’s it. And while the very thought of it is certain to make you smile, what comes as a surprise is the fact that it is also delicious.

I am not kidding. The brininess of the olive makes it just the right foil for the spray cheese, and it all tastes exponentially better when sitting atop a Triscuit.

Incidentally, my friend Steve who used to work in marketing at Kraft would very much like you to know that spray cheese is sold under the brand name Easy Cheese and is not to be confused with Cheez Whiz, which is a spreadable cheese sauce that comes in jars.

Nearly as easy is a dish that I am calling Deconstructed Guacamole. Essentially, it’s guacamole without the effort of smashing the avocado. You cut a baguette into thin slices, toast it and rub the toast with a clove of garlic to get a warm hint of garlic flavor.

Then you simply add a thin slice of avocado, a small mound of minced sweet onion and half of a grape or cherry tomato. What you get when you bite it is the pure taste of avocado with a few complementary flavors mixed in.

Since I was playing with traditional snacks, I thought I would up take deviled eggs and up the ante a little by adding sriracha.

I know I am not the first to have this idea; at this point, I believe that everything that could possibly have sriracha mixed into it already has had it mixed, along with some things that couldn’t.

I decided to keep the non-sriracha part very simple, so as not to have too many flavors compete. I mixed the hard-boiled yolks with just mayonnaise and a splash of lemon juice, and then I added a very small amount of sriracha, one teaspoon for six eggs.

I didn’t want the sriracha to dominate the flavor, I wanted it to blend in and be a subtle part of the whole. I also know that some people cannot eat food that is hot, and the minimal amount of sriracha made it enjoyable for all. If you want yours hotter and spicier, by all means add more sriracha.

Next up was one of my favorite vegetable dips, though it can also be used on sandwiches or salads or as a dressing for cold pasta.

Tapenade mayonnaise comes from the indispensable “Frog/Commissary Cookbook,” and I love it for crudites because it is so startlingly full of harmoniously bold flavors. You begin with mayonnaise — ordinarily I make my own mayonnaise for this recipe but here I just went ahead with the stuff in the jar — and blend in garlic, anchovies, capers and olives.

It’s salty, but it’s just the right amount of salty. Serve it as a dip and your vegetables have never tasted so good.

I also made a favorite recipe from a 1967 Betty Crocker cookbook; we serve it at almost every party. It’s called Mushrooms Royale — of course it’s called Mushrooms Royale, it’s from a 1967 Betty Crocker cookbook — and it is stuffed mushrooms that are simply wonderful.

You stuff the mushroom caps with chopped up mushroom stems, bread crumbs and spices, plus butter. It’s a lot of butter, admittedly, which may be why these snacks are always the first to go at any party.

The last snack I made was probably the favorite with all of my testers. It’s homemade caramel popcorn, and it required the most effort to make. First you have to pop the popcorn, then you make the caramel sauce, which is surprisingly easy. But then you have to bake the caramel-covered popcorn for an hour, stirring it every 15 minutes.

It is well worth the time and effort. It is so astoundingly delicious, if you set it down at kickoff your guests may gobble it down before the first series is over.

Tapenade Mayonnaise

Yield: About 11/2 cups

1 cup good-quality mayonnaise

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 dashes Tabasco sauce

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

1 ounce (1/2 can) anchovies, drained and finely chopped

2 tablespoons small capers, drained

2 tablespoons pitted and finely chopped Greek or French olives

Mix together all ingredients in a small bowl. Serve with crudites. May be stored in refrigerator for several days.

Per serving: 71 calories; 8 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; 4 mg cholesterol; no protein; no carbohydrate; no sugar; no fiber; 121 mg sodium; 3 mg calcium.

Adapted from “The Frog/Commissary Cookbook,” by Steven Poses, Anne Clark and Becky Roller

Sriracha Deviled Eggs

Yield: 6 servings

6 hard-boiled eggs

Pinch table salt

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon good-quality mayonnaise

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon sriracha sauce

Green onion or chives for garnish, optional

Peel eggs and slice in half. Remove yolks and place in a small bowl. Add salt to the yolks and thoroughly mash with a fork. Add mayonnaise, lemon juice and sriracha, and stir to blend completely. Spoon or pipe mixture back into the yolk cavity of the eggs.

If desired, garnish yolk with 1/2 chive or thin slice of the green part of a green onion.

Per serving: 228 calories; 22 g fat; 4 g saturated fat; 194 mg cholesterol; 6 g protein; 1 g carbohydrate; 1 g sugar; no fiber; 221 mg sodium; 25 mg calcium.

Recipe by Daniel Neman

Mushrooms Royale

Yield: About 24 servings

11/2 pounds (24 ounces) medium mushrooms

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, divided

1/4 cup finely chopped green pepper

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

11/2 cups soft bread crumbs, see note

1/2 teaspoon salt

Scant 1/2 teaspoon ground thyme

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Note: To make soft bread crumbs, place bread in a blender and whir until it becomes crumbs. For this recipe, use white bread.

Preheat oven or toaster oven to 350 degrees.

Thoroughly wash, trim and dry mushrooms. Remove stems; finely chop enough stems to measure 1/3 cup. Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add chopped mushroom stems, green pepper and onion, and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in bread crumbs, salt, thyme, turmeric and pepper.

Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a shallow baking dish. Fill mushroom caps with stuffing mixture; place mushrooms filled-side-up in baking dish and bake 15 minutes.

Set oven to broil or 550 degrees. Broil mushrooms 3 to 4 inches from heat for 2 minutes. Serve hot.

Per serving: 32 calories; 2 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; 5 mg cholesterol; 1 g protein; 3 g carbohydrate; no sugar; no fiber; 63 mg sodium; 6 mg calcium.

Adapted from “Betty Crocker’s Hostess Cookbook.”

Smith Family Gourmet Baked Caramel Popcorn

Yield: 3 quarts

12 cups popped popcorn

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine

1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

1/4 cup light or dark corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Coat the bottom and sides of a large pot or Dutch oven with nonstick cooking spray. Place popped popcorn in the pot.

In a small, heavy pan over medium heat, melt the butter; stir in brown sugar, corn syrup and salt. Raise temperature to medium high and heat to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue to boil without stirring for 5 minutes.

Remove from heat; stir in baking soda and vanilla. Slowly pour over popped popcorn, mixing well. Bake 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from oven, cool completely. Break apart and store in tightly covered container.

Per serving (based on 4): 385 calories; 30 g fat; 16 g saturated fat; 61 mg cholesterol; 2 g protein; 28 g carbohydrate; 14 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 395 mg sodium; 21 mg calcium.

Recipe from Jolly Time

Deconstructed Guacamole

Yield: 8 servings

1/2 baguette

1 clove garlic

1 ripe avocado, peeled, seeded and cut into 8 slices

Salt to taste

11/2 tablespoons minced sweet onion

4 grape tomatoes, halved

Slice baguette on the diagonal into 8 thin slices. Toast.

Cut the garlic in half and rub the cut end on top of each piece of toast. Place a slice of avocado on each piece and salt to taste. Spoon 1/2 teaspoon of minced sweet onion in a mound in the middle, and top with a tomato half.

Per serving: 60 calories; 3 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; no protein; 9 g carbohydrate; no sugar; 4 g fiber; 422 mg sodium; 5 mg calcium.

Recipe by Daniel Neman

Olive You Cracker

Yield: 1 serving

1 Triscuit cracker

1/2 tablespoon sharp cheddar Easy Cheese spray cheese

1 large pimento-stuffed olive

Squirt cheese onto cracker. Place olive on top.

Per serving: 51 calories; 3 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; 3 mg cholesterol; 2 g protein; 4 g carbohydrate; 1 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 204 mg sodium; 51 mg calcium.

Recipe by Joe Edwards, Peacock Loop Diner