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Super Bowl showstoppers

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Every good party spread needs a star of the show
Photo by Jim FlintThis recipe for Cubano Sliders uses a 12-pack of rolls filled with thinly sliced deli ham, shredded pork and slices of Swiss cheese, oven-baked in a 9-by-13 pan.
Taste of Home photoWhat makes this delicious, cheesy hot crab dip a showstopper is baking and serving it in a bread bowl, accompanied by taco chips and veggie sticks.
Photo by Jim FlintThis gooey, cheesy meatball pizza bake in a slow cooker is oh-so-easy to make and can be served with favorite pizza toppings such as banana peppers, red pepper flakes or olives.

When I lived in the Yakima Valley, one of the good old boys in my coffee bunch told us one morning he was looking forward to his annual Super Bowl party. We knew he was the farthest thing from a football fan, so what was that all about?

“It’s all about the snacks,” he said. Even the gridiron diehards at the table understood.

For some, the Super Bowl spread is about betting on the game. For the rest of us, the spread is nothing about gambling and everything about the noshing.

If you are the host, there are things you can do to save time and stress on the big day.

Prepare what you can ahead of time. And utilize time-saving methods on the day of your party.

You can let the fresh pizza dough rise, stretch it, par bake and refrigerate it on Saturday, then top it and pop it in the oven on game day.

Cut and bag your veggies for the chip and dip platter the night before.

If wings are your thing but you don’t look forward to tending a bubbling deep fryer, try the oven this year. They’ll come out just as crispy, juicy and tasty.

Toss your wings in oil or melted butter, salt, pepper and garlic powder and bake in a 400-degree oven on a sheet pan fitted with a wire rack for 40 minutes.

Want them extra crispy? After they bake at 400, lower the temp to 170 and put them back in for another 15-30 minutes. Eat as is or toss with your favorite barbecue sauce.

If your crowd likes shrimp cocktail, please don’t buy the ready-to-serve platter at the supermarket. Poach your own in five minutes for a much juicier, more succulent bite.

To a pot of water, add a few peppercorns, a lemon cut in half, and some parsley and bring to a boil. Take off the heat, drop in the thawed, uncooked shrimp, cover, and let sit for five minutes until pink and opaque. With a slotted spoon, immediately transfer the poached shrimp to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Serve with your favorite cocktail sauce and a lemon wedge.

To accompany all the richness and protein, it’s nice to have a salad to balance things out, but it’s not so much fun balancing bowls or plates and forks on knees. Instead, serve up “hand salad” on a chilled platter.

Toss small romaine leaves in a whisked dressing of 2 tablespoons grapefruit juice, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, and 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar. Shake off excess and arrange leaves on a platter. Using a small spoon, swipe some ranch dip on each leaf and sprinkle with a mixture of toasted seeds such as sunflower, carraway and sesame.

Instead of using toasted seeds, add crispy bacon pieces and cherry tomato slices to the ranch dip for a BLT version.

Let the pros take care of dessert. If you want to include a sweet treat for the final quarter, pick some up at your favorite bakery or chocolatier.

We all have our favorite Super Bowl snacks — wings, chips and dips, pizza, nachos, chili and more. But every good Super Bowl spread needs a showstopper — something extra special, something worth an end-zone touchdown dance.

Here are three ideas for the centerpiece of your spread that are not only tasty but also easy to make. They include a unique recipe for oven-baked sliders, modified from a recipe by Food Network chef Jeff Mauro; a decadent hot crab and cheese dip baked in a bread bowl; and a fabulous cheesy meatball pizza bake in a slow cooker.

Make one of them for your Super Bowl party and try not to be embarrassed by the compliments.

Cubano sliders

1 stick unsalted butter

2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley

1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

2 cloves garlic, minced

Zest of half orange

Zest of 1 lime

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

12-ounce package pulled or shredded pork

12 ounces thinly sliced deli ham

8 ounces Swiss cheese slices

Dill pickle slices

1/4 cup yellow mustard

One 12-count package potato rolls, sliced to separate the top half from the bottom half

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add cumin, garlic, orange zest, lime zest, parsley and oregano and cook, stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper.

In a medium bowl, combine the pork with 3 tablespoons of the butter mixture, tossing to coat.

Brush some of the butter mixture on the bottom of a 9-by-13 baking dish. Place the bottom half of rolls in the dish. Top the roll bottoms with the ham, then the pork, then the pickle slices and finally the cheese. Spread mustard on the underside of the roll tops, then lay that section on top of the cheese. Pour the remaining melted butter mixture over the tops of the rolls.

Cover the baking dish loosely with foil and bake for 20-25 minutes. Uncover and bake another 5 minutes to crisp up the tops. Cut out individual sliders to serve.

Hot crab dip

8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup sour cream

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup chopped green onion

1-1/2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Juice of half lemon

1 cup freshly shredded cheddar cheese, divided

1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, or more to taste

1 pound fresh jumbo lump crab meat

1 large round loaf of rustic bread, hollowed out into bowl

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add cream cheese to a mixing bowl and beat until smooth. Stir in mayo, sour cream, garlic, green onion, Old Bay seasoning, salt, Worcestershire, and lemon juice.

Add 3/4 cup cheddar cheese and hot sauce and mix until smooth. Stir in the crab meat.

Spread into a hollowed-out bread bowl and top with remaining cheddar. Bake for 20 minutes or until the top is golden and bubbly.

Serve with crackers, tortilla chips or chopped cold veggies or a combo.

Meatball pizza bake

Two 24-ounce bags of Italian meatballs

Two 24-ounce jars of pizza sauce

6-ounce package of pepperoni, chopped

8-ounce package of pizza blend shredded cheese

If you’re using a small slow cooker, a half recipe will fill it.

Spray the inside of a slow cooker with nonstick spray (for easy cleanup). Add meatballs straight from the freezer, pizza sauce and chopped pepperoni and mix thoroughly.

Cook on high for 3 hours or on low for 5 hours. Top with the cheese and let it melt. Serve with your favorite pizza toppings. I like to include chopped olives (such as kalamata, black or green, sans pits, of course), banana peppers, red pepper flakes, chopped onion, and diced green pepper.

Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.