Gimme A Break! You got it, says NBC. In an act of incredible generosity, the Super Bowl network is going to black out one minute of air time to allow Super Game watchers another minute to bump and run in the kitchen before the action begins at 5 p.m. Sunday.
Those unaware of the blackout, during which only the NBC logo and a ticking clock will be shown on a blank screen, may waste that minute on the phone telling NBC there is something terribly wrong with the reception. But cooks used to working the clock will be blitzing the fridge and tapping their microwave buttons.
This may be the one day of the year that eating becomes a contact sport. Even John Madden with his chalkboard couldn't diagram what happens in the kitchens of Super Fans fueling up for the ultimate game.
Real fans have two requirements for their snack food. Keep it simple, and keep it coming. If there is a long return on the kickoff, don't expect anyone to notice or comment on that delightful little whiff of pernod in the pa te'. They will notice if the cornerback is burned, but not if the popcorn is.
There will be extra eating time during this game. The usual four commercial breaks per quarter with two-minute quarter breaks will be stretched with an extra-long half time that depends on the length of the half-time show. Normal half times are 18 minutes. This one will be longer, possibly 25 minutes.
Those lucky fans shuffling down to New Orleans will find themselves in the restaurant capital of the country. Blackened redfish may have peaked as a food fad, but Louisiana Cajun and Creole dishes are American regional classics. Going out to dinner there may be as exciting as the game -- oysters Rockefeller at Antoine's, gumbo at K-Paul's, bread pudding at Chez He'le ne, and always, breakfast at Brennan's.
Chicago Bear fans, they say, put cayenne pepper in their boots to fight the cold in blustery Chicago, but in New Orleans they are going to find the cayenne pepper in the food. It goes in by the tablespoon.
Moe Cheramie, owner of the Old New Orleans Seafood Market in McLean, recommends that the tourists get away from the big-name restaurants. Since he is as Cajun as they come, he gets a dreamy look on his face when asked where he would eat if he were in New Orleans:
"Casamento's for oysters, Bozo's for fried seafood, Le Parasol and Mother's for Po Boy oyster sandwiches; for pecan pie and coffee -- Camellia Grill; Visko's on the west bank for all-around seafoods, saute'ed and baked; Chez He'le ne for soul food and for real Cajun food -- K-Paul's and Bon Ton Cafe'."
By half time, the references to New Orleans are going to give television fans the Bourbon Street hungries. Plan ahead to stir up a pot of seafood jambalaya, or a kettle of dark and spicy gumbo. But, if you gum up the gumbo, you can always do carryout.
The New Orleans Cafe' at 1790 Columbia Rd. NW offers carryout of its entire menu and is open Sundays. It is recommended that large orders be placed the day before. Open at 8:30 a.m. for its busy New Orleans brunch business, the staff suggests carryout orders be called in for later pickup.
Many gourmet delicatessens offer gumbo carryout. Check to be sure they are open Sundays.
Cheramie's Old New Orleans Seafood Market has everything the homesick Louisiana cook needs. Besides fresh redfish, 300 pounds of live crawfish are shipped here by air freight each week. Cheramie sells live or cooked whole crawfish, as well as the tailmeat alone. He sells his homemade seafood gumbo, and even sells roux by the carton. He will shuck oysters (35 cents each), or will send an oyster bar to your party. Many fish markets will shuck oysters, and raw oysters are the epitome of New Orleans experience.
Giant Food says it can sometimes fill special orders for crawfish.
For the cook, the worst part of Cajun cooking is making the roux. Oil and flour are slow-cooked into a brown paste that provides the deep smoky flavor base of Louisiana classics. It's a pain to make. It must be cooked slowly in a heavy iron skillet, stirred constantly, anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour to achieve the proper color -- chocolate brown for some dishes, peanut butter or hazelnut shades for others.
But once you're past the roux, Louisiana classics are perfect for Super Sunday. Many can be made ahead of time and reheated, actually improving the flavor blends.
When the zebras blow the whistle for timeouts, the home team -- the fridge raiders -- goes into action. Here is a menu for your Super Bowl dinner, plus suggestions for game-time snacking that will be ready in the refrigerator, or can be blitzed in the microwave. OYSTERS ON THE HALF SHELL WITH SHALLOT SAUCE (6 to 8 servings)
4 to 6 dozen oysters, shucked, placed in deep half of shells
FOR THE SAUCE:
3 tablespoons shallots, minced
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup white wine
2 tablespoons light vegetable oil
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Lemon wedges for garnishes
In a bowl, combine shallots, vinegar, wine, oil, pepper. Let stand 30 minutes at room temperature or cover and refrigerate until needed. Divide sauce in small bowls. Place a bowl on each plate of oysters. Garnish with lemon. MOE CHERAMIE'S CRAWFISH ETOUFFEE (8 to 10 servings)
Moe Cheramie explained that e'touffer means simply "smother." So, the crawfish in this dish are smothered by the aromatic vegetables into a heavenly combination. Crawfish are not quite in season and not easy to find. Cheramie has them year-round at his Old New Orleans Seafood Market: live ($2.99 a pound), cooked ($3.99) or one-pound packages of fresh tailmeat along with its fat ($12.99). (The fat is a very important ingredient in an e'touffe'e.) If the crawfish tails have been washed, you will have to add crushed canned tomatoes. Unless you just want to sit, talk and peel crawfish, the best buy is the ready-to-cook tailmeat. That's because it takes 5 pounds of crawfish to obtain a pound of tailmeat.
6 cups fish stock
8 tablespoons brown roux (recipe follows), peanut butter colored
2 cups onions, chopped
1 cup green bell peppers, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup scallions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes (only used if crawfish fat is not available, or shrimp is substituted)
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons leaf thyme
2 teaspoons worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt or to taste (If fish cubes are used, salt will not be necessary.)
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 or 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 pounds crawfish tails, with their fat, or substitute 2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
8 to 10 cups freshly cooked white rice
Bring the fish stock to a boil in a large kettle. Lower heat and keep hot. In a heavy casserole or dutch oven warm the roux over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Add onions, peppers, celery, scallions, garlic. Cook over low heat until they soften, always stirring. Pour in the hot fish stock slowly, stirring until mixture comes to a boil. If you are using tomatoes, add them here. Add bay leaves, thyme, worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, salt, pepper, cayenne. Reduce heat. Simmer partially covered 30 minutes. (This can be made a day in advance, covered and refrigerated.) When ready to serve, bring to a simmer, add crawfish meat and fat and heat through. Adjust seasoning. Serve with rice in a separate bowl. BROWN ROUX (Makes about 1/2 cup)
Just Wilson, who teaches a TV Cajun cooking show, says, "Sometimes I get up in the middle of the night when I have something on my mind and stir a roux."
It does take time. You may want to pull up the kitchen stool, turn on the TV, get your paperback and keep on stirring. Just don't let it burn or you will have to start all over again. The depth of color of the roux affects the flavor of the final product. Some roux is chocolate brown, some is lighter for a lighter gumbo.
1/2 cup oil (the kind used is a personal choice -- solid shortening, bacon fat, olive oil or lard. Butter is not used because it would burn before the flour is cooked to the preferred color.)
1/2 cup flour
In a heavy cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven, heat together oil and flour over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until roux becomes the color of peanut butter, about 20 to 30 minutes. LOUISIANA VINAIGRETTE (Makes 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup oil
2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar
1/4 teaspoon Louisiana hot sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Combine oil, vinegar, hot sauce, sugar, salt and pepper. Chill until ready to toss with salad greens. BANANAS FOSTER (8 servings)
New Orleanders like their desserts sweet, rich and gooey -- sugary pralines, sweet and buttery bread pudding, syrupy pecan pies. (At the Camellia Grill they put a dollop of melted butter on the pecan pie!) Bananas Foster is an old favorite. Serve it warm over ice cream, either flamed or unflamed.
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1/2 pound (1 1/8 cups) dark brown sugar
8 bananas, sliced lengthwise and then crosswise, to make four quarters each
1 tablespoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons banana liqueur
4 tablespoon light rum
Melt butter in large skillet. Add sugar and cook to a syrup, about 5 minutes. Add bananas and cinnamon and saute' until bananas are hot but not mushy. Add liqueur and rum. Light with a match to flame, or just simmer gently 2 or 3 minutes. Serve over ice cream.
The following are "quickies" because they can be made ahead and then popped into a microwave or oven, or pulled from the refrigerator. Timeout Quickies
45 Seconds in the Microwave
(These are for full 700-watt microwaves. If you have a 500-watt machine, they will take longer.)
Nachos: Sprinkle either grated Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese on tortilla chips. Add a tiny chunk of canned chopped green chilies or sliced black olive. Arrange in a circle on a paper plate. (45 seconds.)
Peppered Pecans: Saute' pecans in butter in skillet until toasted. Drain on paper towels. Season with salt and cayenne pepper. To reheat, arrange in single layer on paper plate. (45 seconds.)
Hot pretzels: Arrange in a single layer on a paper towel. (45 seconds.)
Clam Puffs: Combine 7-ounce can chopped clams, drained, 4 ounces softened cream cheese, 2 tablespoons sour cream, 1 tablespoon mayonnaise, dash of Louisiana hot sauce and lemon juice. Put spoonful on a round cracker. Arrange crackers in a circle on a paper plate. Cover with paper towel. (Caution: No more than 45 seconds or they may begin to spatter.)
Chinese Sausage with Honey Mustard: Pre-grill bite-size diagonal slices of Chinese or smoked sausage. Arrange on paper towel-lined paper plate. Microwave 45 seconds. Serve with dip of 6 tablespoons dijon mustard, 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard, 3 tablespoons honey.
Quesadillas: Sprinkle 2 tablespoons Monterey Jack cheese on half of a flour tortilla, not quite to the edge. Sprinkle lightly with chili powder and a few bits of chopped green chilies. Fold tortilla in half. Brush top with butter. Place 2 on a paper plate. Microwave 30 seconds. Cut each into 4 wedges. Longer Than a Timeout . . . ----
But shorter than half time
Hot Popcorn: Microwave popcorn must be popped in a special bag or popper, but it can be reheated at a lower power. Place about 4 cups in a dish. Or, try some fancy flavors. Try a sprinkle of curry, chili powder or herbs. Microwave 1 minute.
Micro-Steamed Clams: Wash and scrub small cherrystone clams. Put 4 in a circle on a glass pie plate. Cover with paper toweling. Microwave on full power 2 minutes or until clams opens. Serve with melted butter.
Hot Brie with Toasted Almonds: Place 4-ounce wheel of brie on a serving plate. Top with chopped toasted almonds. Microwave at half power 1 to 2 minutes or until it softens. Serve with crackers.
Bacon Wraps: Cut bacon strips into thirds and precook until about half done. Fasten strips with toothpick around whatever you choose -- olives, oysters, dates, water chestnuts, shrimp, scallops or partially precooked chicken livers. Arrange in a circle on a microwave grill or on paper towel-lined paper plate. Cover with paper towel. Microwave on high 2 to 4 minutes until bacon is crisp. (Caution: oysters should be pricked with a toothpick to keep them from exploding.) Fridge Quickies
Chicken Liver Pate' and Apple Slices: Mound pa te' on a serving dish. Surround with cold, crisp apple slices. Unbelievable! A cheddar cheese spread also goes beautifully with the apple slices.
Raw vegetables platter: Try out some new vegetables. To the heaps of carrot sticks and celery, blanched broccoli and cauliflower, add ice-cold jicama, peeled, sliced thin and dipped in lime juice; try some julienned strips of turnip. Or add a ruffle of black radish. With a slicing blade on the food processor, thinly slice washed but unpeeled black radishes. Soak slices in ice-cold water until they curl. Pat dry and arrange around outer edge of the vegetable platter. The black edge on the white slices adds a fascinating design touch. Serve vegetables with several dips.
Olives: Pick up several varieties of interesting olives at the Greek or Italian delicatessens.
Bloody Mary on a Stick: Cookbook author Jeff Smith, "The Frugal Gourmet," likes this one. Put peeled cherry tomatoes on toothpicks. Provide a bowl of ice-cold vodka and a dish of kosher salt. The tomato is dipped in vodka and then in a tiny bit of salt. JAN POWELL'S LAYERED CRAB COCKTAIL PIE (8 servings)
12 ounces cream cheese
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon grated onion
1/2 cup seafood cocktail sauce
1 cup crab meat, drained, picked over for shells
1/4 cup parsley, minced
Combine cream cheese, lemon juice, worcestershire sauce, onion. Spread in a shallow dish or glass pie plate. Over this spread cocktail sauce. On this spread the crab meat. Sprinkle parsley over all. Refrigerate overnight. Serve with crackers.