Take it from a pro: To host a good football party, you need to bring the food out in waves. Food Network's Sunny Anderson is a veteran of Super Bowl parties, and she's learned a little something from the players on the field. Just like the big game itself, it pays to serve your guest by the quarter.
"You've got to space it out," she says. "You can't just slam your guests with food in the beginning. They won't make it to halftime."
It's important to draw up a game plan. First, she says, serve finger foods like chips and dip. Then, a variety of wings will keep the conversation moving. By third quarter, it's high time to pick up your guests with a bit of caffeine: "You really don't want them spending the night on your couch, so let's start on that coffee!"
In the final stretch, polish the meal off with some dessert — some brownies or, if you're in the mood to go against expectations, Sunny says, "I also love the novelty of an ice cream sandwich during cold weather."
Whatever your game plan, though, there's no debating that the big show comes at halftime. That's when Sunny breaks out the headliner of the meal: her Beefy Butternut Squash Chili.
Yes, you heard that right. Sunny spells it out: "It's a big pot of beefy, meaty chili studded with butternut squash."
As it happens, the recipe was a happy accident. The first time she made it, her chili had turned out a bit salty. She searched her kitchen without success for some potatoes to absorb the extra salt. "I didn't have any potatoes, but I did have a butternut squash. The same idea: It's ready to soak up flavor. So, I said I'm ready to break this behemoth down, and I'll put it into my chili."
And that's not the only surprising ingredient. Sunny also adds some pumpkin pie spice — but not too much: "Just a hint of it will really add a nice kind of, I like to say, 'hum.'"
Like any great halftime show, Sunny promises, the Beefy Butternut Squash Chili has the power to make even opposing sides agree.
"It's going to make the people that like butternut squash happy and the people that have never seen it before say, 'Huh?' And then pour themselves a bowl."
Serves 6 to 8
For the seasoning blend
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
For the chili
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound beef chuck (80% meat, 20% fat) or stewing beef, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup finely chopped
Vidalia or sweet onions
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3 garlic cloves, grated on a rasp or finely minced
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons hot sauce (I like Frank's Red Hot here)
1 pound ground beef chuck (80% meat, 20% fat)
2 tablespoons fine cornmeal
1½ cups beef stock
1½ cups red wine (any inexpensive chianti will do)
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into ½-inch cubes
1 cinnamon stick (optional)
Make the seasoning blend. In a small bowl combine the cumin, chili powder, pumpkin pie spice, oregano, salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Set aside.
Sear the beef. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over high heat until it begins to swirl. Add the beef cubes and sprinkle with half of the seasoning. Cook, stirring intermittently, until the beef is browned on all sides but not cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove the beef chunks with a slotted spoon and set a plate.
Build the flavor. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions, bell pepper, garlic, tomato paste, and hot sauce. Cook, stirring, until everything turns a dark reddish brown, about 10 minutes.
Complete the chili. Add the ground beef and sprinkle with the remaining half of the seasoning blend. Cook, stirring, until the beef is browned, then add the reserved beef chunks back to the pot along with the cornmeal, stock, wine, and squash. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the chili is thick and the liquid reduced, 40 to 50 minutes. Taste and season with another pinch of salt if needed, but the seasoning blend you've made should have this tasting perfect for you. If using cinnamon, add the stick 20 minutes before the chili is done, then remove before serving. Serve warm.
Tip! If you don't have butternut squash, substitute two or three sweet potatoes for equally tasty results.