Picture yourself at a Super Bowl party hosted by a friend or relative: Maroon 5 is coming up, the people in the stands have hot dogs, traumatic brain injury, what is Sam’s boyfriend’s name again? Then you eat something. What are you eating?
This is the question I asked my colleagues to consider when preparing a dish for Jezebel’s First Annual Super Bowl Halftime Snack Competition, a celebration of the food that gets you through what is easily a 93-hour football game.
The rules were simple: the contest would be named for the Super Bowl halftime show because Jezebel hates the Super Bowl, the food didn’t need to be a “classic” game snack but should be easy to eat without a plate or cutlery, and our friends at Deadspin would judge, which someone told me was sexist until I told them that actually they were sexist because a lot of women work at Deadspin.
Anyway, let’s get into the contest, which was judged on the following criteria:
1. Best flavor
2. Most creative
3. Third down
4. Best overall/most likely to bring to a Super Bowl party
Because no taste combination is more divine than sweet/savory and because I knew that no one else would dare to go here, I wanted work with some kind of berry/brie combination. I guess, also, I’m a very bourgie gay in this fantasy where I’m entertaining Deadspin writers for the Super Bowl. Imagine me serving such a snack with George Michael hair circa “Last Christmas,” a sweater tied around my shoulders, and a Yorkie with hair as straight (and almost as long) as Ariana Grande’s ponytail nipping at my toes. I knew I wanted to do something with filo dough, because I love filo with berries and brie (or I did the one time my friend made it for us in high school when we were stoned, and nostalgia for which provided the entire basis for this idea), but then I read that filo is difficult to work with and I was just trying to make a snack, not rehabilitate a problem child. I like my coworkers, but not enough to be fucking with some filo dough. So then I read on some stupid blog with like a dozen pictures before you even get to the recipe that you can just buy filo cups “in the freezer section of your grocery store.” You don’t know my grocery store to be talking about it like that, ma’am. It didn’t have those cups. No problem, I figured, I’d just go to Williamsburg where frivolity flows like water from faucets—surely I’d find filo cups in that neighborhood.
Well, I didn’t. And so I opted for these Pepperidge Farms puff pastry cups that my local Bushwick grocery store does carry. I tried out my blueberry/brie combo in the cup and it tasted… mostly like cup. Which is to say: bread. The cups were too small to allow for a good portion of filling. As an emergency backup, I picked up some gyoza wrappers, and when I mentioned them my boyfriend told me to try those. So I woke up at 7 am that day and got to stuffing/frying/steaming. I fucked up the first batch so bad that I almost gave up—they were malformed. They looked like they were sliding off themselves, like experiments in gyoza gene splicing gone wrong. I’m sure they would have begged me to kill them if they had little dumpling mouths. The subsequent ones cooked up better (the oil with which you pan fry gyoza must be hot), but as I sampled them, I understood that they were just mediocre tasting. The gyoza did not offer enough surface area to provide a satisfying amount of blueberries and then there was the problem of needing to get the brie in there as well. The problem was similar to that which I had with the pastry cups, though not as bad and way more noodley.
I considered throwing out the batch, but I hate to waste food and ultimately decided that they were interesting, if nothing else. The least (and often very best) I can do is make things interesting, so I brought them in. I knew they were a fail, but a noble failure, and if I’m going to fail I like to do it exceptionally well.
Judges say: “In terms of creativity, the winner is the blueberry brie dumplings. It’s hard to beat. When have you seen that before?”
“Clearly the most creative, clearly had the most heart.”
Chef’s statement: When I was an undergrad at the University of Texas at Austin, I was introduced to something called Mag Mud: a delicious queso made by a local cafe that consists of melted cheese mixed with pico de gallo, black beans, and avocado. I thought I would be a sure winner (hello, the recipe includes two cups of heavy cream!) but alas, I made a rookie mistake—a fumble, if you will—and made the queso a day in advance. Which meant that on the day of competition, the fat had separated, the cheese had gone grainy, and it all ended up looking like someone had vomited in a Pyrex bowl. Damn.
Judges say: “Jezebel senior editor Katie McDonough wants us to judge on a category called “third down,” and nobody knows what that means, but I think I am going to go with the queso for third down because I think it had a lot of potential.”
“I thought the queso easily got 7 out of 8 third downs.”
Chef’s statement: I wanted to make a snack that would embody the way I’d like to feel during the Super Bowl: warm, cozy, supported. Pigs in a blanket are all three and made for the perfect choice. I made the blankets myself (thanks Pillsbury Dough Crescent rolls) and whipped up some dips to compliment the weenies. I’d serve to just about anyone, including my own worst enemy, in hopes they’d fall in love with me.
Judges say: “The curry ketchup—the flavor just sucks you back in. It’s hard to pick pigs in a blanket as the flavor winner, but that curry ketchup is really selling it for me.”
“It’s a guaranteed winner.”
Chef statement: This is the same dip I prepared for Jezebel’s 2018 Memorial Day Dip Competition, in which I placed third behind Megan’s French onion dip and Rich’s prize-winning queso. I pitched the idea of a Super Bowl snack competition in part because I wanted to re-make this dip and see if I could win with it under different circumstances—a low-stakes grudge match, basically. Buffalo chicken dip is an incredible combination of creamy, spicy, and salty; served with Ritz crackers and celery, it is basically God’s perfect food. Still, baking it in the oven at 8:30 in the morning and commuting in with it on a crowded subway is deeply unpleasant.
Judges say: “In terms of flavor, I thought the classic buffalo dip probably won for me. It had a good kick to it, and you could taste the different cheeses. Good consistency. I ate a lot of it.”
“The buffalo chicken dip definitely made a third-down conversion.”
Chef’s statement: My family and I ate out a lot when I was a kid, and—being a kid—one of my favorite places to go was California Pizza Kitchen. Without fail, we’d order the spinach artichoke dip as an appetizer. It came with blue and white corn tortilla chips, and I absolutely relished it, carefully monitoring my (and everyone else’s) dip to chip ratio with every bite. To this day, I insist that they had the best spin dip, keeping it simple while other restaurants insisted on needless pomp. (Don’t get me started on spin dip with salsa as a garnish.) Despite my lifelong loyalty to spinach artichoke dip, I never bothered to make it until now. And I’m mad about that actually because it was so easy! With the help of a variety of cheeses, a little spice, and my beloved Instant Pot, I made a spinach artichoke dip that I think bests the California Pizza Kitchen one of my childhood.
Judges say: “If I had to get up and go eat something right now, it’s the first one I’d go for that spinach dip. That’s my winner.”
“You could taste all the ingredients in it.”
“It is just a very good, perfect dip. It’s also vegetarian, which is a plus, because more people can eat it.”
“It’s a classic recipe for a reason, and this was a perfect execution of the form.”
Best flavor: Ashley’s spinach artichoke dip
Most creative: Rich’s blueberry brie gyoza
Third down: Esther’s Queso
Best overall/most likely to bring to a Super Bowl party: Ashley’s spinach artichoke dip