Having a few pals impromptu over to watch your favorite team face off is fine every once in awhile, but why not, ahem, up your game with a pre-planned gathering? It’s actually a lot less work than you think, as long as you follow these tips and recipes from Troy Francis, owner and event producer at Troyal Events in Washington DC, and Dan Churchill, chef and author of Dude Food and The Health Cook.
Invite based on your space
More specifically, keep your numbers to however many you can comfortably seat in front of the TV(s). “You have to have adequate seating for everyone that you invite,” Francis says. “No ifs, ands, or buts about it...it's a game-watching party!” He also recommends limiting the list to big fans only—”jerseys or team apparel are required for everyone to wear to create a true sports environment”—but if you know for certain that some of your guests prefer to be gabby than engrossed, you can over invite by a few, says Churchill, but perhaps suggest they chat out of earshot of the TV.
Set some house rules
If it’s a big game or you’re a total die-hard for one of the teams, state from the get-go any parameters you have—in all seriousness or in good fun. For example, “last year, when the Broncos played the Pats, no one was allowed to talk about Deflategate, or else they’d have to drink,” says Churchill, a New England fan. (A non-boozy alternative would be to require the offender to do penalty pushups)
Offer better booze
In terms of your bar, quality is more important than quantity. Francis recommends having two beers on-hand—one light beer and one heavier/seasonal offering—as well as two liquor offerings such as a quality vodka and whiskey. “Keep the mixers simple—coke and ginger ale,” he says. If you want to class it up without stocking a full bar, plan a “signature cocktail” such as The Vanilla Storm (recipe below).
The Vanilla Storm
1.5 oz Crown Royal Vanilla Whisky
5 oz. Ginger Beer
Preparation: Pour the Crown Royal Vanilla over ice into highball glass and fill with ginger beer. Squeeze in the lime wedge.
*Recipe courtesy of Crown Royal.
Plan the menu smartly
Serve appetizers at the start of the game and entree at halftime. “Two to three appetizers and two main dishes is a good number to create options without overdoing it,” says Francis. “The goal is to have the appetizers last through the first half, and the main dishes to last through the second half.” You also want to be sure you have more than enough food, which Churchill says means aiming for a plate and a half per person. “It’s a win-win if you overcommit, because if not enough people eat, you have leftovers—and you want to enjoy the food as much as you can if you put the effort in,” he says. He also recommends a buffet-style build-your-own main course, like his Burger Board (pictured above) so guests have more choice and you have less prep.
Make game food healthier
Smart swaps can improve nutrition without sacrificing flavor. Make dips with yogurt rather than sour cream or opt for ready-made hummus or eggplant-based baba ganoush, and sub veggies for chips. (Try Churchill’s great recipe for spiced carrot chips and roasted beet puree below.) Bake wings rather than frying them, and use leaner meat (such as ground turkey) in tacos or burgers.
Spiced Carrot Chips and Beet Puree
3 beetroots, peeled, and cut into 2 cm cubes
2 tbsp olive oil
8 carrots, cut into uneven chips
1 tbsp cumin, ground
1 tbsp coriander, ground
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/3 cup hazelnuts
2 tbsp maple syrup
Fresh mint leaves
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a bowl, combine 1 Tbsp of olive oil, beetroot, salt and pepper, and spread out onto a lined baking tray. Roast for 20-25 minutes or until slightly browned and easily pierced with a knife. Set aside to cool, then put in a blender or food processor and blitz until pureed.
2. In a second bowl, toss remaining 1 Tbsp oil, carrots, spices, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Spread evenly onto a lined baking tray and cook for 25-30 minutes or until carrots are soft and have dark golden edges. Rotate them once or twice throughout their cooking time. (You can cook the carrots and beetroot at the same time in the oven; just allow an extra 5 minutes and to rotate trays between shelves.)
3. In a small frying pan, toast hazelnuts on medium heat and add in maple syrup allowing it to slightly thicken and coat the nuts (3-5 minutes). Add in a pinch of salt and take off the heat allowing syrup and nuts to cool before crushing.
4. Scoop cooled carrots into a serving bowl. Serve beetroot puree in a bowl, topped with a dollop with yoghurt and sprinkle over with the crushed hazelnuts and fresh mint.
Cook in advance
Unless you have a kitchen setup that lets you watch while you prep, Churchill suggests getting the bulk of the food ready before guests arrive. That means doing things like chopping and storing burger or taco toppings and pre-forming burgers into patties (quick tip: one pound of meat makes five burgers). Turkey burgers don’t take long to cook—just about two minutes per side—though Churchill recommends taking the burgers from the fridge about 15 minute before you’ll cook them to bring them up to room temperature so they’ll cook more quickly. Skip the time-consuming grill in favor of a cast-iron griddle on a medium-high stovetop.
Sometimes, games get boring or—gasp!—not everyone is as into it as you are. A football squares grid (with monetary or gift prizes) can keep your crew engaged in the score. During game play, place friendly wagers on completions or points scored and get creative with the stakes by betting with physical challenges, such as seven penalty burpees if your team misses the TD. At halftime, break out Cards Against Humanity or Jenga or a stack of Trivial Pursuit cards or any other quick-play game. And try Churchill’s mad ad game: During commercial breaks, have guests guess what the ad is hawking. (Even on the obvious ones, there's a speed element to guessing right first.) Keep score on who gets it right—whomever has the most points by the end of the game wins bragging rights and maybe an actual prize, such as a team T-shirt or a bottle of booze, if you’re so inclined to provide one.