After catching the playoffs last weekend, it was time to start gearing up for the Super Bowl festivities on Feb. 1. A spread of great munchies and finger foods is a necessity. While you could go with fresh veggie sticks and sliced fruit, something about it just doesn't seem right. It's nice to be able to splurge a few times a year on fried, cheesy, salty foods that we work so hard to resist. Still, you can incorporate some healthy ingredients without guests suspecting a thing. Sliders are among my favorite Super Bowl foods. These mini burgers are simple to make, easy to eat and actually not all that bad for you. The patties can be prepared in advance and either cooked to order or pre-grilled and kept in the oven warmer to be enjoyed throughout the game. A condiment station allows guests to pick their own toppings.

We are fortunate to have locally raised beef at the Tuesday Santa Barbara and Saturday Santa Barbara farmers markets. It makes for some of the juiciest sliders or burgers you can imagine. Rancho San Julian and Rocky Canyon Ranch produce some of the cleanest and most delicious ground beef I have ever tasted, raised naturally, free of hormones and antibiotics. Just by looking at the color of the meat in the package (deep red) you can tell the difference between farm-raised beef and what's often found on a large scale at grocery stores.

Because of their size, sliders are a lot of fun to make. They should be about a third the size of a regular patty. I season the beef quite a bit to enhance the flavor, but if you have a basic burger mix that you are fond of, that will work great. For the buns, I prefer using the healthier mini wheat roll, which is available from Creekside Apple Ranch at the Tuesday Santa Barbara, Wednesday Solvang and Saturday Santa Barbara farmers markets. Otherwise, most grocery stores sell slider buns in the fresh bread section.

Game on!



Fix of the Week : SUPER BOWL SLIDERS

1 to 11/4 pounds ground beef (available from Rancho San Julian and Rocky Canyon Ranch at the Tuesday Santa Barbara and Saturday Santa Barbara farmers markets)
1 small onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped
11/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon barbecue sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
1 package sharp cheddar or any cheese you prefer (available from Spring Hill Cheese at the Tuesday Santa Barbara, Wednesday Solvang, Thursday Carpinteria, Saturday Santa Barbara and Sunday Camino Real markets)
1 package wheat rolls or slider buns, lightly toasted (available from Creekside Apple Ranch at the Tuesday Santa Barbara, Wednesday Solvang and Saturday Santa Barbara markets)

Preheat and oil grill or fry pan. In large mixing bowl, combine ground beef, onion, garlic, cilantro, Worcestershire and barbecue sauces, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly. Form meat into small patties (roll into ball and flatten for more uniform patty), about 2 ounces each. Patties can be made the morning of the big game and kept in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook, or you can cook them in advance and place in the lowest warmer setting of the oven. Cook over medium-high heat, about 2 minutes per side. Add cheese to each patty about 1 minute before done. Place patties in buns and add your favorite toppings and condiments.

Yield: about 8-10 sliders

CONDIMENT STATION IDEAS

2 large tomatoes, green or hothouse, or any you prefer (available at most farmers markets)
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 head romaine lettuce, washed and sliced
1 head butter lettuce, washed and sliced
1 bag fresh alfalfa or clover sprouts (available from Ojai Valley Sprouts at the Tuesday Santa Barbara, Wednesday Solvang, Thursday Carpinteria, Saturday Santa Barbara and Sunday Camino Real markets)
Jar sweet sliced pickles
Jar hot peppers
Red bell pepper, roasted, green or hothouse (available at the Saturday Santa Barbara market)
Ketchup
Mayonnaise (can pre-roast head of garlic until soft, let cool, and mix it into 1 cup of mayo along with 1 tablespoon of your favorite herbs for a garlic-herb mayo)
Mustard
Salt and pepper
Barbecue sauce
Bacon