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Easy Super Bowl Dinner: Baked Potato Bar

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Serving food in a buffet style is always efficient and easy when you're hosting a bunch of people over for dinner. With the Super Bowl game this Sunday, everyone wants to watch the game and have a good time with friends, not slave away in the kitchen. You'll be happy, your guests will be happy and your stomach will be happy. It's a win for everyone.

Baked potatoes are easy to mass-produce, and who doesn't love a baked potato with all the fixings while watching the Super Bowl? Here is how you can make a baked potato bar, buffet-style, for all your guests to assemble baked potatoes topped with all their favorite foods.

When you put a baked potato bar together, all the work starts with deciding what ingredients you want to use.

First, decide what kinds of potatoes you want to serve. Medium-sized potatoes are great because they aren't egregiously huge or teeny-tiny, leaving your guests hungry. I suggest offering sweet potatoes and baked potatoes to have a variety of flavors. Make sure everyone can have two; the Super Bowl lasts a long time.

Next, make a list of all the toppings and fixings you can put on a baked potato. You'll need all the basics: butter, cheese, chives, sour cream, bacon bits, salt and pepper.

When it comes to cheese, you can stick with the classic Cheddar or offer a few options, like blue cheese, shredded Colby Jack or Provolone.

After you decide which staple ingredients you want to serve, it's time to decide the meat, vegetables and other condiments. Everyone loves barbecue, so mix barbecue sauce and your favorite protein (chicken, steak, pork, etc.) for a delicious barbecue-baked potato. Black beans go great with a sweet potato, so for your vegetarian friends, this is a great substitution.

For the vegetables, offer corn, tomatoes, sautéed onions, bell peppers, avocado and broccoli. You want to offer a little bit of crunch, a little bit of color and a whole lot of taste for each baked potato.

Finally, place several condiments, like sauces and dressings, for everyone to top their potatoes with (it's not like they have enough already). You can never go wrong with nacho cheese, a fresh salsa, creamy gravy, pesto sauce, guacamole or extra barbecue sauce. You can also add crushed tortilla chips and fried onions for added texture.

Once you have all of the ingredients, make your potatoes before guests arrive for the game by, first, cleaning them off with water and a little elbow grease. Coat the outsides of the potatoes with vegetable oil and salt, then poke holes into the potatoes with a fork to be sure you don't have a nuclear explosion in your oven.

Place these suckers on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for about an hour; you want the potatoes to be fork tender.

Avoid causing bacteria to build on your potatoes by not wrapping them in aluminum foil. Instead, place your potatoes in a preheated cooler. Simply fill a cooler with hot water, then once your potatoes are done baking, empty the hot water, dry the inside of the cooler and quickly place the potatoes into the cooler, sealing it tightly shut. You can leave the potatoes in there for four hours.

While the potatoes are baking, or keeping warm, place all your toppings into bowls to serve on your buffet. Keep the cold toppings in the refrigerator covered with plastic wrap. Once it's time to assemble your buffet, place the potatoes at the front, slice each with an X so it will open up wide enough to fill with all the toppings your guests desire, then place the toppings on the serving table in order of proper assembly. Start with the butter, salt and pepper, followed by the meat and beans, then vegetables, cheeses, condiments (sour cream, bacon bits, chives, etc.) and extra goodies (sauce, guacamole, chips and gravies).

Let your guests get creative with their baked potatoes; there isn't one way to make a stuffed baked potato. You can also get everyone involved in helping assemble the potato bar by making a list of ingredients for them to bring and have them all sign up to bring something. You'll save some money and some time. Again, it's a win-win situation.

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