By the time they get to Phoenix, you'll be waiting. Your posse's invited, the extra chairs are in place, and you've rummaged for all the extra heating trays, slow cookers, and serving dishes you own, getting ready for the party.

If you're looking for those last one or two menu items to secure your title of all-time-great hosts, allow me to recommend my personal 4th down and 9 yards to go ingredient strategy: Cheese!!!

Cheesy things can be crunchy or soft; or in the case of today's most valuable player, an ingredient that brings a number of others together to become a tasty recipe sum that's greater than its parts.

It's always great to open with a spectacular play, and for that I'm recommending a true first-string recipe; one that never fails to move the taste buds.

BaconBites_900x600Bacon Bites are legendary for the speed at which they disappear, and are simple to set up in advance. In their case, a 5.6-second 40 is about right.

Need some crunchy tidbits that're creative, yet easy to do ahead?

Cheese-Pennies_blogCheese Pennies are super-quick to mix together. After mixing and chilling, all you have to do is slice and bake, and they'll keep in a jar or airtight container for a week (if you can keep your hands off them).

These are made with cheddar, but feel free to branch out. Blue cheese, Monterey Jack, Parmesan, or smoked Gouda would all make a great cracker.

The dip you see here is simple, too. I mixed some sour cream (8 ounces) with our Herb and Garlic Artisan Bread Flavor (2 to 3 tablespoons). One, two, done!

SavoryBiscotti_blog Savory Cheese Biscotti will happily cart slices of ham or artichoke dip to your smiling face as you catch the replay. Crunchy but not hard, they pack a big flavor punch.

ReubenStrata_900x600All of this noshing is fine, but when the big halftime show comes along, you want to have your feast at the ready. That's why I invented this Reuben Strata.

The flavor roster is all there: rye, sauerkraut, Russian dressing, Swiss cheese, and 2, count 'em, 2 pounds of corned beef. The Parmesan on top is this baker's version of the end-zone dance: a little jazziness to ensure the fans know they've just arrived at greatness.

This is easy as making a big sandwich, with a tiny bit more handling and one extra step: drying the sauerkraut in the oven before assembling, so you don't get a soggy sammie. You can get nine manly portions from this recipe; or if you have a lot of other food on your spread, 18 smaller ones.

I recommend making the strata the day before, popping it into the oven about midway through the first quarter, and by the time the 2-minute drill is going on, you'll have it resting on the sideboard, waiting to be cut.

No matter who you're rooting for, it's a sure bet that Team Queso is going to be a winner with your guests.

Please read, bake and comment on our recipe for Reuben Strata.

Or print just the recipe.

Susan Reid
The Author

About Susan Reid

Chef Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently the Food Editor of Sift magazine. She does demos, appearances, and answers food (and baking) questions from all quarters.

View all posts by Susan Reid