Do not expect to talk football with Donna Penyak.
"Everyone who knows me will say that I know zero about football," she said, adding. "I can tell you about tennis."
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But come Super Bowl time, Donna makes sure to learn as much as she can about the teams. Not the top players or offensive strategies, mind you, but the teams' hometowns.
For eight years, the South Barrington resident has planned Super Bowl parties that celebrate the cities and their foods.
Donna said she took a further interest in cooking 10 years ago and attributes it to Sunday afternoons when her husband David enjoys spending the day watching, what else? Football.
"I did not set out to say I am going to start experimenting with cooking. It became a Sunday afternoon thing when I would pick a recipe and make it," she said. "I wasn't interested in football and during the winter it is often on here."
She has found inspiration from several sources including cookbooks, taking cooking classes at Harper College and joining a neighborhood cooking group. She also credits finding recipes to watching the Food Network.
"I would go to the health club and will watch the Food Network while I'm working out which is good news, bad news because I'll run home and start downloading the recipes and cooking," she said.
When an idea came for the couple to host a Super Bowl party, Donna said because she wasn't interested in the game, she took an interest in the food.
"I needed something to get me interested in holding a Super Bowl party," she said.
As the playoffs commence and invitations go out to 30 to 40 friends, Donna sketches out her game plan, researches the cities and plans a menu to highlight each city's culinary contributions.
For Super Bowl XLII that matched the New England Patriots and New York Giants, Donna found dishes to satisfy fans of either team. There was corned beef and pastrami and her clam chowder, a recipe she shares with readers.
One team that has appeared often at the Super Bowl is the Pittsburgh Steelers, and when they have, Donna has been ready. After discovering the city has a large Polish/Slovakian population she cooked up a dish called haluski, a Polish/Slovakian term for a dish with cabbage and noodles. Donna says it reminds her of a loose pierogi.
Chili seems to be a Super Bowl staple, and Donna found a perfect version when Detroit hosted Super Bowl XL.
"When I found this recipe for "Motor City Chili" I thought it would be perfect considering the prevalence of the auto industry in Detroit," she said. "It's very flexible and easily lends itself to adjustments."
For a local Super Bowl favorite, Donna has no problem finding foods to represent the Green Bay Packers.
"Over the years, I've made cheese soup and of course brats for Green Bay. Because they're lovingly known as "cheeseheads" it makes it easy to find a cheesy recipe," she said.
Donna looks forward to creating another winning menu and knows better than to think her food will keep guests too far away from the game.
"Everybody seems excited to come by and see what I come up with each year," she said. "They enjoy the game and they enjoy eating, too."