Tuesday, February 3, 2009

an (almost) 20 minute trio

this weekend, we had our friends, lauren and jon, 
over to watch the super bowl.
it was the second year in a row, 
that we held
our party for four.

in 2008, the giants were playing (see, i remembered!),
and it was a very serious day in our house.
i planned meticulously 
and went all out, football-style:
spicy sweet glazed wings
garlic rubbed potato skins
scallion-cayenne-lime dip
macaroni and cheese
peanut butter mousse with grape fluff
(ok, that last one wasn't really 
or tough,
or manly,
but, i was in a marshmallow/fluff phase and
determined to try out a new recipe when faced
with a ready and willing audience.)

this year, however, was a whole different story:
the giants didn't make it,
i kind of knew who was playing 
and i guess i sort of gave the meal thought on friday,
when i picked up tomatillos, limes, a jalapeno and avocados.
but that was it.
i woke up sunday morning 
sans plan, 
a pit in my stomach
and a determination not to repeat
last year's menu.
an hour later, i was pretty sure 
that i was destined to call lauren
at 5 pm, apologize and beg her
to pick up a pizza.

the morning was spent, wracking my brain - useless
the computer - overwhelming
and larry - no wings? really?

i briefly contemplated 
chili - chicken, vegetable and cornbread-topped,
make-your-own quesadillas, tostadas and sandwiches
before finally landing, thank goodness,
on mexican lasagna.

it was simple, i could assemble ahead of time,
bake when they got there, serve from one dish,
and most importantly, make use of the ingredients 
i had purchased two days before. because really,
what i love most about cooking for friends, 
are the appetizers
and the desserts.
the meal, in between, often gets lost for me, even though
i feel a ridiculously strong pull to match my courses.

so, after spending literally hours planning,
and taking a trip to the store to fight other last minute shoppers
lingering extra long in the chip aisle and staring at shrimp rings,
i braced myself to make the three appetizers,
all dips: 
roasted tomatillo salsa
smoky black bean
they were so simple that it was over fast, and i thought, 
as i often do, why don't i just plan the 
main meal around the starters? (next year, someone remind me, please.)

because it just made sense
that while i was roasting quartered tomatillos, roughly chopped onion pieces,
garlic cloves and a jalapeno for the salsa,
that i should throw
the ingredients for the black bean dip in the food processor. 
by the time i had tasted and tweaked the beans, then tasted and tweaked some more, 
the vegetables were beautifully browned and salsa-ready.

when combined, the beans offered just enough mellowness 
that you feel you're eating something simple, 
smooth and hearty and easy-going, 
with a back heat that makes you want more and 
start to believe
that you're noshing on something special.
and the salsa,
while deep in flavor, thanks to the roasted vegetable-only 
mixture, offers a bright
note that you can only achieve by blending
them with an additional dose of raw onions and garlic 
and, of course,
lime juice.

and, the guacamole.
please, if you take anything away from this super bowl saga,
let it be this:
it is so, so, so easy to make your own guacamole.
there's no need to buy a seasoning packet or 
pick up a ready-made container.
i swear it took me 5 minutes total for a from-scratch batch
and i've been accused of being a slow-poke in the kitchen.

they were a hit 
(i heard better than the jar murmurs).
and when it was time to serve
the lasagna,
i looked around and thought,
sure, it's probably better that i didn't expect
my guests to snack on chips all night,
but, truth be told,
we probably didn't even need 
the bubbly dish.

these are all often-made, off-the-cuff recipes that i tried to quantify. but as usual, for recipes like these, have fun adding a little more garlic, cutting back on the lime juice or mixing in an something - like scallions, maybe - that you're crazy about. a lot of them, luckily, use similar ingredients, so you can get away with buying 1 bunch of cilantro, extra large onions or tomatoes instead of the medium ones specified and squeezing a couple of limes at once so that you don't have to torture the cut, which inevitably seems to appear on your finger when you're handling citrus, multiple times throughout the day.

smoky black bean 
smoked paprika is our new favorite spice. its reminiscent of the seasoning on barbecue potato chips (in a good way, i think) and, since we've discovered it, has really helped improve the flavor of many dishes. i think it was made just to be paired with black beans.

1 medium tomato, cored and chopped
1/2 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (washed and dried)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
1 lime, juiced
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1-2 Tbs. hot sauce, depending on your taste and heat of your sauce (I used Goya)
1 1/2 Tbs. ground cumin
1 Tbs. smoked paprika

In bowl of food processor, combine chopped tomato, onion, cilantro, garlic and lime juice; sprinkle with a dash of kosher salt. Pulse just until chopped. Add black beans, hot sauce, ground cumin and smoked paprika. Run food processor until mixture is smooth. Season with salt. Taste; add more cumin, smoked paprika, hot sauce, lime juice or salt, until it suits your taste. Transfer mixture to a bowl; cover and keep in the fridge until ready to serve. Can be made 1 day ahead. 

roasted tomatilla salsa
i swear, it wasn't until i started this blog that i realized how much i adore roasting and more roasting. but, plain and simple, i think it's the answer to making questionable or out-of-season vegetables seem decadent and a way to truly deepen their flavor. this salsa, is not the kind of loose slip-off-the-chip type you may be used to. rather, because the only real liquid is lime juice, it's firmer and much more likely to show a dent when a bit is scooped from the bowl. if you're in the market for a pourable version, simply add a 1/4 to 1/2 cup chicken broth, vegetable broth or water before blending.

8-10 tomatillos
1 small onion, peeled, halved and divided
1 jalapeno, halved and seeded (keep the seeds in if you like it spicy)
5 cloves garlic, peeled, ends trimmed and divided
1/4 cup cilantro (washed and dried)
1/2 lime, juiced

Heat oven to 400˚F. Remove papery husks from tomatillos; rinse under running water to remove the sticky residue. Quater tomatillos; place on foil-lined baking sheet coated with cooking spray or olive oil. Chop onion. Place half chopped onion on baking sheet; reserve other half. Add halved jalapeno and 4 whole garlic cloves to baking sheet. Coat with cooking spray or drizzle lightly with olive oil. Roast 20 min., or until slightly brown and sizzling. Let cool slightly. Transfer vegetables to blender. Add remaining chopped onion, remaining garlic clove, cilantro and lime juice. Blend until combined. Season with salt. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding extra onion, garlic, cilantro, lime juice or salt to suit your taste. Transfer to bowl.

when choosing an avocado, pick one that is deep green and gives a little when you push with your thumb. if there is little or no resistance, that one's not for you. i like chunky mixtures best and i find that when the avocado is really ripe, they collapse easily under your fork and leave little texture. also, it's lucky that this comes together so fast because you really want to serve it just after it's made to keep the guac from browning in front of your guests. if you're worried about timing, chop and juice the other ingredients earlier in the day.

2 ripe avocados
1 medium tomato, cored, halved, seeded and chopped
1/2 small red or yellow onion, peeled chopped
1 lime, juiced
1/2 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped (this is up to you - if you worry about the spice, leave it out)

Halve avocados. Place the halves with the pits on a cutting board. Using sharp knife (and being very careful), whack the inner pit, twist the knife and pull; discard pits. Using spoon, scoop avocado flesh from skin and place in a mixing bowl. Using back of fork, mash avocado to desired consistency, making sure to leave pieces in tact. Gently mix in chopped onion, tomato and jalapeno, if using. Stir in lime juice; season with salt. Taste and adjust.

1 comment:

The Bean said...

Ok, the words "shrimp ring" really gross me out. I know it's just a round plastic container full of shrimp cocktail, but it reminds me of the White Castle "chicken ring" which is a culinary abomination.

Anyway, we loved the Mexican Lasagna. We'll gladly be your guinea pigs anytime.