Tuesday, January 29, 2013

7 Game Day Favorites

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Football’s not really my thing.  BUT, planning the food for a party based around football?  That I can do.  I’ve collected some of my choice finger foods from the past year or so and compiled them here for an easy guide to game day favorites.  Make one of them or all of them and your party is sure to be a touchdown, no matter who wins the game!

Click on the food titles to see the recipes!

Pretzel Dogs
(this recipe is at the bottom of the page)

Potato-wrapped meatballs from Holland

 with Chipotle Aioli

Chili is a must.  I had it growing up.  I made it for my Super Bowl parties in college.  It's so easy to have a big pot of chili on the stove.  People can help themselves, it's very casual and it's perfect for a cold, February day.

 .      .      .      .      .

Pretzel Dogs

Head back to childhood with these fun, crunchy, chewy and satisfying pretzel-wrapped hot dogs.  

1 tube of pretzel or breadstick dough (found in the refrigerated section near the cinnamon rolls)
Your favorite kind of precooked hot dogs or polish sausage (I like Nathan's or Hebrew National)
Course Salt
Ketchup & Mustard

Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray a cookie sheet with nonstick spray. 

Open the pretzel dough and separate the pieces.  Take one strip of pretzel dough and slowly twirl it around one of the hot dogs.  You may need to stretch it a little bit to reach the end of the hot dog.  Place on the cookie sheet.  Repeat the process with each of the other hot dogs. 

Some of the pretzel dough directions say to brush the tops with egg wash or water.  I find that it’s not necessary, but feel free if you have some egg handy. 

Sprinkle each hot dog with course salt for looks and make sure it sticks to the dough.  Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.  Serve with ketchup, mustard or your favorite condiments. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Pasta Rossa

I have a thing about spaghetti noodles.  I don’t like them.  There’s something about the shape and the way it doesn’t hold sauce that distracts me.  Ridiculous, I know.  But I like to pay attention to that kind of thing.  It’s the perfectionist in me that I can’t seem to suppress.  The way I see it, why not make a simple change, like the type of pasta, and arrive at a result that much closer to perfection?  No distractions.  Just pleasant-looking, sauce absorbing, delicious, reassuring pasta. 

With that said, I LOVE ‘spaghetti sauce!’  This recipe really is closer to a Bolognese, so, I’ve renamed it Red Pasta for the sake of simplicity.  But by George, feel free to use whatever your favorite shape and size of pasta is and call it whatever the hell you want!

This red pasta sauce is thick and sumptuous, packed with veggies and meat and deep, rich flavor. 

Good to know:

Marinara Sauce – a simple, tomato-based sauce with basil and garlic.
Spaghetti Sauce – an “Americanism” for a basic red pasta sauce normally served with spaghetti pasta. 
Bolognese – a tomato and meat sauce made with onion, carrots, celery, beef & pork. 
Puttanesca – a tomato sauce with anchovies, chili flakes, olives and capers, named after ‘women of the night.’

4 slices of bacon
1 lb. of ground Italian sausage
1 onion, diced
4 medium-sized carrots, diced
4 ribs of celery, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 C. of your favorite red wine
1 jar of pasta sauce (like garlic & onion OR use several Tablespoons of tomato paste)
1 28 oz. can of tomatoes
Salt & Pepper, to taste

Basil, julienned (thin strips), to garnish
Bacon, crumbled to garnish
Italian sausage, to garnish
Parmesan, to garnish

Your favorite pasta, cooked al dente

In a large pot, cook the bacon over medium-low heat.  By cooking over low heat, you will render all that fat from the bacon, which will help give this sauce even more depth.  Remove the bacon when it’s chewy and cooked through.

Add the Italian sausage to the bacon grease and cook over medium heat, stirring the meat to break it into pieces.  When it has turned brown, remove the sausage and set in a bowl to rest.  Add the diced onion, carrots and celery to the bacon and sausage grease.  Cook this trinity of vegetables (called mire-poix in French, pronounced “meer-pwa”) over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  You want them to turn translucent and start to brown.  Do not let them burn.  Add the garlic and stir to mix it into the veggies.  Cook until it’s fragrant – less than a minute. 

Add the wine to the veggies and bring the mixture to a boil.  Turn down the heat slightly and let the mixture simmer until the wine has reduced and thickened and coats the veggies, about 7 minutes.  *As Ina says, choose a wine that you would actually drink.  If you don’t, then you wont want to eat it either.  If you absolutely HATE red wine, choose a bold white wine like Chardonnay.  It will stand up to the strong meat flavors.  Really, you’re just looking for depth of flavor. 

Once the wine has reduced, add the canned tomatoes and the pasta sauce.  Add the Italian sausage back to the pot as well, reserving just enough to garnish at the end.  Stir to combine and turn the heat to low.  Let this sauce cook for about 30 minutes to all day long.  The longer it cooks, the better it tastes.  If it starts to get too thick, just add a bit of water.  Taste it along the way as well and season with salt and pepper, if needed. 

When you’re ready to eat, cook your pasta to al dente.  This just means that it’s still got a bite to it so it’s not mushy and saturated with water.  You know, like those awful noodles you find in cans of chicken noodle soup! 

I like to drain my noodles thoroughly and then add them right to the sauce.   This way each and every bite of pasta gets coated by sauce.  To garnish, sprinkle with the reserved Italian sausage and bacon, Parmesan cheese and basil.  Serve with garlic bread. 


*This makes a ton of pasta sauce, so eat some and store the rest in the freezer for later.  

 Like this red pasta?  Try this white one too:

Friday, January 18, 2013

Roasted Corn & Bacon Quesadillas

Lately, I’ve been craving Mexican food, like RULL bad.  When I lived in Phoenix, it was easily accessible.  All you had to do was stick your nose in the air and take a deep breath and you’d know where to find the nearest tacos, tortas, chimichangas and menudo.  Of course I had my favorite restaurants and dishes, but they really were available anywhere and everywhere. 

Now, living in the Middle West, they are much harder to come by.  I sure miss the old days when, after a drunken night on the town, I could revel in some Carne Asada French Fries on the walk home.   I have yet to find this greasy, magnificent treat in CBUS. 

Living away from the ubiquitous taquerias of Phoenix, I now make my Mexican food at home.  Good thing Sean and our roommate Morgan love spicy meat, rice and beans wrapped in tortillas as much as I do. 

So, to jump back into Mexican food, I’m making easy Quesadillas.  When I was in college, people called these “cheese crisps” and it always turned me off.  The “crisp” part never made it to the plate.  Melted cheese in flaccid tortillas.  Ehh.  No thanks.  Then, I tasted some gourmet quesadillas.  I’ll never go back to cheese crisps.  To make a successful quesadilla, all you need are a few layers of flavor and you’re set to go!  Keep it interesting and your guests will keep coming back for more.  Here’s how I make mine:

Cooked bacon, in pieces
Corn (off of the cobb)
Onion, petalled*
Red Pepper, in small slices
Colby Jack cheese, shredded
Flour tortillas
[Add grilled chicken to make this a meal]

Cilantro and Green Onion Sour Cream (recipe follows)
More cilantro
Avocado or guacamole

*Petalled = sliced.  To me, they look more like petals than slices.

Preheat the oven to broil.  Spread your corn out on a cookie sheet (fresh is best, frozen is fine).  Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil.  Toss until it is evenly coated.  Cook in the oven until the corn starts to brown and crisp up, about 5 minutes.  Do not let the corn burn or else it will be too hard to chew. 

 Heat a medium skillet with 2 T. olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onions and red pepper and sauté until they are caramel-colored and sweet.  Remove from the heat and set aside. 

Lower the heat of the oven to 375.  On a separate cookie sheet, lay out your tortillas.  To each, add some bacon, roasted corn, onions and peppers and cheese.  Place another tortilla on top and press down lightly to secure it.  Once the cheese melts, the quesadilla will stay together.  Place the cookie sheet in the oven for 15 minutes or so until the tortillas are crisp and golden brown.  Remove and slice into wedges.  Garnish with Cilantro Green Onion Sour Cream, fresh avocado or guacamole and cilantro.  

Cilantro and Green Onion Sour Cream

3 T. cilantro, finely chopped
3 green onions, finely diced
1 Pint sour cream
Salt & Pepper

In a bowl, combine the cilantro, green onions and sour cream.  Season with salt and pepper and stir until thoroughly combined.  Place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours for the flavors to marry.  

Bonus:  Roasted Corn Guacamole

1 Avocado, cubed
1 Tomato, diced
1/4 Red onion, diced
1/2 C. roasted corn
1 T. Cilantro, finely chopped
Squeeze of lemon juice
Salt & Pepper, to taste

In a large bowl, toss all ingredients.  Serve with tortilla chips or quesadillas.