Monthly Archives: March 2006

Le Menu – 7-Layer Dip, Guacamole, Pico de Gallo, Tropical Bananas Foster

More than a couple of people to whom I’ve spoken about this blog have said that what they would really like to know about is putting a menu together as well as the time it takes to have it all get to the table and still be able to enjoy their guests’ company. Timing seems to be a particularly big theme.

The previous three posts, Fork Tacos, 7-Layer Dip, and Tropical Bananas Foster, can be used to pull together an easy, friendly lunch, brunch, or supper. So, here’s how I organized it when I hosted a luncheon for several friends about a month ago using all these recipes.


Stage one – (Several days prior – It may sound silly to list all of these things, however, it won’t be when you realize you have more guests than stuff.)

A. Confirm guest list
B. Check that no one has allergies or special food needs and make adjustments, if necessary
C. Finalize recipes
D. Read recipes and check for or buy all of the ingredients
E. Count napkins and find tablecloth or placemats
F. Make sure have enough clean dishes, glasses, serving utensils, eating utensils

Stage Two – (Day of – anywhere up to a couple of hours before start time)

A. Read recipes, again with a view to the steps needed to prepare dishes
B. Pico de Gallo can be made in the a.m. or several hours before to allow the flavors to meld
C. Coconut and macadamia nuts can be toasted at this point as well
D. Set serving table

Stage Three – (Day of – an hour to an hour and a half before guests arrive)

A. Chop optional ingredients and put into bowls – cover, refrigerate
B. Put sour cream in bowl – cover, refrigerate
C. Make beans, put into serve bowl, let cool for a few minutes – cover, refrigerate
D. Cook meat and season according to directions, put into serve bowl, let cool for a few minutes – cover, refrigerate

Stage Four – (Day of – about half an hour before guests arrive)

A. Take Pico de Gallo from refrigerator, stir to blend flavors
B. Make Guacamole and put in serving bowl (so avocados stay as bright green as possible)
C. Put tortilla chips into serving bowl
D. Put both Pico de Gallo and Guacamole out on the table for the first arrivals to munch on
E. Take items out of refrigerator and place on table in the assembly line [see photo from previous post]

As guests arrive, they will have something to munch on and can ooh and ahh over the setup, taste buds watering for the main dish. When the last guest has arrived, heat up the beans and meat so that they are served hot. Encourage everyone to serve him/herself.

Alternative Meal Suggestion

If making the 7-Layer Dip and having brunch instead, follow the first two Stages, as listed above. Make the meat and beans and chop the supporting ingredients. You can make the first three layers and chop the rest of the ingredients in advance. When ready to assemble the dish, have the Guacamole made, allowing extra for your guests to munch on when they arrive. The additional layers will take about 10 minutes to put into place. You could even prepare this in front of your guests as the stragglers get there.

Heat up flour tortillas in a 250 degree Fahrenheit oven (130 degrees Centigrade/Gas Mark 1/2). As your guests arrive, prepare the eggs, asking each one their preference. Alternatively, you can start up a big batch of scrambled eggs just as the last guest walks in so that they are warm and ready to serve. Cold eggs are very unappetizing and unappealing so they really do need to be prepared on the spot and/or as close to the time you plan to dish them up as possible. Encourage each one to help him/herself to the 7-Layer Dip.

The Tropical Bananas Foster will add a nice hint of sweetness and drama to your meal. Again, it is one of those dishes best prepared right before serving. It is possible to pre-cut the bananas, cover them, and place them in the refrigerator, but not for more than an hour. They need to hold together during the cooking process.

Test the recipes. Try them out. Add a few cervezas and gather up some friends and family for a feast!

Buon appetito!

Playing with Fire – Tropical Bananas Foster

We are now in the period of Lent, a season of reflection and preparation for one of the most important holy days in the Christian calendar. I won’t go into the Bible history and theology of it. Rather, I want to break it down to one of the traditions many observers still practice – giving something up. Giving up something you like or enjoy doing for Lent is supposed to emulate Christ’s sacrifices while being in the desert for 40 days.
So, for those of you who have given up some sweets but not others or play by the “Sundays don’t count” Rule (cowards), I give you a non-chocolate dessert that should tide you over until Easter morning: Tropical Bananas Foster.  Yes, as there are bananas in it, you can also play the “well, it has fruit in it, so it’s not really a sweet” rule. You’ll see why this posted is titled what it is by the end of this recipe. And it doesn’t bear any link to those eternal flames that you might feel!

As young children, we were supposed to think long and hard about that special item or pastime that would suitably be considered worthy of denying ourselves for that period in order to make us more in tune with our religious beliefs. Even now, I’ve had whole, complex conversations with co-workers as to what I’ve given up in the past, oh what to do this year, how challenging it can be, etc. There are always the quippy answers like homework or chores (for children), NASCAR racing (not hard at all for me), or Catholicism (not really considered funny unless one is already an agnostic). Sometimes, there is a certain strategy involved in practicing this form of self-sacrifice. What about the time I gave up meat and ended up on a business trip to the furthest reaches of the Midwest where they couldn’t understand why I wanted to know if there were dishes without bacon or any meat-type product in them? One sibling gave up family gossip one year. I’m still surprised she made it all the way, but at the end, she had no idea what was going on among the rest of the group.

Tropical Bananas Foster

Serving Size: About 6 adults
Prep Time: It goes very fast and will take about 15 minutes to finish once the butter is melted until it is served

Ingredients:
3 Bananas (not green, not ultra-ripe)
3 Tbsp Salted Butter
1/3 cup lightly packed, Light Brown Sugar
1/2 Lime, zest and juice of
1/4 cup Dark Rum
Toasted Coconut to garnish
Toasted macadamia nuts to garnish
Vanilla ice cream to serve
Coconut gelato to serve (optional)

Assembly:
If using coconut and macadamia nuts as garnish, which is highly recommended, preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Centigrade/Gas Mark 4). Put each on a separate ungreased baking sheet. No additional oil is needed as both items have their natural oils in which to cook. Watch carefully as the toasting process seems to go slowly at first, but it is quite easy for these to burn.*

Peel and cut bananas in half and then quarter each half. Place to the side. Melt butter in non-stick pan over low heat. Add brown sugar and stir thoroughly with a wooden spoon, making sure that there are no lumps. Allow to cook for 2-3 minutes, until the sugar has melted and a light brown liquid caramel has formed.

Add bananas. It doesn’t matter if they are sliced-side up or down as you will stir the banana and caramel mixture so that each side has been coated in some of the liquid. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Add zest of lime and lime juice. The mixture will bubble a bit. Stir in lime juice to incorporate it into the caramel. Cook for 3 minutes more. If it seems too liquidy at this point, cook for another minute or so until it is thickened. It should lightly coat the back of the wooden spoon.

Here it is…..the bit you’ve been waiting for….Clear out the kitchen, someone hang onto the kids, lock the cats and dogs in the bathroom, keep the neighbors and stray relatives out of the house – we’re makin’ fire. Have a clear space, seriously.

Pour the rum into the pan with the bananas and syrup. Very quickly, the second after that, light the mixture in the pan on fire with a match. You should see blue and red flames shooting upwards. [I managed to capture one small orange flame on camera, as you can see from the photo above.]

The flames will die down as the alcohol in the rum burns away. You can continue to cook the mixture on the stove for 2-3 minutes more to thicken again. Stir to incorporate the rum into the syrup. The fun part is to see the reactions of everyone as you show them the burning pan. It’s a great dinner party trick!

To serve: Put out the ice cream and gelato, a plate with the toasted coconut and macadamias, and allow everyone to take the bananas and syrup from the pan.

*Kitchen Witch Tip:

The coconut and macadamias can be prepared in advance and placed in the refrigerator. Allow to cool and then place in separate covered containers or bags. Several minutes prior to serving – while preparing the bananas – take out of the refrigerator so that they come to room temperature. The rest of the dessert is made while your guests digest their dinner.

Leftovers, Yum! – Seven Layer Dip

Some of the best inspiration can come from foraging in your own refrigerator or cupboards or freezer. Leftovers, fresh or pre-cooked, can, with a few tweaks, be the basis of the next day’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, as in this Seven Layer Dip concoction.  For a variation on the Fork Tacos recipe posted previously, here’s a way to use up the remaining items, or, the dish could start out this way, depending upon your choice. Again, this is a dish that you could prepare with your child/ren, having them help count the layers as they are added to total the number 7.

It is also a good party dish as it can go a long way and, served in a glass baking dish, it adds lots of color to a spread. The key to this dish as well as the recipe given earlier is the flexibility that they provide, for family dinner, or even for entertaining. Both meals are relatively easy to prepare ahead so that you can enjoy your guests’ company without having to constantly be in the kitchen.

Serve this with scrambled eggs, and voilà! It is the centerpiece of a hearty Tex-Mex-themed brunch. If doing this variation, softened flour tortillas instead of chips are recommended as accompaniments. You can also create breakfast burritos from the same ingredients.

This almost makes you want to put a plate aside to have leftovers!

Seven Layer Dip

Prep Time: About an hour to put everything together, with preparing Pico de Gallo and Guacamole (Prepare Pico several hours ahead and refrigerate, covered, to allow flavors to meld)
Ingredients:
Layer 1 – Refried Beans, warmed up
Layer 2 –
Meat (if using), warmed up
Layer 3 –
Cheese (should melt due to the to warm layers below)
Layer 4 –
A mixture of peppers, scallions and lettuce
Layer 5 –
Guacamole (see Recipe below)
Layer 6 –
Pico de Gallo (see Recipe below)
Layer 7 –
Sour cream garnished with black olives
Assembly:
Find a glass baking dish, any size depending upon the number of people you are planning to serve and/or how many leftovers you have. Prepare the meat, beans, cheese, peppers, olives, green onions as indicated above in the Fork Tacos recipe, or pull out the extras that were made for a previous meal. Have tortilla chips on hand for serving.

It should be possible to see each of the layers clearly in the bowl when the dish is finished. Prepare the first 3 layers and cover with plastic wrap until closer to serving time. Add the rest of the layers up to the last layer and cover just as you are expecting the first guests to arrive.

Just prior to serving, add the last layer. This will keep the warm part warm, the vegetables crisp and crunchy, and the sour cream and Guacamole bright and fresh. To serve, take a large serving spoon and cut through the layers so that some of each flavor is put on the plate. Use tortilla chips as utensils to eat dip.

Guacamole and Pico de Gallo


Pico de Gallo

1 box cherry or grape tomatoes, deseeded and chopped (or 1 lb. vine-ripened)
1/2 small Red Onion, minced
1 to 1/2 Lime (juice of)
1/2 tsp. of Salt
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. Black Pepper
1/2 tsp. ground Coriander
1/2 tsp. ground Cumin
1 medium Jalapeño, minced and de-seeded
1-2 Tbsp chopped, fresh Cilantro* (fresh Coriander if outside the United States)
Tabasco® sauce (very optional)

Using a non-reactive (i.e., non-metal) bowl, mix together tomatoes, onion, lime juice, spices, and jalapeño. Add cilantro and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for several hours, stirring occasionally to blend flavors. Taste and adjust spices, lime juice, and cilantro to get the balance that suits your palate.

Although tempting, extra salt should not be added. It is very easy to over-salt this dish. Tasting the Pico with the aid of a tortilla chip will show why. The salt on the chip will add what is needed.

If you’d like some extra kick, add a few drops of Tabasco® sauce. Again, the spiciness will grow stronger as this dish sits. If making guacamole (see below), reserve some of the Pico and the juice that develops prior to adding the Tabasco®.

Guacamole

2-3 ripe Avocados
3-4 Tbsp Pico de Gallo, plus accumulated liquid/juice (see above recipe)
Salt
Pepper
Ground Coriander
Ground Cumin
Chopped, fresh Cilantro
Lime juice, as needed

Skin, pit and mash the avocados in a large, non-reactive (i.e., non-metal) bowl.   Fold in reserved Pico de Gallo, along with a couple of tsp. of its accumulated liquid/juice.  The mixture should be smooth with some lumps.  Adjust seasonings as needed, to suit your tastes, and add extra lime juice, if desired.  If preferred, you can mash one avocado until creamy and cut the other one into small chunks for a mix of textures or make both creamy.

*Kitchen Witch Tip:

Cilantro/Fresh Coriander

Along the way, others have shown me some of their cooking secrets. Here’s one I’d like to share with you. It isn’t just the leaves of the cilantro that have flavor. Finely chop the stems in addition to the leaves to add extra flavor to dishes that call for this herb. You’ll definitely notice the taste difference!

Buon appetito!

Chin Chin – A Trip to Otto Enoteca

So, my undergraduate alumni chapter is trying to revitalize here in the Big Apple. They are trying out various events to see if they can lure us out of our usual social circles to meet other people with whom we all share a common tie. The biggest draw has been [as is typical of a Southern school] Beer and Football. As we are a small school, and as the college football season is but a blip in the year, the alumni board needed to come up with other ideas to draw us together.

This month, they organized a wine tasting at Otto Enoteca Pizzeria, part of the Mario Batali-Joe Bastianich (Lidia’s son) restaurant group. Being on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent and the beginning of the period of sacrifice and reflection, I thought that that was an interesting choice in days. It turned out that the dark smudge on my forehead (I never can seem to get the priest who makes a nice, neat cross.) somehow became a talking point a few times during the evening. I even managed not to get any black flecks in my glass!

Here’s how we started out – with a Chardonnay (photo above).

Then, to the Bruschetta del Giorno: Escarole and Pine Nuts
[Another white whose name I forgot and a red whose name I also don’t remember – we really needed dance cards for the tasting]
Then, time for a snack of Cheese with Fruit and Truffled Honey to go with the red wine
After a glass of Montepulciano di Abbruzzo, some of us sat down for dinner. My choice, having to steer clear of meat that evening, was the Pasta alla Norma (eggplant/aubergine, basil, tomato sauce, buffalo ricotta). It was lovely, and went very well with the last of the Montepulciano that I took with me from the tasting, not being one to let it go to waste, you know.
The eggplant was roasted with crunchy and chewy textures, the ricotta was smooth and creamy and complemented the tang of the tomato sauce. Scattered within were glistening kelly green leaves of fresh basil. This is something, that if I lived or worked closer to the Village, I could see myself being coming addicted to in short order. The prices, as well, were very reasonable and that, and the wine selection, makes this a place I’m going to try to drag my friends to very soon. Besides, I didn’t even get to try the pizza, yet!
Buon appetito!