Sunday, June 24, 2012

game day snacks

I am, in general, a pretty big sports fan. As a child, I may have asked my grandma to read me recipes instead of stories, but once I learned to read I also used to pour over the sports sections of Newsday every morning, obsessing over baseball standings.

So obviously, giant game-day feast, combining two of my earliest loves, hold a special place in my heart. Above, you can see my spread for Super Bowl Sunday, which Laura and Jess so kindly helped me to prepare. I basically made everything delicious and decidedly not healthy that I would want to eat at my ideal Super Bowl party, plus the markedly more elegant brie en croute. I don't know about you, but for me the menu would include guacamole, taco dip, penne alla vodka, swedish meatballs and spinach dip.

First up, I'll share my favorite dish of the evening: swedish meatballs. These were incredibly tender and moist, and the cranberry jelly accompaniment to the sauce was perfectly balanced sweet and tart. Unfortunately, they also happened to be by far the most labor intensive dish on my menu. These would be fine to make on a normal night, but I wouldn't recommend trying to make five other things plus dessert along with it—that's what we might call overly ambitious (and I would know).

Part of the reason that this was so complicated was that it calls for lingonberry jam. I don't know about you, but I don't know anywhere that sells lingonberry anything. Luckily, the recipe notes that cranberry, raspberry or red currant jelly would also work. But instead of just using some Smuckers raspberry jam, I decided to make my own cranberry stuff with fresh berries and sugar and some orange zest. To be honest, this was mainly because I thought I could bake brie with the extra cranberry mixture and make a fancy puff pastry type dish, As it turned out, that last dish was somewhat less than successful, but not for lack of a delicious jelly.

The only other major change that I made wad that the original recipe suggested a mix of ground pork and beef. I have a friend, Deepti, who I was expecting to come to the party and does not eat pork, so I just went with all beef. I wasn't too concerned about this, because I've never made meatballs with anything else, and I honestly can't imagine the pork making that much of a difference. These little buggers were just right.

My only complaint about this dish was that the sauce was somewhat watery, so it really cried out to be served on top of some mashed potatoes or something else to sop it up. If you make it, that's definitely the way to go. Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes and maybe some steamed asparagus or something. I don't even like asparagus, but somehow that sounds about right. Of course, I still maintain that something about Swedish meatballs just screams Super Bowl, so take that suggestion with a grain of salt.

Swedish Meatballs 
adapted from

⅔ cup milk
4-5 slices of bread, cut into pieces
1 large yellow or white onion, peeled
2 tbsp butter
2 eggs
2 ½ pounds ground beef
2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cardamom (optional)
2 tsp black pepper

6 tbsp butter
⅓ cup flour
1 qt beef stock
½ to ¾ cup sour cream
2 to 4 tbsp of lingonberry, cranberry, red currant or raspberry jelly, more or less to taste (see below)

In a large bowl, mix the bread and milk. Set aside for 15-20 minutes, or until the bread soaks up all the milk, then pulverize the bread in a food processor or blender and pour back into the bowl.

While the bread is soaking, grate the onion with a box grater and saute it in the butter over medium-high heat until the onions soften and turn translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Add the onions to the bowl of milk and bread. Add the rest of the meatball ingredients—eggs, ground beef, salt, nutmeg, cardamom, pepper. Mix together with your hands until the ingredients are well combined, then form into small meatballs, about 40 to 50.

In the pan used for the onions, heat 6 tablespoons of butter for the sauce over medium high heat. When the butter has melted, reduce the heat to medium and add some of the meatballs. Do not crowd the pan. Work in batches, browning them slowly on all sides. Be gentle when you turn them so they don't break apart.

As the meatballs are cooking, heat the beef stock in another pot until it simmers.

Do not cook the meatballs all the way through, only brown them at this stage. Once browned, use a slotted spoon to remove them from the pan, setting them aside so you can make the sauce with the remaining pan butter. If the butter seems burnt, you should replace it, otherwise its time to start the sauce.

Heat the pan butter on medium until hot. Slowly whisk in the flour, making a roux. Cook until it is light brown, then slowly add the hot beef stock a little at a time. Everything will sputter at first, and the sauce will seize up and solidify. Keep stirring and adding stock slowly, and it will loosen up and become silky.

Add the meatballs to the sauce and turn the heat down to low. Cover the pot and cook on low heat for 10 minutes. You might need to do this in batches.

To finish, move the meatballs to a serving dish. Add the sour cream and mix well. Either add the jelly to the sauce or serve it on the side. If you want to make your own cranberry jelly, simply cook cranberries with sugar, water and orange zest until they get soft, and then mash or blend to desired consistency.

I've talked before about this awesome cilantro lime spinach dip. This time I actually added the chipotle in adobo sauce, and it gave it a great but not too spicy kick.

Spinach Dip with Cilantro and Lime
adapted from The New York Times

2 10-ounce packages frozen spinach
8 oz softened cream cheese
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
½ cup sliced scallions
⅓ cup chopped cilantro
1 lime, juiced
1 tbsp chopped chipotle in adobo sauce
a pinch of kosher salt and cracked black pepper
Tortilla chips, for dipping

Thaw the spinach and squeeze out excess water. Blend together all the other ingredients in a food processor or with an immersion blender until smooth. Add the spinach and blend again. Stir with a spoon to make sure the bottom is even mixed. Serve with chips. So easy!

For guacamole, I took a page out of Rich Bayless's book, and added bacon, because hello? Can you really do a gluttonous football feast without at least some bacon? If so, I don't want to know about it.

Bacon and Tomato Guacamole
adapted from Fiesta at Rick's: Fabulous Food for Great Times with Friends by Rick Bayless via Serious Eats

5 strips medium-thick bacon
3 medium-large (about 1¼ pounds) ripe avocados 
½ medium white onion, finely chopped
2 or 3 canned chipotle chiles en adobo to taste, removed from the canning sauce, stemmed, split open, seeds scraped out and finely chopped 
1 medium-large round, ripe tomato, cored and chopped into ¼-inch pieces 
½ cup (loosely packed) coarsely chopped cilantro (thick bottom stems cut off), plus a little extra for garnish 
1 or 2 tbsp fresh lime juice
Tortilla chips, for dipping

In a large frying pan, cook the slices of bacon in a single layer over medium heat, turning them occasionally, until crispy and browned, about 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels, then coarsely crumble.

Cut around each avocado, from stem to blossom end and back again, then twist the two halves apart. Dislodge the pit. Scoop the flesh from the skin into a large bowl. Using an old-fashioned potato masher or a large fork or spoon, mash the avocados into a coarse puree.

Add the onion, chipotle chiles, tomatoes, most of the cilantro and about ⅔ of the bacon to the bowl. Gently stir to combine all of the ingredients. Taste and season with salt, usually about ½ teaspoon, and lime juice. Garnish with the remaining bacon and cilantro, and serve with chips.

I also made some excellent penne alla vodka sauce. When I was a kid my cousin Ellen used to bring this great baked ziti to the Super Bowl (and seemingly every other family gathering), so I couldn't host a Super Bowl without a big pasta dish. This was my effort.

I liked this recipe because it wasn't too creamy, but it could have used some bacon, if we're being honest. I love a good bacon-y vodka sauce. But with shallots, whole canned tomatoes and a little red pepper flake heat, there's already a lot of great flavors in this dish. A quick trip through the blender to make it nice and smooth, poured over some al dente penne, and garnish with some sliced basil or parsley and some grated cheese, and this easy, delicious sauce is ready to serve.

Penne Alla Vodka Sauce
from Serious Eats

2 tbsp butter
¼ cup finely minced shallots 
3 medium garlic cloves, minced 
1 tablespoon tomato paste 
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper 
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes, crushed by hand 
cup vodka 
½ cup heavy cream 
Kosher salt to taste

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add in shallots and cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, tomato paste, and crushed red pepper and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Remove pan from heat and stir in tomatoes and vodka. Return to heat and simmer until alcohol cooks off, about 7 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

For a smooth sauce, transfer sauce to a jar of a blender and puree until smooth. Pour back into saucepan. Add in heavy cream and cook over medium heat until warmed through, about 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Use immediately or store in refrigerator for up to a week or in the freezer for up to 6 months.

My least successful dish of the evening was this rather messy looking brie en croute. I've had store bought versions of this, with sweet jellied cranberries and warm gooey brie nestled inside a puff pastry crust. I took a look at this recipe, but I really wanted to wrap it all up in crisp flakey dough. That would have been fine, except that I forgot that it was phyllo dough in the freezer, not puff pastry, so it was kind of a mess. But my cranberry jelly (the cranberries, water, orange zest and sugar cooked up for the meatballs) was great with the creamy baked brie. I'd take a do-over with the right dough, and I bet this would be so great.

Not pictured here (except in the lead photo between the penne and the brie) is taco dip that my mom used to bring to Super Bowl parties when I was a kid. There's not really a recipe for it, but it's really good and really easy: just dice up an onion and cook in olive oil until soft and translucent, and then add ground beef and brown all the way through. Season with cumin, salt, pepper and chili powder, and then drain off any excess fat. Spread the meat out in a baking pan, then grate a mixture of chedder and Monterey jack over the top and bake until warm and bubbly. Serve with tortilla chips!

For dessert, I probably would have gone with brownies, but I had kind of exhausted my creative energies with the main courses, so I just made some red jello and Jess showed up just in time to temper some chocolate chips and dip in strawberries for chocolate covered fruity awesomeness.

So what do you think? What would you want on your game-day menu?

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