February 3, 2011 - 5:35 pm
Yep, she’s right. My pal Tracy Schneider imagined aloud in this blog post that when I wrote Gourmet Game Night I was likely ”thinking of Scrabble, poker or backgammon” rather than football. I don’t care much for the game, actually. Never watch during regular season. Last Super Bowl I watched was when the Seahawks played and you know how that game went! I get worked up too easily and just can’t take that kind of stress….
But it warmed the cockles of this writer’s heart to find folks citing my brand of “game night” eats as being ideal, too, for the other big game on most people’s minds right now. In fact, when I was working on the book and telling folks the title, many jumped to the “appropriate for watching football” interpretation right away. An interesting personality test! I say “game” and you say…. what? “Scrabble”? “football”? (or perhaps even “elk”?)
Right on, though, that whichever “game night” you subscribe too, the board games and football both deserve to be the focus. The food delicious and satisfying, but not center-stage. Nothing puts a damper on the momentum of a fun round of Cranium like the host leaving the table for ten minutes to pan-fry steaks. And is it really worth the risk of missing the 70-yard kick-off return, because you had to get those chocolate soufflés out of the oven? Food that can be made ahead and holds up well for a few hours. Food that’s easy to eat and doesn’t require big plates, lots of table space, pesky utensils. That’s what you need.
Here’s one option. Who doesn’t love pimento cheese, right? I had very little experience with the stuff until a trip to Kentucky a few years ago introduced me to the glories that are cheese blended with peppers and bound with a bit of mayo. I went a bit creative with the concoction for my book, instead of making an everyday sandwich, I spread the cheesy goodness between flour tortillas then cut them into little “towers” for just something different. You can instead just sandwich between a couple slices of bread. Or serve as a decadent dip for carrots and cucumbers. Or schmear on bagel chips, crackers or anything else that served as an edible perch.
So, this is my extent of joining the Super Bowl whoopla. Sharing my variation of pimento cheese with you. Enjoy.
Game Day Pimento Cheese
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup top-quality mayonnaise
1/2 cup finely chopped pimentos
1/4 cup finely chopped hot pickled peppers (I love Mama Lil’s)
Combine the cheese and mayonnaise in a food processor and pulse a few times to blend and finely chop the cheese. The mixture should still have some chunky texture. Transfer the cheese mixture to a medium bowl and fold in the pimentos and peppers until thoroughly blended.
Makes about 3 cups
That’s all there is to it! Spread thin layers on large flour tortillas if you want to replicate my Gourmet Game Night version, and use a serrated knife to cut the stack into squares. But there are loads of ways to serve this simple combo. Have a ball.
October 5, 2010 - 12:42 pm
Round or flat? It’s a debate that dates back centuries. Or at least had, until folks realized that those schooners didn’t slip off the edge of the Earth when adventurers went exploring.
But it’s a debate that came back to life as I was brainstorming recipes for this book. I was thinking about including mini pizzas and baby biscuits among the game-friendly fare of the collection. Then I started to wonder if folks would have the ideal-sized little round cutters to use and how much trouble it would be to fiddle with cutting a bunch of circles and reshaping the dough to cut more….
Then it hit me.
Who says the edges have to be round? Why reinvent the wheel when the square is such an elegant and more congenial shape for the cook to deal with?
So I threw out that old convention that pizzas and biscuits have to be round. I rolled those respective doughs out to squared shapes and in a matter of a few swipes of a knife, you’ve got a few dozen squares ready to bake/fill/top as needed. Oh, and a favorite tool in my chaotic drawer of utensils is actually a pizza cutter. That rolling blade makes forming an even, clean cut through the dough a ton easier. Drawing a knife blade across can often tug or stretch the dough, while the rolling motion of the pizza cutter does so with no adverse side effects.
I kinda did the same round-to-square exercise with cheesecake. For one thing, a traditional large cheesecake doesn’t quite fit the game-friendly criteria, one slice is pretty big and dominates the smaller plates used for Game Night eats. And the idea of finessing a presentation of individual cheesecakes in mini round pans of some kind seemed more trouble than it might be worth. So I simply re-cast the cheese in a square cake pan, with a layer of filling topping a base of pressed-in cookie crumb crust. Bake, cool, cut into small squares. And there you have it.
Squares. It’s the shape of things to eat on game night!!
Mocha Cheesecake Bars
The ever-popular cheesecake makes an easy transition to game night, taking on a shallower square form that’s easy to cut into finger-friendly pieces. If you’re unable to find simple chocolate wafer cookies (the Nabisco brand wafers are a great choice), you can use graham crackers crumbs instead for the crust.
1 1/4 cups very fine chocolate wafer cookie crumbs (4 to 5 ounces cookies)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
3 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons Kahlua or other coffee liqueur
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
3/4 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
In a medium bowl, combine the cookie crumbs and melted butter and stir to evenly mix. Put the crumb mixture in a 9-inch square cake pan and press the crumbs evenly across the bottom of the pan. Bake the crust until set, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 F.
Melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler over medium heat, stirring occasionally. (Alternatively, melt the chocolate in a microwave.) Take the top bowl from the heat and stir in the coffee liqueur and espresso powder. Set aside to cool.
Whip the cream cheese and sugar in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until well blended. Add the eggs and continue beating to make a smooth batter, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the chocolate mixture until thoroughly incorporated.
Pour the batter onto the cooled crust and spread it out evenly. Bake the cheesecake until set, 35 to 40 minutes. Set aside on a wire rack to cool completely, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.
Cut the cheesecake into 5 strips each direction, for 25 squares. Arrange them on a platter or tray and serve.
Makes 25 cheesecake bars
↑ can double all ingredients, making the cheesecake in 2 pans
↓ best not to halve; extra will keep well for a few days, covered and refrigerated
¤ can make the cheesecake up to 2 days ahead, cover, and refrigerate
April 8, 2010 - 12:20 pm
Sometimes I’m kind of sheepish about creating a recipe that just seems SO simple that there’s almost nothing to it. But then I’m constantly reminded that, in fact, there’s probably no such thing as being too simple (like too rich or too thin?). This is just one of those recipes. Throw a few things in the food processor, purée a few moments, spoon onto a wedge of pita. You’re good to go! In the book, I top the spread with small pieces of crisped pancetta, which add crisp-salty-rich character to complement the slightly sweet and soft texture of the spread. For vegetarians, another option might be crisply fried thin slices of shallot. Or even solo, the pea mixture is mighty tasty.
Interesting thing to me is that regardless of the simplicity of the dish, everyone just loves the flavors of it. Even if part of their reason to be jazzed about it had nothing to do with how easy it was for them to make. It was one of the dishes I served at the book launch party last month, folks raved. Your guests will too! And you don’t even have to let on that it’s such a quick thing to put together.
Green Pea and Mint Spread with Crispy Pancetta (from Gourmet Game Night)
2 cups fresh or thawed frozen green peas
3 tablespoons chicken or vegetable broth or water, plus more if needed
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh mint
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 thin slices pancetta
2 thick (6-inch) pitas, preferably without pockets
Bring a pan of salted water to a boil and prepare a bowl of ice water. Add the peas to the boiling water and simmer over medium heat until tender, 2 to 3 minutes for fresh peas, about 1 minute for frozen peas. Drain, add to the ice water, and let cool. Drain the cooled peas and scatter them on paper towels to dry.
Puree the peas, broth, and mint in a food processor until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. the texture should be firm enough to hold its shape but not stiff; add another teaspoon or two of broth if needed. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate, covered, until you are ready to serve.
Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta slices and cook until nicely crisp and lightly browned, about 5 minutes, turning the slices occasionally. Drain on paper towels.
Preheat the broiler and set the top rack about 5 inches below the heating element. Set the pitas directly on the rack and broil until lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes per side (use tongs to turn the pitas easily). Let cool, then cut each round into 12 wedges.
Top the broad end of each pita wedge with about 1 tablespoon of the pea puree. Break the pancetta into bite-sized pieces and press a piece into the puree on each wedge. Arrange the wedges on a platter and serve.
Makes 24 pita wedges
↑ For a large party, you can double or triple all the ingredients, but make the puree in batches
↓ For a smaller group, you can easily halve all the ingredients
You can make the puree up to 1 day ahead, cover, and refrigerate. Toast the pita and cook the pancetta up to 4 hours ahead. Assemble shortly before serving.