Saturday, August 13, 2011

There's still time for a few more cookouts...

As I shared in my previous post, I attended a FABULOUS summertime party at my dear friends, John and Keith's house while I was visiting them in Oregon last week. Their back patio (that humble expression doesn't really do the space justice) is nothing short of a MAGNIFICENT entertaining space, and the guests were lovely, there was live music, the weather was fine, and the beer and wine were flowing freely. On top of all that merriment, there was a TON of food, and it was all amazing! I couldn't possibly detail all of the tasty offerings, but I do want to share a few simple, delicious potluck ideas from that gathering.

The item that was the big winner (first thing to go--two platters emptied in the blink of an eye!) was made by my dear friend, Mike. In rooting around John and Keith's fridge, we found a bag of those teeny, multi-colored sweet peppers. So instead of jalapeno poppers, Mike decided to use the sweet peppers and fill them with a spicy cream cheese mixture. And as Mike's motto is "Everything's better with bacon!" the filled peppers would be topped with bacon, then roasted in the boys' wonderful wood-burning oven out back. These were so good, I recreated them when I got back to New York so that my roomie, Cyd, could try them, too. In fact, they may become my new take-along party staple. You could prepare them ahead of time, and then just bake them off at the host's house.

Here is the method, though it's all but self-explanatory:

Buy a bag of those little colorful sweet peppers and slice them in half, removing any thick ribs and seeds. Then fill them with a mixture of softened cream cheese, fresh chopped herbs (we used parsley, oregano, and thyme), and a good hit of chipotle, hot sauce, sriracha, harissa or whatever spicy business you have on hand, and maybe some black pepper for good measure.

Then you fill the cavities of the little peppers, top with a third of a slice of good quality bacon, then roast on a cookie sheet at a very high temp (450) for 20-25 minutes, or until the bacon is crisp. For the vegetarians, skip the bacon, then finish with a drizzle of thick, aged balsamic when they come out of the oven.

The dish I made for the party was a simple cole slaw that I fashioned after one that I had at a great little coffee house called Rembrandt's in Boise (well, Eagle), Idaho during the first leg of my Grand Northwestern Tour. In addition to one of their incredible sticky buns, I ordered a sandwich, and my friend, Todd, who regularly frequents the shop, practically begged me to order their cole slaw on the side. But I don't really care for cole slaw as a general rule, so I got the potato salad instead. It was very good, with a hint of curry, but when Todd insisted that I try his cole slaw, I knew I had made a mistake. (Yes, naturally Todd took the opportunity to say, "I told you so!")

I don't know the actual recipe, but the dressing seemed sour cream based (not sweet like Miracle Whip or even mayo), and the slaw included blue cheese, dried cranberries, and cashews. What an interesting and savory combination, n'est-ce pas? Here's what I did to make my own version that turned out quite well:

First, I shredded two rather small heads of green cabbage. Then I used about a half cup of a high-quality, fruity vinegar and two teaspoons of Maldon sea salt to brine the cabbage in overnight (an hour or two probably would have been fine). Then I drained the cabbage, but did not rinse it. I used about a cup of commerical Mexican crema that the boys had on hand to dress the slaw (made by Darigold--so yummy!), but sour cream would be fine, plus almost a teaspoon of black pepper. Then I added 8 oz. of Danish blue cheese crumbles (Castello is my fave!), and a generous half cup each of craisins and roughly-chopped cashews. Taste it to see if it needs more salt, then chill until party time. Simple, easy, slightly unusual, and DELISH!

For someone who professes to not care for cabbage, I sure am making a lot of sauerkraut and slaw lately! Perhaps I need to rethink my position on cabbage. In the meantime, my last "recipe" from John and Keith's party is a kind of Mexican or southwestern slaw. Actually, when I first saw it on the potluck table, I wasn't sure what to make of it. But a big bag of chips was propped up next to it, so I figured that it was meant to be a dip or salsa-type affair (but chunkier, maybe more like pico de gallo).

It was really good stuff, and I managed to make inquiries later to track down the woman who brought it. She seemed a bit embarrassed, as it's kind of a "cheater" recipe that starts with pre-packaged cole slaw mix. She confirmed that it was intended to be eaten with chips, but she also told me that she loves it on fish tacos. So when I got home, one of the first dinners I made was fish tacos with this southwestern slaw. SO YUMMY, light, summery and healthy, and a perfect quick-fix for a busy weeknight meal. This is especially the case if you have a grocery store that will cook your fish for you, as our local Price Chopper does. Of course, you could grill your own fish if you insist. ;-)

So you buy some white fish of your choosing--tonight cod was on sale at Price Chopper, so I went with that--and a pound will make a dozen fish tacos! Also purchase a package of the smallest size flour tortillas (or corn, if you prefer). When you get home, keep the fish warm in the oven, and also the tortillas wrapped in foil. Then make the following slaw:

‎1 lb. package cole slaw mix
1 jar of your favorite salsa (I used salsa verde)
juice of one large lime (or perhaps two small ones)

This is your base. Then add anything else you like. I added:

one can white corn with chipotle, drained
one can Southwestern-style black beans, drained
half a cup roughly-chopped cilantro
2 avocados, peeled, pitted, and cubed
salt and pepper, to taste

To each tortilla, add some broken-up chunks of fish, some crumbled queso fresco (or shredded cheese of your choice), a generous amount of the slaw, and top with chipotle sour cream (I just found this new product from Breakstone's in the dairy aisle). YUM! And the leftover slaw is indeed wonderful with tortilla chips, as we enjoyed it at the party.

WHEW! This length of this follow-up post has also become biblical, and to think, I only described three dishes! Suffice it to say, the evening was magical and lasted until about 1am, despite the fact that it was a school night for most of the party-goers. I am already looking ahead to another (hopefully, longer) visit next summer!

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