Thursday, February 07, 2008

Super Bowl Spread

YIKES! Where does the time go? I have been meaning to post about our Super Bowl feast all week, and here it is Thursday afternoon, and this is the first free moment I've had! In any case, I hope everyone enjoyed the big game on Sunday. I loathe sports, but even I thought that last touchdown was awfully exciting! And I think it's neat that the Manning brothers won in back-to-back years, both MVP's. That's very very cool. Usually I hide in the kitchen making snacks, only watching the commercials and the halftime show, but was it just me, or were they less than spectacular this year? None of the commercials were particularly fabulous, and though I like Tom Petty, he ain't no Prince or Paul McCartney or Michael Jackson...or Janet Jackson, for that matter! And I shudder to think about Mr. Petty having any kind of "wardrobe malfunction." Ewww. So I actually tried to watch the game this year, but I didn't even make it through the first quarter before I passed out on the couch! ;-) It was a good thing that I had much of our Super Bowl eats prepared in advance, and Cyd even made dessert--imagine that!

Though Super Bowl Sunday demands manly, heart-clogging, trashy foods, our pre-function nibbles were strangely genteel. We had jumbo shrimp with a spicy dipping sauce, as is our way, and another cute little tidbit that was a quick and easy version of Paula Deen's brie en croute, or brie in puff pastry. Unfortunately, we gobbled them all up before I thought to take a picture, but I will explain my method nevertheless. First, I toasted a half cup of chopped walnuts in two tablespoons of butter (4-5 minutes until the butter and the nuts begin to brown). Then I mixed in two tablespoons of brown sugar (up to 1/4 cup if you want it sweeter) and a sprinkle--oh, a mere whisper--of cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Next I took those little pre-fab frozen phyllo cups (15 in a package) and filled each with a spoonful of the nut mixture and topped with half of a Babybel cheese. Then I baked them for about ten minutes in a 350-degree oven to crisp up the shells and melt the cheese. Easy, delicious, and rather sophisticated!

For a main dish with more testosterone, I tried a recipe that has been languishing in my "to-try" pile since last year when the Bears played the Colts. It was an Italian Beef sandwich from Tim, a prominent presence over at the Cooks Illustrated message boards. Though I swapped out flat-iron steaks for chuck roast and cooked it all in the crock pot instead of the oven, the sandwiches turned out great! And then, of course, we had to have our annual seven-layer dip. My version involves refried beans mixed with homemade salsa to make them softer for dipping into and imminently more flavorful. I top that with a double layer of guacamole (that's the secret!), a thin layer of sour cream, a ton of shredded cheese, chopped black olives, and green onions on top. It's the best! But I always end up making too much, so I brought the leftovers into work this week, and within a few hours, the dip had disappeared! TOUCHDOWN! Ok, so sports metaphors don't work for me. Fine. Here's the Italian Beef recipe:

Chicago Bears Style Italian Beef
(Source: Tim of the
Cooks Illustrated Message Boards)

5 pound bone-in chuck roast (I used about five pounds of flat-iron steak instead)
salt and pepper to taste

1 teaspoon paprika (I used smoked)
1 tablespoon Greek oregano
1 tablespoon garlic powder or one head of garlic crushed (I opted for the latter)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 or more minced pepperoncini

1/4 cup pepperoncini juice
2 tablespoons lemon juice (from two lemons)

1 chopped onion (optional, but why wouldn't you want it?)
2 cups excellent beef stock
5 bay leaves (I used ground for this)

Combine all spices into a paste with some pepperoncini and lemon juice. Rub on roast.

In a Dutch oven, add all liquids and the seasoned roast. Cover and roast at 350 degrees for 2-3 hours until meat is falling from the bones. (I cooked it in the crock pot for 10-12 hours on low.)

Remove roast, let cool and shread into bite size pieces. Place back into pot to reheat. Serve with toasted hoagie rolls, horseradish mayo and more pepperoncini. Some people also add mozzarella cheese, but I went with Swiss. Chicagoans may balk at the faux pas, but it was darn good eats!

Finally, for dessert, Cyd made an excellent pineapple upside-down cake. We found some lovely golden specimens at Sam's Club for three dollars apiece, and she wanted to do something that would really showcase the fruit. Of course, she usually makes grand plans to make a special dish, but ends up just eating the fresh pineapple quickly before it goes bad and has to be thrown away. But to my shock and awe, she took herself into the kitchen this weekend, tackled the onerous job of deconstructing the pineapple, and then actually made a cake from scratch! And in making a few substitutions to the original recipe, she may have made the cake better than anyone thought possible! Instead of a yellow cake base, this was more of a light spice cake laced with dark rum whose tropical flavors perfectly complimented the caramelized pineapple on top. Bravo, Cyd! (We'll make a proper cook of her yet! Tee hee.) Here's that recipe:

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
(Source: Gourmet via Food Network)

For topping:
1/2 medium pineapple, peeled, quartered lengthwise, and cored
3/4 stick unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

For batter:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 to 3 teaspoons ground cardamom (we were out of cardamom, so we substituted 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, a pinch of cloves and a quarter of a nutmeg, grated)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon dark rum (don't omit this, even if you think you don't like rum--it's not enough to make the cake "boozy," but it adds a wonderful depth of flavor)
1/2 cup unsweetened pineapple juice (we used orange juice, which was yummy with the other tropical flavors)
2 tablespoons dark rum, for sprinkling over cake (optional--we omitted this)

Special equipment: a well-seasoned 10-inch cast-iron skillet (we used a Dutch oven)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut pineapple crosswise into 3/8-inch-thick pieces. Melt butter in skillet. Add brown sugar and simmer over moderate heat, stirring, 4 minutes. Remove from heat. Arrange pineapple on top of sugar mixture in concentric circles, overlapping pieces slightly.

Sift together flour, cardamom (or other spices), baking powder, and salt. Beat butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, then gradually beat in granulated sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and rum. Add 1/2 of the flour mixture and beat on low speed just until blended. Beat in pineapple (or orange) juice, then add remaining flour mixture, beating just until blended. (Batter may appear slightly curdled.)

Spoon batter over pineapple topping and spread evenly. Bake cake in middle of oven until golden and a tester comes out clean, 45-50 minutes. Let cake stand in skillet five minutes. Invert a plate over skillet and invert cake onto plate (keeping plate and skillet firmly pressed together). Replace any pineapple stuck to bottom of skillet. Sprinkle rum over cake and cool on plate on a rack. (I slid the cake from the plate onto the rack to cool. Otherwise you will steam the bottom of the cake to mush!)

Serve cake just warm or at room temperature.

Cooks' Notes:
• Some of the food editors found 3 teaspoons of cardamom to be too much, but others loved the intense flavor. • Cake may be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Gina's Note: You may want to use a propane torch or run the cake under the broiler for a minute or two to caramelize the topping a bit more after turning it out of the pan. Just an idea...

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