Sunday, May 22, 2011

Guests for the Evening

A Couple of Dips & Tortilla Chips

It was going to be a small gathering of only six or eight of us tops.  This time wouldn’t be potluck so I had to plan carefully to stay on budget.  I didn’t want to serve from my stash in the freezer, though I could have pulled out the spaghetti sauce; but there really wasn’t enough for this group.  And I wanted to do something a little more special.  But I really couldn’t spend more than $10.  What could I do?
The flyer from QFC advertised pork loin, minimally processed, no hormones or antibiotics for $1.99 a pound—a bargain!  I found one for a under $7.50 and got a small tin of anchovies for under $2. 
“Wow, that’s some deal!” the girl at the checkout counter was eyeing my pork loin as if she had been unaware that such a bargain was possible.  “How are you going to fix it?  On the grill?’
“I was going to marinate it first.”
“My mom has a great rub she uses that’s really simple.”  Now she was warming up to this feast she was imagining.  “She uses dry mustard and garlic salt and pepper and rubs it down good.  Yum!  I love meat, don’t you?”
She was a picture of wholesome farming health—rosy cheeks, plump good looks and a wide smile of joy at simply being alive.  On this sunny spring day in Seattle, I could as easily have pictured her somewhere in the heartland.  The rub she described sounded good, but I had other plans.
I made a mental checklist as I drove home.  I had some cream cheese, a partial package, a little sour cream, half of a large container of Greek yogurt that Rona had left behind the last time.  I still had more than a pound of asparagus.  There was still part of the brownie cake left from Cara’s birthday dinner and I had almost a pound of strawberries.  I had some green onions.  There was a little salsa left over that should probably be used up.  I had some flour tortillas that I could toast for the salsa.  I would make bread and would slice some into crostinis.  The rest would come from my burgeoning garden.  The chives were beautiful and the baby lettuces and spinach and kale and radish leaves would make a bounteous salad.  I had my menu:
Marinated Grilled Pork Loin, Spaghetti with Anchovy Carbonara, Grilled Asparagus, Mixed Baby Lettuces in Light Balsamic Vinaigrette
Greek Yogurt and Strawberries with Fudge Brownie Cake
I started with the bread.  It would rise in the bread machine while we went to the park with Trace.  It was too beautiful a day to spend indoors.  And this whole thing wouldn’t take long to put together anyway.  Joe and I could probably even get some gardening in—at least a little weeding.
When we got back from the park, I opened the lid of the bread machine and was dismayed and puzzled.  What happened to my usually beautiful loaf that would always rise to the very top of the machine?  Instead, the lump that was settled only halfway up looked dense, heavy—and all wrong.  I groaned audibly and Joe came in to see what had happened.
“The dough didn’t rise,” I said somewhat peevishly since it seemed so obvious to me.
“What do you think went wrong?”  He was trying to be helpful.  “Maybe you forgot to put in the yeast?”
“Of course I put in the yeast.”  Now I was truly annoyed.  “How could I forget that?  I do this by rote—it’s automatic!”
“Sometimes we can be distracted.  I know that happens to me a lot.  And how about the time you forgot to put in the water?”
“I was distracted that time.  We were talking about something and I forgot.”
“Well, that’s what I mean.  Maybe you thought you put in the yeast…”
 “Maybe it was the flour—sometimes it can be old and not as good.  Never mind.  I’ll make it work,” I huffed defensively.  I started shaping the loaves, feeling the denseness of the batch.
It was past three and everybody would be here by six.  I needed to prepare a few things ahead of time so that I could be free to enjoy the evening.  With the strange dense bread in the oven, I made the marinade for the pork and set that in the refrigerator, covered.  Then I prepared the tortilla chips and crostini to put in the oven after the bread came out.  Next came the dips to mix so the flavors could blend and intensify in the fridge.  It would have been nice if I’d had enough of the chips, crostini and dips on hand already, but my ready supply was low.  Besides, fresh is best, isn’t it?
All this took about thirty minutes to prepare, assemble and put aside.  I already had a big tub of freshly picked greens for the salad, washed and ready to go, and the vinaigrette was in my trusty beaker of essentials on the kitchen counter.  The spaghetti with anchovy carbonara would be a last minute thing that I could toss together while the meat was cooking on the grill.  Sounds reasonable, except that this is where it can get tense.  With a lot of last minute things to do, would it all come together the way I hoped it would?
At 5:30, I set the table and began putting the appetizers together in small bowls on a tray we could take outside to the patio once everyone arrived.  The herb/cream cheese dip went in one little bowl, and the salsa in another.  The sun-dried tomato/garlic blend went in a third small bowl.  Assorted olives left from my Mother’s Day lunch with Kim were in the final bowl.  The crostini and tortilla chips were the accompaniment in two baskets.  I poured a glass of wine for Joe and one for me.  We were ready for our guests.
Some of the comments and observations of that evening were interesting.  For instance, no one seemed to notice the density of the bread.  It was crusty, which seemed to be the important factor.  Everyone loved the appetizers and enjoyed mixing them up.  The only dip that was left over at the end of the evening was the salsa.  I guess salsa can be pretty ordinary.  I thought the asparagus got too seared on the grill, but everyone loved the char—especially on the pork.  I enjoyed the spaghetti, which seemed to be a nice balance with everything else.  The brownie dessert with yogurt and strawberries was a hit as well, though maybe by that time we had all had enough of the fine wine brought by the guests that it didn’t matter anyway.
Marinated Grilled Pork Loin
3 ¾ pound pork loin
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon Chinese 5 Spice
3 green onions, chopped
Put all in a large plastic bag and knead ingredients together into the pork.  Refrigerate for two to three hours.
Preheat outdoor grill to high.  Turn center burner to medium and place pork on center of grill.  Brush with marinade and turn meat over.  Brush on remaining marinade.  Grill, turning once more until interior temperature reaches 160˚ on meat thermometer.  Serves 6-8.  Prep time about 10 minutes. Cook time about 30 minutes.    Slice and arrange on large platter with asparagus.

Grilled Asparagus
1 bunch asparagus, about 1 pound
2 tablespoons balsamic vinaigrette
Trim ends of asparagus by breaking off ends.  Put in plastic bag with vinaigrette.  Seal and shake to coat asparagus.  Cook on preheated grill on high for about 5 minutes, turning once with spatula. Serves 6-8.  Prep time less than 5 minutes.  Cook time about 5 minutes.  Arrange on large platter with pork.

Spaghetti with Anchovy Carbonara
1 pound dry spaghetti
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 can flat anchovy fillets (2 oz.)
1 tablespoon capers with liquid
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon chopped oregano (fresh if possible)
¼ cup chopped parsley
2 large egg yolks
Ground sea salt and pepper
Cook spaghetti in boiling salted water to which has been added about 1 tablespoon olive oil.
While spaghetti is cooking, pour remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in large sauté pan on medium heat.  Add garlic and anchovies.  Mash anchovies as they cook.  Add capers.  Cook a minute or so and remove from heat.  Toss cooked spaghetti, saving about ½ cup cooking water, lemon zest, parsley and oregano with mixture in pan.  Whisk egg yolks in the ½ cup cooking water and pour into spaghetti mixture.  Toss and cook over low heat about 1 minute and serve immediately.  Serves 6-8.  Prep time about 10 minutes.  Cook time about 15 minutes.

A Couple of Dips
8 oz light cream cheese (Neufchatel)
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 teaspoon dill weed
1 teaspoon lime juice
½ tablespoon crushed green peppercorns
1 tablespoon dried shallots (or dried onions)
½ tablespoon curry powder
¼ teaspoon sesame oil
¼ teaspoon rice vinegar
Divide the Neufchatel equally between two small bowls.  Mix next four ingredients in one bowl and last four ingredients in second bowl.  Serve as a dip or spread on small crackers or toasted tortilla chips.

Tortilla Chips
2 flour or corn tortillas (burrito size)
½ teaspoon olive oil
1/8 teaspoon ground chipotle seasoning
½ teaspoon sesame seed
Ground sea salt
Mix chipotle seasoning into olive oil in small dish.  Brush mixture on two tortillas on a baking sheet.  Sprinkle with sesame seed and ground sea salt.  Cut each tortilla into bite size pieces with a pair of kitchen scissors.  Bake at 325˚ about 20 minutes until pieces are crisp and golden.  Store in sealed container.  Makes about 40 chips, depending on size of pieces.

1 comment:

  1. Reminds me of the time in CA when I thought there was nothing to eat and you checked the fridge, gathered a bit of this and that and produced a meal fit for company! This time, however, you did have a nice roast to be the centerpiece.