Archive for Wednesday, December 27, 2000

The morning after

You indulged on New Year’s Eve, but now what’s for dinner?

December 27, 2000

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Yet another long holiday weekend is looming. Get thee to the grocery store and stock up on ingredients for at least one really good pot of soup and a savory egg casserole to serve for brunch, lunch or supper.

That's two flexible meals accounted for, with the promise of enough leftovers for two more meals, unless all the ticketholders for the next Rolling Stones' world tour and their relatives are headed to your house this weekend.

In that case, serve bean soup and day-old bakery outlet bread disguised by toasting and a really nice little herb butter. Christmas bills are coming due!

These meal suggestions are intended to fill in around any festive indulgences you may be planning for New Year's Eve. One cannot exist on leftover champagne throughout the whole weekend, so these recipes are heavy on homespun nutrition and "budget-lite" ingredients, such as ground beef, beans, corn, bread and eggs.

How those humble ingredients are assembled, however, will cause people to come running to the table. The kitchen will smell spicy and inviting. You will be pleased to remain close around the home hearth for all three days.

Let's begin with the pot of chili. It's not anything Texans would claim, but Midwesterners have an open mind about this dish. After all, we put the beef and chile seasoning in the same pot with tomatoes, onions, green peppers, even elbow macaroni or spaghetti.

The authentic cowboy pot of chili is essentially beef cubes and chilies, no vegetables, thank you very much. But that is for chili contests in California and Texas. Contest chili is not hot, hot, but it's a lot of time and trouble to make.

I prefer to make a Midwestern hodge-podge chili with vegetables, especially tomatoes and crunchy corn. Nor do I use kidney beans or red beans very often anymore. I like black beans with bright yellow kernels of corn. I also tend to keep trying different chili recipes, so the seasoning varies from batch to batch.

This latest incarnation of the Texas trail-side stew features ground beef, not beef cubes, for quicker preparation. You can use half ground turkey, but keep some beef for that beefy flavor.

Besides the canned corn and black beans, the chili is made soupy with a combination of canned tomatoes and tomato sauce, plus bottled steak sauce, specifically A.1. This flavor boost from A.1. means you can dish up this chili within 30 minutes; it doesn't have to age a day. The combination of tomatoes and steak sauce is anything but anemic. Chili powder and ground cumin lend Tex-Mex taste.

To be festive, ladle the newfangled chili over rice and diced avocado or spoon it into bakery-bread bowls. If beer is on the menu, make it a light blond Mexican style like Corona, and serve it in frosty mugs with lime wedges.

As for the egg dish, this one parlays fresh Florida tomatoes, Monterey Jack cheese, shredded Parmesan and French bread cubes into a delicious casserole that can stand alone as an entree.

It's delightful with a fresh spinach-and-bacon bits salad practically any time of day, even midnight on New Year's Eve when hearty breakfast-style foods are so appealing.

Offbeat Half-Hour Chili

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1 cup chopped onion

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon olive oil

Nearly 2 pounds lean ground beef (or half turkey)

1 (15 ounces) can tomato sauce

1 (14 1/2-ounces) can stewed tomatoes

3/4 cup A.1. Steak Sauce

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 (16 ounces) can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 (11 ounces) can corn, drained

Shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped tomato or sliced green onions for garnish, optional

In a Dutch oven, saute the chopped onion and garlic in olive oil or vegetable oil until the onion is tender. Pour all into a small measuring cup and set aside.

To the pan, which is still lightly greased from the oil, add ground beef or part ground turkey and break into chunks while browning. When pink color is out and all large chunks of meat are broken up, drain well in a colander and wipe out pan. Return meat crumbles to pan, along with the onion and garlic in oil. Stir in the tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes (with juice), the steak sauce, chili powder and cumin. Heat to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in beans and corn; simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Yield: 8 servings.

Menu suggestion: Garnish each bowl of chili with a small scoop of sour cream, shredded cheddar, diced tomato or sliced green onions.

Consider serving the chili with a basketful of warmed tortilla chips and Mexican beers, such as Corona, served very cold in frosted mugs, a lime wedge for each.

Another festive presentation for the chili is to spoon each serving into an individual bread "bowl." Buy sturdy bakery bread rounds; slice off 1/3 from the top of each loaf and scoop out centers, leaving sturdy bread shells.

Hot-Sweet No-Tomato Salsa

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1 medium cucumber

1 (4 ounces) jar pimientos, drained

2 tablespoon minced parsley

2 tablespoons minced green onion

1/2 teaspoon grated lime peel

1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 papaya or 1 ripe mango, pared, seeded, chopped (use cantaloupe, if you must)

About 48 Triscuit wafers

Pare and halve cucumber. Remove seeds, discard and chop cucumber finely. Mix cucumber with the pimentos, chopped as necessary to make a finely textured salsa, the parsley, green onion, lime peel, lime juice, sugar and red pepper flakes. Stir in papaya or mango for a tropical taste; cantaloupe will do in a pinch.

Cover and chill until serving time. Serve as a dip with Triscuits. Yield: About 2 cups dip.

Savory Fresh Tomato Bread Pudding

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1 pound fresh Florida tomatoes

12 cups bread cubes (from 12 ounces of French bread)

2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese (8 ounces)

1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 teaspoon dried Italian herb seasoning (or mix basil, oregano, thyme)

4 cups milk

5 eggs, slightly beaten

1/4 teaspoon hot sauce, or as desired

1/2 teaspoon salt

Heat oven to 350° F. Butter or spray a 13-inch-by-9-inch baking dish. Set aside.

Use tomatoes held at room temperature until fully ripe. Dice tomatoes to make about 3 cups (medium dice). If you prefer to peel the tomatoes, immerse them in boiling water 30 to 45 seconds, then plunge into ice water. Pull off peel, grabbing a loose "edge" with a paring knife. Quarter and shake out seeds, if desired. Dice what's left to make 3 cups. Place in a large bowl and set aside.

Place bread cubes in single layers on cookie sheets; bake until toasted, about 5 minutes, turning once or twice.

Add toasted bread cubes to the tomato bowl, along with the shredded Jack and Parmesan cheeses, the onion and Italian herbs. Spoon into the oblong baking dish. In the same large bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, hot sauce and salt. Pour over tomato mixture. With a pancake turner, press bread down to cover with savory custard mixture. Let stand 5 minutes.

Bake at 350° F, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes, until a table knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool slightly before lifting out squares to serve. Yield: 8 servings.

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