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Sunday, April 29, 2012

A great experimental dinner for company

I rarely cook a tried and true recipe for company I like to experiment. So tonight I played with a menu, not just a recipe, that I've had in my file since--yikes! February 1995. I looked at the date on the Bon Appetit page. It's three pages of a complete menu for "A Weekend in the Snow"--picadillo, pico de gallo, tortilla chips, cheese enchiladas with green sauce, "Drunken" beans, fiesta chicken salad with lime/cilantro vinaigrette, and Mexican chocolate cake. Needless to say, I pared it down a bit. I made my own pico de gallo from an easy, easy recipe, served the picadillo as an entree with black beans flavored with chicken broth, onion, cilantro, salt and a little chili powder, and the fiesta lime salad. My guests raved. Sometimes I fix these elaborate meals (well, to me they are) and don't eat much myself, but tonight I really enjoyed the food.
First the pico de gallo, because it's the easiest and best you'll ever make. I got the recipe from neighbor Margaret Johnson. Mix in food processor: 1 can whole tomatoes, drained; juice of 1/2 lime (I used a whole lime), 1 tsp. salt, 1-2 serrano or jalopeno peppers, sliced with the seeds removed (Margaret uses 1/2 jalopeno and I used a 4 oz. can of chopped chiles), 1-2 tsp. onion, 3-4 sprigs cilantro. Whirl and blend and you're done. Makes almost a pint. Chill.
Next the picadillo wich is supposed to be an appetizer. I think it's too heavy for an appetizer--both as in too filling and too heavy to eat with chips--I served it with taco boats, though I looked for chalupa shells. This makes six servings--there were five of us, and I have generous leftovers.
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 onion chopped'
1 red or yellow bell pepper, chopped (I never ever cook with bell pepper and left this out)
6 large garlic cloves, minced--use the mini-processor if you have it; I find it one of my most useful cooking gadgets
1 16. oz. can diced tomatoes (so hard these days to find them without something added like garlic, chiles, Italian sesoning, etc.--I just want plain tomatoes!)
3/4 c. raisins
1 4-oz.jar chopped pimientos, drained
1/4 c. tomato paste (I used all of one small can)
2 jalopeno chiles, seeded, minced (I'm afraid of working with chiles unless I have gloves, which I don't, so I used 2 4-oz. cans chopped chiles)
2 Tbsp. sugar (don't skimp--it makes it better)
1 Tbsp. each dried oregano, ground cumin, and ground coriander
1/2 tsp. each ground cinnamon and cloves

Top completed dish with toasted, slivered almonds.

Saute beef in hot oil, breaking up clumps.Add onion, bell pepper if you use it and garlic, saute until onion is translucent. Reduce heat--add tomatoes with juice and remaining ingredients. Simmer about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
I actually made this two days ahead, partly for convenience and partly because flavors would blend. Reheated it on the stove, then while guests and I enjoyed chips and pico de gallo, I put it in a warm oven--that way I didn't run the danger of scorching it. My stove is bad about that. Wish, wish, wish for a gas stove.

The vinaigrette for the salad calls for 1/2 cup chopped shallots, 1/4 cup fresh lime juice, 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, 1 Tbsp. minced garlic, and then whisk in 1/2 cup vegetable oil.

For the salad, use red lettuce and napa cabbage, sliced thin, diced cooked chicken breast, avocado, plum tomatoes, red and yellow bell pepper (left it out again), crumbled tortilla chips, corn kernels (frozen and defrosted is easiest--who wants to cook an ear of corn to get 1/4 c. kernels?), thinly  sliced onion (I think I forgot to add that), toasted pumpkin seeds (left that out), and crumbled feta. Be careful of your amounts--we all had huge servings of salad, two guests went back for more, and I still have enough left for an army.

Mexican chocolate cake? Whjo would have had room, even if I made it? Scrumptious meal.

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