Because Fútbol; or, World Cup party food

If you’ve been watching the World Cup, you’ve probably seen the Hyundai ads that end with the punchline “Because Fútbol.” Why is this guy avoiding all contact with the outside world? Because Fútbol. Just what, asks a nurse in an overflowing maternity ward, happened nine months ago? Because Fútbol. They’re cute, the tagline’s catchy, and the whole campaign gets at the growing sense of excitement and investment in the World Cup in the United States.

Like many of you, I’ve been following the drama (such dives!), scandals (Suárez?!), and the general game play, encouraged in large part by all those endearing Google animations that pop up whenever I use the search engine. Soccer’s in the air, and so I’ve found myself returning to the ad and applying it to completely random things, such as:

Why is this song stuck in my head? Because Fútbol!

Why can’t I focus on my work right now? Because Fútbol! (This is probably true.)

Why did I get prematurely excused from Jury Duty? Because Fútbol! (Honestly, who knows? Might as well be Because Fútbol!!)

But most importantly: Why should you make these sweet & spicy nuts, or this pan-fried dip? BECAUSE FUTBOL! And because having good snacks while watching the World Cup is really, really important.

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Shake it up baby; or, Avocado mash with mustard seeds

 

For the longest time, there was a huge paper-mache avocado in the English Dept mailroom. Why? The world may never know.

For the longest time, there was a huge paper-mache avocado in the English Dept mailroom. Why? The world may never know.

Well I can mash avocado (mash avocado!)

Well and it’s with a twist (do it with a twist)

Woh tell me baby (tell me baby)

Do you like it like this (bet you’ll like it like this!)

Here’s a variation on classic guacamole from Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks, in her fantastic, solid cookbook Super Natural Every Day. It’s FANTASTIC, people: deeply flavored and savory in a way that regular guacamole isn’t. Classic guac is bright, cheerful, and cool; this one is smoky, warm, and complex. Done up with coconut oil (or ghee), toasted mustard seeds and onion, garlic, and curry, it’s offers a completely different side on avocado mash. As with all guacamole, the key is not to over mix: I love a substantial, whole-foods dip, and seeing that delectable avocado ombre rather than the typical uniform gray-green.

Bring this to your next party; make friends. Or make it just for you; treat yourself. Happy weekend, everyone. (And happy birthday to my sister Ali!)

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Artichokes Cellini; or, At home

At home for the week, so blogging will feel a bit different — including two guest posts! Details to come.

Until then, here’s a savory, piping-hot artichoke dip that’s a longtime family favorite. Luscious artichokes are topped with an umami-packed layer of cream cheese, chives, and parmesan; baked in the oven, all the elements melt together and the top turns golden-crisp. Though it’s good with any number of accompaniments, from carrots and celery to toast and crackers, I should add that it’s incredible on top of Triscuits. A real crowd-pleaser.

No pictures, alas; they disappear too quickly to catch on camera! (By which I mean, my hands are usually full!)

Artichokes Cellini

  • 12-16 small Artichokes, (canned is okay–2-3 cans should do)
  • 1 small package Cream Cheese, (3 oz)
  • ¼ cup Chopped Chives
  • ¼ cup Butter Or Margarine, softened
  • Salt And Pepper To Taste
  • ½ cup Parmesan Cheese

Arrange artichokes in a buttered shallow baking dish close together in a single layer.

Blend cream cheese and chives and butter. Sprinkle artichokes with salt and pepper, dot evenly with cheese mixture, then sprinkle evenly with parm cheese.

Bake uncovered at 375℉ for 20-25 minutes or until golden.

Quince Paste

Or: “Constant Vigi-quince!”  (For those of you who know the joke, 10 points to the house of your choice.)

Usually posts heralding a triumphant return to the blogosphere include the requisite hemming and hawing, apology, and oaths of renewed fealty to one’s reader.  As my return is something less than triumphant — more of a sidling back, I think, with every sense of promise tempered by an equal dose of doubt — I can only tell you that I hope, truly hope, that it is good to be back.  In any case, perhaps the saying of it will make it so.

I was having a conversation with a fellow food blogger yesterday about how it’s so damned hard, sometimes, to feel in the proper mood to blog, especially about food.  Hence the long absence: there just seemed to be so much more that needing doing, and more pressingly, so much more self-possession needed that I couldn’t even think about writing, especially publicly.  But now, I think, the act — the very thought of — has become increasingly difficult to ignore.  And if I’ve learned one thing from academia (not to mention therapy), it’s that there is no such thing as a proper mood.

BRUTUS (from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, 2.1 ):

Between the acting of a dreadful thing
And the first motion, all the interm is
Like a phantasma, or hideous dream:
The genius and the mortal instruments
Are then in council; and the state of men,
Like to a little kingdom, suffers then
The nature of an insurrection.

from T.S. ELIOT’S “Hollow Men”:

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

To which I add: between the raw and the cooked quince, between the furry uncanny and the jellied tame, all the interim is gorgeous, sweet-smelling anticipation.  And, as the title of this post suggests, constant vigilance.

Quince, for those of you who haven’t seen or eaten it, is akin to the apple and a pear, and smells as beautiful as a rose.  It is also, oddly enough, furry, and when cut into, may cause slight queasiness as it bears an uncanny resemblance to an apple — both like (texture, peel, core) and unlike (weird, alien seed pod arrangement) enough so that, at least for me, it was a distinctly unpleasant experience.  But they’re an amenable enough fruit, willing to sit in your fruit drawer for weeks until their presence guiltily remembered, their futures decisively resolved.  Like other fruit-stewing adventures, quince paste doesn’t get made until the idea of kitchen alchemy wafts in and grabs hold of you, turning the thought of something this time-consuming (but as I’ll describe, rather simple) into a pleasant, even desirable endeavor.

It also, I should add, turns pink with heat.  Magic.

To cut to the chase, this is your reward:

The Close-Up Quince.

A generous amount of sweet, sliceable, rosy-hued jelly that you can pair with any cheese course or use on your morning toast.  It’s like a luminous, honeyed pear, with warm undertones of vanilla and the brightness of lemon.  Gorgeous.  And to get there is not all that difficult, if you can stomach chopping the raw quince.  Oh all right, it’s quite a process — it won’t make itself — but it takes more time than it does arduous work, more patience than anything else.  It’s oddly sentient, this quince paste, as it quietly bubbles away on your stovetop, its color deepening each time you think to check on it.  Best of all, it breathes a sense of space into your day, drawing on that oddest of temporal mathematics whereby time seems to expand with the more things you do.  Which, I suppose, is an aptly transferable lesson for blogging, and even writing itself.

At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

 

Quince Paste

from Fine Cooking, Oct/Nov 2011

  • 2 lb quinces (about 4 medium), peeled, cored, and chopped into 3/4 inch pieces
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped out
  • 2 strips lemon zest (each 1/2 by 2 inches)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar, more or less as needed
  • 2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbs unsalted butter, softened

Directions:

  1. Put quince, vanilla bean and seeds, and lemon zest in a 4 qt saucepan and cover with water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, until the quinces are tender when poked with a knife, about 40 minutes.  (Note: This took me far less time, about 25 min.)
  2. Drain the quince and discard the vanilla bean.  Purée the fruit and zest in a food processor (or if you have an immersion blender, go for it!).  Measure the purée by volume, return it to the pan, and add an equal amount of sugar.  (I had about 2.5 cups purée, so I added about 2.5 cups sugar).
  3. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until the sugar is dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes.  Add the lemon juice and reduce heat to low.  Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the purée becomes a very thick paste, about 1.5 hours.  (Constant vigi-quince!)
  4. When about done, heat oven to 125 degrees F.  If your oven doesn’t go that low, use the lowest temperature and expect a shorter cooking time.  Line a 8×8 inch glass or ceramic baking dish with parchment and grease with the butter.  Pour the paste (don’t scrape the pot) into the dish and smooth the top.  Bake until slightly dried and firm enough to slice, about 1 hour.
  5. Remove from oven.  Let cool to room temp.  Invert onto a cutting board and slice however you’d like.  Wrap with plastic wrap and keep refrigerated — it should last at least a month, if not longer.  (You can also freeze it, I think, well-wrapped.  This is a great gift for friends!)

Green Goddess Dressing Vegetable Platter

If you’re ever wondering what to bring to a dinner party, brunch, or even holiday feast, look no further. It’s a cinch to make, fun to arrange, green and fresh and delicious. Throw all the ingredients into a food processor, blanch some vegetables, and you have the makings of a simple and beautiful platter.


And the best part about green goddess dressing is that you can use any herbs you want. My version uses parsley, tarragon, and chives; I’ve also seen it done with dill, basil, and probably any combination you desire. Add a green onion and a tad vinegar, and you’re golden…oops!…green.

Green Goddess Dressing
adapted from Gourmet, March 2002

Although I’m not one for major substitutions, I took one look at the original recipe and thought surely one can substitute something for that whole cup of mayonnaise. So I tried using half a cup plain yogurt and a half cup mayo, and ended up liking it very much: it was a bit tangy, not as thick, and overall deemed a good decision. I also upped the amount of herbs, as I like my dressing intensely aromatic.

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup plain yogurt
3 anchovy fillets, minced
(optional)
1 chopped scallion

2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
1 teaspoon tarragon (or white wine) vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste

Purée all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and pour into a small bowl nestled amongst an array of vegetables. My favorites are asparagus, snow peas, beans, carrots, celery and cucumbers; I usually blanch* the first four.

*On blanching: Bring a pot of water to boil and liberally salt. Cook vegetables in like batches until crisp-tender, about 3-5 minutes (depending on the vegetable.) When finished, “shock” them in a bowl of ice water in order to preserve freshness and color.