It's time for yet another blog party, and this time our charming hostess Stephanie has challenged us to come up with little bites and drinks for the big-game night. Now, to put it mildly, I am not athletic. I routinely take the elevator down one floor. I have yet to open a jar of pasta sauce without help. My idea of sport is to cook a dinner for twenty. In mid-August, I ran a 5K race, and for days afterwards, I was sore, discovering muscles I did not know existed. My indifference to sports is matched only by my hatred for watching them on TV! Sunday nights find me ranting and raving every time that John Madden says something like "Oh, he hit that like a real man" (??!!). BUT even I have to admit that the saving grace of sports is the food that gets served at sporting-event parties! I love those spicy dips, bags of chips, the nachos, everything. So I'm looking forward to this party after all.
Today I have put together a big-game Fiesta: Wild mushroom quesadillas served with fresh home-made salsa verde, and some spicy jalapeno poppers.
Quesadillas (pronounced "kay-suh-dee-yaas") are one of my favorite appetizers. In their simplest form, they consist of two flour tortillas with some grated cheese in between, heated through till the cheese melts and becomes the glue holding together the tortillas. Of course this basic quesadilla is easily jazzed up with all kinds of delicious fillings. At the local Saturday Farmer's Market where I shop, there is a stall from upstate NY that sells the most amazing produce. I had been eyeing their wild mushrooms for weeks and decided that I would try using them in a quesadilla. For a sauce to dip them into, I decided on a piquant salsa verde with fresh tomatillos from a local Mexican grocery. It was my first time cooking with shitaake mushrooms and tomatillos! Here is a picture of these unusual (for me!) ingredients: Left to right...shitaake mushrooms, tomatillos and the more mainstream cremini (baby bella) mushrooms.
Lets start with these simple tasty quesadillas. The filling can easily be made ahead of time, as can the salsa verde.
Wild Mushroom Quesadillas
(makes 4 quesadillas)
4 flour tortillas
2 cups Monterey-Jack cheese (loosely packed)
6 cremini mushrooms, sliced fine
6 shitaake mushrooms, sliced fine
2 tbsp minced onions
1/2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1. Make the filling: Heat olive oil and butter in a skillet. Saute the onions till transluscent. Add the mushrooms and saute till tender (2-3 minutes). Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
2. Assemble the quesadillas: Place a flour tortilla on a flat surface. Scatter 1/4 cup of cheese all over. Spread a 1/4 of the mushroom mixture. These mushrooms are full of flavor so a little goes a long way. Scatter another 1/4 cup of cheese over the mushrooms. Press another tortilla over this. Place the quesadilla carefully in a heated skillet and toast well on each side till cheese is melted. Cut the quesadillas into wedges and serve with salsa verde.
I served these with this fresh salsa. The combination was just too good. I think this is one of the tastiest dishes I have ever cooked. Ever. The taste was explosive. Never again will I buy bottled salsa verde.
(adapted from Mollie Katzen's "The Enchanted Broccoli Forest")
Makes 2 cups
6 tomatillos, roughly chopped
1 small onion, roughly chopped
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 anaheim/poblano/any other hot chili pepper, minced
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper/red chilli powder
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp minced fresh cilantro
2 tbsp minced fresh basil
2 scallions/ spring onions, minced (green and white parts)
1. In a saucepan, combine 1 cup water and all ingredients from tomatillos to salt. Bring to a boil, cover partially and simmer for 10 minutes. Let it cool a little.
2. Process this sauce in a blender/food processor/hand blender to get it slightly smooth (you can leave it as chunky as you like).
3. Mix in the fresh herbs and scallions. Taste and adjust salt if necessary.
A note on substitutions: any mixture of mushrooms could be used for a similar flavor, and green tomatoes would nicely in place of the tomatillos.
The next dish I am serving up is some extra-hot jalapeno poppers. I ate some amazing poppers a long time ago at a comedy club (of all places), and have been experimenting with them off and on. This time I decided to try goat cheese as the stuffing.
6 jalapeno peppers
6 tbsp goat cheese with herbs
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 egg, beaten
oil for deep frying
1. Make a slit in each jalapeno pepper leaving the stem intact. Remove the inner membranes and seeds. Wear gloves while doing this!!! Otherwise your hands will be burning with pain for several hours afterward (I was foolhardy and I swear it will never happen again).
2. Stuff a tbsp of goat cheese into each pepper through the slit. Press it closed.
3. Dredge each stuffed pepper in egg and breadcrumbs twice (egg-breadcrumbs-egg again-breadcrumbs again), then deep fry till golden brown.Drain on paper towels and serve right away.
These were delicious! The double-dipping has two advantages: it seals the peppers well so that the stuffing does not leak out, and it makes for a thicker coating which tastes wonderful. The spicy crunchy peppers contrast beautifully with the tangy creamy goat cheese. The stem makes for a cute handle to get a grip on the peppa'.
I liked the goat cheese filling but next time I will experiment with different stuffings. A couple of ideas:
1. Minced onion, carrot and grated mozzarella
2. Mashed potato and grated paneer (Indian-style cottage cheese)
So how did you like my spread? Thanks Stephanie for inviting me to yet another great party...I think I actually enjoyed the big game night.