Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Upscale White Trash - Pt 1

First off, if you feel the need to send me an email chastising me for my choice of wording… don’t. We weren’t making fun of your Aunt Sally’s beloved casserole that she brings to every family gathering. In fact, that was kind of the point of the entire exercise - recreating standards. There was also no snobbery involved in the making of this dinner. But there were a lot of tongue-in-cheek chuckles.

So… for this month’s culinary adventure, Carley and I decided on ‘Upscale White Trash’ - basically elevating those ubiquitous dishes that we see pop up at every potluck table. You know what they are, and don’t pretend that you haven’t brought one at some point. I, for one, have made my share of Velveeta Cheese Dip (as my sister pointed out to me). And really, given how much they charge for that particular cheese ‘product’, if we were simply making fun of ‘cheap’ food, I don’t think that would even qualify. What we were doing was having a little fun with some ‘standards’.

Carley even found this, which is hilarious reading…

On the menu:

Wine Coolers (Strawberry Watermelon Spritzers)
French Onion Dip (Caramelized Onion Dip with Parmesan Thyme Crackers)
Mac & Cheese (Souffléd Pasta & Cheese)
Tater Tots (Sweet Potato ‘Tots’)
Cole Slaw
Chili Cheese Fries (Polenta Fries with Chorizo Chili, Queso Fresco and Lime Crema)
Beans and Wieners (Cassoulet)
Green Bean Casserole
Fried Pies (Mixed Berry Hand Pies)
Twinkies (Brandy Almond Pound Cakes with Pastry Cream)

Having grown up in a ‘dry’ county, making a run to the store for a bottle of wine, or something with a bit more bite (not really beer drinkers in my clan), involved a LITTLE more than running down to the corner market. And I wouldn’t exactly say that our selection would necessarily make it into the Top 100 of Wine Spectator. Personally, I remember a lot of Boone’s Farm and wine coolers around our house.

And thus, our cocktail for the evening:

Strawberry Watermelon Spritzers

3 cups watermelon, seeds removed and cut into chunks
2 cups strawberries, hulled and halved
2 Tbs sugar
Pinch of salt
Vodka (I only had vanilla vodka on hand, but it did the trick just fine)
Prosecco (you can also substitute champagne, of course), well chilled

Combine watermelon, strawberries, sugar and salt in a blender. Use the pulse setting to break the chunks down a bit and then puree until smooth.

To assemble: Pour about 2 - 3 Tbs of the puree into the bottom of a glass. Add ½ a jigger of vodka and fill with prosecco.

Straw is optional.

* * *

I did want to bring a dip to the party, but rather than recreating a Rotel dip, I decided to tackle that good ol’ party staple, French onion dip. You know, the kind where you dump a packet of dehydrated onions and seasonings into a tub of sour cream, stir and serve? Well, this involves a bit more work, but trust me, it’s well worth it.

I also thought it would be fun to make some crackers to go with it. I’ll have to say that I’m going to be using this recipe time and time again and just changing the toppings. You can roll this stuff paper thin (and you’ll want to in order to get nice, crunchy crackers), and it’s still easy to handle.

Caramelized Onion Dip
Adapted from recipe by Ina Garten

1 Walla Walla or Vidalia sweet onion, halved and cut into paper thin strips
1 Tbs butter
1 Tbs olive oil
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 8 oz package cream cheese, softened
½ cup sour cream
½ cup mayo with olive oil

Heat butter and oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add red pepper flakes and thyme. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until onions turn golden, about another 10 - 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

In a bowl, combine the cream cheese, sour cream and mayo, stirring until well combined and no lumps remain. Add the onion mixture. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes or so. Serve with chips or crackers.

Parmesan Thyme Crackers

1 1/2 cups semolina flour
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup warm water
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp dried thyme, crushed
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In the mixing bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine the flours and salt. Turn mixer on low and slowly pour in the water and then the olive oil. Mix just until combined, then increase the speed to medium and mix for another 5 minutes. Remove dough to lightly floured surface and cut into 12 equal pieces. Pour a little olive oil on your hands and roll each piece into a ball and place on a plate. Cover and let rest for about 45 minutes at room temperature.

Heat oven to 450º. Sprinkle baking sheets with additional semolina. Roll each piece out into very thin pieces (about the thickness of a crepe - VERY thin!). Sprinkle with thyme and roll again to embed the thyme into the crackers. Place each piece on prepared sheets (you can place them almost touching). Sprinkle with a thin layer of Parmesan and place in oven. Bake for about 7 minutes, or until golden. Remove to a cooling rack, cool completely, and then break them into individual crackers.

* * *

Carley put together a macaroni and cheese soufflé, and we had truffle oil as an optional topping. She also put together a cole slaw, but it included fresh green beans, raisins, and walnuts. It was so good!

I have to say, though, that our hands-down favorite for the night were these sweet potato ‘tater tots’ she put together. It was just impossible to keep away from them! They were wonderfully crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside. These are definitely going to have to show up again!

Sweet Potato ‘Tots’

1 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup flour, plus additional for coating
2 large eggs
¾ lbs sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 2-inch cubes
½ lb yams, peeled, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 1/2 tsp hazelnut oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground white pepper

Canola oil for frying

Bring first 3 ingredients to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add 1 cup flour; stir over medium-high heat until mixture pulls away from edges of pan, about 1 minute. Transfer to a medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat dough 3 minutes (or use a stand mixer). Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well between additions. Measure 1 1/2 cups dough and reserve (discard any remaining dough).

Place potatoes in a medium saucepan. Add enough water to cover by 1 inch. Boil until tender, about 15 - 20 minutes. Drain. Press potatoes through ricer or food mill into a large bowl (or run through food processor on ‘pulse’ setting. Add 1 1/2 cups of the reserved dough, hazelnut oil, salt, and white pepper. Beat dough on low speed to blend.

Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer dough to pastry bag fitted with 3/4-inch-diameter plain tip. Pipe dough in logs onto prepared sheet. Freeze until firm but not frozen, about 1 hour. Cut logs into 1 1/4-inch-long pieces. Toss in flour, return to sheet, cover, and freeze completely (can be made 1 week ahead. Store in airtight container; keep frozen).

Pour enough oil into large saucepan to measure depth of 2 inches. Heat oil to 350°F. Working in batches, cook frozen potato pieces until cooked through and golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with salt and serve.

Carley's Mixed Berry Pies

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