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Ken Morris, Cooking For Comfort: Snacking in style

Ken Morris, Cooking For Comfort: Snacking in style

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I grew up watching professional football on Sunday afternoons with my father and brother; occasionally we heated up some popcorn when we really wanted to celebrate the experience.

It wasn’t until I was in the Navy that I learned the fine art of football game “snacks.” The first ship I served on was home ported in the Bay Area. The executive officer (the second in command, referred to as the XO) was single and had a huge apartment in Alameda.

He thought the officers should get to know each other over activities outside of work but reserved Sundays for church and family (if you weren’t on duty aboard the ship).

However, Monday Night Football seemed designed for bonding. Most of the unmarried officers showed up at his house on Monday evenings throughout the football season, with an occasional married department head joining, who had heard good things about the spread of food.

But, these snacks shouldn’t be reserved just for watching some extremely wealthy athletes trying to cause concussions to other extremely wealthy athletes in a different color jersey. This year you may have heard about the presidential race and when the debates are on, these will definitely help you get through them.

The XO’s Super Nachos

Serves 8 or more (easy to double if you have a large family gathering)

All of the snacks the junior officers brought were from the supermarket: bags of chips and tubs of salsa; we plundered the frozen food section of the supermarket to find pigs in a blanket and potstickers. We’d order a pu pu platter (a sampling that usually included chicken wings, egg rolls, coconut shrimp, and teriyaki chicken on skewers) that reminded us of our port calls to Hawaii and the Philippines.

The XO always tried to locate a beer from the hometown of one of the teams, and on the coffee table in front of the coach was the XO’s super nachos.

This may not be the exact recipe (he passed away several years ago so I can’t confirm) but in my mind it’s pretty close.

Ingredients

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil (you don’t need your finest, extra virgin olive oil here)

½ yellow onion, diced

2 lb. ground beef (don’t buy that extra lean ground beef and think you’re saving calories: this is not a dish for skimping: fat is flavor)

½ teaspoon chili powder

½ teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper

½ teaspoon Kosher salt

1 can 14.5-ounce pinto beans

½ cup beer

1 bag of sturdy tortilla chips

1 ½ cup grated cheddar cheese

1 ½ cup Monterey Jack cheese

1 12-ounce container of fresh pico de gallo (if your Mexican grandmother passed down her recipe for fresh salsa, make that, or pick up a container of fresh—not from a can—salsa from the refrigerator section of your favorite grocery store)

½ bunch cilantro leaves, chopped

1 ripe avocado, pitted and diced

Optional: Sour cream and 1 whole jalapeño, diced finely

In a skillet over medium-high heat, add the vegetable oil and the onion. Cook it until starting to soften, then add the ground beef. Cook the meat, stirring it often, until it’s totally browned. Add the chili powder, paprika, cumin, crushed red pepper, salt, and stir to combine. Add the beans and beer and stir. Reduce the heat to low and simmer while you prepare the other ingredients.

To build the nachos, place a layer of tortilla chips on a platter or plate. Top with a layer of the beef/bean mixture, then all but 1/4 cup of the cheddar cheese. Add another layer of chips, another layer of the beef/bean mixture, and the Monterey Jack cheese. Add a final small layer of chips, then a small layer of beef and beans, then a final sprinkling of cheddar.

Microwave in 45 second increments until the cheese is melted and bubbly. (You may also place the platter into a 325 degree oven if it’s heatproof. Just leave it in until the cheese is melted.) Immediately sprinkle on the chopped cilantro, diced avocado and spoons of pico de gallo.

I don’t think the finished dish needs it but others like to add dollops of sour cream and diced jalapeño; have them to the side with remaining pico de gallo to add.

Asian Meatballs with Dipping Sauce

Adapted from “Hors d’Oeuvres” by Victoria Blashford-Snell and Eric Treuille

Makes 20 balls

Can you throw a Game day party and not have meatballs? I think the NFL commissioner would rule against that call. Long time readers of this column will remember we did a whole story on meatballs on April 28, but this is a different recipe set in Asia that is a bit simpler.

Sauce

Juice of 1 lime 1 Tablespoon sugar 2 Tablespoon fish sauce 1 jalapeño chile, seeded and finely minced 1 garlic clove, finely minced 1 Tablespoon fresh ginger Meatballs 7 oz. ground pork 1 oz. shallots, finely minced 2 garlic gloves, finely minced 1 teaspoon brown sugar ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1 Tablespoon finely minced cilantro 1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger 2 Tablespoon fish sauce Vegetable or sunflower oil for frying Garnish 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Mix all the ingredients together for the sauce with 2 tablespoons of water and taste for seasoning. Place the meatball ingredients into a large blow. Mix well and pinch off a small amount for testing. Heat the frying pan with 2 tablespoons of oil and fry the sample on both sides for 2 minutes or until cooked through. Taste to check flavor and add more fish sauce or salt. Use a small ice cream scoop to help you control portions or simply pinch off and roll remainder of the mixture into small balls.

Gently fry the balls on all sides to cook through. You can keep them warm in a low oven until ready to serve. Serve with toothpicks and scattered with torn cilantro and the sauce to the side.

Guacamole

Yes, you can buy tubs of guacamole at the supermarket but you have to wonder what is keeping the avocado from turning brown for months. I’m all for convenience but this is so easy to make, you deserve to enjoy fresh guacamole with some crispy tortilla chips.

2 ripe avocados

Half of a white onion, finely diced

2 serrano chilies, finely diced

1 Roma tomato, seeded and finely diced

2-3 sprigs of cilantro, finely chopped

1 lime, cut in half

Kosher salt

Plenty of salty tortilla chips

Cut the avocados in half, remove the pits and scoop out the flesh into a small bowl. Mash with a fork (no need to buy a special avocado masher).

Combine the avocado with onion, chilies, tomato and cilantro and mix thoroughly. Squeeze half a lime into the mash, add salt and mix again. Taste and adjust with more lime juice and salt. If you’re not serving immediately, place a piece of plastic food wrap directly on the surface of the mash to prevent air from reaching the avocado and turning it brown. Serve with fresh tortilla chips.

Hummus

I bought hummus for years until I actually read a recipe and wondered what I had been thinking. Anyone can make a great hummus. When you read Middle Eastern cookbooks, they always start with cooking chickpeas for hours. On a good day, I’m happy to do that but when I’m trying to bring together a party, suddenly a can of chickpeas looks like a good idea.

1 15.5-oz. can chickpeas

½ cup tahini (sesame seed paste that is often called for in Middle Eastern cooking. Always good to have on hand.)

1 clove garlic

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

Kosher salt

Extra virgin olive oil

Cayenne pepper

Drain canned chickpeas and reserve the liquid. Purée all the ingredients in a food processor until very smooth (this can take a few minutes) adding the reserved liquid as needed to make the chickpeas smooth. You’re shooting for medium-thick paste. Season with salt and then taste to see if you need more lemon juice or salt. Transfer the hummus to a shallow bowl, make slight well in the center and fill with good olive oil and sprinkle with the cayenne. Serve with pita bread and raw vegetables for dipping.

Pancetta and Mushroom Bruschetta

Adapted from Chef Kevin Simonson

Serves 6 and easy to double, if needed

Back when I worked for Chalone Wine Group (sadly sold and disassembled years ago) one of our wineries was Acacia Vineyard and I always invited a few writers each year to Acacia’s annual wine club single vineyard tasting. Mushrooms are a classic match with Pinot Noir and Acacia’s chef, Kevin Simonson, now Chef/Owner at Crossroad Chicken Mobile Catering, offered this one year. This is a great appetizer for anytime you’re entertaining, not just for a football game.

2 oz. dried mushrooms (Kevin prefers Black Trumpet or Porcini mushrooms)

1 baguette

1 yellow onion, thinly diced

4 oz. pancetta, ¼ dice

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 pound fresh Button mushrooms, halved

2 garlic gloves, minced

1 Tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

3 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 300°F. Soak dried mushroom for 30 minutes n twice the amount of warm water needed to cover completely. Strain the rehydrated mushrooms, reserving the liquid, and chop the mushrooms. Slice baguette into ¼ rounds and spread on a sheet pan in an even layer. Toast in pre-heated oven until they begin to brown. Let cool.

In a 2-quart saucepan on medium-high heat caramelize onions with pancetta in the olive oil until lightly browned, about 10 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Add button mushrooms to the onion mixture. Continue to cook until mushrooms release their liquid and keep cooking until liquid is almost gone. Add garlic, thyme, rehydrated mushrooms and reserved mushroom liquid.

Cook on high heat for another 10 to 20 minutes or until liquid is reduced so that it just coats the mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add half of the cheese to mushroom mixture and spread on the toasted bread rounds. Top with remaining cheese and serve with your best Pinot Noir.



Watch now: Simple snacks Michelin chefs make at home

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