Faculty Open House December 2010

The Faculty Open House 2010 menu was  little simpler than last year’s, but we still tried to have a hot dish, various cold dishes, sweets and snacks.   Our Wow item this year was Make Your Own Paninis, with a variety of toppings.  Here are some photos from that event.  Look above, in the tab marked Find the Recipes, to –um– find the recipes.

The dining room table had (from lower left, going clockwise):

Shrimp with Dill Dip
Chips and Hummus
Biscotti (large white round platter at upper right)
Pesto Ring (purchased from Costco–see last year for the real thing)
Trio of Goat Cheese
Outrageous Brownies
Blanched Raw Vegetables


Candlelit version

I blanched many of the vegetables:carrots, pea pods, green beans, broccoli, and boiled up some small white rose potatoes. I then added heirloom and regular grape tomatoes to give variety and color to the platter.

The Tortellini Soup pot is on the left, and the Make Your Own Panini grill and fixings are on the right.  In the background you can see the checkered tablecloth where we had our sodas all line up for people to try.  Yes, we are an alcohol-free party.

I’d prepared (boiled, then grilled) some chicken-apple sausage, then cut it up into “nickel-slices.”  We also had some crisp bacon (from Trader Joe’s–the best!), buffalo mozzarella, sugared walnuts, fresh basil leaves, sliced tomatoes, grilled red peppers, and lightly sauteed apples.  On the left we’d brushed olive oil on one side of a pair of slices of La Brea breads (Costco), placing the oiled sides in.  The idea was to build your own, then grill it.

Desserts (Barefoot Contessa’s Outrageous Brownies and Biscotti) were in the other room.  I learned that if you cut the brownies smaller, they go faster (last year they were big chunks and no one took any–this year I cut them smaller and a lot were gone by the end of the evening).

It was lovely evening of people enjoying each other’s company.

Dipped Pretzel Rods

This is no rocket science.

Buy chocolate blobs at Michaels (I think they have three different flavors), or melting chocolate bricks (Stater’s Brothers), or melting chocolate cups (grocery store).

Buy pretzel rods (I found Snyders at Walmart and at Stater’s).  Look at bags and buy the bag with the least broken sticks–but after being dipped, they’re good too. Notice the mess–you can always clean up later.

Buy sprinkley things.  Buy skinny bags for pretzels (Michaels).  Follow the pictures below.

First, dip them in the melted chocolate of your choice–white or dark. We kind of hold the pretzel over the bowl and goop it on.

My daughter likes to use a tall cup.  Before laying them down, take a spoon and stroke the chocolate off one side, then lay the pretzel down on that side.  If you don’t stroke some off–it makes a gigantic puddle.  Sometimes I throw the cake sprinkles on right now.

Take a fork, dip it into the contrasting chocolate and wiggle it over the pretzel rods.  A thinner (warmer) chocolate consistency is better.  My mother just ate her last two from Christmas, so obviously they keep a long time.

The ONLY tricky thing here is not over-microwaving the chocolate.  Then you have sludge.  If this happens, stir in a spoonful of plain shortening into the chocolate, stirring well.  You may have to add a couple of spoonfuls if you’ve really nuked the chocolate too long.  But that should fix it.

Then after they’re set (doesn’t take too long), load them up into their little bags and tie the top with a ribbon.

Hoppin’ John

A million years and another life ago, I lived in Texas and across the street from me lived Margaret Hall, a “live one” as my Dad might say.  She lived life at full throttle, including cooking.  Because she had lived so many places with her husband, she had recipes from all over, but for some reason this one stands out–maybe it was her favorite?  She gave it to me with the admonition that I MUST eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s day–for good luck in the coming year.  (It didn’t work that year–her husband left her for another woman.  Talk about a woman scorned!  It was instructive.)

I have never made this recipe the same way twice.  I give you Margaret’s basic Hoppin’ John recipe, then directly after that, how I made this year’s version.

Hoppin’ John (to serve at New Year’s for Good Luck)

Prepare each ingredient separately:

1/2 cup brown rice (prepare according to package directions)
1/2 package Jimmy Dean Sage Sausage
1/2 lb. bacon, cut into 1/2″ pieces, cooked and drained
1/2 onion, chopped
3-4 celery stalks, chopped (I saute these last two ingredients in a small amount of the bacon grease)
1 to 1  1/2 cans black-eyes peas, undrained.

Add all to crock pot. It is ready when hot, about 2-3 hours. Rice can be white, brown or wild (I use brown rice). This is mild, add dashes of Tobasco until spicy enough or use spicy sausaage. I serve with blue corn chips or Fritos or hefty corn chips.

This Year

This year I sauteed up a yellow bell pepper with the onion, and used fresh black-eyed peas, found in the produce section of my grocery store. Instead of the sage sausage, I used some cooked chicken-apple sausage that we had left over from our holiday party.  I also sauteed crimini and shiitake mushrooms, and added them to the mix.

I gave it four-to-five shakes of Tobasco, added some salt and pepper and wrapped it up and put it in the fridge to mellow the flavors, while I started to take down Christmas.  I wasn’t happy with the flavor, though–too bland.  Then I remembered Bayou Blast–a comglomeration of spices that I use when I make dishes for Mardi Gras (scroll down the the bottom of the linked page for the recipe).  I added in 3/4 teaspoon of those spices–a little a time, stirring well after each–and that did the trick.

Serve it with your choice of bubbly (mine’s Martinelli’s) and an Everything Green Salad.  This one has chopped leafy green lettuce, chopped napa cabbage, mandarin oranges from my friend’s tree, pine nuts, chopped tomato, palm hearts and (soon) avocado.  A light dressing of oil, vinegar, salt and pepper will complement the ingredients.

Happy New Year!