A more accurate name for this food would probably be something about snacking-as-dinner or Gustatorial Grazing, but it doesn’t have quite the same, erm, kick to it. The concept simply goes back to my perpetual preference for offering a wide assortment of things to nibble and letting everyone at table—or wandering around, as is the usual case when we have a houseful—choose his or her own combination of things to eat. Saves any tough decisions on my part and eliminates the complexity of trying to accommodate each person’s allergies and dislikes individually, as long as I don’t have any tiny persons of no discretion on hand and able to lay hands on everything.
I’m particularly fond of the ease of this approach when, as aforementioned, I have a big gathering of friends or family, but it’s also a convenient method for getting up a meal in a heartbeat when last-minute plans evolve. I found out the other day that we had a chance to see an old friend from Washington who was in town for one mere day; thankfully, he was here to consult with a good local friend, so the two of them wrangled their schedules to make it possible to take a dinner break with the two of us. Instant party!
I know that our visitor, while we’d not seen him here, has been to Texas before, but I didn’t know how much he’d had the typical local foods. As the weather was warmer and sunnier than expected, it seemed fortuitously apropos to put together something that had a hint of picnic, a touch of barbecue, a dash of Southern-ism, and a little Tex-Mex character, all in simple forms that could be served at room temperature and combined into whatever ad hoc plates-full we chose, and we could be as casual as we liked with our good friends.
I started with a quick cheat: pre-assembled jalapeño poppers I’d bought at the grocery, seeded jalapeño halves filled with cream cheese and wrapped in bacon. I roasted them in a cast iron skillet in the oven, knowing that this would also preheat the oven for much of the rest of the meal’s roasting.
I bought an array of vegetables, cleaned them and cut them into rough chunks, steamed the hard root vegetables partway ahead of time, assembled all of the prepared parts in a couple of big baking dishes, and loaded them up with butter and a bit of salt before they all went into the oven to roast together. Russet and sweet potatoes, carrots and beets all got the pre-roasting spa treatment of the steaming, and went into the ovens nestled with fat asparagus, whole ears of sweet corn, small bell peppers and chunks of lemon.
While all of those were roasting, I cut some skirt steak into fajita-sized pieces, seasoned them with cumin, smoked paprika, smoked salt and a little granulated garlic, and seared them before a nice braise in a bottle’s bath of Shiner Bock (a good Texas beer), cooking it all in until it candied into glaze at the last. Those went into a bowl to stay warm, and I took the skillet that was still filled with spicy bacon fat from the poppers and lightly cooked up the beet greens in that. When they were not quite cooked, I just took them off the cooker and let them steam in their own heat, covered. Meanwhile, the first dish of the meal was the last to be prepared: pimiento cheese. There would be salsa and crema on the table for dipping or saucing any and everything, but pimiento cheese seemed like a perfectly good addition to this melange of a meal.
Those who know the southern tradition of pimiento cheese know that the classic White Trash version of it is likely to be a combination of shredded Velveeta (something that is called cheese but bears little resemblance to it, in my book) and diced canned red bell peppers in a lot of mayonnaise, possibly with a little bit of cayenne and salt to season it. Like many regional staples, though, every household is likely to have its own variant, and many of the modern ones use cheddar cheese, the most meaningful improvement in the recipe I can imagine. I kept my own version simple but used lots of cheddar, a largish jar of canned pimientos, and a mixture of about half mayonnaise and half whole milk yogurt. I seasoned it all with only a touch of salt, a good dash of cayenne, and a teaspoon or so of dill. Not bad, if you ask me, on crackers or crisps or tortilla chips or, dare I say it, probably even in the great white trash loveliness of making it a sandwich on slices of squishy super-processed white bread. Y’all, let’s eat.
Well you know you had to grab my attention with this title on the post…so yummo and Texas to boot.
“Texas to boot”—is that redundant? (Wink-wink!) I had a little casserole for lunch today made of leftovers, and I think I liked that even better than the first time’s version: mashed sweet potato (plus a tiny bit of Russet) on the bottom; diced fajita beef next; roasted corn cut from the cobs over that; pimiento cheese layer, and lastly, minced jalapeño poppers. I have enough for another lunch and will probably put a little more yogurt on it to keep it moist for another reheating, but otherwise it makes a pretty dandy dish! (If you hurry, you can come finish it off with me at lunch tomorrow!!)
I even love the sound of the word … tapas … makes you want to nibble and munch, and given your wide variety of yummy treasures, it sounds like it was a delicious way to enjoy your visit.
Most importantly, it kept me from hanging around in the kitchen during the short time we had together, so I could sit and visit with the guys as long as they could stay. 😀
I would have enjoyed everything you’ve described, Kathryn, and that includes the white bread sandwich with your pimento cheese. And as one who often hosts, this is the kind of meal I strive to prepare and serve. Like you mentioned above, it would give me a chance to enjoy my guests’ company. Isn’t that why I invited them?
I once had a little, ahem, *discussion* with my grandma when I lived with her and Gramps after college for several years (dirt-cheap rent, good company, and they lived close to where I worked): Granny was tearing around, cleaning the house like a sterilizing tornado, before some friends of theirs were going to come for a visit. I caught her laboring mightily over scouring *under* the stove’s burners and worrying whether she’d get everything done in time, and finally couldn’t resist asking her if she really thought the visitors were going to lift those burners and give ’em the white glove test, and leave huffily if they weren’t satisfied with the result. Naughty me. I’m pretty sure I even told her I couldn’t imagine being friends with anyone who would pull a stunt like that, even though she clearly didn’t suspect that they would. Ah, youthful know-it-all-ness. But I still stick by it: other than the rare professional obligation, I would never dream of inviting anyone into my house, let alone to dine, if they are too good to like me as-is, whatever that happens to be on the occasion. While I am in awe of your cookery, I know that I wouldn’t fear having you sit down at table with me, even over a Wonder Bread and pimiento cheese sandwich! 😀 Happy midweek!
I see the ‘Kathryningrid’ cookbook happening real soon.
Well, I can only imagine such a thing happening if I had a pack of world-class cooks and editors checking my work to repair all of my cuisinal ignorance! Fortunately for me, what goes on my table has only to please me and the few who sit down with me. 😉
There are not many cookbooks around that give good wholesome foodie ideas that suit ‘let’s get together and enjoy each other’s company’ that includes the cook. It seems they slave away in the kitchen preparing what looks like to me a tiny plate of food…think they call it…gourmet? Well, I call yours gourmet with a happy cook 🙂 Can’t beat that!
Very sweet of you. You’re most welcome at my table *any* time!!!
This is sooooo good!! I love the variety of this.
All of my favorite things, on one plate. Beautiful colors!
All carrots and no curls, maybe, but as close as I can get to your excellence for now! 🙂
My morning is just beginning, Kathryn, so can I have this for breakfast? Yum, yum! I also see a cookbook on the horizon! 🙂 xoxo
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