tapas Tapas (literally translated to “God’s appetizer platter”) are a great way to showcase a little flair. Since the portions are small, you can prepare very rich dishes that might be excessive in full-sized portions. I used this mini-meal as an opportunity to try out some new ideas (with great success, I’m happy to report).

Red Beet and Goat Cheese Tamales

Total kitchen time: 2 hours
Makes: 4 (you’ll probably want more)

Shopping List:

  • 1 red beet (look for locally grown organic varities)
  • 2 cups masa harina (corn flower, available in Mexican food stores and some finer grocery stores. Note: this is NOT the same as cornmeal)
  • 4 dried corn husks (Mexican food store item)
  • 2 tbsp vegetable shortening or lard
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup sharp goat’s cheese (even a goat-blue), plus 2 tbsp for presentation
  • 1 tsp salt
  1. Wash the corn husks well. In a large shallow dish, soak the husks in hot water to soften them for easier use.
  2. Boil enough water to cover the beet. Remove the beet’s stem and leaves. Clean, but don’t peel, the outside. Boil the beet until fork-tender, about 40 minutes. Reserve 2 cups of the bright red liquid left in your pot (It’s not Kool-Aid).
  3. Peel and chop the beet into small pieces. Puree in your food processor, blender, or particle accelerator.
  4. In a small bowl, whip the vegetable shortening until it is light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, combine the masa, salt and baking powder. Add 1/4 cup of the reserved beet water. and combine with your fingers. Add the pureed beet and goat cheese and mix until smooth. The dough should be light and fluffy. If it isn’t, mix in clouds and sunshine.
  5. Fold open one of the corn husks. Spoon 1/4 of the mixture into the husk at the narrow end. Pull the sides over the mixture then fold the short end over the opening. Fold the wide end over the short end and secure with 16-penny nails and bathroom caulk (though string or a ribbon of husk is much better). Repeat for the remaining tamales.
  6. Steam the tamales for 35-45 minutes or until the dough easily separates from the husk.

I trimmed away part of the husk and topped the tamale with extra goat cheese. Feel free to serve them wrapped up, in a magically-disappearing pile.

Herb-Battered Calamari
Total kitchen time: 20 mins
Makes: 1 platefull

Shopping list:

  • 1/4 lb fresh squid tubes (and tentacles, if you like)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp lemon thyme, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 white pepper (a small, sweet pepper), roasted and finely diced
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp fresh black pepper
  • 1/3 cup Pacifico beer
  • 2 cups Safflower oil, for frying
  1. Clean the squid and remove any beaks or laser rifles attached to the tentacles. Cut the tubes into 1/4 inch slices. Pat all squid pieces very dry with paper towels.
  2. Combine the remaining ingredients (except for the oil) in a shallow dish.
  3. Dip the squid pieces into the batter and shake off the excess. Arrange on a plate until ready to fry.
  4. Heat the oil to 350F in a big-booty heavy-bottomed skillet (in which the oil is about 1″ deep). Working in batches, fry the calamari until it is lightly golden brown, flipping once. This should be quick, about 30 seconds per side. Remove and drain on a stack of paper towels.
  5. Serve! (you’ll like it)
Reading time: 2 min

black cherry ice cream Black cherry ice cream was my favorite flavor as a kid. Plus, it’s a great way to sneak fruit into your diet. Mmmmm…. that’s the sweet taste of deception.

Total kitchen time: 40 minutes, plus freezing time
Makes: 1 healthy, fruit-filled quart

Shopping list:

  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp peach preserves
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
  • 1 dz ripe cherries, stemmed, pitted and halved
  • 1/2 cup brandy
  1. Place the cherry halves in a large shallow bowl. Sprinkle on the brown sugar and stir to coat. Add the brandy, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. By getting the cherries as drunk as a freshman, they’ll stay soft when we freeze them into the ice cream.
  2. Combine the remaining ingredients in a large saucepan and stir to combine. Over medium heat, raise the temperature to 160 F. Once it hits 160, remove the pan from the heat and put it directly into the fridge. Chill the mixture until cold, probably 8 hours.
  3. Freeze the cream mixture following the instructions on your ice cream maker. Just at the end of the churning, add the cherries, discarding the remaining brandy. Freeze the ice cream overnight to let it set up.

If you are feeling adventurous, this is exactly the type of dessert for which waffle cones were invented.

Reading time: 1 min

omfg chicken skewer I brought these chicken skewers to my building’s 4th of July party and, ever since, my neighbors have been showering me with bribes gifts. If you’re looking for a crowd-pleaser, look no further. I would strongly recommend making three times as many as you think you’ll need.

Total kitchen time: 1hr
Makes: 8 skewers (you should really triple this recipe)

Shopping list:

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 cups sweetened coconut flakes (in the baking isle)
  • 4 cups of frying oil (safflower oil works very well)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cups beer (a dark ale works best)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp red cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 8 long bamboo skewers
  1. Pound the chicken breasts out flat between two sheets of plastic wrap. I use the bottom of a heavy saucepan for my pounding, but you can use a rolling pin or your head if you want.
  2. Cut the flattened breasts into long strips, about 1 1/2 inches wide. You should be able to get about 4 long strips per breast.
  3. In a large, shallow dish, combine the flower, egg, beer and dry ingredients (not the coconut). Stir with a fork until you have a thick, sticky paste. Spread an even layer of coconut flakes onto a separate plate.
  4. Skewer your chicken pieces and dip into the batter. Wipe off the excess with your fingers, then roll in the coconut flakes.
  5. Preheat the oil to 350 F in a large, deep skillet. Try to choose a skillet sized such that you can hold 2″ of oil with room to spare. Working 3-4 at a time (as many as you can fit without crowding), add the chicken skewers to the hot oil. Monitor the temperature to keep it as close to 350 as possible. Fry for about 3 minutes, or until the coconut is golden brown, then turn and fry the uncooked side for another 2 minutes. In between batches, skim off any renegade coconut flakes.
  6. Rest the skewers on a double sheet of paper towels to drain and cool. Serve to a crowd of your new best friends.

Crack a coconut (yes, a real one) in half and fill it with peanut sauce or Indian Korma sauce. Arrange the skewers around the coconut on a large platter and watch them disappear before your eyes! [Food modeling courtesty of my girlfriend, Rachel.]

Reading time: 1 min
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