On Sunday afternoon, Andy was having some people from work over. Some he knew quite well, others he didn't, but no one really knew each others' family members and he thought it would be nice to socialize outside of work.
I was tasked with making appetizers and eagerly jumped to the challenge.
I did some recipe searches online and came up with a few things that I wanted to try. At this point, there were indications that one couple might back out of plans, but I decided to go ahead and prepare everything anyway, just in case everything went as planned. While I was wrapping up at the grocery store, though, Andy texted to tell me that that one couple had definitively backed out. I was still fairly certain that everyone else was coming, so I finished up the shopping trip as normal and headed home.
#1: Alabama Sushi
To be honest, the original recipe name was something lame like "yummy roll-ups," as if a 10-year-old named it. Judging by what they are, I wouldn't be surprised if the inventor was actually 10 years old. But, one of the reviewers commented that her family has made these for years and calls them "Alabama Sushi." Something about that name strikes me as humorous, so I've decided to stick with it.
Alabama sushi is different, simple, and unique. First, lay some slices of ham down and blot them dry. I doubled up on the ham since my slices were thin. Second, smear them with cream cheese. The cheese must be softened for this to work, though, so if you forget to take it out of the fridge in advance, at least zap it in the microwave for 10-15 seconds. It made a big difference.
Third, lay a whole pickle on each slice, and roll the ham up tightly. I used baby whole pickles instead of spears, which the original recipe called for, as I figured the crunchy texture would be best. In the end I was glad I had.
Finally, stick a bunch of party toothpicks into the rolls to hold them in place.
Some of the reviewers complained that it got pretty messy trying to slice the rolls immediately, so when I reached this point, I decided to chill them in the fridge while I worked on other things.
When I finally took them out and sliced them, this is what I had...
According to the recipe reviews, there are a lot of possible pickle substitutions (pickled asparagus, which I didn't even know existed, plus green onion, pickled okra, or sweet Gherkins) and meat substitutions (smoked salmon, dried beef, salami, or prosciutto). One reviewer suggested adding a half package of dry ranch dressing and 1/4 cup of mayo to the cream cheese, and of all the possible changes, I think that this last one is what I would do to spice this up a bit.
In general, though, Andy and I both really liked these yummy roll-ups (erm, Alabama sushi rolls). They tasted pretty much exactly like what you would expect a pickle wrapped up in cream cheese and ham to taste like, except actually appetizing. The crunch was pleasant, and the tartness was mediated by the evenness of the cream cheese. Different, certainly, but also tasty and addicting.
At this point, cancellation texts were starting to trickle in. It looked like more people were backing out or professing other plans. I had already bought 10 jalapeno peppers and bacon for the next appetizer, so I decided to make them anyway.
#2: Stuffed Jalapenos
The reviews of this recipe were downright glowing. The only complaint seemed to be "They're too spicy!" but I wasn't too concerned about that. Andy grew up eating Cajun food and I grew up in Buffalo, where moving from "medium" to "hot" chicken wings is practically a rite of passage into adulthood, so we both enjoy spice.
When I grew cayenne peppers in a pot on my balcony last summer, I learned that the seeds and membrane hold most of the pepper's heat, so I was careful to take care of this early on. I started off slicing each jalapeno pepper lengthwise and removing the stem, seeds, and as much of the light-colored membrane inside as possible. Then I washed my hands very thoroughly, so as to avoid transferring the spice to anything else.
According to the recipe, prep time is supposed to be about 10 minutes. At this point, I'd already been busy for at least 20, if not 30 minutes, and that was only the first step. I'm not sure if I was being too careful with cleaning out the seeds, but it certainly seems like 10 minutes is ridiculously optimistic. Anyway, next, I stuffed each half with cream cheese.
I put the halves back together, wrapped them in uncooked bacon, and secured them with a toothpick. To make clean-up easy, I put them all on a foil-lined cookie sheet sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, and that seemed to work well.
After about 40 minutes in the oven, they came out looking like this:
They were good, but I was a bit disappointed that they weren't as phenomenal as the reviews had led me to believe. They weren't very spicy, honestly, and the cream cheese seemed like it should have been flavored with something. But they were decent and all but two got eaten. I think I will make this again, but I'll have to spice it up somehow.
By this point, it was pretty apparent that it was just going to be Andy and I. We were both disappointed and a bit grumpy, but I went ahead and made my third appetizer anyway. After all, I had 3 avocados and who knows how long those are good for. *sigh*
I love guacamole. Love it. And I am convinced that homemade guacamole probably surpasses anything you'd find in a restaurant, or at least at the grocery store, though I wouldn't know from experience. I'd made it once before, but only in a very small quantity (1 avocado's worth) using a recipe inside my friend Diana's head. I was eager to give it another shot and, if it was a success, save the recipe for future batches.
I started off with 3 avocados peeled and pitted. I mashed them up and added both lime juice and salt.
Then I diced up cilantro, onion, and a roma tomato.
The recipe called for a half cup of diced onion, but that seemed like too much and I added more like a quarter or a third cup. I also only used one tomato, rather than 2, as it seemed like plenty once I'd added it to the mashed avocado. Andy pointed out that using my food processor would have been a lot easier, but sometimes I just really prefer using a knife. I suppose that this is at least partly because it allows me to transfer my frustrations into a useful product, and I was a bit frustrated that we were being stood up.
With a bit of minced garlic and some cayenne pepper, this is what I ended up with:
Reviewers had complained that the end result was too limey and too salty, so I'd reduced both amounts in my original mixture. After tasting the final product, I went ahead and added the full amounts.
I think Andy and I agree that (a) this was the best guacamole either of us had had in a long time, and (b) this was winner of the day. It was absolutely delicious. Ooops, an article I read recently told me never to use the word "delicious" in a food blog, as it is overused and meaningless. Okay, then. The guacamole was deliberately chunky, and the lime, cilantro, and garlic flavors melded to create a flavor that was extremely satisfying when scooped up with salty tortilla chips. I hope that's more helpful.
I decided to stop at this point. I'd also picked up materials for a Buffalo chicken dip, as well as pesto pitas, and I'd FINALLY found tahini in my grocery store and so therefore had materials to make hummus, but it was silly to make any of this when we already had too much food for the both of us. Instead, I decided that I needed a drink. My husband took pity on me and humored me. Together we went out in the pouring rain to pick up some beer.
Mmmm, that's much better. Somehow aprihop beer tastes like spring, and after a long winter, that is just what we needed.
I had also picked up some cocktail shrimp, so when we got back from our emergency beer run, we sat at the kitchen bar eating our Alabama sushi, stuffed jalapenos, guacamole and chips, and shrimp with cocktail sauce. I'm not sure if it was the comforting sound of the rain, the feeling of the cool breeze drifting through the window screens, the beer, or the food, but I found myself feeling very content, even though no one had come. Andy and I settled on the couch with our puppies at our feet, watching a funny movie while eating every last bit of that guacamole and drinking too many beers. And at the end, I was happy that it was just the two of us.