Event: NYC Inauguration Ball Pre-Party
Venue: Sarah’s brilliant new Lower East Side apartment
Party size: About 15
Menu: Savory onion tart (C); gooey Mexican dip (P); cheese platter; Sarah’s (addictive) pecan bars
The weekday potluck presents a very particular challenge to those of us with full-time jobs. On the one hand, there’s little more appealing after a day of work than to sit in someone’s cozy apartment with a bit of wine, some passable gossip, and a meal that everyone’s contributed to. On the other hand, being punctual to the potluck often means there’s no time to stop home to cook, or even just pick up, your tasty dish.
To combat this conundrum, we tend to take two distinct approaches:
1) Cook something so hardy and durable that subway travel, potential lack of refrigeration, and hours of elapsed time between preparation and service do it no harm; OR
2) Buy simple ingredients on the way to work or to potluck that can be combined without too much mess and imposition on the host into a fresh, impromptu contribution.
In weighing the ingredients in her fridge against the obstacles the poor dish would have to face between 8am and 7pm, Cara created a simple savory pie from ingredients as humble as onions and low-fat cottage cheese. Cut into quarters and stowed safely in tupperware, it made it to the party intact and no worse for the wear.
Phoebe, employing strategy #2, arrived at Sarah’s with a bagful of ingredients. Within moments though, the oven was preheating, and Phoebe had opened up bottles and bags and emptied packets and cans into a saucepan. She had Mexican dip baking in ten minutes flat. The kitchen was no messier than when she started, and not one extraneous utensil had been dirtied.
Phoebe and Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOKS
Makes 1 pie, about 12 small servings
Simple ingredients come together to make a savory pie that’s more like a white pizza than a quiche. Cut in 12, the pie makes slices perfect for appetizers, but larger portions could certainly become the centerpoint of a light meal.
For the crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), cold
1 egg yolk
2-3 tablespoons ice water
For the filling:
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon mustard
1 cup whipped low-fat cottage cheese (if the cottage cheese you have is higher in fat, that’s fine; if it has a larger curd, give it a whirl in the blender)
1/2 cup milk
1 cup grated Swiss cheese
1 tablespoon flour
Paprika (optional)Combine the flours with the salt in a large mixing bowl. Cut the butter, which should be very cold, into a small dice. Add the butter, and, using your fingers, grind it into the flour until the whole mixture looks like fine crumbs. Beat the egg yolk with the ice water, then pour into the bowl. Mix with a fork or your hands until you can combine the dough into a ball.
Pat it into a small disk, then roll out to fit in your pan. If the dough breaks apart, don’t stress: collect the scraps and use them to fill in any holes you make. Transfer to a pie tart with a removable bottom and patch as needed. Set aside in the refrigerator.
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Warm the oil in a small saucepan over very low heat. Add the diced onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, fragrant, and golden.
Combine the other 1/2 teaspoon salt, mustard, cottage cheese, milk, egg, flour, and half of the grated Swiss in a small bowl and whisk to combine.
Remove the tart crust from the fridge. Sprinkle the onions all over it, then cover them with half of the Swiss. Pour the combined filling on top and smooth it to the edges. Deocrate with the optional paprika and bake in the middle of the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the crust is slightly brown and the filling has set. Cool completely before cutting.
TIP #1: I like to make the “walls” of the tart of double thickness: press extra dough along the sides of the tart to up its sturdiness factor.
TIP #2: If you won’t be transporting the tart, you can make it in a pie pan without a removable bottom and serve it straight from the pan.
Gooey Mexican Dip
Enough to fill a large skillet or one large 9 x 13″ baking dish
I owe the ingenious simplicity of this dish to my college roommate, Jillian, who ensured that it was on the table at every festive gathering and, as a result, helped me fully accomplish my Freshman 15 by Junior year.
1 package shredded cheese – Mexican fiesta blend or Monterey Jack
8 oz cream cheese
1 package frozen spinach, defrosted and drained of all liquids
½ cup half and half
1 jar of medium-spiced salsa
1 teaspoon chili powder (optional)
Preheat oven to 250°F.
In a large bowl (or in the skillet itself), combine all ingredients. Whisk together until fully incorporated, eliminating any large chunks of spinach or cream cheese.
Pour mixture into a large oven-safe skillet or baking dish and bake for 20 minutes until the cheese is fully melted and the top has begun to harden. For the last 5-10 minutes, increase the temperature to 400°F to create a slight crust.
Serve with tortilla chips. If, as in this case, the occasion calls for it, make them blue.