Friday, September 11, 2009

Ready for Some Football

In our home, the kickoff of the professional football season is celebrated like a religious holiday. The calendar is cleared for game days and nights, relatives are called to discuss plans and speculate on results, and, possibly most importantly, there is special food. Despite the encroaching cooler days (there’s a five yard penalty for encroachment, by the way), there well be no formal, cozy Sunday suppers. Sunday brunch? No, that’s right out, too. There is something else we have to do, something as American as, well, the NFL. Though no games will be seen live, though there is no party in the parking lot, though the refrigerator will serve in lieu of an ice-filled cooler, there will be tailgating. Even if it’s in the living room in front of the TV, during the game rather than before, safe from autumn rains and inebriated fans, to us, it’s still tailgating.

And so “tailgate food” is what we affectionately call our Sunday afternoon fare during football season: bratwurst and hamburgers on the grill, potato salad, barbecued chicken and pork, baked beans, chili. And then there are the many snacks and finger foods that make this time of year so blessed, like bean dip.

A layered bean dip recipe with refried beans, black beans, sour cream, salsa, and, of course, cheese that I tore from the pages of Cooking Light magazine many years ago is usually the first one I dust off when opening day is fast approaching and I’m not yet in mid-season form. It’s fairly quick and very easy, especially if you don’t mind buying refried beans from a can.

I usually make my own “refried” beans. I cook pinto beans in a slow cooker with onions until they give up their own thick broth, then I season them and let them cook a little longer. Usually I serve these over rice and top them with green onions and cheese for a dish we simply call Soup Beans. (It’s one of Harry’s favorite meals, and one of those dishes that satisfies, yet allows for things like artisan bacon and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese in the budget.) I mash up some of the leftovers in a big pan and let them boil away until they get quite thick. (I once watched a friend from Mexico treat beans similarly, so I figure I must be doing something somewhat authentic. He used a coffee mug to do his mashing, however, while I use a potato masher). Since I add no fat to the pan, I guess these are really re-boiled beans rather than refried. I’m okay with that. They’re good.

I also happened to have black beans that I had cooked myself in the freezer when I made this, but canned beans are great. The recipe is written for canned products, but I tried to estimate the equivalent in home-cooked beans. I don’t even have a can of either refried or black beans in the cupboard right now, so I’m not sure what size these “standard” cans are. I think they’re around 16 ounces.

Anyway, I don’t recommend cooking beans from scratch just to make this dip. Actually, I don’t recommend stressing about this dish at all, or doing more work than you have to. All of the measurements for the ingredients are just guidelines. (I actually used whatever was left in the salsa jar and the sour cream container. There was about ½ cup of each. Close enough.) Substitute if you want. Add other vegetables like peppers, green onions, corn or black olives. Use what you happen to have, or what is easy to get. Really, if you’re stressing about your tailgate food, I don’t think you really “get” tailgating.

Bean Dip with Sour Cream, Salsa, and Cheese

1 can refried beans (about 1 ½ cups home-cooked)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed (about 1 ½ cups home-cooked)
½ cup sour cream
½ cup salsa
1 cup shredded cheese, such as Monterey Jack, Colby-Jack or cheddar

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a medium bowl, stir together the refried beans and black beans until well combined. Spread the bean mixture into a small casserole dish or oven-proof bowl.

2. Spread the sour cream over the top of the bean mixture. Spread the salsa over the sour cream. Cover the salsa with the cheese.

3. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake at 350 F for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake an additional 10 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes or so to cool before digging in. Serve with tortilla chips.

Number of servings depends on the hunger of the fans.

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