As a realtor, I know something you don’t know. Tuesday’s from 11 am to 1 pm, agents all over Birmingham, and presumably other cities as well, hold agent open houses. The idea is to bring in as many other realtors as possible to get your listing on their mental radars. Some pull you in with drawings for cash or gift certificates. Most draw you in with food. Yesterday I had salad and garlic bread at a 4 bedroom/2.5 bathroom in the the much desired Mt. Brook school system, a chicken sandwich at a 3/3 and cookies in a 3/2 in the same district, and roulade in a 3/1.5 in a starter home neighborhood. The highlight of the day was homemade lasagna in a 3/2 convenient to shopping, downtown, restaurants, and parks. I missed out on a wine tasting in a million plus dollar condo with a view of the city at a rare evening agent open house due to a schedule conflict.
Dishes for agent open houses have to be tasty, cheap to prepare for at least twenty, and must be something that can be kept warm for at least two hours without drying out. I have two go to dishes: chili and ricotta stuffed pasta shells.
2 14 0z. cans whole tomatoes, torn with their juices
2 glugs olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
1 lb. ground chuck
1 – 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced, seeds set aside
1 15 oz. can light red kidney beans, drained
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 bay leaf
1 can Miller High Life
Pour the olive oil into a deep Dutch oven or stock type pan and add the garlic. Turn heat on high and when the garlic aroma hits your nose, add the onions and cook until translucent. Next add the ground chuck and brown. I like a fatty blend for the flavor it adds to the chili but I give it the eyeball test before moving on to the next step and if it looks like to much fat I drain or sop it. If you want leaner, by all means use ground beef, lean or even ground turkey (big baby). After browning the meat, add the tomatoes, beans, jalapenos, cumin, cayenne, and chili powder. When the chili starts to bubble I turn the heat to medium, correct for salt and pepper, and pour in the beer. I should mention that the spice measurement are what I start with. If I feel like I need more cayenne, I add more cayenne. Feel free to improvise, just let it get to the point where the beer has evaporated before you judge it lacking anything. When the beer has evaporated, turn it down to low and let it simmer, stirring frequently, for an hour. Correct for salt and pepper, and if you want to increase the heat, use the jalapeno seeds, adding a little at a time until you reach the desired level of spiciness.
This is my recipe for a normal dinner for four with some leftovers. For agent open houses I double it with no problems or adjustments save that I get to drink one less beer. I’ve occasionally made chili with stew meat and been very happy but ground meat is just homier to me. I’ve also used cinnamon and cocoa in the past, but they take over even in scant quantities. Best to leave them out.
Ricotta Stuffed Jumbo Shells:
1 batch of my tomato meat sauce
1 lb. jumbo pasta shells
1 bag spinach
2 15 oz. containers ricotta
This is a bit messy, but really easy. Cook the pasta in salted, boiling water until thre quarters done and drain in a colander. Run the pasta under cold water to stop the cooking process. Roughly tear the spinach up and put it in a bowl with the egg, ricotta, a pinch salt, a couple of grinds of pepper, and mix together well. Put some sauce on the bottom of two 9′ x 13′ pyrex dishes. Fill each shell will the cheese mixture and place in a sauced dish. When all the shells are filled (except the broken ones that you dipped into the sauce and ate), spoon sauce over the top. I made this a few months ago and my wife mentioned that I should press some of the pepperonis we had in the fridge to use so we put one slice on top of each shell. We will do the same from here out. Obviously this could be done with a marinara if you want to avoid meat.
Again, this is my dinner for four…etc. Double it for parties.