Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Badges? We don't need no stinking badges!

Actually, my favorite version of that famed line from Treasure of the Sierra Madre is not Mel Brooks' brilliant reuse of it in Blazing Saddles but instead the parody line written by Weird Al Yankovic in UHF ("Badgers? We don't need no stinkin' badgers!") Oh man, if you have not seen that movie, you really should. It's brilliant. I would like to quote it further but I feel like I'll lose people. ("Today...we teaching poodles...how to fly!") Ok, ok, I'll stop.

The reason I bring up Treasure of the Sierra Madre is because my parents belong to a dinner club. (Stick with me on this, I swear it's relevant.) Their dinner club is comprised of 12 couples and each quarterly dinner they throw is a full-on extravaganza. Attendance is near 100%. Recipes are made, remade, and perfected in advance. The last time my parents hosted, the theme (due to an overabundance of leftover tequila from another party) was...you guessed it...Treasure of the Sierra Madre. My super cute mom used denim for the tablecloths, had Mexican-style striped runners, mini cast iron cauldrons filled with sand and cactus paddles and some other decorative details I'll get to in a second.

As it so happens, I'm also in a dinner club, although I think ours only has about 14 people and we meet once a month. Our attendance rate is hovering around 50%. We're also a little less strict with adherence to a theme. Which is why my theme in hosting our dinner club last Sunday was "vaguely Southwestern."

I really, really love having people over. As soon as I signed up to host, I immediately got to thinking about the menu. I also really, really love menu planning. I called my mom to chat and we talked menus and I told her my plan for creatively rearranging the furniture in my living room to accommodate a table (or series of tables) for 10. Upon hearing that the theme was "vaguely Southwestern," Mom promptly packed up a box for me, the contents of which included an inflatable green saguaro cactus, one of her TotSM decor touches. I was instructed to decorate said cactus with Christmas lights.

I didn't.

What follows is my vaguely Southwestern menu along with some commentary (as if you expected any less). The menu actually started more fully Southwestern and got progressively more, uh, French, as the night wore on.  I chose a bunch of recipes I've made before and decided to do my gambling on the appetizers, figuring that if I screwed anything up, at least the meal would improve by the time we got to dinner and dessert (or people would drink more wine and forget that the appetizers sucked.) I am happy to report that the appetizers turned out fine.

To start:
Spicy Chicken Empanadas (not really that spicy) from this recipe for filling and this for the crust
Roasted Tomatillo Chipotle Salsa from this Rick Bayless recipe
Kate's Guacamole
Blue and Yellow Corn Tortilla Chips

For dinner:
Santa Fe Pork Stew (from The New Basics Cookbook)
Northern Cornbread (from The Best Recipe)
Winter Salad with Oranges, Olives, and Fennel (adapted from an Everyday Food recipe I saw on PBS something like 6 years ago)

Something sweet:
Profiteroles with Vanilla, Dulce de Leche (clinging to last shred of Southwesternness), and Coffee Ice Creams (from The Silver Palate)

A very delightful surprise of the evening was that Kathryn (who spells her name correctly) brought over a bottle of St. Germain liqueur. Yum. We combined it with some champagne and made ourselves lovely aperitifs. This is why I always have a bottle of something sparkling in the fridge - it sounds ridiculous but you never know when you're going to have an occasion worthy of bubbles. And if there's one thing I learned in Girl Scouts, it's be prepared. That and how much I loathe more than 2 consecutive nights of camping. And how to make a "sit upon" with a stack of newspaper, a garbage bag, and some duct tape. Truly a skill that has served me well in the rest of life.

But I digress.

I'm super happy with how the empanadas came out. I made them mini (3" half-circles) for appetizers, so I guess we could call them empanaditas. Here's a pic of the assembly. My crimping skills need a little work.

The empanaditas are very easy to make although rather time-consuming. The good news is that you can (and I did) make these ahead and freeze them. When you're ready to bake, brush with the egg wash (one whole egg plus one tablespoon of water, beaten) and bake from frozen. So easy.

I made the roasted tomatillo chipotle salsa because this time of year is not really conducive to nice tomatoes. Not sure I will make it again. The salsa turned out edible, but I found it to be a little bit bitter. But the recipe did require me to buy a can of chipotles. Here's the can:

First, who names a brand "colored person?" Odd, no? She is a bit orange, though, so maybe that's what they mean. Too much bronzer or something. And what is she looking at? She looks borderline disgusted to me. Like she's at a petting zoo and the goat is eating something strange yet so odd she can't turn away. Maybe he's eating a tin can of chipotle peppers.

I would ask how this particular packaging image would entice someone to buy La Morena versus another brand of chipotle peppers, but I thought the can was so funny, I bought it. Maybe that's their strategy. Weird lady on shelf = $$$ at checkout.

The most exciting part of the salsa - even better than the can lady - was that I discovered that I DO have a broiler - it's that drawer under my stove where I've been storing bakeware.

Oops. After having relocated the bakeware, I now have a fully dedicated and functional broiler. Exciting!

I wanted to make at least one appetizer that I knew would be good, so I went with my standard guacamole recipe, which always gets lots of compliments even though there is truly nothing special or weird or tricky about it. Here it is:

Kate’s Guacamole
Serves 2-4. Can be doubled, tripled, etc. as needed. I usually do a single batch if I’m making it for myself and a double batch when I make it for a party.

2 ripe avocados
Tomatoes, about 1/4 -1/2 cup, minced (I use grape tomatoes in the winter)
3 green onions, white part and 3 inches of green, minced
1 clove garlic, minced/mashed
1 jalapeno, seeded and stemmed, ribs removed, very finely minced (to taste)
1/4-1/2 cup chopped cilantro (I like to really load in the cilantro because I love it so much)
Juice of 1 small or half of one large lime
Liberal amounts of kosher salt (start with ½ teaspoon but expect to add more)

Mash avocado with a fork in a bowl. (I find it easiest to cut the avocado in half and then slice it into cubes while it’s still in the peel, then use a spoon to get it out of the peel and into the bowl.) Consistency should be creamy with avocado chunks remaining. Add all other ingredients except salt and combine thoroughly. Taste, then start adding salt, mixing between additions until it tastes right. You’ll know. Trust your taste buds. I think I often put in close to a full tablespoon. It takes a lot more salt than it seems like it should.

Salsa and guac were served with mixed blue and yellow corn chips. Blue corn really feels like New Mexico to me, so perfect for the theme. The leftovers were great to make chilaquiles with.

The remnants of chilaquiles made with leftover chips, salsa, and empanada filling the night after dinner club. They were a little dry - not enough salsa leftover - but we rectified that with my ample selection of hot sauces.
There's so much more food from this feast to write about, as well as a Meyer Lemon tart I made for Katie's birthday on Saturday and my first attempt at Indian food - Chana Masala - but I have to pack myself for a skiing and wedding adventure in Jackson Hole. Rae and Jeff are getting married Friday! So excited! And I have a 6am flight. So not excited about the 4am wake up! Also, I have to take some time now to repair my ski pants, which I split up the crotch the last time I went skiing. This happened during a particularly epic fall that had me flying through the air for about 10 feet a la Superman only to land in what I like to call the "reverse snow angel" (i.e. just like a snow angel, only face down) with one tip lodged in a mogul. I left my other ski a good 20 feet up the mountain. OF COURSE I was under a lift line. You know you've done something really spectacular when people are shouting from the lift "ARE YOU OK??" For the record, the only damage was to the ski pants. Thank God for fresh powder.

Look for the Winter Salad recipe in an upcoming post. Because winter is nowhere near over yet.


Julia said...

Oh, Lucky Kate, just thought I would let you know... 1 bottle of bubbly is rarely enough. I just checked, I have 3 chilled bottles just waiting for a reason to be opened! Enjoy Jackson Hole!

Tria said...

This is so fun, Kate! I've checked out a couple of your blog posts via FB and think they're really adorable. I also think you are a brave woman for even attempting to make chilaquiles! Keep sharing and hope all is well!

Kathryn said...

Let me just say that this whole dinner was *fabulous*... and I second the awe that you made chilaquiles! Can I put in a suggestion for THAT recipe on a future blog post? Yum.

Kathleen said...

I think "La Morena" means "The Brunette", dear, from what I remember of NTHS Spanish class, anyway. Looking forward to hearing about the Meyer Lemon Tart, as I just got some from Fresh Direct.