Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Meanwhile, in Miami's Design District...

St. Francis de SalesFor months folks had been telling my friend Gregg that he simply had to try this new French place just south of posh Morningside Park in Miami. He had been putting it off, but when I showed up all I had to hear was the word "bistro" and I was deaf to all other considerations. St. Francis de Sales - Patron Saint of Bloggers (well, writers and journalists, actually; there is no blogging Saint yet) - must have been interceding on my behalf as we were a party of four and I was able to convince everyone into ordering something different from the menu for reviewing purposes. This was not to be the only time our group would suffer for my "art".
Another Miami New Times "Best Of..." winner, Buena Vista Bistro opened in May of 2008 and has already built a solid reputation as an authentic French eatery with a loyal following of locals and word-of-mouth visitors. During our visit, I spied a rather shabby gentleman, glass of wine close at hand, anchored at the bar whom the owner never passed without a brief word. He was obviously a welcome regular. I could easily imagine the same scene in any village in southern France. Think Peter Mayle, and you'll get the picture.
Chef Claude Postel relies on market-fresh ingredients, so the menu changes daily. Offerings are posted on a big chalk board hung over the bar. As the night progresses, items are lined through when the kitchen runs out of an appetizer or entrée. I love that. It signals freshness to me and a serendipitous way of living. I'm not gonna read too much into that; maybe you shouldn't either!
Upon arriving, we were greeted by the sweetest little German waitress. She had only been in the States a few weeks, and immediately won our hearts. She was the picture of indulgence waiting for us to agree upon a wine. I think she surmised fairly quickly that we would be a fun group, but a handful. As she cheerfully walked away we set to a serious perusal of the menu. It wasn't much of a struggle to get everyone to order different entrées but when Gregg and Jimmy saw the escargots à la provençale appetizer, negotiations broke down quickly. Liza, our fourth, extended an olive branch by ordering the caprese salad, allowing me to try the house favorite: rillettes du mans, a sort of slow-cooked, shredded pork dish served pâté-style with cornichons, mustard and country bread.
Well, with our group, conversation and wine flowed freely. I'll admit it, I attract a crowd of "wabble wousers" who aren't particularly shy about the bottle. I espouse moderation yet despise practicing it! Besides, I hadn't seen any of these people in months, and there was some catching up to do. But we're a harmless lot and maintain a modicum of decorum when in public. Before too long, plates starting emerging from the kitchen, and what a spread. Postel, a seventh-generation chef from Paris, is well grounded in the rustic dishes of his native land. Everything is served up in a simple, no-frills, unapologetic manner, and the effect is reassuring. More impressively, the dishes shine.
Escargot a la provencaleCaprese saladRillettes du mans
Jimmy and Gregg swooned over their snails! I took a tour of the Burgundy wine region many years ago and tried escargot at the urging of my French traveling companion. I didn't know what to expect, but what I remember most from the experience now was a sense of epiphany. I didn't have to subsist on a diet of pizza and burgers. Horizons were opened up to me. After a disappointing reprise at a very expensive restaurant in San Francisco, I swore I would never order snails outside France again. I now have to eat those words. Postel serves his escargot without its shell in a herbed stock with tomato, garlic and butter. You could actually pick up the subtle earthy taste of the flesh. It wasn't masked by salt, wine or garlic. I was transported back to France and had a maddening urge to call my Franco friend. Liza's caprese had creamy mozzarella wedged between tomato slices and a pesto topping. The chef had cleverly trimmed one side of each tomato to allow the salad to stand up in its layers. My rillettes was even better than described by our little Deutche Fräulein. It was meaty & thick, and I felt as if I should be sporting a beret and espadrilles.
There is a movie included in my Food Triumvirate*: "Babette's Feast", where a destitute French chef is taken in as a housekeeper by two Danish spinsters, and in appreciation prepares a grand meal for their entire village. In one scene, the diners can be seen looking longingly between courses at the door from where the food will come. That's how we behaved after our starters. I know... right?
Boeuf bourguignonJumbo scallops
Swordfish with raspberry saucePeppercorn tuna
By our second bottle, we were speculating on the deliciousness yet to come. Jimmy, strictly a meat-n-potatoes man, chose the Bœuf bourguignon - slow-cooked for days with carrots, onions and a sinful wine reduction - served with garlic mashed potatoes. The sauce would have made a credible stand-alone soup; just add noodles or rice. The meat a tenderness only grandmothers from the Old Country know how to pull off, and the potatoes perfection; not a single lump and creamy enough to serve for dessert.
Gregg trumped me with his order: three expertly seared jumbo scallops. Sweet, tender, moist. Hyperbole has not yet invented words to justly describe Chef Postel's light hand with the sauté pan. Suffice it to say the man is a god. The gods are among us. Liza and I also opted for seafood. She wisely chose the swordfish special with an incredible raspberry sauce. More tangy than sweet, it proved the ideal partner to lead the crispy-skinned, tender piece of fish across the dance floor. My peppercorn tuna was meaty, yet moist; firm, but still flaky. It floated in a reduction so rich Buena Vista had a dental hygienist on call just in case.
What does one do after so spectacular a meal? Usually, I groan into a cup of strong black coffee and pine for my bed. But in this instance there was only one inevitability: dessert. I am not a dessert kind of guy. Even as a kid, I never had a sweet tooth. No birthday cake for me, I'll have a steak, please. Proffer me seconds and I'll push away from the table satisfied. Yet culinary probity demanded something sugary. We allowed the enthusiasm in our young German's description to sway us into having apple pie with vanilla ice cream (I wish the written word could do justice to her marvelous accent!), and profiteroles with chocolate sauce.
Apple pie with vanilla ice creamProfiteroles with chocolate sauce
I swore I would never do this, but OMG! No, wait: Oh.My.God. That wasn't apple pie, it was a French apple tart with vertical rows of apples. They stood up like Napoleon's army. They were caramelized and dusted with powdered sugar. They should have come with a warning label. The noise level at our table increased as we tried to outdo each other in homage to that dish. The cream puffs were only slightly less impressing, and only because there's just something about apples & vanilla ice cream to the American palate. Yet the choux pastry was fluffy and airy. The cream filling ever so sweet. The chocolate sauce would have driven you to your knees.
I mentioned earlier the suffering of my fellow diners. How do you think I got such terrific photographs? Every time a plate came out, I forced everyone to wait while I lined up the perfect shot. Nibbling was prohibited and enforced under threat of bodily harm. And yet, uncomplaining, my pals endured my fastidiousness. In recompense, I picked up the tab. Worth every bite, do-over, and penny!
Buena Vista Bistro
4582 NE 2nd Avenue
Miami, FL 33137

Open 11am - midnight, Tuesday through Sunday; 1pm - midnight Mondays. Virtually every entrée is under $20, and there's an enviable French and American wine list.
Buena Vista Bistro facadeBuena Vista Bistro wine racksBuena Vista Bistro interior
Bon appétit - Blog O. Food
* "Like Water For Chocolate" and "Big Night" are the other two entries rounding out my ruling body of three.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

For Your Consideration...

King burgerKing and Queen burgers at Kingdom
I give you the King Burger: 12 oz. of 100% USDA Prime top sirloin; toasted sesame seed bun; lettuce, tomato & red onion; additional toppings available.
I'm back from a trip to Miami, FLA (guess the musical reference) to catch up with friends, defrost my toes and play some golf. Along the way, I remembered to pack my Press pass and logged some more miles as neophyte food blogger. Only a few more posts 'til I qualify for the Williams-Sonoma oven mitts!
I can confidently report that the State of Food in south Florida has never been stronger. Restaurants continue to pop up on Biscayne Boulevard and most are showing little sign of closing up shop anytime soon. I dined at several old favorites, tried a couple of new establishments, and walked away thoroughly impressed. Merchants continue to find new niches for the dining public: an abandoned cinderblock shack transformed into a quasi-gourmet hotdog stand, a car wash coffee shop turned chic outdoor café, a new sushi and tempura restaurant re-defining fusion cuisine, and here I'm just beginning to scratch the surface.
But I have to tell you about Kingdom. Located right on Biscayne Boulevard, just south of the 79th Street Causeway, Kingdom was crowned Best Bar Food by Miami New Times. I am willing to go further by proclaiming the Kingdom burger The Best Hamburger I Have Ever Tasted. I cornered the chef one afternoon, and he couldn't wait to brag about his food. His beef is never frozen. Burger meat is ground fresh daily, produce comes in directly from farms in Immokalee, fries and onion rings are hand cut, and attention to detail is the driving philosophy. I've eaten at Kingdom several times, and in fact insist on at least one lunch there whenever in Miami. It's become something of a standing joke with my friends Gregg and Jimmy, but they like to indulge me I guess.
This last visit met every expectation. Great seats at the outside bar with sports acting as background noise on the plasma televisions and a bartender who's become a favorite for the past couple of years. He's never failed to remember me and for that, my ego is eternally grateful. He's so comfortable around us now, he shares bawdy songs from his iPod whenever he thinks he can get away with it. But let's get to the burger, shall we?
Kingdom offers three burgers:
Queen Burger - 8 oz. sandwich, $8
King Burger - 12 oz. sandwich, $9
Doomsday Burger - 24 oz. sandwich, $17.
There is a challenge with the Doomsday. If you can eat the entire thing in under 15 minutes, the burger is free. Should you fail however, Kingdom skins you for twenty bucks. Seems fair, but I have yet to step up to the plate. All burgers are cooked perfectly, PERFECTLY to order and for $.75 ea., you can add cheese, bacon, grilled onions and mushrooms.
A basket of fries is $3, onion rings $3.50, or a mixed  basket for $4.
The meat is marbled with flavor. There's a very agreeable nuttiness to the taste. The cook adds just enough salt to accent the beef, and you never get that blandness that comes with chewing cheap cuts of meat.
If you order cheese, it's not just plopped on top of the patty, but is almost fused with the meat. Chef wouldn't tell me exactly how he accomplished that without over-cooking the burger, but I one-upped him later in my interrogation.
Kingdom onion ringsKingdom fries
Jimmy, Gregg and I each ordered burgers with one basket of fries and one of onion rings to share among us. Which to describe first: onions or fries. Let's start with the rings and then I'll tell you how I trumped the chef. If you check the You Gonna Finish That archives you can see a photo of a mass of dough, batter and brutally tortured onions. Not so at Kingdom. The onion rings came out looking as if they had been battered in Panko bread crumbs and a farm-fresh egg wash, and then individually fried to a Coppertone-tan golden brown. It was almost a crime to consume such flawlessness. But then what would be the point? But the fries, gentle readers, the fries! Kingdom prides itself on a strictly confidential herb and spice recipe that is tossed with piping hot potatoes right out of the fryer. The chef was struck dumb when I identified every ingredient in his "secret" seasoning. He swore me to secrecy, but here is one component that you'll be amazed to learn adds such subtle character to the rest of the spices: dried parsley flake. Who woulda thunk it, right? Well, after that, I earned a new respect from Chef in spite of my shady credentials as food blogger.
Kingdom Lion
6708 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami, FL 33138

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Beer and wine only. All major credit cards accepted. When you go, ask the bartender for his version of the classic Shandy. You will not be displeased.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Contrarian, Or The Art of Tailgating

Tailgating 101There is something you should know about my boy Whogus: the man is a sports freak. Oh, not your everyday garden variety sports fan. He is a savant. But you'll never seen him glued to the TV in his dingy apartment, or high-fiving total strangers in some cheesy sports bar. Nope, Whogus will be at the epicenter of every major sporting event in the greater Bay Area: The Tailgate Party. He may not know which team is playing, or even what sport he's attending, but he'll know to within a half degree the ambient heat of his four barbeque grills, the precise BTU output of his six-burner portable stove, and the exact temperature - in Celsius, no less - of his beer cooler.
Actually, none of that is true, and he would probably kill me if he ever bothered to read this blog (we're not all that close, really). He thinks people who watch sports instead of playing them are pathetic. He's quite opinionated on the subject. But the man can grill. Instead of rattles and teething rings, Whogus played with spatulas and tongs as a toddler. His destiny was sealed at an early age. When not hobnobbing with his high-society friends or throwing back G&Ts on the lawns of his parents' estate, Whogus will have his "Kiss the Cook" apron on, charcoal chimney at the ready.
During my holiday visit he picked up a tri-tip of beef, some green & red bell peppers and asparagus, and informed me that he would be manning the grill that evening. Not one to be excluded, I volunteered a marinade for the roast, and a warm potato salad to which my father had introduced me over Christmas. Whogus is a wine merchant, so I knew we were in for one of his singularly indulgent late nights.
Marinating tri-tip of beef With lots of advance notice, a good marinade can really flavor a cut of meat. Salt and a good olive oil will help it retain moisture once it hits the grill. Here's what I came up with:
  • ½ each red and green bell peppers, de-seeded and membrane removed, finely minced
  • ¼-cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely pressed
  • dash Worcestershire and soy sauces
  • fresh ground pepper
Combine all ingredients together in a small mixing bowl. Whisk to incorporate the oil and the liquids. Pour over top of the tri-tip, flipping the roast to marinate both sides. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (I had six). Turn the beef occasional to keep the entire cut marinating. I omitted the salt in the marinade, as there is plenty in the added sauces.
When Whogus returned from work that evening he donned his BBQ holster and fired up his Weber 3000, and I prepped the vegetables. In a more perfect world, there would be two ways, and two ways only to eat vegetables: raw, or hot off the grill. Grilling caramelizes some of the sugars found in almost every vegetable, bringing out a sweetness one would never suspect of a pepper or root. The beautiful charring is always eye-catching, and just makes for an agreeable presentation.
Chopped bell peppers and asparagus spearsOne should make larger cuts when prepping vegetables for the grill. They're more manageable on the grates and resist their natural urge to fall into the fire. You can always cut them in smaller pieces once they've finished cooking.
Grilling tri-tip and bell peppersToss prepped vegetables in a light coating of olive oil, and add them to the grill about halfway through cooking time for the beef. Keep and eye on them. You want nice sear marks, not charred lumps of pure carbon.
Warm potato salad prep: chopped red onion, fresh dill and gherkinsI mentioned a warm potato salad my father made for me over Christmas. It was so simple and delicious, I knew it was gonna end up in my repertoire. Dad gave a red onion a medium chop, and 4 or 5 gherkin pickles a rough chop by way of prep work. Some quartered Yukon Gold potatoes were set to the boil. Once the potatoes were fork tender, Dad drained them, added mayonnaise and the chopped ingredients and mashed them! I should have known. Nothing with Pops O'Food is straightforward. I was ready to turn my nose up at them, but couldn't believe how much I enjoyed them. His secret ingredient was pickle juice from the jar. Here's my variation:
  • 6 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed, quartered, skins left intact
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium red onion, medium chopped
  • 4 gherkin pickles, quartered and roughly chopped
  • 1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh dill
  • ½-cup yogurt
  • ¼-cup mayonnaise
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
Warm potato salad with boiled egg Set potatoes to boil in plenty of salted water in an un-covered stock pot. Once potatoes are fork tender, drain them and pour into a large serving bowl. Add the yogurt, mayonnaise, salt and pepper and mix gently to incorporate. Add the onion, pickle and dill and mix thoroughly, and again gently. The mixing will break down the quartered potatoes but still leave some lumps for texture. Layer slices of boiled egg over the top and serve.
Back to the Tri-tip:
Sear marks on bell peppers and tri-tip of beefRemove the bell peppers once they've developed nice sear marks and before they begin to wilt. Once your cut of beef reaches an internal temperature of 140° (medium-rare), remove from the grill, cover lightly with aluminum foil, and let rest for 15 minutes.
Slice meat against the grain at a biasSliced tri-tip of beef
Storrs 2005 Santa Cruz Mountains Petite Syrah Slice the tri-tip against the grain at a bias into thin strips. Layer on a dinner plate, top with the bell peppers, the asparagus spears on the side. Spoon a generous mound of potato salad to one side and tuck in. A Storrs 2005 Santa Cruz Mountains Petite Syrah would in no way be objectionable with this meal. Nor would a second bottle for that matter, and then a glass of 20-year old tawny Port with a piece of dark chocolate for dessert. I warned you things would get decadent.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Van's

My whirlwind lifestyle often takes me far a field of my little slice of the Bronx. I once actually took the ferry all the way to Staten Island and back, but that was on a dare. So imagine my astonishment at finding myself in the San Francisco Bay Area over the Christmas holidays eating in strange restaurants and cooking in alien kitchens. It's a good thing I had my heart medicine with me.
The bright lights of The Vans My friend Whogus (pronounced Who-Gus: not his real name, btw) picked me up at SF International late one evening and suggested a nightcap before turning in. The peninsula south of San Francisco is basically one uninterrupted bedroom community after another. There used to be distinct and very individualistic little villages along El Camino - the King's Highway - before the expressways came along in the 40's and 50's, but they're now long gone. Not surprisingly, the sidewalks fold up early and we were hard-pressed for a watering hole when some very festive lights caught our eye up on a hill in Belmont. It turned out to be The Van's, a storied old place overlooking the San Francisco Bay. It used to be a speakeasy back in the days of Prohibition. Captain Renault would have been shocked, shocked to find that gambling went on in there.
We had our cocktails served with flair by a great bartender who reminded me a lot of Nina Blackwood, one of the original MTV veejays. (I'm old; get over it.) We fell for her and her hard sell on the place and, after looking over the menu and wine list, promised to come back for dinner.
Man fruit, or macerated pineapple Two nights later, there we were, seated at the bar waiting for a table, drinking a fine William Hill cabernet sauvignon and quietly people-watching. My attention was drawn to a huge glass crock sitting on the bar filled with what looked to me like watermelon rinds. I didn't pay it much mind until the bartender announced that one of his regulars needed a pineapple. Intrigued now, I watched him draw some of the crock contents into a cocktail glass and top it off with vodka. "Man fruit", Whogus claimed by way of explanation. Before my mind could sink deeply into the gutter, he went on to elaborate that any fruit soaked in alcohol was considered man fruit. I had never heard of such a thing but was grateful this night was turning into such a learning experience. I still don't know if he was telling the truth though.
I could have sat there all night making up stories in my head about my fellow diners, but eventually felt guilty about the maitre d' graciously holding a table for us, so we took our places. I have say first: the service at The Van's is outstanding. Attentive but not obtrusive, genuine without being saccharine, knowledgeable and in no way snooty. I was sold before the appetizer appeared at our table.
The Van's is first and foremost a steakhouse, the genuine article. Chops, T-bones, Filets, all the usual suspects. Prices run an easy 30% less than Manhattan sums. "I'm buying" were the words heard rarely out of my mouth immediately after opening my menu. I had been on a steady diet of Mexican food and leftover ham on buttermilk biscuits since arriving at my father's a week earlier and was ready for some red meat. The rack of lamb with garlic mashed potatoes kept catching my eye. So be it. Medium-rare, please, with a glass of the Trefethen "Oak Knoll" merlot, I think. Whogus, watching his girlish figure presumably, went for the "local" chicken and rice pilaf, dampening my extravagant mood. I think he had distilled water to wash down his meal; the Nancy.
Did someone mention something about an appetizer? Whogus and I have had a love affair with chicken livers ever since Patricia Wells included a terrific chicken liver salad recipe in her 1989 "Bistro Cooking" cookbook. Well, for longer than that, actually. While flat mates, whenever I would roast a whole chicken, I would fry up the liver, heart and gizzards in butter, soy and Worcestershire sauces and accusingly ask Whogus if he had been a good boy before sliding them under his nose. But back to appetizers... Van's has a sautéed chicken liver entrée which our excellent waiter agreed to serve as a starter. Garlic, parsley, sherry. Plump, juicy, melt-in-your-mouth delicious little organs. We should have ordered two.
Local Chicken with mushroomsRack of lamb with garlic mashed potatoes
Already feeling quite pleased with ourselves and this wonderful discovery, our main courses were about to finish us off with the 1-2 punch. Whogus's chicken was enormous and criminally moist. Topped with mushrooms and roasted tomatoes, it looked like a hunter's feast. I was insanely jealous until I looked down on my rack of lamb. It was perfectly grilled. Pink inside, succulent throughout and just a hint of rosemary and garlic. Heaven. Another glass of merlot? Well, I thought you'd never ask!
Along with this fabulous meal, we had an unobstructed view of the entire peninsula and East Bay which must be spectacular during the daytime. But with all the holiday lights sparkling, we caught a special night glow all our own.
The Van's
815 Belmont Avenue
Belmont, CA

The Van's is open for lunch Monday through Friday,
11:30am - 3:00pm, and every night for dinner
4:00pm - 11:00pm, until midnight Fridays.
The Van's EntranceAfter nearly 100 years in operation, I don't think they'll be going anywhere anytime soon. But if you should find yourself in the area, do not miss this authentic Californian steakhouse experience. And order a Man Fruit Cocktail!
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Monday, January 5, 2009

Sunday, January 4, 2009

¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

Champagne bubblesOur crew has never been one to go in for all the New Year's hype. Amateur night, we call it. A small gathering of friendly faces, good food, lots of laughter and cutthroat games of råhul late into the night fit our bill. This year was no disappointment. We were eight, with six of us left standing at 6:00am when the last hand of asshole was played. Most of us were up by 10:30 for a New Year's day glass of Veuve Clicquot and thus we rang in 2009.

But planning and prepping were half the fun. Mrs. Nicole O'Food, wife of my boy Matty O'Food helped me plan a menu with a Latin theme: heavy on fresh ingredients and items that could be handled on small plates. Spanish tapas meet Mexican peasant food if you will!
A Mexican New Year's Eve Menu
Fresh guacamole and chips
Sopa de Tortilla
Mexican-style hot wings
Chicken mole pizzas on fresh masa
Tamal de Puerco
Tamal de Jalapeño y Queso
Cervezas Mexicana
Matt & Nicole live in Santa Cruz, California not too far from Watsonville, an agricultural town with a large Mexican population. The perfect town to shop for fresh produce and spicy ingredients.
Fresh guacamoleGuacamole: Recipes for guacamole abound. Some get completely out of hand. I go for a traditional approach with fresh avocados, minced red onion & tomatoes, chopped garlic & cilantro, and salt & pepper. I do have one other addition, but let's go ahead and keep that secret for now.

Halve the avocados, removing the pits and separate the flesh from the rough, bitter skins. Cube the avocado and put in a large bowl. Add the juice of one lime for every 4-5 avocados. Add all other ingredients and stir together completely. Use a potato masher for a smoother consistency. A dash of coconut milk will increase the smooth texture and add a hint of sweetness.
Tamales steaming on the stovetopBack in Watsonville, we were able to accomplish all of our shopping with just two stops. One for tamales, and the other for everything else. First, The Tamale Factory on Main Street. Formerly Lucy's Tamales, this place was strictly bare-boned tamale making. No frills, no fuss, no English! Luckily, I had not one, but two Mexican mothers and just enough Spanish to count to 12 and know the difference between puerco and pollo. Two dozen tamales (12 pork, 12 jalapeño and cheese) set us back a non-whopping $48.
Llama piñataNext it was off to Mi Pueblo, a Mexican supermercado, for fresh produce, chilies, meat, tortillas and masa - a cornmeal dough used for tamales and tortilla making. I got it into my head that we could use it for the mini chicken mole pizzas I forced onto the menu, but more on those later.

We had what I thought was an alarming amount of food, but when we got to the checkout stand, our total came to roughly $100 and included a llama piñata for a centerpiece. We paid roughly one-third of what it would have cost us back in town. Matty claimed that if we ever went broke, we could all move to Watsonville and still live comfortably.
Mexican-style Hot Wings:
  • 2 lbs chicken drummettes
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 6 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 4 tsp freshly ground dried pasilla chilies
  • 4 tsp freshly ground dried red chili powder
  • ¼ tsp crushed red pepper flake
Chili sauce ingredients Toss chicken with olive oil to coat, spread into an even layer on a shallow baking pan and season with salt and pepper. Bake in a pre-heated 450° oven for 25 minutes, or until chicken begins to brown.
Chili sauce on stovetop While drummettes are roasting, mix all other ingredients in a small saucepan and heat through until butter melts and the ground chilies have dissolved. Adjust the chili and lime seasoning to taste.
Toss baked wings with chili sauceOnce wings are cooked, remove from baking pan and toss with the sauce in a large mixing bowl.
Mexican-style hot wingsKeep warm in a glass baking dish covered with aluminum foil in a 250° oven until ready to serve.
Chicken-mole Mini Pizzas: While Matt and Nicole went on a booze run, I had a mini freak out moment with the masa pizza dough. I knew steamed masa firmed up but would crumble supporting shredded chicken. Should I fry it? I had no clue, but resolved to try several methods. My first trial turned out to be the best solution. I stirred dried chilies and some salt into the fresh masa we picked up at Mi Pueblo, and then baked flattened 3" rounds on an greased baking sheet in a 400° oven for 25 minutes. The resulting pizza crusts came out looking like some weird red cookie. I cautioned everyone however, that they were not dessert.
Seasoned masa pizza roundsChicken mole on the stovetop
For the chicken mole, I seared three boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a little butter just until they started to brown. I removed the chicken from the pan and de-glazed it with a little chicken stock. I returned the chicken to the saucepan, added 4 cups of chicken stock, 4 Tbsp of mole sauce, 3 Tbsp of sugar, and a teaspoon of salt. I reduced the heat under the saucepan to low, covered the pan and let the chicken slow cook for almost three hours. At the end of that time, all it took was a light tossing with tongs to shred the chicken and absorb the sauce. I heaped each masa round with a spoonful of chicken mole and topped with chopped queso fresco and cilantro. Genius.
Tortilla Soup: Nicole had a tortilla soup starter that was a huge hit:
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
  • 1 medium red onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 ripe tomatoes, medium chop
  • 3 Tbsp adobo sauce
  • 4 tsp freshly ground dried red chili powder
Tortilla soup on the stovetopIn a large stock pot over medium heat, sweat onion for 5-6 minutes, add garlic and cook for another 60 seconds. Add chicken stock, adobo sauce and chili powder. Heat to dissolve adobo and chili powder. Add cubed chicken and bring broth to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover pot and let simmer for 60 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through, add tomatoes and heat through. Ladle soup into large bowls over crisp tortilla chips. Add small cubed avocado, queso fresco, and chopped cilantro. Serve immediately.
Roasted fresh vegetablesFinally, yellow and red bell peppers, zucchini, Mexican onions and carrots roasted over a hot grill and served on your fanciest platter complete this Mexican fête. The card playing and drinking went long into the night, but that's a different story.
The aftermath
Thanks for taking the time, and Felix Año Nuevo - Blog O. Food