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
 
 

1 comment:

Matt said...

Good God.. I was there and it sounds fantastic. The Llama Pinata misses you and I may still be slightly tipsy.