Saying “I do” to our caterer

Three cheers for the winning caterer!!!

We’ve chosen Berghoff—a candidate we almost overlooked because we assumed they were all about beer and brats (although, as you can see from the menu, they go far beyond that). Thanks to an event at our gorgeous venue, we  were able to sample a few of the preferred caterers—including Berghoff. We also came to find out that one of Dave’s former high school classmates worked there—Kelly’s thoughtful and detailed proposal reinforced my warm and fuzzy feelings about Berghoff. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s start from the beginning …

Tasting #1: Calihan Catering

The appetizers were pretty good overall. Standouts: butternut squash pizza, artichoke puff, brie and pear quesadilla, and the shrimp in a cracker cup. Nicole, the sales rep we met with couldn’t have been nicer and the service was great.

Each of the three caterers interpreted our theme differently: two buffet stations (long, drawn-out seated dinner is not our style), one Italian, one Latin/Mexican/Southwestern. The main courses were OK, but I didn’t see any cohesion, and the proposed menu was pretty minimal. In the end, the food just wasn’t “us.”

The jibarito (bottom row, middle) was really good, but it was more of an appetizer than an entree.

Tasting #2: Food For Thought

Food For Thought was great. Delicious food, great service and lots of nice, sweet personal touches. They were also extremely professional and seemed to really know what they were doing. Our sales rep Linda was great—a seasoned veteran of the catering biz. The beef beignet (first row, second from left), brie and pear quesadilla (yes, another one), crispy ravioli (first row, far right) and falafel skewer were my favorites of the hor dourves.

The pastas were really, really great—especially the wheat mushroom ravioli with cream sauce. YUM. I felt like I was at an upscale Italian restaurant. The stuffed pasta bar was great too. The Mexican portion of the meal was good, but again, the items seemed better suited as hor dourves. Mini ice cream cones and macarons were a sweet end to the meal. I knew Berghoff was going to have a hard time topping this …

Tasting #3: Berghoff

Berghoff started of on a very promising note: a Berghoff beer flight, house root beer and not one, but two Better-With-Butter-featured specialty cocktails (the Blushing Bride and the Green City Gimlet):

Then the hor dourves…

We loved everything (except that grape/cheese/nut ball in the bottom right corner—hey, you can’t win em all). As you can see, we’re going for the “gourmet comfort food” vibe: mac and cheese, grilled cheese, mini baked potatoes, paella bites, crab cakes—the stuff people stand outside the kitchen door and stalk the cocktail servers for. Kelly assured us they would pace the hor dourve service to avoid a feeding frenzy.

Then the buffets …

There’s something to be said for do-it-yourself “Food-Name-Here” bars. Pasta and salad bars? Pretty great. Tamale and a risotto bars??? That’s taking things to a whole ‘nother level. And this did. Tender carnitas, perfectly cooked flank steak and shredded chicken in red sauce on top of soft, moist tamale cakes or taco bowls with all the fixins, including an out-of-this-world avocado and black bean salad. YUM. Ooey, Gooey risotto with bacon, mushrooms, peas, asparagus and tomatoes; crispy, surprisingly delicate parmesan chicken; caesar salad; and Italian-style breads (including a phenomenal potato focaccia). DOUBLE YUM.

And as if we weren’t about to explode, cake tasting was next (a huge plus for Berghoff—their in-house pastry chef is great and can do just about anything. Not having to choose a baker: Just one more thing I can cross of the list).

So many amazing flavors and fillings, why choose? So we didn’t. Mini cupcakes for everyone!

So thanks Kelly and Berghoff—we are beyond thrilled to have you as our caterer!

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Giving gracias

fried turkey

I’m still recovering from the 48-hour cooking marathon, gluttonous spread and absolute debauchery that is our misfit-full, southwestern Thanksgiving celebration.

Let me paint the scene: Colorful characters mingling over excessive amounts of tequila, criminal quantities of turkey (2, 15-pounders and a 20-pounder to be exact), all the trimmings with a southwestern flair, ridiculously perfect, sun-shiny, 75-degree weather, football broadcast on a backyard pool-side cabana bar TV…


… and me slaving away in a hot kitchen. I kid, I kid. I have to admit I enjoy it. Besides, if I didn’t cook, we’d be eating pies from Costco (no offense Don) and canned cranberry sauce. OK, so we ate those things (and LOVED it) anyway, but I digress.

Anyway, back to my food. You simply can’t mess up Paula’s corn and potato casseroles, so I surrendered those to my sister. I made Rick Bayless’ Chocolate pecan pie, which I first attempted for me and Dave’s anniversary dinner, acorn squash and goat cheese tamales, chorizo stuffing, fiesta salad with avocado jalapeño ranch dressing, Mexican five-layer dip and chorizo bean dip. Let’s not forget the tequila: our poison came in the form of three different tequila cocktails.

My mother, who taught me the fine art of microwaving, muttered “my poor baby,” and looked on pityingly the entire time, as if all this cooking was some sort of cruel and unusual punishment.

Everything was a big hit, especially the chocolate pecan pie with Kahlua whipped cream, which my mom hid from our guests to save it all for herself. You think I’m kidding—I had to sneak inquiring party-goers out to the garage fridge to smuggle a slice behind her back. You already have that recipe, and here are the others:

Acorn squash, corn and goat cheese tamales

corn tamales_5

You’ll need:

1 1/2 cups masa harina

1/2 cup shortening

3 tablespoons softened butter

1 roasted acorn squash

2 cups corn

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cumin

3/4 cup water

20-25 dried or fresh corn husks

about 6 oz. goat cheese

about 3 oz. cream cheese

1/2 jalapeño minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

First, brush the squash, cut in 3-4 pieces, with a mixture of half butter, half olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast in a 375 degree oven for about 30-40 minutes or until the squash is soft. Meanwhile, soak the corn husks (if dried) in water for 1-2 hours. Once the squash has cooled, mash and mix in thoroughly with the shortening, butter, masa, corn, baking soda, salt and cumin. Slowly whip in the water with a mixer, and beat the mixture for about 5 minutes.

The mixture should be light a fluffy. To test it, drop a marble sized chunk in water—if it floats it’s ready. If not, continue to beat the mixture and add a little more shortening if necessary.

Make the filling by mixing the goat cheese, cream cheese, minced garlic and jalapeño. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pat each corn husk dry  and cut 3-4 into long strips that can be used to tie the tamales. Spread a 1/2-inch layer of the masa mixture in a 4-5-inch square on a corn husk, spread a teaspoon-sized portion of the goat cheese mixture on top of the masa. Roll the corn husk so that the masa encompasses the goat cheese, twist each end of the husk and tie off with a strip of husk.

2009_11_25You can cook these several different ways, and if you’re like most normal people and don’t have a tamale steamer, this is as good a way as any: lay your tamales on a sheet of foil (you can stack them), add 3 tablespoons of water for every ten tamales, lay another sheet of tin foil on top and roll up each side tightly to create a foil packet. Cook at 350 degrees for about 30-45 minutes. These freeze well too.

2009_11_26Chorizo stuffing

Chorizo stuffing

You’ll need:

2 packages of jiffy cornbread, prepared

1 tablespoon thyme

1 teaspoon cumin

salt and pepper

1 stick of butter, divided

1/2 pound chorizo

3 cups chopped onions

1 cup chopped celery

1/2 each chopped green pepper and red pepper

1/2 minced jalapeño

2 cloves minced garlic

2 cups chicken broth

Cut the cornbread into 1 inch cubes and spread on a sheet pan. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter and brush on the cornbread, then season with thyme, salt and pepper and toast under the broiler. Watch carefully—they burn easily. Set aside. Cook the chorizo in a stock pot until browned and set aside. Pour out excess grease and cook the vegetables in the same pot with the remaining butter for 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and heat until the broth is hot but not boiling. Stir in the chorizo and cornbread croutons and mix thoroughly. Use to stuff your turkey, or pour into a casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes before ready to eat.

Chorizo stuffing_4

Fiesta salad and avocado jalapeño ranch dressing


You’ll need:

1 bag romaine lettuce

1 red pepper, chopped

1 yellow pepper, chopped

1  green pepper, chopped

1/2 large red onion, chopped

one cucumber, chopped

2 avocados, chopped

shredded mexican cheese

tortilla strips for garnish


1/2 bottle of ranch dressing

1 avocado

1 jalapeño

1 teaspoon cumin

Mix all salad ingredients together in a large salad bowl. Blend dressing ingredients in a blender or food processor and toss on salad or serve on the side.

Five-layer dip

5 layer bean dip

For the longest time, we called this seven-layer dip. Alas, it’s really only five. We’ve been know to add a sixth layer in the form of seasoned cream cheese (cumin, garlic powder and chili powder), green onions or diced tomatoes, but I’m not really sure where this mythical seventh layer comes from. Anyway, this is an easy, fool-proof crowd pleaser at any party and it always makes an appearance at ours.

You’ll need:

1 can refried beans


sour cream


shredded cheese (Mexican blend, pepper jack or colby jack)

Layer the ingredients in a dish in the following order: refried beans, guac, sour cream, salsa, shredded cheese. I like about a 1-2 inch layer of beans, an inch layer of guac, a half-inch of sour cream, a thin layer of salsa and a generous sprinkling of shredded cheese. Serve with tortilla chips.

five layer bean dip

Chorizo bean dip

chorizo bean dip

You’ll need:

1/4 pound cooked chorizo

8 oz. cream cheese

1 cup shredded mexican cheese

16 oz. Velveeta

1 teaspoon cumin

Mix all ingredients, minus 1/2 cup of shredded cheese. Spread in a oven-safe dish. Sprinkle the remaining shredded cheese on top of the mixture. Heat in a 375-degree oven until the mixture is bubbly and golden brown on the top. Serve with tortilla chips.

Phew. That’s a lot of food. Now onto the cocktails. You may remember the description of the different varieties (plata or silver, reposado and anejo) from my tequila tasting post. As a refresher, silver lends itself to typical vodka mixers, reposado: rum and anejo: whiskey.

I got a list of recipes from our gracious Tres Generaciones tequila ambassador, Mando, and I tweaked a couple to make my own recipes. As far as my personal brand recommendations go: Tres Generaciones, Don Julio, and 1800.

Silver/Plata: El Cosmopolitano


You’ll need:

2 parts plata tequila

1 part triple sec

1 part cranberry juice

½ part fresh lime juice

Mix all ingredients together in a shaker over ice and strain into a glass. This was my sister’s favorite


Reposado: Mojitarita and Pina reposado



You’ll need:

2 parts reposado tequila

8 mint leaves per cocktail

1 part simple syrup

1 part club soda

½ part fresh lime juice

Muddle mint leaves and mix all ingredients over ice. This is a refreshing and less sweet version of a mojito—my dad couldn’t get enough of this one.

Pina reposado

pina repasado_2

You’ll need:

1 1/2 parts reposado tequila

2 1/2 parts pineapple juice

1 tablespoon brown sugar per cocktails

Mix all ingredients together in a shaker with ice. Strain into a glass. My mom, who rarely drinks, was guzzling these like a drunken sorority girl. They’re my favorite too.

Anejo: Prickly ginger


You’ll need:

1 part anejo tequila

1 1/2 parts ginger ale

½ part prickly pear syrup

Mix the tequila and prickly pear syrup together in a shaker with ice and add the ginger ale. Strain into a glass.

Jalapeno green chile corn muffins

green chile jalapeno cornbread_6

For the Northwestern tailgate earlier this month, I attempted to contribute to the festivities and failed miserably. The cornbread tasted great, there just wasn’t enough of it.

I placed my puny loaf pan next to the enormous aluminum banquet trays, and I have a feeling it was greeted with deep suspicion. “What the hell is this tiny pan of cornbread doing in our ridiculously giant tailgate buffet? Is this some sort of trick? Is it poisoned??”

I have to say I don’t blame them. It was a slightly confusing sight. By the end of the tailgate there was just a paper-thin slice missing from the pan. I should mention that the Paces gobbled up the corn muffins I brought like skittles, so I know it wasn’t for lack of taste. Here’s the recipe. Tailgate at your own risk.

Jalapeno green chile corn muffins

You’ll need:

2 cups masa

2 1/2 cups flour

3 teaspoons baking soda

1/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 can green chile

1 cup corn kernels

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 jalapeno, minced

2 cups milk

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon salt

1-2 cups cheddar cheese

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Mix all ingredients (minus the cheese) and pour into a greased pan (cupcake, loaf or cake pan).

You know I used my beautiful mixer.

green chile jalapeno cornbread_2

Pour the batter in the pan or cupcake tin and sprinkle with cheddar. Bake for 20-50 minutes (depending on the pan you use) or until a toothpick comes out clean.

green chile jalapeno cornbread_3

Green chile jalapeno cornbread

1 tequila, 2 tequila, 3 tequila … no hangover??

Tres generacions repasado tequila

I consider myself a pretty savvy tequila drinker—after all, I did learn from the best (thanks dad). I got an early education and managed to avoid the requisite Jose Cuervo binge in college that’s resulted in a whole generation of young adults who gag at the slightest whiff of tequila. So obviously, I jumped at the chance to attend a tequila tasting at Sunda sponsored by Tres Generaciones tequila.

As a self-respecting native Arizonan, and Tucsonan specifically, I have a discerning taste for the stuff. Like a fine wine or scotch, good tequila has a unique and complex flavor profile that should be savored slowly. I know the basics of enjoying a good tequila, but even I learned some new tips and tricks.

Here’s the room before we started dancing on tables and hanging from the rafters in a tequila-induced frenzy. Just kidding—only functional, self-respecting drunks in this bunch.


Armando, or Mando as we like to call him, a national tequila ambassador from Tres Generaciones, was our host for the evening. Tequila neophytes, listen closely—there are a few things you should know about good tequila:

  • Good tequila comes from 100% blue agave. This is true for all of my favorite tequilas—Don Julio and Oro Azul, specifically—not only Tres Generaciones.
  • There are three types of tequila: Blanco (or Plata), Reposado and Anejo:
    • Blanco is an un-aged, clear tequila and you will probably favor this type of tequila if you like gin or vodka.
    • Resposado is aged in oak barrels for at least four months, no longer than 11. You may like this type if you like rum.
    • Anejo is aged in oak barrels for at least 12 months. Being a whiskey drinker, this is my personal favorite.
  • Tequila by law must be double-distilled, and some tequilas are triple-distilled, including Tres Generaciones. Some say triple distillation isn’t necessary, or that it takes away some of the agave flavor, but Mando made me a believer. After more than five shots I woke up without the slightest trace of a hangover.

We started the night with some cocktails, conversation and appetizers. Here was my personal favorite, the Pina Reposado:

Pineapple tequila cocktail

Spicy Raw tuna with jalapeno on top of crispy rice. YUM.

Tuna and crispy rice

Indo corn fritters, also fabulous.

Thai corn fritters

We met some great people at the tasting—Melissa and Enrique from Factio (I loved them even more after we saw them hightail it to the sushi bar after a forgettable salad and beef entree. If you go to Sunda, skip anything from the land. I repeat: order the fish and sushi. They are WORLDS better.); Matt from Thrillist Chicago; Jennifer from Second City Soiree; and four lovely ladies from Oprah Radio and the Chicago Tribune whose names are escaping me …

Anyway, they served three courses, each with a different Tres Generaciones tequila. Before we began, we got a lesson on how to properly taste tequila from a very passionately animated Mando:

Tres generaciones tequila tasting

How to sip a tequila:

  1. Swirl the tequila to release the scent, part your mouth slightly, and inhale deeply (just don’t snort the tequila, because that would be really painful).
  2. Bring the glass up to your lips and let the tequila touch the tip of your tongue. This is where you taste sweetness, so you’ll get notes of agave first.
  3. Then take a small sip and let the tequila run down your tongue and around your entire mouth—don’t swallow immediately.
  4. Swallow only after the tequila has coated your entire mouth.

For those of you who are vomiting in your mouth at the thought of prolonging a tequila shot, I promise you, it’s smoother and much more enjoyable when consumed this way. But that’s assuming it’s a good tequila, so don’t try this with Jose Cuervo.

For our first course, we had the Southeastern Chop Chop Chicken with the Plata:

Thai chicken salad

Again, very forgettable, but not completely inedible. At least it came with a shot of tequila.

Tres Generaciones tequila

Then the shaking beef wok, even more underwhelming than the salad.

Beef at Sunda

Again, it didn’t hurt to have good tequila to wash it down with:

Tres generaciones repasado tequila

In a favorable twist of fate (for Dave and me, at least), the wonderful woman sitting next to me was a non-meat eater and had a gluten allergy, so she was unable to eat her fish dish (it had soy in it, which apparently contains gluten). I honestly felt awful for her, but how could I resist when she shoved the plate our way?? I mean, if you’re gonna twist my arm about it …

Cod at Sunda

This was the most delicious cod I have ever had in my life. It just melts in your mouth. I’m still salivating over it. Amazing how a restaurant that serves this could also serve the Benihana-style mediocrity that was the salad and beef. OK, I’ll stop bashing Sunda—as I said, they deserve major praise for the fish and sushi. Go there for that. Also, the dessert, avocado mousse with lychee shave ice and avocado coulis wasn’t bad at all:

avocado mousse_2

tres generaciones tequila_3

All in all, a fun time. As always, Dave and I were the first to show up and the last to leave. You can count on that when tequila’s involved.

Sunda menu

The iceberg sunk this Titanic

Tomatillo2“Kate and Leo Tomatilllo (salsa)”


I know. I said the same thing when Dave suggested the name for my … errr … “his” tomatillo salsa for the salsa competition.

We were trying to think of something that rhymes with tomatillo (there isn’t much), when Dave blurted out “Kate and Leo” … as in Kate Winslett and Leo DiCaprio.

*awkward silence*

“Yeah, c’mon … cause, y’know … this salsa is TITAAAANIIIIC!!!”

“Ummm, the Titanic sunk and hundreds of people perished.”

“Well … yeah … but how funny would it be to put a still shot of that ‘I’m flying Jack … I’m flying!’ scene on the blog???”

So there you have it.

Kate and Leo Tomatillo.

Oh, and by the way, it tied for second place in the competition, losing to “Fuego de Gallo.” My salsa ran out before every voter got a taste, so I like to think I lost by default.

Also, technically we came in third thanks to Dave’s inadequate rock-paper-scissors skills. The winner of the 2nd place tiebreaker?

Pineapple Iceberg Delight. Oh the bitter irony.

Kate and Leo Tomatillo (a.k.a. Titanic Tomatillo Salsa)

You’ll need:

10 tomatillos

1 medium sized onion

1 small- to medium-sized head of garlic

1 small tomato

1 teaspoon cilantro, finely chopped

juice of 1/2 lime

1 jalapeno, sliced

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon cumin

salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Roast the onions and garlic (tossed lightly in olive oil) under the broiler until the onions are translucent and the garlic and soft and fragrant. Puree in a blender or food processor. Set aside.

Onion garlic

Toss the tomatillos lightly in olive oil and roast under the broiler. Remember these purple tomatillos? These should look just as battered and bruised.

Roasted Tomatillos

Blend the tomatillos with the jalapeno and mix in the garlic/onion and the cilantro. Dice the other tomato and stir it in. Add in the spices and season to taste.

Tomatillo salsa

My plan was foiled …

Salmon in foil_7

A few weeks ago I went into a cleaning frenzy, and before I knew it, I had doused my entire oven in CLR. CLR is not exactly non-toxic, as you may know.

I realized what I’d done almost immediately and began furiously wiping down the oven with cold water. An hour of scrubbing, several frantic Google searches, one call to my mother and one email to Jelmar (the makers of CLR) later, the oven still smelled of CLR and I wasn’t sure if it would ever be safe to cook in again.

In the end I may have overreacted a bit—Googled turned up several forums with people who’ve cleaned cast-iron skillets with CLR, and the helpful folks at Jelmar informed me that CLR Kitchen & Bath (the product I used) is indeed safe for ovens.

Before the ordeal was over, however, I’d thrown out an entire batch of mojo de ajo–convinced it was tainted with toxic chemicals that might poison Dave, resulting in his death and the scandalous accusation that I’d planned it all along.

What can I say? I have a very vivid imagination.

In the end, I decided to go ahead with my meal, with a few improvisations that didn’t involve using the oven.

Salmon in foil

Recipe adapted from Rick Bayless

You’ll need:

1 salmon filet

1/8- 1/4 cup mojo de ajo

1/4 cup sliced onion

2-4 red potatoes

salt and fresh ground pepper

any combination of parsley, cilantro and/or chives

aluminum foil

banana leaves (optional)

This was the recipe that Rick demoed at Rachel Ray’s Big Block Party. And while I’m not a huge fan of salmon, this was a fantastic and easy way to prepare it. I even found myself stealing bites of Dave’s. Plus, fresh, never frozen salmon was on sale at Andy’s for $5 a pound.

First, cook your potatoes in boiling water and cook the onions in a skillet with a little olive oil.

To prepare the salmon package, lay out a large piece of foil (I doubled up with two) and a banana leaf on top of the foil. Lay the salmon, skin-side down on the banana leaf and cover it with the other ingredients. If you aren’t using a banana leaf, lay the ingredients directly on the foil.

Salmon in foil_2

Bundle the contents in the banana leaf, like a burrito, and secure it closed with another banana leaf around the middle. Don’t worry too much about this—the foil will keep it all together.

Salmon in Foil_3

Wrap the sides that are parallel to the “burrito” shape around the banana leaf and then roll the open ends up to secure the foil package. This will also seal the open ends of the banana leaf.

Salmon in Foil_4

You can cook this on the grill, in a 375-degree oven, or as I can attest to, in a pan on the stove top.

Salmon in foil_5

Cook for about 8-10 minutes, flipping once. The fish should be pink and flake off easily when it’s done. Open the foil and banana leaf and squeeze a lime on the salmon.

Salmon in foil_6

Salmon in foil_8

Double the Bayless

Frontera Salsa

What a lucky girl I am—I got to eat at Frontera and Topolobampo (and came thiiiiis close to getting my first taste of XOCO) in the same month. Topolobampo for a not-so-friendly-on-the-wallet (but well worth it) bad-economy brunch a few weeks ago, and Frontera was last week for Dave’s mom’s birthday.

Don’t ask about XOCO—it’s too traumatic to recount.

OK, fine, if you’re gonna twist my arm about it …

I went there to grab lunch for Dave and me a few weeks ago. I stood in line. I inhaled the thick scent of carnitas and chorizo. I watched the cooks expertly crafting wood-fired tortas. I furiously photographed the scene.




And then I noticed something. No one was ordering their food to go. I didn’t spot a single brown paper bag behind the counter. At that point I thought it wise to ask if takeout orders were a possibility before standing in line for another 20 minutes.

NO TAKEOUT. For a split second I considered ditching Dave and eating alone at XOCO. Than I decided that my relationship is more important than a Cuban sandwich. Even one from Rick Bayless.

I tweeted Rick to ask what the deal was. He responded right away, because, you know, we’re practically BFF’s.

Picture 4

Anyway, I got my Bayless fix afterall. Twice.

Topolobampo was fantastic:

The Chicharron de Queso, a “rolled crispy cheese wafer (chicarron style) filled with young salad greens (creamy lime-cilantro dressing) and grilled chicken salad (avocado, roasted poblanos, marinated tomatoes and lime)”:


The Mole de Olla, “rich, red chile-and-epazote broth with Gunthorp duck. Corn masa dumplings (chochoyotes), xoconostle (sour prickly pear), green peas, chayote”:


The Pollito con Elote, “pan-seared Gunthrop heritage-breed rock hen and a celebration of Three Sister’s Garden corn: sweet corn tamales, braised wild greens (quelites) with seared corn esquites, creamy jalapeno-corn sauce”:


And my favorite, the Chilaquilles de Guajillo y Frijol Negro, “torta of shiitake-filled chilaquiles (crispy tortillas simmered in red guajillo chile) served with black bean sauce, homemade crema, crispy white onion and cilantro”:


Frontera didn’t disappoint either:

Topolo margaritas and guac all around.

Frontera Margarita_2

Frontera Guacamole

A special glass for the birthday girl.


For the main courses:

Enchiladas de Mole Poblano, “homemade tortillas rolled around Gunthorp free-range chicken, doused with Mexicos most famous mole; black beans”:

Frontera Enchiladas

Enchiladas de Chivo, “homemde tortillas rolled around Pleasant Meadows braised goat. Red chileajo sauce, crispy onions, dry Jack cheese, cilantro”:

Frontera Enchiladas_2

Carne Asada a la Oaxaquena, “Creekstone Natural Black Angus rib steak, marinated in spicy red chile and wood- grilled, served with black beans, sweet plantains with sour cream, and guacamole”:

Frontera Carne Asada

Poc Chuc de Puerco, “sour orange-marinated, grill-seared Maple Creek pork with Yucatecan garnishes: grill-roasted onions, sliced heirloom tomatoes, tangy Napa cabbage, avocado, habanero salsa, black bean ‘soup'”:

Frontera Pork

Falda Asada Brava, “spicy serrano-marinated grass fed flank steak (from Bill Kurtis’s Tall Grass) with spicy salsa huevona (hand-crushed, grill-roasted tomatoes, jalapenos). Grilled knob onions and sweet corn tamales (topped with homemade sour cream and fresh cheese)”:

Frontera steak

Tamal de Puerco en Mole Verde, “banana leaf-steamed tamal of fresh-ground corn masa and Maple Creek braised pork. Green pumpkinseed mole, arugula salad”:

Frontera Tamale

And a special birthday dessert:

Oro Azul. A delightful sipping tequila. Didn’t know there was such a thing? As a native Arizonan I feel obligated to educate the masses about this.

Oro Azul

Oh, and this too:


It might not look like much, but trust me, this chocolate pecan pie will change your life.

Chocolate Pecan Pie

I told the waiter to tell Rick we were there, but he must have been too busy to come out and personally greet us. But hey, don’t worry about it, it’s cool. I’ll catch you next time. Oh, by the way, I think you forgot to mail my invitation to the Frontera Picnic at your place last week. I’m sure it was a completely innocent oversight …

Redemption and bear-shaped tostadas

Football Game Food

Last week, I made some delicious game-day food for the return of Sunday Football at Jim’s place.

Unfortunately, as a result of Cutler’s awful debut performance, I was too dejected to actually post about it.

Since I went to great lengths to make bear-shaped food, and the Bears redeemed themselves tonight in an exhilarating win, I think I’ll get around to posting about that meal now. Plus, this tortilla soup is way too good not to share.

Tostada and tortilla soup

Black Bean Bear Tostadas and Tortilla Soup

For the Tortilla Soup you’ll need:

3 chicken breasts

1 cup chicken stock

1 zucchini finely chopped

1 onion finely chopped

1-2 jalapenos (depending on how spicy you like it) minced

2 small tomatoes or 6 cherry tomatoes

1 red bell pepper

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 can refried beans

salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons corn flour or corn starch

For the Black Bean Tostadas you’ll need:

corn tortillas (recipe follows)

2 cans black beans

1/2  medium-sized onion, minced

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

vegetable oil for frying

Let’s start with the tortilla soup. This recipe is easy-as-can-be thanks to the slow cooker. If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can use a large pot or dutch oven, but you’ll have to stir frequently, keep the stove at a low heat and keep a close eye on your soup. And if you don’t have a slow cooker, you really should invest in one.

Brown your chicken breasts in a skillet with some olive oil. Meanwhile, roast your red pepper and tomatoes with a little olive oil under the broiler until they get a nice char on them.

Roasted Red Pepper_2

Remove the blackened skin from the peppers and tomatoes—plastic sandwich baggies work well for this:

Roasted Red Pepper_3

A little char left on is OK. Blend your tomatoes and red pepper together until smooth.

Roasted Red Pepper_4

Add all the ingredients except for the corn flour to the slow cooker and cook on high for three to four hours or low for six to eight hours. Towards the end of the cooking, shred the chicken (I used two forks) and add the corn flour to thicken the soup. Garnish with tortilla strips (I made my own—see the tostada recipe below) and shredded cheese.

Chicken Tortilla Soup_2

For the black bean tostadas, first make your refried black beans.

Cook the minced onions in the vegetable oil until they become translucent. Mix all of the other ingredients (except the corn tortillas and vegetable oil for frying) in a skillet over medium heat. You can use the liquid from the black bean cans, as it will cook out over time, or reserve it and use it later if the beans dry out too much as you cook them. As the beans cook, mash them with a fork and continue to stir with a rubber spatula.

Black Beans

Cook the beans for about 10 minutes, or until the liquid has cooked out, stirring frequently. Set aside.

Black Beans_2

To make the tostadas, fry corn tortillas until golden brown. I made my own corn tortillas so I could shape them into bear faces (don’t call me a loser, I’m just a really devoted fan). They’re easier than you might think—no tortilla press required. First, mix two cups corn flour (masa) with 1 1/8 cup water. Roll the dough out very thin on a floured surface with a rolling pin.

Corn Tortilla_2

Assuming you aren’t forming your tortillas into cute animal shapes, use a cookie cutter or the lip of a cup or bowl to cut circles in the dough and use a spatula to scrape them off the table:

Corn Tortilla_3

I, on the other hand, made bear faces using a shot glass to cut out ears (then cutting the circle in half) and affixing them to the sides of the bigger circle with a dab of water.

Corn Tortillas_6

Cook the tortillas in a lightly greased skillet over medium heat. They take about two to three minutes each.

Corn Tortilla_7

After they’ve cooked, deep fry them in vegetable oil until golden brown, about two minutes. Sprinkle the tostadas generously with salt and garlic immediately after they’ve been fried.


Top the tostadas with warm refried black beans and crumbled queso fresco.

Black Bean Tostada

These are great together:

Tostada and Tortilla

So even though the bears suffered an embarrassing and demoralizing loss last week, at least the food was good.

Sheesh, and I call myself a fan—sorry for focusing on the negative guys, congrats on your awesome win tonight—keep up the good work. A post on tonight’s football feast to come.

Squash blossoms, part 2: Squash blossom quesadilla

Squash Blossom quesadilla_6

After squash blossom experiment part 1, I had some unsused blossoms and thought I’d try Paula’s quesadilla idea. Here we go:

Squash Blossom, Onion and Orange Bell Pepper Quesadilla

You’ll need:

2 large tortillas

about 1 cup of mexican cheese (I buy the blended, packaged kind from the store)

6 or 7 squash blossoms

1/4 of 1 chopped yellow onion

1/2 of 1 chopped orange bell pepper (green or red would work fine also)

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil

First, cook your bell pepper, garlic and onion in olive oil until they are soft. This takes a while so I add water to keep them from burning and to speed up the cooking process. Just make sure to cook all the liquid out before putting them in the quesadilla.

Red pepper and onion

When the onions and peppers are almost done, thrown in the squash blossoms.

Squash Blossom

Cook until the squash blossoms are wilted. Remove the veggies from the skillet and set aside.

Squash blossom_3

Wipe out the skillet or grab another and let the vegetable oil heat up. I assemble the quesadilla by putting one tortilla down in the pan, adding cheese, then the veggies, a little more cheese and then the second tortilla. I know, it’s not rocket science.

Now just let the tortilla brown on both sides and make sure the cheese is all melted (medium to med-high is a good stove setting).

Squash blossom quesadilla_3

No need for a fancy pan that makes those cool grill marks, but if you want it, here it is.

Guac it out


We picked up some ridiculously low-priced produce at Stanley’s on Saturday. Dave even took some time to interview the owner about how the heck they do it, while I browsed the aisles in a wide-eyed fruit and veggie frenzy.

Stanley's 3

He found out some fun facts about the place:

  • It’s been family-owned since 1967
  • Peter, a co-owner says that Stanley’s main mission is to contribute to the community by providing quality, low-cost produce
  • The secret to their dirt-cheap prices is “buying right and selling right,” and knowing how to turn inventory quickly
  • Stanley’s was ahead of the curve when they began stocking organic produce in 1995—They now dedicate almost half the store to a wide-selection of organic-only produce

Among the cheapest of our haul were 98-cent cartons of raspberries, 44-cent cartons of strawberries, 39-cents-per-lb watermelon and good-sized spice jars for $1.49 each.

We also got some 48-cent avocados—the main ingredient in this post. So let’s get down to it.



You’ll need

2 ripe avocados

1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup chopped tomatoes (remove the seedy, gushy insides to avoid watery guac)

1 jalapeno, minced

1 teaspoon cumin

2-3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon chopped cilantro

cayenne or crushed red pepper to taste (if you like spicy)

Squeeze of lime juice (for flavor and to prevent oxidation–browning)

Mash your avocado and mix all ingredients together. That’s it.

Serve in the avocado shell if you want to be really fancy.


This guac may not be as good as Rick’s, but it’s definitely more wallet-friendly. And the fulfillment you’ll feel laying claim to it while mingling over party appetizers?? Priceless.

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