Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bridal Shower Food

Yesterday we shared the decor for my sister-in-law's bridal shower.  Today Nate is going to share how he came up with the menu. I completely forgot to take good pictures of the food (I swear, one of these days I'll remember at that very moment to take pictures), but that gives you all the more reason to enjoy his story of how this delicious food came to life.  Be sure to check out his food and lifestyle blog, Urban Appetite or read his restaurant reviews at his Examiner column.  Please email me if you are interested in the recipes.

When Lindsey and I decided to host my sister’s bridal shower, I started formulating ideas for the food.  Obviously, I wanted to plan the menu around stuff my sister likes, which I immediately thought would be right in my wheelhouse; more than any other food, she loves Mexican, which I also love eating and cooking more than anything other cuisine.  So I was pumped right away.  Then I slowly started to realize this would be harder than I thought for a few key reasons. 

1) The Mexican I love to cook is usually centered around meat; which is fine, but probably not ideal for the attendees (all female) looking for easy-eating finger foods. 

2) When I cook Mexican, I like to use a ton of spice; again, not ideal for a large group, not everybody thinks Serrano peppers are mild like my sister and I. 

3) I love the casual vibe of most Mexican food; tacos, fajitas, tortas, sopapillas.  I’m all about the stuff you can get into with your hands and not care about getting messy with.  Again, that doesn’t scream ‘bridal shower’.

With these challenges in mind, I tried to identify some of the key flavors and dishes I wanted to showcase, and try to figure out ways to scale them down into easy-to-eat, tasting sized portions.  Also, I decided that since I couldn’t just leave out the hearty, spicy stuff that I love about Mexican cuisine, I would just have a lot more options; if you don’t like spicy, there’s something else out there for you.  It made for a bit more work since I had so many different, intricate dishes to make, but I’m always up for a challenge.

The first thing that came to mind was salsa.  Any easy-to-make, good for a party type of food.  Lindsey also came up with a great idea to do a salsa bar; this way I could make small amounts of several different varieties and levels of spiciness.  I ended up making a couple mild salsas, a Mango and a classic Pico de Gallo, a medium Tomato-Chipotle salsa (my favorite salsa recipe; smoky, tangy and citrusy), a hot Salsa Verde (roasted tomatillos, serranos and jalapenos) and a traditional guacamole.  It made for a nice variety, of colors and tastes.

For the rest of the dishes, I stayed pretty consistant with the Mexican theme, but also pulled in some Spanish and South American styles into it as well.  The dish I liked the best were the Gazpacho Shooters.  My sister loves a good gazpacho, but obviously it’s tough to serve soup to a large party when folks aren’t eating at a table.  So we served the soup in individual shot glasses.  The soup was very light and refreshing (again, ideal for ladies trying to eat and mingle) and the presentation was very fun.  I made a pretty simple Arugula and Avocado Salad with a Honey-Lime Vinaigrette.  I love arugula in salads; it adds a nice slightly crunchy texture and peppery bite, and plays very well with the smoothness of the avocado.  I also threw in some walnuts for texture, and goat cheese for some added depth, all of which balanced out nicely with the tart, sweetness of the vinaigrette.

I made another couple side salads; a Pasta Salad with Chipotle Cream Dressing, and a Grilled Corn and Tomato Salad with Thai Basil Vinaigrette.  The pasta salad is probably my favorite barbecue/picnic type side dishes.  It’s just bursting with flavor, all kinds of peppers, a little onion, fresh herbs, al dente gemelli (twisty pasta) and all tossed with luscious, smoky and slightly spicy chipotle cream.  Always a hit.  The grilled corn salad is a perfect summer dish.  Nicely balanced with sweet and charred corn, cherry tomatoes and a super-refreshing vinaigrette made with cilantro, ginger and Thai basil. 

For the main dishes, this was where I really had fun.  My favorite Mexican dish, by far, is Carne Asada.  Literally translated “grilled meat”, Carne Asada is any type of marinated beef, always a very thin cut (usually skirt or flank steak) and usually seasoned with citrus and a lot of salt.  Since steak isn’t the easiest thing to serve for a large group, I decided to serve it in thin strips on toasted bread.  We ended up calling it Carne Asada Crostinis (a little Mexican meets Italian).    I marinated the skirt steak with lemon juice, garlic and salt (very simple), and served it with some Chimichurri (there’s the South American touch).  Came out really well.

Skewers always make for a good/easy party food.  I decided to use poultry and make Yucatan Chicken Skewers.  The Yucatan part is front a particular region of Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula, that’s particularly known for using elements from Spanish and local Mayan culture; lots of earthy flavors, as opposed to bold spice and citrus like most of the rest of Mexican cuisine.  So the chicken had a nice chili-peanut sauce on it, and was served over a bed of red cabbage, which made for a nice, colorful presentation.

I love empanadas.  I serve them all the time, parties, tailgates, whatever.  They’re easy to eat, and you can pack them with just about anything.  Since we had poultry and beef covered with the other main dishes, I went with something lighter and used shrimp in these.  I seasoned the shrimp with lime and cumin, and balanced that out with a rich cream cheese and jalapeno filling.  They had just the right amount of spice and creaminess with nice texture from the plump shrimp and crispy empanada shells.
Overall, I had a ton of fun with this.  It was a very cool challenge to take the flavors I love and present them in ways I normally don’t.  A lot of work, but it was for a very special occasion.

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