Saturday, March 6, 2010

If you don't nail the midterm... there's always the final!

Mix a new group of people with recipe development on the fly and it may seem nerve wrecking. Not when the party is just bring wine! 
Secretly hoping to steal the gold medal at my own party, prep began the night before giving my chili almost an entire day to simmer into goodness.  The following morning I completed the peanut butter swirl brownies, and moved on to an unintended low-fat version of Jalapeno Cheddar Muffins.  Yes, after baking these gorgeous muffins, preparing the appetizers, and picking up my youngest from nursery school I discovered that the two sticks of melted butter were still sitting in the microwave.  After sampling the muffins several times, it seemed the chili gods were with me and the butter was not required. How often can you say that? 
Hours later, guests arrived with wine and chili pots and the house was filled even more with the wonderful aroma of bell peppers and onions.  With three pots simmering away, it was time to start our judging.  I served the chili samples in two ounce white ramekins that were labeled with a Sharpie.  (There were doubts, but these markings came off easily with soap and water.) Using the same ramekin for each sample meant that in between tastings we were a mere rinse and quick dry from a clean slate. How often can you say that? Our chili varieties included a Black Bean and Corn, an Italian White Bean with Poultry, and a traditional Texas version complete with Frito chips, sour cream and chives. Though engaged in healthy competition, people were at no loss for conversation with common backgrounds, experiences, and the freedom to speak frankly: “I’m 25% Italian and 75% white trash,” said a Guest who wishes to remain nameless.  Once the sampling was complete, and guests helped themselves to additional servings of their favorite, the votes were gathered. The winner by a near unanimous vote (one person voted for option 4, but there were only 3 to choose from) was the Italian White Bean.  With cannellini beans, chicken, and a cream sauce all garnished with fresh cilantro, this chili was impossible to beat. I may not have won the competition, but I do have the leftover white bean chili safely tucked into my fridge for today’s lunch. 
With the winner decided, the incredibly rich chocolate and peanut butter brownies made the rounds.  These were unbelievably popular, and as one guest commented “a diabetic nightmare.”  Luckily, we had guests with celiac, and guests who smoked, but no diabetics on board.  The party continued for a few more hours and I soon noticed that all ten guests had hovered around the breakfast bar and its three stools throughout the night.  I have to either find a way to herd people to the family room or give up wearing heels. 
All in all this party was an amazing amount of fun. When the wine and cheese party gets a bit dull I hope you add a chili cook off to your social calendar.  Trust me, every cook has a pride and joy chili recipe. 
Cooking Notes:
Avocado Blue Cheese Dip: this had the look of guacamole and the taste of stilton cheese which is a very dangerous combination. While this dip was fantastic on celery, it should be no where near tortilla chips.
Black Bean Dip: this was wonderful, easy, and a welcome change to the expected chips and salsa. My only warning is to taste, taste, taste!  Black beans have to be heavily seasoned and you may need to add dabs and dashes of your favorite spices before it fits your flavor profile.  
Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread: have you made your cornbread yet?  This is another fantastic recipe.  Next time you sit down to chili, forgo the crackers and whip up a batch of this fantastic bread.  I promise you, saltine’s will never cut it again!  One of my favorites is the following:
The Party In Numbers:
Parties Completed: 26
Weeks before Deadline: 26
Bottles Consumed: 5
Justified Purchases: White Chili Bowls

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