Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Stay and celebrate

A dear friend of mine, Joe, just celebrated a birthday on Sunday. Joe, much like me, moved to The Flathead Valley in search of something bigger. Coincidentally that meant leaving his family and friends back in California. Since my mom and I love hosting parties and Joe is a wonderful friend of ours, we decided to host Joe's birthday party. To be honest, we were totally delighted to get to throw a party in honor of him. We had planned the menu and settled on a Cajun/Mexican theme. What could be more fun that hot spicy food when it is 6 degrees outside? Yes, it was 6 degrees!

My boyfriend, Scott, had come to visit me the night before and since he lives four hours away he was planning to skip the party. He claimed he had lots of work to catch up on before Monday morning. Seems reasonable, I guess. We had spent the day catching up, talking, and generally just enjoying each other’s company. Around 4:00pm, we headed back over to my house. We walked in the door and I saw Scott’s thoughts begin to shift. He looked at me and said, “Maybe I can stay. What time is dinner?” I laughed and replied “Oh, really. I can’t convince you to stay, but the decorations can?”

My mom and dad had set the table, laid out appetizers, and hung festive ribbon throughout the house. It looked amazing. Music was playing and a fire was burning in the fireplace keeping the house toasty and warm. Scott took off his coat and made himself comfortable by the appetizers. They were conveniently located in the “heart of the house” which most people call the kitchen. We all pitched in to make guacamole, salsa, and once the birthday boy arrived, we shared in our birthday tradition; Champagne!

Two by two the other guests arrived. Some had met Joe and some hadn’t, but it didn’t seem to matter as each of our friends brought a card and a special gift for him. That night we dined on Chipotle Chicken, sweet potatoes laced in bacon, black bean and corn delight, and a nice barley salad with cilantro (provided by Ava). The night was a huge success and as my mom and I were washing the dishes, I watched my friends gathered around the dining table laughing and enjoying themselves, some meeting each other for the first time. As I watched, I was humbled by the kindness of our friends. I leaned over to my mom and said, “This is my favorite part, watching everyone laugh, smile, and create new friendships.”

We finished off the evening with our friend Lee’s famous Whiskey Chocolate cake  (recipe will be in a future blog) and coffee ice cream (Joe’s favorite). We sang happy birthday with 30 candles on the cake (1 extra candle to grow on). In the end, our friends lingered longer than they had intended with it being a “school night” and all. And Joe, he stayed long after the final guests had left. Mom, dad, Joe, and I curled up on the sofas; Joe with a guitar in hand. He played music while the rest of us tried to singing along. We all seemed to not want to night to end. Once all of the guests had departed, I reflected on the simplicity of the night and how everyone had seemed to want to delay their departure despite knowing that they might be worse for wear the next day. I suspected that just as Scott’s initial read was to stay and celebrate, every guest had also caught that same fever.

So this holiday season, and everyday thereafter, my mom and I encourage you to stay and celebrate!

Famous Smyers Guacamole

5 ripened avocados
1/2 red onion diced
5 cloves of garlic finely chopped
2 jalapeno peppers with seeds removed and diced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro chopped
juice from 1 lime
1 tablespoon pepper
2 tablespoons salt

Harvest the fruit from the avocado first. Cut each avocado in half and scoop out the fruit into a large bowl. Mash the avocados using a potato masher until very few lumps remain and a smooth and creamy texture is created. Next, mix in the garlic, diced onion and jalapenos, lime juice, and fresh cilantro. Mix until all is incorporated, then add salt and pepper.

Chipotle Chicken

6 large chicken breasts (they can be bone-in or boneless and cut for portion size)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup low sugar barbeque sauce
juice of 1 lemon
5 cloves of garlic chopped

Chicken Rub recipe:
1 tablespoon basil
1 tablespoon paprika
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon chipotle powder
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon salt

To make the chicken rub, mix all spices together in a large bowl. A store bought chicken rub with similar spices can also be used to cut down on time.

For this recipe we used oversized chicken breasts on the bone as they were on sale at the store. We cut off the extra skin and fat and cut each chicken breast in half. Then we mixed all of the ingredients for the rub together and rubbed each chicken breast with the rub. Heat a skillet with the olive oil and sauté each chicken breast for 2 minutes on each side or just until they turn a brownish golden color.

Next place each chicken breast in the crock pot and pour the barbeque sauce, garlic, and lemon juice over the chicken. Set the crock pot to low and set for 6 hours.

*This recipe is also great to grill the chicken in the summer, but due to the extremely cold weather we opted to cook the chicken in the crock pot and it was delicious!

Sweet Piggy Potatoes

5 large sweet potatoes
4 cloves of garlic diced
4 strips of bacon cooked and diced
1/4 cup of plain fat free yogurt
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pierce each sweet potato with a knife or fork to allow heat to escape while baking. Place each potato in the oven and bake for 30-45 minutes or until you can easily squeeze them and they are soft and can easily be peirced with a fork. Allow them to cool for 10 to 20 minutes to avoid burning your hands.

While the potatoes are baking, cook up the bacon in a skillet and drain on paper towels and allow bacon to cool before dicing into small bite size peices. If you are pressed for time, you can also heat the bacon in the microwave. To do this, place the strips of bacon on a fresh paper towel and heat in the microwave for 3 minutes on power 8.

To assemble, open up the sweet potato skins and scrape out the meaty insides using a spoon. Place the potatoes in a medium sized baking dish. Then mixing in the yogurt, garlic, butter, and diced bacon bits. Stir all ingredients together and place in an oven set at 250 degrees for 15 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.

Black Bean and Corn Delight

1 can of black beans drained
1 package frozen sweet corn
1/2 red onion diced
3 teaspoons crusted garlic
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/4 cup fresh cilantro chopped
salt and pepper to taste

This is fairly simple and completely delicious. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place all ingredients listed above in a medium sized baking dish. Mix well. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes stiring halfway through the cooking process. This can also be topped with Mexican cheese or mozzarella cheese if desired.

Mental Health Tip: This is the type of meal and occasion that brings out the best in everyone. Even when it is 6 degrees outside, it is impossible to be anything but happy. When this food is brought to the table it brings out the best in everyone. Try it and you too will want to stay and celebrate!

Brought to you by... "Too Lovely" Hot Messes in the kitchen

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