Friday, February 08, 2013

Midweek Birthday Parties and Trash-Tastic Treats

Well, yesterday was a bit overwhelming...culinarily speaking. I was up until the wee hours of the night/morning, working on my vision for my beloved officemate's birthday party at school. Lee Ann doesn't like cake, so I had the idea of recreating NYC's Rice to Riches experience, offering only two rice pudding flavors (Chocolate Chip Flirt and Hazelnut Chocolate Bear Hug), but ELEVEN of the 12 traditional toppings. The rice puddings were easy; all those toppings were a nightmare! But the party went off without a hitch, and I think my friends, colleagues, and most importantly, the Birthday Girl, enjoyed the pudding bar.

P.S. The toppings or "Jesus Droppings" (tee hee) were as follows:

Flourish: toasted buttery poundcake
*Spirit: oatmeal coconut crumble
Black magic: chocolate brownie crumble

*Unity: cinnamon raisin crumble
Mischief: buttery graham grumble
Nudge: espresso crumble
Heartthrob: tender loving jelly
Blessings: toasted coconut
Logic: seasoned mixed nuts
Remedy: caramel vanilla sauce
Cloud nine: whipped cream
Burst: oven roasted fresh fruits

*I combined these two to streamline the menu a tiny bit. No one seemed to mind. ;-)

Then when I got home last night, it was my turn to cook, but I also had to make another dish for a birthday party potluck at a club downtown (it was the 30th for the karaoke d.j. who is also my student this semester). So I did something slightly shameful that I rarely do and turned to a convenience product as a short cut. Pasta Alfredo is one of my favorite dishes in the world, and I ALWAYS make it from scratch. However, when I was at Lee Ann's Christmas party this year, she and her husband had a pasta throwdown pitting his homemade mac and cheese (which is AWESOME) against her spinach Alfredo pasta, and she won! When I asked her for the recipe, I was surprised to learn that she used JARRED Alfredo sauce that she zhoozhed up with some parmesan, mozzarella, and fresh spinach.

So for a quickie dinner, I roasted some country-style pork ribs in olive oil, thyme, rosemary, red wine vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper. And I served it with pasta shells (one pound, cooked until al dente)and a pint jar of Classico's Roasted Poblano Afredo Sauce mixed with a generous half cup of grated Parmesan, a little extra garlic and black pepper, and more than half a bag of fresh baby spinach thrown into the hot pasta right before serving. I have to admit--it was delicious!

For the karaoke birthday potluck, I gave some thought to what inebriated twenty-somethings would like to eat to soak up all that excess liquor in their systems. So I went with the old stand-by, Buffalo Chicken Dip. But the dish on the buffet that I kept returning to was this really tasty taco salad that seemed to involve Doritos and Catalina dressing. I looked it up on the interwebs when I got home, and apparently everyone knows about this trash-tastic potluck favorite except me! So I recreated it for our dinner tonight (sending my poor roommate out into Blizzard Nemo's wrath to pick up the ingredients), and though Cyd doesn't even like French or Catalina dressing, she had to admit it made the taco salad perfectly sweet and tangy.

The great thing about this "recipe" is that you can mix it up, and add your favorite taco salad ingredients to it. If you are taking it to an event, you could mix everything together in a big bowl except the hamburger, Doritos, and the dressing, then refrigerate the bowl until party time. Right  before serving, reheat the ground beef just enough to take the chill off, then add the crushed-up chips and the hamburger mixture, and dress it all with the Catalina. So yummy! Here's what I used for my version.

Trash-Tastic Doritos Taco Salad
(Yield: This made enough for three generous entree-sized salads--double it for a party)

half a head of iceberg lettuce, cored and shredded (Romaine might hold up better at a potluck)
half a can of black olives, drained and roughly chopped
half a can of Cuban-style black beans, drained
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
4 scallions, thinly sliced
8-12 rainbow cherry tomatoes, chopped

1/2 of a ripe avocado, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
half a regular-sized bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos (though I bet Pepper Jack would be yum), crushed
1 pound lean ground beef
salt and pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dark chili powder
few shakes of hot sauce, optional
about a quarter of a large bottle of Kraft Zesty Catalina Dressing (you can also use Classic, Sweet Honey, or Bacon Catalina--your call)

Add everything to a large bowl except the Doritos, ground beef and seasonings, and Catalina dressing. Refrigerate until time to serve.

In a skillet, brown the ground beef then drain the excess fat. Add the salt and pepper, garlic, cumin, chili powder, and hot sauce (if using), and stir to combine. Set aside to cool.

Crush the chips on top of the other salad ingredients, add the hamburger mixture, and as much dressing as you desire, and toss gently to mix. Serve immediately.

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