Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Meet Me at MacLaren's: Television Series Premiere Menu

I am admittedly one of the biggest fans of the show How I Met Your Mother (affectionately called HIMYM, or him-yim). This is unfortunately the last season, but fortunate at the same time because it is another great excuse to get creative with some food and munchables, as far as premiere parties go. I am one of those people who loves constructing new menus and making parties out of whatever I'm "nerding out" on at the moment. Just wait until The Hobbit comes out...goodness.

Now we are reveling in HIMYM, and I decided that we would make our menu MacLaren's themed to celebrate. MacLaren's is the bar where the gang hangs out in every episode, and occasionally we get a glimpse of the pub grub that such a trusty hangout offers. My menu includes some basic bar bite staples with some room to personalize, because there is more than one palette to please at a party. Thus, we have Crispity Crunchity Nachos, Hand-Dipped Chicken Strips with homemade Hot Sauce and Honey Mustard, as well as Ranch (not homemade this time), Mini-Best-Burgers-In-The-World, and Brownies. We also had pretzel nuggets and mustard to munch on, but I forgot to put those out, Hah! We were definitely well fed and we had leftovers (which makes lunch easy today).

So, as a result, today's post will be a marathon of recipes, so bear with me friends and you too can celebrate during this premiere week (or you can save these up for the finale *gasp*!).

Crispity Crunchity Nachos
8 Corn tortillas
Olive oil for drizzling
Refried beans
Optional: Jalapeños, hot sauce, onions

This dish is really easy to personalize, it just depends on what you like on your nachos. I made mine simple because I was already going crazy with burgers and chicken strips. The special part of these nachos is that I made my own chips before throwing the toppings on. Seriously though, making your own chips is far easier than you think, and of course more delicious. 

Check it out: You simply cut the corn tortillas into quarters to make triangle chips, then you distribute them on a baking pan, not overlapping. Drizzle the tortilla pieces with olive oil and flip them all to make sure that both sides are coated with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and put into a preheated 350º oven. I would check them after 10 minutes to see how they're doing. If they start curling up for you, then you should flip them over (this will give you maximum crunch) and bake them for another 5-7 minutes. You might need more or less time depending on your oven, just keep an eye on them. Everyone knows what chips are supposed to look like.

Take them out and let them cool, they will be crunchy by this point, so they will hold up when you spread on some refried beans. Then you distribute as much cheese as you want, I used slices of cheddar this time, but shredded Mexican cheese works, Oaxaca cheese is awesome, and you can sprinkle a little directly on the pan if you're like me and you love that crunchy burnt cheese. Throw them either under a broiler for a few minutes or put them back in that 350º oven until the cheese has melted and is bubbly. Perfection!

Hand-Dipped Chicken Strips
Chicken tenders
Seasonings: Salt, Pepper, Chili Powder, Oregano (whatever you want!)

I originally got this recipe off of The Pioneer Woman Cooks and she nailed it! I used a seasoning mix of salt, black pepper, and Chimayo chili powder. The first thing I did was soak my chicken strips in a bath of buttermilk for about 15 minutes. If you don't have buttermilk on hand, you can simply mix milk and a bit of vinegar until the milk gets thick (starts to curdle). While that's waiting you can heat up the oil in your trusty iron skillet or frying pan. You need enough to pan-fry, so about an inch of oil. I used olive oil, but vegetable oil or your favorite frying oil would work too (I've heard great things about coconut oil). Also, you have to prepare that lovely breading, which is your seasoned flour and a couple splashes of milk. Mix that up well with a fork and you'll start seeing the little clumps of flour that so remind you of chicken strips...hm, how apropos! 

By now your chicken should have soaked enough and your oil should be ready, so it's time to dredge those babies in that sweet breading. I took each strip and pressed it into the flour mixture to make sure that it was well coated on both sides. Then I put these on a reserve plate that would hold the chicken to be fried. Another plate lined with paper towels needs to be on hand for draining after the chicken is finished cooking. If your oil is hot, the frying process is pretty easy, just give it a minute or two on one side, flip when it is as brown as you want it, and if it happens to need another turn, go ahead, that's fine. When they are as picture perfect as you want, set them aside to drain. 

Now you're ready to prepare your sauces! 
Homemade Hot Sauce is simple as can be. You take a small dipping bowl out (microwave safe) and you throw in three tablespoons of butter, a healthy shaking of Cholula hot sauce, and some minced garlic in the microwave for about 45 seconds, or thereabouts. Then you mix it all up and you should have a creamy hot sauce ready for dipping. I also like to throw in about a tablespoon of sesame seeds because they're gorgeous and taste great!
Honey Mustard Sauce is just that. I mixed two kinds of mustard: Organic mustard and Grey Poupon (I always picture that scene from Wayne's World when I say that) and then about a third of that mixture in honey. That was it. It came out great to my tastes, so you can experiment with other mustards too if you want. I believe that a large-grain mustard would work out well with this too.
Then you can add any other sauces you want, like Ranch dressing or Barbecue sauce.

The World's Best Burger

1-2lbs. Ground Chuck (or whatever you want to make your burgers out of)
1 Egg
Minced garlic or Garlic salt
Italian breadcrumbs
Chili powder
Worcestershire Sauce
Barbecue Sauce
Optional: a spoon of caramelized onions

Everyone has their own idea of what the best burger in the world is, there was even an entire episode on it in How I Met Your Mother (Season 4 Episode 2: Best Burger in New York). This is the recipe that I grew up with, more or less, with a few changes. Basically, it is all about making the meat reach the depth of flavor you want, and making it go as far as it can (hence the breadcrumbs). I added chili powder where onion would be, and you can experiment as you go. I think that caramelized onions would take this to the next level too. Simply mix all of these ingredients into the meat and squish it around as well as you can until it is incorporated. Warning: it is bloody cold when it comes out of the fridge, so prepare yourself for some mind over matter exercises.

When the meat is mixed up, form them into the size of patties you want. Note that meat does shrink quite a bit when it is cooked. We were making mini burgers this time (I found mini buns, what?!) and layered them with cheese; it went well with the bite-sized bar bite theme. Heat a pan on high and throw the burgers in without touching. Alternatively, if you don't live in an apartment you can grill these up and get fancy. I think my burgers turned out awesome--they even had a char due to high heat pan, which was a real joy to clean up. Now all you have to do is construct the burgers.

I didn't go crazy with dressings like tomatoes, onions, pickles, etc, but you can do that if you want. I just put a spoon in the sauces I made and I brought out the bottle of barbecue sauce. Honestly, this burger is so flavorful, I feel like it stands on its own with just cheese. You can be the judge of that!

Finally, I made some brownies with heath bar bits inside, but that recipe is going to have to be for another post. You all have a great arsenal of recipes to make any episode of the last season of HIMYM legen...wait for it....DARY!

I would say this would go for any party that you need nibblies at. Enjoy and let me know what you think!

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