Halloween is a big deal at our house. My son, Tony, was born on my wife Angela’s 30th birthday, which happens to be November 2nd, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). I have always loved Halloween even though, alas, it has changed so much over the years because of creepy people threatening to poison candy…at least, that’s what happened in Orange County, California, for a while. In Santa Maria, where we live, the traditions are still solid, so we always go nuts with decorations…graveyards, hanging skulls and skeletons, spider webs and lairs, lots of moving toys, all with the intention of frightening people, especially teenagers (being a high school teacher, I relish scaring teenagers…they think they’re so cool, so when you actually scare them, it’s like crack and you can’t stop). The hubbub has gotten so large that we have had to enlist help from family and friends to man stations, like handing out candy, the fog machine, the guy who pops up from the grave, falling spiders, etc. Obviously, when there are a bunch o’ people helping out, they must be fed. What’s quick, filling, tasty, and makes everyone happy?
Frito Pie: problem solved.
What is Frito Pie? It’s a mound o’ Fritos with a scoop or two of chili on top, and with fixin’s on top of that. Wet undies, to be sure.
If you have never heard of the Pioneer Woman, look her up. I think that her easy-going way of making excellent food is the reason why she has done so well. My recipe for Frito Pie is based off of her Frito Chili Pie. Here is that recipe: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2011/09/frito-chili-pie/
I had to feed 10 to 12 people, and on a mild October night, it was perfect.
I do make some changes to her recipe, though.
- I use the lower salt Fritos. In her recipe, she even says that one must be careful about the salt in the chili because regular Fritos are so salty. She’s dead on. With the lower salt Fritos, you can control it a bit more.
- I substitute 1/2 pound of Jimmy Dean sausage for 1/2 pound of the ground beef. That little bit o’ sausage knocks it out of the park. I am thinking that other variations on this could work too.
- I do not do the Frito bag presentation. They don’t make the lower salt Fritos in little bags (at least, I haven’t looked for them), so I just put out disposable bowls and utensils.
- I keep the finished chili in a crock pot on “keep warm” in the middle of all of the fixin’s. Put the bowl of Fritos next to it and explain before serving. I am amazed how many people have not been exposed to such a beautiful dish. Teaching how to assemble it is part of the fun, to be honest.
- Fixin’s? Sour Cream, onions (red or whatever you have), shredded cheddar (sounds like a bad band), a few hot sauces, and maybe even some pickled jalapenos.
I also served this with a caesar salad to cool it down and give it some balance. Not to pontificate, but salad dressing is another easy item to make that kicks any bottled dressing in the nuts, hard and angularly. My caesar dressing takes five minutes to make, and most of the stuff you need to make it you probably already have, except anchovy, and I just keep a tube of anchovy paste around for such needs. This recipe is Nick Stellino’s, and I found someone who already wrote it out: http://community.cookinglight.com/showthread.php?26684-I-am-looking-for-a-good-Ceasar-Salad-recipe-please-help
I also make my croutons from scratch as well, and they indeed kick ass over any store-bought brand. Guy Fieri wrote this one: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/guy-fieri/family-favorite-salad-with-homemade-ranch-dressing-and-croutons-recipe/index.html
(I actually was acquainted with Guy when we were younger; I worked with his wife (then girlfriend) at a chain restaurant and he was there quite often. This was almost 20 years ago, and it totally makes sense that he has done so well. He wouldn’t know me from Adam, of course, but I remember that the dude had an unparalleled charisma. His wife was (and probably is still) a bad ass, tough talking sort of chick. If anything, I wish I could thank them for these croutons.)
Another trick and clever presentation idea for the Caesar is, instead of croutons, to use parmesan-flavored goldfish crackers. It makes sense (parmesan/ postmodern anchovy in a caesar), is a smart presentation (who wouldn’t want to see goldfish crackers that don’t get soggy in their salad?), and it works (you have to try it for yourself, but I promise it does).
Drinks: We had beer, sangria, and red wine all about. This is one of those meals that depends on who’s eating it and what they feel like drinking. I prefer some cheap red, but that’s just me.
This whole meal is a crowd pleaser and can be prepared ahead of time very easily. Make the dressing and wash the chopped romaine a few hours before. Get the fixin’s done and store in the fridge. About an hour before everyone shows up, get cooking, and you get swaths of downtime in between additions, go you can either set up the presentation or drink more. Your choice.
Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.