I received an invitation from the California Avocado Commission a few weeks ago for a demonstration involving avocados. I love avocados and eat one every week so it piqued my interest.
But looking closely at the invitation, I also saw that it involved an interactive lunch with Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger of the Too Hot Tamales and big proponents of California avocados. Although I don’t remember their show on KPBS, I used to listen to them on Sunday mornings on KFI. And just recently saw Feniger win a round on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters. This locked in my decision to go.
About 20 bloggers from around the Southland were invited to their restaurant, Cuidad. Luckily, my good friend, JustJenn was also invited so I least knew one person there.
Since the whole event centered around avocados, they had us pair up and concoct our version of guacamole from the ingredients on the table, Top Chef-style. And we had to do it in 5 minutes.
The ingredients ranged from squid ink to kimchee and everything in between. As soon we had the go-ahead, we retrieved our ingredients and started work. Despite the lack of cutting boards and knives, the warnings not to hurt ourselves, trying to find the salt and pepper and people squeezing in between Jenn and me to grab some ingredients, we pulled off our concoction. It included avocado, banana, orange zest, lime juice, onion, tomato, pomegranate seeds and salt and pepper and christened it “Pomo-cado Mole.”
Each of the seven versions of guacamole were distinctly different, from one that had Southeast Asia flavor to another that incorporated tequila. We won for our name — thankfully Jenn overruled me in replacing the word “surprise” with “mole”– and it was no surprise to anyone that the guacamole that tasted exactly like a loaded baked potato won first place for taste. Bacon always wins.
I’ve attended events with food bloggers before and there’s always a camera ready. When Milliken and Feniger started their demonstration, all the cameras were unleashed. Bloggers got right up to the pot to take pics of an avocado being deep-fried.
Everything Mary Sue and Susan made in front of us included avocados and served to us for lunch. There was a deep-fried avocado served on a tortilla they created especially for the event, followed by their version of a ABLT salad and my favorite, chilaquiles. A sweet ending to the luncheon were slices of avocado and mango, topped with yogurt and a bit of cayenne pepper, with a shot of avocado and orange juice blended together. All were unique ways using avocados from starter to dessert.
The highlight of the afternoon was having these celeb chefs sign the cookbooks and chatting with them on a one-to-one basis. Both Milliken and Feniger were gracious throughout the afternoon: answering questions and speaking to me about San Diego’s avocado crop. But I’m pretty sure that I’ll also be remembered as the blogger who is married to someone with an allergy to avocados.
Milliken and Feniger’s Chicken and California Avocado Skillet Chilaquiles
1 cup tomato salsa, medium heat
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 cup shredded chicken
6 cups corn tortilla chops
1 cup cubed panela cheese
2 ripe California avocados, seeded, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 small red onion, finely diced
1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed, seeded, if desired, and minced
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 lime, cut into wedges
1/4 sour cream
In a wide skillet, bring salsa, chicken brother and half-and-half to a boil. Add chicken and tortilla chips, mixing gently to coat each strip while simmering for 1 to 2 minutes.
When some of the chips have moistened and have begun to break up, but other are still holding their shape, add cheese. Continue stirring gently for another minute to distribute cheese evenly.
Add avocado, onion, jalapeno pepper and cilantro; stir to distribute. Cook for 1 minute to heat through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from stovetop and divide evenly among warmed plates. Top with a squeeze of lime and some sour cream. Serve immediately.
Or watch a classic video of them make their avocado, bacon and tomato salad.