Southwest Flavors, Decor Still Sizzle

Times Staff Writer

If you haven't seen the tumbleweed or smelled the cactus, come join the fun. Southwest parties are in again.

You can forget the serapes and vegetable displays. We're going modern just the way they do at top-drawer parties catered at the Southwest Museum in Pasadena, a beautiful adobe structure built in 1925, which often plays host to corporations and nonprofit organizations.

One such party by members of the Collectors' Club, a support group of the museum, featured a Southwest fashion show and a luncheon created by John Sedlar, owner of Saint Estephe in Manhattan Beach. Sedlar, after all, is considered the father of modern Southwest cuisine and his cooking the most innovative of its kind in the country.

Here are a few highlights from the museum benefit luncheon and other parties.

Collectors' Club Modern Southwest Cuisine benefit luncheon, Southwest Museum:

Cointreau Margaritas (provided by Cointreau America Inc.) were poured from icy pitchers as guests arrived. If you want to make them in a blender, here is Cointreau's recipe: Combine 5 ounces premium tequila (preferably Tequila Gold), 4 ounces frozen limeade concentrate and 3 ounces Cointreau. Add 4 cups crushed ice and blend. Pour into glasses rimmed with salt. Makes six 6-ounce glasses.

A Platter of Caviar

The hors d'oeuvre: A platter of American black and golden caviars was fashioned after a kachina mosaic (Indian warrior's shield) with endive around it to resemble feathers. To prepare this appetizer, place the black and gold caviars, minced onion, egg white and egg yolk in an abstract mosaic pattern and surround with endive leaves. Serve with tortilla chips.

The starter: Chile relleno stuffed with mushrooms (duxelles) and served with chile ("war paint") and chevre sauces (you can use any desired filling and sauces).

The salad: The salad of sliced nopales, watercress, zucchini and green beans was decorated with carrots resembling cactus flowers.

The entree: Roast breast of chicken with spinach and jicama was laced with jalapeno vinegar sauce. (To make the sauce, heat the chicken drippings and stir in jalapeno vinegar or vinegar mixed with minced or pureed jalapeno chiles.)

The bread: Fried tortillas shaped into tiny arrows; blue corn piki bread, a tissue-thin corn bread unique to the Hopi culture, was cut into huge stars. (You can do the same using Armenian lavash. Moisten a sheet of lavash until pliable. Cut in desired shape, then crisp in the oven.)

The dessert: Chocolate chile relleno stuffed with hazelnut butter cream served with caramel sauce and white chocolate sauce in war paint design (squirted onto the plate with a tiny pastry bag) and anise cactus cookies, all from Saint Estephe.

The wine: St. Clair Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 1985 and Pinot Noir 1985 were donated by St. Clair Vineyards, Demming, N.M., one of the few wineries producing quality Southwest wines today. (The wines will be available in Los Angeles in July.) Domain Cheurlin Brut Champagne, donated by Louis Vuignier et Fils, is from the boutique French Champagne company, which is producing Champagnes in Engle, N.M.

Bright-Yellow Napkins

The table decor: Bright-yellow napkins on white tablecloths were centered with cactus in terra-cotta pots. You can, by the way, pick up reproductions of artifacts, paper goods, woven cloths and such at the museum gift shop to give your party authenticity.

Music: Tape of native American flute music by R. Carlos Nakai.

Somerset Caterers Inc., Los Angeles, Hallee Gould, co-owner:

Decorations: Bones (cattle skulls), sand, rock, abstract mosaics, bromeliads and cactus, also garlands of chiles, garlic and gourds were used. Sand and pebbles decorated the buffet table, thus eliminating the need for tablecloths. Candle luminaires were placed around the steps for a Santa Fe look.

Beverage: Strawberry, peach or regular Margaritas were served in oversized bowled stemware.

Appetizer ideas: Skewered jack cheese wrapped in green chile pieces (dipped in light batter and fried on the stick to serve with homemade salsa) was prepared on the spot; blue corn tortillas or tiny blue corn muffins were served with jalapeno butter.

Entree ideas: Favorites were grilled fish with cilantro pesto and roast loin of veal with chipotle cream sauce, served with wild rice tossed with toasted pumpkin seeds. Also try venison, grilled snake steaks, which are available in vacuum packages at gourmet food stores, smoked trout and grilled salmon.

For dessert: Pumpkin flan.

L.A. Celebrations!, Los Angeles, Andrea Bell, owner:

Decorations: Black tablecloth with rust napkins. Cover soil of blooming cactus with crushed brick.

Appetizer ideas: One of the most popular hors d'oeuvre hits is the New York steak soft-taco bar. New York steak is charred on the spot and guests fill their own silver-dollar-size soft tacos with meat, salsa, sour cream, chile verde and sliced avocado. Other appetizers: tiny radicchio tacos filled with crab; smoked chicken with red chile mayonnaise; raw oysters with lime-chile sauce; gravlax (salmon marinated with tequila and cactus juice); pancakes filled with corn, zucchini and red pepper saute; and cream cheese mold shaped into corncobs decorated with fresh husks. Use a skewer to sculpt corn kernels and serve sliced on wooden board with homemade chutney and corn chips.

The salad: Fresh Santa Barbara prawns were tossed with jicama and ruby grapefruit wedges.

Entree ideas: Try brochettes of all kinds--chicken with orange cilantro beurre blanc; beef with chipotle cream sauce (mix the sauteed chipotle hot chile into crema fresca, the Mexican fresh cream); scallops with tomatillo sauce.

Music: Authentic Indian pipe music, usually available at Indian artifacts stores.

Flowers: Arrangements in terra-cotta vases included feathers, beads and bromeliads.

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