Remembering the fact that chef Rick Bayless is riding a career crest in the last couple of years -- first winner of Top Chef Masters, honorary chef at a White House state dinner -- you might understand why the man is in the mood for a party. Happily for us, we're invited. Bayless's newest cookbook,Fiesta at Rick's (Norton, $35) is an excellent acquisition for the end of summer. The still-warm days and cooler nights just beg for a party, and whether you're dishing up dinner for a few friends or hell-bent on hosting a pozole party for 25, you'll find complete roadmaps here.
The book's thoroughness is valuable to social butterflies and wallflowers alike. Some veteran hosts will simply gather new ideas from it, but for those who get intimidated by the thought of managing all the details, the book walks you through each step of preparation for the hours (or days) leading up to the party, ensuring that you can relax and enjoy your hard work when fiesta time arrives. But here's a secret: even if you have no intention of ever hosting a gigantic fiesta, the book is worth it for the guacamole recipes alone. Grilled garlic and orange guacamole? Mango? Bacon and tomato? Toasted almond and apricot? Thank you, señor, may I have another?
The opening section of the book contains not only a constellation of guacamoles but a host of tantalizing drinks: six varieties of margarita (including the one served at Bayless's Topolobampo restaurant), four mojitos, and others, plus non-alcoholic drinks including a coconut horchata colada and a variety of aguas frescas. Party nibbles are on hand as well, including Oaxacan-style peanuts, oily and crispy with garlic and arbol chile, and savory sesame-pepita "cookies." At the end of the chapter, Bayless lays out a plan for a luxury guacamole party for 12. (That's in addition to the mid-chapter section on how to host a tequila tasting.)
Other chapters of the book continue in the same fashion, with each section of recipes crowned by a party menu. A section on ceviches, seafood cocktails, and oysters culminates in a seafood cocktail party for 12 (complete with 2-hour tropical party playlist off the chef's iPod). A chapter on Mexican tapas lays the groundwork for the pozole party, while the street food section ends with a mole fiesta for 24, Bayless's "perfect party for fall."
Does none of this sound like a party to you? Do you want, no, need to go a little bigger and better? Simply turn to page 272 to learn how to build your own backyard barbecue pit and cook a Oaxacan-style lamb pit barbecue. This may be the first cookbook you've owned that lists as ingredients bricks, corrugated metal sheeting, and a shovel, but for those who are truly devoted or insane, it's a fun recipe to contemplate. For the rest of us, it's just fun to read.
The book is rounded out with a chapter on desserts, something no party would be complete without. Chocolate tres leches parfaits, blueberry-tequila ice cream, empanadas, and mojito popsicles all sound like pretty decent ways to end a party. Don't miss the recipe for Frontera Grill's chocolate pecan pie bars, tucked away into the tapas chapter.
Fiesta at Rick's is, like Bayless's other recent books, full of tips and information on how to vary recipes and find good and unusual ingredients. The recipes, also as usual, are delicious and tempting. This book should find a home in your kitchen, whether you're hosting dozens or just a very contented party of one.