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Holiday Cooking Class with the Two Hot Tamales

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Last weekend we were lucky enough to snag at seat at the demo-style Holiday Cooking Class hosted by Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, aka The Two Hot Tamales, at their Border Grill restaurant in Santa Monica.

The room was packed with enchanted attendees focused on the endearing antics of the celeb chefs and the amazing food they were making, which we were served in tandem with the recipe demos. The menu was set to emphasize the colors and flavors of the holiday season with their hallmark core inspiration from the cuisine of Latin America, and featured Spiced Red Sangria, Cucumber Mojitos, Spinach Salad, Cotija Cheese and Yam Quesadillas, Plantain Empanadas, Spicy Seared Shrimp, Grilled Skirt Steak with avocado chimichurri, Green Posole, and Chocolate Kahlua Bread Pudding.

Feniger and Milliken provided many excellent tips for both holiday entertaining, such as what to make ahead of time and how to maximize your guests' experience, as well as for general kitchen techniques, from why you should try to tie your apron in the front (in case of fire, although as Feniger quipped, "if you can't tie it in the front, that's another story!") to seasoning tips, knife skills, and cuts of meat. The mood was consistently celebratory and lighthearted, as the chefs never assumed any superiority about the art of cooking and kept it focused on the reality of their fans getting into their own kitchens, and there were an abundance of humorous stories and observations, including thoughts on French chefs, and a riff on the shape of the plantain.

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Although there aren't any more classes scheduled for this year, the new year will bring new classes, and the best way to be the first to know about them is to sign up for their newsletter. As a holiday bonus, LAist has two recipes from the class to share with you, Cucumber Mojitos and Grilled Skirt Steak with Avocado Chimichurri, which were two of our favorites from the class and fun and easy to make for the holidays or anytime.

Stick with us after the jump for more pictures from the event and the recipes!

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" At left is the Cucumber Mojito (recipe below), which is bright and clean and faintly floral with a delicious bite, and at right is the Spiced Red Sangria, which is red wine steeped with cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and slices of fresh citrus--reminiscent of the traditional holiday mulled wine over ice. Serving both gives your guests a choice of drinks as well as having a bit of both red and green to keep with the Christmas theme. The chefs recommend having a signature cocktail (with non-alcholic variant) for your gathering to make it extra special and festive.

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The salad is made with spinch and limed pepitas, pomegranate, and red wine vinaigrette; The Green Posole is a take on a traditional holiday stew of tender pork and hominy in a rich, tomatillo broth. Both are light and refreshing items to add color to your menu without filling up your guests before the main event.

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Clockwise: Grilled Skirt Steak with avocado chimichurri (recipe below); Empanada made of roasted plantains stuffed with black beans, poblano chiles, and cotija cheese, Yam quesadilla with caramelized onions and baked yams with lime and honey and cotija cheese (another standout item); and Spicy Seared Shrimp, quickly sautéed and served with mexican cocktail sauce.

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For dessert, a play on bread pudding with chocolate and Kahlua, served withpecan streusel, whipped cream, and fresh berries. An incredible endnote to a wonderful meal.

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Special thanks to the Two Hot Tamales for sharing the following recipes with us!

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Cucumber Mojitos
Makes 4 servings

2 cups Cucumber-Infused Rum (see recipe below)
1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup packed mint leaves
20 slices reserved rum-infused cucumber (see recipe below)
Ice, for serving
1 750-milliliter bottle sparkling water, chilled
4 fresh cucumber slices, for garnish
4 mint sprigs, for garnish

Combine Cucumber-Infused Rum, lime juice, sugar, mint, and rum-infused cucumber slices in a blender. Puree until mint is in tiny bits.

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Fill four tall glasses halfway with ice cubes. Divide rum mixture evenly between glasses. Top with sparkling water, garnish with fresh cucumber slices and mint sprigs, and serve.

Cucumber-Infused Rum
Makes 1 750-milliliter bottle

1 pound English cucumbers, sliced
1 750-milliliter bottle white rum

Fill an airtight jar with sliced cucumbers. Top with rum, covering cucumbers completely. Seal jar and store in a cool, dry place for 3 days.

Strain infused rum through a cheesecloth lined funnel back into rum bottle. Reserve rum-infused cucumber slices for Cucumber Mojitos. Store infused rum and cucumber slices in refrigerator.

Grilled Skirt Steak with Avocado Chimichurri
Serves 6

Avocado Chimichurri:
3 ripe Hass avocados, halved, seeded, and peeled
1 bunch mint, chopped
1/2 bunch Italian parsley, chopped
1/2 bunch chives, chopped
1/4 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Juice of 2 limes
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Salt, to taste

3 pounds skirt steak
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cut avocado in 1/4- to 1/2-inch dice and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together remaining chimichurri ingredients. Gently stir in diced avocado. Let sit at least 30 minutes, allowing flavors to combine.

About 30 minutes before cooking, remove skirt steak from refrigerator. Trim of any outer pieces of fat or silver skin. Marbling within beef should remain. Preheat grill or broiler to very hot.

Pat skirt steak dry, brush with olive oil, and season generously with salt and pepper. Grill or broil steak, 2 minutes per side for rare. Or sear in a very hot sauté pan in 2 tablespoons vegetable oil for 2 minutes per side. Allow steak to rest several minutes on a cutting board then slice thinly at an angle, across the grain. Arrange on a platter, top with Avocado Chimichurri, and serve immediately.

Copyright © 2007, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger

Photos by Lindsay William-Ross for LAist