If crisp, chilly air, crackling leaves and a big orange moon don't entice you to wrangle some friends over and throw a harvest moon hoedown bash, let me offer some more compelling reasons.
In pioneer days, when food was hard to come by, a fruitful harvest was its own reward for celebration, but in the on-the run, pressure-cooker world of the '90s, most of us need a more compelling excuse to add another event to our stress-filled schedules. Although finding the time and funds to entertain friends is more difficult, it has become increasingly more important. So I say, "Get in the spirit." Fall is the perfect time to throw a "y'all come" gathering.
Along with the changes of season come a lot of social transitions. With the start of school, schedules change, meetings reconvene and the symphony, opera and theater begin their indoor programs. Baseball gives way to football, cotton shorts to flannel sweats, quickly grilled meats to slowly simmered stews and TV reruns to network premieres. The air is alive with friendship, warmth and sharing -- what better time to kick into gear and renew acquaintances after summer travels?
A hoedown is far less expensive, more casual, less work and more fun than entertaining during the jam-packed Christmas and New Year's holidays. No polishing silver or crystal for this western wingding -- country-fresh mums in tin buckets, shocks of wheat tied with gingham, some Western music and bottles of beer and cider in a galvanized tub set the stage. You might even gamble on the weather and bring in a square dance caller to
do-si-do and allemande the last outdoor evening of the year.
Then there is the traditional robust food -- honest-to-goodness, down-home, delicious all-American fare. This menu is so easy and adaptable that you can make it yourself or spread it around potluck style. Non-cooks can bring buns, drinks or paper goods or purchase salads.
Chuck wagon barbecued beef -- baked brisket, thinly sliced, slathered with tangy barbecue sauce and layered in a casserole -- is the Texas star of the buffet. It can be refrigerated up to two days or frozen (cover with plastic wrap and foil) and then baked or microwaved before serving. The recipe is meant to serve a lot of city dudes, so feel free to triple or even quadruple it.
For 12 people, you would want to serve two salads and a hot vegetable such as my bourbon-laced baked beans. Potato salad, coleslaw or mixed greens, homemade or purchased from your favorite take-out, are compatible side dishes, but I offer you a rice, black bean and corn salad for contemporary variety. For each additional 19 guests, add another hot or cold dish.
Fill wicker baskets with a variety of crisp new apples and cookies for dessert, or get fancy and insert a stick into the apples and dip them into caramel, nuts or chocolate.
Chuck wagon barbecued beef
Makes 10 to 12 servings.
1 brisket of beef (4 to 5 pounds)
salt and pepper to taste
assorted sandwich rolls
chuck wagon barbecue sauce (recipe follows)
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Remove fat from brisket and sprinkle meat with salt and pepper. Roast in covered pan for 3 to 4 hours or until tender when pierced with a fork. Cool and refrigerate.
Carve brisket into thin slices. Place a layer of meat in the bottom of a large oven-to-table casserole dish. Spread with a layer of barbecue sauce. Continue layering meat and sauce until all is used. Cover with plastic wrap and foil. May be refrigerated up to two days or frozen.
Before serving, bring meat to room temperaure. Heat oven to 350 degrees. If baking meat, remove plastic wrap and recover meat. Bake for 45 minutes or until heated through. Or, microwave on high power for 10 to 20 minutes or until hot. The timing will depend on the thickness of the meat. Serve wth rolls.
Chuck wagon barbecue sauce
24 ounces canned tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
1 small lemon, thinly sliced
-- liquid smoke, if desired
Mix all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. (The sauce may be refrigerated for 2 days or frozen.)
Rice, black bean and corn salad
2 cans (14 1/2 ounces each) chicken broth
1/2 cup water
1 pound long grain white rice
2 cans (15 ounces each) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 package (10 ounces) frozen corn, thawed and drained
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell eppper, diced
1/2 cup green onions, chopped
1/2 cup cilanro leaves, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
In a large saucepan, bring chicken broth and water to a boil. Add rice and bring to boil; reduce heat to low, cover and cook until liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and fluff with a fork.