Viva Frontera Grill!

Rick Bayless originally hails from Oklahoma, but you would think after trying his food that he is, in fact, from Mexico. For over 20 years now, Bayless, an award-winning chef and cookbook author, has changed the way Americans think about Mexican food. His two Chicago restaurants, Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, continue to draw rave reviews from diners and critics alike. The James Beard Foundation, in fact, named Frontera Grill the "Outstanding Restaurant of 2007."

In addition to the restaurants and the cookbooks, Bayless also produces a high-regarded line of Mexican-themed marinades, sauces, spices, rubs and more, available at his website, www.rickbayless.com.

He dropped by The Early Show to demonstrate two of his favorite appetizers, both of which are easy to prepare and impressive to serve.

Wild Mushroom Queso Fundido (Queso Fundido con Hongos Silvestres)

(Serves 6 as a light appetizer)

3/4 ounce (about 1/2 cup) dried porcini (or other wild) mushrooms
Hot green chiles to taste (roughly 1 large jalapeño or 2 serranos), stemmed
1 medium white onion
1 large ripe tomato
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
3 tablespoons beer, preferably a full-flavored beer like Mexico's Bohemia
8 ounces Monterey jack cheese, shredded (you'll have about 2 cups)
About a dozen warm corn or flour tortillas

Rehydrate the mushrooms: Scoop the mushrooms into a small bowl, cover with boiling water, weight with a plate to keep the mushrooms submerged and let rehydrate for 20 minutes. Drain off the liquid, pressing on the mushrooms to remove all the water. Chop into 1/4-inch pieces.

Preparing the flavorings: Finely chop the chiles (seed them first if you wish), then chop the onion and tomato into 1/4-inch pieces. Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chiles, onion, tomato and mushrooms and cook, stirring nearly constantly, until the onion begins to soften and brown, 7 or 8 minutes. Add the beer and stir until the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is once again dry looking.

Finishing the queso fundido: Reduce the heat to medium-low, sprinkle the cheese evenly over the vegetables and stir slowly and constantly until just melted-too long over the heat and the cheese will become tough, oily and stringy. Immediately scoop into a warm serving dish (a small fondue dish with a tea light below is ideal) and serve with warm tortillas for making soft tacos.

Tropical Beach Ceviche (Ceviche Playero)

(Makes about 3 1/2 cups, serving 6 generously as an appetizer)

8 ounces sea scallops, cut crosswise into thin slices (you can use small bay scallops, too, and simply cut in them half)
1 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1 large Oaxacan pasilla chile, stemmed
OR 1 to 2 canned chipotle chiles en adobo
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 tablespoons chopped piloncillo or brown sugar
Salt
2 cups diced tropical fruit (I like a mixture of mango, the large Mexican papaya and pineapple, but you can vary it depending on what's available)
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
About 1 cup peeled, diced jícama (optional)

Marinate the scallops: In a small non-reactive bowl, combine the sliced (or cut) scallops and the grapefruit juice. Cover and refrigerate for about 45 minutes while you're putting together the remaining ingredients.

Prepare the flavoring: If using the Oaxacan pasilla chile, toast it on both sides in a small ungreased skillet over medium heat until the kitchen fills with its smoky aroma. Cover with hot tap water and allow to rehydrate for about 20 minutes. If using canned chipotle chiles, simply remove them from their canning liquid and place in a blender.

In a small skillet over medium heat, roast the garlic, turning regularly, until soft and blotchy black in spots, 10 to 15 minutes. Cool and peel.

Drain the scallops, measure 2/3 cup of the juice and discard the rest.

Drain the Oaxacan pasilla chile and place in a blender, along with the garlic, piloncillo (or brown sugar), measured grapefruit juice and 1 teaspoon salt. Blend until smooth. Pour in a bowl.

Finishing the ceviche: To the flavoring, add the fruit, onion and optional jícama. Stir in the scallops. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon. You can refrigerate your ceviche for an hour or so before serving, or scoop it into small dishes or martini glasses and enjoy right away.