I started cooking in college out of pure necessity. I went to school in Washington, DC, and used to wheel my “old lady” metal shopping cart to the overpriced grocery store at the Watergate because I didn’t know any better, or have a car. I thought I was super fancy when I made salmon smothered in Dijon mustard, and I had reached the peak of sophistication when I sautéed zucchini.
My culinary skills continued to grow when I graduated and moved in with someone who considered pasta with tuna, cottage cheese and carrots a meal. (Sorry, Jenn, but I am still scared by the memories!) I started to cook even more when I met my husband. There were winners, and complete flops, but every time I cooked for him I remember something my Mom told me. I asked her with the attitude that only a fifteen year old girl can muster, “Don’t you get sick of cooking for us?” as I frowned at her. She replied that cooking for your family was just another way to show them how much you love them. That thought really stuck with me, so even when I am tired and not in the mood, I motivate to cook meals for my family.
I am by no means a trained chef, but another wise family member once told me, “If you can read, you can cook.” That has also stuck with me, and cultivated my love of web-surfing for new recipes.
I moved to Texas fourteen years ago (wow!) when I graduated college. I grew up outside of Philadelphia, where we considered Chili’s to be the real-deal when it came to Mexican food. I had never had chips and queso or a churro, and let me tell you that moving south of the boarder was eye opening. Mexican has become without a doubt my favorite food. I can eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and have on occasion.
I usually have guest chefs and food bloggers choose all of the menus for the site, but when it came time for the Cinco de Mayo menu, I wanted to post a relaxed, crowd pleasin’ meal that I have served at Mexican themed parties. I think it is the only holiday I can cook for without asking for help!
This year we will be celebrating with our kids a day early. Having been invited to an adults only party on Cinco de Mayo, we have three families coming over to celebrate with us on May 4th. There will be nine kids, so I have planned a menu that is really SIMPLE and FUN. I am presenting a combination of my favorite recipes as well as ones I sourced on Pintrest, another obsession of mine.
Eva Longoria’s Guacamole and Chips
No Mexican Fiesta can get kick started without Guac and chips. This recipe comes from Eva Longoria via marthastewart.com. If it is good enough for a Desperate Housewife, it is good enough for me!
8 large ripe avocados, chopped
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
3 small Serrano peppers, ribs and some seeds removed, minced
Juice of 4 lemons
Tortilla chips, preferably lime-flavored
In a bowl, combine avocados, tomatoes, onion, cilantro, and peppers. Season with salt and lemon juice; mix to combine, mashing slightly. Serve with tortilla chips. This serves 8.
Cucumber and Avocado Soup
There are three amazing things I love about this soup:
It takes five minutes to make.
It needs to chill, so you make it earlier in the day and keep in in the fridge until guests arrive.
It is super yummy!
Since this soup from whole living is served cold, it is a wonderful option to have in a soup tureen and guests can serve themselves throughout the evening or along with your appetizer.
1 English cucumber, peeled and diced (1/4 cup reserved for garnish)
1 avocado, pitted, peeled, and diced (1/4 cup reserved for garnish)
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, plus sprigs for garnish
1 scallion, white and pale-green parts only, coarsely chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
1 jalapeno, seeded and coarsely chopped (I leave this out if there are kids eating)
1 cup nonfat plain yogurt
1 cup cold water
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Put all ingredients into a Cuisinart and puree until totally smooth. Chill, garnish before serving (or garnish in the tureen and guests will scoop some out with their soup), and enjoy. Serves four, so you may need to double or triple depending on your guest count.
Quesadilla “To Order” Bar
Interactive meals for a casual party are fun and entertaining, especially when trying to appeal to all ages. I use the griddle feature on my range to cook made to order quesadillas. I usually set out bowls of ingredients and make them on a first come, first serve basis during the party. As the host, I interact with everyone which is nice because the men and women tend to congregate separately at parties, and occasionally a husband will leave at the end of the night, and we hardly spoke! You can also make these in a regular pan just fine.
In Texas most grocery stores have amazing homemade tortillas, ranging from whole wheat to butter varieties. If you live somewhere that only sells packaged, just do the best you can. The fillings will make up for it.
Tortillas (Each quesadilla needs two, so count accordingly. Have a few extra for seconds.)
roasted or boiled chicken pulled or cut into bite size pieces
shredded cooked beef or chopped beef/pork
black beans rinsed and drained
a variety of shredded cheese or mexican blend
extra guacamole for dipping
spicy goat cheese for a dollop on top if people like (yum!)
salsa for dipping
GET CREATIVE…whatever sounds good to you will work!
These are not technical, it is just what I, and average housewife/Mom/wanna be chef does!!
For each quesadilla:
Make on the counter or a plate by laying down a tortilla, filling it with the desired ingredients, and laying another tortilla on top.
Spray the griddle or pan with a little Pam or cooking spray of your choice.
Gently transfer the quesadilla to the griddle.
Spray the side that is facing up with a little cooking spray.
When the cheese starts to melt, flip the quesadilla with a spatula.
Cook till done. You will be able to tell when it is all melted and yummy looking! Cut with a pizza cutter.
Don’t overfill or it will be too hard to flip.
Make sure cheese is the first and last layer so that it melts and acts as “glue” for everything that is inside.
We eat this often for dinner by adding chicken and black beans to it, and calling it a night all the time, but I will lighten it up a bit as a side dish. Make the usual amount of salad you would when entertaining, depending on your numbers.
It is really easy to make your salad Tex-Mex if you combine the following:
chopped bell peppers (whatever color you like, or all three)
can of corn rinsed and drained
halved cherry tomatoes
Fritos or tortilla chips (broken in pieces)
Shredded cheddar or Mexican cheese blend
You can add avocado, but we eat so much guacamole as an appetizer that I normally don’t!
It is really pretty to layer the ingredients like in this picture!
I USUALLY make my own dressing, but this salad is so good with Catalina dressing from the grocery store. I use the Lite Version…it is ok just this once, I promise. The combination of sweet, salty and crunchy in this salad is always a crowd pleaser. BTW, calories don’t count on Cinco de Mayo. Didn’t anyone give you the memo?
When people come to my house and ask what they can bring, I always say dessert. I don’t have to worry so much about how it flows with the meal since it is served afterward, and since I am not much of a baker, it appeals to me less than making the rest of the meal. If you need ideas for Cinco de Mayo desserts, check out these links:
Part of the fun of Cinco De Mayo is the drinks! Here are a few appropriate for the adults and your favorite mini amigos too! Be sure to also have some Corona with lime on hand as well.
This recipe came from bhg.com
1 cup blanco (white) tequila
2/3 cup lime juice
1/3 cup agave nectar
Sparkling wine or Champagne (about 1-1/2 cups)
Lime peel strips or very thin lime slices
In a cocktail shaker combine half of the tequila, lime juice and agave nectar with plenty of ice. Shake for 5 seconds and strain the mixture into three glasses. Repeat with remaining tequila, juice, and agave nectar. Top each serving with sparkling wine. Add a lime peel strip. Add additional lime juice to taste. Makes 6 servings.
The Best Red Sangria
This recipe is from therecipegirl.com I will have more than one pitcher on hand for sure!
2 large juice oranges, washed – one orange sliced; remaining orange juiced
1 large lemon, washed and sliced
1/4 cup granulated white sugar (I like to use superfine sugar)
1/4 cup Triple Sec 1 (750 ml.)
bottle inexpensive, fruity, medium-bodied red wine, chilled
1. Add sliced orange and lemon and sugar to large pitcher; mash gently with wooden spoon until fruit releases some juice, but is not totally crushed, and sugar dissolves, about 1 minute. Stir in orange juice, Triple Sec, and wine; refrigerate for at least 2, and up to 8, hours.
2. Before serving, add 6 to 8 ice cubes and stir briskly to distribute settled fruit and pulp; serve immediately.
*Cook’s Illustrated tested this recipe with more expensive red wines too and they found that the cheaper wine tasted just fine. It really is okay to buy an inexpensive bottle for this recipe. I used a Spanish wine… anything like a Rioja or the like is okay. *The longer sangria sits before drinking, the more smooth and mellow it will taste. A full day is best, but if that isn’t possible, give it an absolute minimum of two hours to sit. *You can easily double or triple the recipe- just switch to a punch bowl instead of a pitcher.
Sparkling Pink Lemonade
My kids always feel special, and very grown up drinking something bubbly! They will love this drink from cooks.com
2 qt. cranberry juice cocktail, chilled
1 can (6 oz.) frozen pink lemonade, thawed
1 bottle (32 oz.) sparkling water, chilled
Mix cranberry juice cocktail and lemonade concentrate in punch bowl. Just before serving stir in sparkling water. 25 servings.
Cinco de Mayo is about strong colors. It is ok to get a little cheezy! Cheese is a staple in Mexican food, so go crazy. Even if your taste is more understated, have some fun using brights to liven up your Fiesta. Hit Party City and grab some fun plates and a pinata.
I love these sarape placemats from shoptejas.com
The most important thing to remember with a casual party like this, is to enjoy yourself! Eat, drink, and don’t worry about your house. Cinco de Mayo only comes once a year!