May 31, 2014

Mexican Fiesta, Part 2

Welcome back!! Did you find some inspiration on Pinterest? Did  you pick up everything you needed from the store?  I did most of my shopping at Vallarta, a Latin grocery chain in LA.  They have really great produce for cheap and make their own tortillas, essential for an authentic taco party.  [Note to self: next time take photos of Vallarta, because it's kind of like shopping at Disneyland.  It's so colorful and everything smells AMAzing.]

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I tend to mentally edit my menu while grocery shopping.  For example, I was planning on making a coconut bark or cocada as a dessert option. The recipe calls for 2 ingredients, sweetened shredded coconut & condensed milk (the basis of any great dessert, IMHO.)  Plus, the cocada can be baked ahead of time. Win.  However, when shopping at Vallarta, I couldn't find the shredded coconut milk in the baking aisle.  I suppose I could go to the Ralph's across the street from my house to pick it up, but I try to avoid multiple grocery store trips, if I can.  Instead, I picked up some paletas or popsicles in fun, summery flavors like lime and chile cucumber. Voila! Dessert is taken care of.

I was also planning on buying pre-made pico de gallo and guacamole, but I wasn't thrilled with the quality of the selection at the store yesterday.  So instead, I delegated the salsa + guac to a couple of guests who wanted to bring something.  Check.  I cut the salsa borracha because I didn't buy tequila yesterday.  Plus, the steak is pre-marinated, so I think it will be well seasoned enough.

Here's what my revised menu looks like today:

Steak tacos - purchased 2 lbs of pre-marinated carne asada or flap meat from the butcher
Shrimp tacos - 2 lbs of unshelled shrimps
Rajas, creamed poblano chiles, grocery stores sometimes label poblanos as pasilla chiles
Taco toppings - white onion, radishes, cilantro, limes, also added Mexican green onions for grilling
Salsas:  salsa borracha, pico de gallo, guacamole = delegated!
Cocada, coconut bark  Replaced with paletas, keep in the cooler with the beer
Beer + agua fresca - purchased watermelon & grapefruit, I'm still on the fence about the agua fresca, as it involves transporting juice... Might just chop the watermelon to eat as is

So, what do we need to accomplish today?

Day Before Party - Cook Any Make Ahead Dishes Today

A taco party really is pretty genius for a first time hostess because everything is just chop, chop, chop, a quick grill and the guests can assemble their own.

The one dish I want to make ahead of time is the rajas, which I've never made before.  They can then be served at room temp as a taco filling tomorrow afternoon.

The recipe I'm adapting comes from Fresh Mexico by Chef Marcela Valladolid.

3 Tbsp olive oil
1 white onion, thinly sliced
2 c fresh corn kernels (from 2 ears)
6 poblano chiles, charred, peeled, stemmed, seeded, and cut into strips
1/2 c Mexican crema, or creme fraiche
1/2 c shredded Oaxaca cheese or mozzarella cheese
Salt + pepper

1.  Heat oil in a large skillet.  Saute the onion for 5 minutes.  Add the corn kernels for an additional 3 minutes.
2.  Add the chile strips to the corn mixture and cook for 5 minutes, or until corn is tender.  Add the crema and cook for 8 minutes, or until bubbling.
3.  Add the cheese and stir until melty and smooth.  Season with salt & pepper to taste.
4.  Cool, cover and refrigerate.

Done and done.

Now all that's left for tomorrow is to chop all of the taco toppings, grill the meat and pour a cold beverage!

May 30, 2014

Mexican Fiesta, Part 1

I've been doing a lot of soul searching lately; or, rather, blog searching. There are so many food blogs out there that I admire.  You can take a look at some of my favorites on the blog roll.  And it seems like every day I am discovering a new labor of love and deliciousness online.  The only downside to this outburst is that there's an over-saturation in the marketplace.  A blog now needs a point of differentiation from its competitors.  And we are all competing against each other, be it for eye balls, clicks, likes, follows, reposts, etc.

So, I asked myself, what sets my blog apart from others?  I haven't focused on a specific cuisine or way of eating and let's face it, my posting has been sporadic at best.  But all that is in the past!  I have found a purpose and a focus to my blog and it this: party planning!  I absolutely love the process of planning a shindig, from menu planning to grocery shopping to tablescaping.  It's a talent I've learned from my mother.  Any excuse for a party and she's there with a batch of margaritas and themed napkins.  [Seriously, I think she has an addiction to IKEA napkins.]

With that said, my inaugural series on Party Planning 101 is a summer Mexican Fiesta!  Originally, I had planned this party around Cinco de Mayo, but had to reschedule due to a busy month of May.  We are now on track for a kick-off to summer date!

Okay, where do we begin, you ask?  Party planning can seem daunting, but I think if you do a little prep work and keep things simple (ala Barefoot Contessa), you can pull off a festive get-together for any occasion!

2-3 Days Before Party - Menu Planning + Grocery Shopping

This is the fun part! The sky is the limit! Pour a cup of coffee [or a glass of rose], pull a bunch of magazines & cookbooks for inspiration, and peruse Pinterest for inspiration.  [Shameless plug - follow me on Pinterest!!]

Once inspiration has hit and you're feeling jazzed, jot down a few menu items that you'd like to make.  Things to keep in mind:

*Venue - indoors/outdoors, access to stove/grill/oven
*Number of guests - one dish items that can feed a crowd are a life saver
*Dietary concerns - my friends eat pretty much everything, but there are a few gluten-free & vegetarians in the mix
*Time - make as much ahead as you can, so that you can enjoy the party too!
*Know what to make, know what to buy from the store
*Outsource - delegate one or two dishes (or ice!) to a few of your (responsible) party guests
*Drinks - beer, wine, one signature cocktail, and one non-alcoholic option

After flipping through a few issues of my trusty Bon Appetit and Chef Marcela's Fresh Mexico, here's what I wrote down as a jumping off point:

Steak tacos - probably won't make the cilantro radish salsa, instead I'll serve cilantro, radishes & cotija cheese as toppings
Shrimp tacos - marinated in chile adobo, garlic & lime and then grilled on skewers
Rajas, creamed poblano chiles
Taco toppings + salsas:  salsa borracha, pico de gallo, guacamole
Cocada, coconut bark
Beer + agua fresca + Squirt - I adore palomas and one of my co-workers swears that the best paloma is made with tequila & Squirt!

Not too shabby, right?  I have about 10 people coming, so this should be just right for a taco bar.  Now to write up my grocery list and buy all my supplies.  Remember, this menu is NOT set in stone.  I usually do a mental edit while shopping, depending on whether or not I can find all the ingredients I need.

1 day down, 2 to go!

[Click here to go to Part 2]

Jun 21, 2013

Chop Suey

This is a weird one, I know.

I like Chinese food a lot, from the authentic to the, um, well, fabricated. Come on. Who can say anything bad about Panda Express's Kung pao chicken??  [side note: if you had asked me how much I liked Chinese food after returning from my 17 day trip to China, I would have had a different answer for you.]

I've never ordered chop suey in a Chinese restaurant, so I'm not quite sure how it's supposed to taste. Do they still have the dish on menus??  The only association I have with it is the scene in Lady and the Tramp when Jim Dear braves a snowstorm to bring his pregnant wife the chop suey she is craving. Maybe when I'm pregnant, I too, will crave this dish, cuz it turned out pretty tasty.

This recipe comes, once again, from Nitza Villapol's Cocina al Minuto. And it's not as far fetched to find a Chinese American invention in a Cuban cookbook as you may think! First off, the cookbook is definitely influenced by the popular cuisine of the 1950s & 60s, which is why such retro gems as aspic, baked Alaska, and chicken a la king are included. Secondly, there was actually a large Chinese population on the island starting as far back as 1847. The Chinatown in Havana, called the barrio Chino de la Habana, is one of the oldest in Latin America. [You can read more here.] It's quite common to see arroz frito on menus at Cuban restaurants.

I now know that chop suey is essentially a stir-fry coated in a mild, glossy sauce. Totally kitch, but totally satisfying for those nights when you just want to eat out of a takeout container. Feel free to switch out the meat & veggies for whatever is available in your fridge. I apologize in advance, I thought this was going to be a one pot dinner, but it turned into a two pot. But, on the bright side, you didn't have to tip the delivery guy.

Chop Suey
Adapted from Cocina al Minuto

1. In a large sauté pan, sauté 2 sliced leeks in a bit of olive oil til they start to soften.

2. Peel and de-vein 2 lbs of shrimp. [I left the shells on. It's more "rustic" that way.]

3. Add the shrimp to the leeks and toss to combine. Let the shrimp cook on medium til they turn pink.

4. In a stock pot, sauté 1/2 lb of cubed smoked pork in a swirl of oil until the pork starts to sizzle.

5. Add to the pork 8 oz of sliced mushrooms & 2 chopped zucchinis. Sauté until veggies soften. Season with a little salt & pepper.

6. In a bowl, whisk 3 tablespoons of cornstarch in 1 cup of chicken broth. Add the cornstarch mixture to the pork & veggies along with an additional 2 cups of broth. 

7. Bring the stock pot up to a boil, or a rapid glop. Add the cooked shrimp & leeks. Turn heat down and let everything simmer together for 10 minutes or so.

8. Serve over white rice with soy sauce & Sriracha on the side.

Notes:  I found smoked pork at an ethnic supermarket as chuletas ahumadas or smoked pork chops. I'm super excited that I finally found them because they appear in several recipes in the book. I bought extra and froze what I didn't use in this recipe.

Jun 19, 2013

Bacon + Caramelized Onion Sliders with Spicy Mayonaise

Originally, this post was to be about Cocina al Minuto's bistec a la hamburguesa. That is a pretty basic recipe for burgers, not to be confused with fritas, which are a whole magical item to themselves & will most def be covered here in the future. But I digress.

After taking a second look at the recipe, which calls for mixing the beef with an egg, garlic, breadcrumbs and milk, then frying the patties in bacon grease, I thought it was kind of blah. Except for the bacon. Everything's better with bacon. 

The only thing better than burgers topped with bacon is MINI burgers topped with bacon!! So, I let myself be a little creative tonight by mixing up a simple burger patty, but really jazzing it up with the toppings of caramelized onions & bacon & a spicy mayonnaise. The only thing missing was a bit of green, preferably arugula, but alas, I had none in the fridge.

This is totally the kind of recipe I dig, fairly quick and simple and totally customizable. Use what you have in your pantry and fridge, people! Throw in some mushrooms with the onions or crumble on some bleu cheese. The possibilities are endless!! 

Bacon + Caramelized Onions + Spicy Mayo Sliders

1. Dice a quarter of an onion and set aside. Thinly slice the remaining onion plus 1 more onion.

2. Heat olive oil in a sauté pan. Add onions, sprinkle with salt, pepper, & a splash of worcestershire sauce.

3. Let the onions sauté for about 20 minutes, until golden and soft. While they cook down, prep the sliders. Keep an eye on them though! I turned down the heat half way through and gave them a stir every now and then.

4. Add the chopped onion to 1 lb. of ground beef. Season with 1 tsp of garlic powder, salt & pepper, and worcestershire sauce. Mix with your hands and form into small patties. The size of the patties kind of depends on the size of your slider buns / rolls.

5. In a cast iron pan, fry up 4 slices of bacon. Once cooked, drain bacon on a paper towel lined plate while you fry up the sliders.

6. Fry the sliders a few at a time (don't crowd your pan!!) in the bacon grease, about 3-4 minutes per side. Now would be a good time to grab your splatter screen...

7. Remove sliders to another paper towel lined plate.

8. In a small bowl, mix together 1/2 cup of mayonnaise with a few tablespoons of gochujang paste (Korean fermented red chili paste) or Sriracha. You can definitely adjust the spice to your taste.

9. Assemble sliders on mini burger buns or rolls, spread with the spicy mayo & topped with the caramelized onions & bacon pieces.

Jun 12, 2013

Bistec a la Plancha ~ Cuban Grilled Steak

"Si no tienes las cebollas, olvidate!" If you don't have the onions, feghetaboutit!

I wish I could tell you that that was a quaint saying my abuelita used to tell me, but sadly, it's not. It just came to me as I was frying up my steak for dinner this evening. And it's really quite true-- if you toss the onion, garlic, citrus marinade, or mojo, you're missing the best part!!