Monday, May 16, 2016

Better Late Than Never - Cinco de Mayo Fiesta

2 years ago, Ross and I made a trip out to Las Vegas. On May 5th, we drove out to see the Grand Canyon. At this point, we had been dating for about 3 and 1/2 years and were getting ready to break ground on our house together. The plans were set, our variance was approved by the town and permits were being filed and pulled. The next logical step was getting married and low and behold, Ross had been secretly working on this for months. He proposed at the Grand Canyon and the rest is history. Although we haven't been big partiers, Cinco de Mayo holds a special place in our hearts so it was a reason to fiesta this year.

Now that we have a home, I love throwing parties for my friends. It gives us a time to all see each other and catch up, without the strict coordination of a dinner out or drinks at a bar. Everyone has their own lives and this is a more casual way to let everyone come and go as they can. I always try to make a pitcher of drinks, have beer on hand, coordinate some snacks or a meal and decorate the downstairs area accordingly. This party's theme made menu planning and decorations a breeze. The only twist...I decided to have this party on Wednesday, May 4th! How was this enough time? Read on and see...

Cinco de Mayo Menu:
  • Skinny Margaritas (recipe to follow)
  • Corona Lite
  • Homemade Salsa & Chips (recipe to follow)
  • Homemade Corn & Black Bean Salsa
  • Guacamole
  • Build Your Own Taco Bar
  • Enchilada Casserole (recipe to follow, chicken & vegetarian versions)

Friday Night at Home?!...Prepping?!

We hosted on Saturday May 7th, but decided to do a fair amount of prep on Friday night after work. Leading up to prep, I relied on Pinterest as a place to gather my thoughts on recipes and decor. I do this for most of my parties. It gives me a place to go back to when a recipe was a hit or when the next year rolls around. Check out my Cinco de Mayo Pinterest board here. I got a Crock Pot as an engagement gift and it has been fantastic when entertaining. I was able to make all of the taco meat on Friday, refrigerate it overnight and bring it to temperature on Saturday in the Crock Pot. This saved lots of dishes and clean up on party day, as well as valuable time.  

My brother was also joining us for the party and he is a vegetarian, so I prepped his lentils (for lentil tacos) on Friday night in my rice cooker. My rice cooker has been great, not only for white and brown rice, but also for beans and legumes. It saves me some space on the stove while slowly cooking this hard little pucks into tender edible dishes.  It also has saved me from needing to hover over rice and bean dishes and keep an eye on their water levels, since I have a gas range, where temperature control can be tricky.

I also prepped the rice and quinoa for the enchilada casseroles on Friday night. At this point, I packaged everything into some Pyrex and called it a night.

Saturday is Party Day!

Come Saturday morning, the bulk of my prep was done, phew! I finished sprucing up the house and got on to decorations. I found these cute tissue paper flags from Martha Stewert. These were easy to make and added a great pop of color in the house. I was able to make 3 small banners and 1 large in about 30 minutes. I made them using bright tissue from Party City (1.99 each) and some twine (1 roll was $0.30). To accent my flags, I picked up a pack of paper fans from Party City and ole! We were all set to party.  For some added fun, I also picked up a pack of adhesive mustaches and a tiny sombrero for myself. Even the dogs were dressed for the occasion, in their serapes and sombreros. I knew these would be hilarious once the drinks started flowing.

Later Saturday afternoon I prepped the Margaritas and the casseroles and set up the taco bar. The
taco bar consisted of...
  • Tostadas
  • Soft Taco Tortillas
  • Refried Beans, lowfat if possible (heated in the mini crock pot)
  • Taco Seasoned Lentils
  • Taco Seasoned Ground Turkey (in the big crock pot)
  • Shredded Cheddar Cheese
  • Homemade Salsa
  • Sour Cream
  • Pickled Jalapeno Slices
  • Olives
  • Onion
  • Shredded Lettuce
At this point, we were ready for guests! The rest is history. The grand total for this party was about $150, including $100 on alcohol (half of which we still have on hand for our next fiesta). Our grocery bill was pretty low because we had a lot of the big ticket items on hand (meats, grains). We really splurged on fresh produce to keep our menu light, fresh and healthy. Below are some of the recipes for my fiesta favorites!

Skinny Margaritas
(16 servings, 90 calories per glass)
  • 3 L Seltzer Water
  • 1 C Orange Juice (low calorie if possible, i used Trop 50)
  • 1 C Lime Juice
    • 1/2 C fresh squeezed
    • 1/4 C sweetened (like Rose's Sweetened Lime Juice)
    • 1/4 C bottled (I only used this because I have trouble finding enough limes)
  • 1 C Triple Sec
  • 1 C Tequila

    Stir all of the ingredients together, serve over ice. To keep your pitcher cold, throw some ice cubes in a Ziploc, seal it up and drop it into the pitcher. For a fun twist, have sliced fruit and hot peppers to muddle and mix in (like strawberries, mango, pineapple and jalapeno). For an easy beergarita (like at the restaurants), mix 1/2 cup margarita with 1/2 cup Corona Lite. Don't forget some lime slices and kosher salt to rim your glasses!
Abby's Disappearing Salsa
(~8 servings, 17 calories per serving)
  • 4 Plum Tomatoes, Diced
  • 1 Cucumber, Minced
  • 1 Green Bell Pepper, Minced
  • 1/4 White Onion, Minced
  • 1 TBSP Fresh Lime Juice
  • 1 TBSP Fresh Lemon juice
  • 1 Pinch Salt
  • Cilantro to taste
  • Jalapeno, Minced, to taste

    Start by dicing your tomatoes. Once they are all diced in your bowl, drain them. This will help keep you from having salsa soup. Mince the rest of your ingredients and stir together. Squeeze 1/2 lime juice over your mixture and 1/2 lemon juice over your mixture. I adjust the proportion of lemon to lime based on seasonality and availability. If limes are expensive, I'll just use lemon or vice versa. Mix everything up and add a pinch of salt to taste.

    If you enjoy the taste of fresh cilantro, finely chop 1-2 TBSP and stir into your salsa. Cilantro is a hate it or love it, so feel free to skip this step. Finely chop jalapeno and add to your liking. I hesitate to give an exact amount, since each pepper will vary in size and spiciness. I used 1/2 jalapeno in this recipe last time and it was a little light, but perfect for a crowd.

    Serve chilled with tortilla chips or atop your favorite tacos.
Enchilada Casserole
(~8 servings, 250 calories per serving)
  • 1-2 Chicken Breasts, Diced
  • 1 TBSP Canola Oil
  • 1 Cup Enchilada Sauce
  • 1 Cup Brown Rice
  • 1 Cup Quinoa
  • 1 Cup Shredded Cheddar Cheese
  • Sour Cream, to taste
  • Diced Jalapeno Pepper, to taste

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

    Cook your brown rice and quinoa according to the directions on the package. Any combination of grains would work here (brown rice, white rice, quinoa, couscous). Pick your favorites. I like brown rice and quinoa because they are not very flavorful grains and let the sauce speak for the dish.

    While your grains are cooking, heat a skillet over medium heat. Add 1 TBSP canola oil and bring to temperature.  Add chicken, stirring occasionally until cooked through, about 8 minutes. If you prefer spicier dishes, this is a great time to add some heat and stir in some diced jalapenos (1/2 pepper is a good start - the heat will cook out some).

    When chicken is cooked, turn temperature to low and stir in 1/4 C of enchilada sauce. Let simmer for 3-5 minutes and set aside.

    (For the vegetarians, substitute the chicken for a vegan chicken cutlet, cooked as directed on the packaging, then drenched in 1/4 C of enchilada sauce.)

    When grains are cooked, pour into 9x13 casserole dish. Pour remaining 3/4 C of enchilada sauce over grain mixture. Stir until evenly coated. Top with chicken mixture and sprinkle with cheddar cheese.

    Place in oven for 20-30 minutes or until cheese is melted. Remove and serve with a dollop of sour cream.

    This recipe is super versatile. You can easily to your own preference. Whether you like beef enchiladas with red sauce or ground turkey enchiladas with green sauce, the substitutions are easy and endless. I am a huge fan of enchiladas but never have time to roll them after work. This is the best of both worlds for me!