Thursday, December 29, 2011

Fun and Easy Mexican Feast

[This is part 2 in a series of 3. For last week's Simple and Elegant Italian Feast, click here.]

Dear Bashionista,

Last month, my friends and I had a pre-Thanksgiving dinner. And by "pre-Thanksgiving" I mean basically an entire Thanksgiving dinner. It was a great time, but considering all the dishes that were made, there was a massive amount of preparation and then a ton of clean up. I would love to do it again, but with a simpler meal. Could you help me come up with some ideas for meals that are simple, not too expensive and could feed anywhere from 7-12 people?

Mike K.

This is such a great question that I've turned it into a mini-series. This week we're going to plan a little fiesta that you can throw together in a snap.You can get away with making just the main course, and popping open some bottles of Jarritos sodas - or you can go nuts and make everything I'm outlining here.

Must have: Guacamole & Tortilla Chips
Prep time: 10 minutes
Requires: sharp knife, cutting board, bowl, potato masher (while you can use a fork, a masher will simplify your life and deliver the perfect consistency of guac), a way of juicing a lime - be it your fingers or a citrus reamer or juicer - and a garlic press, or the same sharp knife and your patience

This recipe allegedly makes 4 servings - feel free to double or triple it. The trick here is to buy your avocados a few days ahead of time so they have time to ripen. So important!  All the wishing and mashing in the world will not make an unripe avocado taste good. This recipe calls for 3 avocados, the juice of one lime, onion, cilantro, 2 plum tomatoes, minced garlic and cayenne pepper. If you want to get a little more ambitious - and if peaches and basil are in season - you can try making Molly's Peach Basil Guacamole.

If you're feeding a crowd: Nachos
Prep time: 5 minutes
Requires: Gravity to propel chips and grated cheese out of the bag and onto your plate, a spoon for the side toppings, a sharp knife and cutting board if you want to get fancy and add vegetables

If you know that some people will be coming earlier and standing around, or if you're feeding people with monstrous appetites, it might be a good idea to serve up a plate of nachos. This could not be simpler. Throw tortilla chips on a plate, cover in grated cheddar cheese and whatever toppings you'd like - olives, jalapeno slices, chopped onion or tomato, etc. - nuke it in the microwave, and then serve with sour cream and guacamole on the side.
Main Course
Prep time: 10 minutes to assemble marinade, 30 minutes to marinate chicken, 8 minutes to cook
Requires: sharp knife and cutting board, 2 skillets if you're doing a vegetarian option, microwave for warming tortilla shells

Fajitas are simple and fun for all your guests. This recipe is for chicken fajitas, but it's probably smart to do a separate batch of peppers and onions in case people prefer vegetarian. All you're going to do is throw together a marinade and cut chicken into strips, let it marinate while you chop up some peppers and onions, then saute the chicken for five minutes before you add the veggies for another three. Nuke tortilla shells individually, 10 seconds each to warm them. Set out the chicken, the peppers and onions, grated cheese, sour cream and hot sauce and let everyone go to town.

Side dish: Mexican rice
Prep time: 10 minutes to prep, 40 minutes to cook, mostly in the oven
Requires: sharp knife and cutting board, sauce pot, casserole dish
This is super-easy and delicious. Perfect side to add bulk to your  meal for cheap.

And to drink: Margaritas
Prep time: 10 minutes or less
Requires: pitcher and glasses, shot glass for measuring amounts, little bowl of salt for salting the rims, sharp knife and cutting board for slicing limes

Dessert: Churros
Prep time: 10 minutes to cook, 10 minutes to deep-fry
Requires: pastry bag with a star-shaped nozzle (do not be intimidated! You can pick one of these babies up for cheap. This will be the only tricky thing to clean - but it's so worth it); sauce pot and a bunch of non-olive oil for deep-frying

Dude. Your friends will not believe how simple these are to make. Whip up the batter, heat the oil, squeeze it through the pastry bag, remove and coat in cinnamon & sugar.

And to drink: Mexican Hot Chocolate
Prep time: 8 minutes
Requires: little sauce pot

Step 1: Melt things in a pot. Step 2: Drink them. What makes this recipe special is that you'll be throwing in some cinnamon and chile powder. And then, you'll be dipping churros in it. You'll wonder why you don't do this every single night.

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