Friday, July 2, 2010

Mid-Week Taco Party

Taco Bar
Last Wednesday we had three of my book club girls over, along with their husbands, for a mid-week taco party.  We’d planned the dinner a while in advance, without knowing just how much we all would end up needing this kind of stress-releasing get-together on just this night.  Already, it had been a long and hectic week so far for nearly all of us.  A fun, low-key party like this, with it’s great company, yummy food, cold beer and on-the-strong-side margaritas, was a welcome diversion for everybody.   

Blue Corn Chips with Guacamole & Cherry Tomato Salsa
Grilled Spice-Rubbed Shrimp
Black Beans with Chorizo
Cilantro-Green Onion Rice
Mango Salsa
Grape Tomato Salsa
Lime Sour Cream
Pickled Jalapeños
Crumbled Cotija Cheese
Sliced Limes
Shredded Lettuces
Flour & Corn Tortillas
Coconut Macaroons & Mango Sorbet

Speaking of crazy, hectic weeks, this is another one for me.  So I’ve got to keep things on the short side.  Tons of pictures should make up for it though.  Like the one below – baby avocados, each one only a little bigger than an egg.  Their pits were the size of  almonds.  Aside from their tininess, and their incredible price (Ten for a dollar! I about died when I saw them in the market!), they were no different from regular avocados, and no less delicious.

Mini Avocados, 10 for a Dollar! Grape Tomatoes

I’m including a lot of basic recipes in this post – classic margaritas, guacamole, tomato salsa, mango salsa, coconut macaroons.  I was tempted to put all sorts of fancy twists on everything, but thought you all might appreciate some good and tasty recipes without all the gourmet bells and whistles.  All these classic recipes are so good in the first place, so why change them?

Black Beans
Mango Salsa Components
Toasted Flour Tortillas

Two things a bit out of the ordinary were the rice and the beans.  First, a few words on the Cilantro-Green Onion Rice. Thoroughly speckled with enormous amounts of fresh cilantro and sliced green onions, and loaded with all kinds of other bright flavors like garlic, cumin, jalapeno and lime, this robust rice was a little bit hot, a little bit sweet, a little bit salty and a big bit delicious.  A giant leap from ordinary white rice, this stuff was well worth straying from the everyday basics. 

Red Bell Pepper
Spicy Spicy!
The Black Beans with Chorizo too, were worth a bit of a twist.  A twist on my norm that is, because the combination of beans and chorizo is classic Mexican.  I’d stumbled upon this recipe on, and knew I had to try it.  I love chorizo, a deep red, smoky Mexican-style pork sausage full of intense spices like paprika, chili peppers and garlic.  The flavorful sausage is a great companion to the creamy, tenderly cooked black beans.  Together, they’re delicious tucked inside a taco, with all the fixin’s, or even on the side, atop the rice. 

Taco Dinner
And I almost forgot about the shrimp.  This was a pretty straight forward recipe too – a quick rub with some ground spices then an even quicker flip on the grill -  but the results were delicious.  The tender pink shrimp went especially well with the tropical tones of the mango salsa, and a good dollop of bright green guacamole, all stuffed within a blistered flour tortilla. 

Limes & Jalepenos
Dessert, I have to admit, was so good.  And half of it – the mango sorbet half – was store bought.  I do think I would have liked to try my hand at making my own mango sorbet, but our ice cream maker is broken.  And anyways, like I’d mentioned before, it was a crazy week.  And those kinds of weeks always seem to call for Häagen Dazs.  Along with the mango sorbet, I served freshly baked coconut macaroons.  These have always been one of my favorite treats.  But guess what, I’d never made them before.  And I can’t believe it, because they are so easy to make!  I found the recipe in the Joy of Cooking, which is always a good place to turn for classic cookie recipes like this.  Anyways, the end result of this simple recipe was simply spectacular.  These coconut macaroons are as good as any I’ve ever had before, soft and chewy on the insides, but crispy golden brown on the outsides.  And they went splendidly with the mango sorbet.  As luck would have it, nearly all our guests were huge coconut fans, so there were lots of oohing and ahhing around the table.  Always good to hear!

Coconut Macaroons (not yet baked)
Mango Sorbet with Coconut Macaroons 

Classic Margaritas
Makes 2 drinks
Classic Margarita 
4 oz silver tequila (1/2 cup)
1 1/2 oz fresh lime juice (3 Tbl)
1 oz Grand Marnier (2 Tbl)
1/2 oz  simple syrup (1 Tbl)  (see recipe below)
ice (both for shaking the drink and filling the glass)
an extra slice of lime (for salting the glass rim)
flaky salt
Run the sliced lime along the rims of 2 glasses, leaving a film of lime juice just along the edge.  Spread the salt over the base of a small dish, then dip the lime-rimmed glasses into the salt.  Set aside to dry.
Fill the salt-rimmed glasses with ice cubes.  Combine the tequila, lime juice, Grand Marnier, simple syrup and a good handful of ice cubes in a cocktail shaker.  Shake for at least 30 seconds.  (It’s important to give this a really good, thorough shake to get the drink really cold, and to dilute it with melted ice.  Otherwise, your margarita will be way too strong.)  Pour into the prepared glasses.  Serve immediately.
Simple Syrup
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Combine the water and sugar in a small sauce pot.  Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.  Store in an air-tight container. 
Grilled Shrimp Tacos
serves 4 to 6
Grilled Shrimp Taco with Mango Salsa & Guacamole 
For the Grilled Spice-Rubbed Shrimp:
1 # large (31-40 per pound) raw shrimp
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground cumin
about 12 wooden skewers (either 6 or 12-inches), soaked for 30 minutes in cool water
vegetable oil, for grilling
Prepare the shrimp: Peel the shells and tails off of the shrimp.  Be careful not to rip off the entire tail while you’re removing the shell – An intact tail makes for a much prettier shrimp.  De-vein the shrimp (i.e. remove the intestinal tract).  Use a paring knife to make a shallow slice along the center of the outer edge of the shrimp.  This will expose the dark grey ‘vein’, running along the length of the shrimp.  Scrape it out with the knife.  (You may not even have to do this.  Many times shrimp is already de-veined when you buy it.  If it hasn’t been de-veined, the outer edge of the shrimp will be intact, and you’ll see the vein just below the surface.) 
Stir to combine the chili powder, paprika and cumin in a medium-sized mixing bowl.  Add the shrimp and toss thoroughly to coat with the spice mixture.   Skewer four shrimp on each wooden skewer.  Place the skewers on a plate, wrap with plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours. 
Pre-heat the grill.  (Here’s a way to tell if your grill is at the right temperature.  Hold your hand right over it.  If you you can keep it there for five seconds, it’s not hot enough.  If you can’t hold it there for even a second, it's too hot.)  Lightly oil the grill rack.
When the grill is hot, arranged the skewers of shrimp evenly over the grill.  Grill for about 1 1/2 minutes, then flip the shrimp over and grill for 1 1/2 minutes on the opposite side. 
To assemble the tacos:
Serve the grilled shrimp with warm flour or corn tortillas, guacamole (see recipe below), mango salsa (see recipe below) and shredded lettuce. 
Black Bean & Chorizo Tacos
Adapted from Bon Appétit Magazine, June 2009
Serves 4 to 6
Black Bean & Chorizo Taco with Pickled Jalepenos & Grape Tomato Salsa   
For the Black Beans & Chorizo:
1 1/2 cups dried black beans
2 large yellow onions, both peeled, one finely chopped, the other sliced in half
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried oregano
2 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
12 oz Mexican chorizo sausage, casings removed(uncooked)
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 Tbl minced jalapeño (no seeds)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
Place the beans in a large container, cover with cool water by 2-inches and soak overnight.  If you forgot to soak them overnight, then do this in stead.  Cover the beans by 2-inches with boiling water and allow to soak for 1 hour. 
Drain the beans and discard the soaking liquid.  Place the beans in a large saucepot, along with the halved onion, bay leaf and dried oregano.  Add enough cool water to cover by 2-inches.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer very gently, stirring occasionally, until the beans are very tender, about 1 1/2 – 2 hours.  Drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid.  Discard the onion halves and the bay leaf.
Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the chorizo and sauté until browned, breaking it up with the back of a wooden spoon, about 5 minutes.  Transfer the cooked chorizo to a small bowl with a slotted spoon, and reserve.  Add the chopped onion to the oil in the sauté pan.  Sauté until the is soft and golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 7 minutes.  Add the garlic, jalapeño and cumin and continue to cook, stirring frequently, another two minutes.  Stir the beans, 1 cup of the reserved cooking liquid, the chorizo and the cilantro into the onion mixture. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the liquid evaporates, about 5 minutes.  Taste, then season as needed with salt and pepper. 
This can be made 1 day ahead, and kept refrigerated in an air-tight container.  Re-warm over medium heat before serving. 
To assemble the tacos:
Serve the Black Beans & Chorizo with warm flour or corn tortillas, grape tomato salsa (see recipe below), pickled jalapenos (see recipe below), Cotija cheese and shredded lettuce.
Cilantro-Green Onion Rice
Makes about 3 cups and serves about 4 people
Cilantro-Scallion Rice
1/2 cup plus 1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro, divided
1/4 cup plus 1 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 Tbl lime juice
3 garlic cloves, minced and divided in half
1/4 tsp plus 1/4 tsp ground cumin, divided
1/2 tsp plus 1 tsp minced jalapeño, divided
1 small white onion, finely chopped
1 bunch green onions, sliced, white and green parts separated
1 cup long-grain white rice
2 cups water
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Make the dressing: In the bowl of a food processor, combine 1/2 cup cilantro, 1/4 cup olive oil, lime juice, half of the minced garlic, 1/4 tsp cumin and 1/2 tsp minced jalapeño.  Season with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Blend until nearly smooth.  Reserve.
Cook the rice: Heat 1 Tbl olive oil in a medium-sized saucepot over medium heat.  Add the chopped white onion and the white parts of the sliced green onions.  Season with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and translucent, about 7 minutes.  Add the remaining half of the minced garlic, the remaining 1/4 tsp ground cumin and the remaining 1 tsp minced jalapeño.  Continue to cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the rice and cook 2 minutes more, stirring frequently.  Add the water, season with more salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.  When the liquid comes to a simmer, cover the pot with a lid, and decrease the heat to low in order to maintain a bare simmer.  Gently simmer until the rice is tender and all the water is evaporated and absorbed, about 15 minutes.  Peek under the lid from time to time, to make sure you’ve got just a bare simmer.  To make sure all the liquid is gone, tilt the pan to the side.  If water rises up the sides of the pan, continue cook the rice a little while longer.  Once all the liquid is evaporated/absorbed, turn off the heat and allow the rice to rest five minutes, still covered.  Remove the lid and fluff with a fork.
Assemble the rice:  In a large mixing bowl, combine the rice with the dressing, the rest of the chopped cilantro and the sliced green onions (green parts).  Mix to combine.  Taste, and season as needed with salt & pepper.  Serve warm.

Serves 4 (a generous serving, but it seems one can never have enough guac)
Holy Guacamole!
4 medium-to-large ripe Haas avocados (about 2 #) *
3/4 cup finely chopped white onion, soaked in cool water for 15 minutes then drained
1 Tbl finely chopped jalapeño (or more, if you like your guac spicy)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro (or more, if you’d like)
1 1/2 Tbl fresh lime juice (or more, if you’d like)
kosher salt, to taste
Slice the avocados in half, length-wise.  Then remove the pit by sticking it with your knife and pulling it out.  Scoop out the avocado flesh and place it in a medium-sized mixing bowl.  Mash with a potato masher.  Add the onion, jalapeño, cilantro and lime juice to the avocado and stir to combine.  Taste and season as needed with kosher salt.  Add more jalapeño, cilantro or lime juice, if that’s to your liking. 
* To determine if the avocados are ripe, squeeze gently – the flesh should yield with pressure, but should still be slightly firm (not totally soft and mushy.)  The skin should be dark with no green areas.
Mango Salsa
Makes about 4 cups
Mango Salsa
3 firm, ripe mangos, finely chopped *
1/2 cup red onion (from 1 small onion), soaked in cool water for 15 minutes then drained
1 cup finely chopped red bell pepper (from about 2 small or 1 large pepper)
1 medium-sized jalapeño pepper, finely minced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
3 Tbl fresh lime juice (from about 3 limes)
kosher salt, to taste
Mix all the ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl.  Season to taste with salt.  Can be made up to 2 hours ahead.  Keep refrigerated and covered. 
* Peel the mango by slicing of a thin layer from broad bottom of the fruit.  The stand it up on its end and slice the skin from the mango, working around the fruit and slicing from top to bottom.  Once the skin is removed, slice the flesh from the pit.  The oblong pit lies in the center of the oblong fruit.  Most of the flesh lies on the wide sides of the mango, with only a small amount on the skinny ends.  So slice off two large portions of flesh first from the wide sides, then cut two smaller strips from the other sides. 
Grape Tomato Salsa
Makes about 4 cups
Grape Tomato Salsa
2 pints (about 1 1/2 #)  ripe grape tomatoes, quartered
3/4 cup finely chopped white onion, soaked in cool water for 15 minutes then drained
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely minced
2 Tbl finely minced jalapeño pepper (no seeds)
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
3 Tbl lime juice (from about 3 limes)
1 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt & freshly grated pepper, to taste
Mix all the ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Refrigerate, covered, for at least 1 hour, and up to 4.  Serve cool or at room temp.
Lime Sour Cream
Makes 2 cups
Lime Sour Cream
2 cups sour cream
2 tsp finely grated lime zest
2 Tbl fresh lime juice
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Stir to combine the sour cream, lime zest and lime juice in a mixing bowl.  Taste, then season as needed with salt and pepper.
Pickled Jalapeños
Pickling can sound kind of intimidating.  But this is really quick and as simple as can be.  Don’t be afraid to do your own pickling!
Pickled Jalapenos
6 small jalapeños
1 1/3 cups rice vinegar
2 Tbl fresh lime juice
2 tsp salt
Slice the jalapeños cross-wise into 1/8-inch thick circles, discarding the top and bottom slices.  Place in a medium-sized bowl. 
Combine the vinegar, lime juice and salt in a small saucepot and bring to a boil, stirring until the salt is dissolved.  Pour this hot mixture over the jalapenos.  Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.  Refrigerate in an air-tight container.  Will keep 1 week. 
Coconut Macaroons
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer
Makes 24 macaroons
Coconut Macaroons 
2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 large egg white
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp kosher salt
3 1/2 cups shredded sweetened coconut
Preheat the oven to 325°F.  Arrange a rack in the upper third of the oven.  Cover 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or well greased foil.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together the condensed milk, egg white, vanilla and salt until well combined.  Add the shredded coconut and mix until well combined. 
Drop 1-tablespoon sized scoops of the dough unto the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 2-inches apart.  Bake, 1 sheet at a time, until the tops of the macaroons are golden brown, about 20 minutes.  Place the baking sheet on a wire cooling rack and let stand until the macaroons are completely cool, then peel from the paper or foil.  Can be kept at room temperature in an air-tight container, for 2 days. 


  1. I am jealous of everyone who got to eat this meal!!!

  2. Mary - Thanks, and I know what you mean. I covet other people's tacos just about all the time. There's a great Mexican place around the corner from us, that sells delicious and cheep tacos. It takes a lot of will power not to eat them every single day!

  3. Kate...this meal looks amazing.

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