Bless Your Spoon: A Mexican New Year fiesta

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 6, 2022

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By Stephanie Williams Dean

The holiday party, that wasn’t, but was so much more.

Sometimes we prepare a recipe that doesn’t turn out as expected. Life can be like that, too. Sometimes life just doesn’t go as we plan.

Party plans were made a month in advance, and they were perfect. For the holiday, I chose a theme to commemorate Las Posadas. This religious festival celebrates Joseph and Mary’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, while searching for an inn where Mary can give birth. With that day in mind, the party theme was a festive Latin American one, complete with complimentary food, music and decorations.

I made the plan, and checked it twice. New music had been ordered off the internet — Jose Feliciano and Gloria Estafan — their holiday CDs were excellent. The menu had been specially selected for a hearty buffet supper. The caterer had already come by the house to discuss — I assigned the meaty entrees to her — and I’d prepare the rest. We’d even picked from my serving dishes, one for each food selection. I had my heart set on a festive, yet down-home party without the feel of a catered event. I wanted none of those cumbersome stainless pans, long spoons, or warming burners burdening my table. With a themed tablecloth,  fresh flower centerpiece, decked-out decorations, sparkling red and green lights, several nativities, and lots of poinsettias — I had the plan down pat.

But then life got in the way — I believed I had the plan and discovered I didn’t. The devastating physical diagnoses of two close friends hit me like a ton of bricks. People I cared about were critical. A month of planning came to an abrupt halt

As a result, I permitted myself to have a stress-free season. During that process, I spent more time with people I love. I escaped from all the additional holiday stress I’d put on myself. For once, I saw the holiday from a new perspective — one of vital connectedness instead of overwhelming work. I could focus on the reason for the season — Jesus. And God — the plan is always his — and not mine.

Even though party plans didn’t materialize, the curated recipes were perfect choices for a delicious buffet meal. All dishes were chosen for heat, blended flavors and the way they complemented one another. Add a platter of flour tortillas, fresh guacamole and salsa, and ending with warmed dessert and hot spiced Mexican coffee — and there you’d  have it. Ya esta! That’s all folks!

In the future, there’ll be time for another party plan, but next time I’ll keep it simpler. This year, let’s only do the work that rewards our hearts and have a more blessed New Year!

Chiles Con Queso

• ½ stick melted, salted butter

• 1 finely chopped large onion

• 6 drained, canned whole green chilies

• 1 peeled, seeded, diced ¼-inch tomato

• ½ lb. grated Monterey Jack cheese

• ½ lb. cream cheese

• ¾ cup sour cream

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

• Tortilla chips

In a skillet, melt butter. Add onion and cook over medium heat 5 minutes or until wilted. Add chilies and tomato. Bring to a simmer for 10 minutes or until veggies are soft. Add cheeses and sour cream. Cook on medium heat for 5 minutes or until cheese melts and well mixed. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with warm tortilla chips.

Salmon Croquettes

• 1 lb. fresh salmon filet

• 2 Tbsp. Cajun spices

• ½ tsp. salt

• ¼ cup chopped onion

• 2 Tbsp. finely chopped red bell pepper

• 2 Tbsp. finely chopped poblano chili

• 2 Tbsp. finely chopped celery

• 1 tsp. minced clove garlic

• 2½ Tbsp. all-purpose flour

• ½ tsp. salt

• ½ cup dried bread crumbs

• 4 cups canola oil

Season filets all over with Cajun spices and salt. Bake in a greased baking dish in a 400-degree oven for 5-7 minutes or until fish is firm and translucent. Remove fish and drain on paper tools. Allow to cool. In a bowl, crumble the fish. Add finely chopped red pepper, poblano chili, celery, garlic, flour and salt. Blend the mixture with your hands and form 3-inch croquettes. Roll each one in bread crumbs and place on a wax paper-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate for 1 hour. In a deep-fryer, fry the croquettes in oil at 350-degrees for 2-4 minutes or until golden. Drain on paper towels. Serve with tomato coulis.

Fresh Tomato Coulis

• 5 peeled, seeded tomatoes

• 3 oz. chopped fresh basil

• 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a processor, puree tomatoes. Pour through fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth. Allow to drain 4 hours over a bowl. In a bowl, pour the puree. Stir in basil, oil, and seasonings. Serve over salmon croquettes.

Yucatan Chicken

• 8 boneless chicken thighs

• Chicken broth

• 20 cloves garlic

• 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

• ½ tsp. ground cloves

• 2 tsp. dried oregano

• ½ tsp. salt

• 1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

• 1 tsp. toasted cumin seeds

• 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour, plus

• 1 cup Wesson vegetable oil

• 4 thinly sliced, medium onions

• 2 seeded, sliced, mild fresh chilies

• ½ cup cider or sherry vinegar

In a pot, place chicken and cover completely with chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. In a non-stick skillet, roast garlic cloves until tender. To make the paste, in a bowl, grind garlic with pepper. Add the cloves, oregano, salt, lime juice and cumin seeds. Add 1 Tbsp. flour and mix well to form the paste. Meanwhile, remove chicken from stock and pat dry. Reserve remaining stock and set aside. Rub the chicken pieces with 2/3 of spiced paste, reserving remainder. Refrigerate a few hours. When ready to prepare, in a skillet, heat a little oil. Cook onions and chilies until softened and golden. Pour in vinegar. Cook for 5 minutes. Then add remainder of spice paste and reserved chicken broth. Bring to a boil while stirring for 10 minutes until volume reduced. In a bowl, dredge chicken in additional flour. Add oil to a clean heavy skillet and heat. Fry chicken until lightly browned and juices run clear. When done, drain on paper towels, place in serving dish, and serve hot topped with the vinegar sauce and over rice.

Spicy Beef Meatballs in Sauce

• 8 oz. ground beef

• 8 oz. ground pork

• 6 Tbsp. crushed tortilla chips

• 1 beaten egg

• ¾ chopped onion

• 3 chopped cloves garlic

• ½ tsp. ground cumin

Sweet and Spicy Sauce

• 1 Tbsp. dark brown sugar

• 2 Tbsp. cider vinegar

• 14 oz. drained, chopped tomatoes

• 1½ cup beef broth

• 2 Tbsp. chili powder

• 1 Tbsp. paprika

• ¾ chopped onion

• 3 chopped cloves garlic

• 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

• 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

• 2 Tbsp. Wesson vegetable oil

• Salt and pepper

• Grated cheese

In a mixer bowl, combine ground meat with tortilla chips, egg, onion, garlic and cumin. Divide mixture and roll into balls. In a non-stick skillet, fry balls until brown all over. Remove from skillet and set aside. Wipe skillet clean. For the sauce, in a food processor, combine sugar, vinegar, tomatoes, broth, chili powder, paprika, onion and garlic. Process until blended. Transfer to a bowl and stir in cilantro and parsley. In the skillet, heat oil. Pour in blended sauce and add meatballs. Cook 10 minutes or until meat is heated through. Season with salt and pepper. Grate cheese over top. Serve with rice.

Cilantro Rice

• 2 Tbsp. salted butter

• 1 peeled, diced carrot

• ½ cup finely chopped scallions

• 2 cups long-grain rice

• ½ tsp. salt

• ½ cup minced fresh cilantro

• 4½ cups water

In a large saucepan, melt butter. Sauté carrot and scallions, including green tops, for 4 minutes or until soft. Add rice, salt, cilantro and water. Bring to a boil while stirring. Reduce heat to low, cover pot, and cook 15 minutes or until rice is tender. Add more water if rice appears dry. Allow the rice to stand uncovered for 5 minutes before serving. Yield: 6-8 cups.

Braised Spiced Greens with Capers

• 2 lbs. leafy beet, spinach, or kale greens

• 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

• 1 finely chopped onion

• 2 minced cloves garlic

• 2 stemmed, finely chopped jalapeno chilies

• 12 pitted, chopped Kalamata olives

• 1/3 cup drained capers

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Choose the greens of your choice. Cut greens crosswise into ½-inch strips and rinse in cold water.Transfer to a colander to drain. In a large pot, heat oil. Add onion, garlic and chilies. Saute for 3 minutes until onion wilts. Stir in greens, olives, and capers. Cover pot and cook on medium heat for 10 minutes or until greens are tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

South of Border Corn Casserole

• 1 cup yellow cornmeal

• 1 cup buttermilk

• 1 beaten egg

• ¼ cup melted Crisco shortening

• 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour

• 3 tsp. sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

• ½ tsp. baking soda

• 1 tsp. salt and ½ tsp. fresh black pepper

• 8 oz. drained white corn

• 4 oz. diced green Ortega chilies

• 4 oz. drained, diced pimientos

• 2 cups grated white cheddar cheese

In a bowl, combine cornmeal and buttermilk. Allow to stand for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a mixer bowl, beat egg. Add melted Crisco. Mix well. Add flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and pepper. Mix well. Add buttermilk mixture and mix well. Fold in corn, peppers, pimentos and cheese. Mix well. Bake in a well-greased 9 x 13 baking dish in a 375-degree oven for 30 minutes. Serve warm.

Spicy Shredded Cabbage Salad

• 2 cups jalapeno-flavored vinegar

• ¾ cup sugar

• 2 ½ tsp. toasted sesame oil

• 1 Tbsp. hot sauce

• 1 cup fresh lemon juice

• Dash of salt

• 1 cored, shredded red cabbage

• 1 peeled, shredded green cabbage

• 4 peeled, shredded carrots

• 1 bunch chopped fresh cilantro

In a bowl, combine sugar with the vinegar. To toast the sesame oil, place a small saucepan over medium-high heat and add sesame oil. Stir constantly until oil begins to smoke. Remove from heat and cool completely. When cool, add toasted oil, hot sauce, lemon juice and salt. Whisk together until mixed well. Add cabbages, carrots and cilantro. Toss and mix well. Allow to stand for 1 hour at room temperature before serving. It can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Mexican Style Pasta And Cheese

• ½ cup vegetable broth

• 3 peeled, seeded, diced ¼-inch tomatoes

• ½ finely chopped med. onion

• ½ cup chopped fresh parsley

• 1 tsp. chopped fresh oregano

• 1 finely crumbled bay leaf

• 2 tsp. paprika

• 1 tsp. salt

• ¾ cup sour cream

• ½ cup grated mozzarella cheese

• ¾ lb. cooked, drained macaroni

In a large pot, heat broth. Add chopped tomatoes, onion, parsley, oregano, bay leaf, paprika, and salt. Bring to a simmer for 2 minutes or until veggies soften. Stir in cream and cheese. Bring to a simmer for 2 minutes or until cheese melts. Stir in the already cooked and drained macaroni. Serve while warm.

Cinnamon Spiced Rice & Raisin Pudding

• 2 cups water

• 2½ cups whole milk

• ¾ cup long-grain white rice

• Pinch of salt

• 2 cinnamon sticks

• ½ vanilla bean

• ½ cup sweetened condensed milk

• 1/3 cup golden raisins

In a saucepan, combine water, milk, rice, salt, cinnamon sticks, and a vanilla bean that has been split in half lengthwise. Bring to a simmer over low heat for 45 minutes while occasionally stirring until rice is tender and pudding is thick. Add condensed milk and raisins. Continue to simmer while stirring for 20 additional minutes and pudding continues to thicken. Cool completely and refrigerate at least 4 hours. Pudding will thicken more as it cools. Can be made ahead. Yield: 4

Cornmeal and Lime Cookies

• 2 sticks softened, salted butter

• 1 cup sugar

• 1 large egg

• 1 cup yellow cornmeal

• 1½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

• 2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

• 1 tsp. almond extract

• 2 tsp. finely chopped lime peel

• 4 tsp. finely chopped orange peel

• ½ cup powdered sugar

In a mixer bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and mix well. Add cornmeal and flour with the lime juice and extract. Mix well. Fold in lime and orange peelings. Mix well. Transfer the dough to a surface of flour and cornmeal and roll dough in it until it is no longer sticky. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour. When ready to bake, roll into walnut-sized balls. Press ball to flatten and place ½-inch apart on a butter-greased cookie sheet that’s been sprinkled with cornmeal. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes or until golden and beginning to crack on top. Turn cookies over and bake for 5 minutes or until golden. Allow to cool. Transfer to a platter and sift powdered sugar over the tops, turning over to coat bottom.