What exactly does it mean when you whip up tomatillo salsa, pico de gallo, mole, chocolate cake and chocolate chip cookies all in one evening right in front of your boyfriend, and he doesn't suspect AT ALL that you're throwing him a surprise dinner party??? It just might mean that I cook too much, but I don't really think that's possible. This year for his b-day, I thought I would throw him a surprise dinner party. There's nothing better than good food and good friends.
I've been inspired lately by a co-worker who makes homemade taquitos to die for. For these taquitos, the 1% carnivore left in me comes out. They are that good. I've been picking his brain for his Mexican cooking secrets. His parents owned a Mexican restaurant, enough said. The two most important things that he has opened my eyes to are to boil your jalapeños before you broil them for red salsas, and Lawry's Seasoning Salt (his secret weapon). I thought I'd see if if I could pull together a Mexican themed surprise party based on his tips.
So we begin our Mexican fiesta. I thought I'd try something new. I had never made mole before and thought I would make some vegetarian enchiladas with mole sauce. Mole is on the borderline as being one of those foods that might not be worth it to make. It is very labor intensive. We begin by soaking our dried ancho and pasilla chiles and grinding our spices. I actually got the BF to do it. He was able to put much more muscle into it than poor little me, who has trouble opening jars. I swear it's from my job. All the repetitive typing/10-keying is weakening my wrists. My unsuspecting BF ground up 1" of a cinnamon stick, cloves, peppercorn and star anise with a mortar and pestle. I added some raisins to the to the soaking chiles. It's amazing how many different ingredients are in mole and how many different varieties there are. Just google "mole" I dare you.
Next, I toasted up raw almonds and raw pepitas in a few teaspoons of oil. Once they were getting golden I threw in the spices, so that I would get the most out of them. The kitchen was smelling nutty, smoky and sweet all at the same time. I pureed everything in batches in my food processor and also added one round of Mexican Ibarra chocolate. Once it was at this step, I left it for the next day when I thinned it out with half a beer and water and let it simmer for a few hours. I tasted it before I cooked it and thought I had seriously done something wrong. Once it's cooked, the taste totally mellows out and fully develops.
For my enchiladas, I used tatuma (aka Mexican white squash), spinach, onions and broccoli. I chose queso fresco and sharp cheddar to go along with the veggies and topped the casserole of with a nice aged cotija (mexican parmasan).
I planned on this being a buffet style dinner. It's just way too hard to have a sit down dinner for 20 people in an apartment. With that in mind, I made sure to have plenty of foods that would be easy to eat standing up. That being said, there is no such thing as a Mexican fiesta without quesadillas. I made mango, brie and arugala quesadillas that I served with a chunky guacamole. I had planned on adding grilled pineapple also, but seeing as my iron chef skills were not up to par, I ran out of time. I guess I'll have to have a cinco de mayo party.
To go along with the theme, I served grilled kumquat-lime shrimp skewers. I literally have a cupboard full of preserves. I went through a jamming phase a while back. My parents have a kumquat tree, so I made jars upon jars of kumquat-tangerine marmalade. This was the perfect opportunity to use some of it. I made a marinade out of the marmalade, fresh lime juice, olive oil, oregano, red pepper flakes and some salt and pepper.
I was lucky enough to have help through the whole ordeal – Thanks Misa. I'm forever indebted to you. Just let me know when you want to throw a party and I'll be there with Sponge Bob pinata in hand. She was amazing at time management and I learned something new about her that day. Besides her party decorating skills, the girl's got some mad talent when it comes to vegetable platter arrangements. Check it out…
Of course, we also had to have our staple beans and rice. I mixed it up by making the Spanish rice out of brown rice and black beans that I had cooked in beer (the other half from the mole) and seasoned with onions, garlic and Mexican oregano. I ended up mixing them together and topping it all with crumbled Cotija.
We finished our meal with a flourless Mexican chocolate cake, chocolate chip cookies and lots and lots of digestifs. What does it say about you when you get six different types of whiskey for your birthday? It means you're going to have a very good birthday. Happy birthday, Brock!