Every year, my company gives all US employees summer break for the week of US Independence Day, so last week I was thinking about what I wanted to do during the time off.  A friend of mine was planning her annual party and I was to bring a salad, so I started going through recipes and got sidetracked and started looking at recipes for a lot of non-salad things that I wanted to make.  So, I decided we should have a little dinner party. And because I am an absolute fool, I decided that the first time I would attempt these recipes would be for this dinner party.  (Note to self to be ignored later: test recipes before inflicting them on others.)

I can’t remember what made me decide to focus on Latin/Mexican-inspired recipes, but once I started picking things out, I was able to put together a combination that I thought offered variety, but still held a recognizable set of themes.

Anyway, it went pretty well, so I wanted to share what I made and how it went.  Here’s the menu I planned:

Appetizers

Mains

Desserts

This menu might seem kind of extensive, but I was actually able to prepare most of it in advance of the actual event so that I didn’t have to spend all day and then all evening in the kitchen while everyone else had fun.

Appetizers

Pineapple-Ginger-Jalapeño Margaritas

This is a tasty recipe that needs a bit of tweaking.  I had to quintuple the recipe for the number of guests I had and ran into some troubles.

First, the ginger simple syrup is tasty, but makes WAY too much if you are doubling/tripling/etc this recipe.  I ended up freezing a gallon of extra simple syrup that I’m planning on using throughout the summer to make ginger mojitos.

Second, the amount of time needed to soak the jalapeños is exaggerated.  I used three whole jalapeños and let them soak for 45 minutes and the heat was just OK, not overwhelming. I ended up setting aside a small portion (2 – 3c) in a separate container and soaking jalapeño in it for several days so that I could control the heat come party time.

Third, this is fine served unfrozen.  I thought frozen would be fun, but I didn’t want to have to man a blender at my party.  So, I just refrigerated it.

Fourth, this might be because I served it unfrozen, but I found it too syrupy and sweet.  So, I served it with a splash of seltzer water to cut it.  The end result was very, very good.  I even loved the sugar/salt rim on the glasses.

Avocado Shrimp Salsa

As mentioned, I waited until the day of the party to prepare this.  I wanted to do it the day before, but the more I thought about it, the more I psyched myself out about all the acid and the impact it would have on the pre-cooked shrimp.  Honestly, it probably would have been fine, but no harm was done by waiting, either.

I had originally planned to simply double this recipe. I was expecting six guests and although the recipe says that it serves six as an appetizer, I don’t trust serving sizes in recipes like this.

I probably should have trusted the serving sizes because I didn’t fully double the recipe and I still ended up with a TON of this salsa.  Fortunately, it’s quite tasty.

Tostones

I love tostones.  When I first had them, I was told they’re called patacones, but almost no one else I’ve met calls them that. I suspect patacones may be a regional name that is less common than tostones.

Anyway, I love them, but I’ve never tried to make them before, so I looked over several recipes online before settling on this one.  I chose it for two reasons.  First, the tostones are twice fried, which I believed would add a nice crispiness to them when they’re done.  Second, it uses garlic.  I thought it was strange to see so many recipes online that didn’t even mention garlic and garlic is soooo good on these!

Sadly, my dream of making my own tostones is still a dream.  I started making these and they didn’t seem to be crisping up quite right. The fruit also felt mushier than I expected it to be.  I’d never tried to cook with plantains before, so I really didn’t know how to pick them out or even what to expect. But my instinct was that these weren’t turning out right.

And, lo, I got a couple through the process and let them cool a little before trying them and I discovered the problem: the plantains were overripe.  The tostones were way too sweet and had a weird flavor.

The plantains I bought were yellow, but they were labeled “green plantains,” so I thought that “green plaintains” was a category of plantain and not a description of the sort to buy.  WRONG.  I think they need to be the actually green kind.

So, unfortunately, I scrapped this part of the menu minutes before guests arrived.  I’ll have to try it again another time.

Magic Green Sauce

This sauce is simple and delicious!  I only have a couple of tips to offer regarding this recipe.

First, mind your salt.  I like a heavy hand with salt, so I put in heaping scoops of sea salt.  But I failed to account for the fact that my pistachios are also salted.  The result was a bit more saltiness than I really wanted, but it was fine. When I make it in the future, I’ll just add the salt to the mix later in the process so I can get the level I prefer.

Second, this recipe needs just a little sugar.  I made a double batch and a large pinch even things out very nicely.

Our guests agreed: this sauce was delicious and would even be great as a sandwich spread or a salad dressing or… pretty much anything. It’s really delicious!

Mains

Carne Asada

First off, let me just say that this recipe is pretty great.  It’s easy and produces delicious results.

I had originally planned on putting this into my sous vide so that it would be fully cooked and waiting for a sear when we were ready for the main course.  Unfortunately, when I set up the sous vide, the app (I have a Joule.) said it would take EIGHT HOURS to complete cooking.

Anyway, I rolled with it and decided to let it cook in the sous vide for as long as it could and then we would finish it on the grill.  Thankfully, it was actually at the perfect temperature when we pulled it out and we finished it at a perfect medium rare on the grill.  It was SO tasty.

(I did not make the pico de gallo.  The avocado salsa above would have been a delicious garnish for it as well.)

OMG!  I JUST REALIZED THAT I FORGOT TO CUT UP AVOCADO FOR GARNISH LAST NIGHT!!!  Oh well.  That’s more for me to eat later.

Mexican Grilled Corn

This is another food that I just love.  When I lived in NYC, my friend, Daniella, and I would go to Cafe Habana down on Elizabeth and eat grilled corn and drink mojitos.  It was glorious.

And, apparently, these are really easy to make!

The cheese is just parmesan (or parmesan and romano, which is what I had) and it sticks to the corn thanks to a mix of sour cream and mayo.  I don’t care for cilantro, but I added a little to the mayo mix anyway because it was in the recipe and I was trying for a little bit of authenticity.

I’m also happy to report that the mayo mix is WAY more than you really need for four ears of corn.  I’ve actually made 12 ears of grilled corn so far and we will easily make the four remaining ears that we have with what’s left of the mayo mix.

Desserts

I love making desserts.  This entire meal was pretty much just a justification for making this:

This is two kinds of ice-cream in an edible bowl topped with regular ol’ Hershey’s chocolate syrup.  Personally, I’d leave the syrup off because it’s tasty without it, but I didn’t really plan anything else for garnish.  BUT! A mint leaf would have been fine.  I think a candied orange peel might have worked really well, too.

Mexican Chocolate Ice-Cream

I messed this one up.  It’s good because it’s ice-cream, but it could be way better and it’s my fault that it didn’t turn out that way.  No one noticed, though. One of our guests particularly commented on this one as being especially tasty.

Where did I go wrong?

First of all, I didn’t prep my custard properly and ended up with a strange mouth feel. This is because I felt like the chocolate wasn’t fully melted/blended and it needed some more heat, so I thought I would do the custard and melt the chocolate at the same time.  No.  Do not.  You can’t tell when the custard is done when you do this.  So, I removed it from heat to avoid ruining it completely and the result was this weird mouth feel.

Second, I added too much cayenne pepper.  I added just a little and the final custard tasted weak, so I added a little more.  When I actually froze it, though, the pepper was too strong.  At least, I thought it was too spicy by itself.  With the other ice-cream it was actually fine.

I like this recipe and I will probably try it again another time and follow the directions more closely.

Dulce de Leche Ice-cream

I’ve never had dulce de leche ice-cream before, so this was completely new for me. I had no idea how it should taste and I hunted through three separate grocery stores for a jar of dulce de leche including my local Mexican grocery and no one had it. I ordered a jar from Amazon, but it arrived broken.  Then I looked it up and it turns out that dulce de leche is just sweetened condensed milk that you’ve roasted in a steam bath for something like an hour and a half.  So, I made my own. I only wish I’d roasted the condensed milk for a little tiny bit longer to get more caramel flavoring.

This is a very easy recipe.  If you’re starting out with ice-cream or teaching a child, this is a good one because there’s no egg and it’s just a handful of simple ingredients.

One major note: SALT.  I’ve run into a lot of recipes online lately that don’t include salt in the ingredients and this is a prime example of one that needs it.  The recipe is tasty, but a pinch of salt in the milk really makes the flavor pop.

This recipe calls for plain chopped pecans, but if you want an ice-cream that is more like pralines and cream, try candied pecans.

Churro bowls

These are really good. I just love making special “bowls” for ice-cream. I was wary of churros because they’re deep fried, but this recipe is actually baked rather than deep fried.  And the result it still very good.

By the way, I got eight cups out of this rather than six.

A few things might have made these marginally better.

First, the nozzle that I chose for my pastry bag was too small.  I wasn’t sure how much the dough would expand, so I really didn’t realize it right away.  I decided to just roll with it and they turned out fine.

The second mistake I made was that I didn’t read the recipe carefully enough and tried baking the cups at 225 Fahrenheit instead of 440.  It did not work.  After 45 minutes in the oven, I realized my error and turned the temperature up, but the result was that my cups were a little chewier than they really should have been.

If you make these, I would also recommend watching for gaps in your cups.  Seal them with a little extra dough to make sure that the cups maintain their integrity and hold together for serving.  I made them early in the day and just put them in a sealed container until it was time to serve.

Bottom line: these are great and very worth the effort to make an impression on guests.