Mexican Birthday Feast
It has been a few weeks since we started our family fitness challenge, and my mention of letting you in on the fun of reward dinners. So far, we’ve had 3 themed feasts. With 11 participants gathering around our table every 2 weeks, we’ve ditched the concept of a formal dinner in favour of a potluck affair, much like we used to do on the boat: everyone is in charge of a dish and bring their own alcohol.
Our second theme in May was Mexican. Besides Terry, everyone in the family loves it, and it always brings fond memories of our stay in Puerto Aventuras a couple of years ago. That night also happened to be Tania’s birthday (Terry’s middle daughter), so a proper fiesta was in order.
Anne got the party going with a Lemonade Margarita stand on the verandha, while our guests nibbled on black bean dip and tortilla chips (made by Leanne) and my version of bacon cheese jalapeno poppers.
Mains were a mix of all-time favourites and new flavours. Spicy Fish Tacos have always been popular on the boat and it’s no different in the house. Served with copious amounts of guacamole, fresh tomato salsa, thinly sliced cabbage, sour cream and warm tortillas…it is the ultimate comfort food according to my son (then again, so is fried chicken or beef burgundy…his tastes are eclectic!)
Chicken Mole, on the other hand, is the kind of meal that most of our guests had heard of but never tasted. I had sampled it in Merida, Yucatan, but found the dish underwhelming at the time (truth be told, the restaurant was also serving Iranian dishes which tasted far more exotic to Terry and I, after 9 months in Mexican Cantinas!!) 2 years on, I decided to try again: after all, Mole Poblano is considered one of the Mexican Haute Cuisine dishes and all this talk of chili, spices and chocolate had everyone intrigued. The only problem with Mole is that the traditional recipe takes a long time and an even longer list of ingredients. Luckily I had a near-forgotten stash of mole paste I had purchased prior to leaving Mexico, so there really was no excuse. Indeed it was very easy, just a matter of parboiling the chicken, use the stock to thin the sauce, and pour over. Done! The verdict was mixed: some people found the flavour very sweet (“you can taste the raisins!”), others could not tell the chocolate ( I’ve since found out there is none listed in the ingredients!!!), while I personally was delighted the sauce was only mild despite all the chilies. We served it with lots of rice on the night, and I can say that it made a wonderful lunch the next day (even more flavourful!)
Craig and Kathy kept our waistlines in check with a delicious and refreshing Mexican salad (lovingly renamed Confetti Mix for all the bits of bright colours lent by the capsicum, corn, lettuce and herbs…)
Finally the piece de resistance was brought by the birthday girl, who is of the strong belief that the only way to get the cake you want on your birthday is to make it yourself. Peanut Butter Cheesecake has been Tania’s favourite for a few years and she has now mastered the recipe to such an extent that she also bakes it for others! It is a delicious dessert indeed, adapted from a Donna Hay’s recipe: luscious and rich, peanut buttery, yet not overly sweet.
To say that we were stuffed by the end of the night is an understatement. Left over Mole and cheesecake made up a big part of the following week’s rotation, and the tequila relegated to the back of the cupboard, unseen since that night.
Maybe we’ll pace ourselves better next time…Maybe not. We’re cooking Thai.
A very basic recipe, child’s play really! Quantities can be adjusted to taste (more or less alcohol, ice, or lemonade…)
10 lime wedges
2 tbsp salt
1 ½ cup tequila (or more to taste…)
3 cups fresh lemonade (i.e not Sprite or 7 Up!)
3 cups crushed ice
- Using lime wedges, moisten rims of 10 glasses. Holding each glass upside down, dip rims into salt, set aside.
- In a pitcher, combine the tequila and lemonade.
- Serve in prepared glasses over crushed ice.
Bacon Cheese Poppers
This recipe is inspired by a friend of mine who grows her own jalapeno peppers in Queensland. While visiting us on the boat a few months ago, she brought over a plateful of these freshly picked little gems, stuffed with cream cheese and wrapped in bacon. I have been obsessed with them since! This is my version of these spicy snacks, real crowd pleasers they are! Warning: most of the peppers are mild, but occasionally (1:10 seems to be the ratio) you will bite into a really hot one, have water on hand…We call it Mexican roulette!
16 jalapeno peppers
250g cream cheese, softened
1 ½ cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese ( or gouda if unavailable)
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
½ cup crumbled blue cheese
6 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup onion, chopped finely
¼ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp chili powder
½ cup breadcrumbs
- Cut jalapenos in half lengthwise and remove seeds, set aside (wear rubbergloves and avoid touching your face!)
- In a small bowl, beat the cheeses, bacon, salt, onion, garlic powder, and chili powder. Spoon the mixture into the pepper halves. Dip tops of stuffed jalapenos into breadcrumbs.
- Transfer to 2 baking dishes, lined with parchment paper. Bake at 180deg C for 20-25 minutes or until heated through. Serve with sour cream.
Mole is said to have been invented in the 17th century by a group of nuns, in the convent of Santa Rosa in the Mexican city of Puebla de Los Angeles. As the story goes, they received the visit of the local archbishop, and with no special food to offer him beside a turkey, they came up with the idea of mixing everything they had in their pantry to make a sauce thick and flavourful enough to dress the bird. Thus Mole Poblano was born. While there are many variations on Mole all over Mexico, it basically is a mixture of 20 spices, chilies, nuts, seeds and other ingredients crushed together into a paste. Some include chocolate, some don’t, you can find green mole (mole verde), black mole (mole negro), red mole (mole Colorado), yellow mole (mole Amarillo)…One of my cooking projects has been to make mole from scratch one day, intrigued by this recipe and that recipe but lack of time and ingredients have defeated me so far. Luckily, I stocked up on pre-made mole paste before leaving Puerto Aventuras so mole making is a breeze. The longest part is boiling the chicken!
12-15 chicken thighs, skin on, bone in
Salt and pepper
500g pre-made mole paste
2 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted, for garnish
- In a large stockpot, place the chicken pieces in enough water to cover. Season with salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Simmer covered for 40mn or until the chicken is tender. Drain, reserve the cooking stock and set aside the chicken.
- In a medium size saucepan, bring 2 cups of chicken stock to the boil. Stir in the mole paste until well dissolved.
- Place the chicken pieces in a serving/shallow baking dish, pour the sauce over to cover. Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds.
- Serve hot with white rice or warm tortillas. Enjoy!
Peanut Butter Cheesecake
Adapted from Donna Hay Magazine
While Tania is sticking to the original Donna Hay recipe for the cake, she’s tweaked with the peanut praline, making her own “peanut sand” instead. It seems to be a State secret, so I am giving you the instructions for the peanut praline, guessing that the sand is just a pulverised version ( I hear the Nutri Bullet does a fantastic job!)
Filling: 250g chopped cream cheese, 150g ricotta, ¾ cup smooth peanut butter, 1 tsp vanilla extract, ¾ cup brown sugar, 2 eggs, ½ cup pouring cream
Chocolate base: 1 cup sifted plain flour, 2 tbsp sifted cocoa, ¼ cup brown sugar, ¼ caster sugar, 100g melted unsalted butter
Peanut praline: 1 cup Demerara sugar, ½ cup roughly chopped roasted salted peanuts
Cream topping: 1 cup sour cream, ¾ cup pouring cream, ¼ caster sugar
- Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). To make the chocolate base: place the flour, cocoa, sugars and butter in a large bowl and combine well. Using the back of a spoon, press the mixture into the base of lightly greased 20cm loose-bottomed tart tin. Bake for 15 minutes or until cooked thru but still soft to the touch. Set aside to cool.
- Reduce the oven temp to 150C (300F). In the bowl of an electric mixer, place the cream cheese, ricotta, peanut butter and vanilla extract and beat for 5 minutes or until smooth. Add the sugar and beat for another 4 minutes or until well combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add pouring cream and beat until just combined. Pour the filling mixture over the chocolate base and smooth the top with a palette knife. Place the tart tin on a baking tray and bake for 45-50 minutes or until just set. Allow to cool in the fridge for at least 2 hours or until firm.
- Increase the oven temp to 200C (400F). To make the peanut praline, sprinkle the Demerara sugar in a thin and even layer on a large baking tray lined with parchment paper. Bake for 20 minutes or until the sugar is melted and is dark golden (careful it doesn’t burn). Remove from the oven and quickly sprinkle with the peanuts. Allow to cool completely before breaking into pieces. Place the pieces in a small food processor and process until fine ( maybe, this is the time to blitz the mixture in a blender and turn it into sand?)
- To make the cream topping, place the sour cream, cream and caster sugar in a bowl and whisk until soft peaks form. Top the cheesecake with the cream and sprinkle with the praline (or sand) to serve. Enjoy!