Thursday, May 5, 2011

Cinco de Mayo: Stories & recipes!

Happy Cinco de Mayo!  Is that what we say?  I'm sure there's something that's supposed to be said on such a fantastic day - a day where Mexican food must be eaten, tequila should be drunk (preferably in a margarita), and the sun must shine all day long.  Oh, looks like November outside here in Dublin on this fine 5th of May, but I can use my imagination for that part.  Stateside, this day is observed as a day to celebrate Mexican heritage and pride.  For those without Mexican heritage, it's a day to celebrate the culinary delights of that beautiful country.

Husband might argue that yesterday was the better holiday.  Why?  Because it's the only day of the year that he can walk around saying "May the 4th be with you"!  It makes me laugh every time, mostly because saying "May the forth be with you" of course makes him sound like a lithp (or lisp), which I think is totally adorable on anyone!

I digress...Cinco de Mayo, si.   I love this holiday because it's a wonderful excuse to eat Mexican food - not that I need an excuse, mind you.  
I've always loved Mexican food, even before Husband and I went to Mexico in 2006 for our 1 year anniversary/2nd attempt at a honeymoon as our first honeymoon was thwarted by Uncle Sam, as mentioned above.  Here we are in Oaxaca.  It was beeeeautiful....
On our moped, on that back of which I clung to my husband for dear life...
 View from the B&B that we stayed at on the beach.
 We did lots of relaxing....Husband tanned while I wore big hats and applied SPF 50000 in an effort not to burn.

Aaaaaaand back to reality in rainy Dublin.  We're going to keep it low-key here because lets face it, it's a work night and we're too old to be going all crazy when there's an early morning and work to face the next day.  Normally we do tacos, fajitas, or something equally delicious involving Mexican flavored meat wrapped in a delicious tortilla.  This year, however, we're going all crazy and doing what I've heard is the most delicious Mexican Chicken Salad ever.  It's from one of the most amazing cookbooks ever so I don't doubt it's deliciousness even though I have yet to taste it.

This is one of the best cookbooks I've ever had!  Everything I've made from it has been delicioso!  My baby brother (who's 6'3" and 21 years old, but still "baby" brother) got it for Husband and I for our wedding.  I was very excited about it and, as PK was deployed to Afghanistan 3 days after our wedding and I spent the first 5 months of married life living alone at Ft. Bragg, NC, my darling dearest sister came to stay with me for 2 weeks to keep me company and save me from myself!  During that 2 weeks, we cooked our way through this cookbook.  I could cook a few things before but mostly I cooked just for me, as I lived alone in NY before getting married and was not very adventurous in my cooking.   You can imagine that working my way through a proper, grown-up cookbook was slightly intimidating and a definite challenge.  It was a challenge we met, though, and we discovered some amazing recipes which have become staples in both mine and my sister's dinner tables.  Sister loved it so much that she (free and single at the time) went out and bought it for herself!    Even better - (almost) all the recipes serve 2, so it's perfect if you're a newlywed (duh) or even a single cooking for yourself, and everything is easily doubled or tripled if you've got more hungry mouths under your roof.

There are several Mexican recipes in this cookbook and I've had almost all of them.  They are gooood.  One thing we're sorely lacking in this country is good mexican food.  A fantastic Chipotle-style burrito place called Pablo Picante has opened here last year and is a smash-hit, which I think bodes well for Mexican cuisine coming to Ireland, which might be the best news ever. On tonight's menu is the Mexican Chicken Salad with Taco Ranch Dressing.  Mmmm I'm hungry already!  Since perhaps you're contemplating what you are going to make tonight and might also be seriously seduced by the delicious name of this dish, I will share the recipe to tempt you further!  It looks like a long and complicated ingredient list, but it's really not - it's easy peasy, so don't be deterred!

via a kind soul who has already made and photographed this dish for me to share with you!

Mexican Chicken Salad with Taco-Ranch Dressing
Serves 2

Ingredients for Taco-Ranch Dressing:
  • 1/3 C mayonnaise 
  • 1/3 C (80 ml) buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 tsp fresh lime juice
  • 2 tsp taco seasoning
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
Ingredients for Chicken:
  • 2 tsp taco seasoning
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt (or corse/sea salt)
  • 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (about 6 oz / 170g each)
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
Ingredients for Salad:
  • 1 (15 oz/400g) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 small ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and chopped into 3/4" pieces
  • 1 plum tomato, cut into wedges
  • 1 tsp taco seasoning
  • 4 C (400g) chopped romaine lettuce
  • 1 C (100g) crumbled tortilla chips
  • 1/4 C (25g) fresh cilantro leaves
  • 2 lime wedges
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

To make the taco-ranch dressing:
Whisk together all the dressing ingredients in a medium bowl. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 30 minutes.

To prepare the chicken:
Mix the taco seasoning, onion powder and kosher salt in a small bowl. Season the chicken on both sides with the spice mixture and brush with the canola oil. Place the chicken on the prepared baking sheet and bake until opaque in the center, 15 to 20 minutes. 

To make the salad:
Combine the beans, avocado, tomato and taco seasoning in a large bowl and toss gently. Add the lettuce, chips and cilantro. Add 1/2 C of the dressing and toss, adding additional dressing if necessary. Divide between 2 plates.  Slice the chicken and arrange in fan like shape on top of the salads.  Garnish with a lime wedge.  Serve.  Eat.  Love.

I cannot wait to make this tonight.  And because I love you all so much, my dear, loyal and patient readers, I will share with you one more AH-MAZING recipe from this cookbook which is absolutely, perfectly suited for today's holiday:  Guacamole.  In this wonderful country in which I currently reside, they commit a heinous and practically unforgivable culinary sin.  They sell a jar.  With "Doritos" branding on it.  I know I know - it's extremely upsetting.  And the ingredients list includes "cream" - wtf?!  Awful.  I wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole.  Unfortunately, they have not discovered the amazingness of proper, fresh guacamole here, so - Irish readers - you can thank me now! :)  I've had a lot of guacamole in my day and this beats the rest by a mile.  When we were at Ft. Bragg and used to host dinners/parties/get-togethers, Husbands soldier-buddies would come over asking if I might happen to have some of that delicious guacamole hiding out in the fridge.  I usually did and it usually didn't last more than about 10 minutes after that.  The key, as the cookbook authors say, is to use perfectly ripe avocados - ones that give slightly when you (gently) squeeze them in your hand.  It's extremely easy to make, and you can add other things to this recipe (like sweetcorn, black beans, etc), but I just have it as it is and I think it's perfect.

Serves 4-6, but you might want to make double if you've got a big group - I promise it won't last long.
  • 2 Medium sized ripe avocados (approx 1lbs / 450g total), halved
  • 1 plum or medium sized salad tomato, seeded and chopped
  • 1/4 cup (25g) chopped fresh cilantro (or coriander, if you live in Ireland)  I tend to be a tad generous with this, in my book there is no such thing as too much cilantro/coriander
  • 1tbsp (15mls) fresh lime juice - again, I add a bit more to taste, love me some lime juice
  • 2 tsp of minced garlic
  • 1tsp finely minced jalapeño chile (Irish readers, they don't call them jalapeños here, but they look like this and are classified as hot.  Be sure to get rid of the seeds and membrane if you are not a fan of super spicey things and whatever you do wash your hands well before touching your eyes, mouth, etc.)
  • 1/2 tsp of kosher (or corse) salt, plus more to taste as needed
  • 1/8 tsp ground cumin
  • Tortilla Chips for serving (plain are best)
Using a metal spoon, scoop out the avocado flesh into a medium sized bowl and discard the peel and stone.  Lightly mash the flesh with a fork.  Add the tomato, cilantro/coriander, the 1tbsp of fresh lime juice, garlic, 1tsp of jalapeño, 1/2 tsp salt and the cumin and stir to combine.  Taste and season with more lime juice, jalapeño and salt if you like.  Serve with tortilla chips and fall in culinary love.  
*Tip:  It's best to serve guacamole immediately when it's freshly made. However, if you must refrigerate it, cover it with cling film/saran wrap, pressing it directly onto the exposed surface of the dip to prevent it from browing.  You can stick in the fridge for 4-6 hours max, and just be sure to taste and adjust the seasonings before you serve it as the flavour does dull over time.

So - how are you celebrating?  Do leave a comment and tell me, and if you want to share/link to a Mexican recipe that you love, even better - I'm always looking to expand my Mexican menus!  

Right now, though, I'm now going to close my eyes and imagine myself celebrating Cinco de Mayo here....
Cabo San Lucas, via


  1. Love this post! And that salad looks amazing. I might have to try that soon. Funny that in my super-sleep-deprived-because-I-have-a-newborn state, I didn't even realize it was May 5th, but planned to have Mexican tonight. Must have been embedded in my subconscious somewhere. Hope the salad turns out well. Love you!

  2. Great minds think alike! I have a recipe you can add to your Mexican library on my blog. The chicken salad looks yumm-o!!! Will definitely have to try! I am also going to imagine myself on the beautiful beaches today! Ahhhhhh....