Stepping Out

Host a colorful Cinco de Mayo party

Spring into a festive fiesta


The weather is finally turning warmer and with it, the party season begins. Why not start off by inviting familia and amigos to a Cinco de Mayo celebration?
Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Battle of Puebla’s historic victory over the French on May 5, 1862. While Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s traditional Independence Day, it remains a festive holiday steeped in pride and tradition, embellished with the red, white and green flair of the Mexican flag,
Although many Americans might be unaware of the history surrounding Cinco de Mayo, it remains a popular day of celebration in the U.S., not unlike our celebrations of Saint Patrick’s Day and Chinese New Year. This fifth of May, or sometime over the weekend, embrace the culture and traditions of our neighbors to the south by hosting a festive Cinco de Mayo party.

Set the Scene
Shop around for inexpensive pinatas, strings of cactus or chile pepper lights, maracas, serapes, and sombreros to give any room or patio a fiesta flair.

Focus on Fun
Make the kids’ table the best seat in the house! Take an instant photo of your young guests as they arrive, place it by their plate and invite them to decorate the edges with crayons and stickers. Add a splash of color with streamers, confetti and balloons. Offer a fun kid-size menu, such as tacos and simple quesadillas.
Hang a bull pinata and let everyone have a turn trying to knock it to the ground.
Get some limbo going. Play some lively music while your friends stand in line waiting to bend backwards low enough to fit under the limbo stick (broom handle, yardstick, etc.). In order to win, the limbo master must not touch the stick or fall on the floor while limbo-ing under the stick (which is usually held by two people).

Pass the Antojitos!
And, of course, the food is part of the fun. Add zesty Mexican flavor to appetizers and other easy-to-make party foods with taco sauce, salsa, diced green chiles and salsa and cheese dips.
Try a Mexican buffet so that everyone can sample a little bit of everything. Some foods that you want to be sure to include are chicken fajitas, warm flour tortillas, chili con queso, tortilla soup or Mexican gazpacho, Mexican rice, salsa, margaritas, and, lots of guacamole.
Get inspired with these recipe ideas.

Spicy Chicken Fajitas
6 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (1 pound)
2 teaspoons fajita seasoning
2 cups vertically sliced onion
2 cups red bell pepper strips
4 7 1/2-inch whole wheat tortillas
1/2 cup fresh salsa
Cooking spray
Chopped avocado, optional Chopped fresh cilantro, optional
Sour cream, optional

1. Cut chicken into 1/2-inch-wide strips. Place chicken in a small bowl; sprinkle with fajita seasoning, tossing to coat. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add chicken and onion; stir-fry three minutes. Add bell pepper; stir-fry five minutes or until chicken is done.
2. Place one tortilla on each of four plates. Top each evenly with chicken mixture and salsa. Top with avocado and cilantro, if desired. Fold tortillas over filling, and top with sour cream, if desired. Serve immediately, with chili-dusted mango (recipe below). Makes four servings.

Chili-Dusted Mango
2 ripe mangoes, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch slices
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon fresh cilantro
Arrange mango slices evenly on plates. Sprinkle evenly with lime juice, chili powder and cilantro.

Beef and Chipotle Burritos
1 1/2 pounds boneless beef round steak, cut 3/4-inch thick
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 to 2 canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 clove garlic, minced
6 9- to 10-inch tomato-flavored or plain flour tortillas, warmed
3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (3 ounces)
Pico de Gallo salsa (see below)
Shredded jicama or radishes, optional
Sour cream, optional

1. Trim fat from meat. Cut meat into six pieces. In a 3 1/2- or 4-quart slow cooker place meat, undrained tomatoes, onion, chipotle pepper, oregano, cumin and garlic.
2. Cover and cook on low-heat setting for eight to 10 hours or on high-heat setting for four to five hours. Remove meat from slow cooker. Using two forks, pull meat apart into shreds. Place shredded meat in a large bowl. Stir in enough cooking liquid to reach desired consistency. Divide meat among warm tortillas, spooning it just below the centers. Top with cheese, Pico de Gallo salsa, and, if desired, jicama and sour cream. Roll up tortillas. Makes six burritos.

Pico de Gallo Salsa: In a small bowl, combine 1 cup finely chopped tomatoes; 2 tablespoons finely chopped onion; 2 tablespoons snipped fresh cilantro; 1 fresh serrano chile pepper, seeded and finely chopped; and dash of sugar. Cover and chill for several hours.

Mexican Gazpacho
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 large cucumber, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
4 ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 red onion, coarsely chopped
4 cups fresh tomato juice
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, pan-
1 teaspoon mild chili powder
1 ripe avocado, cut in half and pitted
Freshly squeezed juice of 2 limes
Freshly ground black pepper
Cilantro leaves set in ice cubes, or chopped cilantro, to serve

1. Using a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic with the salt until well mashed. Put the cucumber, bell pepper, celery, tomatoes, and onion in a bowl, add the mashed garlic, and mix well.
2. Transfer half of the mixture to a food processor and pulse until chopped but still slightly chunky, and then scoop it into a bowl. Spoon the remaining mixture into a food processor and blend until smooth. Add this to the chunky mixture in the bowl.
3. Mix in the tomato juice, cumin, chili powder, and pepper, to taste. Chill in the refrigerator for several hours until very cold, or overnight. If short of time, put the soup in the freezer for 30 minutes to chill.
4. Cut the avocado into small cubes, toss in the lime juice until well coated, then stir into the chilled gazpacho.
5. To serve, ladle the soup into chilled bowls, then add a few cilantro-leaf ice cubes or sprinkle with chopped cilantro.

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