Last-Minute Cinco de Mayo Party at Home: Smoky Beef Brisket Street Tacos

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With Cinco de Mayo only cinco days away, it’s time you started thinking about your party plans. You know, and I know, and all the other sane people on the planet know that every Mexican restaurant from here to Jupiter is going to be jammed packed with people fighting for a table. Even if you were forward-thinking enough to make a reservation, you’re still gonna wait a long time to be seated. Sure it’s fun to go out and celebrate with tequila-guzzling, sombrero-wearing, chips-and-salsa-munching party animals, but doesn’t it sound more fun to have a few friends over for a casual party where you can enjoy good food, good conversation, and still make it to work the next day (btw, Cinco de Mayo falls on a Monday this year, yeesh!)? Below is a quick and easy Cinco de Mayo menu that you can prep the day before, then throw into the crockpot to cook while you bide your time at work waiting for the festivities to begin.

Smoky Beef Brisket Street Tacos

Also known as carne deshebrads, these super easy, super tasty tacos take a couple minutes to prepare, and even less time to vanish. Seriously, beware because they are highly addictive and will be requested by family and friends for every occasion from here on out. Consider yourself warned!  Just don’t forget to marinate the brisket overnight so that it can reach its full flavor potential. (Recipe slightly adapted from Muy Bueno cookbook, by way of my aunt, by way of her daughter-in-law)

Serves 4-8

Tacos

  • 2-4 lbs. beef brisket, fat trimmed (½ lb. per person)
  • 2 oz. brisket marinade, (preferably Claude’s Brisket Marinade Sauce), or 2 tsp. liquid smoke per pound of brisket
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 12 oz. beer (preferably Blue Moon)
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Fresh cracked black pepper to taste
  • 8-16 corn tortilla, warmed (about 2 per person)

Toppings (choose any combination of the following or add your own)

  • 1-2 cups crumbled or shredded Mexican cheese, such as cotija or queso blanco, or another cheese
  • 1 cup Crema Mexicana or sour cream
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, torn
  • 1-2 cup white onions, diced
  • 1-2 cups fresh tomatoes, diced
  • 2-4 avocados, sliced
  • 3-4 cups shredded cabbage or lettuce
  • 2-3 limes, cut into wedges
  • Lots of pico de gallo/salsa

The night before:

Place all of the taco ingredients (except tortillas) into the baking dish of crockpot or slow cooker, then cover and refrigerate overnight to allow the brisket to marinate.

Chop and prepare all the taco toppings (except for the avocado which will turn brown), cover and refrigerate.

The day of:

Place baking dish in the crockpot and set to cook on LOW for 8-10 hours or HIGH for 4-6 hours.

About 30-mintues before the brisket has finished cooking, slice the avocado and remove the other toppings from the refrigerator. Also, warm the tortillas by stacking 5 of them on top of each other, then wrap in tin foil and place in an oven preheated to 350° for 15-20 minutes (you can warm multiple packets of 5 tortillas at the same.)

Remove the brisket from the crockpot and place on a large serving platter. With two forks, shred the meat and drizzle a couple tablespoons of cooking liquid over top.

Set out toppings and allow guests to build their own tacos.

Sidekicks:

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  • Serve tacos alongside Mexican rice, and guacamole with chips.
  • With this meal you have plenty of wonderful thirst-quenching companions. Serve with Mexican beer such as Pacifico, Modelo, Sol, Dos Equis, Victoria, or Carta Blanca, to name half-a-dozen, and/or a pitcher (or three) of homemade strawberry-watermelon daiquiris.

Guacamole

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Guacamole

  • 3 ripe avocados
  • ½ tomato, seeds removed, diced
  • ¼ white onion, diced
  • 1 small jalapeño, seeds removed, minced
  • the juice of 1 lime
  • 4 sprigs fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
  • 2-3 dashes hot sauce (optional)

Cut the avocados in half and remove pit. Scoop out avocado from the peel, put in a medium bowl. Mash avocado with a fork until slightly smooth with some chunks of avocado left.

Add tomato, onion, jalapeño, and lime juice. Stir until combined, then season with salt & pepper, and a few dashes of hot sauce if you’d like. Serve with tortilla chips.

*If you have a small food processor, you can use it to chop the ½ tomato, ¼ white onion, jalapeño, and lime juice until chunky, then add it to the mashed avocado. Or, for a super quick version, add ½ cup jarred salsa to mashed avocado and mix until combined.

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Guacamole is best served fresh, but if you do refrigerate it, place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of guacamole, the cover the entire bowl with an additional piece of plastic wrap.

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Mexican Rice

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Mexican Rice

Serves 6-8

  • 2 Tbsp. olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 green pepper, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 2 cups dry long-grain white rice
  • 1½ cups spicy tomato juice (2 – 5.5oz cans of V8)
  • 2 cups chicken stock (see recipe in Homemade Stocks)
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen (thawed) peas
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes, seeds removed
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
  • chili powder (optional)
  • 4-5 sprigs fresh cilantro, finely chopped

In a large, straight-sided skillet, heat oil until shimmering. Add onion and pepper and sauté until soft and onion begins to become translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and cook until just fragrant, about 1 minute. Add rice and cook until it begins to toast, about 1-2 minutes.

Add tomato juice and chicken stock and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Once liquid begins to boil, immediately reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, or until rice is soft but not mushy.

Add peas and tomatoes and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes. Season with salt & pepper and chili powder, if you like it extra spicy.

Transfer to a large serving bowl and sprinkle with cilantro. Serve hot.

*Rice can be made the day before, refrigerated, then quickly reheated in the microwave the day of the party.

Strawberry-Watermelon Daiquiris

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The thing I always hate about making frozen drinks at home is that unless you own a Vitamix (which I desperately want but feel bad about dipping into the Toddler’s college fund to buy), I always end up with huge chunks of unblended ice that clog up my straw. By pre-freezing the watermelon for a few minutes and using frozen strawberries, I’ve found that I can bypass those pesky ice cubes altogether and still get the creamy, frosty effect that you’d get from your favorite Mexican restaurant.

Strawberry-Watermelon Daiquiris

Serves 4

  • 2 cups peeled, seeded, and cubed watermelon
  • 2 cups frozen strawberries
  • ½ cup light rum
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • ¼ cup triple sec
  • ¼ simple syrup *

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Place watermelon in a bowl and pour rum over top, then freeze for 40-60 minutes. In a blender, add watermelon and remaining ingredients and blend on high until smooth.

Pour into glasses and garnish with a wedge of watermelon.

*To make simple syrup, add 1 cup white sugar and 1 cup water in a sauce pan. Bring water to a boil and stir until sugar has dissolved. Allow to cool. Simple syrup can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

CHECK BACK FRIDAY FOR A QUICK AND EASY MEXICAN DESSERT YOU CAN SERVE WITH THIS MEAL!
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More Ice Cream Muffins

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This weekend I changed up the ice cream muffins that I posted last week by trying a new flavor – and they were even better than the first. Check it out!

Ice Cream Muffins

Makes 12-14

  • 2 pints ice cream, softened* (I used Häagen-Dazs Pineapple Coconut for these muffins, but any flavor will do)
  • 3 cups self rising flour (not to be confused with all-purpose flour which won’t work in this recipe at all!)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly mist muffin tins with cooking spray, then wipe away residue with a clean paper towel, or, alternatively, line tins with paper muffin cups.

In a medium bowl, beat ice cream and flour until combined. Using a spoon, drop muffin batter into cups, dividing evenly. Top each muffin with with a sprinkle of sweetened shredded coconut and a banana chip, or just Sugar In The Raw.

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Chocolate Covered Pretzel Cookies

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The other day when I was jogging (which almost never happens), I was trying to decide how I would reward myself for my sudden burst of exercise — you see, that’s how I work, I run so that I can eat. Maybe I’ll stop for a doughnut, I thought, as I passed our local doughnut shop, Or I could get a bag of chips, I contemplated as I turned the corner by the mini-mart. Hmm, what do I crave, savory or sweet? And then around mile 2 I realized that I didn’t have any money on me, so I started rummaging through my mental inventory of snacks in my pantry. What could I do with the pittance I have in my cupboard? Let’s see, I have chocolate chips, pretzels, stuff to make cookies…wait, hang on a sec! At that moment I turned around and sprinted home to make my new favorite cookies, and they were exactly what I needed to satisfy every craving I’ve had since birth. Seriously, that’s how good they are. But I’ll warn you, don’t (DO NOT!) make these cookies unless you have a fresh gallon of milk in the fridge, because you will need it! These rich and salty beauties deserve a big, cold, creamy glass of milk to properly wash them down.

Chocolate Covered Pretzel Cookies

Makes 2-3 dozen

  • 1¼ cups unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • ¾ brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup coco powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ¼ tsp. Kosher salt
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1½ cups crushed pretzel sticks (preferably Snyder’s of Hanover Old Fashioned Dipping Sticks), plus 1-2 dozen pretzel sticks snapped into thirds for topping

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Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until combined.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, coco powder, baking soda, and salt. Working in two batches, add the flour mixture to egg mixture, mixing until just combined after each incorporation.

Fold in chocolate chips and pretzels. Using a spoon, scoop out 2 Tbsp. of cookie batter and roll into thick balls, place on a cookie sheet. Take a piece of pretzel and press into the top of each cookie, slightly flattening out the ball, like this…

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See, this way you’re guaranteed a crunchy, salty pretzel in every chocolatey bite — and it just looks cool.

Bake for 9-11 minutes, until just cooked through (I recommend cooking for 9 minutes, then letting sit on the hot cookie sheet for another 1-2 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack). Serve with milk. Lots and lots of milk.

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Split Pea Soup with Ham and Salad with Honey Mustard Vinaigrette

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One of the many things I love about Easter, aside from the candy and the colorful eggs, is the juicy spiral-cut ham that we serve up for dinner – and keep serving day, after day, after day, until the never-ending leftovers have been used up. Sick of ham sandwiches yet? Me, too! Here’s a quick way to finish off your ham without stuffing it into yet another stale dinner roll!

Split Pea Soup with Ham

Serves 6-8

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 white or yellow onion, diced
  • 6 medium-sized carrots, peeled and diced
  • 6 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 4 sprigs of fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • 6 cups chicken stock (see recipe in Homemade Stocks)
  • 1 lb. dried split peas
  • 8 Yukon gold potatoes, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • ½ tsp. smoked paprika, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 ham bone
  • 1-2 cups diced ham, reserve a few Tbsp. for garnish
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, heat oil until shimmering. Add onions, carrots, and celery and cook until vegetables have softened and onion starts to become transparent, about 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and thyme and cook until just fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add stock, peas, potatoes, paprika, and bay leaf and stir to combine. Nestle ham bone in the middle of soup then bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, until peas and vegetables are soft, about 40-45 minutes.

Remove bay leaf and ham bone from, discarding both. Ladle half of soup into a separate bowl, set aside. With a hand-held immersion blender, purée soup in pot until smooth, then return reserved soup to pot and stir until combined. Or alternatively, ladle half of soup into a blender and purée until smooth, the return puréed portion to pot and stir until combined. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

Add diced ham and heat until ham is warmed through. Ladle soup into preheated bowls and garnish with a drizzle with olive oil, some chopped ham, and a sprinkle of smoked paprika. Serve immediately or refrigerate covered for 3-5 days.

Mixed Green Salad with Honey Mustard Vinaigrette

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Serves 6

FOR THE SALAD:

  • 6-8 cups mixed salad greens
  • 3 hardboiled eggs, sliced
  • 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup sugar snap peas, cut into thirds
  • 2 green onions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
  • 1 carrot, shaved

FOR THE VINAIGRETTE:

  • 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbsp. whole grain mustard
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. honey
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

Toss all salad ingredients in a large bowl.

Whisk all vinaigrette ingredients in a liquid measuring cup until ingredients have emulsified.

Pour a little dressing over salad, toss, then repeat as needed.

 

Deviled Easter Eggs

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Since the time I was young, I have always had a hard time letting go of holidays. The anticipation leading up to Christmas, or Easter, or my birthday was so great, that once the date had come and gone, I would go into what my family called a “post-party depression.” I was the kid that would stand in the front yard weeping as my dad hauled our dried-up Christmas tree out to the curb, and the one who would leave Valentine’s Day cards taped to my wall well into summer, and the one that wouldn’t eat my carefully dyed Easter eggs, instead hiding them in my room until they began to smell. Now that I’m older (and only slightly wiser), I’ve gotten better at boxing up our holidays and storing them away until the next year, but I can see that my daughter has inherited my sentimentality. Our Christmas tree (which we never got around to disposing of – oops) is stashed in a corner of our backyard behind the tool shed. Every so often when she’s playing outside, my toddler will wander over to “visit” the tree and offer some encouraging words about its possible return to the living room where it once stood proud. So as Easter approaches, it dawned on me that I may have some difficulty getting her to relinquish the eggs she so happily dyed and decorated last week. Being 2½, she has absolutely no reason. There’s not a snowball’s chance that I’ll be able to explain the concept of “rotting eggs” in a way that she will either a) understand, or b) give a crap about. Again, she’s 2½. So that’s when I put my thinking cap on. How could I preserve her eggs a little longer without sacrificing a dozen perfectly good hardboiled-beauties and still keep my sanity? The answer was so obvious it almost smacked me in the face; deviled eggs! But not just any deviled eggs, dyed deviled eggs. And so yesterday morning when my toddler woke up, she found that not only did the Easter Bunny leave her a fun basket of gifts, he magically transformed her Easter eggs into a colorful lunchtime treat! (I’m hoping this trick works for a couple more years, but probably not!) Anyway, here’s how I did it…

Deviled Easter Eggs

Makes 12

  • 6 eggs
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • food coloring (red, blue, green)


In a medium saucepan set over high heat, place eggs in a single layer and cover with 2 inches of water. Once water begins to boil, set a timer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, remove saucepan from heat and place in the sink. Run cold water over the eggs for 1-2 minutes.

Crack egg shells and carefully peel under cool running water. Gently dry with paper towels. Slice the eggs in half lengthwise, removing yolks and placing in a medium bowl. Place the whites on a serving platter. Mash the yolks into a fine crumble using a fork. Add mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, salt, and mix well. If the mixture is lumpy, use a hand blender to beat the chunks out.

Divide mixture into 5 separate bowls. To the first bowl add 1 drop of red food coloring and mix well, this will be your pink filling. To the second bowl add 2 drops of blue food coloring, and to the third bowl add 1 drop of green food coloring (these will be your blue and green fillings, obviously). The fourth bowl is a little trickier because purple is a hard color to make when you’re starting with a yellow base. I recommend using 1 drop of blue and 1 drop of red, mixing, then adding more of whichever color you need to make it look purple (which will inevitably look grayish, but oh well). Don’t do anything to the fifth bowl because that will be your yellow filling.

Evenly divide the five fillings into egg whites, alternating colors. An easy way to do this is to fill a small sandwich bag with a couple spoonfuls of filling, then cut the tip off one corner of the bag and squeeze the filling into the whites – kind of like you would icing from a pastry bag.

Bonus: thess deviled eggs are so colorful that they don’t need a garnish! Serve eggs immediately, or refrigerate (covered) for up to 1 day.

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Strawberry Ice Cream Muffins

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Yes, ice cream muffins – but hear me out. It all began like this:

My husband, being a frequent traveler on the path of least resistance, subscribes to a blog that teaches readers how to easily cut corners in life. I know, right?! Anyway, every so often he’ll come to me with a recipe from the site that he’s just dying to try out –  and they’re usually pretty terrible; I’m particularly thinking of a microwavable “coffee-cup-brownie” that was worthy of a Pinterest Fail. After a somewhat forced hiatus from the kitchen, he approached me last week with an ice cream muffin recipe that he was confident would change our weekend breakfasts forever. Nope, I said, and shut the idea down before it had time to grow legs. There was no way I was going to serve ice cream for breakfast! That’s just wrong. Or is it? he countered, and went on to plead his case. Now think about it for a second – what goes into ice cream? Eggs, cream, sugar, vanilla. And what goes into muffins? Eggs, cream, sugar, vanilla, and flour. So, potentially, ice cream + flour = muffins. Hmmm, interesting point. So we made the muffins exactly as the recipe called for, and they were, meh – ok. But they had potential. And potential is all I need to tweak a meh-recipe into a mwah!-recipe. So we altered the amount of flour, changed the flavor of ice cream, fiddled with the cooking time, and lowered the oven temperature until we had a pretty awesome ice cream muffin (that surprisingly wasn’t too sweet). And get this, not only are they super simple to make, they’re actually way (WAY!) lower in calories and fat than a Starbucks muffin. Check it out:

Strawberry Ice Cream Muffin (1 muffin):   120 Calories, 2.5g Fat

Starbucks Bountiful Blueberry Muffin (1 muffin):   350 Calories,  12g Fat

Sweet, right? And delicious, but you won’t know that for yourself until you try it out. So get going already!

Strawberry Ice Cream Muffins

Makes 12-14

  • 2 pints ice cream, softened* (I like strawberry, but you can use any flavor)
  • 3 cups self rising flour (not to be confused with all-purpose flour which won’t work in this recipe at all!)

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Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly mist muffin tins with cooking spray, then wipe away residue with a clean paper towel, or, alternatively, line tins with paper muffin cups.

In a medium bowl, beat ice cream and flour until combined. Using a spoon, drop muffin batter into cups, dividing evenly. Top each muffin with with a sprinkle of Sugar In The Raw or sliced strawberries, or both!

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Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

*A good way to soften ice cream is by thawing it in the refrigerator overnight.

{ I always make a couple mini-muffins for my little Mini-Muffin }

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