Does it seem a little odd to throw a dinner party this time of year with a tropical theme? Well, if you think so-let us remind you that in places like Cabo, Puerto Vallarta, Huatulco or Cancun the temperature is in the 80s right now. We're offering up two themes for this party. You can go with the Tropical idea, or you can give your party a "Vaquero" (think Southwestern with a Mexican twist) flair.
The Dress Code: The tropical theme works beautifully this time of year if you live in a warm to moderate climate. It's unexpected and makes people feel like they've been given a reprieve from the holiday madness, and slipped away for an evening's mini vacation! If it's just too cold where you live to pull this one off, and you'd rather be cozy and warm in front of a roaring fire, then the Vaquero theme is definitely for you.
To go Tropical: Ask people to wear Hawaiian shirts, flowing tropical-print dresses and flip flops. You can even request that they take off their shoes when they come inside and do the party barefoot!
For the Vaquero theme, give your guests the following instructions: Women-silver turquoise jewelry should drip from your ears, necks and wrists. Wear a long, colorful skirts, white blouses and cowboy boots. Men-you're outfitted in jeans, plaid flannel shirts and turquoise and silver bolo ties. Cowboy hats and boots too, if you have them! Otherwise, just think Southwest and give it your best shot!
This menu has been created for a guest list of eight. Here it is:
Cocktail and Appetizer time:
WILD BLUE MARGARITAS served with AUTHENTIC GUACAMOLE, SALSA AND CHIPS.
The Dinner Buffet:
CHOPPED MEXICAN MEDLEY SALAD, CHIPOTLE SEA BASS WITH VEGETABLES, SINFUL CINNAMON RICE and ZUCCHINI WITH CORN AND PEPPERS. Serve a Chardonnay or Savignon Blanc with this main course, if desired.
After Dinner Treats:
MEXICAN COFFEE and FRIED BANANAS HUATULCO STYLE.
Now, here's your TO DO list:
1. Decide on your fiesta's date, time and guest list.
2. For DECORATIONS, it's time to check out what you have on hand before making a list and heading out to the party store. First of all, you need to decide if you have enough "nice" dishes, utensils and glasses to serve eight people. You'll need 16 small appetizer and dessert plates as well as eight dinner plates, eight Margarita glasses and eight coffee cups, plus enough utensils for dinner and dessert. If you have all that, great! If not, go with paper and plastic. For a buffet, it's fine and much easier on the cleanup too!
3. Time to go to the party store. Pick out some invitations with a Mexican or a tropical flair. (If you'd rather not send invitations, what about email? Or just picking up the phone? After all, this is an intimate party and these will be your closest friends.) Pick up one red and one green tablecloth-plastic preferably, or pick some wild, tropical colors. Buy some fiesta-looking paper napkins. Get all the plates, napkins and utensils you need. Most party stores stock Mexican wall decorations, colorful paper flowers, piñatas and centerpieces. Get about a dozen or two small votive candles and as many lunch sized brown paper sacks. On the day of the fiesta, you will fill each with some sand or soil, insert a candle and place two rows of "luminarios" along the walkway to your front door.
4. For music, visit you local store and ask the sales clerk for some recommendations on toe-tapping, lively Latin music. Linda Ronstadt, Gloria Estefan, Ricky Martin, Julio or Enrique Iglesias, the Gypsy Kings, Santana-any of these will help get your guests in the right mood. You might also want to ask for Latin versions of your favorite Christmas carols. If you're doing the tropical theme, don't forget the Jimmy Buffet music. He's always a great mood-setter!
5. A couple of days before the party, make your grocery list. Do your shopping.
6. Before the party begins, set up your buffet and your bar. Make sure you have enough seats, either at a dining table or (more casual) in your living room so that everyone can sit down and eat comfortably.
7. Lay out your most festive, fun serving plates. Make your margaritas, guacamole, and salad and put in refrigerator. Lay out the ingredients for all the other dishes you'll be making in the area of your kitchen where you'll be preparing them. Decide who to assign as your assistant. Be sure to notify that person ahead of time and ask him or her to come a little early! Now, get dressed, light your luminarios, crank up the tunes and get ready to have a blast!
Remember, FIESTA spells good times for everyone.
Here are the recipes for your never-to-be-forgotten holiday dinner buffet fiesta:
COCKTAILS AND APPETIZERS:
WILD BLUE MARGARITAS
These Margies are delicious. They're also a stunning blue color-exactly t the shade of a tropical turquoise lagoon. Make these in a large (gallon-sized) glass pitcher and serve them in Margarita glasses, rimmed in salt. Recipe serves eight, but you may want to make a backup batch and set aside in a Tupperware pitcher in case people want seconds....
1. Fill a gallon pitcher with broken ice -
2. Squeeze the juice of four fresh Mexican limes into the pitcher -
3. Savor that fresh lime aroma -
4. Add 16 ounces of Cuervo 1800 or your favorite tequila -
5. Sniff the cork -
6. Add 4 ounces of Triple Sec -
7. Add 4 ounces of José Cuervo white tequila -
8. Add 10 ounces of Rose's Lime Juice -
9. Add 4 ounces of Blue Curaco (Oh, baby!) -
10. Stir vigorously!
11. Pour into glasses-kick back and turn up the tunes!
SALSA, GUACAMOLE & CHIPS
Guacamole (we call it "guac") is a staple in California, the Southwest and throughout Mexico. If fresh ingredients aren't available, you can often find prepared guacamole in the deli section of your supermarket. That is where we recommend you purchase your fresh salsa as well. Put a bowl of guacamole and a bowl of salsa on either side of a colorful basket filled with tortilla chips. (We use a big basket painted like a watermelon, lined with purple and hot pink cloth napkins.) This recipe serves eight.
3 - 4 ripe avocados
2 tsp lemon juice
1 large tomato, diced
1/2 bunch green onions, chopped
1 tsp garlic powder or 2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 - 4 tbsp salsa verde (to desired spiciness)
1/4 cup grated Mexican queso cacique or feta cheese
1 large black olive
1 12 oz. Container of Salsa Fresca
1 large bag tortilla chips
To make the guac: Slice avocados in half and remove seed. Scoop avocado pulp out of the skin using a spoon. Mash avocados in a medium-sized bowl. Add lemon juice, diced tomatoes, green onions, garlic, salt and pepper. Add salsa verde to taste. Stir well, but stop while it's still slightly lumpy. Refrigerate, covered until ready to use. Can be made up to three hours in advance.
Garnish with shredded cheese and olive. Surround with chips. Feel free to substitute blue corn tortilla chips for a Southwestern touch, or if you can find them (and you often can this time of year) buy red, green and white tortilla chips. The colors are very Mexican and totally festive!
CHOPPED MEXICAN MEDLEY SALAD
This tangy, crunchy salad is "to die for." Its combination of flavors from all over Mexico will delight your guests. Serves eight.
1 1/2 heads romaine lettuce, chopped
1 1/2 pounds jicama (a crunch, tasty root vegetable), peeled and finely diced
6 seedless Oranges, peeled and chopped into squares
2 red onions, finely diced
1 medium bunch cilantro, stems removed & finely diced
4 stalks celery, finely diced
1 large bell pepper, finely diced
Dressing (This is important-don't cheat and used bottled dressing!):
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup fresh Mexican lime juice
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp Orange marmalade
1/4 cup salsa verde
1 tsp garlic powder
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Make this salad and dressing up to four hours before the party. Combine all salad ingredients in a large bowl. Chill in refrigerator. Right before serving, add salad dressing, toss lightly and place on buffet table serve.
CHIPOTLE SEA BASS WITH VEGETABLES
The chipotle chiles, which are smoky jalapenos, canned in red adobo sauce, give this sea bass an incredibly different and delightful flavor. When they are baked together with wine, tomatoes, potates and cilantro, the fish takes on a distinctive, mouth-watering flavor. Serves eight.
3 pounds sea bass, or 8 fillets
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp minced garlic
3 chipotle chiles, diced (available canned in adobo)
4 lemons, quartered
3/4 cup butter or margarine
1 large white onion, thinly sliced
3 medium potatoes, peeled and very thinly sliced
3 tomatoes, peeled and quartered
1/2 cup white wine
5 tbsp chopped cilantro
Before your guests show up, you can do the prep work on this one. Season fish on both sides with salt and pepper, garlic and lemon juice. Sprinkle diced chipotle chiles over top. Melt butter in large skillet. Brown fish on both sides.
Transfer fish and juices to a 9 x 14 inch baking pan. Arrange onion and potato slices around fish and place in oven. Don't turn it on yet! About 45 minutes before you plan to serve dinner (or right about when the guests begin to arrive), turn the oven on to 375 degrees. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, add tomatoes, pour wine over fish and sprinkle with cilantro. Bake an additional ten minutes, or until fish flakes easily with fork and potatoes are done.
Arrange fish on large platter with tomatoes, potatoes and onions. Pour juices over fish and sprinkle with cilantro. Garnish with remaining lemon quarters and serve immediately!
SINFUL CINNAMON RICE
This delectable (practically too-good-too-be-true) rice dish with its unexpected seasonings is a potpourri of wonderful flavors and textures that's not only pleasing to the eye but a total sensual treat to eat. The combination of long grain rice and vegetables with cinnamon and raisins has created a dramatic side dish that complements any meat or fish main dish. Serves eight.
4 tbsp butter or margarine
1/2 cup carrots, diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
1/2 onion, diced
2 cups long grain rice
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup raisins
6 cups water
Melt two tablespoons butter in deep saucepan over medium heat. Reduce heat, add carrots, celery and onion and cook, covered for ten minutes. Stir occasionally. Add rice, salt, cinnamon, raisins and water to pan and bring to boil over high heat. When the water has reduced to the level of the rice, lower heat, cover and cook 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Just prior to serving, add remaining butter.
ZUCCHINI WITH CORN AND PEPPERS
The red and green bell peppers bring to life the colors of the Mexican flag-which are also (of course) the colors of the holiday season. This vegetable dish is a festive addition to any meal Serves eight.
1 1/2 tbsp margarine
2 1/2 pounds zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 1/2 cups corn cut from four ears
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
In large skillet, melt margarine over high heat. Add zucchini, corn, bell peppers, onion and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently until most of vegetable liquid has evaporated and vegetables are tender-crisp. Serve immediately.
DESSERT & COFFEE:
FRIED BANANAS HUATULCO STYLE>
Fried bananas originated in the Yucatan. This wonderfully tropical dessert is lightly spiced with Orange and cinnamon. Invite your best friend into the kitchen right after dinner to help you whip it up. It's easy and quick. One of you can do the bananas and the other can put together the Mexican coffee. Serve these together, and you will both be renowned forevermore! Serves eight.
4 tbsp butter or margarine
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup Orange juice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
4 green tipped bananas, peeled and sliced lengthwise
Melt margarine in skillet with brown sugar, Orange juice and cinnamon. Cook over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Add banana slices. Stir and cook over medium high heat for four to five minutes until bananas are golden and liquid is almost caramelized. Serve immediately.
This piping hot drink combines the tastes of tequila, Kahlua, brandy and Rompope-all Mexican originals-with coffee. Topped with whipped cream, it is a dramatic, delicious way to end a chilly winter evening. Serves eight.
8 cups steaming coffee or decaf
4 ounces tequila
4 ounces Kahlua
4 ounces brandy
4 ounces Rompope (a creamy vanilla Mexican liqueur) or Irish Cream if unavailable
whipped cream to garnish
Heat four mugs by placing in hot water or heating in microwave. Into heated mugs, add half an ounce each of tequila, Kahlua, brandy and Rompope. Top off with hot coffee or decaf and whipped cream. Serve immediately in front of a roaring fire.
Please visit our top Mexican food recipes section at Top Mexican recipes
Recipe and tips provided by Ann Hazard.