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Thursday, May 1, 2014

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Cinco de Mayo: The No-Stress-a Fiesta

Note from Jeanie: Oh, hello there. Jeanie here. I'm here to show you how to stress less and party more. I tried the whole perfection thing and frankly, I'm over it. Over the next couple of months I'll be introducing some of my favorite bloggers from around the web to give you quick, easy ways to entertain for every occasion. Next up in our amazing Guides to Entertaining for Various Occasions series: Gabi Moskowitz from BrokeAssGourmet.com. Gabi will give you some real talk (and real recipes) for creating the not-quite-perfect-but-very-excellent Cinco de Mayo get together. Okay, start reading and get yourself some knowledge!

Cinco de Mayo is all about celebrating; so don’t let some crazy need for party perfection get in the way of your fun. All you need for a good Cinco de Mayo is friends, some booze (which, ahem, you can totally ask said friends to bring over) and a little culinary creativity. Everything you need for this stress-free soiree is available at your local corner store, and none of it requires serious hands-on time or fancy equipment.

So what are you waiting for? Crank up the Mariachi on Pandora, shoot that double tequila, and let’s get this fiesta going! ¡Vamos! 

Offbeat Centerpieces

Obviously fresh flowers make for a lovely centerpiece, but some get-togethers are so impromptu that they don’t allow for a visit to the florist. Fortunately, it’s likely that you already have a fabulous centerpiece (or two) lingering in your closet already. That sombrero you picked up in Tijuana on Spring Break 6 years ago? Stick it next to the guacamole and watch it take your table from “Okay” to “ParTAY” in a matter of seconds. Those colorful scarves you never wear? Arrange them in a large glass bowl for a pop of festive brightness. My favorite: stick a bucket of ice in the center of the table and ask your friends to bring wine, beer and tequila over. Ice down the booze, sit back and toast to your domestic prowess.

Limeade Margaritas and the Art of Spontaneous Mixology

Skip expensive, preservative-laden margarita mix and pick up a bottle of prepared limeade instead. Limeade is cheaper, more readily available and also great for any guests who might not want an alcoholic beverage. Also, the addition of sugar in the limeade means you don’t have to bother making simple syrup, as with a traditional margarita recipe.

Simply mix 3 parts tequila, 2 parts triple sec and 1 part limeade. Serve over rocks, salt is optional. To make your life even easier, stir up a batch of several margaritas in one big pitcher, then pour, sit back, relax, and don’t get up again until you need a refill. These Aladdin tumblers are awesome, and make some of the best smoothie containers I've ever found.

And there’s tons of room for customization. Feeling inspired by the jalapeño you bought on a whim last week? Slice it up thinly and use as a garnish for your margs — it’ll give them a spicy kick that will perk you right up. Got some frozen fruit hanging out in the freezer? Add it to your cocktails to keep them cold without watering them down.

Don’t be afraid to make substitutions in your cocktails as needed. The truth is, if you use good ingredients and taste as you go, your drinks are likely to still be delicious, even if they’re a little unconventional. Don’t have limeade but do have lemonade? Great! Lemon margaritas are delicious! No triple sec, but see an orange lingering in the produce crisper? Juice that sucker up and add it to taste! The bottom line? Mixology is supposed to be fun, so get to mixing already!

Freewheeling Quesadillas

Quesadillas are the ultimate last-minute party food. They can be made from any thin, flat bread. Think corn and/or wheat tortillas, split pita pockets, or lavash, all of which can be kept in the freezer to seriously lengthen their lifespans. All you need is cheese (literally any kind you have—even cream cheese will work), optional add-ins, like crumbled bacon, leftover cooked chicken, beef, pork or tofu, canned black beans (drained and rinsed), sliced scallions, black olives, canned green chilies, diced tomatoes, and any stray veggies you may have hanging around. To make the quesadillas, simple layer a little cheese and an add-in or two between 2 tortillas, split pitas, or lavash. Then cook in a little butter or oil (vegetable, canola or olive) over medium heat, until the outside is crispy and the inside is melty. If you want to cook a bunch of ‘dillas ahead of time (look at you, planning ahead!) just keep the cooked ones warm in a 200-degree oven, until you’re ready to cut them into wedges and serve (with hot sauce, if you dig that kind of thing).

Hint: got vegans coming to your shindig? Whip them up some quesadillas (minus the “quesa,” obvs) by substituting unsweetened, canned pumpkin and a sprinkle of cumin and salt for cheese. Cook ‘em up crispy, and even your cheese-loving friends will want to scarf them down.

A Churro by any Other Name…

You can’t have a Cinco de Mayo fiesta without sugary, cinnamon-flecked churros, right? Obviously.

But, traditional churros require piping goopy doughnut batter into a vat of hot, bubbling oil and, um, “oil-splattered chic“ isn’t exactly what you had in mind for the cute new dress you just bought.

Enter pizza dough churros. While not exactly authentic, these sweet, twisty little guys totally capture the churro spirit. Even better, there’s no messy frying required. Just roll 1 pound of store-bought pizza dough out into a large rectangle (as close to 12” by 8” as you can manage), and cut it into 6-inch strips (about 1-inch wide). Dip each strip in melted butter, then toss in cinnamon sugar, and bake in a 375-degree oven for 16-18 minutes, or until golden-brown. Serve warm.

Want to really blow your guests’ minds? Pass around the Nutella for dipping.

The Bottom Line

Parties should be fun for everyone, including the host. Elaborate decorations and painstakingly perfect food are not the key to an unforgettable get-down—but a relaxed, welcoming party-thrower is. Make simple, yummy food and drinks, play fun music and be comfortable, and your guests will follow your lead.