Spicing Up a Birthday Party Fiesta Style!

As many of you know, Hubby’s birthday is coming up soon. While we would love to celebrate this mile-stone birthday in Cozumel, sipping Patron Margaritas and sampling the local foods, traveling is not in the cards. It doesn’t mean that we can’t create a Cozumel Street Side Cafe atmosphere at home. Lord knows, the weather is hot enough. All we need is the right music, a few pitchers of Margaritas, and a well planned meal to transport us to the Caribbean island just east of Yucatan Peninsula. With a little imagination, we’ll spend a lovely evening in good company while leisurely enjoying a sumptuous assortment of Mexican foods with a tropical island flare.

I wanted to serve a few appetizers, a few salads, a few sides and main entrée selections of beef, chicken and seafood such as shrimp. While searching through my collection of recipes, a light came on for the entrée selection – it was so obvious. Fajitas – as in the steak and chicken variety. As for the shrimp – marinated Tequila-Lime of course. These beautiful shrimp can be enjoyed on their own (my personal preference) or wrapped in a tortilla as in Shrimp Fajitas – all up to the diner. Okay then, most of main entrée dishes were settled. Just one more to add – street tacos with homemade chorizo. Homemade chorizo takes time – at least 72 hours for all the flavors to come together. Hubby (in my opinion) deserved a good chorizo taco. Okay, Fajitas, Street Tacos and Tequila Shrimp. Now we’re making progress.

Okay, let’s back up a step – appetizers. My family almost always expects Deviled Eggs from me – it’s nearly an unwritten rule. So Deviled Eggs it would be. One down, one to go. I had considered one hot and one cold appetizer. Again, thought went into the process. Hum, birthday in August – food that needs to travel and the ability to make ahead. Nope, one hot is out. For my birthday, we made an Italian Relish served on a baguette. Those were popular. Why not make a  Bruschetta with a Mexican influence? Sounds good to me . . . Appetizers . . . Main entrées . . . let’s move on to salads.

Dad is a big fan of Mangoes. I’ve talked with him about a favorite salad I like to make when serving up some spicy dished. It’s a Mango & Jicama Salad – tropical, sweet, refreshing. There was no doubt in my mind that my Mango & Jicama Salad had to make the final cut. Another salad that I have been dying to try came to me from a fellow blogger – Tux over at Brooklyn Homemaker. What could be better than a Guacamole Salad with Jalapeño Lime Dressing to serve alongside my Mango & Jicama Salad? The only change I’ve made to Tux’s salad was to omit the chicken. With all the various dished for Hubby’s Birthday Bash, I felt the chicken in the salad was not necessary. That said, I would highly recommend using the original recipe serve as a main course.


Appetizers . . . Main entrées . . . Salads – now for some sides. You gotta have Beans. It was just a question of which kind of beans – spicy black beans – fried refried beans – refried beans with chorizo (my personal favorite).  I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – when planning a menu, one must ALWAYS consider one’s guests. While Hubby, Kiddo and I like it hot, the rest of my family are not necessarily fans of spice. And there are children to consider – so it would be a firm “no” on the black beans and refried beans with chorizo. Fried Refried Beans it was. Second side choice – rice. I had considered either my Authentic Spicy Spanish Rice (one of Hubby’s favorites) or Mexican Rice with Chunky Salsa but realized both were way too spicy for this crowd. I did have a recipe for Taco-Seasoned rice that was not too spicy, while dressing up the buffet table with its presentation.

Last but not least was dessert. My family loves my cakes. And this is a birthday menu – so it goes without saying that cake was the perfect fit. This is Hubby’s birthday – after 30+ years of marriage, I knew exactly which cake to bake – hands down it had to be my Marble Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting. Of all my cakes over the years, this is Hubby’s favorite. Now I know what you are thinking – with all these Mexican dishes, why a Marble Cake? It’s Hubby’s birthday – and as the birthday boy, he was going to end the festivities with his favorite cake. If you are looking for something different with a south-of-the-border flair, I would suggest Margarita Cupcakes with Tequila-Lime Frosting.

It only took a week of planning and at last Hubby’s Mexican Fiesta Birthday Menu was set –

Bacon Jalapeno Deviled Eggs
Mexican Bruschetta on Sourdough Baguette Rounds

Main Entrées
Chorizo Street Tacos
Fajitas – Steak & Chicken
Tequila Marinated Shrimp

Side Dishes
Easy Mexican Fried Refried Beans
Taco-Seasoned Rice

Guacamole Salad with Jalapeno Lime Dressing
Mango and Jicama Salad

Marble Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

*** Appetizers ***

Bacon Jalapeno Deviled Eggs
12 large eggs, hard-boiled and peeled
1 cup mayonnaise
1½ teaspoons rice vinegar
¾ teaspoon ground mustard
½ teaspoon sugar
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
6 pieces bacon, cooked, crisp, and crumbled
Smoked Paprika for color

Slice the hard-boiled eggs in half, lengthwise. Remove the yolks and place them in the mixing bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade. Pulse egg yolks until finely chopped, almost smooth.

Add half the crumbled bacon, mayonnaise, rice vinegar, ground mustard, and sugar to the mashed egg yolks and pulse until well combined. Transfer yolk mixture to a mixing bowl.

In a small processor, finely chop jalapeno peppers. Add to the yolk mixture and stir to combine.

Place mixture into a zip-lock bag. Seal bag, pressing out as much air as possible. Snip a small corner of the bag just large enough to pipe out the mixture. Fill each egg white with the yolk mixture.

Sprinkle with paprika. Garnish with remaining crumbled bacon. Chill until ready to serve.

Mexican Bruschetta on Sourdough Baguette Rounds
3 medium Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup white onion, chopped
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
1 Lime, juiced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup crumbled Queso Fresco (Mexican Cheese)
1 Sourdough Baguette, sliced

In a medium bowl combine the tomatoes, onion, jalapeno, garlic, cilantro, lime juice and salt. Cover and refrigerate for several hours.

When ready to serve, top tomato mixture with Queso Fresco. Place Bruschetta in the center of a serving platter. Arrange sliced baguette around Bruschetta  Serve and enjoy.

*** Main Entrées ***

Chorizo Street Tacos
Home-Made Chorizo
3 large dried Chile Negro Pods
4 smaller dried Pasilla-Ancho Chile Pods
1/2 Cup Boiling Water
8 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons dried oregano leaves
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon brown sugar
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
3 tablespoons tequila
3 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 lbs lean ground pork

Heat a large dry cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add chilies; toast, turning often, until just fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from pan and let cool.

Using kitchen scissors and working over a medium bowl, cut chilies into 1″ rings, reserving seeds and discarding stems. Cover with 1/2 cup hot water; let soak, stirring occasionally, until chilies are soft and pliable, about 10 minutes.

Place the re-hydrated chilies together with the liquid and seeds into a food processor fitted with a blade. Give chilies a few quick pulses to begin the “liquidation” process. Add the garlic, oregano, cumin, black pepper, brown sugar, vinegar, tequila, and salt, and process until the mixture is smooth.

Place ground pork in the bowl of a sturdy stand-up mixer fitted with a dough hook. Pour chili mixture over pork and gently mix into the meat. When almost mixed, remove from mixture and finish “kneading” by hand. (Gloves would not be a bad idea as the mixture may tint your hands orange – the voice of experience speaking!) DO NOT overwork the meat.

Place chorizo into an airtight container. Let mature in refrigerator 48-72 hours before using.

To Cook Chorizo for Tacos: Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, cook chorizo until cooked through, 8-10 minutes. Let chorizo begin to brown before breaking apart with the back of a wooden spoon or spatula. Continue to break apart as the sausage cooks. Drain and keep warm until tortillas are ready to fill.

Street Tacos
1/2 Head Iceberg Lettuce, finely shredded
12 Red Grape Tomatoes, finely chopped
12 Yellow Grape Tomatoes, finely chopped
20 Small Corn Tortillas, white or yellow
Cooking Spray
1/2 Cup Sour Cream
1 Cup Shredded Mexican Cheese Blend

While the chorizo browns, shred lettuce and chop tomatoes, set aside until ready to use. (Mix tomatoes together for a colorful presentation).

Warm a flat skillet or griddle. Spray with cooking spray. Place tortillas on griddle, spray top side with cooking spray. Warm tortillas, about 3 minutes, flip and warm other side. Remove tortillas from griddle and keep warm until ready to use. Repeat until all the tortillas are warm.

Once the sausage is browned, lay warm tortillas on a work surface. Spread a little sour cream over tortillas, line center with cheese and top with about a tablespoon or so of the meat filling. Fold tortilla over filling and place in a casserole dish for serving. Keep warm.

To serve,  place shredded lettuce and tomato mixture in small bowls. Allow diners to garnish street tacos as desired.

Steak and Chicken Fajitas
Steak Fajitas
1 1/2 lb top sirloin steak
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoon lime juice
2 garlic clove, finely minced
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
1⁄2 teaspoon salt

In bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons olive oil, lime juice, garlic, chili powder, cumin, hot pepper flakes, black pepper & salt.

Add beef strips and stir to coat, set aside. Let steak strips soak in the flavoring, about 20 minutes. (Now would be a good time to make the chicken strips).

In large non stick skillet over medium high heat, heat remaining tablespoons of olive oil. Add beef to skillet, cook, stirring for 3-4 minutes or until the strips lose their red color.

Remove steak strips and keep warm until ready to serve.

Chicken Fajitas
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast, pounded thin
Salt & Pepper to taste
1/2 cup Chicken Broth
2 Tablespoons Taco Seasonings
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Chipotle Seasoning

Cut meat into strips 2-inch wide strips. Season with salt and pepper.

In a large skillet, stir-fry chicken until nicely browned on all sides.

Mix 1/2 cup chicken broth with taco seasoning and chipotle seasoning. Pour over chicken, cover and simmer until tender and cooked through, about 20 minutes. Once chicken is tender and cooked through, transfer to a serving platter or casserole dish and keep warm until ready to serve.

Grilled Vegetables
3 Orange bell peppers, cut into strips
3 red bell peppers, cut into strips
3 large Spanish Onions, halved vertically, then cut into slivers
3 Tomatoes, cut into wedges.
2 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Chipotle Seasoning

Core and slice bell peppers into long, thin strips. Peel onions, slice in half lengthwise. Slice each onion half into slivers. Cut tomatoes into wedges. Set prepared vegetables aside until ready to use.

Heat about 1 tablespoon of oil in a large cast iron skillet, add onions and peppers. Stir-fry until crisp-tender. Add tomato wedges and fry for about 1-2 minutes longer.

Remove from heat, sprinkle with chipotle season and gently toss to blend.

Plate grilled vegetables and keep warm until ready to serve.

Fajita Wrap and Toppings
6 Roasted Jalapeño Peppers (Optional)
24 Fajita Size Flour Tortillas
Cooking Spray
1 1/2 Cups Grated Cheese – Mild Cheddar, Mexican Crumble Cheese or Feta
1 Cup Sour Cream
1 Cup Guacamole

If using, core  Jalapeño Peppers to remove membrane and seeds. Cut into thin strips.

Roast  Jalapeño Peppers in a small, dry cast-iron skilled until blistered and soft. Place peppers in a small bowl and keep warm until ready to serve.

Heat a flat skillet over medium-high heat. Spray tortilla with cooking spray, place sprayed side down on hot griddle surface. Spray top with cooking spray. Cook until just beginning to brown, about 2 or 3 minutes. Turn and brown other side.

Repeat with remaining tortillas. Keep warm until ready to serve. A nice way to keep tortillas warm and create a nice presentation for serving is to fold tortillas in half, then half again, creating a rounded top and pointed bottom. Fold tortilla as it is finished warming/browning and place in a tortilla server. Repeat with the next tortilla, overlapping the first in the dish. Continue to fold until tortillas are warmed and ready to serve.

Place Cheese, Sour Cream and Guacamole into small serving bowls. Cover and keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

To Serve: Place chicken and steak strips on a large platter side by side. Place tortillas, grilled vegetables and other toppings in close proximity to the meats. Invite diners to create their own personal take on a Fajita.

Tequila Shrimp
1 lb Shrimp, cleaned (21-25 count)
2 Garlic Cloves, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons Butter
4 Tablespoons of Tequila
2 Tablespoons of lime juice
1 Pinch Sea Salt
1/8 Teaspoon White Pepper
1 teaspoon of red crushed pepper
¼ cup Cilantro, chopped
2 Limes, cut into wedges to serve

Rinse, clean and remove tails from shrimp. Set aside until ready to use.

Finely chop garlic and set aside. (If you have a small food processor, you can make quick work of finely chopping garlic, and that is always nice).

Heat butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat until it melts and begins to foam.

Add chopped garlic to the butter and sautee just until garlic begins to release its aroma (about 30 seconds)

Add the shrimp and cook for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time, until shrimp reach a nice opaque pink with a little “white” in color. If the shrimp are all white, the shrimp has been overcooked. DO NOT over cook the shrimp.

Pour the Tequila and lime juice into the pan with the shrimp. Continue to cook another minute. Remove from heat, season with salt, pepper and crushed red pepper flakes. Stir to blend seasonings with shrimp.

Transfer shrimp to a nice serving platter. Garnish with cilantro. Place lime wedges around shrimp and serve.

Shrimp can be enjoyed alone or used as a seafood filling for Fajitas or street tacos.

*** Side Dishes ***

Easy Mexican Fried Refried Beans
3 Cans Refried Beans
3 Tablespoon Bacon Drippings
3 Tablespoon Taco Seasoning, if desired

This is my usual Fried Refried Beans, with one obvious exception – the ingredients have been increased to feed a crowd.

Heat a small amount of bacon dripping in a skillet over medium heat.

Spread refried beans out in the skillet, reduce heat to low heat.  Season and stir, cook until hot.

Transfer to a large bowl and keep warm until ready to serve.

  • Note: When making a large batch of fried refried beans, once warmed through, beans can be held in a crock pot. The pot will keep the beans warm while acting as the perfect serving bowl.

Taco Seasoned Mexican Rice Cups
1 (14.5 ounce) can chicken broth
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (1 ounce) package taco seasoning mix
1 1/2 cups uncooked instant rice
1 cup Shredded Mexican Cheese Blend
1 Cup Sour Cream
1 (6 ounce) can sliced black olives for garnish
Cilantro leaves for garnish

In a large pot, bring chicken broth, tomato sauce and taco seasoning to a boil.

Stir rice into the pot, cover and remove from heat. Let the pot stand, covered, for 5 minutes.

Stir in cheese and mix well.

Using a small bowl or cup, mold rice into individual servings. Invert bowl or cup on a platter to form attractive individual servings.

Just before serving garnish rice “cups” with a dollop of sour cream and a few sliced olives. Tuck a few cilantro leaves around platter for a splash of contrasting color.

*** Salads ***

Guacamole Salad with Jalapeño Lime Dressing
Jalapeño Lime Dressing
2 limes, zested and juiced (about 1/4 cup)
1 jalapeno, seeded and roughly chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon honey
1/3 cup olive oil
Sea Salt to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste

Combine all dressing ingredients in a small measuring cup or wide mouth mason jar and puree with an immersion blender until creamy and smooth.

If you don’t have an immersion blender you can use a regular blender or food processor.

Set dressing aside until ready to serve. The dressing can be made ahead and refrigerated until ready to use. Be sure to blend again before adding to the salad.

Guacamole Salad
3 to 4 generous cups arugula
2 ripe avocados, cut into large chunks
1 cup halved grape tomatoes, about 1/2 a pint
1/2 a small red onion, finely chopped
1/2 torn cilantro leaves, stems removed
1 cup tortilla chips, crunched
1/2 a can of black beans, drained and rinsed

Layer salad ingredients in a large bowl. Once ready to toss, pour dressing over the top and toss to distribute all ingredients and evenly coat with dressing.

Serve immediately.

  • Note: If you want to assemble the salad ahead be sure to wait until the last-minute to cut open the avocados or to add the tortilla chips or dressing.

Mango & Jicama Salad
¾ Cup Jicama, peeled & Julianne cut
½ Cup Ripe Mango, peeled and cut into chunks
1 Tablespoon Fresh Lime Juice
½ Teaspoon Sugar
1 ½ Teaspoons Chopped Cilantro (or Flat Leaf Parsley)
¼ Teaspoon Salt
Dash of Pepper

Peel Jicama. Cut Julianne style. Place in a large bowl.

Peel Mango. Cut into chunks. Place in bowl with Jicama.

In a small bowl, combine lime juice, sugar and chopped Cilantro. Toss to coat.
Season juice with salt and pepper. Pour lime juice mixture over Mango & Jicama salad.

Toss to mix well.

Cover and keep refrigerated until ready to serve. This salad is best and most refreshing if served well-chilled.

*** Birthday Cake ***

To create a Marble Cake: First, make your base cake batter, then reserve 1 cup of batter. Divide the remaining batter between two round cake pans (or whatever shape; size you are baking). To the reserved batter, add 1/2 cup of good quality unsweetened baking cocoa. Whisk well, breaking up the cocoa until the batter is smooth and lump-free. Spoon equal amounts of the chocolate batter onto the batter in the pan(s), then swirl with a knife and bake. That’s all there is to it.

One quick tip – people are always asking me the same question (it doesn’t seem to matter if I’ve baked from scratch or from a box) – how do you get your cakes to come out so moist? I’ve given this question a lot of thought. The answer is simple – under-cook the cake. Not to the point that the center is doughy, that wouldn’t be good. I simply reduce the cooking time on every recipe – if the recipe says bake for 22-28 minutes, I set my timer for 20. Sometimes, when checking, I might need to bake the cake a minute or two longer, but usually it’s perfectly baked. After all, the cake will cool in the hot pan another 10 minutes before moving to a wire rack for cooling. During those 10 minutes, the cake continues to bake and dry out. This is especially true for light-colored cakes such as yellow or white cakes.

Marble Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
Marble Cake
1 cup unsalted butter, softened, room temperature
2 cups white sugar
2 eggs, separated, room temperature
3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
1/2 Cup Good Quality Baker’s Coca

Preheat oven to 325.

Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar.

Add in egg yolks and vanilla, mixing until fully incorporated. Set aside.

In a separate bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt.

Gradually add dry ingredients into wet ingredients, alternating with the buttermilk.

Mix until batter is fluffy.

Beat egg whites until foamy and thick.

Fold egg whites into batter and mix until incorporated.

Remove 1 cup of batter. Place into a small bowl. Fold baker’s coca into the reserved batter.

Pour remaining batter into prepared pans and spread into even layers. Using a spoon, randomly add chocolate batter into yellow batter. Using a knife or bamboo skewer, swirl chocolate batter through the yellow batter. DO NOT over-blend. Remember, this is a marble cake. (See Photos below)

Bake for 28-30 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cake cool in pans until pans are warm to the touch.

Carefully remove cakes from pan and place on a cooling rack to finish cooling.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
1 Oz Semi-Sweet Chocolate, Melted
½ Cup Solid Butter-Flavored Vegetable Shortening
½ Cup Butter, Softened
1 teaspoon Vanilla extract
3 Tablespoons Powdered Dutch Chocolate
4 Cups sifted powdered Sugar
3 tablespoons milk**

Melt Semi-Sweet Chocolate in the microwave on HIGH 45 seconds or until almost melted. Whisk to melt completely. Let cool.

Cream butter and shortening with electric mixer.

Add vanilla and blend. Add cooled chocolate, beat until a nice, chocolate butter is formed.

Sift Powdered Sugar and Dutch Chocolate together.

Gradually add chocolate-powdered sugar, one cup at a time to creamed butter mixture. With each addition, beat on low until incorporated, gradually increasing speed to medium high. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl between additions and after the last of the sugar has been added.

When all Coco-sugar has been mixed in, the frosting will appear to be dry. Add milk one tablespoon at a time and beat a medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep frosting covered with a damp cloth until ready to use.

To frost, first trim any “crown” from one cake round to allow cake to sit flat on serving platter.

Place trimmed cake round on a serving platter, trimmed side down, bottom side up. Spread frosting over the top and down the sides. Place next layer on top of first, bottom side down. Frost top and down the sides, pressing in slightly where the two layers come together. Frost sides and top a second time to frost completely.

Happy Birthday to my Best Friend – You always know how to make me laugh

7 thoughts on “Spicing Up a Birthday Party Fiesta Style!

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