A Fresh Mexican Dinner Party

Last night Dan and I had six friends over for dinner, drinks, and games. The food turned out great — but even better, I had such a good time and I think everyone else did too!

Planning the menu was lots of fun. My goals were to make food that each person, including vegetarians, could customize to taste. Feature tons of fresh produce. Make everything from scratch for extra deliciousness and creativity in the kitchen. And use recipes that could mostly be prepped ahead of time, so that when friends arrived I wouldn’t be frantically cooking. Burritos seemed a perfect choice.

I knew ahead of time I might not take photos at the party — plus it wouldn’t be daylight for pretty images — so I had a bit of fun with my camera after the grocery store.

Cocktails: fresh margaritas with 100% agave tequila, fresh-squeezed lime and orange juice, agave nectar, and fleur de sel for the rim

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Munchies: chips, fresh guacamole, and salsa (I buy Tostito’s medium chunky salsa)

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Dinner: build-your-own burritos with grilled veggies

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…slow-cooked Mexican pulled pork (can I call it carnitas?)…

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…and cilantro-lime rice, seasoned black beans, and all the fixins.

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Dessert: Mexican flan (which turned out well despite me spilling a third of the custard mix down the crack between the oven and the counter so we had to scoot the oven away from the wall after baking to wipe up the nasty eggy dust bunnies… GROSS)

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If you throw this kind of party, you can totally do most of the work ahead of time. The night before, I put the spice rub on the meat, baked the flan, and squeezed 50+ limes and oranges. Make sure you have a competent juicer tool. In the morning I put the pork in the crock pot, cut all the veggies, and prepped the guacamole. That left only a few cooking tasks for the hour before dinner.

I highly recommend making a timeline/checklist so that you don’t forget things — my list helped when I almost forgot to start cooking the rice. Another thing that helped was re-calculating my recipes ahead of time to serve 8 people. Some were meant for 4 or 6 or 1, so doing the math and writing down the new ingredients amounts in advance helped me avoid blunders at the grocery store and in the kitchen.

At party time, Dan and I spiffed up the apartment, put a few leaves in the dining table, and scrounged up eight mismatched chairs. We all barely squeezed around the table for dinner since it’s almost too big for our apartment when expanded. Then we sat around the coffee table for hilarious games of Bang and Catch Phrase (go Team Pal Bears!). But other than this pre-arrival shot of the margarita station, I didn’t take photos at the party.

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This is something I’m always conflicted about. I don’t want to detract from my own presence “in the moment” by focusing on documentation, and I don’t want anyone to feel awkward about being photographed. The less well I know someone, the more awkward I feel. On the other hand, I love both the artistic and memories aspects of photography. What do you think is an appropriate balance? Do you feel weird when friends photograph you, especially if you know they might put (tasteful and well-edited) photos on Facebook or a blog?

Anyway, it was a great night with good friends and delicious food. I would fully recommend every recipe (except with a warning that only dedicated and careful cooks should attempt the flan… it was really tricky and kinda kicked my butt). I hope someone out there can use these recipes and tips to throw a great party of your own!

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4 thoughts on “A Fresh Mexican Dinner Party

  1. Thank you so much for a lovely evening! The food was all excellent and that flan – oh my, that glorious flan. One could say it was FLANtastic! ;)

    It’s not a friend but a ? Second part of the word, it’s an animal you see in the forest… Thanks Catch Phrase, I will forever know what to call a person carrying a coffin at a funeral.

    Lastly, it’s funny that you bring up the role of photography in documenting things. I often struggle with finding the right balance myself, but personally I just love the memory aspect of photographs as you alluded to. I have no problem being photographed by friends obviously, but everyone is different. I know being photographed isn’t really Matt’s thing for example, so I try not to bombard him with photo-ops to partake in even though I prefer them. In addition, I have a strong affinity for candid shots but as we know, those are some of the most difficult pictures to take and unfortunately (as much as I ask Santa every year for one), I still haven’t received my phantom paparazzi photographer to follow me around and capture those moments for me :).

    • i am SUPER EXCITED to try that pulled pork recipe. little monkey and i stopped at kroger today for that very reason. it just says its a pork loin roast, so i’m curious to see if the texture is as dreamy. but a little sticker on the package has a pulled pork recipe so i feel pretty okay buying it. all the things labeled as a shoulder were like 10 pounds oddly enough. whatever, it’s gonna be a perfect way to use up my old spices. i think i have all of them just sitting around! tres convenient.

      i think it’s super sweet how concerned you are about other people’s preferences for starring in your photographs. however, i’m guessing by now the folks you hang with know that your stuff is indeed tasteful and well-edited and probably would appreciate capturing the memories like karen said. i doubt it would be much of an issue if you snuck a few in here and there, and if anyone protests just be like my bad dude and avoid them in future pics. i doubt anyone would throw an awkward hissy fit.

      moral of the story: put down the tequila and snap a few pics so i can live vicariously, dammit.

      • Pork tenderloin has a lot less fat than shoulder, so it will need some added moisture for that recipe. Try this: When you finish browning the pork, transfer it to the slow cooker. Return the pan to high heat until the drippings start to smoke, then pour in a cup of water and scrape up the brown bits. Add the porky water into the pot with the tenderloin and spices.

        I’m glad you both agree photos are ok — I want to take more, so just have to work on feeling less awkward! Putting down the tequila is a tall order, lady ;)

  2. ok awesome so glad I checked this before sticking it in the pot. The stuff is marinating now and I’ll pull it out in an hour and do that added moisture bit.

    also, porky water is my new favorite shudder-worthy-yet-hilarious julieism. im gonna drink me some-a-THAT on a hot summer day….

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