Summer entertaining made easy: Host a backyard taco bar

Spice Islands Test KitchensMay 15, 2013 

ENTG-SUMMER-TACOBAR MCT

Slow-cooking cubed pork shoulder helps the flavors meld in this recipe for pork carnitas with cilantro tomatillo sauce. McCLATCHY TRIBUNE

DEAN TANNER — MCT

The return to outdoor entertaining is one of the most celebrated aspects of the summer season. While moving the party outside is a welcome change, hosts can find it difficult to decide on a menu that is not only delicious, but also easily served alfresco. A simple and satisfying solution is a backyard taco bar. The portions can be adjusted to feed a group of any size, and the worry over picky eaters is eliminated because all guests get to choose their favorite combinations.

If you're planning your own event this summer, try the tips below for a festive taco bar menu that will have your guests saying, "Delicioso!"

'Tis the seasoning: Nobody wants a bland taco, so the seasoning should have plenty of flavor. While store-bought mixes are easy to use, they may not hold the same zest. A homemade taco seasoning not only adds a unique and flavorful touch to the meal, but it's also simple to create. Look for a blend of spices that add just enough heat and savory zest, such as ancho chili powder, smoked paprika, ground cumin, garlic powder, onion powder and even a dash of Saigon cinnamon, a Spice Islands' taco seasoning secret ingredient.

Hot off the grill: Use the outdoor grill to add interesting flavors to traditional taco toppings and other ingredients. Grill slices of avocado or halved cherry tomatoes in a grill pan for a slightly smoky taste that adds a layer of depth to the spice. The grill also can be used to warm up soft tortillas. Place tortillas directly on the grill grates and remove when light brown spots begin to appear or they have puffed up in places.

Top it oof: Toppings are what really make tacos tasty, so make sure there are plenty of options for guests to pile onto their plate. Provide an assortment of shredded cheeses, lettuce, tomatoes, olives, corn, beans and jalapenos. And don't forget the sour cream, salsa and guacamole. For the ambitious host, create a variety of homemade salsas made with spices that add different levels of heat. Use garlic powder, chili powder, cayenne pepper and onion powder to start, and then incorporate zestier flavors, like chipotle chili and red pepper, for hotter salsas. Serve everything on brightly colored and patterned platters and bowls for an enticing buffet setting.

Something to sip: No taco bar is complete without a festive drink to complement the meal. Instead of margaritas, treat guests to sweet and refreshing summer sangria. Make a large pitcher with favorite fruits, such as strawberries, lemon and orange slices and pineapple chunks.

PORK CARNITAS WITH CILANTRO TOMATILLO SAUCE

1 pound pork shoulder

2 tablespoons corn oil

1/4 cup chopped onions

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon chipotle chili, ground

2 tomatillos, finely chopped

1/2 cup finely chopped tomatoes

1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

4 corn tortillas

1. Cut pork into 1 inch cubes; season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large skillet or Dutch oven. Add pork, onions, garlic powder, chili powder and chipotle chili; saute 3 to 5 minutes to brown the meat.

2. Add enough water to barely cover pork. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes. Remove lid and continue to simmer an additional 45 minutes or until liquid has evaporated.

3. Combine chopped tomatillos, tomatoes and cilantro in a small bowl.

4. Place an equal amount of pork on each tortilla. Top with tomatillo salsa.

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