Cinco de Mayo is Monday, and Mexican restaurants throughout the United States will be cooking up specials and pouring margaritas. Home chefs can do their own versions of restaurant favorites at home for the day celebrating the battle of Puebla that took place May 5, 1862.
No, it is not Mexican Independence Day -- that's Sept. 16 -- but Cinco de Mayo has become a fiesta grande.
As readers know, Mexican food is one of my favorites, but it took a while for me to like it, much to my mother's chagrin. When I was a preschooler, she would take me to Mexican restaurants and try to find dishes that I would eat. Mom's favorite food was Mexican, and she couldn't have a child that didn't like it. Persistence was her mantra.
The first breakthrough came at the old Felix's Mexican Restaurant in Houston. The chefs made a spaghetti with Mexican cheese melted on it. I never have had a problem with spaghetti. That restaurant also made the best "wet" tacos. The tacos were overstuffed with beef and crispy on the edges but moist in the center. Even as an adult, I, along with friends, would go to Felix's for "wet" tacos and the best guacamole. It was a sad day when the restaurant closed in 2008 after being in business for 60 years.
Now, I need no convincing to dine on Mexican food. I grew up on Tex-Mex; so did my husband. Mexican food is a staple in my kitchen. My palate has become more discerning from cheesy Mexican spaghetti. I really enjoy foods from coastal and interior Mexico, which are much different from Tex-Mex.
Shrimp or fish tacos are quick fixes and perfect for lighter spring-summer meals. I'll share a favorite, plus my guacamole recipe. Readers can make their own variations for Cinco de Mayo.
I like to use coleslaw mix or shredded cabbage to top tacos. Cabbage or slaw is crunchier, and it's a way to slip in another vegetable for my granddaughter.
SWEET AND SPICY BAKED SHRIMP TACOS
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons plain breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 pound raw, peeled medium shrimp
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
16 (6-inch) corn tortillas, warmed
2 cups coleslaw mix
Heat oven to 500 degrees. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil; set aside.
Combine all spice mixture ingredients in small bowl. Dip shrimp in butter then in spice mixture. Place onto prepared baking sheet. Bake for 5 to 6 minutes or until shrimp are pink and coating is bubbly.
Meanwhile, combine all sauce ingredients in small bowl.
To assemble tacos, stack 2 warmed tortillas onto each individual serving plate. Top with 1/8 baked shrimp and1/4 cup coleslaw mix. Drizzle with sauce. Makes 8 tacos.
-- Recipe from Land O' Lakes Butter
2 ripe avocados (please do not use those large, hard avocados)
1 seeded, finely chopped tomato
1/4 cup finely chopped onion (I prefer sweet onions)
1 serrano pepper, seeded, and finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
Juice of 1/2 lime
Dash of salt, not much
Favorite or homemade salsa to taste
Mash avocados in medium bowl. Add tomato, onion, serrano, cilantro and mayonnaise. Combine until just mixed. Add lime juice, salt and salsa. When I make the guacamole for my family, I make it hotter than I do for company. We can take the heat. Remember not everyone likes heat.
Serve with tortilla chips or use as a topper for tacos.
More bread solutions
"I must have missed your column asking for answers to Jane Ogurek's problem with her bread making. In your column 'Bread bakers rise to occasion to help reader,' I noticed that there was one suggestion missing," said E. Meier of Bradenton.
"When I read that she had baked for years and stopped because of illness it rang a bell with me. I tried new yeast when fiddling with the recipe (a no-no) especially when it had been working."
One cause, he said, could be old flour.
"On the bread flour bag is an expiration date. It could change taste and rising so I checked with King Arthur Bakers. Mine was over a year old. Problem solved. Sorry I'm late, but thought it would help somebody," Meier said.
"I am not a bread baker per se, but I had a similar problem with pound cakes as Jane Ogurek is having with her bread," Ann Sharpton of Gautier said. "My problem was my oven. It would heat up, the cake would bake up really beautiful and 10 minutes out of the oven it would fall."
She called an appliance service person who came out, put a gauge in the oven and discovered the main heating mechanism, not the elements, was baking the outside of the cake but not the inside.
"I had to get a new oven since it was a couple of weeks before Christmas, and it would take three weeks to a month to get a new part," Sharpton said. "Maybe Jane should have her oven checked. Mine was a wall oven, so the cooktop wasn't affected. I went from a self-cleaning oven to a conventional oven to be able to do my Christmas baking. Just thought I would mention the oven problem."
Wanted: Pistachio cake
"I once had a pistachio cake, and would love to know how to bake one for myself," said Paul Goll of Florida. "Could you help me?"
Readers, I know that you have a recipe for pistachio cake. These also are called Watergate cakes. Please send your recipes for Goll.
Andrea Yeager, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, takes contributions or requests at Cook's Exchange, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535-4567.