The Cookbook: Received at a hospitality industry event promoting San Antonio as a meeting destination. (SA is A-OK BTW.) The party was held at Rick Bayless’s Chicago restaurant Topolobampo – a very fine upscale Mexican restaurant, which earned a Michelin star and numerous other awards. Of course this was a corporate cocktail party so hors d'ouevres and thimblefuls of various margaritas were passed. The cookbook was the parting gift, and one I was very pleased to receive (versus countless branded tote bags and beer coozies from other events.)
Rick is a first and foremost a lover and scholar of regional Mexican cuisine, passionate about the culture and eager to share what he has learned. He’s also a fine chef, successful businessman, television personality – and seems like a really nice guy to boot. He’s the author of 8 cookbooks, this one themed around parties and preparing food for a group.
The Playlist: Rick himself offers several playlists within the cookbook. I like that, a man after my own ethos: music + food = fiesta! Give a listen, won’t you?
Here’s a link to the Salsa Roja recipe.
I’ve described the appetizer/snack recipes in previous posts, linked above. They are very tasty on their own and supremely delicious as cocktail snacks, so please do take advantage of the downloadable recipes here.
Recipe source: Rick Bayless’s Fiesta at Rick’s cookbook
Serves 6-8 as a taco filling or on bruschetta or tostadas
- 1 pound well-trimmed skirt steak, trimmed of any surface fat and cut into 3-inch sections
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 4 large radishes, cut into matchsticks or thinly sliced
- 1 fresh habanero chile, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
- 2-3 tablespoons (loosely packed) chopped fresh cilantro COOK’S NOTE: We eliminated the cilantro due to diner’s preferences. Should have added chopped flat parsley instead.
- 6 tablespoons sour orange or lime juice
- 1 romaine heart
- 1 ripe avocado, pitted flesh scooped from the skin and cut into ¼-inch cubes
- Cook the meat. In a large (4-quart) saucepan, bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Add the meat. When the water has returned to a brisk simmer, skim off any grayish foam that rises to the top. Add the garlic, half of the onion and 1 teaspoon of salt. Simmer over medium to medium-low heat for an hour or so, until the meat is fall-apart tender. If there is time, let it cool in the broth. Drain and discard all but the meat. Shred into coarse strands.
- Finish the salad. In a medium bowl combine the meat with the remaining half of the onion, the radishes, habanero, cilantro (or parsley), sour orange or lime juice, and a generous 1 teaspoon salt. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes or so for the flavors to blend.
- To serve, arrange lettuce leaves on a platter. Top each leaf with a small scoop of the beef salad and a little scattering of diced avocado. Gather the lettuce leaf around the filling, take a bite and enjoy!
- As an alternative, you can use the steak salad as filling for a warm tortilla with cheese and salsa.
The recipes – Maybe I’m just a bad recipe-picker, but out of the 4 recipes tried only 2 were fully successful: Chipotle-Roasted Almonds and Savory Sesame-Pepita Cookies. They are not only delicious snacks (esp. with cocktails) but easy to make as well. Highly recommend you give them a try.
The shredded steak salad was a disappointment. I had high hopes for a fresh, flavorful blend of protein and veggies, but the meat stood out as tough and sour and the other ingredients didn’t help to elevate the dish either. It’s probably worth trying again, since it looks so delicious when Rick does it.
The salsa roja was good not great. The heat overpowered the flavor.
The cookbook – Again, I really wanted to love this cookbook, and I will come back to try again. But the challenge I have with deep pursuit into a specific cuisine, such as Chef Bayless with Mexican food or Madhur Jaffrey for Indian meals, is that you have to commit all the way, following the game plan as provided. Make all the sauces and all the condiments and all the go-withs and the main course needs to be done a certain way per tradition. (I don’t know if Madhur and Rick really feel that way about their cookbooks, but that’s my perception.) My approach usually involves looking for one or two dishes from various cuisines and/or cookbooks to create my crazy-quilt menus. And that doesn’t work so well with a deep-dive culinary investigation.
The playlist – Perfect for a party, high energy, interesting and fun.
So the final takeaway is … get your fiesta on, whether it’s with Rick or not. Enjoy the flavors of many different cuisines, discover what you like, learn how to navigate a new palette of flavors and ingredients, and then make it your own.