A Birthday Dinner Party


It seems like just yesterday I swore I would have a monthly dinner party but I haven’t been doing so well on that project. But recently I did have three old pals over for dinner. The payoff of getting older is you have good friends like these. We all met in the early 1980s and food, booze and music have been constant themes.

As I was preparing and cooking, I thought that there isn’t much better in life than a good plan and a free day to cook for your friends. I managed to fit in a quick swim (it was during a heatwave.)


I’ve been reading recently about cooking cactus paddles (nopales) in copper so I brought out my special carnitas pan and cooked them in that, along with some onion and tomatillo husks. This supposedly cuts down on the goo but I don’t know. I’m glad to use the pan.


I think it’s key to have a little something to drink and eat the second your guests arrive. Then they’re more forgiving of your little mistakes. A tray full of goodies for tequila and several bottles of the good stuff is always inviting.


I also had beer, water and an agua fresca made from cucumbers.


I’d almost forgotten about these chile rellenos from Diana Kennedy’s My Mexico. The marinated poblanos are stuffed with potatoes and sardines and then smothered in leftover marinade. I’ve written about them before but they’re really worth remembering, especially since you can make them earlier in the day.


The cactus salad was nopalitos, tomatoes, onion, queso fresco and cilantro tossed in a vinaigrette made from my homemade pineaple vinegar. Oddly, this was my favorite dish of the evening.


The "star" of the evening was rabbit in a chile sauce. I used anchos and pasillas because that’s what I had but I think some guajillos would have been better. Still, it was pretty great. Rabbits release a lot of water so you want to start with a fairly thick sauce right off the bat.

The rabbits and cucumber were from my neighbor, the other vegetables were from the farmers market and the nopales were from my back yard so it was a pretty local dinner.

I won’t tell you about the bad dessert. Dessert never inspires me. Do you have a suggestion? I’d like a simple thing I could do without thinking that still has a little drama.

13 Comments on A Birthday Dinner Party

  1. Man, dinner looks awesome! I bet nobody even noticed the bad dessert — they were probably too full đŸ˜€

    Next time, how about store-bought vanilla ice cream with prickly-pear syrup or some other vaguely latino garnish, with some biscochos from the local panaderia?

    Or any homemade sorbet or Philly-style ice cream (that is, the non-custard kind) is dead-simple and always-always gets raves. I’m thinking citrus sorbet with a drizzle of anjeo tequila, or Mexican chocolate ice cream, perhaps? Once you start thinking of Mexican sweets, the frozen flavor possibilities are endless.

    The Williams-Sonoma Mexican cookbook has a very simple recipe for chocolate-almond cake with ancho cream that I sometimes make if we’re having company. I’ll bring you a copy on Saturday.

  2. I’m doing a dinner party in SoCal on Monday. My dessert of choice? Paletas! Not very sophisticated, but my fave — and I get to choose on my bday right?

  3. Dinner looks scrumptious, especially the rellenos. I’ll have to look up the Diana Kennedy recipe. For more salsa recipes, get Secrets of Salsa, by the Latina women in Anderson Valley. Dessert: flan. What could be better? Comfort food. Can be made ahead. Great blog. I’ll be back.

  4. Dinner looks scrumptious, especially the rellenos. I’ll have to look up the Diana Kennedy recipe. For more salsa recipes, get Secrets of Salsa, by the Latina women in Anderson Valley. Dessert: flan. What could be better? Comfort food. Can be made ahead. Great blog. I’ll be back.

  5. Just one comment on the dinner: DROOL! And one blog-related question: any chance you could add a “search” function here? I had two foodie queries I knew must be covered on your blog somewhere (most recently ‘cotija’ which I bought a stash of and then didn’t know what to do with). So it’s off to Google blog-search to troll for your site name.

  6. steve, what kind of queso fresco do you like to use? have you found someone local? do you think fresco made from goat’s milk is fine to substitute?

  7. Thanks for all the ideas. I especially like the ice cream or paletas idea. I just don’t enjoy dessert making that much. When I first got chickens I was always making flan and maybe I OD’d on it. Time to revisit!
    I’ll look again for a search function. I tried one but I found it wasn’t finding everything. But it is needed.
    I found the queso fresco at my local supermarket! I was surprised to see it myself. It was in a Styrofoam tray, like meat! Normally I’d find a Mexican store and they seem to keep at the counter or with the butcher.

  8. Dessert is always a challenge for me, too. I used to think a good store bought ice cream was the easiest thing to do, but then I found myself scrambling at the last minute to dish up individual portions and pass them out quickly before they began to melt. Not an easy task in 100 degree heat. My friends and I, who get together monthly, and have small kids, have resorted to the two easiest things we can find: either a batch of fudgy homemade brownies (who doesn’t like chocolate?) or, Lime Meltaways – an icebox cookie that can be frozen in logs for up to two months. They are both Martha Stewart recipes and call for basic pantry ingrediants that I usually have on hand. I can whip them up at 10 o’clock at night and they’re good the next day. It’s nice to set out a pretty platter of these and let everyone help themselves, and much easier. I love your website. It’s truely my kind of food. I was wondering where you get your nice pottery and clay cookware?

  9. I don’t know if you’ve got Laurie Colwin’s books — Home Cooking and More Home Cooking — she has some really easy desserts — there’s a chocolate buttermilk cake I like — it takes 5 minutes to put together, and you don’t even need to frost it — some whipped cream or a sprinkling of powdered sugar is all it needs. Berries are nice with it too … if you want to make it Latin, it would be good with a little cinnamon and chile added to the dry ingredients …

  10. Very inspiring. I’ll add that to my list of meals to prepare/parties to have.

    For dessert – seriously – don’t make anything, just find some really good, really ripe fruit. A cool variety of ripe fresh figs, peaches, grapes, whatever is in season. THAT would be the perfect end to that wonderful meal.

  11. A couple of weeks ago I sat 15 people down to turkey and ribs for Junior Mint’s 3rd birthday and was faced with the same dessert issue. I made Italian love cake the day before and asked my sister to ice it before serving it on the day of. I am still getting phone calls about it. It was an easy recipe that began with a cake mix, if you can believe it.

  12. For a really easy dessert to go with Mexican food, we frequently make fake sopapillas. Fry a flour tortilla in 1/2″ of oil in a cast iron skillet. About 1 minute per side. It should puff up a little, get nice and crisp, and a turn golden brown. Transfer to draining rack and sprinkle with cinnamon/sugar before it cools too much, cut into quarters, and drizzle with honey. I’m sure they’re not proper sopapillas, but they’re fast and dead easy. For bonus points, serve with homemade cinnamon ice cream.


  13. Best drop dead simple dessert — a roasted pineapple studded with vanilla beans. All you have to do is peel the pineapple, put in the halved vanilla beans and pop it in the oven. Smells amazing, tastes amazing. And I usually only like chocolate. Serve with a little scoop of ice cream. If this sounds interesting to you, i will dig out the recipe and send it to you.

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