Recently, a friend was selling homemade carnitas tamales to raise money to pay for a relative's hospital bills. Of course, I bought way too many (if there is such a thing as too much puerco y masa) and quickly found my freezer packed with four dozen tamales. There was only one thing to do. TAMALES PARTY!
Well, tamales alone do not a feast make, so I figured I'd throw together a couple of side dishes. Luckily, my brand new The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2001-2010 had just the two dishes I wanted: easy Refried Beans and Mexican Rice. And it even gave me an excuse to use my Dutch oven, and you all know how happy that makes me!
Mexican rice is not traditionally a favorite of mine, but I knew the husband man and my other guests are fans. This recipe really did balance flavors and textures very nicely, turning out fresh tasting and fluffy. The tricks: Frying the uncooked rice in oil, using pureed fresh tomato and onion for half the liquid (chicken broth for the other half) - a traditional technique, adding a little tomato paste - very untraditional, and cooking it in the oven instead of on the stovetop, stirring it halfway through, ensuring even cooking. Fresh onion, garlic, chiles, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime all added to the rice's vibrancy.
Personally, I was more excited to try the super easy sounding refried beans recipe. Canned refried beans are usually inedible paste, and the traditional method of cooking dried beans, frying them in lard, and hand mashing them is too time and work intensive for feasibility. This 20 minute recipe started with canned beans, replaced mashing with food processing, and added plenty of flavor with rendered salt pork fat (which one could easily replace with oil for a vegan version), fresh chile peppers, onion, garlic, and fresh lime juice and cilantro stirred in at the end. ¡Muy delicioso! My only complaint is that the bean : onion ratio seemed off. The flavor was spot on, but it affected the texture. Next time I'll cut way back on the amount of onion and be extra careful to dice it very fine.
Golly, I love myself some America's Test Kitchen.
We used this fiesta as an excuse for a long awaited Project Runway party. We plan on having a total of four PR parties, one themed for each judge, plus Tim Gunn. We're counting this as our Nina Garcia party. Yes, I know she's of Colombian descent, not Mexican. But they make tamales, too, even if they are more often wrapped in banana leaves instead of corn husks. Close enough! And (SPOILER ALERT) such a perfect way to say good-bye to Casanova, too. Your sexy grannies will be missed!