I grew up in a party family – big family parties presided over by my red-headed, gown-wearing, pie-baking southern grandmother, who understood that great food on the table was a beacon that drew our family closer. And I grew up with big parties thrown by other folks, too, Oklahoma barbeques mostly, for which my family’s catering business made the ribs, baked beans, deviled eggs and slaw. Though they were joyous events, at least for the most part, I didn’t understand the full potential of “party” until I moved to Mexico and discovered “fiesta.”
And what I discovered is this: “Party” is to “fiesta” as “lunch” is to “Thanksgiving dinner.” Just think about it: Lunch satisfied nutritional needs, just as Thanksgiving dinner does. But our Thanksgiving meal offers several other satisfactions, as well. By its sheer magnitude, Thanksgiving dinner leads up to marvel at its heartening bounty, at the beauty of natural ingredients and handmade preparations. It makes us feel buoyed by our role as participants in a world that’s larger than ourselves, in a cultural tradition that brings together past and present, local and national. And of course, it leads to our feeling nurtured by the mere physical presence of those with whom we share a history – those we care about and who care about us.
Here are three recipes to help turn your next party into a fiesta. For more, check out my latest book, Fiesta at Rick’s.
If you love the flavor of wild mushrooms – I mean true wild mushrooms, not just “exotic” cultivated mushrooms like shiitakes or colorful oysters – this queso fundido is a wonderful way to experience it. A little dried mushroom, briefly rehydrated, infuses the whole dish with flavor, while the beer adds a lovely hint of malty sweetness and a creamy texture.
Suizas straddle the transition between old-fashioned regional cooking and that of the modern world stage. I’m nudging the dish into yet another stage of evolution: richly textured roasted vegetables replacing shredded chicken, rolled into warm corn tortillas, doused with that luscious tomatillo sauce, nestled under a little melted cheese – clearly a dish that’s ready for prime time.
This recipe is a bar version of the Chocolate Pecan Pie that’s been the signature dessert at Frontera Grill for well over two decades. We’ve replaced the flaky crust with a sweet-salty-buttery pretzel crust that I think is perfect for these luscious bars. Come to think of it, with these bars being so gooey-rich, you may want to cut the squares crosswise into triangles, so people can enjoy just a bite-full at a time.
All recipes are reprinted from Fiesta at Rick’s by Rick Bayless, copyright 2010 by Rick Bayless and Deann Groen Bayless. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Photographs by Paul Elledge.