Cinco de Mayo Hangover

May 6, 2016


FullSizeRender(35)In case you didn’t make it to all those Cinco de Mayo parties yesterday, the celebration continues here at the Messy Cook Blog. I hope you’ll pull up a chair and read my stories and recipes while I refill the chip and salsa bowls and grab some more margaritas for everyone!

Hailing from a small, homogeneous Iowa town, Bob and I had much to learn about ethnic food when we left for college. That’s when we tasted our first tacos. Until the day we walked into a fast food place called Taco Time on Lincoln Way in Ames, we were Mexican-cuisine virgins. Granted, eating those tacos wasn’t much of an immersion into the culture, but prior to this, our idea of Mexican food was chili made with Tone’s mild chili powder. The “heat” of my chili probably ranked only about 50 points above that of a bell pepper, which is zero on the Scoville Heat Unit scale; nevertheless, we thought we were quite the madcap epicureans to be slurping this “inferno” down our gullets. Those Taco Time tacos launched our love for Mexican food, and I think this was a time when many of us Baby Boomers were just beginning to discover new cuisines. (By the way, I remember being quite surprised to find out that chili con carne is not Mexican. Who knew?)

After college we moved to Des Moines to start our careers, and we continued to frequent fast-food places like Taco Time, Tasty Tacos, and Taco John’s. Little by little, we discovered the variety and nuances of Mexican cuisine, which was proudly served in several family-owned restaurants around the city.

Talking about tacos reminds me of an incident that occurred on the mean streets of West Des Moines during one of our first years in the city. It was a Saturday, and I had been sent on a mission from God … no no … I mean a mission from Bob. He wanted tacos from Taco John’s for lunch. We had been busy with weekend chores—raking the shag carpeting, polishing the avocado green appliances, and vacuuming the  avocado green interior of the Pinto. Realizing that we had worked up quite an appetite, Bob declared “Let’s have tacos!”  I grabbed the keys and headed out.

Pinto ford pic
I was on a mission from Bob in my avocado green and white Pinto.

Driving past the mall, I was suddenly enveloped in gridlock traffic. After several minutes of inching along, I was now stopped near a familiar apartment building  … where at least a dozen policemen were standing or crouching with their guns drawn and aimed at one of the upper-story windows! I was transfixed! What was going down?  Having watched several seasons of Hawaii Five-O, I immediately grasped that this was a fluid situation and I needed to keep my head down in case of a shootout. It should not be surprising that, after sliding down low in the seat and trying to peer through an opening in the steering wheel, I rear-ended the car ahead of me. The sound of metal crunching on metal caused several policemen to swivel around (with their guns) to see what had happened. A major case of the jimmy legs made my foot bounce up and down on brake pedal so intensely that I had to shift the Pinto into “park”. One of the policemen came bounding down the hill to my car (still carrying his gun).

He began the interrogation by asking what in the hell I thought I was doing! I replied that I was going to Taco John’s to get tacos for my husband and me. He stared at me for a few beats, trying to digest this information. Then he ordered me (and the woman in the other car) to turn onto a side street, exchange insurance information, and get the hell out of there! As my lame Pinto and I limped back to the hacienda, I could not stop blubbering. I burst into the house and told Bob what had happened. He felt compelled to tell me that most people know better than to look through the steering wheel to see where they are going, and blah, blah, blah. And then he remembered, “Where are the tacos?” The tacos? Seriously, who thinks of tacos in a life-and-death situation? I could have gone out in a hail of bullets, and then who would be around to pick up his precious sack o tacos?


My family loves Pork Carnitas with Pepper and Corn Salsa, a recipe that I created a few years ago when I wanted to fill our tacos with something other than ground beef. I also changed it up by stuffing the meat into paper-thin La Tiara brand taco shells, rather than using other thicker kinds of corn shells or soft flour tortillas. The delicate crunch of these thin shells, along with the succulent shredded pork and fresh pepper and corn salsa, is a sensory experience.

Pork Carnitas with Pepper and Corn Salsa


Pork Carnitas with Pepper and Corn Salsa

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

  • 1 (2 to 2 1/2 pound) chef’s prime pork roast*
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (for browning pork)
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup diced red onion
  • 1 cup diced green bell pepper (or 1/2 green and 1/2 red)
  • 1 (14-ounce) bag frozen Birdseye Gold & White Baby Corn
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon (or more) salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (2.75 ounce) package La Tiara White Corn taco shells (or more if desired)**

Place pork in a roaster pan or dutch oven with a lid. ( I always use my small, blue-enameled roaster. I love how it cooks roasts.) Add the onion and garlic. Sprinkle with kosher salt, fresh-ground pepper, and paprika. Bake covered at 325 degrees for 1 hour. Reduce heat to 300 degrees and bake 1 1/2 more hours. Remove pork to cutting board and allow to cool enough to handle. Save all the pan juices and cooked onions. Cut pork into approximately 2-inch slices and shred each slice into smaller pieces (into a large bowl), making sure to remove pieces of fat, etc. Add the chili powder and brown sugar and stir well. Pour 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil into a large, nonstick skillet and heat to medium-high. Add half of the shredded pork mixture and cook for several minutes, turning occasionally, until it lightly browns and caramelizes. (Be sure to add the meat juices that may have collected in the bottom of the bowl, too; they will cook into the meat as it browns.) Remove from skillet and add 2 or 3 more tablespoons of olive oil and add the second half of the pork mixture. Repeat browning process. Then return all meat to skillet to keep warm. Heat taco shells (as many as desired) in a 300-degree oven for 5 minutes. Stuff the shells with the pork and top with Pepper and Corn Salsa.

(*A chef’s prime pork roast is a boneless pork roast that’s cut from the rib end of the loin. It has both “dark” and and “white” meat, and therefore is more flavorful than the center cut. It is available at some Hy-Vee stores in the Des Moines area. If not, your butcher should know how to prepare this cut of meat for you.)

FullSizeRender(28)(**Not all stores carry La Tiara taco shells [usually found in the ethnic foods section of the grocery store]. Most Hy-Vee grocery stores carry this brand in 12 and 18-count sizes. They also can be ordered on Amazon.)

To make Pepper and Corn Salsa: While the meat is roasting, stir together the red onion, green/red pepper, corn (microwaved without water for 2 minutes), garlic, 2 tablespoons olive oil, lime juice, vinegar, salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature. (Can make salsa a day or two ahead, if desired. If refrigerated, set it out about an hour before serving.)

To go alongside the Pork Carnitas, I decided (a few days ago) that I wanted something more interesting than the usual beans and rice, so I dreamed up a tasty and eye-appealing accompaniment,  Avocados and Black Beans in Salsa Verde Dressing. (It’s surprising what can be concocted from found ingredients in the fridge and pantry when a deadline is looming.) This can be served as a side dish (see photo above) or as a salad (see photo below).

Avocados and Black Beans in Salsa Verde Dressing


Avocados and Black Beans in Salsa Verde Dressing

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2/3 cup salsa verde (I used Herdez brand that comes in a jar.)
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced (with some of the green parts)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Manchego cheese, grated
  • 4 ripe avocados, peeled and sliced

Stir together the first 8 ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Assemble 5 or 6 avocado slices on a salad plate (or on dinner plate if it is a side dish). Drizzle with beans and dressing. Sprinkle top with cheese. (May sprinkle a bit of fresh chopped parsley or cilantro, if desired.)

When we are having Mexican, there is no doubt about what we will be drinking. Margaritas, of course! My signature drink—Frozen Emerald Margaritas—features two refinements: flecks of fresh basil and kosher salt, which is mixed right into the margarita. Yes, the salt is added to all the other ingredients, which eliminates the need to salt the rim of the margarita glass. This ingenious (if I do say so myself) redesign of presentation prevents that frothy, rabies-like buildup of salt around your lips. Think about it. When you’re drinking margaritas at a party, how often has someone had to silently mouth to you that you have chunks of salt on your face? Then you have to sneak behind a potted plant and try to lick it off. Inevitably someone sees you there among the palm leaves, becomes alarmed by your behavior, and calls Animal Control.

Those flecks of chopped fresh basil lend a refreshing herbal essence to the margarita and make it seem extra … green! A caveat: As you imbibe, be sure to glance in the mirror now and then. Those pesky basil bits can glom onto a tooth and make it appear as though it’s missing. (Try to keep a roll of floss handy to help prevent regrettable Facebook photos. You’re welcome.)

Frozen Emerald Margaritas



Frozen Emerald Margaritas

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

  • 2 (12-ounce) cans frozen limeade
  • 4 (limeade) cans water
  • 1 (limeade) can Jose Cuervo Gold Tequila
  • 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • Fresh lime slices

Mix all the ingredients (except lime slices) together in a plastic rectangular container and freeze. Remove from freezer 20 minutes or so before serving. Chop with spoon until slushy and then spoon into margarita glasses. Add a slice of lime but do not salt the rim.

Last Bites

When iTunes appeared on the scene more than a dozen years ago, it was a dream come true for me (and millions of other music devotees) to finally be able to purchase a specific song rather than having to buy an entire CD. I was thrilled that I could now make playlists of my favorite songs, organized in the order I desired. My kids begrudgingly took on the onerous chore of teaching their Luddite mother how to use the iTunes program, after I reminded them that helping me with my computer was the only reason I gave birth to them. I have become an audiophile of sorts; I spend hours searching for, downloading, and listening to music that speaks to me (from many genres). Most of the time I have a “soundtrack” playing inside my head, or on the sound system in my car or in my house. Having an iTunes account has allowed me to purchase a respectable library of music from which I can make mixes of songs for every aspect of my life.

FullSizeRender(37)What does this have to do with Mexican food? Not much; but it does help to show how valuable music is in setting the tone for whatever you’re doing at the moment. If I’m cooking Mexican food, I may choose one of my own mixes, such as “Margarita Melodies”, or I may select an album by Govi, such as “Passion and Grace”, or I may load several “Latin-jazz” playlists into my queue, which will give me several hours of songs while I chop, sauté, and simmer. Mundane activities become tolerable and even enjoyable when your own specially-selected music fills the air (or your ears). Naturally, there may be times when you are not feeling happy; maybe you even want a good cry. Then you should have some gentle, soulful playlists ready to go, as well.

FullSizeRender(29) If you are having dinner guests, the beauty of the food, drink, tablescape, and conversations is essential for success, but the music also sets the tone of the evening, even when it’s playing softly in the background. I am pleased to share my “Margarita Melodies” playlist, featuring some of my favorite Latin-jazz songs. It’s a great soundtrack for a South-of-the-Border-inspired dinner. (You can listen to most of them on YouTube to help you decide if you might want to purchase some of them to make your own playlist.)  Carioca Cat by Govi; Tropical Legs by Earl Klugh; On the Beach by Jeff Golub; A Kiss Under the Moonlight by The Rippingtons; Kari by Bob James & Earl Klugh; Bueno Funk by Peter White; Watermelon Man by David Benoit; Cantaloupe Island by Garota De Rio; Luminosa by Craig Chaquico; Latin Quarter by Marc Antoine; R ‘n’ Bump by Paul Brown and David Benoit; Latinesque by Rick Braun; Eternity by The Rippingtons; Lake Paranoid by William Woods; Everytime You’re Near by Chielie Minucci; Jazz Lambada by Special EFX; Salsera by Eric Hansen. If you have an iTunes or Amazon Prime account (or another program that allows you to download and manage music), you already know what a pleasurable pastime this is. Happy listening!

Thank you for dropping by my Cinco de Mayo Hangover celebration. I hope you will return on May 20th when I will serve up another edition of The Messy Cook.—Tracy






13 thoughts on “Cinco de Mayo Hangover

  1. I think this is the best story so far!!! I so look forward to your blogs, love the stories and the great recipes. So glad that you decided to do this.


    1. Hi Susan! You just have no idea how happy you make me when you say that. I’m so pleased that you enjoy the stories and recipes. I hope you always come back “for the next one”. Some time you must send me a note in “Messenger” on FB and tell me about where you are and all about your family!


  2. I have 5 avocados ready to go!! Tomorrow I’m trying your recipes!! Can’t tell you how much I love your blogs. Keep them coming!!!


  3. I hate that when that happens – a shoot out when you’re on your way to get tacos! It may be common now, but back then, it was very uncommon! :-)! I can testify to the Pork Carnitas being wonderful. They are worth the effort. Enjoyed every minute of it, and even though I had four years of college Spanish, I had to look up – how you say CHEERS. I’ve got it, imagine my margarita in hand, raising my glass, saying SALUD !! Most enjoyable blog! Thanks much for brightening my Friday!


  4. Tracy, the smile on my face goes from ear to ear every time I read your blog. Thank you so much for lightening my day with your stories and the recipes are fantastic. You are indeed an inspiration to those of us, meaning me, who have no cooking imagination! Carry on, I can’t wait for the next addition.


  5. Muchas gracias! Yours is the best reason to have kids to date! Mine, BTW, are worthless, at least in this respect. One’s a Luddite, himself. The other lives too far away. I think I’ll have a margarita and contemplate my woes! Thanks for the laughs and the recipes!


  6. You – and the Messy Cook blog – just get better and better! Thanks for sharing your wonderful stories and recipes!


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