It's fiesta time!
Summer's here -- and you're ready to fire up the grill, grab a drink and kick back with friends and family. But when you're the party host, relaxing can be the hard part.
With her Mexican-themed recipes, Jamie Andrade, a mom of three from Elk Grove Village, says throwing a successful summer bash doesn't have to be difficult.
Andrade, who won the Daily Herald's 2014 Cook of the Week Challenge, has a busy schedule with little free time. That's why her Mexican Fiesta is her go-to party favorite. Much of the prep work can be done the day before, leaving time during the party to actually celebrate, socialize and relax.
The meal includes Chimichurri Chicken and Shrimp Skewers, Cerveza Lime Marinated Carne Asada, Mexican Corn on the Cob and Tex-Mex Pasta Salad.
"Everybody loves these recipes; that's why we keep doing them," she says. "They're easy, and they're delicious."
Preparing the marinades the night before -- and then allowing the meat to soak until the next day -- results in huge flavor, she says.
"By the time you put the meat on the grill, there's really no mess in the kitchen," she says. "And the flavors taste better when they've had a chance to mix. The other recipes are pretty quick as far as cooking time, so you're not spending a lot of time baby-sitting when you have people over."
The Chimichurri sauce in particular is a huge hit, she says. "So many people ask for the marinade recipe because you can put it on anything," she says. "You can dip chicken in it, use it for fish or steak, and as a marinade or a sauce. You can even put it on pasta."
Andrade's Tex-Mex Pasta Salad came about organically, thrown together at the last minute from ingredients she had around her kitchen.
"I realized two hours before our Fourth of July party a few years ago that we didn't have any sides -- just corn and meat. I had a box of pasta and all these Mexican ingredients," she says.
Needless to say, the salad -- which also can be made the night before -- was a hit.
Both the steak and skewers can be served with tortillas and your favorite taco fixings, such as chopped onion, cilantro, grilled poblano peppers, grilled onions, pico de gallo, guacamole and sour cream. The steak tacos especially are best when kept simple, she says.
"Our favorite is just the meat and grilled onion and poblano," she says. "It's wonderful."
The Mexican corn on the cob -- a recipe from her husband's side of the family -- and a few festive drink recipes can be done just before the party starts.
Andrade's menu focuses on the quick and easy, but contains dishes that the kids can help with, too. Her children -- ages 5, 6 and 8 -- take on small tasks such as peeling the garlic, hitting the button on the blender and mixing the pasta salad. "I let them get in there with their hands," she says. "They love getting messy."
For Andrade, cooking has always been a family activity. Growing up, Sunday dinner was a big tradition -- and food remains a main topic of conversation between her and her brother. With her own family, she watches cooking shows for inspiration. She's not big on following recipes; her philosophy is more about "throwing a bunch of stuff in the blender and adding salt."
"It's expensive to eat out, but it's boring to do the same five or six meals all the time," she says. "So we're always searching for new stuff."