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Ocho de Mayo (Cinco de Mayo Postponed)

We usually make margaritas and have a Mexican dinner on May 5th to observe Cinco de Mayo, even though, according to Wikipedia, Cinco de Mayo is an insignificant Mexican holiday, observed by more Americans than Mexicans. This year, on the 5th, Howard was still on a business trip to Chicago, so our celebration was delayed until the weekend.

Today was rainy, pouring buckets at times, with some thunder and lightning thrown in for good measure. Howard lucked out on the timing of Bella’s walks. He managed to take her out when it was only sprinkling lightly or not at all.

We had a relatively lazy day. We had planned to go to Maine, but the weather didn’t look good. Instead, we combined a shopping errand in Beverly with lunch at Woodman’s in Essex, where the fried clam was invented. Of course, we had fried clams (with bellies), with fries and onion rings. It was greasy and salty and wonderfully decadent.

Dinner was our delayed Cinco de Mayo meal. To start, Howard made his mango guacamole. I made margaritas. We had rice baked with tomatillo sauce topped with shrimp and bacon. It was sort of like a paella, but not exactly. For one thing, the flavors were Mexican, not Spanish. For another, it was mostly baked, not cooked on the stovetop. And, finally, it was much easier to make. It went nicely with a salad of baby arugula with a dressing I made with more tomatillo sauce.

Tomatillo Rice with Shrimp and Bacon
Adapted from Salsas That Cook by Rick Bayless
Serves 6

4 slices of thick-cut bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces
2 cups arborio rice
2 cups tomatillo sauce (from a jar, or using recipe here)
1 cup water
½ tsp salt
4 scallions, sliced
1 lb shrimp, shelled and deveined
Generous amount of chopped cilantro

Preheat the oven to 350F. In a small Dutch oven or another pot, over medium heat, sautee the bacon until the fat renders and the bacon crisps. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon, and reserve.

You will need about 1 Tbsp fat for the next step. If the bacon wasn’t very fatty, as the bacon from that I used Chestnut Farms was not, add some vegetable oil. If there is a lot of fat, remove the extra from the pan.

Saute the rice for about 5 minutes, until it is lightly browned. Stir in the tomatilla sauce, and let it cook for about 1 minute. Add the water, salt, and scallions. Bring the mixture to a boil, stir again, cover, and turn off the heat.

Place the pot in the oven and bake for 25 minutes.

Remove the pot from the oven (keep it on), and arrange the shrimp on top of the rice. Cover and return the pot to the oven for 8-10 minutes, until the shrimp cooks through.

Sprinkle bacon and cilantro over the shrimp, toss everything together with a fork, and serve.

Margaritas
Makes 2-4 (depending on the size of the glasses)

3 oz tequila (Jose Cuervo Gold)
1½ oz Triple Sec
1 6-oz can frozen limeade concentrate
3 cups crushed ice

In a blender, add all the ingredients in the order listed. Turn the blender on high, and puree until the margaritas are smooth and slushy.

If you want, rub the rim of the glasses with a cut lime, then dip the rims in a plate of kosher salt.

Fill glasses and enjoy.

The Baby Lasagne

If you are my friend and you’ve had a baby any time over the past 20 years or so, you’ve probably been the recipient of what Howard has dubbed “The Baby Lasagne”. It’s a spinach lasagne that I’ve actually been making for more than 20 years. I started making it when I was in college.

Now, it’s a team effort. Usually, Howard and I make a mini-assembly line, and we make two: one for us and one for friends.

The Baby Lasagne always seems to be a hit. Of course, one reason it’s always popular is the convenience of having a prepared dinner available when you are indisposed. It also tastes really good. To me, lasagne is comfort food. I like to make it, I like to eat it, and I like to give it away to friends that need a meal waiting in the fridge or the freezer. I deliver it cooked, so it can be eaten right away or frozen for later.

Our friends Lauren and John just adopted a baby girl from Ethiopia. Naturally, we made them a baby lasagne. They say they remember the one we brought over 15 years ago when their son was born. (Note that the lasagne is also an excuse to be able to meet the baby soon after her arrival!) We wish them much joy with the newest addition to their family.

A few things about this lasagne. These might seem sacrilegious, but it’s the truth:

For the sauce, use whatever you like. It can be homemade or not. I hate to admit it, but I am a big fan of Trader Joe’s Tuscano Marinara Sauce. It comes in a 28 ounce can, not even a jar. It is sort of chunky and has a fresh tomato taste. I can’t figure out why I even tried it to begin with, but I’m hooked. I even like to eat it from a spoon right out of the can. That’s what I usually use in this dish.

As for the noodles, I used to cook the lasagne noodles. Then, my friend Sue told me that her Italian (living in Italy, not Italian-American) mother-in-law used uncooked noodles, not even the no-boil kind, but the kind you usually cook. I suspended disbelief and tried it. It worked! Making lasagne has never been the same. I especially like how you can press down on the dried noodles to make the layers even.

Spinach Lasagne
Adapted from Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen
Serves 6 – 8

4½ – 5 cups tomato sauce (your favorite; homemade or otherwise)
1 box lasagne noodles, uncooked

Spinach Filling:

  • 1 lb ricotta cheese
  • 8 – 10 oz fresh spinach, cleaned, stemmed, and chopped fine in the food processor
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 2 Tbsp wheat germ
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper to taste

8 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
½ cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Preheat the oven to 375F.

In a 13×9-inch baking dish, layer the ingredients as follows, spreading each ingredient to cover the entire layer:

  • Cover the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of tomato sauce
  • Make a layer of dried lasagne noodles
  • Half of the spinach filling
  • One-third of the remaining tomato sauce
  • Half of the shredded lasagne
  • Another layer of dried lasagna noodles
  • Remaining spinach filling
  • Another third of the tomato sauce
  • The rest of the shredded mozzarella
  • Another layer of dried lasagne noodles
  • The rest of the tomato sauce
  • The Parmesan/Romano cheese

Cover with foil, and bake for 35 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes. Let it rest at least 10 minutes before serving.