DIY Cinco de Mayo: Big Flavors with Little Time

Looking for easy ways to throw together a Cinco de Mayo celebration today while short on time? No worries. Cinco de Mayo is all about enjoying the flavors of Mexican cuisine with family, friends,  and of course, a good margarita...or two....or three. You can host a get-together that is muy bueno without breaking the bank or spending the day in the kitchen by trying a few of the simple ideas and recipes below. Bonus - all the recipes are gluten and dairy free!

Taco Bar

So easy and fun, put out shredded chicken, ground beef and a variety of toppings, then let your guests go wild.

Filling: Get your crockpot (s) going and load one up with boneless skinless chicken breasts and the other with ground beef. Add minced garlic, salt, pepper, McCormick's chili powder, and cumin. Let them cook slowly throughout the day. After a few hours, take the chicken breasts out and shred them with two forks. These will be your taco fillings.

Sides: Purchase shredded lettuce already bagged, diced tomatoes or pre-made pico de gallo, Wholly guacamole, pre-shredded cheeses or crumbled queso fresco, and sour cream out for taco toppings. For those that are gluten and dairy free, Daiya Cheddar shreds and Tofutti cream cheese can be substituted.

Shells: Put out a variety of hard shells and soft shells. Hint: Warm the hard shells in the oven for 5-10 minutes before serving for extra crispiness. Garden of Eatin brand hard shell tacos are gluten free. Mission and El Milagro brands of soft corn tortillas are gluten free.

Chips & Dips

Put out a few dips and salsas to let guests nibble beforehand. Slice up jicama into long, thin slices. Their crisp, fresh taste makes a lighter alternative to corn chips. Herdez  Casera salsa (mild, medium) and Frontera Grill salsas are two delicious and gluten free varieties.

Two Minute Bean Dip

1 can refried beans (La Preferida, Amy's Organic Vegetarian are gluten free)
2-3 tablespoons chili paste
1/2 cup Cheddar cheese (Daiya cheddar shreds are gluten/dairy free)

Simply mix canned beans, chili paste and cheddar cheese. Microwave for 30-45 seconds or until cheese is melted.

Didn't Know They were Coming Taco Dip

In my former gooey cheesy existence, this was a simple and delicious appetizer to prepare for a gathering. With the dairy modifications, it still is just as easy and tasty too!

2 (8 oz.) tubs Tofutti brand or Galaxy brand Imitation Cream Cheese (No Butterfat version has no trans fats)
1 can Hormel Chili with Beans (Regular Beef, Chunky Beef, and Low Sodium varieties are gluten free)
2 (8 oz.) pkgs. Daiya brand Cheddar Style Shreds
1 Bag of Gluten Free Tortilla Chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread both tubs of Tofutti cream cheese in the bottom of a 9x13 oven-safe glass dish. Spread chili on top of cream cheese. Then sprinkle Daiya Cheddar style shreds on top. Place in oven and cook for 10-15 minutes or until cheese melts on top. Dip chips. Being from Chicago, El Milagro brand of tortilla chips are my favorite. Donkey chips are my newest addiction!

Southwest Black Bean and Veggie Salad (also known as Black Bean Salad with Peppers)

3 ears corn (or 2 cups frozen corn)
1 16 oz. can black beans
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1 1/2 cups peppers (red, orange, yellow - chopped)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 avocado, cut into chunks
Juice of 1/2 lime

Using a knife, cut corn kernels from ears of corn into large bowl. Microwave on high for 2 minutes to cook. Let cool. Drain and rinse black beans. In a large bowl, combine corn, black beans, chopped celery, peppers, olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, cumin, garlic, and cilantro. Mix all ingredients together. Gently fold in avocado chunks. Drizzle lime juice over salad. Chill until ready to serve.

Beverages

Perhaps the most important part of the Cinco de Mayo celebration - margaritas. You can buy a pre-made mix, but I LOVE my husband's homemade margarita recipe (adapted from Emeril Lagasse's Tin Can margaritas). Kirkland's Golden Margarita mix is a great pre-made option and totally gluten free. Fill a silver beverage bucket or chiller tub up with some Mexican beers (Negra Modelo, Corona, Dos Equis) along with gluten free options (Redbridge, Bard's Tale, New Planet, Green's, Woodchuck Cider).

Pinata

Who said a pinata is just for kids? No Cinco de Mayo celebration is complete without whacking the daylights out of some paper-mached beast. Find the most obnoxious one you can find (as is shown here), and use your imagination to fill it with whatever guests would enjoy! We had a kid-friendly Cinco de Mayo gathering last night, so the kids whacked the daylights out of the candy-filled llama, cat, dog, alpaca? I'm actually not quite sure what it was. My son, being the oldest and one of the biggest kids in his playgroup, had the pleasure of knocking it open and even took the head home as a souvenir.

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