Do me a favor if you would, please: casually reach over and tilt the computer screen away from the school-age child staring daggers at it over your shoulder.
Things are going to start to get just a little shrill in the next few seconds…
“What kind of summer-hating, fun-spoiling, demon lady plans a party to celebrate going back to school?”
“Who, in the name of composition books, makes a fiesta happen as I’m forced to hang up my swimsuit and head back to homeroom?”
“Why? Why?? WHY??!?”
We’re going to need to do some damage control here.
Try explaining that this party is actually designed to celebrate the greatness of the child who goes back to school.
Mention that this fiesta is being held in honor of smart school-age children across the land, present company included, that are making their way back to class.
And, if all else fails, serve up a delicious Lamb Barbacoa taco bar, some flavorful Arroz a la Mexicana, a crunchy Pickled Radish Salad, and a plate full of warm Grilled Texas Peach Pie.
Now we start to see those frowns turn upside down…
The fact of the matter is that there’s no time like the present to host a little celebration. For yourself and for the young ones that will be trudging off to school once more. This time of year is very exciting, but also incredibly busy. So let’s consider a complete menu full of make-ahead and no-bake dishes that are sure to please your back to school crowd.
I am a big fan of lamb and cook it for members of my own casa whenever I can. I was lucky enough to receive a lovely roast from Superior Farms and opted for this traditional barbacoa preparation: I love barbacoa because it is so delicious, so versatile, and so perfectly suited to make ahead for a crowd. It’s as simple as preparing, roasting and shredding your meat the day before, then flash-frying with the sauce of your choice one you’re ready to serve.
And lamb is such a nice alternative to the burgers and dogs that may have become just a little, well, predictable, by this time of the year…
When I’m planning a party like this where I want to, you know, be able to actually attend instead of simply serving, I like to include side dishes that people may also want to use as toppings on their tacos. So your spread gets minimized as your sides work double duty.
I went with a traditional arroz Mexicano because I’ve never met anyone who isn’t open to a little spicy rice on their taco.
A quick Pickled Radish Salad, on the other hand, is simple to prepare and brings texture to the table. Literally.
Everything is colorful. Everything is flavorful. Everything is designed to keep people smiling when their mouths aren’t full of food.
And maybe, just maybe, you’ll take mercy on your back to school peeps and serve them an extra-big slice of Grilled Peach Pie. You didn’t even need to turn on the oven to prepare it! So you’re still cool as a composition book.
Speaking of composition books, I haven’t heard one mention of homerooms, chalk boards, text books or mean Mrs. Schnitzel, the math teacher. Nope! It’s smiles all around thanks to the delicious Lamb Barbacoa spread that you prepared.
So now you know the antidote to Back To School-itus. I’m thinking this is the only piece of school supplies you’re going to need all year.
Please note that the lamb used in this post was generously provided by Superior Farms, but the recipes, post, and opinions expressed herein are all my own.
Chef’s Note: I was working with a particularly large cut of lamb that included a shoulder and several chops but this barbacoa preparation can be made with a much smaller, boneless cut – you’ll simply need to adjust your cooking times. I would recommend working with a lamb shoulder, with or without the bone, and, following the instructions below, checking for doneness after 2 hours. Otherwise you can follow the instructions listed below just as I’ve laid them out.
3-5 lb. lamb shoulder (Please see the note above regarding cut size and cooking times.)
garlic, dried, ground
2 handfuls of avocado dried avocado leaves (If you don’t have access to dried avocado leaves, simply omit.)
barbacoa sauce for frying (see recipe below)
corn tortillas for serving
Position a rack in the center of the oven preheat to 325°.
Heat a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over a high flame. (You’re going to use this pan to sear the exterior of your roast – if you prefer, you may use your grill for this step.)
Prepare your meat by rubbing the exterior liberally with a coating of salt and dried garlic. Because lamb, especially shoulder cuts, generally have generous fat caps, you do not need to use any oil to prepare the meat. Once the exterior of your roast has been rubbed, use tongs to carefully set it down onto your preheated pan and sear until the side in contact with the pan is a deep golden brown, approximately 2-3 minutes. Once seared, carefully rotate your roast to sear on all sides (note that if your cut has a bone in it you don’t need to sear any sides that are simply made up of exposed bone). Place your seared roast into a large roasting pan and place enough water into the pan to just coat the bottom. Cover the roast in avocado loaves and scatter the remaining leaves across the bottom of the pan. Tightly wrap the pan in tin foil and place in the oven.
Again, depending on the size of your roast, I recommend checking on it after 2 hours. For comparison, my bone-in roast was approximately 8 1/2 pounds and took almost exactly 4 hours to cook through. Just be sure to tightly re-wrap the pan in foil after checking on the meat and determining that it needs more time. You can check for doneness with a meat thermometer, but finished meat will literally be fork tender and falling apart. Remove cooked meat and set aside to cool before shredding. Once cooled to the touch, remove and discard the avocado leaves and any bones. You can shred your meat with a fork, tongs, or your fingers, which are my tools of choice. Please note that, because lamb can be so fatty, I also chose to remove any large chunks of fat as I pulled my meat. Collect all of your shredded meat in a large, covered container and either move to the final step or refrigerate until ready to serve.
If you choose to prepare your lamb a day ahead, allow it to come to room temperate before proceeding with this last step. Once at room temperature, heat a large griddle pan or skillet over a medium/high flame. Once your cooking surface is hot, place a taco-sized portion on the pan and immediately top with several tablespoons of sauce. Cook through, approximately 3-4 minutes, tossing regularly to coat with the sauce. Remove to a warmed tortilla and serve immediately. Note that you can make serving easier on yourself by griddle-frying the meat with the sauce and removing the cooked meat to a large, oven-proof serving vessel that you can use to keep the meat warm in the oven until ready to serve, buffet-style.
YIELD: Your yield will, of course, depend on the size of your cut of lamb. My large roast of 8 1/2 pounds served 14-16 people.
4 guajillo chiles
4 California red chiles (Ancho chiles may be substituted here.)
1 canela stick (You’re ultimately going to need 1 tablespoon of this ground, so 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon may be substituted.)
1 tsp. dark brown sugar, tightly packed
1 tsp. salt
1 c. vegetable broth
1 c. soaking liquid from the dried chiles (see instructions below)
1 large yellow onion
10 cloves of garlic
Peel and quarter the onion, and place it under your broiler until charred on the exterior. Remove the charred pieces and set aside to cool.
Toast the dried chiles and stick of canela in a large, dry skillet over a medium flame for 1-2 minutes per side. The chiles will begin to puff up and turn a darker shade of red when done. Remove, place in a large bowl of water, and set aside to soak for at least 30 minutes. Remove and stem the soaked chiles once their skin has softened and place in the bowl of a blender or food processor fitted with a steel blade.
Meanwhile, grind the stick of canela in a spice grinder until completely pulverized. Remove 1 tablespoon and store the rest in an opaque airtight container for use in another dish.
Add the canela, brown sugar, salt, broth, onion pieces, garlic, and 1 cup of the chile soaking water to the chiles. Process until smooth, at least 30 seconds. You may need to remove any residual pieces of onion skin that do not get fully processed. Store, refrigerated, until ready to use.
YIELD: approximately 2-3 cups
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 c. green onion, chopped
2 tbsp. garlic, minced
3 serrano chiles, stemmed, minced
2 c. long grain rice
1 c. canned crushed tomatoes in their juices
3 1/2 c. vegetable broth
salt to taste
pepper to taste
Heat oil over a medium flame in a heavy-bottomed 4-quart pan. Add the green onion and serrano chiles and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and rice and cook for 3-4 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and broth, stir well, taste, and stir in any salt and/or pepper that may be necessary. I make this step optional in this recipe because broth can be extremely salty depending on its source – you should simply season to taste. Bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 15-20 minutes or until rice is tender and air holes appear at the top of the mixture. Remove from heat, fluff with a fork and serve.
YIELD: approximately 4 servings
Pickled Radish Salad
2 c. radishes, ends removed, cut into thin half-moon slices
1 c. white onion, diced
2 serrano chiles, minced
1/4 c. cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 c. lime juice, freshly squeezed
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper, freshly ground
Toss the radishes, onion, serrano chile pieces and cilantro together in a large bowl.
Meanwhile, whisk the oil, lime juice, salt, and pepper together and pour over the radish mixture. Toss until all of the vegetables are well-coated. I find that this simple salad is best served chilled.
YIELD: approximately 3 cups
No-Bake Grilled Texas Peach Pie
8 large peaches, pitted, halved
1 c. dark brown sugar, tightly packed
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil plus more for preparing your cooking surface
25 Maria cookies (Vanilla wafer cookies may be substituted here.)
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1/4 c. dulce de leche
whipped cream and/or vanilla ice cream for serving (optional)
To prepare the pie filling, place the peach halves in a very large bowl with the brown sugar and olive oil. Toss well to coat the peaches thoroughly with oil and sugar, making sure that the pit cavity in each peach half is thoroughly stuffed with brown sugar. Set aside to allow the peaches to macerate.
Meanwhile, to prepare your crust, place the Maria cookies in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process until completely pulverized. Remove to a large bowl and stir in the melted butter and dulce de leche. Once completely blended the mixture should resemble a damp, sandy ‘dough’. Press firmly into the bottom and up the sides of a 9″ pie plate. Cover and refrigerate while you finish your pie filling.
Warm a grilling surface to a medium heat and brush lightly with oil. Place each peach half face-down on the grilling surface and cook thoroughly for at least 3 minutes (note that there may be some brown sugar and oil left over at the bottom of your bowl – leave it there for later use). You want to give your peaches enough time to caramelize on the cut side and cook slightly through so that the interior flesh softens. Just be sure your grilling surface isn’t so hot that the peaches char. Remove cooked peach halves back to the original bowl and toss once more with the remaining brown sugar and oil. Set aside to cool.
Once the peach halves are cool to the touch simply quarter, toss together once more, and pour into the prepared crust. Finish with whipped cream and/or vanilla ice cream and serve.
YIELD: 1- 9″ pie