Did I hear someone say, “What on earth is Cinco de Mayo?” That’s simply Spanish for the fifth of May. It’s an annual celebration to commemorate the Mexican Army’s victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla, on May 5, 1862.

Believe it or not, in the United states, Cinco de Mayo has taken on a significance beyond that in Mexico. In the United States the date has become associated with the celebration of Mexican-American culture.

In 2005, the US Congress called on the President to call upon the people of the United States to observe Cinco de Mayo with appropriate ceremonies and activities. Many people display banners while school districts hold special events to educate students about the historical significance. Commercial interests in the US have capitalized on the celebration, advertising Mexican products and services with an emphasis on alcoholic beverages, foods, and music. It is said that more than $600 million worth of beer was purchased in the US for Cinco de Mayo in 2005, that’s more than for the Super Bowl or St. Patrick’s Day.

I don’t care for the celebration with beer, but I could definitely be in on the celebration with Mexican food.

When I was growing up, the only Mexican food I remember was Banquet’s frozen TV Mexican dinner. It had some enchiladas, Mexican rice and frijoles in it. Not much of an introduction to some wonderful food. It wasn’t until the 1970s that I remember being able to buy taco kits.

In 1966, I flew to Los Angeles and spent part of the summer with my Aunt Dot and Uncle Bob. On my first weekend there, we drove down to Rosarito Beach, Mexico for a few days. We ate most of our meals at the hotel there. I was introduced to some fantastic Mexican food and my first time eating fresh pineapple. I was hooked on both!

In more recent years with my brother living in southern Arizona, I’ve had more opportunities to try the real deal in Mexican food. Also, my brother has dabbled in making his version of some Mexican foods. He can make the best roast beef chimichangas with Mexican rice and refried beans that you’ve ever eaten. What really tops it off is his homemade salsa. I’ve never had any salsa to beat it! When you go to most grocery stores there, people will be outside roasting peppers to sell. It’s a wonderful aroma that’s sure to set your taste buds hopping.

I remember when my brother and I would be talking before he retired in 1992. I dreamed of us starting our own restaurant here in town. It was going to be “The Mexibilly Café.” You get it, a blend of Mexican food and good old down home cooking. I still think it would have been a hit. My brother is an excellent cook, and I’m pretty decent myself. Ha! I’ll always think of what could have been.

My favorite Mexican food is Chiles Rellenos. In case you aren’t familiar with this, it’s a type of chile pepper (usually a poblano) that’s stuffed with either cheese or meat. I prefer mine stuffed with cheese. I find that it’s difficult to find the ones stuffed with cheese. You then dip them in a pancake-like batter before frying. Right now, the only restaurant that I know of serving them this way is No Way Jose’s in Morristown. Maybe someone out there knows of another restaurant that has them. If so, please let me hear from you.

I’m giving you two recipes that you might like to try for Cinco de Mayo, plus a recipe for flan for dessert. This is a shortcut chiles rellenos. Please note that I have had a very difficult time finding the conned whole chiles. I recently found them at Price Less grocery store in Morristown located at 1707 E Andrew Johnson Hwy. All I can find in other stores are the chopped ones which could still be used. You could also roast your own and pel the skins off. Look for either poblanos or Anaheim chiles for this. The Mexican Chicken recipe is a dish served at Paula Deen’s Savannah, GA restaurant.

If I can answer any questions, requests or if you have any remarks, feel free to write me at mammawcas@gmail.com.

As always, enjoy!

Chiles Rellenos

1 can (7 ounces) whole green chiles

2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese

2 cups (8 ounces shredded cheddar cheese

3 eggs

3 cups milk

1 cup biscuit mix (such as Bisquick®)

Seasoned salt to taste

Salsa

Split chilies; rinse and remove any seeds. Dry on paper towels. Arrange chilies on the bottom of an 11-in. x 7-in. x 1/1/2 in. baking dish. Top with cheeses. In a bowl, beat eggs; add milk and biscuit mix. Blend well; pour over cheese. Sprinkle with seasoned salt. Bake at 325 degrees for 50-55 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with salsa. Yield: 8 servings.

Mexican Chicken

One 10-1/4 ounce can cream of chicken soup

One 10-1/4 ounce can cheddar cheese soup

One 10-1/4 ounce can cream of mushroom soup

One 10-ounce can Ro-Tel tomatoes

1 whole chicken, cooked, boned, and chopped or 4 cups leftover cooked chicken (a rotisserie chicken would be perfect for this)

One 11-1/2 ounce package flour tortillas

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

In a large bowl, stir together the three kinds of soup and the tomatoes. Stir in the chicken. In a greased 13 x 9 inch pan, layer the tortillas and the chicken mixture, beginning and ending with the tortillas. Sprinkle the cheese over the casserole and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Mexican Flan

8 eggs

2/3 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

Two 12-ounce cans evaporated milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or brandy

½ cup packed brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, beat the eggs well until fluffy. Beat in the sugar and salt, then beat in the milk. Stir in the vanilla. Sift the brown sugar into the bottom of a 5 x 9-inch loaf pan, covering the entire bottom. Carefully pour the custard into the pan. Place the loaf pan in a 13 x 9 x 2 inch pan and pour in enough hot water to reach halfway up the sides of the pan. Bake for 1 hour, or until a knife blade inserted in the center comes out clean Let cool, then refrigerate overnight. Unmold the flan onto a platter.