Celebrations are fun. Holidays. Graduations. Engagements. New houses. Birthdays. Anniversaries. Even Fridays evenings are worth celebrating for those of us who work!

Celebrations bring friends together. And what would they be without a special meal?

Recently, our friends Lynn and Lee were in Tucson checking on the progress of the home they are building in the Sonoran Desert.

They come to Tucson frequently because they, like us, truly love the desert and are excited about living here. This particular visit coincided with two special events - their wedding anniversary and Lee’s birthday.

We invited them to dinner to celebrate. And what better way than to present them with a Mexican feast?

I was recently given a copy of México, The Beautiful Cookbook, and I planned the entire meal around an Albondigón Relleno de Rajas recipe I found there – essentially a stuffed meatloaf

When the book said the recipe would feed 6-8, its authors must have had hungry charros in mind. It was huge and could easily feed 12! It was very subtly seasoned using both herbs and spices, stuffed with copious amounts of rajas (roasted and sliced poblano chiles), and served in a light tomato sauce.

Being truer to myself than to the recipe, I made a few changes — I use Mexican oregano instead of the run-of-the-mill variety generally used, and I substituted thinly sliced pancetta for the bacon. The latter decision reflects my displeasure at getting dishes wrapped in a layer of rubbery, insufficiently-cooked fat. The pancetta cooked beautifully and nicely enhanced the dish. To get the smoky flavor of bacon without actually using it, I simply added some chipotle chiles in adobo to the tomato sauce.

I think my only other change was using ground cloves instead of whole ones.

The yellow rice is a very subtly flavored dish made using an annato-infused oil in which I sautéed the rice before adding a very light chicken broth.

The calabacitas were made using patty pan squash instead of the traditional grey Mexican squash, because the latter was not available.

I pretty much made up the method for the recipe but first chatted with my friend Eunice at her stall (Larry’s Veggies) at the farmers market. She told me what she uses in her calabicitas.

I have never had Eunice’s calabacitas, but I know to trust her! I took her list of vegetables (all of which I bought from her!) and created a really flavorful recipe — everything except the roasted chiles she suggested. As the meatloaf was stuffed with them, I wanted to make sure that there were some contrasting flavors on the plate.

Everything worked out perfectly - the balance of flavors and textures was just what I wanted.

I definitely recommend this cookbook - I have quite a few in the “Beautiful” series and enjoy the authenticity of the recipes.

And speaking of celebrations, happy Mexican Independence Day! (September 6)

~ David

Albondigón Relleno de Rajas
Meatloaf stuffed with poblano chiles
From México, The Beautiful Cookbook

2 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chiles
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 bolillo (bread roll), sliced and soaked in milk
1 large shallot
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 pounds ground beef (85%)
1 pound lean ground pork
3 eggs
1 tablespoon dry bread crumbs
3 poblano chiles, roasted, membranes and seeds removed, cut into strips
1 red pepper, roasted, membranes and seeds removed, cut into strips
1/4 pound thinly sliced pancetta

Make the sauce: cut the tomatoes in half across their equator, and grate them using the large holes on a box grater into the jar of a blende. (Place the cut side on the grater and use the palms of your hand and then your fingers to guide the tomato on the grater. This method takes everything but the skin — you will be amazed how little pulp is lost.)

Add the onion, ground chipotle chiles, dried thyme, ground cumin, ground cloves, and water; purée for 15-20 seconds until smooth.

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat and add the tomato purée, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil for 5 minutes, then lower heat and cook for 30 minutes, until sauce is thick enough to coat a spoon. Set aside to cool. This can be done a day or two in advance.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place the beef and pork on a large bowl. Drain the bolillo, crumble, and add it to the meat. In a spice grinder, purée the shallot, oregano, cumin, cloves, salt, and pepper. Pour this mixture over the meat. Add eggs and dried breadcrumbs. Using your hands, mix the meats with the added ingredients to combine thoroughly.

Place a long piece of parchment on the countertop - about 20 inches long. Transfer the meat to the parchment, and pat into a rectangle about 18 inches long. Arrange the RAJAS (slivered poblano chiles) and roasted red pepper strips down the center. Then, use the parchment to bring both sides of the meat up and over the chiles and seal. Using the parchment, transfer the meat roll to a large baking sheet (with sides). Flatten out the parchment, which will remain under it during cooking. Top the meat roll with thin slices of pancetta. Bake for one hour.

When it is done, let it sit for 10 minutes covered with foil, while you reheat the tomato sauce. Cut the meatloaf in inch-thick slices and arrange on a platter. Pour tomato sauce around the sides and serve.

Serves 10-12. 


3 ears fresh corn
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 white or yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 small green bell peppers, seeded and diced
2 pounds summer squash *
1 roasted poblano chile, seeded and diced (optional)
24 cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half.
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

* The most authentic squash for calabacitas is Mexican gray squash, 

   but when out of season, I used patty pan squash; zucchini and 
   summer squash may be used as well. 

Cook the corn using whatever method you prefer - boil, steam, grill, microwave. Let cool, and cut kernels off the cob. Set aside.

Heat oil in a large skillet and add the onion and bell pepper. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes to soften. Add the squash, cherry tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Cook until vegetables are sizzling. Cover, lower the heat and cook on low for about 5 minutes — add the corn, re-cover, and cook another 5 minutes until zucchini is tender and corn is heated through.

Serves 6-8 

Yellow Rice

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon annato seeds
2 cups long grain rice
4 cups hot water

In a very small saucepan, heat the olive oil and add the annato seeds. Cook over low heat — stirring occasionally — until oil turns bright orange, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let steep 10 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into the saucepan you will use for the rice. Discard the seeds.

Heat the scented oil and add the rice. Cook over medium-high heat until rice is thoroughly coated and has begun to turn opaque. Season with salt, and add the hot water. It will sputter and steam. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Fluff rice and serve.

Serves 6-8.


  1. Ginger LOVES meatloaf and this will be a big hit. I'd never heard of Calabacitas before. Thanks for sharing this Mexican-themed menu!

    1. You are most welcome, Carolyne! It was fun for me to experiment!

  2. Great recipes, David. I always use patty pan, zucchini and yellow crook neck squash in my calabacitas because my mom did. Also garlic and onion along with the corn, roasted chilies, tomatoes and cilantro. Never bell peppers, however. My sister in-law uses hominy instead of fresh corn, which is just weird. Can’t wait to try the meatloaf.

    1. I loved the onion in mine but unfortunately have to pass on the garlic. I used a green bell pepper only because I had so many poblanos in the meatloaf! Hominy? That’s crazy talk. :)

  3. David, you have taken meatloaf to another level. What a great recipe. I love the sauce and will grate my tomatoes the way you described it. Have a great weekend.

    1. Thanks, Gerlinde! I love the grated tomatoes - gives the sauce a nice rustic quality.

  4. What a feast! Lucky guests! I have the Italy version of the Beautiful series of cookbooks which is the only cookbook which is proudly displayed on a cookbook stand on my kitchen counter. They truly are beautiful cookbooks!

    1. Before this “Beautiful” cookbook, I already had Italy, Tuscany, France, and Provence! It’s a great series, Christina!

  5. Oooh I do like the sound of this. I've never heard of it! We have a dinner party coming up next t weekend, and now I'm considering making this. Not sure I'll find fresh poblanos here in the mountains, though. Either way, I'll sort something out.


    1. I hope you find the fresh poblanos, John - if not, what other chiles are available to you? I wish I coulda send some over!

  6. Absolutely love meatloaf and this will bring quite a few new flavours into the house ! Love the beef and pork mixture and have learnt about the usage of thyme in Mexican cooking . . . And John: since I can find poblanos in the Southern Highlands, methinks you'll be able to land them up the mountain: Coles, would you believe !

    1. Thanks, Eha. Was at Coles Penrith this afternoon gathering ingredients for David's fabulous recipe. Sadly no poblanos. Will try Coles in Katoomba, but something tells me I'm up for a challenge. The Southern Highlands are far more progressive and in touch than the Blue Mountains, I think. Am thinking what dessert to serve, too. Maybe an easy creme brulee? I'm in the mood for torching something!

    2. Eha - thyme was definitely new to me in Mexican cooking, but it was really good! Thanks for helping John to find the chiles!

  7. Wow, what a gorgeous collection of dishes. This is the kind of Mexican food I can get behind. Impossible to find in restaurants, around here anywhere, so you need to cook it at home. I suppose you have better luck in the southwest... Anyway, a lovely meal! And speaking of cookbooks, have you read "Frida's Feasts"? Another resource for beautiful and authentic Mexican cookery.

    1. We certainly get more Mexican variety here, but I saw a lot of recipes in this book that I’ve never seen before! Thanks! Frank—enjoy!

  8. Perfect festive and comforting dishes for pleasant autumn days; my gang will definitely love your collection. Thank you so much David !

    1. I hope they do, Davorka! They are indeed the perfect comfort food!

  9. David, I find that celebrations and get togethers really fill a home with memories. I don't always remember the every day days, but I sure have lots of memories of the celebrations and get togethers with family and friends.

    Your meatloaf looks fantastic! Love the peppers inside and the tomato sauce it's served with. So much flavor! It's cool how you made the rice with annatto seeds. I've seen them in the store but wasn't sure how to use them!

    1. I think it is one of the reasons I love cooking most, Kelly - sharing it others. And even the most quotidian day becomes a celebration when you bring friends and family together.

  10. So many recipes. So much deliciousness! You throw the best parties, David. So many fortunate friends you have! This menu sounds wonderful! :-) ~Valentina

    1. Thanks, Valentina. I love throwing themed dinner parties - lots of fun for me planning and prepping, and it seems to be fun for the guests, too!

  11. What a fantastic meal to celebrate. I love the sound of all of it, especially the chillies inside the meatloaf!

    1. It was all very tasty, Caroline! I thought the chiles would have been more pronounced but they just add nicely to the overall flavor.

  12. David, you've definitely raised the bar on the traditional meatloaf recipe! I've never heard of calibacitas before, but it reminds me a little of Mexican esquites (corn salad). I'll have to buy that cookbook now- sounds like it will open the door to a lot of authentic Mexican recipes!

    1. I think that is what I love most about the “Beautiful” series, Fran — so many regional recipes I have never heard of, and so many sound so good!

  13. I came here for that meatloaf recipe today, but I may just make it all :) This is terrific menu, David!

    1. Are calabacitas something you find in Texas, Marcelle? I always wonder how different the traditions are even though we aren’t that far apart.

  14. Mrs KR and I no longer work, but we still celebrate Fridays. :-) Anyway, terrific dishes! For some reason I almost never make meat loaf (I think I was scarred for life by my mother's -- she wasn't a bad cook, although her meat loaf was dry, dry, dry). Love what you've done with such a simple dish -- this looks excellent. Thanks!

    1. John — I think when we retire we will need to celebrate Fridays, too — just to help us keep track of the days! Maybe it’s time to give meatloaf another try. Maybe Momma KR just needed a good recipe!

  15. Wow, quite a feast! We've gotten so many CSA poblanos, the "meatloaf" would be perfect (and it only sounds a little scary to roll with the parchment :) ) !

    1. Haha - rolling with the parchment made it SO much easier! Lucky you getting all those poblanos! :)


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