Celebrity Chef Ingrid Hoffmann and Coca-Cola are bringing the Cinco de Mayo fiesta home this year by providing families with smart, simple recipes and fun party ideas to celebrate Mexico's rich traditions and start a few new ones, too.

We caught up with the host of the Cooking Channel’s Simply Delicioso to learn more about her approach to cooking and entertaining. Take a look:

You learned to cook from your mother. Do any particular memories stand out from your time in the kitchen with her?

I’ve spent my life in kitchens. When I was about five years old, I would always pull up a stool to the stove to cook…which did not amuse my mom. We always had a little struggle in the sense that she was Cordon Bleu-trained in classic French cuisine and, as a kid, I would always use my fingers to taste whatever she was making and give her advice. We had a contentious, yet very fun and joyful relationship in the kitchen. Growing up, I worked in her restaurant and catering business on weekends and over the summers to make money. A lot of foods bring me back to her.

Mom also instilled in us a love of food and sharing the table with family. She had mandatory sit-down lunches and dinners every day. We fought her on that as teenagers, but today I look back and think, wow, my most incredible memories were made around the table with loved ones. We’d sit at the table and linger long after the meal, especially on the weekends. Mom gave us that love of family and sharing food.

What is the most common misperception Americans have about Latin food?

That it’s fattening. And sure, some of it is. But if you take Latin flavors and cut out the bad calories and adapt the recipes, it’s actually a cuisine that lends itself the most to a very healthy Paleo diet… which I really believe in because it’s not about counting, but more about trying not to eat processed foods. For example, you don’t need to fry plantains, which is a very typical Latin food. I show in my new book how to toast them in the oven to give them a nice crunch. There is also a healthy way of making refried beans. And tropical fruits used in Latin cuisine are great for flavoring food and making sauces by roasting and mixing them with herbs and spices.

What spices should all good cooks have in their spice rack, and why?

With oregano, cumin, achiote and a good spice blend, you can flavor anything. If I was only allowed to have one spice, it would be my Latin spice blend I make at home with cumin, achiote, oregano, lemon paper, garlic, onion, parsley and cilantro. With that, you can flavor chicken, meats, stews, eggs – anything. It’s also important is to have items liked dried chiles and jalapeno powder, and chipotles bottled in their own vinegar, which can be used to flavor food in a delicious way.

Do you have any favorite Coca-Cola-inspired recipes?

I love Coca-Cola rice. It’s from my childhood and a very typical coastal Colombian dish. It’s so easy to make; all you do is throw rice and Coca-Cola in a pan with bit of oil and some salt… and you’re done. I also have delicious recipes for Coca-Cola plantains and a fennel and chicken and chorizo stew filled with vegetables. The Coca-Cola caramelizes beautifully in both, adding great flavor and depth.




How do you plan to celebrate Cinco de Mayo?

There’s always a party associated with Cinco de Mayo, but what we are suggesting this year is to turn it into a family celebration with Coca-Cola. I’m suggesting a great menu that cuts down on calories without sacrificing flavor – including guacamole with mangoes and tomatillos, nachos made with turkey meat, and Swiss enchiladas. We’re sticking with foods people think of this time of year, but with a healthy twist. At the same time, I’m suggesting a little dance contest. We’ll die laughing at the bad dancers and have fun. And everyone will be moving, too, so we’ll burn the calories we take in.

Visit www.mcr.com/cocacola for party ideas and recipes inspired by Hoffmann’s new cookbook, Latin D’Lite: Delicious Latin Recipes with a Healthy Twist. Follow her on Twitter @simplyingrid