As I delightfully accepted (jumping up and down) the invitation to come cook Mexican with Paula, I told her producer, we love her show at home. Not only does it make my boys want to jump into the kitchen but her accent completely cracks them up. That last bit made her producer burst in laughter. Patriz-z-zia, he said, her accent cracks them up? What about yours?
Sometimes we are the last ones to notice some of our most obvious traits and talents. Growing up in Mexico I used to think I was tall, then I moved to Texas. After years of studying to become a political analyst, here I am, cooking my life away.
A couple months after the invitation to visit Paula, guess what started to happen? Even my little gringo boys at home started cracking up at my accent too. “Mami, you don’t say feesh, you say fish, not like bee… you know, like dish.” Oh well… I am not tall, I am not a political analyst anymore and I do have an accent.
Accents included and all, visiting Paula’s kitchen in Savannah was some of the best fun I’ve ever had. Thinking about it makes me smile so wide, my eyes barely get the chance to see what’s in front of them. She is hilarious.
This I can say: I am amazed by Paula. She is as scrumptious, funny and generous in person as she is on screen. As real as real can get, and its even better live. I don’t know that many people who enjoy food as much as Paula. She just dives into it, the whole thing, the preparing, the cooking and the savoring. So before deciding the menu, I knew the food had to be as yummy as she is. Now that’s a challenge.
Continue reading The crunchiest and tastiest tacos for Paula Deen
When asked recently whether I was a collector of some sort, I thought of my grandmother’s cabinet that holds hundreds of elephant figurines — more than 60 years’ worth, from many places. And she’s still adding to the lot. So my response was no.
Then a few days later I realized that I am a collector: of foods tasted throughout my life, or at least the memories of them. This is especially true of salsas. I have countless papers scattered on my desk with notes about the names of them, the places I ate them, their ingredients, the cooks who made them and, when generously given, directions on how to re-create them.
When the mood strikes, I search to find that precise note (which may be in a coat pocket, bag or drawer). Or I sit down with eyes closed and try to remember the feel of the sauce.
When all else fails, I make one up.
Continue reading A True Mexican Collectible: Versatile Summertime Salsas…
A True Mexican Collectible: Versatile Summertime Salsas…
An essential cooking tool in Mexican kitchens, a comal is a flat plate or griddle, typically made with cast iron and a rim around the edges. They are usually round and found in many sizes, though there are some rectangular versions too. There are also comales made with aluminum, and in later years it has become quite popular to use the non-stick/teflon versions as they are more user friendly.
Comales were traditionally made, for centuries, with clay. In the countryside there are plenty of homes and fondas that still use clay comales and tend to have one for making tortillas and corn masa foods and another for charring or toasting vegetables and spices.
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Growing up in Mexico City, my sisters and I used to prepare exotic meals, perfumes and potions for the inhabitants of our enchanted forest. That was our dog, the bluebird, snails, butterflies and ladybugs that happened to peek into our backyard and witness our extravagant mess. It also included any family friend who happened to stop by and become a willing victim. We sometimes offered cooking classes too.
My mother set us up in the backyard on a big blanket with random pots and pans, while she cooked laborious weekend meals. There was a fig tree, an apple tree, a peach tree, a couple of what we called Chinese orange trees and tons of azaleas and herbs that offered an immense array of witch-crafting material. But among our most prized ingredients were dried jamaica flowers, known here as hibiscus flowers, stored in a big jar in the kitchen.
Continue reading Jamaica Flowers Charm the Kitchen
No matter how hard we tried we just couldn’t stay dry.
A single step out of the plane and it all seemed part of a magical realism novel from Gabriel García Márquez. In that hot, humid and tropical pueblo, every move was slowed down in a permanent mist, which made my clothes feel damp. Under the open sunny sky, that mist was shiny and full of light as it transformed the colors from the exotic overgrown plants, colorful houses and small streets. There were cute little insects, bees and hummingbirds moving all around. Wide chubby trees offered some shade, as people walked by with no hurry, wearing earth colored hats.
And everything, absolutely everything, was infused with the lusciously sweet aroma of vanilla.
No. I don’t do drugs.
This is a true description of a small town in the region of Totonacapan in the state of Veracruz, where vanilla originated and is still heavily grown. Also where my husband and I were invited to a wedding, more than a decade ago. And it was in that small pueblo, where I tasted the best horchata I have ever tried.
Continue reading We could all use a little Horchata…
The cinnamon mostly used in Mexican cuisine is called Ceylon and it is also known as true cinnamon. It is quite different from Cassia, which is mostly found in US stores. However, as time moves on, one can find true cinnamon in an increasing number of stores here.
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Ay, ay, ay! Patita, espérate mamacita! My nanny repeated, as she snatched the hot plantain tightly wrapped in aluminum foil, from my hands. Her hands were more resistant, she insisted, as they were older and had cooked so much. She would hold my chosen package with an open hand, so the camotero (sweet potato street cart man, who also sold plantains) could tear up the foil. As the steam flew up to the skies, he poured a more-than-any-child-could-wish-for amount of La Lechera sweetened condensed milk… and so it fell, sweet ounce, by thick ounce, onto that moist, rich, filling and immensely satisfying treat. Sheer joy, that was.
I devoured it in what seemed a couple bites, just to lick the last but yummiest remains from the crumbled foil. There we were, standing on the street corner where my family lived, mischievously laughing: it was already getting dark, almost dinnertime, and no, no, no, I wasn’t supposed to be having any. Oh dear, how I miss that woman! Now every time I eat a plantain, I get a sparkle of that sheer joy.
Continue reading Three tasty ways to eat ripe plantains
Plantains are now available almost anywhere in the United States. They have the appearance of being thicker, longer and bigger type of bananas. But they are not. No wonder they are called macho bananas, plátano macho, in most areas of Mexico. Although from the same family, plantains are a different ingredient. They are starchier, meatier, firmer, milder in flavor and have much thicker skin than bananas and are better treated as vegetables in a culinary sense, since they are only eaten cooked.
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Mexican cooking authority Diana Kennedy has said that the Serrano chile has the shape of a bullet. One could say that it tastes like one too! Serranos are spicy. However, as with most chiles, you can pump down the heat by removing the seeds and veins.
They have, like the Jalapeños, a dark and deep green color, shinny skin and a small and thin stem. However, Serranos tend to be on the smaller side and are much thinner and appear longer.
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Pickled Jalapeños are a very popular garnish, topping or side for plenty of Mexican foods like tortas, tacos, quesadillas, grilled meats, rice, beans, tostadas… just to name some. So much so, that in many Restaurants, they are placed in the center of the table along the side of salt, pepper and a breadbasket. Many people nibble on them right out of the bowl… They are popular in Mexican Pizzerias too!
You can make your own or buy them already bottled or canned at the stores. They are so intensely used, that there are plenty of brands that carry them as a regular product. Taste does vary considerably from one brand to another, so try a couple, and see which ones you like more.
Continue reading Pickling Jalapeños