If you were to ask me what cooking tool I could not live without, I would tell you it’s my Mexican-style lime squeezer.
Limes are one of the most iconic ingredients of Mexican cooking. Not lemons. Limes! To me, limes have a much more concentrated citrus punch, and I like the fresh juice. I have a deep disregard for pre-squeezed lime juice bottles sold at the stores; they taste like airplane food.
What’s complicated about squeezing a fresh lime? Nothing much really. But when you use as many as I do, this squeezer is a delight: gets as much juice as the lime has in a snap, feels heavy and powerful in your hand, and it is easy to maintain and keep clean.
My lime squeezer is as common as common gets. You can find one easily in just about any Mexican kitchen. It is made of cast aluminum, which resists corrosion from the acidic juices. It is super simple to use: open it up, place a halved lime cut side down and just squeeze the juice wherever you want it to go, directly over food or into a bowl or measuring cup. Close and squeeze the long handles that give you leverage to extract all the juice and that’s that. Since it is so big, it works with lemons too… (continue for more information and photos)
Continue reading Lime Squeezer or Exprimidor de Limón
Red, green, orange, blue… and all the colors you can dream up! Vanilla, cajeta, jamaica, chocolate, coffee, fruits, nuts… and just about any flavor you may crave. Smooth or chunky, creamy or foamy, heavy or light… choose any texture you like. Wait! We haven’t even gotten into shapes. Did you say your son likes Spiderman, your mom likes flowers or you want to go for a simple 2 layer design?
If you haven’t fallen for Jello, then you haven’t tried those in the Mexican repertoire. Forget about the 1950s-style-jello salads. Forget about the Jello you’ve seen people eat, or you may have eaten, in hospitals, too.
Mexican Jello is something to celebrate, to showcase, to boast about.
Gelatinas, in Spanish, many times come in individual servings with different flavors stacked in bright and colorful layers. Sold by street vendors who carry them in see through 2 to 3 tier covered stands, they are a common site in gas stations where cars wait for their turn and passersby can’t help but be tempted. Now you know why I always tagged along with my dad to fill up the tank!
It’s hard to show up at a kids party in Mexico and not see them. You will run into more sophisticated versions of them, standing tall, firm and proud at grown up parties, maybe with generous splashes of rum, tequila or rompope in their mix. There are simpler Jello creations brightening shelves at bakeries and grocery stores, too. In fact, Jello is such a big thing, that some cooks have elevated it to a complex art form with floral and abstract designs.
Continue reading Dream Big: Tres Leches and Strawberry Jello
Are you tired of the clumps and lumps when you make your own flavored Jello? Yes? No? What?! You don’t make your own flavored Jello? You should! It is healthier than the already flavored ones sold at the store and you can decide what ingredients go in it! It is tastier, exactly for the same reason, since you can choose your flavors, you can choose your own favorite ones.
Many cooks complain about the clumping when mixing unflavored gelatin with any liquid in order to be able to use it. Yet there is a fast and simple technique that provides a smooth and seamlessly effective gelatin base that will add volume and will help solidify any liquid that you may want to turn into Jello.
Note: You can find unflavored gelatin as easily as finding flour or sugar. It will be located in the baking section of your grocery store and is usually sold as a dry powder in packets or in a dry leaf form. I use the dry powder, which is most common. Make sure to buy “unflavored” gelatin.
Continue reading Using Unflavored Gelatin or Gelatina
Jello molds or moldes para gelatina are as versatile as Jello desserts themselves. Plastic, metal, ceramic, stoneware, porcelain, glass and silicone are all suitable materials for molding Jello. They can vary from multiserving ring molds to individual portions in plastic cups or ramekins (even water glasses or anything you can pour a drink onto!), or in silicon shaped, like anything from pyramids to cartoon characters. It’s important to make sure your molds are heat-tolerant to avoid warping when using hot liquids.
I tend to make my Jellos in clear and simple plastic cups like the ones you’d see on street stands in Mexico. It is simple, fast and you can see through all the colors and layers of your creations without having to unmold the Jello. It is also great for kids because they can just eat the Jello right out the cup. Also, in a way, servings are pre-measured.
But if you want to be artistic with the shapes, aside from the flavors of your Jello creations, the newest molds are made of high-quality silicone and come in elaborate shapes.
See below all the choices I could gather for individual servings of Jello…
Continue reading Jello Molds or Moldes Para Gelatina
For years, I’ve managed to turn every Mexican vacation into a working trip. As soon as I touch Mexican soil, I set up interviews, plan research tours, library searches, cooking adventures, all the while trying to tweet and instagram. And facebook, pinterest and blog too… My appetite expands outrageously as if giving me a chance to try all that my eyes can see and my mind can gather. Even with the best of intentions to relax and disconnect, they only last so long.
My family had been enthusiastic about it until recently: my husband announced last summer he’s had it. He won’t travel with me to Mexico when he wants us to vacation, together.
So when I suggested we go visit for the December holidays, he said “no, no, no Pati, you can’t control yourself there.” I kept pursuing Mexico because I missed it so bad, seeking out a place where I wouldn’t be tempted to work. San Miguel de Allende sounded like just the spot.
Continue reading Homemade Cajeta
When I visited Mexico this past December, I bought a gorgeous copper pot from a young lovely woman in the city of Celaya. Although the most famous place in Mexico to buy copper pots is the town of Santa Clara del Cobre in the state of Michoacán, I visited Celaya to learn how to make Cajeta the traditional way. Traditional Cajeta makers consider copper pots a required tool for this craft, so Celaya has managed to make their own. And boy, are they pretty.
Continue reading Copper Pot or Cazo De Cobre: Maintenance and Use
Insanely practical, that’s what these empanadas are. Perfect to make ahead for gatherings, as you can eat them hot or not. And they are oh, so, comforting: think of a tuna casserole in the good old style, but revamped with great Mexican flair and then flipped and turned into individual size. They withstand hours of travel and will remain delicious until you are ready to take a bite.
With that in mind, I made a full batch last Saturday to bring to a friend’s house. So thrilled were the boys, and I, with the packets as they came out of the oven (crispy on top, soft layers of barely sweet dough as you get close to the middle and a rich tasting filling) that by the time we put our jackets on, and I went back to the kitchen to transfer the empanadas from the baking sheet to a platter, I gasped at the sight of the only two remaining…
Continue reading Tuna Minilla Empanadas
It’s true you can always buy frozen puff pastry at any grocery store. But, in less than the time it takes for the frozen puff pastry to thaw, you can make your own from scratch. I have a simple recipe I learned at L’Academie de Cuisine in Maryland, that is the one I turn to time and again. I just adapted it to make a larger quantity and also to give you a bit of a more detailed description.
The key to making good puff pastry dough, or any flaky dough for that matter, is keeping everything very cold (well the flour and salt are fine at room temp!). You’ll want to cut your butter into chunks while being very cold.
Begin by simply placing your flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add your chunks of butter and pulse several times (about 10 times) until the butter chunks are reduced to pieces about the size of peas. Feel free to use your hands to feel the mixture to estimate the size of the butter pieces.
Continue reading Hojaldre or Puff Pastry
The pomegranate is such a vivid, vibrant and enticing fruit, that I consider it to be one of the most sensuous ingredients. It has a thick and tough pink-to-reddish skin that comes off as impenetrable. But, break into it, and you will find an overabundance of shiny, ruby red seeds that resemble jewels and have the juiciest crunch.
The taste is sweet, bright and slightly tart and the bursting juice seems primed to make wine. Be mindful when you peel them, as the stains from the juice can be hard to clean off. I cut the fruit in half and then use my fingers to open up the clusters covered in a white membrane. As I remove the membrane I loosen the seeds. Some people like to do this in a bowl with water to avoid the stains. I do it without the bowl of water but use an apron for sure.
Pomegranate season in Mexico starts in early August and goes through October. No coincidence, as one of the most famous dishes it is used for, the Chiles in Nogada proudly boasting the three colors of the flag (green, white and red) are made mainly in the month of September to celebrate the month of Independence. In the US the prime season is a bit later: from (sometimes end of September) October through January/February, which makes it a bit of a challenge for those of us craving that peculiar dish on that specific month…
Continue reading Pomegranate or Granada