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April 5, 2013
tres leches and strawberry jello

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


April 3, 2013
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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


April 3, 2013
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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


February 25, 2013
pouring finished cajeta into jar

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

Continue reading
Homemade Cajeta

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February 25, 2013
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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


January 18, 2013
finished empanadas de minilla de atún

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


January 16, 2013
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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


December 12, 2012
santa-clara-cookies

You know what happens when you eat a Santa Clara Cookie?

When you first bite into it, you go through a soft layer with grainy texture that tastes like a moist version of marzipan. But as your teeth sink in they hit the hard crust of a buttery cookie that breaks into the crunchiest of chunks in your mouth. It makes for such tasty contrast that you have to take more bites to understand their beauty. Since one cookie doesn’t explain it, you will reach for another one…

There you go! Another sweet concoction from the nuns of the Santa Clara convent in Puebla whose recipe has been passed down for over a dozen generations. Together with the nuns from Santa Rosa Convent (where Mole Poblano is believed to have been invented) and Santa Monica Convent (where many say Chiles en Nogada come from) they are much to blame for the baroque foods, which mixed European and Mexican ingredients with much passion and devotion, that shaped the cuisine of this city – and has made it an epicenter of gastronomy in Mexico.

Yet it was the nuns from Santa Clara who were most famous for their sweets. You can read what the plaque says outside of the standing convent which shut its doors long ago but left behind a strong legacy and a trail of sweets.

Continue reading Santa Clara Cookies


November 15, 2012
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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


November 14, 2012

I hadn’t heard about Thanksgiving until I moved to Texas. Yet, I took my first shot at cooking the meal that cold fall of 1997 in the vast yellow plains of Dallas. Inspired by the glossy food magazines, cookbooks and TV shows, and wanting to immerse myself in the American experience, I baked, cooked and stirred while feeling homesick for my family’s home-cooking. It took years of living in the US for me to grasp the depth and warmth of the holiday and the menu, many failed turkeys and side dishes along the way.

It turns out, fifteen years later, the Thanksgiving feast has become such a relevant part of our lives that if we ever moved back to Mexico, I’d have to bring it back with us.

The connection wasn’t instantaneous. Slowly, some elements began to resonate within me. Take the bird: Turkey is an indigenous ingredient in Mexican cookery and a center piece for Christmas and the New Year. Both are holidays which also happen near the end of the year, during the coldest season, and have to do with gathering family and friends around a plentiful table. And being thankful. And hopeful.

Continue reading Sweet Potato Rounds with a Punch


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