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
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
I wouldn’t be caught dead without Pan de Muerto during Day of the Dead.
One of the most meaningful, colorful and delicious of Mexican celebrations, Día de Muertos has this bread as one of its trademark treats. It may sound strange to eat fluffy sugared up bread in the shape of bones, but then again, we also eat calaveritas, candies in the shape of skulls. This shows how crucial food is for Mexicans but also how it gets infused with our sarcastic sense of humor, generous spirit and gutsy attitude.
Not that Day of the Dead is such a big occasion here in the United States, but I notice an increased awareness. Teachers are starting to talk about it in schools, sugar skulls and decorations are popping up in stores…It’s becoming trendy. As it happens right on the tail of Halloween, elements from both celebrations seem to cross paths. They both include graveyards and a lot of eating, but they are quite different.
Day of the Dead, which is not one but two days, November 1st and 2nd, is when those departed have a license to come back and visit the ones they’ve left behind. And hey, if they are coming back from another world, it better be a feast worth the trip! Altars are decorated, filled with the visitor’s favorite foods and drinks, candles and flowers placed throughout, to help illuminate for a safe journey back home. There are visits to the cemetery, too, but of a different nature than Halloween: Day of the Dead is a bittersweet, sad and joyous time for gathering, feasting and remembering.
Pan de Muerto, has to be one of the sweetest sides of it, eagerly awaited by all.
Continue reading Make Pan de Muerto at Home!
Purslane or verdolagas, one of those ingredients that Mexicans hanker for when outside of Mexico, is likely to be growing in your backyard. In Mexico, it is considered one of the quelites or edible herbs. It is nutritious and succulent, yet it has long been considered a weed in the United States. Indeed, once it grows roots, it spreads and grows fast.
It is essential to the cuisine of Central Mexico, where it is most commonly added to Puerco con Verdolagas: my favorite way of eating them. There, slowly braised pork is finished off in a seasoned salsa verde and verdolagas are dropped in almost when it’s done.
Continue reading Purslane or Verdolagas
I have a thing for soups.
Doesn’t matter what time of day, what season of the year, what place I’m in, if I want tasty comfort my entire self craves a big bowl of soup.
As far as soups go, I have concocted some, I religiously repeat some I grew up eating, and then there are others I’ve become enamored with as I’ve ventured deeper into my home country’s cuisine.
As soon as my feet touch new territory, I search for its signature soup: the one everyone knows; the one everyone loves; the one present at every home kitchen. As easy as it may sound, sometimes those soups stir away from restaurants. Luckily, the first meal we had during our trip to Chiapas included that soup.
Continue reading Chipilín Soup with Masa and Fresh Cheese Dumplings
Chipilín Soup with Masa and Fresh Cheese Dumplings