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September 2, 2010

It seems that many people find chicken boring.

I happen to find it fascinating.

Not only because chicken is friendly enough to let you take it wherever your imagination can go and because it can be the juiciest and crispiest meal, but also, because of that story my mother told me when I was growing up.

When my mom was about 10 years old, my grandmother who came to Mexico from Austria in her early twenties having survived years of war, turbulence and the loss of most of her family, taught my mom a serious lesson: you can survive most hardships in life if you know how to cook, she had said, and mostly, if you know how to cook chicken from scratch.

Cooking from scratch really meant from scratch. No nonsense. So my mom learned how to kill, pluck and cook chicken a thousand ways.

Continue reading Deliciously Sweet: Chicken with Tamarind, Apricots and Chipotle Sauce


August 12, 2010

With a soft, crumbly and almost sweet dough that embraces a moist, tasty and meaty filling, it is hard not to eat one after the other. These Empanadas do have a curious name though. Especially when you consider their addicting nature.

I didn’t choose their name. No.The nuns from the Mexican Convent of our Lady of the Immaculate Conception are to blame.It all began with Beatriz da Silva, the Portuguese woman who founded the order in Toledo, Spain.

Known to be shockingly beautiful, although destined to be the companion to Queen Isabel from Spain, she was locked up because of the Queen’s jealousy and alleged admiration from the King. Legend goes, that when Beatriz managed to flee, she was more beautiful and had a new found strength she used to establish a new Conceptionist order.The three Conceptionist nuns who arrived in Mexico City around the 1540’s, were also known to be strong. If not as pretty.

Aside from trying to evangelize the population, they combined Spanish and Mexican ingredients in their kitchens, as most Spanish nuns, with an intense passion and a ton of imagination. As most Spanish nuns, as well, their cooking instincts were led by an insatiable sweet tooth. That may explain the sweet elements both in the dough and the filling of these Empanadas, that were served time and again to entertain guests in this convent.And now you know, where the name comes from…

Continue reading Empanadas of the “Immaculate Conception”


July 28, 2010

I am crazy for Tepache. Gently sweet, with an innocent hint of home brewed alcohol, a deep freshness and a gorgeous amber color.

Tepache: A home made fermented drink that comes from the state of Jalisco – also breeding ground of other Mexican symbols like Tequila, Charros and Mariachis. Tepache has a base of fresh pineapple, true cinnamon, piloncillo and water and has been drank in Mexico since Pre-Colonial times.

I have made it many times throughout my life.

First, when Daniel and I moved to Texas, to celebrate our finding piloncillo at a U.S. grocery store. Later, when we moved to DC, to soothe the heat of that first long summer and to make our new home, feel like home. A couple years ago, I brewed liters to share with a large crowd for a class I taught on foods from Jalisco.

Then, I forgot about it. Until this summer, when we moved, the heat started pumping up and I unpacked my old clay pot from Tlaquepaque, Jalisco. A pot that is perfect for brewing Tepache, which is so simple to make. That is, if you can keep an eye on it.

Continue reading Crazy for Tepache

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Crazy for Tepache

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July 16, 2010

What to cook for the Today Show?

With so many options being juggled in my head, I was growing restless as the date got closer.

As I started exchanging emails with one of the producers, I began to throw ideas: what about different kinds of Salsas, variations of that irresistible cold and wet Tres Leches cake, funky versions of Guacamole, or a sample of fresh Ceviches…?

Or, wait. How about something easy, tasty and flashy like Tequila, Cream and Chipotle Shrimp? It’s so much fun to prepare, I told the producer. You ignite the pan, the flames come up right after the shrimp begin to brown, and then they wind down right before you pour the cream. Your guests feel special and impressed…

I had to agree that we were better off staying away from igniting anything on the set.

Oh, I got it! A chicken dish. Everyone wants a good chicken dish in their recipe box. And one of the tastiest ways to eat chicken in Mexican kitchens, no doubt about it, is Chicken Tinga.

Although it comes from the state of Puebla, it is so popular, that it is eaten throughout the country. So of course there are countless variations.

I have a favorite version. One that I have tweaked through the years until I found a balance of flavors that needs no more tweaking, if you ask me…

Continue reading Chicken Tinga for Today (Show) and Everyday!


June 26, 2010
plantain quesadillas

Each time I go back to Mexico City, even before the plane lands, I know there are some formal plans that can never, ever, be messed around with. They are all with my father and they all involve eating in the same places. Each single time.

One of the places is El Bají­o. If you know my father, you know he doesn’t let me order. You also know that he knows the Restaurant manager, waiters, bar servers and valet parking attendants by name. And they all know him too.

Continue reading Bossed Around at El Bají­o: Plantain Quesadillas


June 12, 2010
chipotle shrimp

Shrimp tend to be perceived as a treat. That fancy item on a menu.

Think about what happens at a shrimp station on a Sunday buffet. It gets crowded. Even if you didn’t feel like eating shrimp, if there’s a shrimp station, chances are you will eat them. Your mom, your dad, your husband or friends will look at your shrimp-less plate and push some shrimp onto your plate.

Growing up in Mexico City, family Sunday lunches with the dozens and dozens members of our immediate family included giant shrimp from the Mercado de la Viga.  There was so much anticipation as to when they would majestically appear on that huge platter carried by my grandmother. Before they got to the table, people started sneaking away some. So my grandmother decided to set a pre-lunch agreement on the number of shrimp per head, to avoid childish grown up wording snaps like “YOU always get the extra shrimp” or sudden door slams.

So when I was asked to develop a Mexican menu for the 2010 RAMMYS Awards I just had to include shrimp. I paired them with some signature Mexican ingredients: smoky and hot Chipotle Chiles in Adobo, tangy and salty Mexican Cream and the iconic Tequila Reposado.

Continue reading Tequila, Mexican Cream and Chipotle Shrimp


May 31, 2010
squash blossom quesadillas

The last time I was at the Mexico City Chapultepec Fair was 20 years ago, with my high school friends. Going back last weekend with my own growing monsters, confirmed that it is not an ordinary Fair experience, ever, regardless of one’s age.

Yes, you find the balloons, with a mix of Mexican and American characters, right at the main entrance.

Continue reading Quesadillas at the Mexico City Fair


May 21, 2010
fresh fruits and vegetables Mexican Street Style

Every year, just as summer peeks its warm face in Washington DC, I begin to crave fresh fruits and vegetables Mexican street cart style. One of the times when I have enjoyed it the most was last April.  We were traveling through the Copper Canyon route, on a week long trip, from Chihuahua to Sinaloa. We had been waiting at the station in the town of Creel to catch the Chepe train to go to the next town.

As the station officer let out a scream that the train was approaching, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the fruit and vegetable cart. It was hot, we were tired and thirsty, and I saw Mr. Fruit Cart Man peeling some ripe and juicy mangoes. I grew weak in my knees.

Continue reading Running to Catch the Fresh Fruit Cart!


May 7, 2010
crab cakes

I was invited to design a Cinco de Mayo menu for Ceiba Restaurant along with their Chef de Cuisine, Alfredo Solis. The invitation included teaching a class covering that menu. As always, I was eager to teach whatever I know. But as always, I learn much more as I go. This time, I also learned, that you never know what foods you are going to like the best.

Continue reading Chef Solis’s Mexican Crab Cakes with Jalapeño Aioli


April 30, 2010
chilorio

Memories from growing up in Mexico City revolve around one celebration or another and mostly center on the foods that just had to be there.  If there was no holiday, anniversary, birthday or special occasion for a formal celebration, then we celebrated the food itself.  Just say the magic words and a get together would spring right up.

Nana made tamales? Fiesta!

Mami made mole? Well, what are you waiting for?

Papi brought real quesadillas potosinas? It is Sunday brunch everyone…

However, as much as I can remember, we didn’t celebrate Cinco de Mayo. As kids we reviewed it in passing at school, unless you lived in the state of Puebla.  The place, where on a Cinco de Mayo in 1862, a small Mexican militia won an unexpected victory against the large French army.  It was a short-lived victory, as the French won right back.

But fast-forward almost a couple centuries later: the French and Spaniards are gone, Mexicans proudly celebrate Independence Day every September 16th, and for a reason no Mexican can explain, Cinco de Mayo has become the most celebrated, joyous and colorful holiday for Mexicans living abroad.  It even surpasses the noise we make for Independence Day.

Continue reading Chilorio for Cinco de Mayo!


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