It seems that when it comes to birthdays and cakes, most of us grown ups are like little kids too. So this year, I planned my husbands’ cake with a little help from my three young boys.
The night before, as I tucked them in bed, we talked about making an irresistible I-want-to-jump-into-that-cake kind of cake. It had to be something that could WOW him away and could also feel yummy and soft when they dipped his face in it (yep! that was their plan).
This talk led me, once again, to tell the boys stories about cakes from my childhood. Most of those cakes came from Sanborns’, a chain of stores that sells almost anything you can imagine: books, DVD’s, make-up, electronics, luggage, candies, the best ever chocolate covered raisins, marshmallows and toys. It also has great coffee-shop style restaurants with some of my favorite molletes and enchiladas. Not to forget its perfumeries and pharmacies. It is a serious knock out one-stop-shop. But most importantly, it was, and may still be, one of the most popular places to get a birthday cake.
One of the cakes that left me with a permanent impression went something like this: A couple layers of fluffy and moist vanilla cake, a foamy and soft meringue filling paired with old fashioned strawberry jam and pecans, the same soft meringue layered all over the top, some more pecans and whatever decorations you fancied.
That cake, by itself, made a party happen. It was a creation worthy of its own celebration.
Continue reading A Cake Worthy of its own Celebration
Not to be confused with the other kind of tortas, (tortes translates to tortas in Spanish…) Mexico’s favorite sandwich made with a crispy bread roll adapted from the baguette; tortes are a cross between a fluffy and moist bread, a savory pudding, and now that I think of it, also a souffle.
Although there are quite a few variations, tortes have a few things in common. For one thing, they are easy to prepare. Next, they are versatile since they can be a side to both dry or saucy entrees, they can become the main dish accompanied by a salad and they can travel solo in grand style. What’s more, and crucial around home, they help eager parents deceive picky eaters who don’t like vegetables that much.
Continue reading Zucchini Torte for You and Me (and turns out my mother too)
Zucchini Torte for You and Me (and turns out my mother too)
I have been humbled, time and again, by how one never stops learning from other cooks in the kitchen. That has especially been the case with my cooking team at the Mexican Cultural Institute. We are all from different parts of Mexico, with our peculiar twists and spins, influences and very strong opinions, which we love to scream out loud when trying to make what we serve at each event be the best it can possibly be.Though we get a bit stressed when cooking for kitchen outsiders, we really let loose when making lunch for ourselves. We take turns and last week Julio, a former Mexican taquería cook, made his albóndigas. I had been dying to try them since not only he, but his aunt Maricruz, had been raving about them for over two years. “De veras, de veritas Pati” (Maricruz said, which means really, REALLY) “he makes the most delicious albóndigas of them all.”
Continue reading Dreaming of Julio’s Albóndigas with Chipotle and Mint
Dreaming of Julio’s Albóndigas with Chipotle and Mint
During the years I’ve been teaching at the Mexican Cultural Institute I’ve been hesitant to demonstrate and serve Chiles en Nogada. There are many reasons…
First, one of my goals has been to open a window into the world of Mexican cooking in an accessible way. I’ve introduced basic ingredients and dishes along with bits of their history, fun facts, cooking methods and new spins, so people can become familiar with this cuisine and feel empowered to play with its basics in their own kitchens.
No sense in teaching how to make something incredibly complex with tons of new ingredients, which can be quite overwhelming, right?
Continue reading OK… Chiles in Nogada, at last!
For Labor Day, our friends Jeannie and Bill invited us to their farm on the Eastern shore. Jeannie said snacks and grown up drinks are welcome. We can’t wait! Since we are going to be a large crowd, meals there are so leisurely and her family likes to try new things, I want to bring an interesting and friendly snack. Since I’ve been experimenting with pumpkin seeds, spiced up pumpkin seeds came to mind. Micheladas are a great pairing for them, especially since this may be one of the last weekends with enough heat for such drink.
Pumpkin seeds, Pepitas in Spanish, are one of the things I used to stuff in my suitcase when visiting Mexico. That’s because they have a mellow, somewhat nutty, almost sweet, barely chewy and nutritious nature, but also because of its multiple uses in Mexican cooking. They are used hulled and un-hulled, toasted or fried, to make salsas, moles, soups and drinks. There is more to Pepitas than being used for an unnoticeable role as a salad topping. So you can imagine my happiness when I began noticing their appearance in not just one, but many grocery stores here in the US.
Continue reading Micheladas and Spiced Up Pepitas: You Are Invited!
Micheladas and Spiced Up Pepitas: You Are Invited!
“All I want is a hamburger, a hot dog, a Pizza, a nice big steak, some Texas style bar-b-q and a big plate of pancakes… no tacos or anything Mexican ok?” My dad said, after devouring the welcoming meal I prepared for him, which happened to be Tacos de Guisado.
Guisados are Mexican style stews, which can be ladled into warm corn tortillas. There are plenty of Fondas or small restaurants that specialize in them throughout Mexico. Since my dad loves them, I received him with three of his favorites: Chicken Tinga heavy on the chipotle, beef cooked in a green salsa with cubed potatoes and nopalitos, cactus paddles, sauteed with onion, Guajillo Chilies and corn. There were also refried beans and white rice, as they are such friendly sides to tacos.
After he made it clear that he didn’t want anything Mexican for the next three days, making me laugh so hard along the way, we set off to satisfy his cravings.
Continue reading Mexican Style Eggs: A la Papi
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…
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…