A tasty look at the way French cuisine has historically influenced modern Mexican cooking, and simple techniques any American cook can manage with impressive results.
BLACKBERRY AND PECAN TAMALES
Tamales de Zarzamora y Nuez
Makes about 20 tamales
25 dried corn husks
1 cup vegetable shortening or good quality lard
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp cold water
1 tsp baking powder
1 lb instant corn masa mixfor tamales, or about 3 1/4 cups, such as Maseca
3 cups warm water
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup pecans, roughly chopped
12 oz blackberries, rinsed
To make masa for tamales:
Place the vegetable shortening or lard with 1 tablespoon of cold water in a mixer and beat, until very light and spongy, about 1 minute. Add the baking powder and salt, and then take turns adding the instant corn masa mix and the water. Continue beating until the dough is homogeneous and fluffy.
Mix in the sugar and cinnamon and continue beating until everything is well mixed. You may also do it by hand.
You know the tamal masa is ready if:
1. When you lift a big spoon with masa, drop it into the dough it falls “de golpe” or heavy.
2. It has the consistency of a medium thick cake batter.
3. If you place 1/2 teaspoon of masa in a cup of cold water and it floats.
To prepare the steamer:
Place water in the pan of a steamer and bring it to a simmer. Line the steamer with one or two layers of corn husks. Use the dough to form about 20 corn husk wrapped tamales.
To make tamales:
Soak the dried corn husks in hot water for a couple of minutes, until they are pliable and drain. Lay out a corn husk with the tapered ends facing towards you. Spread 3 to 4 tablespoons of the masa into a 2 to 3 inch square, the layer should be about 1/4 inch, leaving a boarder of at least 1/2 inch on the sides. Place 1 to 2 blackberries in the middle of the masa filling and sprinkle about a teaspoon of the pecans on top.
Pick up the two long sides of the corn husk and bring them together, causing the masa to surround the berries and pecans and fold them to one side, rolling them in the same direction around the tamal. Fold up the empty section of the husk with the tapering end, from the bottom up. This will form a closed bottom and the top will be left open.
Prepare the tamales and then place them vertically in a container. When you have them all ready, place them as vertically as you can in the prepared steamer, with the open end on top. If there is space left in the steamer, tuck in more corn husks so the tamales will not dance around. Cover with more corn husks and steam, covered for 50 minutes to an hour over medium heat. You know the tamales are ready when the tamales come easily free from the husks.
Finished tamales will stay warm for about 1 to 2 hours in the steamer. They can be made ahead several days before and stored in the refrigerator, well wrapped. They can also be frozen for months. In either case, reheat in the steamer. For refrigerated tamales it will take about 15 minutes, and for frozen tamales about 45 minutes.
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
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