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
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.
Regardless of the many recommended takes on turkey I tried, it wasn’t until I came up with my own Mexican version (it’s in my new cookbook please get it!) that the Thanksgiving turkey felt like part of our home and our home grew deeper roots in the United States.
Now my Mexican turkey is part of the Thanksgiving menu, we eat every year with our same dear American friends, along with Debra’s butternut squash soup; Tamara’s fennel, pear and parmesan salad; Sean’s changing sides (as my turkey replaced his, he is finding his way on the sides territory – sorry Sean, but you’re the one who chose mine…); Viviana and Mario’s very berry sauce; and David’s chocolate pecan pie and home made ice creams.
This year, I have some sweet potato rounds with a punch to share.
Continue reading Sweet Potato Rounds with a Punch
Acitrón is one of the few ingredients used for Mexican cooking that is still very hard to find outside of Mexico. Acitrón is made with the pad or paddle -leaf- of a cactus plant called biznaga, which is similar to the prickly pear but rounder in shape and it also grows in dry land. To make acitrón, the leaves are peeled off the outer skin along with the little thorns, sometimes soaked in a lime solution, dried in the sun and finally simmered in a syrup made with water and sugar or honey, then left to dry again.
In Mexico it is sold in stores and markets in square or rectangular small blocks along with other candied fruits or vegetables, of which my favorite is the candied sweet potato or camote (continue for more information and photo).
Continue reading Acitrón
I can finish a normal sized Concha, 4 to 5″ round, in exactly four bites. If it has been a long time since I had one or if I am very hungry, maybe three bites. Ok, I admit it, sometimes two bites. But never one.
Conchas are named after the shape of their sugar topping, which resembles a seashell. Conchas do have a hardened crust, but it is sugary, thick, crispy and crumbles right into your mouth as you take a bite. Right after you brake through that crust, there is a fluffy, soft, sweet roll made with flour, butter, yeast and eggs. With such a pleasing experience, no wonder it is one of Mexico’s most favorite sweet rolls or pan dulce.
I have seen some in bakery shops around DC, but they just don’t taste like the ones we love at home. So on our most recent trip to Valle de Bravo in Mexico, I ventured with my boys, and many of their cousins and aunts, into a panadería, or bread shop. They make such incredible conchas, it makes me wish I had a bigger mouth to eat them each in a single bite.
Continue reading Sweet Conchas!
Plantains are now available almost anywhere in the United States. They have the appearance of being thicker, longer and bigger type of bananas. But they are not. No wonder they are called macho bananas, plátano macho, in most areas of Mexico. Although from the same family, plantains are a different ingredient. They are starchier, meatier, firmer, milder in flavor and have much thicker skin than bananas and are better treated as vegetables in a culinary sense, since they are only eaten cooked (continue for more information and photo).
Continue reading Plantain