Friday, April 23, 2010

Tastes of Mexico.... Always Worth Remembering....YUM!

Well the sun's back and the temps are already starting to come up and while it was cool yesterday it's supposed to be in the high seventies today with higher temps announced for the rest of the week. Off - On, what a weather roller coaster ride this has been....

Speaking of the sun and warm weather naturally brings talk of Mexico and favorite flavors, among which is our ever present "garlic" which we love on almost anything and everything. Had some fish fillets ready for dinner and what could be a more natural pairing than fish and garlic? MMmm! Once I started on the garlic train it was all a great ride and I'll show you what I mean, so if you like garlic, you'll love this post. Reminds me of the great whole fried fish we used to have in Chelem!

First off I needed to head off to my nearby Mexican market for MORE garlic, we use so much of it that I needed a good supply for this project. You'll need at least 4-5 large "heads" of the "Stinking Rose", 2 cups of good Olive Oil and 2 Persian Lemons (the green ones) just to get started, ok? We're going to make the base for the "Mojo de Ajo"!

Preheat the oven to 325F. To begin you will need to separate the cloves from the head of all garlic heads and peel them (I also cut the hard part that's attached to the head since I don't like this but you can leave it on if you don't care, this will take a little while. (Hint: it's easier if you hit each clove with the flat side of the knife while exerting pressure with the palm of your hand !Whack!, this will break the clove some and separate the papery covering and make it easier to separate the two). Once they're all clean, you place the garlic into a baking dish (like a 8 x 8 square Pyrex one that most people have) and cover with the 2 cups of Olive Oil. Put the dish in the oven and let it bake for about 50-70 min or until the garlic turns a deep golden brown but doesn't char or burn. After this time, take out the baking dish and add the juice of the 2 lemons. If you want it spicy you could add a sprinkling of Red Pepper Flakes, some slices of Guajillo Chile or 2-3 chopped Chipotle Peppers but I rather make it "standard" for other uses but it's your choice. Return the dish to the oven and bake for an additional 45 min.

Now the garlic is cooked, the oil is flavored and you can finish this up by taking a potato masher to the garlic so you have small pieces of garlic further mashed into the oil. Your "Mojo de Ajo" is now ready. Find a Mason Jar or something similar like this that is airtight and will allow you to store your Mojo in the fridge for a couple of months or so (Mine won't last that long...) and glass is preferable. With the Mojo done you can now start thinking up ways to use this golden wonder, here are a few ideas:

Pescado al Mojo de Ajo (Fish in Garlic).- Remember having this in Mexico? It's one of the iconic flavors of all time and great every time! With your Mojo it will be easier and foolproof!

4 Fish Fillets (any kind you like, Snapper, Cod, Sea Bass....)
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/3 cup Pistachios
1/3 cup Prunes, pitted
1/3 cup Apricot, dried
1 cup Red Wine
2 tbl Flat Leaf Parsley, chopped

Take the nuts and dried fruit and chop them all coarsely. In a sauce pan put about 1/3 cup of the Mojo de Ajo (oil and solids), the chopped fruit and nut, salt and pepper and the wine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer while you're cooking the fish.

Salt and pepper the fillets and let rest while you heat up your pan with about 2-3 tbl of the Mojo oil (no solids here). Fry the fillets until they are golden (don't over cook) and then turn and cook the other side. Place on a plate and top with the fruit and nut sauce. Top with the Parsley. Serve.
NOTE: You can use any combination of fruits and nuts you prefer and even change the wine to suit your personal tastes. I've also used this sauce on chicken, pork, etc. Or if you want the "basic" dish, leave out the fruit and nut combination and simply fry the fish in 2-3 tbl of just oil, finishing it up once you've turned the fillets, you add 1/4 cup of the garlic solids to the pan and finish off cooking it this way before you serve. Your choice.

Camarones al Mojo de Ajo Sobre Pasta (Garlic Shrimp and Pasta).- A fast and easy dish everyone will love! This is one of my "while the pasta cooks" kind of dish.....

1-2 lbs Shrimp, peeled, deveined
1-2 tsp Chipotles, chopped (optional) -or- Guajillo chile strips
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb Pasta, your choice
2-3 tbl Cilantro Leaves, chopped
1/2 cup Queso Anejo (Cotija or your choice)

Put the pasta to cook while you get the shrimp ready in salted water.

In a large hot pan put 2-3 tbl of the Mojo oil to heat before adding the shrimp. Keep stirring while you add the Chipotle, 1/3 more of the Mojo (with solids this time) and salt and pepper. As soon as the shrimp start turning pink, drain the pasta and add to the pan. Mix well to combine and the pasta to absorb the flavors. Turn off the heat and top with the cilantro and Queso Anejo.
Serve at once.
NOTE: You can add more ingredients as you like, onions, bacon, peas, etc.

Mixiotes de Hongos al Mojo de Ajo (Garlic Mushroom Purses).- A traditional presentation from the heat of Mexico usually made with Mixiote paper ("paper" like husk from the Agave plant) that is made in a variety of flavors and the basic is Lamb in Birria.

Mixiote Paper / Parchment or Paper for Cooking and Baking
3-4 lbs Mushrooms (wild is best but everything is great- get a variety), clean with a brush
8 Hoja Santa (or Acuyo or Root Beer Plant) fresh is best but dried will do -or-
8 Epazote leaves
3 Bacon slices, cut in 1/4 inch slices
Twine or string

Preheat the oven to 350F. Prepare the paper by cutting it in 4 (or however many servings you're making) and soak in a dish with water (you might need a dish to hold it down) while you get everything together.

Chop the mushrooms in large pieces and put in a bowl. Pour about 1 cup of the Mojo (oil and solids) on top, the bacon, salt and pepper to taste and mix well. Lay a piece of paper on the table and put about 1 cup (or more) of the mushrooms in the center. If you're using the Hoja Santa, lay the mushrooms on top but if you've got Epazote, then put it on top of the mushrooms.

Lift the corners of the paper from the opposing sides and hold together, now bring the other sides, folding as you go until they're all together and hold while you tie a piece of twine around them to close securely and make into a "purse". Put each of the purses on a baking sheet and bake for about 45-60 min. You should be able to see the contents of the purses boiling inside them. Serve and be careful when you open since it will have some steam.
NOTE: You can also cook meats with sauce, like Birria, in purses or almost anything else too. You can also see that you could add more ingredients to these too, like more vegetables or ? You could also use this filling for Quesadillas, Memelas, Wraps or whatever.... or how about the famous "Fish en Papillote"? Same thing..... you can use the Mojo here too and this brings a lot of other possibilities to the table doesn't it?

Camarones al Mojo de Ajo(Garlic Shrimp).- A great snack or appetizer, maybe even a light lunch too. Easy, fast and wonderful!

1-2 lbs Shrimp, washed (don't peel)
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbl Guajillo chile strips (optional)
1 avocado, ripe
Mayonnaise (or Ranch / Tartar Sauce / Mustard.... whatever)
1 tbl Cilantro Leaves, chopped
4 Lettuce Leaves, washed and separated whole
1 Persian Lemon, cut in quarters

In a large pan over med-high heat bring to temperature and add about 1/3 cup of the Mojo (oil and solids) and the shrimp. Keep stirring until the shrimp begin to turn pink then turn off the heat. Add salt and pepper.

Put the lettuce leaves on a plate, covering the bottom. Top with the shrimp and lay the avocado, lemon and Mayo on the side. Along with any other "goodies" you'd like to ad. Top with the cilantro and serve.
NOTE: You could add onion, bacon, black olives or whatever you like to this too and make a real salad out of it, your choice. You could also stir-fry some large Scallops this way. Fantastic!

Palomitas con Ajo (Garlic Popcorn).- Here's a neat snack to make anytime!

1/4-1/2 cup Popping Corn
1 brown paper bag
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbl cilantro leaves, chopped
Red Pepper Flakes or chopped Chipotle Peppers or Hot Sauce (optional and your choice)

Cook the popcorn in your microwave inside a closed brown paper bag. Don't burn. This can take from 3-6 min. depending on your oven. You can also make it in a pot with a cover just as easily too. (add some of the Mojo oil, 1 tsp or so and add 1-2 corn kernels and cover it), medium heat here. Once the kernels pop, add the rest and cover quickly. Keep shaking the pan until most of the popping is over, don't wait or it will burn.

Place the popcorn in a large bowl and pour about 1/4 cup of the Mojo (oil and solids) over it along with salt and pepper and the rest of the ingredients. Toss to combine well and allow the oil to adhered to the corn along with the rest of the spices. Serve.

Papas al Mojo de Ajo (Garlic Fried Potatoes).- Lovely and flavorful....

4 large potatoes, peeled (or not)and cut in 1 inch pieces
1/2 green Bell Pepper, cut in 1 inch slices
1/2 onion, sliced
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pan (cast iron preferably), put 2-3 tb of the Mojo (oil only) over med-high heat. Add the potatoes, Bell Pepper and onion. Cook, fry and keep mixing until they are well coated and lower the heat to medium until the potatoes are tender and golden brown (about 15 min or so). Once the potatoes are cooked, add 1/3 cup of the Mojo (oil and solids this time), turn off the heat, mix well so the potatoes will soak this up and allow to rest for 5-10 min. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve.
NOTE: The cast iron skillet heat up in a way that creates a crust on the potatoes that is amazing which is why I prefer to use it for this (and other stuff too).

Fajitas.- These can be chicken, beef or Shrimp, veggie, your choice and we all know and love these well....

1/2 large onion, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 green bell pepper, insides removed, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
salt and pepper
1-2 lbs boneless chicken, sliced 1/2 inch thick (your choice) -or-
1-2 lbs Arrechera or Skirt Steak, cut in 1/2 inch thick -or-
1-2 lbs Shrimp, peeled, deveined
Tortillas, warmed (your choice of what kind)
Pico de Gallo
Sour cream
Quejo Anejo (like Cotija or your choice)

Heat a large skillet (preferably cast iron) over high heat. Add 1-2 tbl of Mojo oil, and gently swirl to coat. Add your choice of protein, season with some salt and pepper. Do not overcook. Cook, stirring frequently, about 5 min. Add onion and bell pepper and 1 tsp salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, for another 3-4 min. Add 1/4-1/3 cup Mojo (oil and solids) and stir to coat. Adjust seasonings. Serve immediately with warmed tortillas (or make your own), guacamole, pico de gallo, sour cream, and cheese.
NOTE: Additional vegetables can be added like mushrooms, red bell pepper, etc. Have your favorite hot sauce on the side as well.

That was a nice little trip down memory lane and each and every one of these recipes got my mouth watering, once I have my Mojo de Ajo ready we'll have to make each and every one! Anyway, you get the idea of how versatile the Mojo de Ajo can be and how easy it is to have it ready. The more you use it, the more ideas you get for other uses. It keeps really well in your fridge so it's ready anytime you are..... Such a great flavor for any kind of food.... MMmmm! I hope you will give this a try and play with it so you can create your own memories, besides, the fun is in the practice, right? Talk soon.....

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