Monday, June 28, 2010

Mexican Food is a lot more than just tacos or fried food......

Getting back to our basics, Mexican Food, except that every time I talk with people about it, out comes the same old fallacies about what it is. I get a blanket statement about "tacos, burritos and enchiladas".... which even though I like and eat these on occasion, it doesn't correctly represent the Mexican Cuisine.

We are far more than just "antojitos Mexicanos"...... and while fried tidbits are good, Mexican food is much closer to French Cooking than anything else, reveling in rich sauces full of flavor with an almost unlimited supply of vegetables and techniques that show you just how versatile this culinary tradition is, much more than just tortillas and beans! Another problem we have
that drives me up the wall, is that it seems our countrymen forget what "real" Mexican food is the second the y cross the border and instantly "Americanize" the food and so we're left with this bastardized version that is so nasty, UGH! It doesn't replicate the flavor notes we remember at all......

Another problem I've always encountered, especially when trying to hire good cooks for my restaurants is that no one is willing to put out the energy and time needed to produce quality Mexican dishes the way they're supposed to be done and choose instead to go the "qu
ick and dirty" way instead- using cans, processed food and chemicals- that have no business in the results desired, so I always ended up hiring ladies who cooked back home, the old way, and knew their way around the kitchen and were willing to follow my lead. Even when I lived in Puerto Vallarta, Puebla or Merida, more and more you find that women are no longer cooking this way either by not having time, not being interested or being on a diet and soon our culinary heritage will be lost and that will be a big loss indeed.

I know cooking this way takes a lot of time, is a lot of trouble (but isn't everything worthwhile?) and you need lots of ingredients..... Sure. But quality demands sacrifices and if you're truly into great food, well, this is the only way to get it done. It's not hard and you don't need to be a professional chef to do it either, all you need is hard work and a desire to make great food!

Here are some excellent examples of "pumped up" Mexican food that don't resemble "tacos and burritos"at all..... they're just great food! (Hey, I love great tacos!...)

Roasted Chicken over Corn Cakes with Pasilla Sauce.- A wonderfully flavored dish using well known staples that come together in a new way....

2-4 ears of corn, cleaned and kernels cut from the cob
1 stick of butter, softened
1/2 cup corn or vegetable oil
2 tsp baking powder
some oil for pans
4 chicken breasts or your choice, skin on salt and pepper (can use white pepper if you don't want specks)
4 pasilla peppers, toasted, deveined and soaked in hot water until soft, about 1 hr
2 large tomatoes, cut in cubes
1/2 med onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup whipping cream
1 red onion, julienned
4 tbl white vinegar
1-2 tbl sugar
1/2 cup water
4 tbl oregano leaves
4 oregano sprigs for decoration

Put the corn kernels in the food processor or blender and blend. Add butter, oil, baking powder and some salt and pepper and process well. You can use a muffin or loaf pan, previously painted with a little oil to pour the batter in and bake at 350F for 15-35 min or until golden brown on top and knife comes out clean.

For the sauce in a pan with a little oil, add the onion with the soft chiles, cut in strips, for about 2-3 min then add the garlic and cook for another minute, add the tomato and some salt and pepper and allow to cook for about 15-20 min and everything is soft. Pour into blender and make into a smooth sauce (you can add some water if needed) that is thick. Run through a sieve so no chile pieces remain and reserve, keeping it warm, until needed.

Salt and pepper the chicken really well and bake in a 350 F oven (you can do this at the same time as the corn cakes) on a baking sheet that has been drizzled with 2-3 tbl of oil and placed in the oven to get hot while you salt and pepper the chicken and is hot. Place the chicken, skin side down and bake for about 35 min, then turn and bake an additional 15 min. Make sure it's well cooked.

Put the red onion slices in the water with the vinegar, sugar, oregano leaves and salt and pepper over med heat until tender, then remove from the heat and reserve. To serve: Put a portion of corn cake on a plate and place a chicken piece on this, top with the red onion slices. Pour a little of the sauce all around the cake, pour a little of the cream in the middle of the sauce and cut into it with a knife while fanning it out to make a pattern and decorate with the oregano sprigs.
NOTE: This is a basic sauce that can be used in many, many dishes and is good to have around.

Beef Loin with Wine Garlic Sauce.- Other tender cuts of meat can also be used for this elegant meal like pork, lamb or your choice, it's very flexible....

2 lbs Beef Loin or your choice of cut of tender meat
4 potatoes, peeled, cut in cubes and soaking in water
1/2 med onion, chopped
1 bunch of chives
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
salt and pepper
12-15 garlic cloves, peeled
3 cups red wine
1-3 tbl sugar
2-3 tbl butter
2-3 tbl flour
3 bay leaves
1 thyme sprig
2 cups mixed greens, washed
1 cup mixed sprouts, washed
4 tbl white wine vinegar
12 tbl olive oil

To roast the potatoes, in a pan saute the onions in a little oil until golden, deglaze the pan with the white wine and allow to reduce a little before adding the potatoes and cooking for about 2 min. Transfer this to a baking dish and bake in the oven, covered with foil, at 350F for 30 min, uncover and continue cooking for 5-10 min more.

For the sauce, put the garlic in a foil pouch with some olive oil and seal well. Bake in the oven at 350F until the garlic is very soft, about 20-40 min (cook along with the potatoes). In a pan put the red wine, the sugar and the herbs to cook and boil until reduced to a fourth of it's original volume then add salt and pepper- taste- adjust seasonings and reserve.

For the meat, cut into portions of about 8oz and season well with salt and pepper. Sear in a hot pan on both sides until golden, transfer to a dish and bake until your desired cooking term is reached. About 5 min for med rare, 10-15min for well done. Check.

The vinaigrette is made by adding the vinegar, salt and pepper and drizzle in the oil while whisking until well combined. You can add 1 tbl water & 1 tbl Dijon mustard too if you like as well as additional herbs for flavor. Mix the greens and sprouts in a bowl and drizzle some of
the vinaigrette and toss just before serving.

To serve: In the center of the plate place the potatoes in circle, adding the chopped chives on top. Place the meat on top of this, followed by the salad as a final topping. Pour some sauce all around the dish.
NOTE: This sauce can also serve on many other dishes.

Stuffed Potato Meatballs with Cream Cheese and Spinach.- A lovely meatless dish that will surprise you with it's flavors....

1 lb potatoes, cook
ed and mashed
3-4 tbl flour
3-4 tbl butter, softened
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 egg yolks
salt & pepper
(You can also add "extras" to the potatoes like chives, dill, sweet red pepper, etc. your choice)

20 spinach leaves, washed
1/2 cup cream cheese, room temperature ans softened (I use Goat Cheese sometimes)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tbl olive oil
4 tsp walnuts, chopped (or more as desired)
1 tbl basil, chopped
1/2 cup flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2-1 cup oil for frying

2 cups mixed greens
12 cherry tomatoes, cut in quarters- salt & peppered and toss
1 cup alfalfa sprouts
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup fresh Basil leaves

In a bowl, mix the mashed potatoes, flour, egg, butter, nutmeg and salt & pepper really well and reserve.

Make the filling by mixing the cheese with the nuts, Basil, garlic, olive oil and some salt & pepper. Reserve. Now take the mashed potato "dough" and extend it on the table to form a circle and make balls from the cheese which you will cover with a spinach leaf; now put the spinach covered cheese ball over the potato dough circle, covering the ball well with the dough. Now take the dough ball and flour lightly, then roll in the beaten egg, followed by the bread crumbs and finish by frying in deep oil until golden brown. Do this before serving so they stay hot.

For the prepared oil: In a food processor or blender, mix the Basil with some oil, until a puree is made. You can run through a sieve to make it smooth and reserve.

To serve: Cut a meatball in half to show the interior and place on a plate (or several)- place some mixed greens over this as well as some of the sprouts; circle with the tomatoes and some of the Basil Oil.
NOTE: You can imagine what a lovely looking dish this will be. Also, if you want to make it into a more substantial dish you can always make the meatballs bigger or change out the ingredients to suit your taste. I've also added anchovies or smoked fish, finely chopped chicken to the meatballs to give them a different flavor; I've used Chipotle-Tomato sauce in place of the Basil one- feel free to get creative!

Coconut Flan.- A lovely end to the perfect meal. Simple to make and everyone will love!

4 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup coconut milk
1 tbl vanilla
some mint leaves
1/2 ripe melon, cut in thin slices
1 tbl powdered sugar
1/2 cup toasted coconut (optional)

Beat the eggs with the sugar until creamy, add the coconut milk and vanilla and mix well. If you are adding the toasted coconut, add. Pour into a baking dish or individual ramekins and cook in a water bath (Bain Marie) and bake in a 350F oven for about 40 min.

Once done, be sure to refrigerate at least 4 hours (even better overnight), take out of the molds and place on a place along with the sliced melon, sprinkle the powdered sugar using a fine sieve and put some of the mint leaves as decoration.

Fried Triangles (Triangulos de Chongo Zamoranos).- A new take on a very old dessert that you will want to try..... "Chongos" are like sweetened cottage cheese and are made from the curds and whey of milk.... Lots of canned varieties at the supermarket but if you want to make them from scratch send me a note and I'll tell you how, it's easy and far superior to the canned and a very easy dessert.....

2 cups Chongos Zamoranos (or 1-2 large cans)

Mango Coulis: (can be applied to other fruits too)
2 ripe mangoes
4-5 tbl sugar
water or syrup (if using canned)

12 won ton wrappers (but you could make your own)
oil for frying
1 egg, beaten (or can use water)
Vanilla Ice cream (or mango)
some Mint leaves
some powdered sugar

To make the sauce (coulis) you put the fruit in the blender along with the sugar and blend until a smooth, thick mixture is made. You can add some of the syrup or some water to give it the consistency you like.

Take the won ton wrappers and fill each one with about 1-2 tsp of the "chongos" in the center and fold over to form a triangle and then seal the edges with some beaten egg to it seals well (you could also use water). Put some oil in a pan and fry the triangles until golden crips, take care not to burn and turn to fry on each side. This is done quickly. Drain. You can also fry the Mint leaves so they are crunchy and drain.

To serve: Put the sauce in a squeeze bottle (or you could use a spoon with some sauce on it) and make lines across the plate in a random manner; place 3-4 of the triangles on the plate over the sauce; place some ice cream on the side with some of the Mint Leaves, sprinkle with the powdered sugar using a sieve and serve.
NOTE: You can use any filling you'd like too: cream cheese mixed with fruit or plain, nutella or whatever you come up with. They are easy, great and look wonderful!

I hope you will try some of these. Been busy making "chicharron prensado" Aguascalientes Style for my guys and it's been a little bit of a chore trying to find a butcher that will get me some 80/20 pork meat like I want. It seems more and more that butchers are being replaced by those horrible "pre-packaged" styrofoam and plastic wrap offering that are in every market, I like being able to talk to the butcher and get exactly what I need but I'm afraid that as big business takes over these service type occupations will disappear or become so "exclusive" they won't be available to the regular public. I'd also like to find whole chickens that still contain the neck, giblets, liver and feet like they used to instead of everything being sold separately (Puebla shocked me by this custom, they would have necks with the head on them, feet, etc. all laid out and for sale separately)..... we use all this to make rich stocks and more.....
Anyway, so much for the "modern life"...... Have a good one, talk later............

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