Friday, December 26, 2008
The first Christmas that we celebrated in our house in Mérida, Husband's mother came to visit. In order for her to meet some of our friends we had an open house. Now three years later it has become a tradition.
I cooked but nothing elaborate, some chilaquiles with green sauce, refried beans, fresh fruit and granola. One of our friends brought a lovely beet salad. Later in the day I added dolmas and a layered Sundried Tomato and Basil Spread to the offerings. Oh and we had juice. I didn't have the energy to bake bread and forgot to buy any, and I never did get any ice. It was lovely anyway, no one seemed to notice the lack. Later,another friend brought some cookies and cake. There was coffee and tea of course.
The spread is a recipe I found on Southern Living's website, it is an updated version of a Sunset recipe which I used to make that was called something like Pesto Torte, you layered a 50/50 cream cheese butter blend with pesto into a cheesecloth lined flower pot or other container. I used to call it a heart attack on a plate. I sometimes alternated layers of tapenade or even sun dried tomatoes, but didn't mix them with more cream cheese like the Southern Living recipe.
We spent Christmas day with friends and it was lovely. No Christmas tree, though I did decorate the circular staircase in the entry with some stars and a light rope, no gifts under the tree (no tree!) but wonderful conversation and good food (if I do say so myself) all enjoyed outside in the fresh air.
I love my life!
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
When we first came here, I searched high and low for a food processor. Finally, my mother-in-law brought me one from the USA. I like having it, but it turns out that the essential Mexican cooking gadget is the ordinary kitchen blender. I have used my blender more here than I ever did in all the years before I moved to Mexico.
I have also gone through several spice/coffee grinders since moving here. The blade tends to break off, or the motor burns out. I started using a mortar and pestle to grind peppercorns and other hard spices. But, recently, in Megabalcones, I bought a mini-blender set. The kit costs about the same as a new spice grinder (around $121.00 mxp), but instead of having a small motor, the 3 small half pint jars screw into a cutting blade assembly which you then use in place of your normal blender container and blade assembly. The jars also come with lids so you can use them for storage, too.
I love this accessory. I used it to make some small batches of specialty flours today, by grinding barley, brown rice and oatmeal. I made Saag Panir the other day, and in the past, I have either used a mortar and pestle to grind the chiles, garlic and ginger into a paste by hand or used my regular size blender. The blender is faster and easier, but it's difficult to scrape the small quantity of paste out of it. It was so easy with the smaller blender base and blade.
I know that I sound like an infomercial, but I'm really excited. After selling so much stuff to move to Mexico, I vowed that I wasn't going to buy needless gadgets, and if I didn't use it, I was would get rid of it. So I am glad that it worked out.
With the hot weather, we are drinking agua frescas, and licuados con leche daily. I even bought an expensive juicer, but I use my humble blender more often.
The basic agua fresca recipe is simple. Chop up your favorite fruit, seeding as much as possible. Put it in the blender with a little sugar (if necessary; I don't always use sugar, and if I do, it's only a tablespoon or two). Now, fill the blender with cold water. Blend at high speed. Taste, if it's too weak, add more fruit, and if it's too strong, add more water. This is the time to add the sugar, and blend a little more. If you weren't able to seed your fruit and are concerned about it, take a moment and strain it before serving. If you can wait, the agua fresca tastes much better cold.
Here are some variations to get your started:
- You can freeze the fruit before blending it, or
- You can use ice cubes in addition to the water
- Instead of water, you can use fruit juice.
- One of our favorites is a peach shake. I open a can of peaches and place it in the freezer for half an hour, and then blend the entire contents of the can with milk. In this case, you probably won't need sugar unless you like things really sweet, since the liquid is already sweetened.
I have even made mock ice cream this way; frozen bananas blended with fruit and yogurt. I don't think it's any less calories than ice cream, but it's pretty tasty. Most importantly, I know it hasn't melted and been refrozen like ice cream that I've bought here in the grocery store.
One of the things ex-pats often say about moving to Mexico, is that it's like moving back in time to the fifties, sixties or seventies (or whenever they experienced childhood). It's one of the reasons many people chose to move south of the border, the slower pace of life, the emphasis on family and the new and exotic foods.
When I was corresponding with Malcolm about writing this column, one of the things that occurred to me was that Malcolm and Jillian have probably never lived in a world without prepared curry paste, cake mixes and exotic spice blends like garam masala. If you are used to "time saving" recipes that call for prepared items, and for whatever reason never have made them completely from scratch, living in Mexico would certainly make cooking your favorite dishes a challenge.
I think the secret to cooking here, is to understand that even in the 50s you could bake a cake without Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker to provide you with a mix. Did you know that when they first introduced cake mixes, all you had to do was add water? These mixes made perfectly acceptable cakes, but the public didn't like them, it didn't feel like they were baking, so the mixes changed. Instead of just adding water, you were adding eggs, oil and water. Personally, I liked the instant ones better, if I am going to add all that other stuff, I'd just rather make my cake from scratch. It just isn't that much harder to sift a little flour, and cream some sugar. The cake mix people want you to think it's difficult.
I was stunned when I saw a commercial on TV for microwavable macaroni and cheese. It wasn't the product; I used to make Kraft Mac and Cheese in the microwave all the time. You just add less water and microwave the noodles. What floored me was the cute little girl talking about how hard it was to make Mac & Cheese the traditional way. By the traditional way, she wasn't even talking about grating cheese and making a cheese sauce, she was referring to the blue box! "All that boiling and stirring," I think is how she put it! I could just imagine her target audience listening and absorbing the lesson that cooking is tedious and difficult.
If anyone asked me how to prepare their favorite foods here, I would recommend that they bring with them a good basic cookbook like Fanny Farmers or Good Housekeeping. A cookbook that assumes that you don't know how to cook is essential.
If you really miss having mixes,(personally, I miss Bisquick) have someone bring you a copy of Make A Mix by Katine Eliason or Perfect Mix by Diane Phillips. I found that I would just rather make baking powder biscuits from scratch rather than make up mixes, but lots of people love mixes and prefer to cook that way.
Sometimes recipes call for a cup of some mix, instead of listing the individual items. In those cases, I turn to the internet and see if I can find the list of ingredients or even a recipe to duplicate the item.
For example, my favorite mix is Bisquick, and according to Wikipedia, you can substitute 1 cup flour, 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon oil or melted butter for one cup of the mix. So you can still make your favorite impossible pie even if you have used up that box of Bisquick your sister brought down for you in her suitcase.
Now, it's your turn, what are you jonesing for that you can't find here? What is your comfort food? Make a comment on this article, and help me find the topic for my next one!
Monday, December 15, 2008
According to something I read online (I can't remember where) we average 72% humidity, no wonder my citrus peel didn't want to dry. Now you know why I don't need a humidifier!
Sunday, December 14, 2008
I wrote about making granola in the crock pot last post.It's much tastier than just plain oatmeal but probably at least 3 times the calories. I may go back to oatmeal with dried blueberries for a while. I find that when I cook we eat better, and healthier most of the time.
Friday, I made Grantineé de Tomates (baked tomato and cheese custard) from the French Vegetable Cookbook by Patricia Bourne, it was a tad disappointing. When I took it out of the oven it smelled just like pizza! Probably due to the fresh basil I sprinkled on top, but the taste was too bland. The tomatoes didn't have enough flavor, it probably would have been better with canned tomatoes but those aren't often found here. I also think that I over cooked the onions.
Doesn't that look good? It smelled even better than it looked! I used fresh grated Parmesan instead of the Gruyére cheese, since that is what we had. Unfortunately, I made a lima bean dish that contained cream, the limas were dried and I over cooked them, I used too much cream so it became a soup. Probably a thousand calories, I may as well have just served straight media crema. The salad was good though, red and green cabbage, shredded carrot, craisens (dried cranberries) and chopped apple sprinkled with caraway seeds, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
What struck me about the dollar diet project was that they weren't in the habit of cooking so their diet was pretty limited. They complained about not being able to buy fresh fruit and vegetables on their budget, but frozen is sometimes better. They bought broccoli at the Dollar Store and it was mostly stems not florets, if they had a little more knowledge of Chinese and other Asian cuisines, they would have seen this as a plus. Also they discovered soup about halfway into the project.
They ate beans and rice a lot, but what about lentils? I love lentils and they are so versatile, dal would have been a good option for them or spicy lentil patties. They did make their own tortillas (probably flour) which is quite a savings. That reminded me of when I was making chapatis, definitely a savings and not much different than whole wheat tortillas.
I am going to be thinking about food a little more these days, what I eat and what I spend.