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In Texas gaucamole is omnipresent.  There are as many recipes as there are bragging-prone machos. avocadosdark.jpg I myself not being one to brag,, Ahem.., my recipe is based on 3 simple rules.
1.    Purchase them Green and Hard. 
Rodolfo Fernandez is the top Avocado expert in our region.  For many years he provided the best-tasting avocados to Mexican restaurants throughout San Antonio.  I follow his advice.  At the produce section, purchase Haas aguacates while they are still green and very firm. Store them in a bag, plastic or paper, and wait two days, maybe three, at which time they'll begin to ripen and soften.  It is then that they are at their peak of flavor. There is no substitute for this direct, natural taste.  You'll say, wow.
2.  No Masks.
The fresh, full flavor of the avocado takes nicely to complementary seasonings and accompaniments but be judicious. At all costs do not mask the texture or flavor of the aguacate.
3.  Use a Molcajete. 
In the recipe below I explain how the foundational flavor is developed in a molcajete.

Avocado is aguacate in Spanish and aguacate is derived from the original Nahuatl name, "Ahucacahuitl."
The name appears in early writings, MesoAmerican hieroglyphs, documenting that the Avocado is native to Puebla, Mexico.  Here is an original glyph of anglyphaguactown.jpg avocado tree linked to the place where the tree originates, the town of "Ahuacatlán." (1)  The earliest remains of avocado consumption, 8,000-7,000 BCE, have been found in a cave in what is currently Coxcatlán in the state of Puebla, Mexico.  From there the little lush fruit travelled and developed.  There are three botanical types of avocados, Mexican, Guatemalan and Antillean. mapmexavocado.jpgThis map (2) lists where the origins of each of the types may have developed. Notice that the Mexican avocado is within the current TexMex area.
So enjoy this recipe knowing, again, that for millenia our land has nurtured us with delicious fruits and wonderful cooks.  Hmmmmm!

Recipe: serves 6 -- thanks to Chef Roberto Santibañez whom I met in San Antonio and on whose book this is based. 

2 Haas avocados
1/2 Tbsp Green Serrano chile, sliced
1/2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1 tspn white onion, small dice
1 tspn salt
1/4 cup tomato, small dice
2 Tbsp white onion, small dice
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped

1.  Using a molcajete, make a fine paste of the onion, chile, cilantro and salt.
Here molchileverdesml.jpgis wheremolchilehandsml.jpg I mentioned that you can develop the flavor direction that your guacamole will take.  You may add other seasonings to the molcajete, but keep in mind that you are following many years of tradition.  Make sure your variations are culturally relevant, enticing to the palette, and not just vacuously trendy.
2.  Dice the avocado and add to the molcajete, scraping and folding to make sure the avocado is covered with the seasonings. 
3.  Add the remaining tomato, cilantro and onion.
4.  Serve immediately with crispy corn tortilla chips.

Guacamole con Frutas (3)  Serves 6 
2 Haas avocadosavocadograpsml.jpg
3/4 cup fresh mango, small cubes
10 red seedles grapes, halved
10 green seedless grapes, halved
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 Tbsp Green Serrano chile, sliced.  Note:  I like to add more chile than this because I love the sweet fruit taste with the serrano flavor.  But start with this amount and then see if you want to increase the serrano flavor.
1/4 cup tomato, small dice
1 tspn salt

1.  Make the molcajete paste as above, of course there is no cilantro.
2. After combining the avocados with the molcajete paste, fold in the fruits. 
3.  Adjust the salt. Garnish with additional pomegranate and serve with crispy corn tortilla chips.

Buen provecho, TexMex!

(1) HISTORIA DEL AGUACATE EN MÉXICO, Salvador Sánchez Colín, Pedro Mijares Oviedo, Luis López-López, Alejandro F. Barrientos-Priego.

(2) HISTORIA DEL AGUACATE EN MÉXICO, Salvador Sánchez Colín, Pedro Mijares Oviedo, Luis López-López, Alejandro F. Barrientos-Priego.

(3) Printed in Classic Cuisines of Mexico by Chef Iliana De La Vega, Culinary Institute of America, adapted from Roberto Santibañez and he from Diana Kennedy and María Dolores Torres-Izabal.

Pecan-smoked Pork Loin

Here's a recipe that results in a succulent, melt-in-your-mouth pork loin, just in time for this cold weather and friends.
smokedporksml.jpgBy keeping the temperature at 185º F and making sure the smoke does not turn densely white, the smoke flavor is subtle, sweet.  I'm feeling giddy since I served it, so I'll paraphrase a line from the movie, Who's Killing the Great Chefs of Europe: "ever-new arising vistas of harmonizing flavors!"

ok, slap back to real. 
This is the formula for the brine that I use. It makes 3 gallons and is plenty for two 3-lb pork loins:
2 1/2 gallons room temperature water
1/2  gallon ice
2 lb salt
1 lb brown sugar
1 ounce TCM (tinted curing mixture)  Note: Being aware of the pros and cons of nitrates and nitrites in TCM, I think a moderate use is prudent and good. You may omit the TCM and your smoked meat will turn out fine.

1.  Add the sugar, salt and TCM to the water and stir until completely dissolved.
2.  Add the ice to cool the brine.
3.  Cut off excess fat and weigh the pork loins.  Inject them with an amount of brine that equals 10% of their weight.  Injected brine for a 3 lb pork loin would be thus: 3 lb loin X 16 ounces = 48 ounces.
Then 48 ounces X .10 = 4.8 ounces.  So you'd inject 4.8 ounces of brine. (it's convenient that 1 fl. oz. of water weighs 1 oz.)
4.  Place them in a stainless steel or plastic container and completely cover them with the brine.  Top them with a heavy dish to keep them submerged.
5.  After three days of brining, remove them, rinse with fresh water and pat them dry. 
6.  Air dry them to form a pellicle according to the method that we used for the Thanksgiving turkey.
7.  Then smoke the pork in Pecan wood, also according to the method used for the Thanksgiving turkey.
8.  Smoke for 4-6 hours or until the internal temperature is 155º F.

Knife Skills and Slicing:
When I served it at the buffet table, the slices were ultra thin, as you can see.  This makes for a beautiful presentation but also adds to the melt-in-your-mouth texture.   Ackowledgement is due the CIA for their strong chef training programs. When I was at the CIA our class of 18 culinary students was drilled for 3 weeks in "precision knife skills." It takes a lot of practice, and you use a very long slicing knife that is razor sharp. 

Chef Kevin Babbitt, fellow CIA grad, helped me prepare the buffet feast and to him goes the credit for slicing the pork and arranging it as you see it laid out in the picture.  He is a highly talented young fine dining chef who is making a great career.  If you'd like to write to him and congratulate him, his email address is:

KevinAMslicesml.jpgHere I am encouraging Chef Kevin Babbitt to cut the pork wafer-thin and with precision!  Bon Appétit.

Smoking a Thanksgiving Turkey

amsmokepit.jpgKarla McLaughlin drove all the way to my home to deliver this 15 pound organic-fed, free-roaming turkey and two pork loins.  She generously took the time because I was in a pinch, facing a party deadline. She is a one-of-a-kind farm owner.  Knowledgeable, caring and meticulously strict about raising the turkeys and other animals that she and her husband, John, tend on their farm.

They call it "Olde World Farms" and it is located in Montgomery, Texas. No antibiotics, no animal products in their feed.  The turkeys stay inside large barns until they are big enough so that the hawks won't swoop them up. Then they grouse around and eat freely on the farm.  You can contact Karla or John at (936)-597-3999.  Their email is
To prepare the turkey for smoking, this is what I used to make the
3 gallons warm water
1 lb salt
12 ounces light brown sugar
1 Tbs onion powder
1 Tbs garlic powder
Stir until the sugar and salt have completely dissolved then let the brine cool down completely.
1.  I used a syringe to inject some of the brine into the meat. the total amount of brine should be 10% of the weight of the turkey.  Here's the math for a 15 lb turkey.
15 X 16 ounces = 240 ounces
240 ounces X .10 = 24 ounces of brine. (FYI: One fluid ounce of water weights exactly 1 ounce)
2.  Using a plastic or stainless steel container, submerge the turkey in the brine and refrigerate for 3 days. The container was too heavy and large for my refrigerator so I partially filled a large ice chest with ice and a little water and set the container in it.  Closing the ice chest, the temperature is maintained at a safe 37-39 degrees F 
3. After the third day, remove the turkey from the brine, rinse it thouroughly with fresh water, pat dry and place in the fridge, uncovered, for 16 hours until a pellicle forms on the skin.  This tacky glaze will help absorb smoke and keep in the moisture.  I hate to say this but in the interest of efficiency, omit this step if you don't have time to do this or if there's no room in the fridge.
4. Smoke the turkey in Pecan wood at 185 F for about 6-8 hours until the internal temperature reaches 165 F.   
Ok, yes,  you can enjoy a beer meanwhile, and ponder this:
A)  The habit of cooking and eating turkey predates us by centuries and
B) The bird came from Mexico and is native to this land, Americas.
mapcoba.gif I've placed a dot on the location of Coba, Mexico, near Cancún.(1) This is where archeologists have found the earliest evidence of turkey remains.  They are dated 100 BCE-100 CE.  From there the turkey went north and populated North America, evidence of the vibrant trade and communication withiin the region pre-1400's.   By the time the Spaniards arrived in Mexico, we had domesticated turkeys not just in Mexico but also in what is now the US New Mexico and Texas.  Thereafter the turkey, wild and domesticated, populated the whole of the US and some of Canada. By your second beer, you will have pondered that we and the turkey go back a long way. 

Let me know how it turns out if you decide to smoke for Thanksgiving.  ¡Feliz Día de Dar Gracias!

(1) map used by permission of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

Yes, tangerine, ginger and sultanas.  A contrast of flavor and color that I think is really amazing with the seasonal cranberries.  I urge you to try it at your Thanksgiving meal.  I've adapted this recipe from one I read many, many years ago in Gourmet magazine.

cranberrycons5.jpgRemember that?  Ruth Reichl's highly influential monthly register of food travels, chef's cultural insights, slow-cooking meditations, etc.  Gourmet Magazine went under because it could not survive the shifting reader interest toward faster-paced and more bouncy food-making. That's my opinion. Happily, though, her elegant and "keep it real" influence continues and, as they say, that's a good thing.

Recipe:  (makes 3 cups)

3/4  lb fresh cranberries
1 tsp grated peeled ginger
1/2 cup sultanas  (golden raisins)
1/3 cup freshly squeezed tangerine juice
4" X 1" Tangerine peel, pith removed.
2/3 cup light brown sugar
2 Tbsp sugar


1.  Place all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugars.
2.  Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes until the cranberries begin to pop open.

3. Remove from heat and let it cool.
You can serve the conserve immediately or store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.  To me it tastes better after about 12 hours in the fridge.

Let me know how this turns out!

 -- "Had no idea that golden raisins were called sultanas.  I remember this recipe now.  You shared it with me last Thanksgiving.  I mentioned that I did not like the traditional cranberry sauce and you assured me this would be a great alternative....and it was!  I'm so glad you reminded me...Sultanas, here I come--again Chris O." posted by
Christine Ortega, Nov 14, 2011
Parmesan and Artichokes are a natural pair, I'd say.saladartichoke.jpg
So I've roasted them here and combined them with leaf lettuce tossed in a Tarragon-apple vinaigrette. The tarragon aroma makes a rich-tasting contrast to the sharp artichoke.  The apple juice-oil gives the salad a pleasing silk-like feel on the tongue.  But that's me. If you make this dressing, add comments here or shoot me an email.

Recipe: (serves two)
4 leaves red-tip lettuce, washed and dried
4 leaves Romaine lettuce, washed and dried
1 French baguette, frozen solid. You won't use the whole baguette, only enough for 6 slices
6 canned or frozen artichoke hearts
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 Tbs Extra Virgin olive oil
fresh grinding of Black Pepper
1/4 cup Pine nuts (optional)
For Vinaigrette:
2 Tbs Canola oil
2 1/2 tsp Apple Cider vinegar
2 tsp Apple juice
1/4 to 1/2 tsp dried Tarragon
1/4 tsp salt

whisk together all the vinaigrette ingredients and let stand for 30 minutes or a little longer so the flavors develop.
Artichoke hearts: 
1. Drain the artichoke hearts and carefully insert the parmesan cheese between the leaves.
2.  Place the stuffed artichoke hearts on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with fresh black pepper and roast in a 350º oven for 20 minutes. If after baking them you want more color, you can place them under a broiler for 2 minutes. Set them aside to cool.
Baguette toasts:
1.  The baguette is frozen so that you can easily slice six very thin slices, bias cut. Use a mandolin or a very sharp bread knife. Place the slices on a sheet pan.
2.  Carefully brush olive oil on the bias-cut baguette slices and bake them in a 350º oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Set aside to cool.  NOTE:  These baguette toasts are really elegant and they crunch almost ephemerally.  But if you can't get that thin slice, all's well since cubed crunchy croutons will be great too. See them in the picture?

Tear or cut the lettuce into medium size pieces. Toss with the vinaigrette (taste and adjust salt if necessary).  Arrange all the ingredients on a plate as shown. Sprinkle the pine nuts over the salad. Serve at once.

Bon Apéttite
Direct, uncomplicated, profuse flavor. I think oftentimes we miss so much by complicating our everyday, wasting time with artifice.  Just look at the beauty of what's around, get real and go with it!
GreenChilesml.jpgWe roast Anaheim chiles then eat them with hot yellow corn tortilla and salt.  There's not a single gourmand who can resist crooning with joy upon biting into this

Recipe?  What recipe? Roast the chiles, add salt and eat them with a yellow corn tortilla!
haha, just kidding.

1. On a comal or cast iron griddle roast the chiles  as shown above until most of the surface is charred. You can use a broiler or an open fire but I find that the extended time that it takes to char on the griddle is just right for cooking the inside of the chile.  There's still texture but it's not firm at all. You don't want to bite into a raw, firm chile.  Let's not get lost in the crudité 80's again!
2. Place them in a paper bag and close tightly so that the steam helps release the skin.
3.  When cool enough to handle, peel off the skin and remove the seeds.
1. In a shallow bowl filled with water, immerse the corn tortillas for about 30 seconds. I assume you have bought a package of yellow corn tortillas. (In a later post we'll be making corn tortillas from masa.)
2. Heat a clean comal or griddle on high until it is quite hot, to the point that if you sprinkle droplets of water they dance on the surface.
3.  Place the re-hydrated tortillas on the griddle and cook for about 10-15 seconds.  The tortillas should char just a little bit but you don't want them to burn.  Turn over with a spatula.
4.  Place strips, rajas, of the chiles on one half of the tortilla, sprinkle with salt, and fold in half. Heat for about 15 seconds, turn it over and heat the other half of the tortilla. This roasts the tortilla and also reheats the chile nicely.

Serve immediately, while they are aromatic and steamy.
Ok, so it is also delicious with cheese.  I recommend two cheeses, good melting Asadero and more delicately flavored Panela.  Both I think are readily available in most grocery stores of the US. I wouldn't use longhorn or cheddar.  Too loud.

Add the cheese after sprinkling the salt on the rajas as indicated above, then fold the tortilla and proceed, also as above. Both cheeses will melt well, but differently.
Here is the Asadero cheese.  It melts completely and is a bit more present in flavor than the panela but still very nice and gentle. Remember that we want to taste the shades of flavor of the chile itself.
anaheimcheesml.jpgAnd below is the Panela cheese.  It's a very different taste and texture.  Cut into small dice, it will melt slightly as you can see.   Oh, my goodness.....toothsome.  Do let me know how you like these.

Chicken Cutlets Meunière

Of course, it's "Sole Meunière" that's the quintessential French luscious dish but chicken is great. 

ChickenPicattasml2.jpgHere it's served with spinach and roasted potatoes.

I think the dish is rustic country and also elegant.


Recipe: serves two



2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts

¼ cup flour (wheat)

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbs unsalted butter

Salt to taste

a grinding of black pepper


¼ stick unsalted butter

1/2 tsp lemon juice

1 ½ Tbsp capers, drained

1/8 tsp salt


4 small boiling potatoes

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Salt to taste

a grinding of black pepper

½ Lb Spinach, thoroughly washed and large stems removed

1 Tbsp butter

Salt to taste




1.    Wash the potatoes, dry them and cut them in half.

2.    In a bowl, toss the potatoes in the olive oil and add salt and pepper

3.    Heat a cast iron or other heavy skillet on medium-low heat, add the potatoes and cook them, turning them occasionally, until they are cooked through, about 30 minutes.


1.    In a deep skillet melt the butter on medium heat, add the spinach and cook it, stirring as needed, until it begins to wilt. This will take only about 4-7 minutes.  Remove and hold warm.

Chicken Cutlets:

1.    Trim fat from the chicken breasts and cut them into cutlets.  Place each between waxed paper and flatten with a mallet to a ¼" thickness.

2.    Dredge the cutlets in the flour to very lightly coat them.  Shake off excess flour and hold them.

3.    In a large skillet heat the olive oil and butter on high heat until it begins to shimmer.  Add the chicken and cook until golden, about 3-4 minutes on each side (lower the heat immediately if you see that the oil begins to smoke or burn).

4.    Remove the cutlets, place them on paper towels, dabbing gently to remove excess oil and hold them warm.

5.    Arrange the vegetables and the cutlets as shown on warm plates.

6.    Now the Sauce.  It's fun to see this butter transformation!!   In a skillet heat the butter on medium heat.  Add the salt.  Watch very carefully and when you see the butter begin to brown, (there's only a few seconds between the butter being brown and being BURNED) immediately remove it from the fire. Add the lemon and capers and swirl the pan joyfully!  It will bubble and foam lusciously.  Pour it over the cutlets and serve immediately. 


This is rich, rustic food that makes you break into a genuine smile.  I'm getting hungry!

For Fall socials, this elegant and earthy local canapé will please friends.  The trout is aromatic and complex.  The flavored butter gives a perfect velvety mouth feel companion to the oils and flavor of the fish.
smokedtroutcanapesml.jpgAfter brining and drying the trout, place the fish in a smoker with plenty of space between the pieces so that the smoke can waft about evenly.  Use Pecan wood at 2000F and smoke it for 3 to 4 hours.  The fish must reach an internal temperature of 1500F.  Remove the fish from the heat and cool it down completely, removing all bones and skin.  It will keep refrigerated for several days.  Or you can freeze it for weeks.

Slice the fish into small strips.  Place atop horseradish-buttered rye toast rounds garnished with sliced green olives stuffed with pimiento.  The brininess of the olives is great with this.

Horseradish Butter:

1 stick, 4 ounces, softened unsalted butter
1Tbsp prepared horseradish
3/4 tsp prepared mustard
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
3/4 tsp sugar
1/4  tsp fresh lemon juice
After squeezing out excess liquid from the horseradish, blend all the ingredients together well.  The butter can be held, covered tightly, in the refrigerator until you are ready to make the canapés.  Soften the butter a bit after taking it out of the fridge so it will spread easily.

I suggest enjoying it with a crisp dry Riesling.

Fall, the time for pickling, brining, drying, freezing.  All those tasks that take us back to a time when we were more in tune with the earth's changing seasons.  Well, it was either be in tune or starve!   haha..!

Here's a recipe I'm making this morning for smoked trout. The final result is flaky, aromatic and richly flavorful.  It can be mixed and mingled with an array of creams butters and dips during cool autumnal evenings.

2 cups water
1 lb ice
1 1/2 ounce salt
3/4 ounce brown sugar
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1 1/2 tsp pickling spice

troutbrinesml.jpg1. Add the salt, sugar and spices to the water and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar completely.
2.  Cool the hot brine mixture by pouring it over the ice

2 8-ounce trout filets
If you possibly can, opt for pan dressing the trout, which means leaving the bones, skin and tail intact.  As you can see in the picture, I used skin-on fillets because that's what was readily available from the fish monger this morning. 

Pour the brine over the fish, making sure it is completely submerged.

Place in the refrigerator for 8 to 12 hours.  Then remove the fish from the brine and lay the fillets flat on a tray and dry them, uncovered, in the refrigerator for about 8 hours or until a dry, tacky glaze, "pellicle," forms on the lovely fillets.  This pellicle formation is critical at the time of smoking because it maximizes the smoke flavor and keeps oils and moisture where they belong.

In the next blog I'll show the smoked trout and the various ways it can be served. 

Just a few final thoughts about our tradition of drying fish.  I'm reminded of a recent discussion regarding one of our ancestor Texas peoples, the Karankawas.  They lived for thousands of years along the Texas coast from Galveston to Corpus Christi. They ate speckled trout, among other fish, and drying and smoking were of course known culinary practices.

The discussion leader reported that the Karankawas were horrible savages who pierced their skin for adornment and were cannibals.  They were generally ugly, awful, I repeat, savages.

Then was not the proper moment to refute but here I want to report that the current body of academic research (see bibliography at the end of this post) finds the following:

1.  Piercings: Karankawa men were aound 6 feet tall and they sometimes pierced their nipples  and lower lips to wear cane adornments.  Here in Houston I've seen a lot of men and women with piercings, wearing body jewelry.  I'm not calling them savages for doing so.

2.  Accusations do not make it so:  The accusation of cannibalism is so often repeated, mainly by those with a vested interest in discrediting natives, that the repetition tends to make it so.  But there is no direct oral nor written evidence.  There is no direct eyewitness account of such behavior.  There is no archaeological evidence at all of scraped or shattered bones to support the claim of cannibalism. 
3. The record refutes the claim: When the Spanish colleagues of Cabeza de Vaca shipwrecked onto Galveston Island, they began to eat the bodies of their shipmates to stave off starvation.   When the Karankawas found them they were horrified at the Spanish cannibalism.  Cabeza de Vaca writes: "The Indians were so shocked at this cannibalism that, if they had seen it sometime earlier, they surely would have killed every one of us who had survived."  (La Vere, 2004,  p. 60-62)

We receive culinary techniques from our ancestors, enjoy the same seasonal fish as they did, so I delight at the academic work that is giving us a clearer picture of who they really were. 

In my next blog I'll be serving the smoked trout to some of my nose-pierced friends!

Here's Some Bibliographic info:

La Vere, D. (2004). The texas indians. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.
Newcomb, W.W. Jr. (1961). The indians of texas. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Warnes, Andrew. (2008). Savage barbecue. Athens: University of Georgia Press.
Ensalada de Bodas has the beautiful flavor and aroma of Serrano (probably my favorite chile flavor) enveloping the tang of cabbage and radishes.  Surprised that the vinaigrette has rice vinegar? ensaladabodsml3.jpg
Think about the Asian influence in that region.  The salad is from the Baja California and Sonora states in the Northwestern region of Mexico.  The map below shows the two states.  I've adapted, slightly, this recipe which is included in the Chef Iliana De La Vega Mexican regional cuisines course at the Culinary Institute of America.  I love the salad.
Recipe: (makes 6 cups of salad)
6 cups white cabbage, very thinly sliced and thoroughly rinsed
1 bunch radishes, thinly sliced
2 large Chiles Serranos, thinly sliced
For the Vinaigrette:
1 garlic clove
4 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tbsp Rice vinegar
1 Tbsp Apple Cider vinegar
1/4 tsp salt or to taste

1.  In a bowl, cover the sliced cabbage with warm salted water and let it stand for about 20 minutes or so until it begins to become translucent.  Drain well. Reserve.
2. Mash the garlic into a paste using a garlic press and mix it with the oil, vinegars and salt.
3. Combine the cabbage, sliced radishes and sliced Serrano chiles and add the vinaigrette, tossing to coat thoroughly.
Serve at room temperature.  Let me know how this recipe turns out for you.

See how close to US California are the Mexican states of Baja California and Sonora.
Map Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

Chicken Poached in a Garlic-Cumin Broth

Hidalgo, in the central Eastern region of Mexico, is the homeland of the great Toltec culture.toltectula.jpg Toltec art and the huge monuments are well-known and iconic of MesoAmerica, but a lesser known fact is that the region has a delicious, distinctive cuisine.   "Ajo Comino de Gallina" is a Hidalgo dish that uses poaching as a method for infusing flavors into food as it cooks with no fat.  The French have a similar method, their Court Bouillon used to deep poach foods.CalabazPollosml.jpg

So I've used that Hidalgo cooking method to make the traditional TexMex favorite, "Calabacita con Pollo."  I hope you'll like, and I ask especially my TexMex Chef friends for comments.

Recipe:  serves 6

2 1/2 lbs Chicken, skinned, trimmed of all fat, cut into 1"cubes
1 Tbsp Garlic, minced
1/4 tsp Cumin
3 cups Water
1 tsp Salt
1 Tbsp Canola oil
1 1/2 cup Tomato, small dice
1 White Onion, sliced
1 Tbsp Chile Serrano
2 large Mexican Tatuma squash (Calabacita) 1/4" slices.  You can substitute zuchini if Tatuma is not available.

1.  Place the water, garlic and cumin In a large skillet or sauté pan and bring to the boiling point.
2.  Add the chicken pieces and keep the fire on high to bring the liquid back to a low simmer.  Lower the heat and keep poaching at a very low simmer until the chicken is fully cooked, approximately 20 minutes.
3.  Remove the chicken and hold warm.
4.  Strain the liquid with a fine mesh sieve and hold.
5.  In a Dutch oven or deep skillet heat the Canola oil.
6.  Add the onions and cook until they are soft and translucent.
calabacita2.jpg7.  While the onions are cooking, grind the Serrano chile into a fine paste using a molcajete. Add a little of the strained broth to the molcajete to lift off the paste and add to the onions.
8.  Add the tomatoes, 1 1/2 cups of the strained broth and cook this sauce, uncovered, on medium heat for 15 minutes.
9.  Add the chicken pieces and continue cooking until the chicken is heated through.
10. In a separate saucepan place the Calabacita and 1 Tbsp of the broth and cooked covered until soft, about 10 minutes.  Add salt to taste.

Serve the chicken topped with the Calabacita and with hot corn tortillas.

Gorditas are for everyone

Gorditas YES!  

Perfect for parties as interactive food where guests can fill them with a variety of fillings.
Vary the size and you can have either finger food or a sit-down meal.

But here's the misunderstood side: ingredients and methods for
1) flavorings,
2) texture and
3) fillings
have been tested over centuries. They are tied to culture and the land. When you cook these, pay close attention.  Taste fully, slowly.  It bears repeating that you are dealing not just with food but with a cuisine.

Corn or Maize "was domesticated first in Mexico around 5500 BC and it gradually spread northward, appearing first in what is now the US around 3500 BC, according to archeological evidence from a cave in New Mexico."  (Murray Berzok, 2005, p. 51.)  Native Americans devised ingenious irrigation methods as they farmed corn.

I say Gorditas are for everyone because corn is so natural here and has always been shared. Knowing our roots, we keep the tradition alive, renew it and going forward.  Send me recipes, please if you have.


mapGorditas1821.PNGI have drawn circles on this 1821 map of Mexico to show three areas where I have found distinctive recipes:  Present day New Mexico (USA), Texas (USA), and Queretaro (Mexico).

In New Mexico the Hopi and Pueblo recipes use rather slender tortillas flavored with Guajillo chile.  Down in Queretaro, the corn masa is blended with chile Ancho and cheese!  The recipe I'm sharing is one I've adapted from Texas gorditas, using  Queso Fresco.  I hope you find these Gorditas as delicious as I do.

Gorditasgriddle.jpgRecipe makes 25 small gorditas like the ones in the picture
1 lb corn flour
2 1/2 cups water, if you need a little more, add 1 or 2 Tbsp or so at a time
6 oz queso fresco, finely crumbled
Salt to taste.  I use 1/2 tspn
3 Tbsp Canola oil or as needed

1.  Combine corn flour, salt and water to make a masa. 
2.  Add the queso fresco and knead to combine thoroughly.  The masa should feel like a soft clay, the "play doh" with which kids play.
3.  Cover the masa with a damp cloth and let rest for about 45 minutes
4.  Roll the masa into 25 balls, then flatten each ball into a little gordita.  Have a bowl of water handy so that you can keep your hangs slightly moist.  This will keep the masa from sticking to your hands as you form the gorditas.    
5.  Heat a cast iron skillet or a griddle to 375-400oF and apply a film of Canola oil on the surface.
6.  Place the gorditas and cook until fully cooked and golden brown.
7.  Split apart or slice with a knife or fork and fill with the following.


--A layer of frijoles refritos
--A spoonful of Chilorio (optional)  Wonderful with only beans and the other fillings below
--a mixture of thinly sliced Iceberg lettuce and small dice tomatoes
--crumbled queso fresco.
--Salsa mexicana (I'm uploading the Salsa Mexicana recipe next week.)  You can serve them with another salsa that you like.

(1) Murray Berzok, L. (2005), American Indian Food. Westport: Greenwood Press.

Lemon-Lime Basil Shortbread Cookies

Fair Warning:  I shared these with a friend this afternoon. He bit into the cookie readily.  Then I thought he looked perplexed.
cookiesbasil.jpgIt is indeed an unusual blend of strong lemon and the savory aromatic basil.  The recipe intrigued me when I first noticed the cookies in a Bon Appetit feature-- a recipe from their test kitchen.  So I finally baked them at 7 AM today.  To me, it's a delicious sour-sweet-rich-buttery-savory-basil cookie. Not usual, perhaps odd, but I really like them.

I like food to take me, even shock me, to new, unfamiliar places -- if the path is well constructed.  I think this one is.
I'm copying the recipe exactly as it is in Bon Appetit. The citation is below.

You be the judge!  Lemme know?

Recipe:  makes 18

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar plus more for pressing cookies
  • 1/2 cup (1stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
  • 2 tablespoons sliced fresh basil leaves
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Sanding sugar (optional)
Preheat oven to 375°.
Place flour, 1/2 cup powdered sugar, butter, basil, both zests, lemon juice, and salt in a food processor. Pulse until large, moist clumps form.
Measure level tablespoonfuls of dough; roll between your palms to form balls.
Place on a large baking sheet, spacing 2" apart.
Lightly dust the bottom of a flat measuring cup with powdered sugar and press cookies into 2" rounds, dusting cup bottom with powdered sugar as needed to prevent sticking.
Sprinkle tops of cookies with sanding sugar, if using.
Bake until edges are brown, about 14-15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool.

Together, properly cooked beans and rice are a delicious meal. Together they're also complete, nutritious protein. The recipes below rely on basic, straightforward technique. It's the way families have been cooking them at home for generations. 

Just remember 3 things: Ricesml.jpg

1) Heat develops the flavor. Pay close attention to your fire.

2) No fat. Well, ok you do actually add fat, but very little, to boost the heat. The fat also adds a nice smoothing, mellow mouth feel.  But be judicious and don't hide subtle flavors with fat.

3) Easy on the seasonings.  They are there to enhance, not dominate the flavor.

The rice is fluffy. It has a full taste with just a bit of color from tomatoes, a slight undercurrent of cumin and, most importantly, no heavy fat taste to hide the flavor.  The beans cooked as in the recipe below will have a rich, robust umami taste.

Rice Recipe

(serves 4) 


1 Cup long grain rice

Optional 1 Tbsp Canola oil

2 cups water

1/2 tsp cumin

1/4 tsp black peppercorns

1/2 tsp salt

1 garlic clove

1 small tomato, diced and crushed


1.  In a molcajete make a paste of the cumin, black peppercorns, salt and garlic.

2.  In a deep skillet (add the oil if you like to) cook the rice over medium heat until it begins to take on some color.

3.  Add some of the water to the molcajete to remove all the ingredients and pour into the rice, being careful with the splatter.  Add the crushed tomato and its juice.

4.  Bring the water to a boil, cover and lower the heat to very low.

5.  Cook, covered, for 15 minutes or so until the rice is fully cooked. Try not to remove the cover more than once as you check for doneness.

The rice will be tender, fluffy and gently aromatic of cumin and pepper. 




Beans Recipe (makes 6 cups of beans and broth)


3 cups pinto beans, picked over to remove debris then washed

6 cups water

1/8 peeled white onion

1 peeled garlic clove

1/2 Tbs salt


1.  Nothing to cooking the beans, really.  Just place all the ingredients except the salt in a crockpot and cook for 6 hours or so until they are completely tender. I do this at night and go to sleep. If you want a foolproof method of testing for doneness, hold a couple of the beans in the palm of  your hand and blow on them. If the skin peels off a bit, they're done just right. Thanks to my mother and sisters who kept showing me this. Add the salt and adjust accordingly.

2.  To make "Frijoles Refritos," place the amount of beans you want to cook in a skillet with an equal amount of water and bring to the boiling point.  Turn the heat down and cook on a medium simmer. I cringe at translating the name as "refried beans" because it induces non-spanish speakers to misunderstand and go for heavy fat frying. Eating overly greasy beans is not in our tradition. In a later post  we'll discuss when and how it was that high fat entered Mexican restaurant food in Texas.

3. Here's the flavor: Mash the beans with a masher and as you do so notice that the heat at the bottom of the skillet is browning the bean paste. This is the Maillard reaction, a complex change in the molecular structure of the protein in the beans that happens around 300 degrees Fahrenheit.  beanscrapesml.jpgKeep scraping the bottom of the skillet and brown the beans slowly.  Add a little more water if it becomes dry. The color will deepen and the flavor will become rich, hinting of bacon or beef.  The addition of oil to the skillet helps to increase the heat and the browning but you don't need it for flavor.  I don't use any at all, but you can add one Tablespoon of Canola oil if you like.  Keep browning the beans in this way slowly for about 20 minutes. Don't burn them. 

The taste will have depth.

Restaurants usually don't serve beans with such developed and sumptuous flavor because it''s easier (and doesn't require staff training)  to just purée them in a blender and serve. Some fast food places will add some bacon in the cooking for strong flavor.  I can understand having to make those decisions, but to me,  these obvious fixes seem heavy-handed and the outcome is nothing at all like the real thing.  I've worked at restaurants where I've shared this simple technique of cooking beans and it is not at all difficult for the staff.  Radical Eats, one of the restaurants where I worked, now uses this technique for their delicious beans.  It would be both more healthy and more delicious if more Mexican food restaurants served less fat and more bean flavor.

Let me know what you think. 

¡Buen provecho / Bon Appétit!


Do you Understand my Enchilada?

Enchiladas marked special occasions in our home.  To understand them is to understand our community.


I'm glad to share this recipe because its history makes it quintessentially TexMex.   I say this for two reasons.  

1.  It grounds us in our region.  The discriminating blending of different types of chiles links us to the other communities in our geographic region who also combined chiles in different variations to make different dishes.  Think Guanajuato, Puebla, Oaxaca, etc.  

2. It integrates Texas Indian with European ingredients.   Actually its success as a fine dining culinary dish results exactly from the successful integration of native with foreign ingredients: a beautiful culinary marriage.  In this case, chiles with flour; and Mexican oregano with cumin.  The same happened in Oaxaca with mole using wheat bread as a thickener for chiles.  Thankfully, today more scholars like my friend, Dr. Mario Montano, Food Anthropologist, are documenting histories of  people and cultures who live along the Rio Grande river and these will give us a more accurate history of the origins and evolution of  such ingredient combinations.

OK, I call these Enchiladas a fine-dining dish because we savor them with sensory pleasure but also with intellectual enjoyment.  This will become clear (I hope) in the recipe. 

Recipe:  (serves 6)  --updated 9/7/11

4 Ancho chiles (on a HOT/SPICY scale of 1 to 10, this is an 8.  If you want milder, use only 2 Ancho chiles and 1/2 pasilla)

1 Pasilla chile

1/4 tsp cumin

2 garlic cloves

1/8 tsp black peppercorns

1/4 tsp salt

2" sprig of Mexican oregano  (This is actually TexMex oregano because it is cultivated in Texas around San Antonio,  Austin, then also a little farther west, and then all the way south to the Mexican states of Coahuila and Nuevo Leon.  It is very different from the common European oregano.  Much more aromatic, with a brighter flavor.  You can grow it easily in your back yard as a perrenial. ....but I digress)

1/4 cup all purpose wheat flour

3 Tbs Canola oil

8 cups water

18 corn tortillas

1 white onion

2 cups shredded or crumbled cheese  (We used queso fresco but over time processed yellow cheese has gained favor.  The industrial revolution spawned Kraft's processed Velveeta cheese in 1928.  Processed yellow cheeses entered the TexMex kitchen and changed the flavors.  Be that as it may, just make sure that the cheese you use has a mild, unobtrusive flavor and has the least possible fat.  Remember it is the chiles that play the "Prima Donna" role in this dish, which is why it's called Enchiladas.)


1.  Wipe clean and remove the seeds and veins from the chiles.

2.  In a molcajete make a paste of the chiles, cumin, garlic cloves peppercorns and oregano.  Alternately you can use a blender and one cup of the water to make a very fine purée.  Just make sure there are no chunks nor granules.  This chile-spice combination is the focal point.  It is what you want to taste first and throughout.  All the other elements of the dish play  supporting and contrasting roles.

3. Finely dice the onion.  The picture shows how small the dice are.  My sister, Nieves Ortega, reminded me yesterday about how important this fine dice is.  Onions, for some reason, are a naturally delicious combination with chile.  You want your mouth to easily taste chile-onion as a principal..."yum!"  . 

4.  In a saucepan or large skillet, heat the flour and oil over medium heat for two minutes, stirring.

5. Use the water to dissolve and remove all the paste from the molcajete and add this to the saucepan, whisking all the while to dissolve lumps.  Of course if you have used a blender, add the purée and the rest of the water.

6. Bring to a boil, then simmer rapidly, for about 25 minutes until the flavors are blended and all the flour taste is gone.  The chile will thicken and reduce.  You should have about 3 cups.  Taste and adjust the salt

7.  While keeping the chile hot over medium heat,  use tongs or a spatula to place a corn tortilla in the hot chile for about 8-20 seconds until it is heated through and soft but holding its structure.  If too long, it'll fall apart.  If too short a time it will not soften properly.  You'll get the feel of it.

8.  Place the tortilla flat on a warm platter and add 2 Tbsp cheese and 1/2 Tbsp diced onions

9.  Roll them and arrange seam down on six warm plates. Repeat with all the tortillas, three per plate.

10.  Spoon about 1/3 cup of the very hot (temperature) chile in each plate and garnish with additional diced onions.

Taste these with enjoyment, knowing that each ingredient is there for a reason: to make your mouth feel complex, deep pleasure. The chile carries the dish.  Let your mind notice the differences in mouthfeel and textures.  To understand the layers of flavors, the aromas - individually and also together.   Isn't it great to enjoy food and understand the link to its people!

¡Buen Provecho/Bon Appétit!

Here's a terrific dessert for your end-of-summer dinner party.  Watermelon (Sandía) and Mexican lime are a natural in Mexican agua fresca, of course, but the addition of Italian Campari may give you pause.  Fear not. It harmonizes beautifully.  The right proportions and blending make this a truly complex bitter-tart-sweet, grown-up dessert.  Glazed Spearmint adds contrast both in texture and color.  Italy's Campari was already connected to Mexico because until 2006 its color used to come from the crushed Cochineal beetle that lives in the nopal, cactus of Mexico and Latin America. 

WtrmlnCampcu2.jpgI first saw the Watermelon-Campari combination in an egg-based savory sorbet featured in the new book, "Cocina de Autor," by Ecuadorian Chef Santiago Chamorro.  I look forward to seeing him at the upcoming CIA Latin Flavors, American Kitchens conference and discussing how global our kitchens have become. 

Recipe: (serves 4)

4 cups watermelon cubes
2 1/2 Tbspn Mexican lime juice
1 1/2 fl oz simple syrup (make simple syrup by combining equal parts sugar and water and heating until fully dissolved)
3 oz Campari
12 Spearmint leaves
For mint glaze:
  1/2 cup sugar
  1/2 cup water
  1 Tbsp corn syrup

The method is really very simple.  It's actually the ratio/proportion and balance of the ingredients that is critical.  So, just blend all the first four ingredients until totally smooth and freeze, stirring occasionally, until the sorbet freezes completely.  Scoop into sorbet dishes and garnish with the glazed Spearmint.  I love this dessert.
To glaze the Spearmint leaves, heat the three ingredients in a small pan.  Using a candy thermometer, heat gradually to the soft ball stage, 235º F, and remove from heat.  When it cools down, dip the mint leaves, shake off excess and place them on a platter until you are ready to garnish.  These add a wonderful finishing taste to the sorbet.

Rajas Poblanas

This is a great appetizer for company.  With Rajas Poblanas you mix the heat of chiles with velvety Crema Mexicana. Rajassquare.JPG

Once you make it you'll see that it resembles the TexMex Chile con Queso.  Both combine chiles with cream and cheese for contrast in both taste and mouth feel. 

This is yet another example of how the TexMex regional cuisine developed simultaneously alongside the other regional cuisines of Mexico.

 map1824Mexcrop.jpgIn the Mexican constitution of 1824, the republic of Mexico included "Coahuila y Texas" as one state. (1)  It extended far North and South of the Rio Grande river which at that time was used in the region for transportation and irrigation.  

I sometimes like to serve both Rajas Poblanas and Chile con Queso side by side to savor the nice, interesting differences.

(serves 6 as appetizer)
4 Poblano chiles
1 White onion, sliced into 1/4"strips
1 Tbsp Canola oil
3/4 cup Crema Mexicana
1/2 cup Panela cheese
Salt to taste

1.  Deep-fry the chiles very briefly, about 10 seconds, in 360 F to blister the skin. Place in a paper or plastic bag for another few seconds to steam and then remove the skin, seeds and veins.  Slice the chiles into 1/2" wide strips.
2.  Peel and slice the onion into 1/4" wide strips.
3.  Cube the Panela cheese into 1/2"cubes
4.  Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat, add the onions and sauté until they turn soft.
5.  Keeping the heat on medium or low, add the chiles and the Crema Mexicana and heat them thoroughly.
6.  Add the Panela cubes and stir gently. 
7.  Season with salt according to your taste. 

Serve the Rajas with hot corn tortillas, of course.  Warning:  You may uncontrollably crave  a margarita!

(1) Map used by permission of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

Chilorio from Sinaloa & Stone boiling

Chilorio is a specialty of Sinaloa, Mexico. I'm serving it here with Ensalada de  Bodas, another specialty of the northern Mexico region.chiloriosalad2.jpg
 My friend, J.C. Reid, reminded me of Chilorio and its similarity to Texas Chile con Carne in his recent  article describing the dish as it is served here in Houston.  The TexMex region shares many similar food types and techniques because of the cohesion that existed in the region, even with so much constant turmoil.   Alston V. Thoms from Texas A&M  writes that "Given substantial populations in all parts of Texas for thousands of years, it is unlikely that there were any significant trade secrets in the world of basic cooking technology.  In summary, the people of the interior South Texas were surely familiar with the types of game animals, aquatic resources and plant foods found in adjacent regions as well as with the methods the people there used to procure, process, cook and consume those resources."groundrockboiling.jpg

Chilorio is a type of pulled pork that is cooked by boiling, a technique that dates back thousands of years.  As seen here, the cooking implement is made by digging a bowl in the Earth, covering it with bark or hide and adding hot stones to bring the water to a boil.  (photo courtesy  As the meat cooked slowly, it became "fall apart" tender.  This technique was employed  by the Indians of what is now Texas and Northern Mexico.  They traveled back and forth across regions so it is not surprising that the Chilorio pulled pork of Sinaloa is similar to the Chile con Carne of TexMex.

mapcabezaroute1824.jpgIndeed, on this map of  1824 Mexico(1) I drew the route that Cabeza de Vaca followed in 1500's to travel from Galveston to Mexico City.  I traced the white line to show that, as the natives did at the time, he traveled from Galveston all through Sinaloa. (I based this route on the one researched and drawn by Alex D. Krieger, University of Texas Press)  There were other similar travel routes that made it commonplace to exchange cooking techniques and ideas.

In this recipe I've used Canola oil instead of lard.  

(serves 4)
1 1/2 lbs pork shoulder,cut into 1 or 2" cubes
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup Canola oil
4 Ancho chiles, wiped clean, seeded and deveined
1 Pasilla chile, wiped clean, seeded and deveined
3 Garlic cloves
1/2 tsp Coriander seeds
1/2 tsp Cumin seeds
1/2 tsp Dried Oregano
1/8 tsp Black Peppercorns
1 Tbsp White Vinegar
1 Tbsp Rice Vinegar

1.  In a dutch oven, place the pork cubes and add water to cover them, add the salt and bring to a boil
2.  Simmer covered until the pork is fully cooked and soft, about one hour. Uncover in the last 15 minutes so that most of the water will have evaporated.
3.  Transfer the pork to a bowl and pull apart the meat strands using two large spoons or spatulas.
4.  Using a comal or cast iron skillet, dry roast the chiles slightly, not charred.
5.  Place the roasted chiles in a bowl of hot water and let them soak for 15 minutes.
6.  In a blender, place the soaked chiles, 1/2 cup of fresh water, all the spices and vinegars.  Blend on high until you have an extremely smooth puree.
7.  In the dutch oven heat the Canola oil and when it is shimmering add the chile puree slowly, stirring.  Fry the puree for about 5 minutes.  You will see the color change slightly and, as the liquid evaporates, it will thicken.
8.  Add the meat to the chile and combine well.

Serve with warm flour or corn tortillas. I'll upload the recipe for the Ensalada de Bodas, "Wedding Salad", in another blog. 
¡Buen Provecho!

(1) Map used by permission of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

Thanks for the high interest in these classic TexMex
recipes!  Its heartwarming.

 So this morning I made "Huevos con Chile Verde."   IMG_1820.jpgThe dish uses the combination technique of partially frying (gives form to the eggs) and then poaching in a chile broth (renders the eggs moist and exquisitely flavorful).  It's amazing how such a simple, straightforward combination of ingredients makes for such a complex, bright dish.

My brother, Jimmy, taught me how to make these eggs.  He was very attentive when our mom, Dominga Mora Medrano, cooked them and so learned all the nuances and techniques. I'm so glad he's my brother!!


Recipe (serves 4)


3 Serrano chiles sliced

1/2 tspn salt

1 Tbsp Canola oil

3 eggs

1/2 cup water



      1.  In a molcajete grind the chile and salt into a paste, then add to the water and mix thoroughly.

      2.  Beat the eggs slightly in a bowl.

      3.  In a skillet add the Canola oil and then the eggs. Cook them on very low heat, stirring, until they just begin to set

      4. When the eggs are beginning to set, add the chile broth.

5.      5.  Bring to a boil and cook until most of the water has evaporated, stirring from time to time.  The rule is: SCC (small, creamy curds).

6.     Serve immediately. 

I most often serve these zesty, delicious breakfast eggs with refried beans and flour tortillas.

These breakfast eggs are immersed in fresh Serrano chiles and tomatoes.  My brother, Jimmy, taught me how to make these.  He is a master artist in the kitchen.  He learned the recipe from our mom, Dominga Mora Medrano,  who would make these on weekends.  The dish relies on a technique that involves a combination of par-frying and poaching.  eggschileserrano.jpgThis gives eggs a quick solid form and also a tender texture.

Recipe, serves 4


½ cup white onion, thinly sliced

3 Serrano chiles, thinly sliced

1 ½ cups tomatoes, finely diced

½ tspn salt

1 Tbsp Canola oil

2 cups water

4 eggs

additional oil as need for frying the egss



1.     In a large deep skillet, sauté the onions in the Canola oil until translucent

2.     Add the diced tomatoes and continue cooking on low heat

3.     Place the chile and salt in a molcajete (or blender or mortar & pestle) and grind to a paste.

4.     Add the chile/salt paste and the water  to the onions and tomatoes and bring to a simmer.  The flavors develop quickly into a delicious sauce.  Keep the sauce at a simmer and do not boil

5.     In a nonstick frying pan add just enough oil to cover the bottom. 

6.     Add each egg, one by one, and fry just to the point where the bottom of the egg white is firm.  Then slide the egg into the chile and tomato sauce.  The acid in the tomatos will react with the protein to keep the egg white from toughening and cooking too fast.  The eggs will remain tender and moist.

7.     When all the eggs are immersed in the sauce, gently spoon some of the sauce over the egg yolks to cook them.  Keep the sauce at a very slight simmer and cook until the eggs are done to your liking. 

I serve the eggs with flour tortillas.  !Buen Provecho!

TexMex Cornbreaded Fish Fry Menu

"Between A.D. 900 and 1500 most, but not all, the Indians living in Texas had developed the distinct culture that Europeans and Americans encountered and would write about." (David La Vere,The Texas Indians p.26). Their cuisine included various preparations of the fish they caught in the San Antonio, Guadalupe, Pecos, Rio Grande/Bravo and other rivers.  At that time the rivers were not so much borders as oases of food and irrigation,

More to the East, along the coast,(Beaumont, Galveston, Houston, Victoria, Corpus Christi) our Texas Indian ancestors dined on fish that included black drum, redfish, speckled sea trout, croaker, sea catfish, flounder, sheepshead, silver perch and mullet."(1). 

batteredfishfry.jpgThis fried fish method is straightforward and reflects the penchant for coupling the flavors of fish with corn, that elemental grain that was everywhere, even in our creation myths, all the way down to what is today Southern Mexico.

Even though fried fish is part of our TexMex cuisine profile, we all know that throughout the Southern US "Fish Fry" is a strong tradition.  For very good reasons: it goes back hundreds of years AND is deeelicious!

--Cut 6" filets of very fresh catfish or grouper (remember that there should be no "fishy," or other malodor at all!)
--dry the filets and season with salt and pepper
--dredge in wheat flour and shake off excess
--dip in a bowl of well beaten eggs, to which you've added just a little water. (1 teaspoon per egg) THEN immediately
--place in a bowl of corn meal.  Make sure the corn meal covers all the surfaces of the filet.  You can hold the filets in the cornmeal until you are ready to fry them.
--in a deep-fryer or deep saucepan pour enough canola oil so that the filets (2 or 3 at a time depending on the size of the pan) can be submerged. 
--When the oil is at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, place the filets in the oil and fry until the fish is golden brown.  Remove with a slotted spoon (or basket) and place in rack for  holding until served. I suggest you serve it with a green vegetable, maybe snap peas, and slices of lemon.

RioGrandeRiver.gifMayonnaise Sauce: makes one cup (I love this remoulade sauce. The French arrived in Texas in 1600's)
--combine the following ingredients in a bowl and let the flavors blend for about an hour:
7 fl oz mayonnaise
1/2 oz finely chopped capers
1 Tbspn finely chopped chives
1 Tbspn finely chopped tarragon
1/2 Tbspn Dijon Mustard
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Dash of Tabasco sauce
salt to taste.

Iceberg Salad with Herbed Onion-Radish Melange
: serves four
Vinaigrette:  In a bowl whisk together until an emulsion forms:
3 fl oz extra virgin olive oil
1 fl oz red wine vinegar
1/2 Tbsp finely minced oregano
1 teaspoon finely minced sage
1 teaspoon finely minced thyme
1/8 tspn salt
4 radishes, cut into quarters or sixths if large
1 green onion, thinly sliced
1/8 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 Tbspn flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
Place the melange in a bowl and add the vinaigrette.  Chill for 30 to 60 minutes.
Slice half a head of iceberg lettuce into 1/4"strips.  Arrange in circular fashion in plates.  Spoon the marinated melange on top and serve with the fish and sauce. 
This TexMex Fish Fry Menu is great for Sunday dinner!

1.  David La Vere, The Texas Indians, Texas A & M University Press, College Station, 2004.

Cube Steak with Mushroom Sauce

    At the end of a long day, how about sitting down to a deliciously simple, straightforward cube steak dinner. It's a cutlet.  Fast to make, very flavorful and if cooked right, tender.  It's from the round or top part of the animal and the mechanized "tenderizing" is just part of tradition.  cubesteak.JPG 

Braising is the added step that makes the beef tender.  You can omit it and just brown the steaks and they will still be delicious.  I first browned the cutlets in very little canola oil over high heat for just a minute to develop color and flavor.  Then add beef stock without completely covering the cutlets. Place a tight fitting lid and braise stovetop. The liquid does not boil but only slightly simmers.  Do this for 30 minutes while you prepare the carrots and spinach.  Uncover and let the liquid reduce to the viscocity of a sauce.  Remove the steaks and adjust the sauce with salt and pepper.  Then add mushrooms that you have previously sauteed in a little bit of butter.  This makes a nice mushroom sauce.

Carrots:  Here the cutlets are served with carrots that are cooked in just enough water to barely cover them and a tablespoon of butter.  When the carrots are cooked and the water has evaporated, turn up the heat and brown the carrots.  Add a little more butter if necessary to brown them well. 

Spinach:  In a skillet I sauté red onions in a little bit of bacon until they are transparent, then add the spinach and cook until they are wilted.  Adjust the salt to taste. 

Ah, life's basic pleasures.
Chile is Mexican, scientific name capsicum.
Pepper is Indian (India), scientific name piper.
ChileAndPeppersml.jpgWhen our European ancestors, searching for India, landed instead in South America and found chiles, they used the default name with which they were familiar, "pepper."   They also called the South American natives "Indians," but that's another story.

Both Chile and Pepper are used in Carne Guisada, ground in a Molcajete together with garlic and cumin. (hmmm I'm already at the Yum!!!  stage!! ) This TexMex stewed beef dish is aromatic and its flavor profile is wonderfully contrasted. The flavor profile of a dish consists of the identifiable taste, odor, chemical feeling (hot capsicum) and aftertaste.  molcajetesml.jpgIn my opinion, achieving the correct flavor profile of Carne Guisada depends entirely on what you grind in your Molcajete.  The following recipe is my family's variation and of course I love it, but you can refine it according to your taste.  Just remember that the focus should be on your Molcajete: the mixture of ingredients to include cumin, garlic and BOTH pepper and chiles. 

Recipe ( serves 4)
1 1/2 lb round steak
1 large White Onion, sliced
2 Tbsp Canola Oil
2 1/2 cups water, approximately
1 Chile Serrano, sliced
2 dried Chile de Arbol
15 Black Pepper corns
2 Garlic Cloves, peeled and sliced
1/4 tspn cumin seeds
1 1/2 tspn salt

1.  Cut the round steak into 1/2 or 3/4 inch cube
2.  In a dutch oven or deep skillet, heat 1 Tbsp Canola oil and brown the meat on high heat, then remove.
3.  Using 1/2 cup of the water, deglaze and set the liquid aside.
3.  Add to the skillet 1 Tbsp Canola oil and sweat the onions on low heat until they are soft.
4   While the onions are cooking, grind the chiles, pepper, garlic, cumin and salt in the molcajete to achieve a very fine paste.  Add a little water to allow you to scrape the paste away from the molcajete. (See picture above)
5.  Add the meat to the onions, also the molcajete paste, the deglazing liquid and the rest of the water.  The water should just cover the meat, so adjust accordingly.
6. Simmer at slightly below a full boil, about 200oF, covered, for about one hour.  At this heat level the beef collagen changes into gelatin and renders the beef both soft and  flavorful. If the heat is too high, the beef will be tough. Remove the cover during the last fifteen minutes to allow the sauce to thicken.

I served it with green beans baked slowly in an Achiote, orange and jalapeño sauce.  Here it is.
CarneGuisadasml.jpgLet me know how this recipe turns out for you.  ¡Buen Provecho!

Gazpacho, "de rigueur"

Gazpacho is a must in this Texas heat
I bought tomatoes from the Atkinson Family Farm, a 4th generation family farm. Hurray!  Jeni, wife of grandson, Bob, sold them to me.  Jeni, here's the gazpacho recipe I promised.

To make a good Gazpacho I think it helps to observe boundaries that are imposed by the terroir of Andalucia.andaluciamap.jpg Within these boundaries Gazpacho has as many variations as there are Spaniards with opinions. 
The terroir of Andalucía in Southern Spain, occupied by Arabs for 700 years, includes its climate, makeup of the soil and the naturalized products therein.  The region has a climate similar to northern Africa so of course the soup must be cold to help relieve the intense heat of the region.  "De rigueur" are only those ingredients that are readily available in the Andalucia terroir: olive oil, wine vinegar, cucumbers, onion, stale bread and garlic.  The principal ingredients of the soup are or of course Mexican: Tomato and Chile. These were naturalized into the terroir sometime in the early 1500's by the Andalucians who by that time had learned to cultivate the Mexican tomatoes and Chiles (bell pepper or pimentón) that Christopher Columbus brought back with him.  But keep in mind that Gazpacho is not Mexican, so out of bounds are cilantro, very hot chile and those ingredients which would normally be flagged as part of the Mexican flavor profiles. Gazpacho is a European/Arab take on Mexican ingredients.
This recipe makes a complex, soothing and highly refreshing soup.  The taste is clear, with all the ingredients blending and not competing. I omit the strong onion flavor altogether.  I also omit the bread because I blend it A LOT, emulsifying the oil, to achieve  body and creaminess.  

The olive oil is present in the taste, but it is a background.
Recipe  Makes one quart


2 lbs tomatoes,  diced.  This is 6 cups
1/4 lb bell pepper (I used red) diced.  This is 1 cup
1/4 lb cucumber, peeled and diced.  This is 3/4 cup
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 fl oz red wine vinegar
4 fl oz extra virgin olive oil, Spanish if possible
1 1/2 Teaspoon kosher salt

1.  Wash all the fruits. I scrub them in a strong solution of salt water, then rinse them.
2. Just place all the ingredients in a blender and churn away until the puree is creamy.  So creamy in fact that it almost looks like a cream-based soup. You may have to do this in batches.
3.  Chill in the fridge for a day so that the flavors blend.
4.  And its ready. Very simple to make. Stir vigorously before serving and garnish with croutons and small cucumber dice.
¡Buen Provecho!

Leave me a comment and let me know how this turns out for you.

Mole Poblano Travels well to Texas

Mole Poblano may not be commonplace in Texas nor just south of the Rio Grande but from time to time you get to taste the rich, complex sauce when perhaps newly arrived friends from Puebla, Mexico make it. Aromatic spices, roasted nuts, seeds, Chiles!molespicesml.jpg     Or you taste it at a wedding because a Texas family uses that old recipe a travelling friend shared with them generations ago.

 CaminoReal.gifI think mole is becoming more available in Texas and Northern Mexico because of digital media and travel.  Travel routes connecting today's Texas, Northern Mexico and Southern Mexico date back to the Texas Indians prior to the 1400's.   The Mexico-US "Camino Real" of the Spaniards, was built upon one of these routes. These ancient routes enabled our native ancestors to learn about each other's cuisines (types of chiles, corn, cooking utensils, pottery, types of beans). With today's digital media I can blog.  I think this accelerated sharing will increase the presence of Mole Poblano on our tables here in Texas and Northern Mexico.

Following is the recipe for the Mole Poblano.  I find it's easier to learn to make it if you think of the types or groups of ingredients as you would an instrument section in a symphony orchestra.  If each group is to  bring its special character and tone to the sauce, the ingredients must be well prepared prior to blending.
14 Black Peppercorns
5 Cloves, whole
1 stick of Mexican canela, 3 inch
1/2 tsp Coriander Seeds
1/2 tsp Anise seeds
These aromatics are to be fried in a bare minimum of Canola oil to the point when they begin to release their aroma.
20 Almonds
2 oz. Pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup Brown Sesame seeds
Chile seeds from the cleaned chiles below.
1 Corn Tortilla, stale
These are to be fried in a small amount of canola oil, each separately, to the point of golden.  NOTE, the pumpkin seeds turn bitter if over-cooked so be attentive.
1 White Onion, halved
3 Garlic cloves, unpeeled
4 Roma tomatoes, quartered
6 Tomatillos, quartered
3 tsp Black Raisins,
The tomatoes are to be fried in a small amount of canola oil in high heat to caramelize the starches, and the raisins are plumped, also in the oil.moleongarlsml.jpg The onion and garlic are to be roasted in a cast iron skillet or comal.  Black spots and softness will tell you that they are ready.  Peel off the skin from the garlic after it is cooked.
These are the main attraction in this sumptuous sauce.mulattoanchosml.jpg
8 Mulatto chiles
5 Ancho chiles
6 Pasilla chiles
2 Chipotle chiles
Wipe them clean, seed and devein them.  Reserve the chile seeds for sauteeing as described.
Use 5 oz. Mexican chocolate.  Don't use plain cacao.  The Mexican chocolate has the necessary sugar and additional canela flavor.
Additional sugar and salt will be added at the very end of the process to fine tune the taste of this gastronomic symphony.


  1. Fry the chiles on both sides in 2 Tablespoons Canola oil until they begin to blister and change color. Remove the chiles and soak them in hot water for 15 minutes. Drain them and puree in a blender, adding water as needed. The puree should be very smooth.  If there are large, grainy particles, strain through a fine mesh sieve.  Set aside.
  2. Fry the tomatoes and tomatillos in the remaining oil.  
  3. Using 4 tablespoons of the oil, sauté the raisins until they are plump and change color. Remove the raisins, then saute the almonds, pumpkin seeds, tortillas, reserved chile seeds, and sesame seeds. Add more oil, as needed, to sauté the remaining ingredients.
  4. Dry-roast the onion and garlic in a comal or dry skillet over medium heat. Remove the garlic when the skin begins to brown. Remove and discard the skin. Keep turning the onion until it is soft and has black spots on all sides. Remove from heat and set aside.
  5. In a small skillet, add enough oil to sauté the black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, coriander and anise seeds until fragrant over medium low heat. Remove from heat and set aside.
  6. Blend the dry-roasted vegetables, spices and fried ingredients in batches adding fresh water, as needed, to form a smooth puree. Again, if the particles are large and grainy, strain the puree through a fine mesh sieve.  Set aside.
  7. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Fry the chile puree, stirring frequently, until it changes color and you can see the bottom of the pan when scraped with a wooden spoon, about 8 minutes. Add the pureed vegetable and spice mixture. Reduce heat to a simmer and stir occasionally until the mole thickens, about 1 hour.
  8. Add approximately 2 cups of water or mild vegetable broth and continue cooking for 30 minutes. The mole should coat the back of a spoon. Add the chocolate pieces and continue cooking, about 10 minutes. Season alternating with salt and sugar.
  9. Serve the Mole poblano as the main ingredient on the plate with either tortillas, tamales blancos or tamales de frijol.  Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.
  10. Note:  The mole will keep in the refrigerated for two weeks.  Frozen it will keep for about two months.AMhandsmoletamal.jpg

I'm serving it here with bean tamales, sprinkled with sesame seeds.  You can also enjoy it with freshly made hot corn tortillas.  
Different from the French "sauce" concept, Mexican mole is not an accompaniment for a meat.  Although it is often served with turkey breast, Mole is always the main character. 

Adapted from Chef Iliana De La Vega and the "Center for Foods of the Americas, Culinary Institute of America."

Tomato- Basil Bruschetta

This morning I pinched off some beautiful plump Basil leaves for some Bruschetta I'm serving at lunch. Thumbnail image for basilplantsml.jpg I find that in Houston the basil plant has to be in the shade during the blazing heat so either plant it next to a building, a tall bush or place a patio umbrella next to it.

-1 1/2 cup tomato, small dice, fresh from your farmer's market.DO NOT regrigerate the tomato.
-1/2 cup Basil leaves, coarsely chopped
-1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
-2 Tbsp onion, fine mince
-1 whole garlic clove
-salt to taste
-6 slices Italian or other artisan bread that you like

1.  Toast the bread in a F350o until it is slightly golden. Or you can place the slices under a broiler then flip them. Allow to cool.
2.  In a mixing bowl combine the tomato, olive oil, basil and onion, add salt to taste
3.  Rub each bread slice with the garlic clove to give it a hint of garlic peppery taste
4.  Spread the tomato mixture onto each slice and serve immediately.
Take a nice glass of white Orvieto with this bruschetta.  It's divine.
Horchata is a classic "agua fresca" and also a prime example of how people and food constantly evolve as they define their identity.  A delicious Mexican iced drink of almonds and rice essence, horchata was brought to our region and our people by the Spanish when they came as conquerors.  How did the Spanish learn to make horchata?Horchatasml.jpg  From the Arabs when the Arabs conquered them in Spain during the 8th-13th centuries and made this cool refreshing drink using the tuber, tiger nuts (chufas).  Since tiger nuts are not available in this region, rice and almonds were used and voila a new drink with ancient roots was born.

Every region, from Houston to San Antonio to Oaxaca, has Horchata variations.  Down in Oaxaca the drink is made with rice and almonds and served with a splash of prickly pear puree and cubes of cantaloupe.  Now that's nice!  The Oaxaca recipe follows below.

Here in the TexMex, region, just North and South of the Rio Grande River, the drink is straightforward, leaving out the almonds altogether and using just cinnamon as a seasoning.  The right blending of these ingredients with ice is brilliantly simple, simply brilliant.  Who needs all that other stuff in this heat!

TexMex Horchata
(NOTE: thanks to Melisa Guerra for documenting this and other TexMex recipes in her book, "Dishes From The Wild Horse Desert")
Ingredients  Makes 2 quarts
1/2 cup rice
2 quarts water
2 sticks Canela (Mexican cinammon)
1/2 to 1 cup sugar or to taste

1.  Bring the water, cinammon and rice to a simmer and cook until the rice is just barely tender, about 10-15 minutes
2. Remove the canela and process the rice and water in a blender until the mixture is completely smooth and there are no particles at all.  You may have to do this in small batches.
3.  Pour the mixture into a pitcher and add the sugar according to your taste.
4.  Chill thouroughly,  (at least two hours) and serve over ice. 
You are drinking a unique identity drink of the Arabs, the Spanish and Coahuila Tex-Mex,

Horchata Oaxaqueña (NOTE:  This recipe thanks to Chef Iliana De La Vega of the CIA who tirelessly documents and champions Mexican cuisines)

Ingredients Makes 2 quarts
3/4 Rice, rinsed in a colander
1 cup Almonds, blanched and peeled
1 stick Canela, Mexican cinammon
1 1/2 quart filtered water
3/4 cup simple syrup (you can use agave nectar instead, hmmmm!)
1 cup cubed cantaloupe
1/2 cup pecans pieces
3/4 cup prickly pear puree

1.  Soak the rice, almonds and canela in 3 cups of hot water overnight or for at least 6 hours.
2.  Process the mixture in a blender until completely smooth.
3.  Strain into a pitcher through a fine mesh sieve in order to remove any particles.
4.  Add the simple syrup or the agave nectar according to your taste and chill thoroughly
5.  To serve, place about 1 Tbspn cantaloupe, 1 tspn pecan pieces, and 1 Tbspn of the puree in a tall glass, add ice, then the horchata. Serve with long spoons for stirring.
This will take you to the Northern Sierra Madre mountains of Oaxaca!

Horchata picture credit: AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike
Some rights reserved by K. Yasuhara

Cinco de Mayo Margarita

margarita.jpgMy friend, Chef Iliana de la Vega, shows how to make THE margarita. Perfect for Cinco de Mayo guests but also year-round. Cinco de Mayo is not the celebration of Mexican Independence. It remembers the battle of Puebla, a city just about 100 miles south of Mexico City, where Mexicans successfully fought against the attack of a much larger army of French invadors.
Chef De La Vega's approach is a lesson in fresh ingredients and straightforward, proper blends. THE margarita, amigos and amigas:

Thank you to the Culinary Institute of America for this video link.

Tamales in the Coahuiltecan* Region

This San Antonio tamale recipe was taught to me by my sister, Esther M. Martinez, who learned it from our mom, Dominga M. Medrano, who learned it from her mom, María Victoria Vargas, and so forth. Esther also learned aspects and nuances of tamales from her mother-in-law, Antonia O. Martinez who learned from her mom, Florencia C. Ortega. These tamales differ from tamales of Northern Mexico in flavor and texture. We add hot fat rather than whipped fat and thus produce a more substantial bite. We also don't use oregano in the spice profile, leaving it to the chiles to play an unaccompanied role, nor do we roast the chiles.
Trade routes flourished among native peoples before the arrival of the Europeans. From Central Texas down to Southern Mexico, communication and travel promoted the exchange of recipes for corn, chiles and other foodstuffs. All regions had tamales but each in their own style. coahregionsml.gifOur region is called the Coahuiltecan Region (Just N & S of the Rio Grande River) and I'm proud to say that our indigenous recipe is as delicious as ever!

Recipe for the Masa -- makes about 12-15 tamales
1 lb masa for tamales. This is a coarser grind than masa for tortillas.
1/2 cup canola oil. This is updated, of course, since our mom used rendered pork fat, lard. But it is also a recapturing of our pre-European roots since lard is a Spanish contribution to native cuisines.
1 garlic clove
3 Chiles Ancho, cleaned, seeded and deveined
3 New Mexico Chiles, cleaned, seeded and deveined
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1Tbsp canola oil
3/4 cup water
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt or to taste

1. Cover the chiles with boiling water and boil for about 15 minutes or until they are tender.
2. Drain the chiles and place in a blender along with the garlic and cumin.
3. Blend to a very fine paste, adding water as needed.
4. In a skillet add the Tbsp canola oil and saute the chile paste until it begins to change color and most of the liquid has evaporated.
5. Add the water and simmer for about 15 minutes and then adjust the seasoning with sugar and salt. The sauce should have a complex, non-green, non-pungent flavor.
6. Either by hand or in a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, add 1/4 cup of the chile sauce to the masa and mix thoroughly.
7. In a saucepan heat the oil to the point just before it shimmers. Let it cool if necessary. Then slowly (watch out for dangerous splatter) pour it into the masa to incorporate.
8. Add water as needed to make a thick batter.
The masa can then be spread on the corn husks to be filled and steamed.
More on the variety of fillings and steaming later.

* NOTE: Although problematic, I use the term "Coahuiltecan" for the purpose of breaking away from the border-fixated term, Tex-Mex. The natives did not call themselves Coahuiltecans, since they were so many different peoples. It is researchers who used the term. But the term does give the region a place, keeping the river as a source of water and travel, not just a border. My intention is to preserve the food history of the region which predates, certainly does not exclude, the current geopolitical jurisdictions of Mexico and Texas.

In the 1950's the Iceberg lettuce wedge with blue cheese dressing was ubiquitous. It is now a cool retro food on many menus. I think of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers who in the early 1970's were picking the lettuce under miserable working conditions (no bathrooms, no water, no healthcare, petty wages). Chavez called for a boycott of iceberg lettuce. YES! We started eating Romaine lettuce, a great way to eat and be at one with the United Farmworkers.

Lettucewedge.jpgWe can eat Iceberg these days, so I served my recipe last night. The Iceberg wedge with blue cheese dressing (gooey, lava-like, creamy, delectable) will take you to a place of nostalgia and hopefully solidarity.

Recipe -- serves four
Greens and onions:
1 Iceberg lettuce, cored and cut into four wedges
1/2 cup red onion, small dice, placed in an ice-water bath for 30-45 minutes then drained of all excess water.
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup crumbly blue cheese
1/4 tsp fresh yellow or white onion
1/8 tsp fresh garlic
1 1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1-3 Tbsp milk or water as need to adjust thickness of the dressing


Make a thoroughly smooth paste (no lumps) of the onion and garlic using a mortar and pestle.
Combine the paste with all the other ingredients and whisk until well blended.
Pour over each of the wedges and sprinkle with the diced red onion.
Crunch, crunch -- and excess of lavish blue cheese lava!

saladartichokesml.jpgThis crunchy salad gets a velvety, unctuous mouthfeel from a vinaigrette infused with chervil.
Recipe for Four
6 cups romaine lettuce, washed, dried, cut into medium pieces
8 marinated artichoke hearts, halved or quartered, with tender leaves included
6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp dried chervil or 4 tsp fresh
1/8 tsp fresh garlic, crushed into a paste
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1/4 tspn salt or t.t.
1/4 tspn ground black pepper
1/2 Tbsp finely diced shallot
Garlic Croutons:
8 thin slices dry french baguette
1 garlic clove
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1. To make the croutons, peel the garlic and rub both sides of each slice of bread, then brush both sides with olive oil. Toast under a broiler so that both sides are deeply browned.
2. To make the vinaigrette, add the chervil to the olive oil and let stand for one hour.
3. Add all the other ingredients to the chervil-infused olive oil and whisk or shake together vigorously to emulsify.
4. Gently coat the greens with the vinaigrette.
3. When serving, arrange the artichoke hearts alongside and on top of the romaine lettuce. Add two garlic croutons per plate.

Salade Moutarde Lyonnaise

I learned to make this mustard dressing from the locals in Lyon. It's got a freshness and a heartiness that's hard to beat.
Green Salad Moutarde Lyonnaise MoutardeLyonsmljpg.jpg
Salad for Four
• 6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
• 1/8 tspn finely minced fresh garlic (or use a garlic press)
• ¼ tspn salt
• 2 Tbsp Pommery whole grain mustard (In Houston available at Central Market)
• 1 tspn red wine vinegar
• 1 tspn fresh lemon juice
• ¼ tspn freshly ground black pepper
• 6 cups red-tip leaf lettuce
• 1 cup watercress, tough stems removed
• 3 cups hearts of romaine lettuce
• 1 ½ cup croutons (Cube hearty bread, toss to lightly coat with an additional 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil. Toast in a skillet over medium heat, turning often until golden brown or bake in a 350°F oven until golden brown. Allow to cool.)

Wash and dry the greens. Cut or tear apart the red-tip leaf lettuce into manageable pieces. Leave the hearts of romaine at least 4-5 inches long so they can be used as a bed on the plate. Hold the greens in the fridge.

Using a mortar and pestle,
Make a fine paste with the olive oil, salt and garlic.
Add the Pommery mustard, wine vinegar, lemon juice and black pepper.
Whisk using a small whisk or a fork until the dressing completely emulsifies. It will have a creamy texture.
Pour the dressing into a large salad mixing bowl, add the croutons and the greens and toss gently until completely coated with the dressing.
Arrange the hearts of romaine lettuce on the plate to make a bed and place the remaining greens and croutons on top. Serve immediately.

Tonight's dinner is a delicious family favorite, Fideo. I grew up with this flavorful coiled vermicelli stewed with tomatoes, onions and garlic.
2 roma tomatoes, diced (or 4 oz canned tomato sauce--Hunts!)
small white onion, sliced
1 clove garlic
8 black peppercorns
1/8 tspn or slightly less cumin
1/2 lb fideo( coiled vermicelli), broken a bit (ok, in my picture tonight I used homemade pasta I had leftover from the night before, but vermicelli, fideo, is the traditional dish)
5 cups water
2 Tbsp canola or other vegetable oil
4 eggs


in a large saute pan heat the oil and saute the onion until translucent.
In a separate skillet toast the vermicelli slightly in a bit of oil.
In a molcajete mash the black pepper, garlic and the cumin into a fine paste. Use any mortar and pestle or small food processor if you don't have a molcajete.
Add a few tablespoons of water to the paste and then pour it into the onions.
Add the tomatoes or tomato sauce and the rest of the water and bring to a boil.
Add the toasted vermicelli and cook uncovered until done and the broth is reduced.
Hard boil the eggs, slice them and place them atop the cooked fideo. I grew up with the eggs being optional, but some families include the eggs religiously.

¡Buen provecho y acuérdate de tu familia!

I plan to depart from tradition today as I toast to Bishop St. Patrick and Catholicism. I'm toasting with champagne. Ghastly? Well add a drop or 2 or 3 of Irish Mist liqueur to the bottom of the glass. Taste of clover, heather and herbs.
mark-twain-mustache.jpgI'm with Mark Twain who lambasted the Catholic church in his early years but later was more accepting and understanding yet cool. I like Mark Twain because he is said to have once proclaimed, "Too much of anything is bad, but too much champagne is just right."


Yesterday at a house party I made "Moqueca," a Northeastern Brazilian seafood dish served in a clay pot. Fish and some shellfish are quickly boiled in an aromatic broth of coconut milk, vegetables, cilantro and the highly flavorful Brazilian palm oil, dendé.
I learned from my Brazilian friends how varied the differences are for this dish. This picture is during an intense discussion about the use of garlic.brazilladysmlB.jpg I have found that the best way to learn is to cook and eat with friends who have enjoyed the food all their lives.
Since it was Sunday afternoon, mimosas were served during the preparation. Lovely!
Here's the recipe.
Fresh coconut milkcoconutsml.jpg
Crack open a brown mature coconut and reserve the liquid. Then using a butterknife or similar blunt but sturdy instrument, pry gently the white coconut from the shell. The white coconut will break into medium size pieces as you pry. Be careful you don't get flying shards in your eys. Cut the white coconut into small dice, place in a blender, add the reserved coconut water and purée until completely liquified. Add tap water if needed to blend properly. Strain through a fine mesh sieve.
Garlic, minced, 2 cloves
Kosher salt, 1 Tbsp
2 Limes, juiced
Cilantro, half bunch, chopped coarsely
Roma tomatoes, diced, 4
Green bell chiles, 1
Yellow onion, 1 medium
dendé oil
mahi-mahi or halibut fillets, 1 lb
fresh shrimp, 1 lb
crab fingers or lump, 1 lb
Make a smooth paste with the salt, garlic and half the lime juice (2Tbsp) and rub the fish filets with all of it. Place the filets in a glass dish or ziplock bag to marinade, also adding half the cilantro, chopped. Marinade from 1 to 3 hours. (One of my native Bahía friends at the party said NOT to marinade. you decide)
In a 12" saute pan or in a dutch oven (I assume most of us don't have the Brazilian moqueca pot)
add about 1-2 Tblspn dendé oil and sweat the onions, bell chiles, then add the tomatoes.
moquecasml.jpgOnce the vegetables are soft, add the coconut milk. Simmer gently for 1 hour, a bit longer is ok, so the flavors develop fully and the broth is reduced.
Add the fish, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes and cook for 3-4 minutes.
Add the shrimp and crab and cook for another 2 minutes.
Sprinkle with the remaining chopped cilantro
Drizzle with lime juice and a bit of dendé oil, taste and adjust the salt.
Serve tableside while it is bubbling. Yum!!!

Vichyssoise Recipe

Stewart Hoover asked me about this when he and Karen treated me to dinner at Frasca. I thought I'd give a more paused response, so, Stewart, here's the recipe and method that I learned when I was at the CIA, San Antonio.
To make 1 quart Vichyssoise
1 1/2 fl oz canola oil
1 Lb. 8 oz finely chopped leeks, white parts only
6 oz finely chopped onions
3 lb potatoes, peeled, medium dice
96 fl oz chicken stock
1 Sachet d'Épices (1 bay leaf, 1 tspn cracked peppercorns, 3 or 5 parsley stems, 1 sprig of thyme all wrapped up in a bit of cheesecloth)
1 Tbsp salt or to your taste
ground white pepper to suit your taste.
24 fl oz half-and-half
2 oz snipped chives
1. Heat the oil in a medium stockpot or dutch oven, add the leeks and onions. Sweat them over low to medium heat so that they become translucent but don't acquire any brown or golden color. We want white color!
2. Turn up the heat and add the potatoes, the stock, Sachet, salt and white pepper. Bring it to a boil but then reduce the heat to low or medium, just to simmer slowly until the potatoes are soft. About 30 minutes. Then take out the Sachet, discard it.
3.In a blender, purée the soup in batches. Let the soup cool or chill it
4. Before serving, stir in the half-and-half and the chives. Taste it and add more salt or white pepper if needed.
Serve it in chilled bowls or cups.
...make sure it is white, white, white and cold. Enjoy! I think It's wonderful

I'm travelling on business tomorrow so I made this Valentine's dinner one day early. Champagne is served with the first course, in-season white asparagus. Cautious about cholestorel and fat but not at all willing to foregoe luscious pleasure, asparagus are served with quartered egg whites and a mimosa of egg yolks lightly drizzled with a tangy Thousand Island dressing.
The main course is colorful and rich and can be part of a Valentine's brunch party, since it looks great in the casserole/paella dish.
My friend Geof asked me for the recipe so here it is following the plated paella.
1 white onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, cored and sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 cup sliced water chestnuts
1 cup green peas, fresh or frozen
1 cup black olives, halved
1 pound firm tofu cut into 1" cubes and sauteed golden
8 Tblspns extra virgin olive oil
1 generous pinch saffron, about 3-4 tspns
2 tspn salt
1 tspn freshly ground black pepper
½ cup dry white wine
2 cups Basmati Rice
4 cups vegetable stock, or warm water
if you don't have the stock :(

In Paella pan or dutch oven,
heat pan over medium flame
add olive oil, making sure it does not overheat and smoke
add onions and saute until translucent
add bell pepper,celery,garlic and saute for about 3 minutes

When the above ingredients acquire a nice light brown roast color,
deglaze the pan by adding the white wine to the ingredients, making sure to scrape the pan so that all of the caramalized flavors (brown bits) are released into the wine.
When the wine has evaporated almost completely, add rice and stir ingredients together for about 3 minutes.
In a separate container, dissolve the saffron in the vegetable stock or warm water. Then add to the rice and vegetables.
Add salt and pepper.
Bring to a simmer.
Cover the pan and simmer on very low heat for 20 minutes.
While the rice is cooking, in a separate skillet, preferably non-stick, add just enough olive oil to sauté the firm tofu squares to a golden brown on all sides. Then remove and place them on paper towels to release excess oil.

After the rice has cooked for 15 minutes, add the fried tofu, black olives, sliced water chestnusts and green peas, to the rice mixture and stir very gently with a large fork (you are fluffing) to mix. Cover and simmer for the remaining time. The rice will be fluffy and beautifully saffron yellow.

Serve steaming hot.
Because it's Valentine's lover's day, I suggest splurging and pairing it with a white Bordeaux, not older than 2009.
If this dinner works for you, please let me know. I also am eager to know if the recipe is not clear enough or if it leads you astray.

Last night I made this soup and also some corn bread. It warmed us into the whole evening. WSoupBokChoysml.jpgThe recipe for the soup:
In 3 quarts of cold water place
3/4 cup Shitake mushrooms, sliced
3/4 cup large dice white onion
3/4 cup celery cut into 1" pieces
1/4 cup carrots peeled and cut into 1"pieces
1 tspn black peppercorns
1 garlic clove
1 bay leaf
1 strand of Rosemary or 2 of thyme
Cover and bring the water to a boil. Then simmer slowly for 45 minutes.
2 medium size red wax potatoes cut into 2"cubes
1 onion, quartered
2 corn husks, cleaned and quartered
1 cup carrots peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
1 cup celery cut into 2 inch pieces
2 teaspoons salt or less (or a little more) depending on your want.

Simmer the soup for another 45 minutes uncovered so that the liquid reduces by approximately 25%.

Add 4 to 6 baby bok choy during the last 15 minutes of cooking.

Serve with slices of corn bread. Enjoy.

Caldo, a vegetable soup made with no fat and hardly any salt due to the aromatics in the broth (oregano, rosemary, black pepper, bay leaf), garlic and a sliver of serrano pepper.caldopandemaiz.jpg

Finish with a dash of fresh lime. The pan de maíz is not the Northern cornbread that is sweet and cake-like. The ratio of corn meal to wheat flour is higher and there is only a slight amount of sugar to help with moisture retention. pandemaizslice.jpgBoth regular and coarse stone-ground corn meal are used to give the slices pandemaizrd.jpga strong crunchy taste and texture.

Breaded and Baked Sliced Acorn Squash

Tonight's post-salad entree was small and compact, breadedacornsml.jpgslices of baked breaded acorn squash on a bed of spinach wilted with shallots and garlic. Steamed corn complements the sweetness of the acorn squash.

The breading is a combination of panko and corn bread seasoned with fennel, thyme and white pepper.

Mazapán is native to Latin America

Last night I made this Mexican candy, mazapán, which will be shown and eaten at the upcoming "The Candy Shop." A cousin of marzipan (made with almonds and sugar) which originates in Asia and/or the Middle East, mazapán is distinctly Mexican in that it replaces the almonds with peanuts which are of Latin American origin and adds corn starch which is of course native to Mexico. To maintain the "cacahuate" flavor, it is not cooked.
Adapting, changing and creating something new is a constant in cooking, as it is with culture in general. Making candy is a way of re-making our identity, staying current while deeply rooted.

Tonight's dinner was winter stuff. Roasted acorn squash, scooped out the sweet buttery center and combined it with not sweet southern corn bread, dried cranberries, sauteed onion/celery and a bit of cranberry juice.roastacornB.jpg
Quinoa with aromatic herbs atop leaf lettuce drizzled with a cranberry/black currant dressing.

My guests ate up the plates before I could take the picture so missing are the deep-fried Anaheim Pepper strips standing to the left of the acorn squash in a pool of puree of sweet corn sauce. (You can see the bowl of sauce in background). Paired with a white Côtes du Rhône . We had a great time.

Rajas Poblanas

Rajassquare.JPGMade this for lunch today: Rajas Poblanas, a recipe from Chef Iliana De La Vega of the CIA. Poblano peppers are roasted then deveined, seeded and peeled. White onion slices are lightly sauteed in just a hint of Canola oil. Then both peppers and onions are combined in a hot skillet, adding Crema Mexicana (delicious!) and little cubes of Panela cheese. Served immediately with freshly griddled corn tortillas.

Dulce de Leche Quemada

This morning I made this new recipe for Dulce de Leche Quemada.

I used pecans because they are native to Texas and Northern Mexico so it makes the burnt (quemada) milk and sugar candy more Tejano. You'll see that as the liquid mixture temperature rises slowly to F 234°, a series of complex molecular changes transforms the liquid into a burnt color, solid candy. Hmmmmmm!

These changes are now called the Maillard reaction, interactions of amino acids(milk) with sugars/carbohydrates that produce varied colors and flavors. This is different from caramalization.

Although chemist Louis-Camille Maillard named this process in 1910 for the European scientific community, we were using the technique long before that.

The Aztecs in central Mexico used browning of proteins as a cooking technique, as did the Atakapans,in East Texas.

I think this is the recipe that I will use for the art show, "The Candy Shop." (1)

1 qt. whole milk
1/2 qt. sugar
1 tspn vanilla extract
1/8 tspn baking soda
3/4 cup pecans
simmer slowly, low, for 2- 3 hours until it reaches F 234°

(1) The collaborative art exhibit, "The Candy Shop" featured three visual artists and one chef presenting candy as edible sculpture. The notes: "Eating candy is an artful experience, both visual and flavorful. When biting into Latin American candy the moment is imbued with a long history of cultural encounter between Latin American and European cuisines. I've chosen to cook Mexican candies that demonstrate aspects of that encounter. Over 500 years ago when chocolate, squash, chiles and other food products were first transported from Latin America to Europe, they were consumed dislocated from their native culinary history and people. Not so true today when the manufacture, packaging, advertising and transporting of Latin American candies happen in a globalized and visual media environment. Enjoyment is at the basis and it is personal, since eating candy can also recall memories, foster belonging and preserve identity. Artful eating is important because we become what we eat.
Chef Adan M. Medrano"

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