Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Viva La Mexico...Viva La Food

Nothing seems to capture the attention quite like a beautiful
frozen margarita. Not a chance that it wouldn't be
included in an article on Mexican Cooking!!
One of the culinary worlds oldest and most often ignored areas of fine food comes from Mexico, a true blend of cuisine that has made an impact the world over. Known as The Land of a 1000 Chili's, Mexico has thrived on it's ability to use fresh healthy ingredients to make food that hasn't changed all that much in almost 400 years. Enriched in the 1600's by the Spanish Conquistadors, Mexican food developed complex blends and flavors with explosions of color that delighted the eyes almost as much as the palate. These blends spread throughout the different regions and then across a global market as people purchased different seeds, herbs, spices, chocolate and chili peppers.

With such a bountiful array of fresh ingredients, Mexican cooking not only looks and tastes great but it is very healthy as well. Traditional style cooking relies heavily on steaming, poaching and boiling. Food and the liquids used to cook are never discarded and what was cooking liquid on a Monday becomes a rich sauce on Tuesday. The same sauces are thickened without the use of butter, flour and cream. Instead, Mexican kitchens rely on items like seeds and corn as thickening agents. The flavors in the kitchen are distinctive and nothing else on the planet quite matches the aroma and taste of different chili peppers, some being spicy, hot and pungent while others can be mild or even sweet. The addition of the readily available herbs and spices along with fresh vegetables, seafood, meats, cheeses, and citrus fruits give Mexican cooking an endless supply of available items to work with.

To truly gain an understanding of what life is like inside of a Mexican kitchen, it is important to see how the day is divided up in terms of meals. Unlike in America where we have 3 defined meal periods, the true experience of eating a la mexicana is a journey in itself. The day starts with a large breakfast, which starts with early morning coffee and sweet rolls. This is followed by plates of seasonal fruits and berries along with fresh fruit juices. After this, eggs are served along with warm corn tortillas, beans, more coffee and sweet rolls. This whole eating experience is known as Desayuno, or as we here in the states call it...Breakfast.

La Comida, or lunch is a late day affair which begins with a soup and is followed by rice. The rice is actually considered a separate course from the soup and is followed by a dish of meat or fish served with salad and vegetables. During the meal, Aguas Frescas (fresh fruit drinks) are served and the dessert is once again fresh fruit and berries.

La Cena, the evening supper is typically served around 8pm or 9pm and is a much lighter meal. The meal is typically started with a salad and anything from La Comida is re-heated and served.

During the day and at any point the true Mexican kitchen always has an abundance of snacks or appetizers that are readily available. These antojitos and botanas are sometimes served before meals and consist of corn tortillas, guacamole, fresh cheeses, pickled vegetables and much more.

Take a look at this group of recipes that are sure to please and offer some great, authentic flavors that will keep your taste buds singing all week long.

~ Tortilla Soup ~
2 Medium Sized Tomatoes, skinned and seeded
1 1/2 Tbs Chopped Garlic
1/2 Yellow Onion, rough chopped into bite sized pieces
2 Tbs Vegetable Oil
6 Cups Chicken Stock, low sodium
3 Tbs Fresh Cilantro Sprigs
8 Corn Tortillas
2 Pasilla Chili Peppers, you can use Poblano Peppers if the Pasilla are not available
4 oz Feta Cheese
1 Large Avocado, peeled with the pit removed and diced
Salt & Pepper

In a blender puree the tomato, onion, garlic and a small amount of the stock. In a medium sauce pot, heat oil over medium heat and add in the tomato mixture. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes and then lower heat to simmer gently for an additional 8 to 10 minutes. During this time make sure to stir continuously. Add the remaining stock and return to a boil. Add the cilantro and reduce heat to a simmer for an additional 15 minutes. Remove the cilantro sprigs and season the soup with salt and pepper. Take the tortillas and brush each side with a small amount of oil and cut into thin strips. Spread them out on a baking sheet and cook in the oven at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes or until browned. During this time, cut the peppers into rings, discarding the seeds as you go. Heat a small amount of oil, about 1 Tbs in a saute pan over medium/high heat. Allow the rings to cook in the pan until crispy. Drain the rings on a paper towel. When serving place the tortilla strips in the center of each soup bowl, feta should be crumbled around the strips along with pieces of avocado and chili rings. Soup then should be poured over the strips and other items.

~ Guacamole ~

This is an amazing recipe that doesn't take the Guacamole and reduce it down into a paste. It has large chunks and a kick to it that really sets it apart. I have used it for years now and it never fails to impress people. Next to my salsa recipe, this is probably my second most requested.

2 Large Ripe Avocados
1 Tbs Finely Chopped Onion
2 Serrano or Jalapeno Peppers, finely chopped without the seeds
2 Tbs Finely Chopped Cilantro
2 Tbs Lime Juice

For starters cut each avocado in half and remove the pits. Cut into smaller cubes, around 1/4 to 1/2 an inch in size. Use a spoon to remove the flesh/pulp from the skin and place it into a bowl. Add the onions, cilantro and peppers into the bowl. Gently mix the ingredients together. Do not mash up or squish the avocados. Sprinkle the lime juice over the top, right before serving.

If you want to make chips for the Guacamole. You have several choices besides store bought. Corn Tortillas make great chips and can be quickly prepared in a couple of different ways. Cut the tortillas into triangles. If you want to bake them in an oven, brush with a mixture of vegetable oil, salt, pepper and lime juice. As soon as they become crispy take them out. You can also pan fry them on the stove using a mix of vegetable oil and then sprinkling the chips with salt.

~ Jumbo Shrimp Taquitos ~

1 Pound of Jumbo Shrimp, use size 16-20
1 Yellow Onion, peeled and thin sliced
2 Tbs Garlic, chopped
4 Serrano Chili Peppers, seeded and sliced
1 Tbs Fresh Cilantro, chopped
2 Tbs Olive Oil
8 Soft Corn Tortillas

Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium/high heat and saute the onion for 2 minutes. Add the shrimp, garlic and chilies into  the pan, cooking for an additional 3-5 minutes or until the shrimp is cooked through. Add salt and pepper if needed and stir in the cilantro. Keep the shrimp mix warm. In a separate saute pan over medium heat, warm up each tortilla for about 30 seconds, just until they are soft and warm. Place some of the mixture in the center of the tortilla and roll into a cone shape. They can be served like this or accompanied by some fresh guacamole or a favorite salsa.

I have been incredibly busy here at home with life and work!! So this piece is coming a little late and I am sorry for the delay. In addition to being busy with the kids as the summer rolls along I am also getting ready for a first time event, at least for myself. Thursday August 23rd I will be on The Lounge Radio Show, with host Danny Martignetti from 8 to 10 at night. WMFO can be listened to on 91.5 over on the FM dial. Hope that everyone can tune in as we talk food and listen to some great music!! New blogs coming up in the next week as we get back into eating healthy and having a good time! Thanks for stopping by and as always please feel free to comment.

Wasting Away In Margaritaville...

Sometime between the mid 1930's and the mid to late 1940's a bartender or bar owner came up with the idea of a classic and time honored Mexican cocktail. The stories around who created it are as varied as the ingredients used to make it. What drink am I referring to? The answer should be obvious by now, today we are bringing home the goodness that is the MARGARITA!!

Just like last weeks' piece on rum based drinks, this free-form Wednesday article is about more Summer Cocktail fun. I have done some research, sampled some goods and happily will relate to all some of the results. Research for this daunting task was not easy and considering the different flavors now infused within various alcohols, I found out that while the classic Margarita is made with a Tequila base some of today's wilder creations in fact have none. My recipes below though, have no fear, all contain Tequila

Making a regular or frozen Margarita is extremely simple and by using some quick time savers such as juice concentrates which are available at the local supermarket, you can quickly create a frozen drink that will chase away a stressful day of work or finish off that fantastic beach weekend.

Let's take a look at some fantastic recipes which are full of flavor and simple to make. Margaritas are also served with salt or sugar rimming to the outside of the glass. The salt and sugar are available in your local supermarket as well as wherever you purchase the all important tequila!! To rim the glass, take a lime wedge and place a small slice directly in the middle of the fruit. The slice goes over the rim and rub it all around the rim of whichever glass you are serving in. While the glass is still wet roll the rim through the salt or sugar until it is well coated.

~ Frozen Blue Margarita ~
Serves 5-8

1 Can Frozen Limeade Concentrate, 6 ounce size
6 oz Tequila
4 oz Blue Curacao Liqueur

Combine all the ingredients into a blender. Add ice until it is filled to about the 5 cup line. Blend until smooth

~ Frozen Strawberry Margarita ~
Serves 1-2

2 oz Cointreau Liqueur
1 oz Tequila
1/2 oz Agave Syrup
3 Strawberries, cut into quarters without the tops
1 Lime, make sure it is fresh and squeeze out the juice

Combine all the ingredients into a blender along with ice. Blend until smooth.
~ Frozen Tropical Fruit Margarita ~
Serves 8-10

4 Oranges, slice into quarters and squeeze out the juice
2 Lemons, slice into quarters and squeeze out the juice
2 Limes, slice in half and squeeze out the juice
1/2 Cup Fine Sugar
2 oz Cointreau
2 oz Triple Sec
12 oz Tequila

~ Frozen Watermelon Margarita ~
Serves 4-6

6 Cups Watermelon, remove rind and cut into 1/2 cubes. Place in freezer for at least 3 hours
8 oz Tequila
4 oz Lime Juice
1/4 cup Fine Sugar

This recipe is different from other other frozen recipes due to the freezing of the watermelon. It uses no ice, instead the frozen fruit is what adds the flavor and the thickness. Simply put, all of the ingredients go directly into the blender and you are done.
~ Chambord Margarita ~

1 oz Tequila
1 oz Chambord
1/2 Cointreau
3 oz Sweet & Sour Mix

Add all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well and serve over ice in a Margarita glass.

~ Margarita ~

This is a single serving and puts a little twist on the classic recipe. I like this one just because it isn't quite like all the rest. That being said, make sure you have a good salt for the rim!

1 oz Fresh Lime Juice
2 tsp Fine Sugar
3/4 oz Cointreau
2 1/2 oz Tequila

In a cocktail shaker, combine all the ingredients with ice and shake vigorously for a good 30 seconds. You want to mix the sugar and even let the ice break apart a little bit. Strain the drink into a glass with fresh ice.
So that's all I have time for today and it was a short stay here in Margaritaville...If you have a favorite summer cocktail I would love to hear about it. Drop me a line via email at or feel free to leave it in the comments section. Have a fantastic day and remember, if you are enjoying some flavors of summer do it responsibly!!