Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Holidays Bake-a-Thon, Part 1

With Thanksgiving now past, I now have time to describe the startup of my Holiday Bake-a-Thon. I had a commission to make 5 pumpkin and 3 mamey pies for a friend who has a local restaurant. In addition, we had pledged a Pay de Camote (Sweet potato pie) for a Thanksgiving dinner at La Casa Mariposa, where we had previously lived for 4 months. I also wanted to make a pie or two to share with our neighbors. This year I was much better equipped to handle these enjoyable tasks. I now have ample workspace, a pretty good, capacious GE gas oven, and all the tools I need.

The only tricky part is to locate the ingredients from local sources. For example, the orange colored, round pie pumpkins grown in the U.S. are not found here. Back at the Día de Los Muertos cookout, we had sampled some candied calabasa brought by Doña Livia, which strongly resembled pumpkin in color and taste, if not in outward appearance. She offered to give us some from her mountainous stockpile. About two weeks later, we knocked at her gate, and after some conversation and explanation, she selected 6 of these elongated, striated gourds for us to take home. I promised her that we'd bring her and her family a generous sample when they were done.

That was Monday before Thanksgiving. I almost immediately started to prepare the raw calabasas/pumpkins by hacking them open with a Chinese cleaver and a meat tenderising hammer. Then the seeds were scraped out and carefully saved for later roasting and nibbling as botanas. The calabasa chunks were loaded onto a rack in a deep roasting pan with a couple of inches of water inside, covered with aluminum foil, and baked at 350º F. for an hour and a half.
When cool enough to handle, the flesh was scooped out with a large spoon. This was then strained and pureed in a food mill. This puree was saved in the refrigerated container for later use.

While the pumpkin/calabasas was baking, I started to make the pie crusts.
To be described in part 2. (Oh. Part 2. I got busy again.)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Gringo Cravings—Satisfied

Life here in beautiful Michoacán, México has many benefits, not the least of which is the interesting regional cuisine. But sometimes, we gringos crave foods from "down home".

We are going to have a new neighbor, who comes from Houston, Texas, so when we invited him over for dinner (served at the traditional hour of 2:30 PM) he was pleased to enjoy a Texas-Southern style meal.

We had: Chicken Fried Steak, with creamed gravy; mashed potatoes, creamed small baby onions, (yes, two creamed dishes in one meal, but quite distinctive in seasoning) and fresh green beans. (But I drew the line at overcooking the green beans with salt pork.
 Instead, they were cooked tender-crisp, with no sauce nor seasoning other than salt.) We also ate sparingly of a few slices of whole grain No-Knead Bread. It was gloriously satisfying and indulgent.
We didn't have room left for dessert, and that was ok, as we hadn't prepared any.

The Chicken Fried Steak was amazingly tasty and tender, considering that it came from unaged, very lean Mexican beef. But I had spent sometime beating the steak with a cubing hammer. I wanted also to apply some meat tenderizer, but we didn't have any. I remembered a trick in Chinese cooking in which baking soda is applied to the meat as a tenderizer.
After the pounded steaks sat awhile, I seasoned them with a bit of Worcestershire Sauce. They were then dipped in seasoned flour, thence in egg-milk mixture, then in biscuit baking mix. (Lacking Bisquick™, I made up a small amount of biscuit mix, but without the liquid.)

I then fried two CFS' at a time in hot veg oil in a large cast iron skillet. About 4-5 minutes per side. These were then placed on paper toweling and kept warm in a low oven, along with the creamy mashed potatoes and baby onions. The outer breading was dark in color, and without the covering gravy, perhaps unattractive. But in all, it was a good eating experience, not all all burnt, and at best, tender and succulent.

It was SO good; and the best part is that there is one CFS leftover, a good portion of mashed pots, and plenty of creamed baby onions. I might have half a portion for breakfast.
Although the local meat has to be tamed into tenderness, we can always rely on wonderfully fresh, tasty vegetables.

Tomorrow—Holiday Bake-a-Thon

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Long and Green and Full of Hard Fuzzy Seeds?

What's long and green and full of hard, fuzzy seeds, sweet but slimy when eaten, and you have to spit out the seeds?

It's the cuajinicuíl, a legume found in the widespread states of Veracruz and in Michoacán.

Yesterday morning, while I headed for the Pátzcuaro mercado, there was a lone vendor selling these green pods. He split one open and offered me a sample. It was a hard, fuzz-covered bean. The idea is to suck on the bean, which is pleasantly aromatic, mild and sweet, but soon the fuzz turns to slime in the mouth.

Although the vendor told me the name, it was too long to remember. Yesterday evening, we brought it up to our friend Sr. Alfredo Río, a retired agronomist who now runs the hotel Mesón de San Antonio

He consulted a large and well used book on the botany of Mexico, written by a Dr. Martínez. After 3 minutes or so, he was able to locate it. Its Latin name is "Inga Jinicuil"
One pod cost me 2 pesos. It was interesting, but I can't imagine what I'd do with a kilo of the stuff.