Archive for August, 2012

August 24, 2012

Be Brave, Or Keep Wasting Time

by Kathryn Baldwin


Why do we avoid tasks that seem above our capacity? When you were two years old, if someone told you to jump and touch the basketball hoop, you would have looked up, bent your knees, stretched your fingertips way up…. and “…ummff!” You were many feet away, and yet, you tried to reach the hoop anyways without judging whether or not it was in your capacity to really touch it! Why not?! At least you tried, and you probably learned an inkling of hand-eye-foot coordination from the moment of fearless leapage. Now, if someone tells us to jump and reach the basketball hoop, we look up and think, nah, that’s kinda far, I probably won’t make it.

(This will eventually connect to my culinary adventure-of-the-week; I promise.)
When I was living with my host family in Cuernavaca, dinners were more like mini snacks and tea before bed. My Mamá would warm up a small bowl of lentil soup, a concha with Mexican hot chocolate; sometimes all we craved was some papaya. Still, when I think of sun-down Mexico, I picture my tamal de elote with a drizzle of Mexican Crema.
After weeks of nights arriving at the table with a steaming, sweet, “corn tamale” on my mini plate, I finally asked: “Mamá, how do you make these!!!!!” (Well, I probably asked this in incorrect-grammar-Spanish, but we won’t go there…). Mamá swish, swish, swished her slippers across the tile floors to show me where the magical, sweet tamales came from. I was like a five-year-old asking where where babies come from; it was a mystery and I was unprepared for the answer.
She opened her mini fridge (how she fed a giant family out of two mini fridges, GOD KNOWS!) and pulled out a bag of frozen, pre-made corn tamales. The mysticism was a little faded after finding out that nobody I personally knew was making these by hand, but who says a family member has to slave away for me to be satisfied at the dinner table?!?! I’d always heard that making tamales was this huge ordeal. Why should anyone have to slave over my dinner?
For years (not kidding: from Spring 2010 to Summer 2012) I have been scouring freezer aisles for frozen corn tamales. Safeway, Nob Hill, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Diablo Foods, Lucky (personal favorite…NOT), Costco, Target, Sam’s Club, Andronico’s, even friggin’ Walmart and “Fresh and Easy Neighborhood Market” in Walnut Creek! If it sells frozen food, I’ve check the place. Pretty much every store’s helpers looks at me like I’m crazy when I ask if they have corn tamales. ….They’re face probably looks just like my face after someone orders a cheese quesadilla.Cheese quesadilla?! Are you for real?
When I heard that my Mexican Mamá wouldn’t make the corn tamales by hand, I immediately thought I wouldn’t be able to make them by hand either.
Well I’ve been craving these sweet corn pockets of love even more so lately with my severe Mexican Travel Bug buzzing in my ear all day. I even planned to make them last Sunday… and chickened out. Then, Monday I went to the grocery store for corn husks and when we returned to my boyfriend’s house, a family friend had dropped by and left some fresh, sweet corn tamales on the counter. “OK UNIVERSE!” I thought, “I CAN TAKE A HINT… YOU DON’T HAVE TO YELL!”
Then, on Wednesday, I finished my run at Trader Joe’s to buy three fresh corn husks. The girl that checked me out was like… “balanced meal huh… ?” I arrived home with my arm-band still attached and went for my maseca. Here’s my Tamales de Elote story:
It turns out that making corn tamales is a million times cleaner and easier than most other Mexican dishes that I have attempted. No oil-splattered stove, no pots on fire, no smoky kitchens, no chile-burned hands, no slimy meat-skin, and I didn’t feel like I had to drink three beers to get through the dishes. It turned out that mustering the courage and completing a seemingly scary task saves a ton of time, energy, and gas that I normally spend avoiding it. No more freezer aisle searches. Tamales de elote: I’m home!
(KGUAC AFTER-FACT: Did you know that tamal actually means “trap” in Spanish? Maybe this is why I was afraid to make them! Subconsciously, they were putting a vibe of “Hey, I’m an accident waiting to happen!” Still, the same word in Spanish can be used to mean “pile” or “bundle.” Let’s go with bundle. My sweet little bundles of love. ….
“I shall call him squishy and he shall be mine and he shall be my squishy. Come here squishy. Come here little squishy… hey littledabuswishydebu-da-budah…. “)
August 17, 2012

Latin “Flavor”

by Kathryn Baldwin

Aside from a few of the derogatory terms thrown at immigrants, I sort of enjoy some of the stereotypical words used to describe Latin culture. For example: how Latin culture is “colorful,” “warm,” “flavorful,” “vivid,” and “lively!” (Someone in our class took this picture during our trip to Guanajuato, Mexico while studying abroad. “Vivid” and “colorful” things to buy huh?)

Really though, if you’re going to describe Latin culture as “flavorful,” at least call it spicy. Shoot, if you follow this plan, just plug “spicy” into your thesaurus. Possibly controversial… hmm. But truthfully, I wish U.S. culture could be described as “peppery, zesty, spirited, piquant, and saucy!”

I like to think I have a little spice in my personality; although some may find my particular form of spice on the overwhelming side. (If you can’t handle the heat… wipe your tears, blow your nose, and order some sour cream!) So, regardless of how much “Latin” I actually have in my blood, I love color, warmth, flavor (spice?), and liveliness. And, when I start to feel like I’m losing some of my “flavor,” I crave a Latin vacation like my personality depends on it.

In the interest of finding color and spice in my life, I seek recipes with these “LATIN?” characteristics.

When I saw this wall of peppers at Safeway, I was instantly reminded of another wall of “vivid” color in a “vibrant,” indoor, Guadalajaran market in Mexico. (You should have seen the glares I got after asking if I could take this picture. Haha. So worth it!).

This week, I found a recipe for mini stuffed peppers in my newest Giada book; it was the perfect way to use an entire bag (24 peppers!).

Here’s what to do:

Brown 3oz of chopped pancetta in 3 tablespoons of medium high, hot olive oil. (You could use bacon or chorizo instead!) Then spoon out the crispy flecks of smoky goodness to dry off the excess oil on a napkin. Add half of an onion, chopped, to the leftover grease in your hot pan.

While the onion softens and absorbs the smoky flavor of pig fat, grate your 1/3 cup of fresh parmesan cheese.

In a bowl, mix together:

3/4 of a cup of ricotta cheese,

1/3 of a cup of Parmesan cheese,

1/2 of a cup of frozen pees (thawed),

The cooked pancetta and onion,

And a pinch each of salt and pepper.

Prep the mini peppers by chopping off the stem side, slicing out the white ridges, and flicking the seeds out from the inside.

Using a cute, mini, sugar spoon (the opposite of an ugly, giant, soup spoon?), stuff the smoky, cheesy mixture into each vibrant casing.

Place them on a lightly greased cookie sheet and pop them into the oven at 350 degrees for just under 20 minutes. You’ll see the peppers start to wilt and the edges of the cheese start to get brown. I wish I let mine brown a little more. I also wish I greased the pan a bit less!

My equally vibrant coworkers enjoyed this Italian version of “vibrant, Latin flavor.” It was a work-place, appetizer pick-me-up. Gotta love that Latin flavor to spice things up a bit….