Posts tagged ‘mexican food’

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…. “)
April 4, 2012

Spring Break Panuchos

by Kathryn Baldwin

Considering it’s Spring Break, I decided I had time to dedicate an entire evening to learning to cook something. I am the craziest person I know.

Why Panuchos?… you ask…

–       I prefer to make things that people have never heard of before. That way, when my boyfriend eats it, there is no way in heck he can compare it to his mom’s similar, yet far superior, dish.

–       I was craving black beans because they remind me of Cuernavaca, Mexico. (Plus I wanted to practice making refried beans from scratch and black beans can’t be compared to our usual pinto beans, which the pros in our families always make).

–       In the spirit of Easter, I was searching egg recipes but I didn’t feel like constructing some lame morning scramble.

–       I had way too much time on my hands because the entire point of Spring Break is to pretend you have no homework.

Once I decided to make Panuchos, I read up on those Yucatan medallions in the handful of old school, faded Mexican cookbooks we have around the house. Apparently, travelers passing through the Yucatan area during the 1800s stopped at “Don Hucho’s” food stand where they bought a unique on-the-go snack. Don Hucho basically created a sandwich by slitting open a fried corn tortilla and tucking beans and an egg inside. Hence the name: Pan-Hucho (aka: Bread-ooch-oh). I swear, when humans get in a hurry, we wrap a layer of grains around some protein and then munch on the run. The Grilled Cheese, the Pita Pocket, the Sushi Roll, the Burger, the Crunch-Wrap Supreme, the Panucho… psh, they’re all related.

So, after over three hours of a Mexican Monsoon swirling in my kitchen, I had constructed something you could more or less call a Panucho. A fried, homemade corn tortilla was slit open with refried black beans and a hard-boiled egg tucked inside. On top, I’d piled a layer of chipotle mayonnaise, chicken, and a mixture of lettuce, tomato, avocado, and cilantro.

(Granted, slitting open the tortilla was well above my skill level so the rest ended up being tostadas. Psh. Don’t hate.)

Let me clarify one thing: DON’T TRY TO MAKE THIS ENTIRE THING FROM SCRATCH IN ONE SINGLE EVENING unless you had a long string of “hey-I-have-a-good-idea” moments and an endless amount of time.

What you should do is this:

Go to the Mexican market and find dried chipotle peppers. Put a bunch of the shriveled little guys in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Let them sit about a half hour or three (while you cook whatever you’re cooking). Then remove the reconstituted chiles. With a fork and knife, cut off the stem side, scrape out the seeds, and put what’s left (the outer layer) in the blender. Puree them and mix in either mayonnaise or sour cream.

I’m pretty sure this simple nonsense is exactly what made the entire Panucho dish “one of the best ever.” I will soon be making burgers with this runny goodness.

Happy Spring Break everyone 🙂

February 8, 2012

An American Staple Food

by Kathryn Baldwin

Have you ever tried to pinpoint the top American Staple food? While I was in Peru, it took me 9 hours to realize that the number one Peruvian food is the potato (all 4,000 variations). In Mexico, if you don’t have tortillas then you are apologizing profusely to every guest that arrives. Both of these are simple selections of “the most commonly or regularly eaten foods in the country.” Which brings me to my dilemma: what can’t we live without in the U.S.? I know there are corn and soy products in practically everything on the shelf at Safeway, but that’s more of a staple crop or staple product. Plus, I’m not sure they should count since they rarely appear in true form on the table.

Your “average” American is likely to argue with another “average” American about what food they couldn’t live without. How about cow? I personally wouldn’t mind if I never saw beef again, and my boyfriend wouldn’t drink a glass of milk if you paid him. Butter? Pff. We have an obsession with olive oil and the yellow, “I Can’t Believe It’s Not…” substitution tub. Petrolium? As soon as Sarah Palin and Friends find a way to make gasoline palatable, this could take the cake. The famous, frozen Thanksgiving Turkeys? Maybe one day… and one week of leftovers…per year. McDonalds? I refuse to admit this as a possibility. One staple food could be a harder answer for Americans to agree on than healthcare and gun control combined.

I’ve come to the conclusion that if my culture doesn’t have a staple food, it’s time I start adopting other cultures’ staple foods. Isn’t that what being American is all about? Take, for instance, the tortilla: (The recipe for the tortilla follows. At this point you can put anything on your tortilla. Try veggies, potatoes, avocado and salt, butter, a hot dog wiener; who cares. Worry about trying to cook foreign, non-staples later. If you don’t have a tortilla press, you could probably use a giant, hardbacked book like a Dicitonary. If you’re lucky and have a huge, flat or electric skillet, you could warm a bunch of these puppies at once. Literally, ruining ten tortillas probably costs you the amount of money you waste losing pennies around your house. Don’t take the process too seriously. After smushing and heating two tortillas you know exactly what works and what doesn’t. Who cares if you have deformed circles, that’s what homemade is all about!)

Buy some corn flour at any grocery store. Follow the English or Spanish directions on the side of the bag to make the “masa” dough.


Mix the flour and warmish water in a bowl and add bits of water just until the glob sticks together (two cups flour+1.25 cups water=16 tortillas). Knead it around until it’s not so sticky and cover it with plastic wrap so that it doesn’t dry out. You could even break the glob into golf-ball sized pieces before covering it so that it’s ready to go when you are.


Heat a skillet at medium heat or so. Dampen a dishtowel with warm water and make a warm landing zone for your finished products. Rip a large Ziploc or find another clean plastic bag to use as an envelope in which to smash your masa ball.


Squish down the tortilla press until the tortilla looks how you want it. Take the smashed masa-enclosed-in-plastic over to your skillet, pull off one side of the plastic, then lay the naked side in one hand while you peel off the other side of the plastic.

Release the tortilla onto the pan. Wait 15-20 seconds. The tortilla will slide around your skillet easily by this point. Flip it. Wait 15-20 more seconds. Then, Flip one more time back to the starting point and wait 15 more seconds. This is my favorite part because, if I’m lucky, some bubbles will form and the scene suddenly becomes 3D as my tortilla takes on a unique personality. I don’t know why, but when they pop up like that it makes me feel like the tortilla is as excited as I am to eat tacos.

Then poke the tortilla into your warm zone and move onto the next one.