Jul 282013

Mexican shrimp salad

It’s summer. It’s hot. You’ve been asked to bring a side along to a cook-out or pot-luck or other food-type party and you’re stumped. You and eight of your closest friends all brought slaw to the previous shin-dig and you desperately want to bust out of the boring BBQ-sides rut and bring something fun and unique, but if someone even thinks about suggesting that you turn on the oven, it’ll be their head that ends up in that appliance. Oh, and also? You’ll only have about 30 minutes to throw together your inspired creation.

Enter: Mexican shrimp salad! This delight is bursting at the seams with fresh summery flavor, comes together in no time, and is definitely better when made well-ahead of time. The best part? Everyone adores this stuff. It’s a huge crowd-pleaser. Consider yourself delivered from side-dish-purgatory!

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Jul 212013

Roasted poblanos

I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, but I really did resist the whole idea of hominy for a long time. I’m not sure why, but there was some strong reaction to the word (not the concept, just the word) in my brain. Maybe it was because it sounds somewhat like homily, which is a thing I found to be exceptionally tedious in my formative years. Of course, hominy and homilies have absolutely nothing in common, unless I’m going to use this here platform to preach to you about the virtues of nixtamalized corn. Which I might just a little bit, given that this is my blog and all and I do have a tendency to go on about food that I really, really like.


My love affair with hominy began just shy of a year ago when I was cooking like a mad-woman to stock the freezer before The Babe was born (yes, I was totally bare-foot and pregnant in the kitchen). I had never had the stuff but decided to make a pork-hominy-tomatillo stew to squirrel away for the post-partum days. (We ate better than the average newly-minted parents. It was a priority.) I was pretty-much ensnared once I discovered than it smelled like a really really good corn tortilla tastes. And the stew? Heavenly. One of these days I’ll get around posting it here. But I digress.

Having repented of my anti-hominy ways, it wasn’t long before I was ordering more of the stuff from Rancho Gordo, which meant, of course, that I needed to find more ways to cook it.

Enter the poblano: while she was visiting one weekend, Mrs Cheeseburger in Glacial Ice and I discovered these in Tucson at a chef demo at my favorite farmers’ market. The chef had soaked strips of the pepper in tequila and simple syrup and then dehydrated them to make a candy. Delish! I had found a new favorite pepper. So when I came across a recipe on the Rancho Gordo website that used both roasted poblanos and hominy, it took me all of about two seconds to decide that I was going to have to try it. I’ve made it several times and several different ways and it never disappoints. So throw irrational food prejudices and caution (except when it comes to those serranos — whoo boy, those should be used sparingly) to the wind and whip up a pot of this. Else I’ll be forced to go on a hominy homily, and really, no one wants to hear that.

Roasted poblano pozole

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Jun 162013

Corn tortilla dough

I’ll go ahead and say it: I haven’t done a great deal of Mexican cooking in my life. But I do know what I like, and though I’m a little ashamed to say it, Tex-Mex is kinda what I know I like. I know there’s a whole other world of fantastic Mexican cuisine out there for me to try, but I spent a bigger chunk of my formative years than I’d like to admit to in Texas and it appears to have shaped my tastes. Though my acquired tastes will hopefully grow as I do something like go buy and cook from a great book or two and learn about real Mexican food, as far as I’m concerned, San Antonio will always boast the be-all end-all of Tex-Mex cuisine. The farther you get away from the city, the more precipitously the quality falls, and the first place you’ll notice it is in the tortillas.

I’m a huge tortilla snob. I went to college in San Antonio and all of my favorite places made their tortillas in-house and you could tell. Chipotle was just getting big during my time at Trinity University and even though they were like a mile away from campus and they were really, really good at finding excuses to give burritos to college students for free, I preferred several other smaller, more expensive, much farther away burrito places because of — you guessed it — the tortillas. I don’t know if they ever got their act together, but come on, you can not come in to San Antonio with tortillas that taste like they were made in a factory a thousand miles away and expect to have good things happen — well, those good things won’t happen with my wallet, at least.

Corn tortilla dough

After college, I lived about three hours from San Antonio, and the tortillas there? Ugh! In retrospect though, we could absolutely blame that one on the water that was used in the tortillas. (There were anecdotes about people’s pets dying after drinking the tap-water and I have a hypothesis that the huge number of dialysis centers in the town were due to the hard water. West Texas water is NASTY. If you boiled it, the steam took the form of skulls and crossbones. But I digress.)

Corn tortilla dough

After several years of wandering the country, I ended up back in the southwest. Luckily, my time in Arizona taught me that you can find great tortillas in other places too. Though the flour tortillas never lived up to my expectations, you could find some killer corn tortillas at places like the Sunday St. Phillip’s Plaza farmers’ market in Tucson. But, being someone who’s been attached to the military in one form or another for my entire life, I knew we wouldn’t live there forever, so it was high time I learned to make these little tasties myself so I wouldn’t have to go without.

I took my inspiration, as per usual, from Rancho Gordo. I had long ago seen a video of Steve Sando making tortillas and it seriously looked really easy. Sure, he was using a tortilla press — something that I didn’t have at the time — but how hard could it be to roll out the dough? Turned out it was pretty freakin’ hard, so I would suggest either getting the press, or using something like a cast-iron skillet to squish the dough to the desired diameter. Me, I threw out my uni-tasker rule and my kitchen now houses a solid cast-iron tortilla press and it makes everything so much easier and faster.

Making corn tortillas: the action shots!

Aaaaaaand: action! Thanks to Mister Om-Nom Sauce for taking these shots. (Yes, I know the background is not immaculate. I actually use my kitchen and there are things in the background on real action-shots such as these.)

Having only two ingredients, tortillas are very simple, but they do take a bit of practice to actually make. The first batch or two can be very frustrating as you figure out optimal thickness, best way to hold the flattened dough, or how to deal with seeming disasters on the hot hot heat. Before too long though, you’ll hit your stride and you’ll be making fresh, delicious-tasting tortillas like a pro!

Corn tortillas

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Feb 242013


As you may have inferred from The Law Of Avocados, I am shamelessly in love with guacamole (and with plain ol’ avocados, for that matter). It wasn’t always this way, and the only way I can think of to explain my erstwhile guac-shunning ways is either willful ignorance or deliberate stubbornness. Who or what I was rebelling against, I can’t tell you, but I can tell you the exact moment that I fell in love with this creamy green nectar of the gods. It was seventh-grade history class: we must have been studying something Mexico-related, because one day our teacher had us bring in avocados, limes, tomatoes, and all the wonderful other trappings of guacamole and we made it right there in our classroom (which used to be a chemistry lab, so as far as I’m concerned, my love for avocado is pure science). I was in love.

There are a zillion different ways to make guac (some more unorthodox than others, as shown in this delightful short film), so I’m not about to proclaim that mine is the end-all be-all. And really, I don’t use a recipe per se — it’s more like I just keep a list of ingredients that must be included (avocados being the exception: there are always three). Honestly, I probably prefer my brother Brian’s guac, but what he does differently and awesomely I couldn’t tell you, aside from only using two avocados and making a generally chunkier texture than I do.

What I do know is that guac is a food my family can rally around. We all have slightly different philosophies on food (though we all share the tenet that it should be real), but we all agree on guacamole. I have fond memories of digging into a bowl of the freshly-made stuff with my Mom while my Dad looks on helplessly as it disappears before his eyes (though he’s probably dreaming of the elusive perfect nacho, which is one of our mutual quests) or watching Brian effortlessly throw together a batch of it before dinner. And you can bet that everyone has learned that they really shouldn’t utter the phrase “we have three ripe avocados” in my presence.

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