Category Archives: Southern Comfort Food Mexican Style

Southern Comfort Food, Mexican Style – Chocolate Covered Orange Peels

By Neva Gurrusquieta

Like every country, Mexico has its own unique Christmas traditions, many closely tied to the Catholic church. For the month of December, we get Christmas church bells and fireworks, along with Christmas parties, festive food, and drink.  And Las Posadas, nine days of neighborhood reenactments of Joseph and Mary arriving at the inn in Bethlehem, along with other local traditions.  With schools, government offices, and many manufacturing plants closed, families are in the streets until quite late enjoying live music, festive lighting and delicious foods found only this time of year. And…hundreds of Volkswagen beetles lit up like Christmas trees!

The Christmas season is particularly welcome this year, a needed respite from the stress and worry so many are going through.  I hope that we all will be more kind and loving and gentle in this season. I hope we can all treat each other with grace and mercy. As I write this, my sister is being released from the hospital after a scary month-long stay with so many complications, and a dear uncle was released from the hospital because there are no other viable medical options. I have friends battling cancer, friends whose children are doing the same.  I think of friends and family who are going through really tough times, financially, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and most likely, if you are not experiencing such times personally, you are sure to know someone who is.  I pray that the hope, joy, peace, and warmth of this season will linger far beyond this winter.  I pray for healing, reconciliation, and restoration.

My husband and I are celebrating a simple, quiet holiday this year. We are foregoing the street parties, the mass decorating and the compulsory gift-giving in favor of more peaceful, more introspective Christmas. However, Christmas food is irresistible, not just because of all the sugar and spice, but because I love to cook, my husband loves to eat, and food brings families together around the table to laugh and to cry and love on each other and to remember all the goodness and blessings we share!

It’s been surprisingly cold here in central Mexico, hitting the low thirties every night for the last couple of weeks, even dipping down into the twenties a few times. Most homes here don’t have heat, so once the temperatures dip below freezing a few times, the chill settles into the bones of the concrete houses and their occupants. On the other hand, most people cook all their meals from scratch, so hanging out in the kitchen is a good way to stay warm. One of the best ways to throw off that winter chill is to cook up a big pot of beans or a hearty stew, or throw yourself into baking or whipping up a hot Christmas punch, and enjoy the company of friends.

Depending from whence you hail, a Christmas punch could mean the spiced and spiked apple cider known as wassail in the UK  or Jamaican sorrel punch spiked with rum, or Ponche Navideño found here in Mexico.  When I lived in Jamaica, I fell in love with sorrel Christmas punch, a red hibiscus based drink served everywhere during the Christmas season, even hair salons, which is where my friend Cilda first introduced me to this lovely libation. Traditionally made with fresh sorrel flowers in Jamaica,  flor de Jamaica (the flower of Jamaica)  is very popular in Mexico and it is very easy to find the dried flowers.

Popular variations of Mexican Christmas punch use either apple or sorrel as a base, and everyone has a traditional family recipe.  One of my favorite websites for authentic Mexican recipes is La Cocina de Leslie,  and she has several really great recipes for Ponche Navideño, as well as Mexican hot chocolate. For my Christmas punch, I usually start with sorrel, citrus fruits, spices, and add a nice red wine instead of rum. In past years, I’ve added pineapple, pomegranate, cranberries, grapes, persimmons, figs, and pears, amongst many others. The alcohol you use, if you use it, should be something that complements your other ingredients. But you know my philosophy:  Make it yours! It’s about using the flavors you love to create a cozy inviting drink to warm up your family and friends!

Beyond the usual cookie baking, ponche making, and general meal prepping, this time of year I like to make another family favorite, candied orange peels dipped in chocolate.  So simple and easy, and because oranges are plentiful and inexpensive this time of year, it’s natural for someone like me. And they are delicious!

It usually takes a couple of days for us to eat enough oranges for a batch of candy, so I save the rinds in the fridge in a mason jar filled with purified water.  If we’re not eating the oranges quickly enough, I slice a few extras and use the pulp to make a glaze for a spice cake.

When the jar is nice and full, pour the contents into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, adding a little more water if needed, but just barely to cover. Bring to a low, slow boil over medium heat and cook for an hour or so to soften the rinds.  Scoop out the rinds from the pan, retaining two cups of the water.  Using a knife with a flexible blade, remove the pith, leaving only the rind. This is easiest to do while they are warm by laying them flat and sliding the blade along the rind.

Return the rinds to the water, and add a cup of sugar and a half teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil again, and cook until the syrup has thickened and the texture of the rind is kind of like a gummy bear. I test them every five to ten minutes after the syrup starts to thicken. Go ahead, take a bite!

When they are ready, scoop them onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and separate them so they don’t stick together while cooling.  

Meanwhile, melt a cup of chocolate chips. American style chocolate chips are sometimes hard to find in Mexico unless you have access to Sam’s Club or Costco. I buy dark chocolate melting chispas at the bakery supply store here and add a tablespoon of coconut oil, but if you can’t find those either, you can substitute Hershey’s kisses or chocolate bars, but skip the oil.  

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Neva Online

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I usually melt the chocolate in 15 second increments in the microwave, stirring in between. And I use a coffee mug because I find the dipping process works well for me in a mug.  Dip each of the cooled rind strips into the warm chocolate, shake it a bit to remove the excess (if you think there is such a thing), and lay on waxed paper or parchment paper until set.  Delicious, inexpensive, and wonderful for a Christmas treat!

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How We Spend Thanksgiving Day in Mexico

How We Spend Thanksgiving Day in Mexico

By Neva Gurrusquieta

Ah, there’s a chill in the air! Everything is pumpkin spice flavored, and I do mean everything!  Time to break out the fuzzy sweaters, the boots, and scarves.  The holidays are coming!  Some people are starting to get Christmas fever. (I do admit to watching at least one Christmas movie already), but there’s one more stop on the holiday train first.  Thanksgiving!! 

Back home, the regular college football season is winding down, and next weekend, the diehard fans in my family will watch the final game of a disappointing season for the home team.

In recent years, because our family has grown so much, we often celebrated Thanksgiving on the weekend prior, then my mom would take off with her friends to go to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  

My mother always kept a list on her fridge, a list of dishes she was preparing for our huge family, and who else was bringing what.  If I close my eyes, I can see her handwriting. She always made a turkey, a ham, at least three dishes of dressing, a big pot of gravy, and her famous potato salad. It was one of my brother’s favorites, so she always made it when he came home, and she continued the tradition even after he passed away.

Besides the non-negotiable dishes, she would make other favorites like corn pudding and collards. One sister would bring a broccoli casserole, another a green bean casserole, another deviled eggs.  I always brought Brussel sprouts for me and my brother in law, and some other dish which may or may not get sampled by the traditionalists at our table. Eventually, it became a challenge to see if someone would dare to try my dish each year. Chipotle butternut squash with asparagus and ginger, anyone?  Delish, but not traditionally southern, I know.

There was always a selection of homemade desserts which varied from year to year, chocolate cake, cheesecake, brownies, pecan pie, chocolate pie, coconut pie, and sweet potato pie. No pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie.  Just sayin’.

And to drink?  Sweet tea, of course!  But there was always a side pitcher of unsweetened tea for one of my sisters, and a couple of Coca-Colas for one of my brothers-in-law.

No Thanksgiving table would be complete without cranberry sauce of some kind, whether you serve jellied cranberry sauce or make your own from scratch with fresh, frozen, or dried whole berries. With eighty million cans sold every year and the nostalgia associated with this simple pleasure, I’m not alone when I opt for jellied for the Thanksgiving meal. 

Oh, wait…I’m in Mexico. Jellied cranberry sauce, if you can find it, isn’t cheap. The only pumpkin spice you’ll find around here is at Starbucks.  No fuzzy sweaters or boots or scarves. No college football. No Thanksgiving Day off. It’s a regular workday, a regular school day.

So what is an expat to do?  Lots of expats in small close communities do potluck dinners with friends since it’s not likely that all their extended families will make the journey for this most American of holidays. Some of those who are not closely connected with other expats are preparing the traditional meal for their new neighbors, or for close friends and family.

Some expats will order meals prepared by local caterers, others will simply eat out. We live in Queretaro, in central Mexico, and although there are expats here, I was unable to find a single restaurant offering an American style Thanksgiving dinner, and only one community event hosted by a private international school in their gymnasium for their students and families.  By contrast,  the large expat population in Yucatan creates a huge demand for holiday dishes, and a wide variety of options is available to those who live in that area, as we hope to do soon. 

There are only two options for us, prepare a huge, expensive meal for just the two of us, or not. We choose not.  The turkey alone would cost more than a day’s wages ($1.50/lb 15 lbs) so we would have to be in a much better position financially to throw that amount of money at one meal.

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We could purchase a turkey from a local farmer like we did a few years ago, but the effort takes an entire day and almost as much money. However, if anyone is so inclined, it is certainly an experience you won’t forget. I made a huge and quite expensive Thanksgiving meal that year with all the fixings to impress my in-laws and extended family.  I used Chef Anne Burrell’s brining recipe which I had used in prior years, so I knew it was going to be fantastic. The food was a huge hit with my husband’s family in southern Mexico, but they had to be convinced that I cooked it. Even with several eyewitnesses, I think some of them only pretended to believe so as not to be rude.

So, for us, there will be no big Thanksgiving meal this year. Instead, we will be celebrating the annual commemoration of the start of the Mexican Revolution on the Monday before Thanksgiving. My husband has a rare day off, and the typical celebratory activities for this holiday include little more than a beer and a nap.   There is even a “Black Friday” equivalent, “El Buen Fin”, or The Good Weekend” which we will also be skipping this year.

To all our fiercely loved family and friends back in the states, even though we are choosing to let Thursday pass as an ordinary food day this year, we will most certainly be expressing our thanks and gratitude for our many blessings, an especially poignant remembrance for us this year. No matter how you choose to spend Thanksgiving Day this year, I hope that our hearts as a nation will all begin to bend towards kindness and grace and that those heart attitudes will go with us throughout this entire holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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Neva Online

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Southern Comfort Food Mexican Style – Chicken & Dumplings

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Whether we hail from the great frozen north or were raised in the Deep South, we all have warm feelings for chicken and dumplings. People disagree about the dumplings, but it’s just ‘cause each one of us loves our mama and we think her chicken and dumplings are the best. It’s ok; we’re allowed to like it all, but for this blog post, let’s just say that pastry is flat and dumplings are fat. If you add peas and carrots to chicken and dumplings, you are straying into pot pie territory, but that’s just me.

But it’s all good. Your mama’s can be the best and you can still enjoy all your friends’ mamas’ recipes too.

Here in Mexico, the ingredients for chicken and dumplings are readily available. Traditional Mexican dishes feature corn flour rather than wheat flour, so this was hubby’s first taste of chicken and dumplings. (To my Southern sisters, yes I know, smh.) He did what a lot of us do after eating chicken and dumplings on a Sunday afternoon. He had a good long nap. He says he understands now why we call it comfort food.

If you’re a non-Southerner looking to sample some Southern dishes, websites like Southern Living magazine, have wonderful recipes ranging from simple to gourmet. There are lots of Southern cookbooks available online from shopping sites like Amazon. And although a lot of born and bred Southerners don’t consider Florida “Southern”, which is a topic for a different day, if you‘re looking for Floridian recipes, try here

If you grew up in the rural south like I did, your knowledge of southern country cooking came from the women around you, the great cooks in your family, in your church, in your community, and you learned by doing because most of that knowledge was not written down anywhere. I remember Ms. Louise, a beloved family matriarch in my mama’s church who made Sunday dinner for her family every week until the last days of her life. And if you were within hollerin’ distance, you got invited to come along as a guest and be treated to real country cooking. My favorite was her chicken and pastry. I don’t know if anyone in her family has her recipe, or even if she used a recipe, but I’m sure it won’t be half as good if you don’t sing “Love Lifted Me” while you’re cooking it like she did. [This sounds more like home to me when I play it at 3/4 speed!]

But, like I said in the beginning, everybody’s mama’s recipe is the best, and while I loved Ms. Louise’s chicken and pastry, my mama made fluffy biscuit-like dumplings, and that’s my favorite, and that’s what I’m doing today. It’s not her recipe per se, just her way of doing it, mostly. We didn’t really use recipes.

***This dish must be served IMMEDIATELY!! If you want the dumplings to stay fluffy, wait until time to serve before making them. Leftovers taste great, but the dumplings will be firm, not fluffy.

You can use rotisserie chicken if you like, canned broth, caldo de pollo (bouillon), canned biscuits, Bisquick, more or less onion and garlic, other veggies, whole milk, evaporated milk and water or broth. whatever. Make it yours. If you’re doing Paleo or Keto or Atkins or South Beach or any other carb restrictive eating plan, I’m so sorry you can’t partake in this carb-fest, but you might try alternate flours for the dumplings or pastry like nut flours or breadfruit flour. I love breadfruit, but I can’t get breadfruit flour here.

Prep time: 20 minutes (or an hour if you have to remove a lot of pinfeathers like I did!)

Cooking time: three hours or longer

Serves six large portions

INGREDIENTS:

  • One whole chicken or your favorite parts (~2 pounds)
  • One large onion, peeled and quartered
  • 6-8 large cloves of garlic, or more if you like
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 4-6 quarts of water

 

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 cup lard, shortening, or butter
  • 3/4 to one cup whole milk

DIRECTIONS:

You can buy a whole chicken and cut it up like I did, or just breasts for a white meat dish, or legs and thighs for a less expensive but incredibly flavorful dish. If you don’t know how to cut up a chicken, here’s a video from Gordon Ramsey.

He can cut up a chicken in less than two minutes. Thanks for teaching me how to do this, Mama! It usually takes me about five minutes, but this time I was working with a freshly butchered hen from our local meat shop, so I spent a good thirty minutes cleaning pinfeathers.  

I saved the thighs and legs for another meal because there are only two of us, and put everything else in a large stockpot with the onion and garlic. You can add chunks of celery and carrot to the stock for extra flavor if you like. Add enough water so that the level is twice as deep as your chicken and veggies. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium and cook at a steady, gentle boil until the chicken is falling off the bone, about two hours. Some recipes use only the breast and call for adding canned broth. If you include the giblets, the back, and the neck, you don’t need it.

When the chicken is thoroughly cooked, strain the broth and return to the stockpot. You can cook down the broth to intensify the flavors if you like, but I chose to set aside two quarts of broth in mason jars to use later in the week. If you added carrots and celery, you can set those aside to add back later or toss them in the compost pail.

Remove the meat from the carcass and set aside. Now comes another personal choice.  Take the garlic and onion pieces, the giblets, skin, and cartilage (gasp! but only if you want to), and blend together with two cups of broth until completely smooth. Pour this mixture back into the remaining broth, return to a full rolling boil, add back the chicken, and reduce the heat. The idea is to have the heat just below the boiling point so that you have the hottest temp for cooking the dumplings and a gentle, barely there boil so that the dumplings aren’t destroyed.  

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Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt. I use my fingers for the next part, but you can use a fork or spoon or spatula if you want. Cut in the shortening, butter, or lard, whichever suits your budget and taste. Make a mountain, and then make a well and pour in about a third of the milk. Gently and gradually, sweep the dry ingredients into the liquid, adding more liquid as needed, until you have incorporated all the flour into a dough stiff enough not to fall off an upside down spoon.

Drop the dough by spoonfuls into the simmering broth, waiting a few seconds in between so they don’t stick together. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve immediately!

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Neva Online

 

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Southern Comfort Food, Mexican Style – Creamy Chicken and Pasta

The ability to stretch a US dollar is one of the reasons that so many Americans retire to Mexico every year, and also one of the reasons that there are well over a half a million American illegal immigrants living here now. With a retirement income of two thousand US dollars per month, expat retirees can live very well here, far better than the lifestyle they could afford in the states.

Perhaps because of how far a US dollar can go here, it’s sometimes difficult for our friends back in the states to understand the high cost of living for ordinary Mexican families here in Mexico. I found this to be the case when I lived in Jamaica too. Simply converting the price of an item from one currency to another doesn’t help them “get it”.

If you compare dollars to dollars, most essentials are cheaper in Mexico than in the states, but thinking of cost as a percentage of income is a better comparison. For example, where I live in Mexico a dozen eggs costs 30 pesos ($1.70US). Back in Raleigh,  a dozen eggs is about $2.70, so by comparison in absolute dollars, eggs are much cheaper in Mexico. But if I say a dozen eggs costs 10% of the daily wage, people get a better sense of how expensive things really are. Even at US minimum wage, that’s about seven bucks a dozen.

With a little creativity, we can still have great meals on a small budget. We love Mexican food.  And American food. And Italian food. When we lived in the states, on Friday nights we would often order takeout from a little trattoria in Raleigh  Stromboli’s. Fresh, delicious, and budget friendly to a US income.

Now we live in Santiago de Querétaro, a beautiful historic city and wealthy metropolis of commerce and industry in central Mexico. Expatriate executives, the wealthy business community, and tourists provide a solid customer base for the many upscale restaurants here, but a meal for two in a really nice Italian restaurant costs about a week’s pay for the majority of citizens.   A Friday night out for a normal Mexican family is more likely to be alambre and tacos.

If you want to make alambre at home, Leslie Limón has an awesome smoked pork and pineapple recipe on her site.  If you need to substitute to stay in budget, do it. Don’t be afraid to try new recipes and make them your own.

Even though Italian dishes are not classic Southern comfort food, my nieces would argue that fettuccine alfredo from La Casetta Italian Restaurant in Bethel is their mac & cheese.   Comfort food is about family and memories and comfort. So, I do what any Italian food lover would do – I make my own. Roma tomatoes and dried pastas are plentiful, so I make spaghetti fairly often and frequently use chorizo (Mexican fresh sausage) instead of ground beef in the sauce. We’ve made pizza a few times too.

Imported cheeses like cheddar, Swiss, Romano and parmesan are pricey, but we love Mexican cheeses and they fit our budget.  Dairy products take a bit of trial and error to find the right substitutes for each dish, but we are usually happy with the results.  One pasta dish that we love is penne in a thick creamy, cheesy sauce. Regardless of your budget, this recipe tastes delicious with any of the substitutions or additions.

I don’t cook from recipes usually, so the amounts listed below should be adjusted to your own taste. We love a lot of garlic, but if you want to use less garlic, do that. If you prefer spinach, use it. It works beautifully but takes twice as much. You can add green peas or mushrooms if you like. You can substitute thighs for the breasts and oil or manteca (lard) for the butter if that works better for your budget.

If your budget allows you to have real parmesan for this dish, great. If not, you can use commercially prepared grated parmesan or grated cotija cheese, not the fresh which is sort of like feta, but the dry, aged cotija. You can use premium crema and just one tablespoon of cream cheese, or go up another level to full heavy cream. It’s all about making the most flavorful dish you can, suited to your tastes, within your budget.

Ingredients:

2 medium-sized chicken breasts

2 cups acelgas, cleaned and chopped (Swiss chard, approx 10 stalks)

1 medium white or sweet onion, diced

5 large garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoons flour

1 can media crema (225g)

4 oz Philadelphia cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup to 1 cup grated parmesan cheese, to your taste

1 cup whole milk, warmed

1 cubito caldo de pollo in ½ cup hot water (chicken bouillon)

Salt and pepper to taste

A sprinkle of nutmeg if you like

8 oz dry penne pasta (250g)

Instructions:  First rule. Do it your way.  Adjust, adapt, make it yours.

  • Cut the chicken breasts into bite-sized chunks, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until golden brown. You could also roast, poach, or grill the chicken if you prefer. Your choice. Set the prepared chicken aside.
  • Sautéthe acelgas until tender, about 5-7 minutes, and set aside.
  • Put the water to boil at this point so that your pasta will be done just as the sauce comes together.
  • Sautéthe onions in the skillet over medium heat, until they are translucent, 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the minced garlic and continue cooking until the onions are slightly browned, and set aside.
  • The water should be boiling by now, so add the pasta and salt, and stir for 30 seconds. Do not add oil.

While the pasta is cooking, let’s prep the sauce.  

  • Melt the butter in a skillet over low heat. We don’t want it to boil and separate.
  • Add the flour, and whisk continuously over medium-low heat until the roux is slightly golden.
  • Gradually add the warm milk and hot caldo, then the crema and cream cheese, whisking continuously.
  • If you have trouble getting the sauce silky smooth, you can run it through the blender for about 30 seconds and then add it back to the pan – if your blender can handle hot.
  • Once your sauce has thickened a bit, add the parmesan cheese and pepper.
  • Blend thoroughly, then add the veggies and chicken.
  • Drain the pasta, reserving the water.
  • Add pasta to sauce.
  • Taste for saltiness at this point. You may not need any salt because the pasta water is salted, and both caldo and parmesan can be salty.
  • If your sauce seems too thick, add a little of the reserved pasta water.  Yummy with a mixed green salad and fruit.

 

 

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