Category Archives: Southern Comfort Food Mexican Style

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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Southern Comfort Food, Mexican Style

I love Mexican food. I mean, who doesn’t?  Tacos and tamales and pozole and carne asada. Seriously, grilled beef, roasted potatoes, and guacamole? Yummy!

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Carne Asada, roasted potatoes, refried pinto beans, guacamole

I love homemade tostadas smeared with refried beans and sprinkled with diced onion. And everybody loves churros, long cylinders of hot crispy dough fresh out of the fryer, covered with cinnamon sugar and served in a paper bag. Eating Mexican street food is like having a state fair going on year round, and just like at the state fair back home, the best vendors always have the longest lines.

I grew up in the rural North Carolina. We had a huge garden, enough to go a long way towards feeding our family’s nine hungry mouths year round. My husband and I want to do the same here in Mexico and we can’t wait to start canning our own food like my mother did. Like dill pickles. I miss pickles, crunchy little gherkins, popping with dill and garlic. Sigh. Oh, sorry, where was I? Oh, yeah, southern cooking.

Naturally, my cooking repertoire includes a lot of Southern classics like crispy buttermilk fried chicken, fluffy biscuits, potato salad, deviled eggs, pecan pie and coconut cake, all of which turn out perfectly here, but hubby and I are serious foodies. We are both bemused by the fact that it surprises people sometimes that not only that he is a great cook in his own right, but that some of his very favorite dishes are not even Mexican. “People who live in the states don’t eat only American food,” he says, “so why would people in Mexico eat only Mexican food? Not all great food in Mexico is Mexican.

Lots of our favorite dishes are neither American nor Mexican, and just as at home on either table. My hot and spicy Catfish Soup plays very well here in Mexico, except I use a different firm white fish. Lamb in pomegranate sauce needs only minor substitutions, and pistachio crusted stuffed pork loin comes out just as flavorful with Mexican stone fruits. Adjustments are needed for cream sauces because dairy products are different, but my pasta in cream sauce with honey garlic chicken tastes the same as it did with American ingredients.

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Pasta in Cream Sauce with Honey Garlic Chicken

Mexico has fabulous fresh fruits and vegetables, and the farmer’s markets (mercados) have rows and rows of farmer vendors selling the best of the local harvest, just like back in my agricultural state of North Carolina. Some ingredients are hard to get here, and some are impossible to find, like Russet potatoes and butternut squash. I did hear a rumor that those two items can be found in some parts of Mexico, so if you have them where you are in Mexico, consider yourself lucky. (…and send me some!)

With a little creativity and a few simple substitutions, you can replicate almost any dish from any cuisine, while embracing the wonderful flavors of Mexico. And when it comes to baking, Mexico has some of the best vanilla and chocolate in the world, and as the original source of “Key” limes, Mexican “Key lime pie” is a piece of cake, so to speak.

Even though we prepare meals from all over the world, our comfort foods are rooted in our childhoods. He grew up in rural Mexico and his comfort foods are similar to mine, beans, and cornbread. Well, tortillas in his case.  One southern favorite that I’ve adapted with Mexican ingredients is baked beans. You can make this dish with locally sourced bacon available from any neighborhood butcher shop, but after experimenting a few times, I found that the flavor of my memory is better served by chorizo, fresh Mexican sausage, and because ovens are uncommon in Mexico, this recipe is done on the stovetop and finished in a crockpot.

I hardly ever use recipes except for baking so you can never expect exact measurements from me, but here’s my process.  Clean, wash, soak, and cook one-half kilo (roughly a pound) of alubia beans (navy beans) with your favorite spices but do NOT add any salt. I use garlic, onion, black pepper, epazote and a pinch of cumin. While the beans are cooking, prepare the other ingredients.

Crumble chorizo into a medium hot cast iron skillet and cook thoroughly on a medium-low flame, about twenty minutes, adding a bit of oil if needed. You’re looking for a chewy texture so it holds up well in the beans. Drain the cooked sausage and set aside. Finely dice a medium white onion, and add to the pan you just used for the chorizo. Cook on a medium flame, stirring occasionally until they are a lovely caramel color.

When the beans are almost done, sweeten them to taste by adding one-half cup to one cup of brown sugar or piloncillo. If you use piloncillo, be sure to grind it as fine as possible. Add a couple of spoons of tomato paste or one cubito of caldo de jitomate. Stir and cook about ten minutes to dissolve the sugar and tomato, then add the sausage and onions. If you have an oven and want to bake this dish, go ahead but I do these in a crock pot on low temperature for an hour or so. Once everything comes together, taste and adjust for salt. The saltiness of the chorizo takes time to manifest against the brown sugar, so don’t salt too early.

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“Baked” Beans with Chorizo and Piloncillo

These beans are hearty enough to be a meal on their own. Full of sausage and onion, but slightly sweet, even hubby prefers a soft dinner roll with these instead of the traditional tortillas. Enjoy!

Geneva Gurrusquieta, Listener, Thinker, Doer, Writer, Finder, Helper

******Like what you read?  Follow Geneva on Linkedin,  or check out her online business Neva Online Business Services.

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