Tag Archives: adapting recipes to Mexico

Southern Comfort, Mexican Style – Church Dinner on The Grounds

In rural eastern North Carolina where I grew up, church dinners on the grounds are staples of summer. Church Homecomings are scattered throughout late spring, summer, and early fall with seemingly coordinated timing so that no two are on the same Sunday. After all, folks might want to go to more than one, depending on which church their extended family attends (or attended).

Homecoming – when everyone who ever went to a particular church comes home and brings all the young’uns and the grandbabies. It’s like a big ole family reunion.  The laughter, the hugs, the embarrassing stories of youth, watching the kids run around on the same grounds you ran around on as a kid – it makes for a truly delicious bit of nostalgia. And the food. Oh my, the food.

Although technically a potluck dinner, a Southern country church dinner on the grounds is no average run of the mill potluck where people show up with just a skimpy little side dish. No, ma’am. The rule is you bring enough to feed your entire family and at least two other people so that out of town folks don’t feel so much pressure to perform. Because it is definitely a performance. I wouldn’t say the ladies are competitive, but heaven help the poor fella who yumyums someone else’s fried chicken if his own wife made fried chicken that day.

When the last amen is said, there’s no dilly-dallying. Dozens of country boys with uncomfortably snug neckties dutifully follow their wives, mothers, and sisters to the parking lot and return heavily laden with casserole dishes and Tupperware buckets and tubs. They follow the perfectly manicured finger of the church lady in charge who is pointing everyone to the correct table. Advice for the younger men:  Remember the color of the dish you are carrying, what’s in it, and what table you put it on because you absolutely must put your wife or girlfriend’s food on your plate even if you have to search for it. The only acceptable excuse is that it was finished by the time you got to it.

More than a dozen eight-foot tables are stretched end to end piled high with everyone’s best dishes. First up – meats and main courses including sliced ham and roast beef, chicken pastry, pulled pork, lasagnas, and at least ten variations of fried chicken, followed by potato salads, seven layer salads, jello salads of every color, deviled eggs, collard greens with ham hocks, squash casseroles, macaroni and cheese, baked beans, scalloped potatoes (technically au gratin because, cheese), green bean casseroles, succotash, broccoli a dozen ways, corn on the cob, raw veggies with ranch dip, plates of sliced red tomatoes fresh off the vine,  alongside a divinely heady selection of homemade pickles and relishes. Lots of biscuits, yeast rolls, breadsticks, and cornbread both baked and fried. And of course, plates of ham biscuits are scattered throughout just in case you needed a snack while waiting in line.  

And desserts, lawdamercy! What can I say? It’s an irresistible confectionary dream or diabetic nightmare depending on your perspective.  Banana pudding with toasted meringue, coconut cream pie with real whipped cream, cheesecake, chocolate layer cake, German chocolate cake, caramel cake, carrot cake, strawberry shortcake,  Boston cream pie, lemon meringue pie, pecan pie, chess pie, apple pie, blueberry pie, peach pie (my fave!), puddings, trifles, cookies, brownies, and homemade ice cream. Oh, my! *I make most of these exquisite Southern specialties at home from scratch because I love to do it, but for folks who can’t make them at home, really SadFace because there is no bakery here that sells them.

So, when the little Mexican church we attend announced an “Anniversary Celebration” complete with a potluck dinner on the grounds, this little ole Southern girl’s heart was just all aflutter with excitement and anticipation.  Oops. Hold the phone.

pic6

Sign up sheet?  What do you mean, I can’t bring deviled eggs? All my Mexican friends love them.  I can’t bring a seven layer salad either? They love that too!

Nope, tacos. Tacos? OK, so back up and punt.  

Right now friends SOTB are saying, “yum!” and friends NOTB are going “huh?” We aren’t talking about those crunchy shells with meat-like filling that some consider tacos which I do love and recreate here in Mexico from scratch with healthy ingredients. Shhhh!  But no. A real Mexican taco is made with soft tortillas, usually corn but sometimes flour so you can fold them or roll them up depending on your age and eating style, often with una copia, a second tortilla to give a little extra support.  Basically, a tortilla is cornbread that’s been rolled out like a pie crust and lightly toasted so you can pile it up with all kinds of deliciousness.

So, the day arrived. We brought a large casserole dish of chicharrón en salsa verde (recipe below) and a 13×9 simple chocolate cake.  I forgot that a lot of Mexican women don’t bake, and ovens are often absent from Mexican homes. Mine was the only dessert other than the official celebratory anniversary vanilla sheet cake.  Faux pas? Maybe, but it was eaten, every crumb.

From the moment the church service was over and the people began setting up tables, the air was buzzing with a familiar church dinner electric excitement as people greeted friends they hadn’t seen in months or years. The menfolk paraded through the crowd with pots and pans full of the aforementioned deliciousness made by their wives and mothers and sisters into the sanctuary turned fellowship hall, and followed the perfectly manicured finger of the church lady in charge pointing them to the correct tables to display their chicken tinga, chicharrón en salsa roja, res con papas, nopales, rajas con crema and so on.  

pic5
Kids eagerly scrambled to find their places at big round tables, to nibble on corn chips and frijoles refritos, to hear instructions from the church lady, and the blessing from the pastor.  

And then, the most familiar tantalizing aroma tickled my nostrils as the top was removed from a nondescript metal box near the table. Carry me back, cochinita pibil (“Buried Little Pig”)! No time to discuss that now, but we absolutely will be comparing Down East pit-cooked barbeque to cochinita pibil in an upcoming post, and I’ll be asking my brother-in-law for the recipe for his famous sauce. Stay tuned.

This is what happens when I am unable to write for a long time; I can’t stop.  Here I am already well over a thousand words and haven’t even gotten to a recipe yet!  So, here is my husband’s very spicy, strongly seasoned recipe. This is definitely NOT a “no pica” salsa, but there were some habañero salsas on the table that were even spicier. Remember our motto, always make it yours. Use fewer serranos, less garlic, less onion if you like.  Or more. Remove the seeds if you want. Or not. Up to you.

 

Nico’s Chicharrón en Salsa Verde

12 tomatillos

12 serranos

One medium onion

One small head of garlic or 5-6 large cloves

1 ½ tsp salt

½ tsp black pepper

½ tsp dried herbs of choice (we used epazote & oregano)

½ kilo (1 lb) chicharrón (fried pork rind)

Place the tomatillos (whole), serranos (whole with stems removed), garlic (whole peeled cloves), and ¾ of the onion (rough chopped) in a large stockpot and just barely cover with good water. Bring to a soft rolling boil and cook until the tomatillos are soft but not bursting, about ten minutes.

Please be careful with this step and use proper precautions. If your blender cannot handle very hot liquids, allow the veggies to cool completely before blending.  You know that, right?

Transfer the veggies to a blender along with a cup of the liquid, the salt, pepper, and remaining quarter of the onion, chopped. Reserve the remainder of the liquid in a separate bowl. Blend on medium speed for one minute.

Return the salsa to the stockpot and let simmer for about five minutes, adding more liquid if the salsa gets too thick. Using a small piece of the chicharrón, taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Keep hot until time to serve, then break up the chicharrón and stir into the salsa.  

 

This is the point where Southern and Mexican diverge. I love the crunchy chicharrón by itself and have eaten it plain since childhood. As an adult, I like to use the salsa as a dip with a little sour cream. But I my husband loves it this way, and it is a very popular dish. Enjoy!

***Y’all, just a little side note. As I was proofreading this article, the voice in my head had a decidedly more pronounced Southern accent than usual. Weird, huh?

***************************

Read more Southern Comfort Mexican Style by Neva here.

https://www.facebook.com/NickAndNinaSpecialtyServices/

1 Comment

Filed under Southern Comfort Food Mexican Style

Southern Comfort Food Mexican Style–Chilled Meals for Hot Weather

Hello again. I’m sorry for the unexpected absence, but I had a little accident and I’ve only been “allowed” to type again for a few days, and with just two fingers on my left hand.  I’ll write about that another day. Today it’s all about moving from beautiful, arid, mountainous Queretaro to beautiful, humid, sea level Merida.  

We had been planning to move because I’m a southern girl used to lots of humidity and the dry air was really wreaking havoc on my sinuses.  My husband got a job offer in Merida, so I started looking at rental houses online. We hired someone to go look at the house I found, and we were off to the races!

We used the same mover who moved us from the states to Queretaro, who I have recommended to numerous people, but this time the experience was horrible, for a hundred reasons. The biggie was that when the truck’s hitch receiver came loose and dropped the trailer in the highway, the driver was going to leave the trailer (and us!) there in the highway in rural Tobasco after dark with no lights, at the bottom of a tall bridge, no way to signal oncoming traffic to change lanes, no way to call for help. Not on the shoulder, not on the side on the road, actually IN the highway, a dead duck sitting in the traffic lane exactly where we dropped.

For the first time ever, I played the crazy gringa card and I used words that I have never used in my entire life, repeatedly, and very loudly.  And it worked. The Green Angels arranged a tow truck to pull the trailer to a hotel parking lot, costing us just shy of a month’s rent, and we waited while the driver went to get his truck repaired and we got back on the road.

I don’t tell that story to make anyone afraid of moving to Mexico. This was a super scary, but isolated experience.  We move freely in Mexico, and I have driven to the border alone multiple times and have never been afraid. The Green Angels patrol all the toll roads in Mexico and offer free roadside assistance. Every policeman who has ever stopped me has been courteous and polite, and Mexican people, in general, are kind and generous and welcoming. The guy we hired is a US citizen, a dual citizen actually. Just saying.

But that’s all behind us now! We did ultimately make it to this beautiful city of sunshine and palm trees.  We have a cute little house with a big yard, a big kitchen, and a front porch.

pic1

There’s even a pool, a fresh well water, non-filtered, non-chemical pool. Not that we were looking for a pool, and we probably won’t use it unless we have visitors.  Hint, hint to friends and family, direct flights to Merida from lots of US and Canadian cities!

We’ve had a few 104 degree days since we arrived in February, but most days only hit the mid-90s. The heat makes it uncomfortable to cook in the afternoons, and so we try to prepare foods in advance to keep in the fridge, beans for snacks and light meals, boiled eggs for tuna, deviled eggs, salads, and straight up protein snacks, toasted sesame seeds for hummus, celery sticks for PB dipping.

We are eating more tomato sandwiches, more salads, more fruit. We can get a pineapple for ten pesos and oranges grow on trees in the backyard. But I also admit that on more than one occasion, I’ve had chocolate ice cream for breakfast and beer for lunch. For the first time in my life, I’ve developed a taste for beer, and find it more refreshing than water when sweat is dripping off the end of my nose.  

One of our favorite light meals is a bean and corn salsa served with corn chips. Back in North Carolina, everyone has a favorite variation of this recipe, usually with black-eyed peas, Mitchell’s white shoepeg corn and Italian dressing. Here in Mexico, I use black beans and yellow corn, and the dressing is a simple lime vinaigrette. It’s so quick and easy to put together, delicious and healthy.

Dice two tomatoes, one onion, one half of a bell pepper, two serrano peppers, and a bunch of cilantro.  I remove the seeds from the tomatoes, but you don’t have to. I don’t remove the seeds from the chiles, but you can if you want to. I like green bell peppers in this, but you can use any color you like. I like red onions, but you can use any onion you like. I also like to throw in a few thinly sliced green onions, which you can opt to do or not do. You know my motto. Make it your own.

Add two cups of drained firm beans and two cups of corn. You can use black beans, black-eyed peas, red beans, or any other firm bean for this dish. You can use canned white or yellow corn, frozen corn, or fresh cooked corn when in season. Add more or less of whatever you like. Make it your own.
pic2In measuring cup, add the juice of two limes, a quarter cup of oil, a teaspoon of salt and a half teaspoon of black pepper. You can use olive oil or whatever vegetable oil you like. A lot of recipes call for more oil, and you can certainly increase it if you like, but in small amounts at a time.

pic3

Whisk the dressing together, pour over the veggies, and toss. Chill for at least an hour, overnight if you can.  Toss again before serving, and if you want to add avocado, do that at this point. Serve with corn chips or toasted pita chips.

pic4

This is a super healthy, high protein, filling, delicious dish to serve on hot days! Enjoy!

*************

Like what you see?  Check out more from Geneva at Southern Comfort Food Mexican Style!

 

 

https://www.facebook.com/NickAndNinaSpecialtyServices/

Leave a comment

Filed under Southern Comfort Food Mexican Style

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.

Like what you see?  Check out more from Geneva at Southern Comfort Food Mexican Style!

****************************

https://www.facebook.com/NickAndNinaSpecialtyServices/

1 Comment

Filed under Guest Blogger Adventures, Mexican Food and Drink, Southern Comfort Food Mexican Style