Tag Archives: cooking in Mexico

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Southern Comfort Food, Mexican Style –Creamy Bread Pudding

Southern Comfort Food, Mexican Style –Creamy Bread Pudding

By Neva Gurrusquieta

I’m a Carolina girl accustomed to having beaches within driving range and the lack of humidity in Queretaro is wreaking havoc with my sinuses.  We’ve been planning to move to Merida, Yucatan for over a year. This is a thousand mile move, never easy no matter where you live, but everything just kind of fell into place for us over the last thirty days, a job for hubby, a project contract for me, the house, the mover, everything.  

I thought moving across Mexico would be complicated, but things have gone really smoothly – so far. We used Yucatan Transition Services for practically everything.  Casey was searching for houses for us, and I was searching as well.  When there was a listing worth looking at, she was my eyes and ears.  We finally found what we thought would be impossible to find, and in spite of other interested parties, she was able to secure the house for us!  So, I’ve been packing boxes like crazy so that we can leave next week! I’ve been so focused in fact that I forgot about writing my blog post!

But good news!  I can magically turn this post about moving into a blog about Southern food!

One of the happiest outcomes of cleaning out the fridge and freezer is using up all the old bread to make this delicious, creamy smooth bread pudding, baked in a cast iron skillet if you have one. My mother taught me this recipe, and I recall her mother making this same sweetness. The only difference is that mama used vanilla, and grandma used almond flavoring. They are both delicious.

When I pulled out all my leftover bread that I had stashed in the freezer for a month or so, I had bolillos, waffles, pancakes, sliced bread, and pan de muerto.  You’ll need about five or six cups of bread crumbs (not cubes) and ¾ cup your favorite kind of sugar or equivalent, a little more if you like it pretty sweet, one can of evaporated milk and an equal amount of water, three eggs, and flavoring of your choice.  You can use whole milk, almond milk, or any other milk substitute you like as long as you don’t use sweetened condensed milk. No leavening agents, oils, or salt are needed.

The first step is making bread crumbs out of all leftover, dried out bread.  Do this by hand or use a food processor or blender if you like, or even buy them already made.  Just be sure there are no added herbs or spices or salt.  Put the crumbs into a large stainless steel or glass bowl.

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Next, pour the milk and water into a large measuring cup and stir in the sugar until completely dissolved.  Pour the mix over the crumbs and stir until thoroughly mixed.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. The longer the mixture soaks, the smoother and creamier it will be.  With just a 30 minute soak, you will have a coarser texture, still delightful, so if you’re short of time or fridge space, just do a short soak on the counter.

After your crumbs have soaked up all the lovely milk and sugar, remove the bowl from the fridge and let it come to room temperature.  If the mixture seems stiff, add more milk, ¼ cup at a time until you reach the consistency of a thick porridge.

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Meanwhile, prepare your pans.  One 10” cast iron skillet is sufficient for this recipe, or a dark, heavy bundt pan if you don’t have cast iron. Darker, heavier pans will give you a crispier crust than glass, which contrasts beautifully with the creamy interior. Lather up your pan with your ointment of choice; I used manteca (lard)this time, another small step in cleaning out the pantry.

Preheat your oven to 425F/220C. While waiting, add ½ teaspoon of vanilla or almond extract to the crumb mixture and stir well.  Taste to check for sweetness and flavoring. If more flavoring is needed, add only one or two drops at a time until your desired intensity, if more sweetness, add by the tablespoon. Whip the eggs until they are a pale yellow and thoroughly incorporate into the crumb mixture until no streaks remain.  

Pour into your prepared pan and place in your preheated oven, uncovered, on a middle or upper rack. Bake for 30-45 minutes, until a butter knife inserted into the center comes out almost clean.

What helps to make this dish so creamy is the steam that is generated during the baking process.  This also means you need to have a cooling rack and silicone spatula at the ready when you take it out of the oven.  When you bake a cake, you allow it to sit in the pan for a few minutes before turning it out onto your cooling rack. Don’t do that with this dish or you’ll wind up with a soggy crust.

A lot of steam builds up in this custardy dish. Immediately after you remove the pan from the oven, make a slit in the center with a butter knife, and gently push it open to allow steam to escape from the bottom. Then quickly run a silicone spatula around the sides, place a cooling rack over the pan, and flip to turn it out. This treat is delicious hot from the oven, but I also love it at room temperature the next morning with my coffee. Enjoy!  

**My apologies for not having pictures of the final product. Moving brain, I guess.

Next post from my new kitchen in our new home in Merida! Sneak peak:

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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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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!

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