I can’t believe it’s been four weeks since John and I were asking “dov’e…” and “come se chiama” ten times a day while filling in the rest with Italian-intonated Spanish. When I think back to the trip or when people ask me about it, I give a big sigh, every time. Our anniversary trip to…
I can’t believe it’s been four weeks since John and I were asking “dov’e…” and “come se chiama” ten times a day while filling in the rest with Italian-intonated Spanish. When I think back to the trip or when people ask me about it, I give a big sigh, every time. Our anniversary trip to Italy was truly a dream, and it will be one of my most cherished memories for years to come.
John and I first decided to go on an anniversary trip last summer. We had been saving up SPG hotel points since our wedding, and since we were switching credit cards, we decided to use them on an anniversary trip. So we began to research. While our hotel points in European cities yielded three nights, our points in Cancun could get us a whole week…We weren’t sure where we would go, but one fateful summer night, we found plane tickets to Dublin for $477! We snagged the tickets and committed to going somewhere in Europe to be determined at a later time.
After much soul searching—just kidding, it was a very easy decision—we settled on Italy! Then we chose three major areas to visit: Rome, Venice and Lake Como.
I am in my first year at a new school and my work schedule has been crazy, so apart from 5 minutes of Duolingo Italian practice every night for the three months preceding the trip, I didn’t really research or prepare much before leaving for Italy. This was agonizing, since I usually have a minute-by-minute itinerary when we travel anywhere, so I was bummed that we had so little planned. Thankfully, my mother-in-law gifted us with a Rick Steves book for Rome and Venice, and with those books in tow, we headed to Italy with no idea what we were doing.
The upside to our crazy flight schedule (Boston to London to Dublin to Rome) was that we had some time to make rough outlines for our trip, and so when arrived in Rome almost a full day after boarding our flights, we had a rental car booked for Dublin, a food tour in Rome, and a list of must-see places in the cities we were visiting.
Despite our hastily planned itinerary, we had a blast. Although I’ve been to a few Latin American countries, this was my first time leaving the American continent and visiting a country where I didn’t speak the main language. It was simultaneously fun and baffling to have to communicate in a different language as a novice, an invaluable lesson for me as a Spanish teacher. One day, I urgently needed something from the pharmacy, and since there were no English speakers around, and I didn’t know some key vocab words, I had to pictionary my way from Murano to Venice to the only open pharmacy on Easter Monday.
Yesterday, when editing these pictures, I was once again blown away by the beauty of the trip. The trip feels more distant now; I no longer say “grazie mille” accidentally, I’ve stopped finding museum pay stubs and euros in my pockets, and even the memories of my favorite foods on the trip—a rich chocolate cake in Venice subtly paired with whipped cream, a crispy, sprinkle-studded cornetto with cream inside, a freshly baked bresaola and arugula panini, the first bite of mozzarella di bufala, and sweet amaretto gnocchi enveloped in a crispy cheese shell—are fading a little. Thankfully, I have about 1000 pictures to remember the trip (without counting my phone pictures). Which brings me to an important question: How do you sort through your trip pictures? Where do you store them? I need some serious help in this regard; I’m kind of a cyber packrat.
“Concludingly,” as my 10th graders like to say, I’ve been remembering the trip by trying to recreate some of my favorite meals. These have already started making appearances on instagram and will be coming your way in a real recipe post soon. In the meantime, here are some of my favorite pictures from the trip.
Moltrasio, Lake Como:
Guys! It’s been quite a while since I’ve blogged. These past few months have been crazy hectic. Between writing a grant application, lent, planning an anniversary trip, taking the anniversary trip to Italy, and returning to school for the last month before finals, my schedule has been packed to the seams.
Thankfully, it has all been worth it! But I have been left feeling a little dazed and I’ve had very little time for myself. So let’s tackle these updates one at a time, and then I will share one of my favorite fish taco recipes with you right in time for Cinco de Mayo. Scroll down if you want to go straight to the recipe.
- Grant: I was recently awarded a grant with Fund for Teachers to travel to Mexico this summer to study the connection between language, food and culture. My partner and I will travel to different states in central Mexico to learn about various regional cuisines, the impact of colonization and globalization on Mexican cooking, and the role of food in the formation of a national identity, all while looking for ways to implement this knowledge into a food unit for our classes when we return to the U.S. It is VERY exciting stuff! Can’t wait to bring back this knowledge and to marry two of my greatest passions: education and cooking!
- Lent: I tend to dial things down during lent, as far as food is concerned, in an effort to have more time to spend reading the bible and praying. Things stayed somewhat active on Instagram this year, but sadly, not so much on the blog, since it felt weird to blog about rich and delicious foods that I was fasting from at that time. I am so glad for the time to turn inward and to spend time with God but also excited to invest time into sharing delicious foods with you again.
- Trip: I traveled to Italy during April Break and it was AMAZING! I had never been to a country where I didn’t speak the language, so it was my first time truly feeling like a foreigner or tourist. I had a 90-day Duolingo streak in the months leading up to the Italy trip and it was one of the most consistent activities of my life. I just learned the basics, but my limited Italian came in super handy during the trip. I ate some of the best meals during that week that I hope to recreate here in the weeks to come.
- School: I am in the last weeks of teaching here at school, so things are hectic as students begin to prepare for final exams and I continue to think of ways to teach more effectively. I’m so excited to try a few new review strategies I came up with during break.
Phew! That was a lot of information to share, and I plan to share in a lot more detail soon, but for now, I want to return to one of my favorite topics: food. Specifically, tacos!
My husband is not a huge cook, but there are a handful of dishes that he can make better than me: Asian stir fries, Korean bbq, and fish tacos. Even though I am the Mexican in our household, I have never been to Baja Mexico and have not eaten authentic fish tacos. John, on the other hand, lived in Ensenada for a few weeks in college, making him the resident fish taco expert in our home. BUT–this recipe recently dethroned his reigning rule as head fish taco connoisseur.
These tacos are a perfect marriage (hehe) of our cuisines. The fish is fried in tempura, because tempura is the best flour to fry things in, obviously. The tacos are then topped with the traditional mayo sauce, cabbage, and a brand new addition: kimchi de gallo! Kimchi de gallo is essentially, pico de gallo with kimchi. The kimchi goes well with the tanginess of the tomatoes and lime and puts a fun new twist on a mexican classic.
These fish tacos are crunchy, juicy, crispy, kimchi-ee, and just overall amazing. Give them a go this summer and let me know how they turn out!
Frying: I am not an expert at frying so I’ll recommend some tips and tricks based on what I’ve learned. Tip 1: Your oil needs to be VERY hot. I recommend having a thermometer if you want your fish to fry well. Tip 2: A slotted metal ladle like this one is very helpful to get the fish out of the oil quickly, although good ole tongs will also work in a pinch. Finally, you also want to set your hot fish on a metal rack so that the oil can drip off while keeping the fish crispy. As far as fish is concerned, I’ve used tilapia, haddock and cod and they’ve all been tasty in different ways so feel free to use your favorite white fish here.
Tempura Fish Tacos
Cook Time: 30 minutes
- 1 cup tempura mix
- Cold water
- 1 lb of fish filets, cut into taco size strips (3-4 inches)
- Corn tortillas
- Salt and pepper
Kimchi de Gallo:
- ½ cup of kimchi, diced into small pieces,
- ¼ cup cilantro, finely minced,
- 2 tablespoons, finely minced jalapeño
- ¼ cup onion
- Juice of 1 lime
- Salt if needed (kimchi is already salt so try the KdG before adding)
Fish Taco Crema:
- ½ cup sour cream
- ½ cup of mayonnaise
- Dash of black pepper
- Dash of salt
- 1 cup of cabbage, finely sliced
- ½ cup of boiling water
- ¼ cup of white vinegar
- Salt and pepper
- Combine boiling water, vinegar, cabbage, salt and pepper in a heatproof container and allow to rest for at least one hour.
- To make crema, combine one-to-one portions of sour cream and mayonnaise along with a little bit of salt and pepper in a small bowl. Mix and set aside.
- For Kimchi de gallo, combine kimchi, cilantro, onion, jalapeño and lime juice in a small bowl and mix. Taste and add salt if needed.
- In a thick-bottomed pan, add enough oil to fill the bottom inch or two of the pan, then heat to 350 degrees. While oil is heating, prepare tempura mix according to directions on the bag or use your favorite fish fry.
- Once batter is ready, pat fish fillets dry using a paper towel, season with salt and pepper, and coat with a light dusting of flour. Then dunk fish in batter and add to hot oil, leaving enough room to prevent fish filets from touching. Fry until golden brown on both sides.
- When the fish is fully cooked, place fried fish on an elevated wire rack with paper towels underneath to catch oil while keeping fish crispy.
- Heat corn tortillas in the oven or on a comal until warm and pliable.
- Once the fish is ready, add one or two strips of fish to your tortillas and serve with kimchi de gallo, crema, and slaw.
Maggie is one of the best cooks I know, and she is the author of today’s Enchiladas Verdes recipe.
As a cook, Maggie is a traditionalist, remaining true to recipes—but she is not inflexible, adapting recipes when needed. Although she loves traditional Mexican cuisine and cooks some of the best mole and cochinita pibil around, she is always open to new cuisines and she knows how to ejecutarse any recipe. In Spanish, “ejecutar” literally means to execute or to implement something, but in my family it is a verb that means to copy a recipe from a restaurant or a friend so well that it’s better than the original.
Maggie is an authority in the kitchen. Efficiently chopping, slicing, sauteing and blending all at once, she can beautifully present a delicious meal in an impossibly short amount of time. She can seem a bit harsh when you cook with her because she is very serious about doing things the right way, which often happens to be her way, but she is right 100% of the time so there’s no use in arguing with her.
Who is Maggie, you ask? Maggie is my mom! Her real name is actually Maria. Maggie became my mom’s name when she immigrated to the states. It was a name given to her by her first employers in Houston. They thought that Maria was too hard to pronounce so they suggested the name Maggie. My mom took on the new name unfazed. In fact, she liked the name so much she has claimed it as her own ever since.
If I am honest, 90% of the recipes on this blog should have the name Maggie before them because they are all inspired by my mother in some way. I learned to “cook” under her strict tutelage. Potatoes needed to be cut this way. Rice should only be stirred this many times. And why is there such a mess? Under my mom’s watchful eye, I became a very competent assistant, but not truly a cook.
Thinking back, it’s no wonder I only began to cook in earnest when I went away for college. My mom was such a great cook that there was never a need for me to even attempt to cook anything. She was also so strict about what was good food that I was too wary to experiment beyond the occasional sandwich, or my signature dish—velveeta ramen.
In college I began to truly cook as I had the new found task of keeping myself alive. I was also homesick and craved the Mexican food that I had grown up eating. Although I had very little experience cooking full meals before college, I found that the years of training under my mother had given me a knack for cooking. I had a sense of how to prepare foods, and an even bigger surprise to me: I loved to cook. The rote actions of slicing and dicing were therapeutic. Trying to replicate familiar taste profiles with stolen ingredients from my cafeteria, a mish mash of cooking utensils in the ever grimy communal kitchen and a limited spice cabinet was an exhilarating challenge.
Since those first moments clumsily working my way through the most basic dishes, Mexican rice and beans, I’ve learned to cook and I’ve become pretty good at it. The questions that I used to call my mom with on a daily basis—How do I know when chicken is fully cooked? Does that recipe call for parsley or cilantro? Should I eat garlic with a green bud inside?—have diminished.
Now when I visit my mom in Houston, I cook some of the meals, eager to share my new favorite salad, or a new Korean dish that John and I love. My mother is still the boss and I the protegé. But there is more of an exchange in the kitchen. When my mom asks, “What do you think about this?” as she moves a spoonful of sauce towards my mouth, the question is less rhetorical now.
Thanks for teaching my everything I know, Mom!
Notes: I have made these enchiladas more than anything else on this blog and they are truly crowd pleasers. The creamy tomatillo salsa is accentuated perfectly by the subtle nuttiness of the almonds. You can prepare these ahead of time and pop them in the oven right before dinner. They are also incredibly easy to veganize by omitting the heavy cream from the sauce and the cheese from the top of the casserole (or using vegan cheese if you’re into that). Give them a try and let me know what you think!
Maggie’s Enchiladas Verdes
Cooking Time: 45 minutes
Yields: 10 enchiladas
- 1 lb of tomatillos, peeled and washed
- 2-3 jalapeno or serrano peppers, destemmed
- ⅓ bunch of cilantro
- ½ small onion
- 4 cloves of garlic
- ½ cup of sour cream
- 2 tbsp heavy cream
- ¼ cup almonds
- Salt, to taste (for me roughly 1 teaspoon)
- 4 cups of cooked shredded chicken
- 2 tomatoes, diced into small pieces,
- 1 small onion, finely minced
- 3 cups of fresh spinach
- 2 cups of monterey jack, or Mexican blend, cheese
- 10 tortillas
- Peel and wash tomatillos, peppers, ½ small onion, 2 cloves of garlic and place in a small pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Once water comes to a boil, remove from heat.
- In a non-stick pan, combine 2 minced cloves of garlic, a small minced onion, and the diced tomatoes with a small glug of oil and cook for a few minutes. Then add chicken, spinach and salt and cook for a few minutes.
- In a small pan, add about ¼ cup of vegetable oil and fry all of the tortillas briefly, 1 minute, until gleaming and softened. This will prevent breakage when rolling.
- In a blender, combine the cooked tomatillos, pepper (one at a time to prevent the sauce from being overly spicy), onion, garlic, dairy, almonds, cilantro and salt and blend until smooth and creamy. Add peppers until you reach your desired spice level.
- Set up your enchilada assembly station by placing your green sauce, tortillas, chicken filling and cheese out. Add a generous 2 tablespoons of filling to the tortilla, a sprinkling of cheese and then roll tortillas. Place rolled tortillas in an oven-safe container, pour remaining sauce on top, then add your cheese.
- Finally, bake at 400 degrees for 5-10 minutes or until cheese begins to bubble.
- Serve and enjoy!