One of the tensions I’ve always struggled with in regards to cooking Mexican food is that of cooking “authentic” Mexican food with the ingredients available to me in Boston. I promise this is not another one of those posts where I complain about how much Mexican produce sucks around here. Although I’m often disappointed by…
This weekend, I embark on a once in a lifetime journey. I am heading to Mexico for three weeks to study the connection between food and the formation of national identity and culture. This week has consisted of list making, reservation printing, and endless double checking. From where does that bus leave? At what time is that cooking class? What is the weather like in Oaxaca?
A few months ago, when I opened the email informing me that I had been awarded the travel grant I applied for, I squealed and did a happy dance around the faculty room. I am normally pretty unemotive, so all of my colleagues looked up from their laptops with quizzical looks before I skipped out of the room to call my mom and husband. I don’t think I’ve ever been that excited about an award or acceptance.
I am embarking on this journey with a fellow Mexican food blogger and Spanish teacher, Nicole Reyna! Nicole is the sweetest friend I’ve never met. When I started my food blog, I found hers when looking up a masa recipe one day. I was amazed by her knowledge on the subject and passion for Mexican food and culture. One day, when drafting my grant proposal, she popped to mind. I messaged her on Instagram, and to my delight she was elated to apply with me. Since then we’ve spent countless hours on the phone planning, researching, editing, and writing.
I have mixed feelings about this experience. On the one hand, Mexican cuisine is very familiar to me. The smell of chiles roasting and salsas frying evokes a deep sense of comfort and home for me. On the other hand, so does the sight of a big pot of bright yellow chile con queso, something unequivocally Tex-mex. My journey with Mexican food in many ways parallels my journey to understand myself as Mexican-American.
Growing up brown in Texas, I was often asked the question, “Where are you from?” My answer was always, “Mexico.” I didn’t think much of the question until I arrived to college and an unassuming peer asked a follow up question at an international student mixer: “Where are you really from?” It was a simple moment; perhaps my peer was getting at my lack of accent, or the fact that I was not in fact an international student, but this question unleashed all sorts of questions about my authenticity and identity. Was I actually Mexican? For the first time, I found that I could answer the question “Where are you from?” in more than one way: I was both from Mexico and from Texas.
A few months later, when visiting relatives in Mexico, I was asked the same question by family friends. This time I answered tentatively, “I was born in Mexico City.” They quickly retorted, “Well, where did you grow up?” The answer for someone who immigrated to the U.S. as a baby was obviously Texas. Since then, my understanding of my ethnic identity began to feel complicated. I am Mexican, yes, but I am also American.
My Spanish is not perfect. There are many times when a conversation is abruptly stopped with a “como se dice..?” or, much to my parents chagrin, a phrase that starts like this–“Es muy importante tener”—will end with a brusque English word like “boundaries.” Ironically, the same thing happens in English. I’ll be having an intense conversation with my colleagues at work that would make my sociology professors proud, and then a word will appear in my mind, something that I haven’t heard out loud enough times to memorize the proper pronunciation. I’ll vacillate between all possible pronunciations, quickly pick one and blurt it out.
I am incredibly proud of my Mexicanness and my Americanness, even when sometimes the two feel like they conflict with one another. Sometimes my newly-found Yankee pragmatism will shut down my instinct to prioritize relationship and to slow down. Other times, both parts of my identity fuse beautifully together, and one of the ways I love to express and celebrate this fusion is through food. Like these tacos.
These tacos were served at the restaurant where my mom worked for years in downtown Houston. They are ridiculously simple and very tasty. They are quintessentially Tex-mex. You will need one flour tortilla, bacon, refried beans, scrambled eggs, potatoes, lots of cheese (quesadilla if you’re feeling Mexican or monterey jack if you’re not), and salsa if you have some at hand. Obviously, the more homemade they are, the tastier they’ll be, but even if you use canned refried beans and flour tortillas from a pack (like I did for these pictures), they will be delicious.
These tacos hold well if made ahead of time, last a few days in the fridge, and can easily be reheated.
The process is simple. Fry your bacon slices first. Reserve some of the bacon fat for frying your potatoes, which should be cut into small cubes. Cook and salt your potatoes. When the potatoes are cooked through, add eggs and scramble until they are cooked to your liking, a few minutes. Then, heat your tortillas on a comal or the microwave and spread your warm refried beans, a slice of bacon, a tablespoon or two of the scrambled eggs, and potato and top with a generous handful of cheese. Roll up your tacos and keep them on a low heat in the oven until you are ready to serve–or eat immediately like I did. Enjoy!
Tex-Mex Breakfast Tacos
Yields: 8-12 tacos
Cook Time: 10-20 minutes
- 8 flour tortillas
- 5 eggs
- A dash of salt
- 1 pack of bacon, cooked
- 1-2 tablespoons of bacon fat, for frying eggs
- 1 cup of cooked potato chunks,
- ½ cup of melting cheese
- 1 cup of refried beans
- Fry eggs in one to two tablespoons of bacon fat. Salt to taste.
- Make sure that all of the taco fillings are hot.
- Take a warm flour tortilla and add a tablespoon or two of refried beans, scrambled eggs, potato, cheese, and a slice of bacon. Roll breakfast taco and allow cheese to melt from residual heat.
Less than two months ago, I went on a 10 day trip to Italy. We spent the bulk of our time in Rome, Venice, and Lake Como, but my favorite part of the trip was, indisputably, our three-day stay in Venice. Something about walking aimlessly through alleys and taking in the beautiful buildings from the viewpoint of the canals was so…romantic.
I am a history teacher, so imagining Venice as a bustling merchant city, the Vegas of its day, filled me with this deep feeling of something akin to nostalgia, except this longing was for an experience I never had. I feel a little crazy describing this—do you ever feel this way?
I feel this way often, but especially when reading historical accounts. I discovered this feeling in middle school when I read accounts of Spanish Conquistadors arriving in Tenochtitlan for the first time and marveling at the beauty of the Aztec capital, now buried under modern day Mexico City. My eyes flooded with tears when I imagined the floating chinampas growing food for the city and the bustling of merchants selling their wares in the many canals crisscrossing the city. This emotion hits me often when reading. It is a longing for something I will never experience or see with my own eyes.
Venice filled me with this feeling. Wandering through museums, going to a coffee shop that has existed for longer than America has been a nation, looking at the beauty and regalness of the Doge’s Palace, gazing out of windows into dusty gardens that were one day well-manicured and new. I was filled with this nostalgia for the city’s glory days, which I will never know. In addition to this nostalgia and romance, I loved Venice because I loved the food there more than any other.
I especially loved our dinner at CoVino. The restaurant, roughly the size of my dining room, had a small kitchen and 4 or 5 tables. All of the tables in the room had a view of the open kitchen, where the finesse and precision of the two chefs filled me with the admiration that I reserve for the best athletes or artists. The food menu is as short as the wine menu is long. There were about three options for each of the three courses offered in their fixed price. John and I loved everything we ate there: the most savory and earthy ragu, oxtail with lentils, bread with poached egg and asparagus…Unfortunately, I did not photograph the menu and sadly, apart from the certainty that the dishes were outstanding, the specific ingredients are already slipping from my memory.
One dessert there, however, was not easily forgotten. We both ordered tiramisu (of course) but after spotting an unassuming slice of chocolate cake on someone else’s table, I ordered a slice for us. The chocolate cake itself seemed simple—two short layers of cake topped with a dark chocolate ganache frosting and sprinkled generously with flaky sea salt. The first bite was remarkable; the dark chocolate ganache paired with sea salt and the moist cake with a dollop of whipped was the perfect combination. I was smitten.
Since then I have made this cake more than a handful of times. I should clarify, I have made my version of this cake, since I did not get the actual recipe from the chef. Everyone that has tried this cake has loved it—even some of my friends that were initially skeptical of the sea salt.
I’ve tried pairing it with rose whipped cream, among others, but the only acceptable adjustment to the original recipe is the addition of cacao nibs to the whipped cream. The flavors remain the same with the added textural surprise of crunchy and light cacao nibs in each bite.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever go back to Venice, but eating this cake reminds me of the simple romance I found during my all too brief stay there and excites me about the countless recipes, food combinations and beautiful alleys I have yet to discover.
This cake does not keep very long in the fridge. The sea salt will attract water and result in droplets forming on top of the cake. To help mitigate this problem, remove the sea salt before storing the cake to help it last longer or eat within one or two days. Everything I know about ganache, I learned from this article. I used to be terrified of the word ganache, but after making it a few times, I can assure you that it is not as hard as it looks. Just make sure not to overheat the whipped cream so that the chocolate doesn’t seize up. A good measure of whether it’s a good time to add the chocolate to the cream, is if the cream is NOT boiling and when dipping your finger in the cream, you can keep it in the cream for a few seconds. When in doubt, turn off the heat and test with a few pieces of chocolate at a time. You just need it to be hot enough to melt the chocolate.
Ok, so whipped cream. I am a whipped cream snob and boycott canned whip at all costs because whipping cream is so easy! That being said, I won’t judge you if you want to save time and go the store-bought route. When I make whipped cream, I don’t really follow a recipe. I simply whip the cream using my hand or stand mixer until it reaches the right consistency, and add a splash of vanilla and powdered sugar to taste.The right consistency is a little subjective, so stop whipping when it looks right to you, I have come to enjoy my whipped cream on the lighter side as of late, but this is entirely up to you. My only caution is that if you whip whipping cream for too long, you end up with butter. I know this from personal experience.
Magic Chocolate Cake
Yields: one cake
Time: 40 minutes
Chocolate Cake, adapted from this recipe:
- 2 cups of sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 ¾ cup flour
- ¾ cup cocoa powder
- 1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup of milk
- ½ cup of freshly brewed coffee, as hot as possible
- 1 ⅓ cup of high quality dark chocolate, cut into small pieces
- 1 cup of heavy cream
- High quality sea salt, like this one, for topping the cake
- 1 pint of whipping cream
- Sprinkle of salt
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla
- ⅓- ½ cup of powdered sugar
- Grease and flour two 8 inch round pans. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Combine dry and wet ingredients (except for hot coffee) in bowl and mix for a few minutes or until uniform consistency. Then, add piping hot coffee and mix gently, taking care not to over-mix. Cake batter will be very runny.
- Divide batter evenly between two cake rounds and bake for 25-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.
- Whipped Cream: While cake is baking, whip whipping cream for 4-5 minutes or until it doubles in volume. Then add salt, vanilla. Add sugar a few tablespoons at a time and stop when whipped cream reaches your desired level of sweetness. Refrigerate.
- Ganache: Take a small saucepan and heat whipping cream on low heat until hot but not boiling (Finger test mentioned in the notes works well here). Turn off heat. Add chocolate slowly, stirring with whisk until fully dissolved. Allow to cool and thicken to a spreadable consistency.
- When cake is cool enough to spread ganache on without melting, frost cake and top with maldon sea salt.
- Pair with fresh whipped cream and enjoy!
Yesterday was my last day of work, but my transition to summer has been underway for a week.
The “official” final day of school was last week, and this week only the faculty met to wrap up and prepare for next year. These past few days, instead of hurrying every meal–yogurt during faculty meeting for breakfast, lukewarm leftovers while grading during lunch, and rushed dinner before John headed out to work–meals have slowed down.
In particular, breakfasts have become much slower. I’ve had time to prepare hot breakfast for John and myself every day this week. Left to his own devices, John will eat cereal for breakfast every day, so I love being able to prepare a nicer, more filling breakfast for him. As for me, a breakfast eaten while sitting at my dining room table, is the perfect way to start any day.
In just a little over two weeks I head to Mexico to,“Study culinary traditions in several regions of Mexico in order to teach our students about the intersection between food, culture, history and community in an effort to increase awareness of diversity at home and in our neighboring country.” I was generously awarded this Fund For Teachers fellowship two months ago, as I shared in my last blog post. I am beyond excited to have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I plan to share what we’re learning and cooking along the way, with many more details upon my return in July. I am excited to learn about my own cuisine and to connect it to all my instruction by teaching students Spanish and culture in an authentic way, while also dismantling misconceptions about Mexican food and Mexican culture.
One of the misconceptions that I often hear about Mexican food is that it takes a long time to prepare. This can be true; many meals can take hours (Chiles rellenos, I’m talking about you), but there are so many easy meals that I grew up eating at home. Today I’m going to share Princess Nachos with you. Princess Nachos are simply nachos topped with flowers, a delightful meal to fill that nacho craving while also being semi-healthy–and cute.
Beyond their beauty, Princess Nachos can be prepared in less than ten minutes (OK, OK, this depends on how epic your avocado and sour cream piping skills are but in theory, you could make them under ten minutes). And if you top these with a soft boiled egg, you could even have these for breakfast.
The process is incredibly simple. I like to think of this as a loose formula rather than a recipe. You start with chips for your base. You add your favorite green–spinach, arugula, and baby kale work well. Then you add some black beans. You can be fancy and cook these from scratch or you can just as easily use canned beans. Goya beans are my favorite canned beans because they are the most flavorful. Then you add cheese. If you want to go vegan, you could stop here but… nachos need to have cheese in my book. If you’re feeling extra fancy or breakfasty, you can add a soft boiled egg or two (these take 6-7 minutes to cook). Finally, you add the flowers. In my case I made three avocado roses, and I topped it all generously with chive blossoms for beauty + oniony crunch.
I made this meal for myself and my husband this week a few different times in under 15 minutes, less time if you make it less pretty, and each time my husband was amazed at the deliciousness and speed of this meal.
Try them out and let me know what you think!
Princess Nacho Bowl Recipe
Prep time: 10-15 minutes
- A handful of your favorite greens
- 1 cup of drained cooked beans, seasoned to taste
- A big handful of shredded cheese
- 1 whole avocado, sliced thinly
Optional, but highly encouraged toppings
- Chive blossoms
- Soft boiled eggs!
- Pickled Jalapeño peppers, and/or salsa
- Layer chips in baking sheet of choice.
- Top with greens, beans, and cheese.
- Broil at 400 degrees for 5 minutes or until cheese is blistering.
- Top with chive, avocado and sour cream flowers.