Tag Archives: Culture

Let There Be Fire! – The Universal Language of Grilling

Chimney starters help accelerate the process of getting the coal ready for grilling.  
Photo credit: Illya Samko

 

Summer is finally here, and in these latitudes, barbecue season often evokes images of sporting events and patriotic-themed cookouts. Of course, you need weather to cooperate, so as the words “barbecue” roll off your tongue, you have unconsciously summoned the idea of a picture-perfect day. Growing up in a part of the world blessed with rather benign weather year-round, it was not until I moved to Chicago that I understood why the state of the atmosphere often finds its way into the conversation or the news. Here, grilling is definitely a seasonal event and sometimes it is referred to as barbecuing.

In Mexico, barbecue or barbacoa, means something different- it is a dish that typically entails cooking meat on an open fire (usually lamb) in a hole that has been dug in the ground for this purpose. Barbecuing to us, is a parrillada or a carne asada (literally, “grilled meat”). These words immediately make me think of a Sunday spent surrounded by family and friends in Mexico. Putting the meat on the grill is the main event, and the process entails an unspoken ritual that, like any other party in Mexico, takes at least a whole day. To me, the most curious part of the custom is what is often done in hopes that the rain won’t spoil the day- scissors and knives are staked into the ground. In some instances, this is done forming specific shapes, in others, these artifacts are put outside along with ribbons or even eggs…

Last year, we asked a few suburban dads for their grilling tips right on time for Father’s Day. As I asked around, I realized that ideas were incredibly diverse-  from ingredients to techniques. Something I found particularly fascinating was that no matter who I was talking to, this conversation resonated.  The joy of grilling seemed universal.

Is it? I think it might be. I asked my friend Illya for a few grilling tips. He happens to be Ukrainian and someone who, like me, is truly passionate about food. What do we have in common? Our love for Mexico. His wife Myrna, is a Mexican transplant. What do you have in common? You speak the same language-  He is another guy who loves to grill.

Sizzling Hot: Our Primal Love for Food over Fire

 By: Illya Samko

 

Grilling in Monterrey, Mexico. Photo credit: Illya Samko
Grilling in Monterrey, Mexico. Photo credit: Illya Samko

Since man started cooking with fire, food has never been the same. There is something deeply primal about putting a piece of steak on the fire; the sound of  meat sizzling on the grill, its aroma and the divine taste of a fresh steak. I believe these images are seared into our DNA.

In the Ukraine, grilling is mainly associated with cooking pork. Pork shoulder is usually cut into cubes and marinated in mayonnaise, salt and onions. It is then skewered and cooked over charcoal slowly until it is well done.

Ukrainian grill. Photo credit: Ilya Samko
Ukrainian grill. Photo credit: Illya Samko

My greatest learning experience as far as grilling goes, took place during my first trip to Monterrey, Mexico (birthplace of my lovely wife, Myrna). Here, grilling  is a way of life to say the least. I was impressed with how Regios* know their grilling. They use a specific type of charcoal, Mesquite, which gives the meat a very smoky and distinctive flavor. The preparation process is as important as grilling itself- It takes a certain number of cheves** to get the thing going. First the fire, then the botanas*** and few hours later, when you are so hungry that you could eat just about anything, you finally hear that “magic sound” and smell the beef- you are lovestruck.

 At that point, in spite of all the beers you’ve had, your senses are heightened and the level of salivation is downright dangerous. Finally, the teasing is over and it is time to feast- the plate full of grilled goodness makes it to the table. Devour you will. Believe me. Not only is grilling a ritual that takes hours, it is also a way to celebrate anything. Mexicans seem to celebrate life if there is no other particular reason to party.

When grilling there are a few important things that you need to know. I believe these basic steps make a huge difference.

  • Never put any meat on the grill that came straight out from the fridge. Let it warm up a little. Room temperature is ideal.
  • Season your meat with kosher or sea salt and pepper. Good steak needs absolutely nothing else.
  • Be patient. You cannot rush a good burger, steak or whatever you are grilling.
  • After you take your steak off the grill, let it rest for about five minutes. This will allow all the juices to be redistributed back into the steak evenly.
  • I use a chimney starter to speed up the process of getting the coal ready for grilling. Using accelerators on the coal gives your food  a chemical taste.

Enjoy!

Born and raised in Western Ukraine, Illya Samko is a food enthusiast who loves to travel, learn about different cultures and try new cuisines. With a  degree in law, and a knack for anthropology, Illya has worked in London, New York and Chicago, where he currently lives with his Mexican wife, Myrna. 

 
*Regios short for regiomontanos, are a citizens from Monterrey, Mexico.
**Cheves is slang for cerveza or beer.
***Appetizers, snacks

Méx-O-Logy – Margarita, Señorita

We are very excited to launch our new column, Mex-O-Logy, a space dedicated to sharing recipes and tips so that you can mix your own Mexican-inspired libations.

¡Salud!

Margarita, Señorita

Mexican transplant Myrna Rodríguez, conjures up Mexican-influenced libations.
Mexican transplant Myrna Rodríguez, brings and exciting twist to traditional drinks.

By Myrna Rodríguez

Definitely a drink that makes us think of summer, and actually, one of my favorite cocktails, this Mexican classic is a crowd pleaser. Way before I knew tequila was made of agave, I already thought this cactus was fun: I remember traveling with my family to Guadalajara as a child, and being marveled at the endless fields of agave I could see in the distance.

Margaritas are perfect for your summer cookouts, and very easy to put together. Here is my favorite recipe:

Ingredients:

1 ½ oz tequila

1 oz orange liquor

1 lime juice (freshly squeezed)

¾ oz agave syrup*

* Equal parts agave syrup/boiling water. Let it rest until cold, then use.

I usually shake the margaritas with big ice cubes so that they cool faster. Strain the mix into a rock glass then fill up the glass with fresh ice. Add a wedge of lime to garnish and enjoy!

Photo credit: Myrna Rodríguez
Photo credit: Myrna Rodríguez

A business woman by profession, and a mixologist by passion, Myrna Rodríguez holds a masters degree in business and is a certified mixologist. Inquisitive and creative, she keeps up with new techniques, while drawing inspiration from her two grandmothers (one Mexican and one Honduran). Raised and educated in Monterrey, Mexico, Myrna infuses her recipes with Latin American flavors and ingredients, and brings an exciting twist to traditional drinks.

Find Myrna sampling food around Chicago, or delighting her lucky friends and acquaintances with Mexican-influenced beverages.

Nuestra Mesa – Langostinos con Hierbas y Aceite de Oliva

Foto: Manuel Rivera
Foto: Manuel Rivera

¿Listos para celebrar a papá? Esta semana, y justo para el Día del Padre. el chef Aldo Saavedra, nos trae a Nuestra Mesa un delicioso platillo de Ensenada, Baja California.

INGREDIENTES

  • 1 kg langostinos
  • 150 ml aceite olivo
  • 8 hojas laurel fresco
  • 1 rama romero fresco
  • 2 dientes de ajo picados
  • 10 ramas de tomillo fresco
  • 10 pimientas negras enteras
  • 6 chiles de árbol (opcional)
  • 6 limones partidos por mitad

PREPARACIÓN

  1. Parte los langostinos por la mitad verticalmente y límpialos con agua. Déjalos sin pelar y con cabezas.
  2. Escurre los langostinos y pónlos en el refrigerador hasta el momento de usarlos.
  3. Pon el aceite de oliva a calentar en una sartén grande y un poco hondo.
  4. Ya que esté caliente el aceite, agrégale las hierbas, el ajo y la pimienta.
  5. Pon los langostinos a freiren el aceite con hierbas, ya que estén un poco fritas.
  6. Si te gusta el picante, agrégale los chiles de árbol secos, partidos en trozos pequeños.
  7. Agrega sal al gusto y sirve en un plato hondo.
  8. Se les puede acompañar con limón.

El chef Aldo Saavedra ha cocinado para huéspedes de establecimientos como el conocido Hotel Condesa D.F. y ha contribuído con sus recetas en proyectos con marcas de la talla de Larousse y Danone. En Nuestra Mesa, el chef Saavedra comparte con los lectores de La Vitamina T, su pasión por la cocina y por México.

My Search for the Holy Grail – The Best Taco al Pastor in Chicago

A few weeks ago, I set out to find the best taco al pastor (‘shepherd-style’ taco) in Chicago. This down-to-earth, charismatic delicacy is a dietary staple of  defeños*, and despite the fact that in Mexico City taco stands abound, any local will tell you that not all tacos al pastor are made equal.  Finding the perfect taquería is almost a rite of passage, one that speaks to the way we connect with our city and beyond- a Mexican’s relationship with their pastor is emotional… personal, mystical.

The Genesis

Finding good tacos (let alone authentic ones) north-of-the-border is not so easy. Our taco al pastor story in April made me aware of the fact that I am not alone in this realization. I asked La Vitamina T readers and friends to submit their favorite al pastor destinations in Chicago. A few Facebook posts and tweets later, I had a list of 18 different establishments  endorsed by locals, among them, several Mexican transplants. Similar to how my friend Dave from New Jersey can recognize a good Philly cheesesteak, I figured recommendations from Mexicans added instant credibility to the suggestions.

This is how my search began.

Below is the final list of nominees. I visited every  establishment on this list without letting the owners or staff know my intention, as I  thought this might  influence the quality of the service:

  1. Atotonilco (I tried the tacos in both locations, Joliet and Chicago)
  2. Big Star
  3. De Cero
  4. El Pastor
  5. El Tío Luis
  6. El Solazo
  7. Indio
  8. La Ciudad
  9. Lagartija
  10. Los Comales
  11. Los Gallos
  12. L´Patrón
  13. Mercadito (tacos al pastor are only a seasonal item, so we did not get to try them)
  14. Rubi’s Market on Maxwell
  15. Taco joint
  16. Taquería Juanito
  17. Tierra Caliente
  18. Zacatacos  (Berwyn location)

Several Pepto Bismol doses and 3 extra pounds later, my wandering through the streets of Chicago and its suburbs came to an end. Dozens of tacos have been sampled and scorecards have been tallied!

 Each taco has been carefully evaluated based on criteria that we believe brings to life un taco al pastor “hecho como Dios manda.” (according to God’s orders)**

 I am now ready to “go tell it on the mountain”!

* Defeño is a Citizen of Mexico City (D.F.)

** Mexicans say something is made como Dios manda (according to God’s orders) when something is accurately accomplished.

The Exodus

If you, like me, have lived in Mexico for the great majority of your life, you will be perplexed to hear what has been smuggled into menus, and sold and passed up across the country for the real deal: some of the most popular and readily available counterfeit versions are stuffed with ground beef and covered with cheese or something resembling cheese; others are called tacos al pastor, and are served with sliced lettuce and tomatoes. Heresy!  In certain places, you might be given a choice of hardshell or softshell taco. During my search I found that even some of the taquerías in predominantly Mexican neighborhoods have lost their way- in their attempt to  to cater to a non Mexican palate, they have begun serving some of these apocryphal versions.

This leads me to provide the following word of caution: If you are visiting Mexico and you are looking for a hardshell taco, you will give yourself away as a tourist. We simply don’t have them. We have tostadas, which have a crunchy surface similar to a totopo, which is considered a completely different plate.

In the northern part of the country, flour tortillas were made popular by the Jewish settlers in the area. Still, you will find that most tacos in Mexico are made with corn tortillas.

Leviticus 

Treating oneself to tacos al pastor is an experience that entails a known ritual. Taquerías usually go from the very informal ´hole-in-the-wall’ joint, to fancier establishments featuring a more elaborate set up. The dynamics are the same across the board, and patrons know what to expect:  quick service, dinner and a show. Taqueros (half cooks, half ninjas) conjure up juicy tacos with meat and pineapple they shave off from a giant spinning skewer, to then catch the pieces in a tortilla with quick, precise movements. They do this gracefully, while keeping tallies, processing new orders, and sometimes, giving change and even interacting with the crowd.

Tacos al pastor must meet the following criteria:

1. Must be roasted vertically in a spit called trompo (top), which is clearly visible.

2. Should be made with pork meat, seasoned with a variety of chilis and achiote, which gives them their color.

3. These tacos are served in small tortillas (about 4 1/2 inches in diameter).

4. Tacos al pastor must include a chunk of grilled pineapple, chopped cilantro, raw onion and limes.

5. Salsas are very important in taquerías, and often times they become and element of differentiation.

6. Lime should be abundant and readily available.

Methodology

Each taco was evaluated using a scale of 1- 5 points for a total of 30 points in six different categories:

  • Meat quality
  • Meat flavor
  • Tortilla size and quality
  • Portion size
  • Accuracy/freshness of ingredients
  • Quality of salsa

Points were assigned using the following scale to score each taco:

1= Disappointing

2= Meh…

3= Ok

4= Really good, but not extraordinary or the real deal

5= Perfect. ¡Órale! Am I in Mexico?

Revelation

I have eaten the fruits of ¨the promised land” and I cannot honestly say that my search led me to tacos al pastor exactly like the ones I would find in Mexico City, but I uncovered some really good ones that will definitely hit the spot.  Overall, I was surprised to find that the meat in the eateries we visited was generally saucier than it is in Mexico. Also, portions are usually much more generous and, for some reason, when it comes to tacos al pastor, those with pineapple are very hard to find.
Many taquerías only take cash, so make sure you stop at an ATM ahead of your visit!

And the Winner is..!

 

De Cero – 28/30 Points

De Cero (The Loop)

Taco al pastor at De Cero,   814 West randolph St., Chicago
Find juicy, spicy tacos al pastor at De Cero, 814 West Randolph St., Chicago

Meat Quality: 5  Meat was absolutely fantastic.  We did not see the trompo, but we asked and confirmed it is indeed there.

Meat Flavor: 4    Flavor is really nice, but the meat has a bit of a kick to it.

Tortilla Size and Quality: 5  Tortillas were fantastic. Perfect size!

Portion Size: 5   Perfect ratio. This bundle of joy offers the perfect burst of flavors in each bite.

Accuracy/Freshness of the Ingredients 5 Really fresh ingredients, a check for cilantro, onion, pineapple (although cubed) and lime! The ratios were so good in each bite, I did not let the cubes deter me.

Salsas 4:  I got red salsa with my order which was really, really  good. 

Note: We attempted to get tacos al pastor at De Cero in three different instances. We were persistent and were able to understand why these tacos fly away. Every bite is perfect. The tacos are a bit spicy (and pricey), so make sure you order an horchata to wash them down and know that the meal will be well worth your money. Luckily, this taquería accepts credit cards, so the amount of cash you brought with you won’t  limit the amount of tacos you enjoy.  I am really intrigued by their tamales verdes. I can´t wait to go back!

First Runner Up

Big Star – 27/30 Points

Big Star (Wicker Park)

Taco al pastor at Big Star, 1531 N Damen Ave, Chicago
Tacos al pastor at Big Star, 1531 N Damen Ave, Chicago

 

Meat Quality: 4  Really good and not too fatty.  Meat was a bit chunky, which is why we did not rate it a 5.

Meat Flavor: 4    Flavor was really nice, maybe a bit sweet, but really good. Saucy, not dry as it should be.

Tortilla Size and Quality: 5 Perfect size. Tortillas were great.

Portion Size: 5 Perfect portion

Accuracy/Freshness of the Ingredients 5 Really fresh ingredients. I loved to see pineapple on them, which is not easy to find, so I did not allow the cubes to worry me.

Salsas 4 Salsa is good and they have chiles toreados (grilled jalapeños), as well as pickled peppers and carrots. But, you will have to order them separately, as they do not come with your order.

Note:

We waited for about 3 hours to get a table at this famous eatery, which was even more difficult considering the aroma around the restaurant teases you with a preview of what is to come. There is a walk-up window with considerably faster service.  The bar is quite a bit noisy, so if this is where you want to hang out, you will have to be prepared to forego conversation and focus on your food, which is well worth it.  Bring cash with you.  They only take cash! Service from the greeters might be a bit rough, but will improve once you sit down.

Second Runner Up 25/30 Points  (Tie)

Taquería San Juanito (Albany Park)

Taco al pastor at Taquería San Juanito 4714 N Kedzie Ave,  Chicago
Taco al pastor at Taquería San Juanito 4714 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago

San Juanito was the only place where the meat was not saucy. I found their meat flavorful, but the taco had no pineapple, which lowered-down their score. Green salsa was particularly memorable.

Zacatacos (Berwyn)

Taco al pastor at Zacataco in Berwyn.
Taco al pastor at Zacatacos 6224 Cermak Rd., Berwyn

Zacatacos in Berwyn features the most tender meat you can possibly imagine. The tacos are a bit bulky and a come in a bigger tortilla, but are still really good. Salsas are amazing.

Of Note:

Bien Trucha (Geneva)

I really liked the concept of Bien Trucha, a modern-looking Mexican restaurant that reminded me of the vibe of restaurants in Mexico City. Food, not kitsch is the focus here, and the execution of the tacos spoke to quality. Also, Bien Trucha was the only establishment that got the pineapple right, as they had just a chunk of it  vs. the cubes I found in other restaurants.  I don’t remember getting any salsa with my tacos and had to ask for lime, but if you have had enough of taco talk, try their guacamole of the day or their Pulparindo cocktail! The photo below is not the best because I did not have very good lighting inside the restaurant.

Tacos al pastor at Bien Trucha 410 W State St, Geneva
Tacos al pastor at Bien Trucha 410 W State St, Geneva

Del Seoul (Lincoln Park)

This was not a taco al pastor and definitely not on the list, but in all fairness, some of the ones I tried were not really tacos al pastor either. This grilled  pork taco, a gift from the streets of LA (where fusion happens everyday) was so incredibly delicious, I thought it deserved to be added. The name of this Lincoln Park gem is code for those who know how to read it: Spanish speakers, will  phonetically  understand “Del Seoul” as “del sol”, or “of the sun”.  Mexican cuisine allegorically represents the sun in a meal with a tortilla.
Brilliant branding, brilliant food!
FInd this taco with tangy grilled pork, onion, cilantro, slaw and sesame seeds at Del Seoul  2568 North Clark Street Chicago
Find this taco with tangy grilled pork, onion, cilantro, slaw and sesame seeds at Del Seoul 2568 North Clark Street
Chicago
De Cero is our reigning champion, but if you think there is a 30/30 taco out there, let us know. In the mean time,  ¡a taquear!

 

Hybrid Animals, Hybrid Celebrations: Mexico’s Day of the Mule

Photo credit: Lissette Storch – Mexico City, Mexico

If you find yourself in Mexico during the months of May or June, and you see mules made out of dried corn leaves being sold everywhere, you might wonder if this handcraft is part of the local charm. It is, but only seasonally. This hybrid mammal appears just in time for the Catholic celebration of Corpus Christi or Día de la Mula (Mule’s Day), and sometimes you may find them stuffed with candy.

Some attribute the association of mules with this festivity to the fact that in the 1500s, the faithful went to church carrying the best of their harvest on their mules to give thanks. This is a nod to pre-Hispanic rituals, in which gratefulness was shown to several deities through offerings.  Even today, more than 500 years later, it is easy to see pre-columbian traditions seeping through modern-day celebrations.

Others explain this whimsical tradition with legends featuring mules kneeling down in reverence. My favorite one is the story of a man who, while wondering if he should dedicate himself to a life of priesthood, asks God for a sign. When he went to church on a Corpus Christi Thursday, he found himself in the midst of a crowd of men and mules. The man said to himself that if God were present, even the mules would kneel down. The story, of course, tells that a mule did.

Curiously, the word “mule” is also used it to refer to someone who is advantageous. If someone wishes you un ‘Feliz Día de las Mulas’ it could be either friendly ribbing, or time to wonder…

Estampas de mi Ciudad – Desayuno Chilango* (Breakfast in D.F.)

Tortas y Licuados  Mexico City, Mexico  Photo by: Brenda Storch
Tortas y Licuados Mexico City, Mexico Photo: Brenda Storch

You may or may not be familiar with the term torta, the Mexican interpretation of a sandwich. Tortas are brought to life using bolillos, a type of bread with the perfect amount of crunch and yield to provide textural contrast. When it comes to this Mexican plate, there are no rules:  budget and imagination are the only boundaries to what you can create. 

Tortas are usually served for lunch, except when they are filled with a tamal, in which case they are called guajolotas or “female turkeys”. This is a popular breakfast meal.  According to some food intellectuals, such peculiar name was given to tamal-stuffed tortas in the early 1900’s, due to the fact that back then, this plate was created with a low-quality bread called guajolote (turkey).

Licuados are close to the concept of a smoothie, with the exception that in Mexico, the fruit is usually mixed with milk and even cereal and raw egg yolks.

Here, licuados are a breakfast staple.

Just like sports have permeated the vernacular in the US, in Mexico, food has found its way into language in a rather ubiquitous way.  For example, the expression, “se comió la torta antes del recreo” (having finished one´s torta before recess) means a couple is expecting a child before getting married.

This photo was taken at one of the handful of stands offering tortas and licuados  in downtown Mexico City.

*Chilango is a term to refer to someone from Mexico City.

Flores para Mamá – Indias Vestidas

Foto: Manuel Rivera
Foto: Manuel Rivera

Desde flores y frutos, hasta cactos e insectos, la comida mexicana es increíblemente variada. La diversidad de los ingredientes, aunado al sincretismo cultural propio de esta cocina, nos ofrece lo mejor de dos (o más) mundos en un plato.

Para celebrar el Día de las Madres, el Chef Aldo y Manuel Rivera decidieron incorporar flores en un platillo para mamá: indias vestidas. Este manjar incorpora ingredientes indígenas, en este caso la flor de calabaza, con técnicas europeas, como el capeado.

¡Demuéstrale a mamá cuánto la quieres con estas deliciosas flores!

INDIAS VESTIDAS

Rinde para 6 personas.

Ingredientes:
  • 12 piezas de flor de calabaza
  • 1 cucharada de mantequilla
  • 4 piezas de champiñones
  • 1/4 de cebolla finamente picada
  • 1 hoja de epazote
  • 1/2 chile Serrano desvenado y finamente picado
  • 1 diente de ajo finamente picado
  • 60 gramos de queso crema
  • 100 gramos de queso fresco rallado
  • 1 taza de pan molido
  • 1/2 taza de harina de trigo
  • 4 huevos
  • Sal y pimienta al guato
  • Aceite para freír
Procedimiento:
1. Lava con mucho cuidado la flor de calabaza y quítale el tallo.
2. Derrite la mantequilla en una sartén, saltea el ajo, la cebolla, el chile, el epazote y los champiñones con cuidado de no sobre cocer. Déjalo enfriar.
3. Mezcla los quesos con el recaudo de los champiñones y sazona con un poco de sal y pimienta blanca.
4. Con ayuda de una manga, rellena las flores con mucho cuidado. Rese
rva.
5. Separa las yemas y las claras de huevo. Bate las claras a punto de nieve y añade las yemas. Integra con un movimiento envolvente.
6. Pasa las flores por harina, huevo y el pan. Fríelas rápidamente para no quemarlas. Escurre el exceso de aceite.
7. Sirve sobre una salsa de chile poblano o de jitomate.
El chef Aldo Saavedra ha cocinado para huéspedes de establecimientos como el conocido Hotel Condesa D.F. y ha contribuído con sus recetas en proyectos con marcas de la talla de Larousse y Danone. En Nuestra Mesa, el chef Saavedra comparte con los lectores de La Vitamina T, su pasión por la cocina y por México.

Para Festejar a Niños de Todas las Edades, Pastel de Tres Leches

Photo: Chef Jason Rivas
Photo: Chef Jason Rivas

¡Feliz Día del Niño!  para agasajar a los niños de todas las edades y para darles gusto a todos los que nos pidieron esta receta en español, aquí les tenemos la receta del chef Jason Rivas para preparar un delicioso pastel de tres leches.

Los tres tipos de leche usados para crear este manjar, tienen su razón de ser.  Aunque usualmente se usen leche entera, leche evaporada y leche condensada (por su contenido graso, su cuerpo y su dulzura, respectivamente), el chef Rivas nos asegura que puedes elegir incorporar cualquier otro tipo de leche. Por ejemplo, leche de almendra, de cabra, de soya, etc.

Ingredientes:

  • 14.5 oz de harina
  • 14.5 oz azúcar
  • 10 huevos
  • 2 oz mantequilla derretida
  • 1 cucharadita de vainilla
  • 1 pizca de sal
  • 12 oz de leche evaporada
  • 12 oz de leche de coco
  • 12 oz half/half
  • 1 taza de azúcar

Preparación:

Para el pastel:

  1. En un recipiente hondo combina los huevos y el azúcar. Asegúrate que el recipiente quepa en la olla que necesitas para el paso 3.
  2. Pon una olla grande en la estufa. Llena hasta la mitad con agua y pon a fuego medio hasta que el agua suelte el hervor.
  3. Una vez que el agua esté hirviendo, reduce la flama y pon el recipiente en la olla. No tiene que caber todo, sólo colócalo encima. Mezcla constantemente durante 3 a 4 minutos.
  4. Retira el recipiente de la estufa  y bate la mezcla hasta que doble en volumen.
  5. Cierne la harina y pon a calentar tu horno a 400°F.
  6. Divide la harina y la sal en tres partes y agrega cada parte lentamente a la mezcla.
  7. Incorpora la mantequilla derretida y la vainilla.
  8. Pon papel encerado en un molde y después cúbrela con aceite vegetal comestible en aerosol.
  9. Distribuye la mezcla en el molde cuidando que quede pareja en las esquinas.
  10. Hornea durante 10 a 15 minutos. Una forma de saber que el pastel está listo, es que lucirá doradito y rebotará cuando se le oprima. También puedes hacer la prueba del palillo.
  11. Cuando el pastel esté listo, sácalo del molde y congélalo durante 2 horas.

Para las tres leches:

  1. Pon la leche evaporada y la leche de coco en una olla pequeña. Agrega la leche half/half.  Incorpora el azúcar y mueve constantemente hasta que se disuelva.
  2. Hierve a fuego lento y mueve ocasionalmente.
  3. Saca el pastel del congelador y voltéalo de cabeza en su molde original.
  4. Vierte la leche caliente lentamente en pequeñas cantidades sobre secciones del pastel, hasta que lo cubras completamente. Espera a que la leche sea absorbida antes de agregar más. Distribuye de forma pareja.
  5. Refrigera durante 4 horas aproximadamente.

¡Que lo disfrutes!

Nota del chef: Puedes agregar fruta y/o crema batida. Te recomendamos preparar el pastel con un día de anticipación.

Receta del Chef Jason Rivas, invitado especial de La Vitamina T. Encuentra su receta en inglés aquí y visita su sitio: dinnerbyJR.wordpress.com

Uno de los Siete Moles de Oaxaca: El Mole Amarillo

Foto: Manuel Rivera
Foto: Manuel Rivera

Sin lugar a dudas, el mole es una de las grandes estrellas de la comida mexicana. Aunque  diferentes historias sobre su origen hacen de Puebla el marco del génesis de este manjar, es en Oaxaca, el quinto estado más grande de la República Mexicana, donde el mole se ejecuta en una gran variedad de formas.  Oaxaca tiene siete moles:  negro, coloradito, amarillo, verde, chichilo, rojo y almendrado. Estos moles representan los ingredientes y la diversidad cultural de  cada una de las regiones oaxaqueñas.

Desde el complejo mole negro que requiere de más de 30 ingredientes para su conjuro, hasta el almendrado, cada uno de estos moles es tan delicioso y diferente como el que le sigue. Hoy, el chef Aldo nos trae a Nuestra Mesa, la receta para hacer mole amarillo. Aunque este mole es tradicionalmente hecho con carne de res, esta versión incorpora carne de pollo.

INGREDIENTES 

(Rinde para 6 personas)

  • 3 chiles guajillos
  • 1 jitomate mediano
  • 1 tomate verde
  • 2 piezas de clavo de olor
  • 2 piezas de pimienta gorda
  • 1 cucharadita de orégano
  • 1 hoja de hierba santa
  • 200 gramos de masa de maíz
  • 1 litro de consomé de pollo
  • 1 1/2 kilo de pollo cortado en piezas y cocido
  • 200 gramos de ejotes limpios, cortados y cocidos
  • 2 chayotes cortados en cubos grandes y cocidos
  • Sal al gusto

PREPARACIÓN

  1. Pon a cocer el chile y el jitomate en poca agua. Esto muele con las especias, con excepción de la hoja santa. Cuela.
  2. Añade el consomé de pollo y pon a hervir en una cacerola, agregando la hoja santa y sal al gusto.
  3. Poco a poco y sin dejar de mover, agrega la masa licuada con un poco de agua hasta formar un atole. Continúa cociendo hasta que esté espeso, cuidando de no subir la flama.
  4. Al servirlo se agregan las verduras y el pollo.

¡Acompaña con tortillas!

El chef Aldo Saavedra ha cocinado para huéspedes de establecimientos como el conocido Hotel Condesa D.F. y ha contribuído con sus recetas en proyectos con marcas de la talla de Larousse y Danone. En Nuestra Mesa, el chef Saavedra comparte con los lectores de La Vitamina T, su pasión por la cocina y por México.

Pastel de Nata con Mousse de Chocolate

Foto: Victoria del Ángel
Foto: Victoria del Ángel
La deliciosa nata, típica de la gastronomía mexicana, es esencialmente la crema que se retira de la leche para después enfriarse. Hace años que no me como un pan con nata, y cuando vi este pastel, pensé que el compartirlo era algo imperativo. Esta receta es cortesía de la chef Victoria del Ángel.
PASTEL DE NATA CON MOUSSE DE CHOCOLATE Y RELLENO DE JALEA DE  MANDARINA
Pan:
  • 215  gr de nata
  • 400 gr de azúcar
  • 200 gr  huevo
  • 240 ml leche
  • 15 ml extracto de vainilla
  • 280 gr harina
  • 15 gr polvo para hornear (esta receta es para una altitud como la de México, ajusta este ingrediente como sea necesario)
  • 1 pizca de sal
Procedimiento:
  1. Acrema la nata con el azúcar e incorpora los huevos poco a poco.
  2. Agrega la leche y el extracto de vainilla, añade la la harina y el polvo para hornear cernidos.
  3. Vacía la mezcla en un molde y hornear a 180°C
Mousse de chocolate de leche:
  • 200 gr cobertura de leche
  • 250 ml crema para batir
  • 9 gr grenetina
  • 400 ml de crema semi batida
 Procedimiento:
  1. Calienta la crema y agrega la grenetina ya hidratada.
  2. Vacía sobre el chocolate de leche para fundirlo.
  3. Deja enfriar sin que se cuaje y mezcla con la crema semi batida.
Jalea de mandarina:
  • 500 ml jugo de mandarina
  • 15gr de grenetina
 Procedimiento:
  1. Calienta el jugo de mandarina y agrega la grenetina ya hidratada.
  2. Vacía en un molde del tamaño del que se usó para el pan de nata.
  3. Rebana el pan por la mitad y agrega un poco de mousse de chocolate de leche, coloca la jalea de mandarina y vuelve  a agregar mousse, coloca la otra capa de pan y cubre el pastel con el resto del mousse.
  4. Refrigera y sirve.

La chef Victoria del Ángel  descubrió su pasión por la cocina desde los tres años. Fascinada por la repostería y gastronomía mexicanas, decidió perseguir la licenciatura en gastronomía en la Escuela Superior de Gastronomía, y más tarde un postgrado en repostería en la Universidad de Artes culinarias y Tendencias Europeas, otorgado por el Culinary Institute Switzerland de Suiza. Victoria es dueña de la chocolatería Xocolat del Ángel en Jilotepec, México.

Seeking El Mejor Taco al Pastor in Chicago. The Nominees Are…!

Photo courtesy of: El Califa. Mexico City, Mexico
Photo courtesy of: El Califa. Mexico City, Mexico

Our story on tacos al pastor was very well received, thank you for reading and for all of your comments!  Messages poured in asking for recommendations in Chicago. Since we don’t have a favorite taco al pastor purveyor in the city yet, we decided to go in search of the best taco al pastor! We have asked our friends to submit their favorites. We will evaluate the tacos for the next few weeks considering a variety of criteria- from meat quality to freshness of the tortillas and salsa, we will share it with you all! Our readers submitted the eateries below. Stay tuned for our verdict.

  1. Atotonilco
  2. Big Star
  3. De Cero
  4. El Pastor
  5. El Tío Luis
  6. El Solazo
  7. Indio
  8. La Ciudad
  9. Lagartija
  10. Los Comales
  11. Los Gallos
  12. L´Patrón
  13. Mercadito
  14. Rubi’s Market on Maxwell
  15. Taco joint
  16. Taquería Juanito
  17. Tierra Caliente
  18. Zacataco

Gefiltefish Goes Technicolor with Spanish Subtitles

Photo: Brenda Storch

The timing of this post is partly accidental, and partly intentional. I thought at first it might make sense to talk about the Lenten dishes that in an overwhelmingly Catholic Mexico, frame a series of events that culminate in Semana Santa or “Holy Week”: from the visits to the seven churches and the burning of big cardboard structures representing evil, called “Judas” (tradition which has permeated the culture to the point that the name Judas is synonymous with “traitor” when used as colloquial expression), to the reenactments of the crucifixion in the town of Iztapalapa.  What I remember the most about this season, aside from its coinciding with a nice break from school, is that somehow, every aspect of the celebration ended at the table of the family matriarch…

Matriarch!

My great-grandma, Rachel “Rae” Storch would have turned 102 this month. She died 13 years ago, a few days after my birthday, as if she were holding on just long enough to avoid it. I think of her often and I miss her dearly.

Grandma Rae was Jewish, and whether we visited during Easter or Christmas, she would always make us feel at home. I remember that one Easter Sunday she cooked picadillo-stuffed peppers for us because, she assessed, the dish showcased a bit of Latin American flair. She also had a Christmas tree if we were around during the Christmas holidays, despite the fact that this triggered a few neighbors in her all-Jewish building to knock on her door to make sure she had taken her pills.

It is not until now, that I am much older, that I realize how lucky I am to have such a diverse family; and I am incredibly grateful that grandma Rae was so embracing and open-minded. She did not speak Spanish, and I did not speak much English at the time, but we managed, and we definitely bonded over food. She loved to take us to her favorite place, “La Paloma”.

Grandma Rae in her home in Miami in 1996

The more I talk about food, the more I find it a particularly powerful element of national and religious identity. During the holidays, among many cultures, dishes often have ritualistic qualities and are charged with plenty of symbolisms. At the same time, dishes provide us with a common ground: we eat, therefore we exist.

This season, and to celebrate La Vitamin T’s first birthday, I wanted to remember one of my favorite family matriarchs with a dish from her table. But, where to start? I do not have any of my grandma’s recipes. Luckily for me, Celia, mom of one of my dearest and closest friends, makes a delicious Veracruzan gefiltefish.  Thank you, Celia for generously sharing it with me!

The concept “Veracruzan style” when referring to food,  evokes images of a fusion cuisine that blends tropical and Mediterranean flavors and ingredients.  Usually, tomatoes, olives and chili peppers are part of the meal. Putting Veracruz in this dish made me think of gefiltefish in Technicholor with Spanish subtitles!

The recipe called for carp, and I had no idea that getting it in a Chicago suburb would be so difficult, which explains the accidental part of timing of this recipe, as I was hoping to post before Passover. We also took a few creative liberties. Enjoy!

Gefiltefish a la Veracruzana (Veracruzan-Style Gefiltefish)

Inspired in a recipe generously shared by Celia Presburger –  Querétaro, México

Serves 6

Broth:

  • 12 cups of chicken stock (this helps soften the fish flavor)
  • 1/2 an onion
  • 1 carrot
  • Head and fish bones (to provide consistency and flavor)

Patties:

  • 1/3 lb of filleted carp
  • 1/3 lb of filleted sea bass
  • 1/3 lb of filleted red snapper
  • 2 bolillos (or 4 slices of bread) soaked in milk
  • 1 tbsp of salt
  • 1/2 tbsp of brown sugar
  • 1 tsp of pepper
  • 1 carrot
  • 1/2 an onion
  • 3 eggs lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup of matzo meal

Note: If you don’t find the three types of fish, use two, but make sure the carp is part of it.

Sauce:

  • 1/4 onion
  • 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp of capers
  • 1/4 cup of olives
  • 1 dried chile güero pod (available in your ethnic food aisle)

Directions:

Broth:

  1. Put the fish bones, carrot, onion and chicken stock in a pot. Bring to boil and simmer.

Patties:

  1. Cut the fish into cubes. Put in the food processor until finely ground. Put in a bowl and set aside. 
  2. Grind the onion and the carrot in the food processor. Fold into the fish along with the matzo meal, salt, sugar, pepper, bread and eggs until you achieve a pasty consistency that will allow you to make patties.
  3. Drop the patties delicately into the boiling broth, cover, reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Alternatively, you can cook in boiling water alone.

Sauce:

  1. Sautée the onion, add the tomatoes and spice to taste. Incorporate the olives, the capers and the chile.

Once the patties are cooked, transfer them into the sauce along with some broth. Simmer.  Let cool and served chilled. I did not wait to eat it cold, I hope my grandma forgives me!

*We did not use ingredients considered  kosher for Passover to make this recipe.

A Sip of Heaven: Chocolate Champurrado

Champurrado de chocolate. Foto: Brenda Storch
Chocolate champurrado. Photo: Brenda Storch

“Es tan santo el chocolate, que de rodillas se muele, juntas las manos se bate y viendo al cielo se bebe.”

  -Refrán popular mexicano

“Chocolate is so holy that you must kneel down to grind it; put your hands together to churn it, and look to the Heavens to drink it “.

-Mexican folk saying

Chocolate, or Xocoóatl, in Náhuatl, was an important ceremonial drink in pre-Columbian cultures. Its importance was such, that seeds of the cacao tree were not only offered to gods, they were also used as currency. Considered nutritious and even medicinal, chocolate made its way to Europe via Mexico.

Serves 4 cups

Ingredients

  • 4 cups of water
  • 1/2 sprig of cinnamon
  • 5 tbsp of brown sugar or a small piece of piloncillo of around 2.5 oz
  • 5 tbsp of tortilla masa
  • 1.5 oz of handmade chocolate. I got the chocolate for my champurrado as a gift during my last trip to Mexico! You may replace it with a piece of chocolate for atole (in the U.S., you may find it in your ethnic food aisle under brands such as Abuelita or Ybarra). Using the latter might make the champurrado a bit sweeter, so reduce sugar.
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Dilute the masa in 2 cups of cold water until there are no clumps.
  2. Boil the remaining water with the sugar and cinnamon.
  3. Incorporate the corn masa while mixing constantly on low heat.
  4. Add the vanilla and the chocolate.
  5. Continue to mix constantly for about 15 minutes or until the mix reaches the desired thickness.
  6. This time, I added a pod of cascabel pepper for flavor! You can add a piece of dry pepper without its seeds if you want. We chose a sweeter pepper.
  7. Champurrado is a very thick drink. If you like it a bit lighter, you might reduce the amount of masa you add.

Enjoy!

Guest Post: Third Time’s a Charm – Tres Leches Cake

Photo: Chef Jason Rivas
Photo credit: Chef Jason Rivas.

About chef Jason Rivas:  Born and raised in California, but southwestern at heart, chef Rivas’  passion for food started at a very early age when he used to eat snails in his backyard. Trained in classical French cuisine, while attending the Scottsdale Culinary Institute, he was able to learn a new way to apply his creative, artistic side. After graduation, Rivas spent an additional four years in Phoenix learning the finer points of southwestern cuisine, and then traveled from coast to coast before settling in the Southern California wine country.  Here, he discovered the true value and impact of food and wine (in his words,”wine and food, rather”).  Find more about chef Rivas on his website: dinnerbyJR.wordpress.com

By: Chef Jason Rivas

Ahh… Tres Leches! Two words that invoke such feel-good emotions. For me, these words mean,  I can’t wait to dive in! And literally, Tres Leches cake is Spanish for “cake of three milks”.  Fundamentally, Tres Leches  is exactly that- a cake that has been soaked in three different kinds of milk. The dessert itself is very popular within the Latin American community and many countries claim its creation.

Contrary to popular belief, Tres Leches is not just a cake with milk poured over the top.  There is definitely a technique involved, and although you can use any kind of milk you desire, the three different milks are there for very different reasons.

Typically, whole milk, evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk are used. Whole milk is added for its fat and for its pour-ability; the evaporated milk for richness and body; and the condensed milk for its sweetness. Can alternate types of milk be used? Absolutely! Soy milk, almond milk, goat’s milk, coconut milk…  all can be used for various reasons. The choice is up to you.

Now for the cake. Please don’t just use a standard box cake. In fact, I recommend to NEVER use a standard box cake for anything. Making cake is easy and fun. For best results you want to use a light, airy cake- a sponge cake (which got its name because it acts like a sponge). This is the ideal cake for a Tres Leches. That is not to say you cannot flavor the cake- wine, extracts, chocolate just to name a few ideas. You could use a heavier, richer cake; however, this will most likely turn to mush when cut into and would defeat the purpose of the Tres Leches.

You never feel like you just finished eating a house after eating a piece; it’s one of the greatest attributes of a Tres Leches — using a denser, heavier cake will nullify this fact.  The key thing to remember when making a Tres Leches, is time. It takes time and thus you should give yourself time. Never try to hurry through the process just to shovel a piece in your mouth (well, I shovel at least). Take your time and let the cake do its thing. In my opinion, cakes (and food for that matter) are like women. The better you treat them and the more time we spend with them; the happier you both will be.

Ingredients:

  • 14.5 oz all-purpose flour
  • 14.5 oz sugar
  • 10 eggs
  • 2 oz melted butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • pinch of salt
  • 12 oz evaporated milk
  • 12 0z coconut milk
  • 12 oz half/half
  • 1 cup sugar

Directions

For the cake:

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine eggs and sugar
  2. Place a stockpot half full of water on the stove. Make sure the pot is big enough to hold the mixing bowl. The mixing bowl does not have to fit all the way inside – just on top. Bring the water to a a boil.
  3. Once boiling, reduce the heat and place the bowl on the pot. Whisk constantly for about 3-4 mins.
  4. Place bowl back on the mixer with the whisk attachment and whip egg mix on high until it doubles in volume.
  5. While whipping, sift your flour and preheat your oven to about 400°F
  6. Gently fold in flour and salt into egg mix by thirds.
  7. Fold in melted butter and vanilla.
  8. Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper then spray with nonstick coating. Pour batter in pan and spread evenly into corners.
  9. Bake for about 10-15 mins. When done, the cake should be golden brown and bounce back when pressed upon. The toothpick test can also be done.
  10. When done, carefully flip out of pan and freeze for about 2 hours.

For the milk:

  1. Put evaporated milk and coconut milk into a small pot. Add the half/half.  Incorporate sugar and stir to dissolve.
  2. Bring to a boil on low heat, stirring occasionally.
  3. Pull cake from freezer and place back in the original baking pan, leaving the cake upside down.
  4. Slowly ladle a small amount of the hot milk over small sections of the cake, until the whole cake is covered. Wait for the milk to be absorbed  before adding more milk. Use all the milk evenly.
  5. Chill the cake completely (for about 4hours).

ENJOY!

Note: Often times, tres leches cake is topped with fruit or whipped cream.

Tres Leches is a great party dessert and is best when made at least a day in advance. Now, could it be made the morning of? Yes if you get up early. But again you don’t want to rush anything. Not to mention you want to make sure the cake has enough time to soak up all the milk.

Some also might be curious about  the “sift-thirds-freeze” steps in the directions. These are all techniques to help make a better cake. Sifting helps aerate the flour to make the cake lighter and fluffier. Adding the flour in thirds helps to prevent clumping, thus allowing for a better texture and no “flour balls.” Freezing of the cake allows for a better absorption of the milk.

These techniques can make all the difference.  Sometimes when making cake we need all the help we can get, even a little prayer! Plus, when making a good cake, its all about technique. Better technique=better cake. Happy baking!

Nuestra Mesa – Pescado a la Veracruzana

Foto: Manuel Rivera
Foto: Manuel Rivera

Para esta temporada de cuaresma, el chef Aldo nos trae a Nuestra Mesa, una receta directa del sureste: pescado a la veracruzana.

Rinde: 5 personas

Ingredientes:

• 1/2 kilo de jitomate
• 5 chiles güeros en escabeche
• 1 cebolla blanca mediana
• 2 dientes de ajo
• 4 cucharadas soperas de aceite de oliva
• 15-20 aceitunas verdes
• 2 cucharadas soperas de alcaparras
• 1 cucharadita de orégano seco
• 1 hoja de laurel
• Sal
• 5 filetes de pescado blanco (tilapia, robalo, cazón, mero, lenguado, etc.)

Preparación:

1. Pela los tomates y córtalos en trozos de 2 ó 3 centímetros.
2. Pica la cebolla y los dientes de ajo.
3. En una sartén calienta 2 cucharadas de aceite, fríe la cebolla y el ajo a fuego mediano hasta que la cebolla se ablande y se vuelva transparente, teniendo cuidado de que que no se dore.
4. Agrega el jitomate, el chile, las aceitunas, las alcaparras, el orégano, la hoja de laurel y la sal. Fríelo, moviéndolo frecuentemente, durante unos 30 minutos, hasta que esté cocido.
5. Rectifica la sazón.
6. En otra sartén, calienta las dos cucharadas restantes de aceite y coloca los filetes en el centro de la sartén en una sola capa. Fríe los filetes durantes unos minutos hasta que estén cocidos y empiecen a dorarse, volteándolos una vez. El tiempo necesario variará de 3 a 6 minutos, según el grosor de los filetes. Al voltearlos, utiliza una espátula o una pala de madera con bastante cuidado para que no se rompan.
7. Cuando está cocido el pescado, viértele encima la salsa. Permita que se cueza durante un par de minutos, luego apaga el fuego.
8. Para servirlo, coloca un filete y una parte de la salsa en cada plato.
9. Acompáñalo con arroz blanco.

El chef Aldo Saavedra ha cocinado para huéspedes de establecimientos como el conocido Hotel Condesa D.F. y ha contribuído con sus recetas en proyectos con marcas de la talla de Larousse y Danone. En Nuestra Mesa, el chef Saavedra comparte con los lectores de La Vitamina T, su pasión por la cocina y por México.