Monday, April 28, 2014

Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of freedom and pride by Mexican and Mexican American people.  It's also a great time to eat, so here's my Cinco de Mayo feast!  Hope you enjoy it!

Until the last ten years or so, I have been a chicken when it comes to what I'd eat.  I was picky about eating raw onions or tomatoes.  I would usually only eat things I was familiar with, especially with meat.  But, the more I learn about cooking and the more I come in contact with other cultures, especially the Hispanic culture, I have become more and more brave about what I'd try.  

And, since we moved to West Texas, I have learned a lot about the Texas Hispanic culture and foods.  A traditional special breakfast in the Hispanic world is Barbacoa.  I never really knew what it was, and I really wasn't interested in trying it.  But, after talking with a distinguished Hispanic woman that I work with, I thought I'd give it a try.  Now, if you are squeamish, you need to exit out of this page now and go look at rainbows and happy stuff.  Barbacoa is traditionally an entire cow head that's wrapped in leaves and smoked in a hole in the ground.  Now, I told you I was going to be brave, but I'm nowhere that brave.  Lupe, the lady I work with, told me how to make it with only the beef cheeks (yes, the actual cheeks of the cow's face) and in the crockpot so it's easy too. So I discussed it with my husband who is a little braver than me (he ate a cooked chicken heart once), and he was all for it.

So I went to a local Amigo's, which is the Hispanic version of a United Supermarket, and procured said cheek meat.  I did, however, find cheek meat at Walmart too, so that could be an option.  On Sunday morning, we got up and prepared this meat to go into the crockpot with a lot of skepticism.  And it cooked, and we waited.  (We actually ate ours in the evening and not for breakfast.)  Then it came down to that scary moment:  It was done.  Time to test it out.  I had some fresh Pico de Gallo made and some corn tortillas warmed, along with some fresh chopped cilantro.  And the moment of truth.  "You go first, I said."  So he did.  He had a pleasant look of surprise on his face.  "It tastes like roast beef."  Whew.  Safe. So I tried it and it was good!  Makes for a great taco.  I think I will eat it with eggs next time.

So, if you're trying to expand your horizons and try something new, don't be scared.  After all, probably millions of people eat barbacoa on a daily basis and love it.  You just might too.

4 lbs beef cheeks
8 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
1 T cumin
1 lime
1 C beef stock
Salt & pepper, to taste
1 bay leaf

3 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1/2 C red onion, diced
2 T fresh cilantro, chopped
1 serrano pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons cumin
1 small lime
Salt & pepper, to taste

Fresh chopped cilantro
Corn tortillas
Lime wedges

Trim as much of the fat off of the beef cheeks as possible. Cut the meat into about 2-inch pieces and place in the crockpot.  Place the garlic, cumin, salt & pepper, bay leaf, juice of the one lime, and beef stock into a crockpot.  Cook on slow for at least 8 hours or overnight until the meat is tender. Remove it from the crockpot and let cool until you can handle it.  Shred the meat with your hands or with two forks.  

Mix the Pico de Gallo ingredients together.  Serve the Barbacoa on warmed corn tortillas with some Pico de Gallo, a little fresh cilantro, and a squeeze of lime juice.

Mexican Shrimp Cocktail, or Ceviche, is quite different that American Shrimp Cocktail.  The Mexican version is spicy and is more like a cold soup with pico de gallo as opposed the thick chili sauce or ketchup version we have here.  Some people add in clam juice or sometimes even orange soda to their Mexican Shrimp Cocktail.  The cocktail is traditionally served with Saltine crackers, which is my favorite dipping vessel for this. My version uses Clamato juice which is something that I learned from a Hispanic woman I work with. Clamato is like spicy V8 with a bit of clam juice in it. 

My favorite place in the world to eat Mexican Shrimp Cocktail is at a restaurant in San Antonio called La Margarita. Theirs is actually called a Campechana Cocktail which also includes oysters.  The restaurant is located in Market Square where there is always a vibrant atmosphere of fiestas going on and strolling troubadours.  My husband and I love San Antonio so much that we want to end up there. And eat Mexican Shrimp Cocktails.  But, for now, I'll have to make it myself.

You're going to need a sombrero before you make this because you'll eat so much you'll need a siesta.

12 ounces of shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tomato, diced
3 T chopped red onion
2 T chopped fresh cilantro
1 serrano pepper (or 1-2 jalapenos), chopped
1 1/2 C Spicy Clamato juice (or Spicy V8)
1 avocado, diced
Cayenne (to taste)
1 green onion, sliced
Juice of 1 lime
Salt & pepper, to taste
Saltine crackers, for dipping

Bring a small pot of water to a boil.  Add in the cumin, chili powder and garlic powder.  Drop in the shrimp and cook for a couple of minutes until the shrimp is done and pink.  Drain and cool.

Mix the remaining ingredients together (not the Saltine crackers) in a bowl and season with salt and pepper and cayenne to taste.  Add in the shrimp and chill.  Serve it with the Saltine crackers.  This is even better the second day.

I absolutely adore Tamales.  I usually make them with chicken, but they can be done with pork, beef, or even bean. This is a very time-consuming task, and it helps to have another person rolling them with you.  I am so excited to share this recipe that I'm not even going to babble on with a story!  I can find corn husks in any local store in Texas, even Walmart.  But, if you can't find them, you can find them at  I also use El Pato, which is a spicy tomato sauce, for the sauce.  If you can't find that, you can use regular tomato sauce and some cayenne pepper, to taste. You will also need a very large pot to steam them in.  I have a ginormous crockpot that I can remove the insert and place it over two burners on my stovetop to steam them.  Every time I mention to people that I'm planning on making tamales, I get offers from people that want to buy a dozen.  It makes a lot and get ready to share!

5-6 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Chicken stock
Chili powder
Garlic powder
Corn husks (50-70 depending on how big the chicken is)

32 ounces El Pato
1 onion, chopped
1 T cumin
1 T chili powder
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 C chicken stock
Olive oil
Salt & pepper, to taste

6 C masa harina (corn flour)
5 C chicken stock
2 C lard (or Crisco)
3 T onion powder
3 T onion powder
3 T cumin

Boil the chicken in enough chicken stock to cover with the chili powder, garlic powder, and cumin until done.  Let cool until you can handle it.  Shred the meat.

Soak the corn husks in the sink covered in water for about 15-20 minutes.

Mix the dough ingredients together by hand or in a mixer.  It shouldn't be too sticky.  Set it aside.

Drizzle some olive oil in a large skillet.  Cook the onion over medium high heat until tender.  Add in the chicken, cumin, chili powder, garlic, chicken stock, salt & pepper, and El Pato. Cook and simmer until the sauce is thickened and most of the liquid is cooked out, about 20 minutes.  

Take some of the corn husks out of the water and place on a towel.  Fill a small bowl with water.  Spread about 2 T of the dough mixture on the corn husks from the straight edge up about 3 inches, using the water to moisten your hands.  Put about 1 T of the chicken down the center of the masa.  Fold the edges of the dough over the chicken and then fold the empty end of the corn husk up.  Here's a video on rolling tamales if you need a visual.  Line your pot with wads of foil and pour some water over the foil.  Stack the tamales open side up into the pot on top of the foil.  Cover and steam over medium high heat for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours (check your water level frequently and add more when necessary) or until the dough is firm and steamed through.

The Spanish word for this corn is Elotes.  You can eat this corn right off the cob, but at fairs and festivals, at least in West Texas, the kernels are cut from the cob and mixed with the sauce and eaten out of a cup.

4 ears corn, with husks
1 C mayonnaise
1/2 C sour cream
Juice of one lime
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 C shredded Parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper, to taste
Cayenne pepper, to taste

Peel the husks of the corn back but don't remove them. Remove all of the strings and rinse.  Fold the husks back over the corn.  Soak the corn in the sink covered in water for about 20-30 minutes prior to cooking.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place the corn on a sheet pan and roast about 40-45 minutes or until it's tender.

Mix the mayo, sour cream, lime juice, chili powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper, cayenne and Parmesan cheese together. Spread it on the corn if eating it off the cob or stir it together with the sauce if you are cutting the kernels off of the cob.

Tres Leches Cake is a sponge cake that is soaked in three milks: Sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and cream or half and half.  I knew of this cake but had never eaten it before now.  And, while I almost never eat sweets, I see myself eating way too much of this cake.  You'll be hooked.  

As you can see in the picture, I did mine as a layer cake just to make a pretty picture.  But it is quite messy, and the milks will run out a little more as it chills.  I think the best and easiest way to make this cake, unless you want a fancy presentation, is to bake it in a 9 x 13 pan so that the liquid stays in the pan and not in the fridge.  And you will need a mixer for this cake or some really strong arms to beat egg whites.  Enjoy!

8 eggs, separated
2 C flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 C sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 can evaporated milk (12 ounce)
1 C heavy cream or half and half
1 can Eagle Brand milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

2 C heavy cream
1/2 C powdered sugar

16-ounce container strawberries, sliced

Generously grease and flour a 9 x 13 pan (or two 8-inch round pans) very well.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Beat the egg whites for about a minute on high in the mixer. Leaving the mixer on high, slowly pour in the sugar while the mixer is running.  Beat egg whites until they are at stiff peaks. Whisk egg yolks together by hand for about a minute.  Whisk in the flour, baking powder, and vanilla. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the flour mixture into the egg whites until it is incorporated into the egg whites.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s) and bake about 20-25 minutes or until done in the center.  Place on a rack and let it cool completely.

If you are using the 9 x 13 pan, you can leave the cake in the pan.  If you are going to layer the cake, remove the layers from the pans and put on a sheet pan to soak the cakes. Whisk together the soaking ingredients.  Poke some holes in the top of the cake(s) with a fork.  Pour the sauce over the cake(s).  Let it soak up for about 15-20 minutes at room temperature.

Put the heavy cream and powdered sugar into the bowl of a mixer and beat on high until the cream is stiff.  You can spread the cream onto the 9 x 13 cake and garnish with the strawberries.  If you are layering the cakes, put the bottom layer on a dish with high sides (it will be very hard to move, so carefully pick it up) so the milk soak can run out without running off into the fridge.  You can pipe or spread the whipped cream onto the bottom layer, then garnish with strawberries.  Repeat with the top layer.

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