Salad of grilled nopal with carrot, jícama and beet wins recipe contest

I entered a recipe contest hosted by Muy Bueno Cookbook, and I won! The winning recipe is for Salad of Grilled Nopal with Carrot, Jícama and Beet which was featured on Cooking in Mexico last month. Check out their site — they did a much better job with the photography than I did when I first wrote up this recipe.

I never win anything, so this is a big deal for me. The prize is a beautiful Muy Bueno 2011 calendar, with each month featuring one of their Latino inspired recipes and a gorgeous photo.

Muy Bueno Cookbook is selling these calendars, with part of the proceeds benefiting the Denver Foundation, a non-profit group that will use the funds for neighborhood improvements. The photo below shows this calendar; click it to order your own. And make this salad! It’s so colorful and so good for you.

Feliz Navidad!

In forty-eight hours I will be serving a Christmas dinner to long-time friends, and I feel like I’m in the final count down with all the necessary preparations.  As I go through my favorite cookbooks, with an eye to showcasing Mexican specialties, I am thinking what a wonderful year this has been for Cooking in Mexico. Each one of you who has visited, each comment left, each question asked, is greatly appreciated and adds to the value of the shared recipes and food experiences. I love being a food blogger. The cooking, the photography and the writing — it is all so much fun and satisfying. But it wouldn’t mean as much if you, the readers, weren’t here, also. Thank you so much for your visits, comments and new friendships. You have helped make 2010 a wonderful year for me.

Here are some of my favorite recipes from the past that may serve as inspiration as you prepare your holiday dishes.

Feliz navidad! Buen provecho!

Holiday Eggnog Cream Cake A wonderfully delicate cake with all the flavors of eggnog.

Christmas 2009 Cooking and Baking Revisited with links to recipes for lemon curd, beet-pickled deviled eggs, golden onion pie, chocolate biscotti and whole wheat bread.

Jocoque Cheesecake with Lemon-Orange Curd and Candied Orange Zest, the smoothest cheesecake you will ever make.

Grilled Tenderloin of Beef with Grilled Vegetables, for those who want something besides roast turkey, and what we are having for our Christmas dinner this year.

Salsa de Chile Pequin (or serrano chile) to add zip to your left-over grilled tenderloin.

And a few recent recipes:

Alfajores, South American cookies for Christmas

Rompope, Mexican Eggnog

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Alfajores, South American cookies for Christmas

Alfajores are popular cookies throughout South America. These cookies are as buttery and tender as shortbread, but more sweet with their filling of dulce de leche, Latin America’s beloved, caramelized goat milk spread. Roll them in unsweetened coconut for a festive appearance at Christmastime. In Mexico, dulce de leche is known as cajeta.

The twinkling stars designate holiday recipes. Feliz navidad!

Alfajores makes 12 cookies

  • 2 cups (8.6 oz./245 grams) sifted whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup (3 oz./85 grams) corn starch
  • 6 tablespoons (1.5 oz./42 grams) confectioners sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (8 oz./230 grams) organic butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup (236 ml.) cajeta
  • 1/2 cup (1.5 oz./42 grams) organic dry coconut
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 deg. F. (180 C.)
  2. Sift flour, cornstarch, sugar, baking powder and salt together.
  3. Blend dry ingredients with butter and vanilla in a food processor until a ball forms. Add a little milk if it is too dry to form a ball.
  4. Flatten dough slightly, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.
  5. Roll out to 3/8″ thickness and cut into 2″ rounds with a cookie cutter.
  6. Carefully lift cookies and place on a greased cookie sheet.
  7. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and firm.
  8. Let rest on cookie sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to rack to cool completely.
  9. When cool, spread cajeta on flat surface of half of cookies, then sandwich cookies together with remaining cookies. Spread thin layer of cajeta around edge of sandwiched cookies.
  10. Roll in dry coconut to coat cajeta.

Note:

Purchase cajeta (dulce de leche) at your local Hispanic grocery store, from the ethnic aisles of large supermarkets or on line from Mexgrocer.com.

More Cajeta Recipes:

Mexican Chocoflan, Pastel Imposible, the Impossible Chocolate Cake Cooking in Mexico

Crêpes with Cajeta and Chocolate Cooking in Mexico

More Reading:

How to Make Dulce de Leche David Lebovitz

All About Alfajores Wikipiedia

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Pumpkin bee sting pie

Pumpkin Bee Sting Pie is not a Mexican dessert, but the baker in me, with memories of past yuletide dinners, wants a traditional table for the holidays that includes a pumpkin pie. Mexico has all the ingredients: over-sized squash that stand in for canned pumpkin, dark honey, and coconut. This pie variation of Bienenstich, the German Bee Sting Cake, will be our dessert for Christmas dinner, when memories of snowy Christmases and holiday dinners from the past make me nostalgic for a Christmas where the waves don’t lap on the beach, where the palms don’t rustle in the breeze, where the only white I see is snow, not sand. With this recipe, my holiday baking and cooking has commenced. The twinkling stars next to a recipe designate dishes for the holidays.

What is special about the Bee Sting Cake is its crunchy topping of honey and almond slices. The Pumpkin Bee Sting Pie recipe that was in U.S. newspapers across the country just before Thanksgiving adds coconut to the topping. This final addition proved irresistible to me, coconut lover that I am.

If you live north of the border, make it easy on yourself and buy a can of Libby’s pumpkin. Their canned pumpkin is so consistently good, that it is not worth the effort to steam, scrape and purée your own. But if you are south of the border, buy a Mexican squash, the kind that are so huge and oddly shaped, they look prehistoric.

Cut it into manageable pieces, scrape out the seeds, steam or roast the squash until tender, scrape the flesh from the skin, purée, then freeze. See what I mean about it being easier to buy a can of pumpkin? The only time I would advocate cooking it yourself is if you have an organic pumpkin. Or if you live in Mexico and can’t find canned pumpkin or can’t bring yourself to pay $8 for it when you do. Otherwise, go with Libby.

The flaky cream cheese pie crust recipe is in The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum and found on  Epicurious, the wonderful recipe compendium for Bon Appetit and the late, lamented Gourmet magazine. I used fifty percent whole wheat flour, and did not have the usual problem of a whole wheat crust being difficult to handle. The vinegar and baking powder ensure a tender pastry, while the cream cheese adds enough structure to prevent shrinking and cracking. Take it from me, someone who has struggled with pie pastry, this recipe is fail-proof.

The pie filling follows the standard recipe in the newspapers, but my method differs, following Rose’s instructions for cooking the pumpkin with spices, then pureeing in the food processor for maximum smoothness. As always, I reduced the sweetness, decreasing the honey in the filling by half, since to my taste most desserts are much too sweet.

Pumpkin Bee Sting Pie

  • 1 9″ pie shell
  • 1 15-oz. can pumpkin
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup organic heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 eggs

For the topping:

  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 cup dried unsweetened organic coconut
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons organic butter, melted
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 deg. F. (180 C.)
  2. In a small sauce pan over medium-low heat, stir together the pumpkin, honey, spices and salt. Stirring constantly, cook for 5 minutes after the mixture starts to bubble.
  3. Spoon the mixture into a food processor and blend for one minute.
  4. With the motor running, add the cream and vanilla, processing until incorporated.
  5. Add the eggs, one at a time, processing for a few seconds with each addition.
  6. Pour the mixture into the unbaked pie shell, and bake for 45-50 minutes, until almost completely set, and the center still jelly like.
  7. In a small bowl, combine almonds, coconut, honey and butter.
  8. Spread almond mixture evenly over  pie and return to oven for 10-15 minutes, or until topping has lightly browned. Cool on rack before serving.

More Reading:

How to Cook a Fresh Pumpkin (Southern Food)

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Eating flowers — squash blossom quesadillas

Another Sunday Market in La Cruz and another bunch of squash blossoms too beautiful to eat. I could have looked at their vase on the kitchen counter all week, but eat them we did when I made squash blossom quesadillas for lunch, using fresh corn tortillas, queso fresco from the Sunday market, poblano chile strips and epazote leaves.

Squash — calabaza — were cultivated in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica, and then spread throughout the world with the arrival of the Spanish. Classic Mesoamerican clay pots mimic large squash in design, and are still seen in contemporary Mexican art work. We have a beautiful copper pot from Santa Clara del Cobre, hammered into a calabaza form.

Before chopping up the flowers, I inhaled their aroma. They smelled of squash, pumpkin and earth, like a garden. The colorful flowers add a delicate flavor that is easily overpowered, so go light on the onion and garlic. Use whatever cheese you have on hand, but the classic cheese for quesadillas is string cheese from Oaxaca. Today I used fresh cheese from the market, but other possibilities include Muenster, Monterey Jack, or even cheddar.

Squash Blossom Quesadillas

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 small bunches squash blossoms, all but 1″of stem removed, chopped; enough to measure 2 cups
  • 1/4 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • salt to taste
  • 1 poblano chile, roasted, peeled and cut into strips
  • 6 oz. cheese, thinly sliced
  • 8 epazote leaves (optional)
  • 8 corn tortillas
  1. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. When hot, add onion and cook for 3 minutes, or until translucent.
  2. Add squash blossoms and garlic, and cook until blossoms are wilted.
  3. Remove from heat and salt to taste.
  4. Heat an oiled griddle over medium heat. Place four tortillas on griddle and evenly divide squash blossom mixture among them. Add strips of poblano chile, thinly sliced cheese, and two epazote leaves to each quesadilla. Cover each one with a second tortilla.
  5. Cook about 3 minutes per side, or until brown, toasty spots appear on the tortillas and the cheese melts.
  6. Cut into halves or quarters and serve hot. (Cold left-overs are delicious.)

Notes:

North of the border, flour tortillas are often used for quesadillas, but corn tortillas are more common in Mexico.

This may be heresy to a Mexican cook, but building quesadillas in my kitchen is like making a sandwich: anything goes. I have made great quesadillas with left-over brown rice, steamed greens, a bit of steak from last night’s dinner, whatever cheese is on hand, even cottage cheese.

Epazote (Teloxys ambrosioides), also known as Mexican Tea or Wormseed, is a bitter herb used to season black beans, quesadillas and empanadas. A few months ago, I found it in a Mexican market in Minneapolis, and I hear it is becoming more common in U.S. supermarkets that cater to a Hispanic clientele. A native of Mexico, it is not eaten raw, and may be an acquired taste. There is no substitute.

A bit of etymology: calabaza is from the Persian word kharbuz, meaning melon, and the French word calabase, later calabash, is of Spanish origin.

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