Tuesdays with…The Mija Chronicles

Let me tell you a little about this chica. She grew up in Cali, studied in Mass and now resides in DF. She sounds cool already, no? Lesley is a journalist by trade and after relocating to Mexico City, she has combined her love of writing with her love of cooking and eating. I don’t remember how I came to her blog, but I can tell you I knew I would be a regular just from the title The Mija Chronicles.

I’ll let you read about her here, but do navigate over to her blog. You will learn why I think the blog name is so cool and you’ll begin planning your next trip to Mexico City. Believe me, I am.

What is the elevator pitch for your blog?

The Mija Chronicles is a funny, honest look at my explorations with Mexican cuisine — cooking authentic Mexican dishes, learning traditional cooking techniques, and scrounging up enough confidence within myself to keep experimenting. It’s basically the tale of a Mexican-American woman living in Mexico, and learning the cuisine of her ancestors.

Why and when did you decide to become a blogger?

Gosh, sometimes I still don’t even think of myself as a blogger. I was a journalist for eight years working in newspapers in Texas, so most of me still thinks of myself that way. Before I started The Mija Chronicles, I’d done a bit of blogging before — I blogged about nightlife in my old job, I created a wedding blog when I got married in 2005, and I also briefly had a sewing blog that same year. The Mija Chronicles originally started as a way to keep our friends and family updated on our new adventure in Mexico City. (My husband and I moved here in January 2009.) But it quickly became obvious that I was mostly writing about food. After only a few months, I knew I wanted to throw myself into the cuisine and learn as much of it as I could. So my blog became an outlet for that.

What’s next for your blog?

I’d love to start doing instructional cooking videos. And I want to index my recipes so they’re easier for readers to find. I’d also like to start doing more Q&As with local chefs and other folks in the food world here in Mexico City, who I think are doing interesting things but aren’t getting much attention.

What is your favorite word?

Right now, one of my favorite words is “chatarra,” which means junk in Spanish. “Comida chatarra” is junk food.

FB or Twiter? Why?

Twitter. I love that you can have direct contact with such a wide variety of people. And I like the challenge of condensing my thoughts into 140 characters.

Michael or Prince?

Michael!

What’s your favorite one word insult to call someone?

I rarely insult anyone. Firm believer in getting more with honey than vinegar. 

She’s groovy and girl gotz some serious kitchen skillz! I asked her to share something she considered absolutely Mexican, she gave us huauzontle. Check out this post for a complete run-down, but right here, that down there, that’s her tweaked salsa recipe. Yep. Uh huh. Check it.

Salsa de Tomate Verde (tomatillo salsa) with huazontles
by Lesley TĂ©llez

It’s easy to find ready-made, fresh salsas in Mexico City. Lately, though, I’ve been a big fan of making them my own. And by that I mean grinding them from scratch in my molcajete.

It’s time consuming, but ultimately so satisfying. I choose each ingredient, and either toast it or boil it. Each item is individually placed into the molcajete, where I then smash it to smithereens. The salsa comes together because of my own strength and patience, not because I flipped a switch on a blender. And I really do mean strength and patience, by the way — you have to push through when you start sweating and your arm starts hurting. (I’m not sure if that just convinced you to make your own salsa from scratch, but I promise, it’s a unique experience.) 

Huazuontles, pronounced wow-ZONE-tlays, are a bushy, fresh vegetable found practically year-round in Mexico City. They’re related to the amaranth family and only the soft buds are eaten. The thick stems and leaves are discarded because they’ve got a bitter, almost weed-like taste.

A typical tomatillo salsa has a well-balanced mix of acid and heat, and the huauzontles here don’t mess with that. They do add one key element, however: texture. The little flowery buds provide heartiness and an almost artichoke-broccoli-like chewiness. It’s like eating a really good, spicy pasta sauce.

I didn’t want this salsa’s flavor to be too raw and bright, so I kept a few pieces of tomatillo cáscara, and added roasted onion and garlic to mellow things out. An allspice berry, known in Spanish at pimienta gorda (literally, “fat peppercorn”) gave it just a whisper of spice, like that warmth you’d get from cumin or cinnamon.

It took about 45 minutes to grind this baby, but in the end it was worth it. I had a thick, lovely salsa that I served over lightly fried tortillas, sandwiched together with refried beans. I had only cooked this for myself, and it felt like a special treat.

Recipe below.

Salsa de tomate verde con huauzontles
(Tomatillo salsa with huazontles)
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

Note: What Americans think of as a tomatillo — a green tomato in a papery husk — has two names in Mexico, based on the fruit’s size. The tomate verde (literally, “green tomato”) is around the size of a plum (perhaps slightly larger than an apricot?) and very acidic. The tomatillo (lit., “little tomato”) is usually about the size of a large cherry. It tends to be sweeter. I used tomate verde because that’s what was available. I also refer to it as tomate verde in the recipe below, not tomatillo.

You’ll note that I only roasted my onion and garlic. Roasting the tomate verde makes it sweeter, and I didn’t want my salsa to be too sweet. You’re welcome to roast whatever you see fit. There’s no wrong way to do this salsa, unless you over-blend it and add too much water.

You can find the pimienta gorda at mercados and tianguis. In my cooking class, we used them pretty much every time we make a salsa molcajeteada.

Ingredients

12 ounces (350 grams) tomate verde, peeled and rinsed (see headnote)
2 serrano chiles
2.5-ounce piece of onion (72 grams), or just less than half of a medium onion
1 garlic clove, unpeeled
1 pimienta gorda (see headnote)
About 1/2 teaspoon coarse-ground sea salt
1/4 cup huauzontles, cleaned, boiled and drained

Directions

Place tomate verde and serrano chiles in saucepan, and pour just enough water over them to cover. Bring to a slow, rolling boil, and cook until both have turned a dull green color and softened, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

While the tomatillos are cooking, roast the whole piece of onion and unpeeled garlic clove on a comal, or over a gas burner, until the skin is blackened in spots.

Remove to a cutting board and chop roughly. Or, if you’re a whiz on the molcajete, leave them whole.

Add your salt and pimienta gorda to the molcajete and grind until powdery. Add the garlic and grind into a paste. Then add the onion, and grind until the onion becomes slick and juicy, and you no longer see large pieces of onion in your molcajete.

Add the serranos and, using your tejolete, or pestle, break up the thin chile skins as best you can. Then add the tomatillos, one by one, making sure you tear apart their thick skins.

At this point, you can stir in the huauzontles and season with more salt, if needed. Or set it aside and reheat the salsa in a saucepan, in a bit of oil. The salsa is best served warm. It does tend to thicken as it cools, so feel free to add a bit more water to reach your desired consistency.

I want a big spoonfool of  THAT! Ok bloggies. Take a moment to visit Lesley over at The Mija Chronicles and say ‘andale, andale, arriba, arriba!”.

Anamaris

Tuesdays with… Shutterboo!

What should I tell you about BooBoo? I should tell you her name isn’t BooBoo or Shutterboo, but Brooke. She’s got mad photog skills. She’s funny. She’s silly. She thinks she knows all about the 80s, bless her Gen XY heart. Anyway, I really dig this chickadee and I know you will too.

Here’s what she had to say about life, love and the pursuit of happiness. Not really, this is way more interesting.

What is the elevator pitch for your blog?

My name is Brooke and I live in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky with the hubs (we call him Mike) and my two doggins (Chevy and Chase).  Chevy’s deaf.  It keeps things interesting.  Anywho, my day job is boring so I find refuge in the creative world be it crafting, photography or writing.  And I have my little blog: shutterboo. 

Why and when did you decide to become a blogger?

I decided to start blogging the summer of 2009 [so I’m only a year old myself].  I was already taking pictures of everything and sharing them five different ways.  And I was giving myself writing exercises at work to keep my environment more creative (I work with a lot of numbers).  So after some thought went into a name, shutterboo was born.  The best part of blogging are the people I’ve met along the way.

What’s next for your blog?

I really don’t know.  I guess just keep doing what I’m doing.  Oh, but I do plan to kick off a new Weekly Photo Challenge with the start of the New Year.  I’m hoping we can get loads of people to play along this year since folks are always looking for projects at the beginning of the year.

What’s your favorite infomercial?

The Cricut.  I get sucked in almost every time it’s on air.  Did you know they have one that cuts out fondant now?  Cool, huh?

If you had to be named after a country, which would it be?

Hmmm… if I could roll my Rs I’d say Morocco.  Because it’s exotic.  And I could roll my Rs.  But since I can’t, Christmas Island.  Because I love the holidays.  I really do.  A lot.  No joke.  For reals, yo.

What’s the most memorable thing you ever ate? It could be really good or really bad.

I had a bad episode with spiced gum drops when I was eight.  The smell of them send me into convulsions.  But  every time I eat my mom’s sweet potato bake, my heart beats a little faster.  It might also do that with bacon.

What kind of old person would you like to be?

The kind that can say whatever she wants and people don’t a) think she’s senile or b) give her the stink eye.  I pretty much say what’s on my mind now [with a few exceptions because inserting the foot is never fun] but yeah, to be open and loud and full of wit.  I want to be Ouiser from Steel Magnolias.

Didn’t I tell you she was uber cool? Do make sure you mosey on over to her blog and hang out, she’ll make you smile every time. Of course I had to put her to work, you don’t just get to be my friend and do nothing.

I asked BooBoo to share some photography tips with us. She got all excited and made it about food photog, which is appropriate for this blog and its perfect timing too. We have all the food madness coming fast, so sharpen your cameras and read on.

I love photography.  I really do.  But I’m here to tell you that I’m no expert.  Far from it.  I’m a hobbyist whose picked up a few pointers along the way and discovered what I liked.  So while you might read this and think “this gal is a total joke!” I can only agree with you – but I can only share what I know.  Now, let’s get started with what I know about photographing food.

I love my camera, whom I affectionately refer to as “the kahuna”, like I love food.  I love to eat.  And I’ve been known to take the stray photo of the plate in front of me.  Food photography has become so popular of late.  With the number of food blogs that grace the interweb and even special diets that require people to log their meals, everyone is snapping photos of their food.  I blame technology – the digital age has made is so much easier to take pointless photos.  But we can use this to our advantage to capture a great photo.

So while I’m neither a professional photographer nor a food blogger, I always have my camera in hand.  And I wanted to share some things I’ve learned while my photography has evolved.

Color is key. – Yes.  Yes, it is.  Your pot roast might be the best in the county but if your meat has a green hue to it, it will not look appetizing.  (Unfortunately, scratch-n-sniff photos aren’t available.)  Many of the foods we eat have bland colors that don’t match their flavors but paying attention to the color can make the biggest difference.  I find that browns and yellows are the most difficult to capture.  Which is why the next point is very valid:

Use natural light. – Flash photography is great and all but I still haven’t figured it out.  But what I’ve discovered with photographing food is that natural provides the best white balance for this particular still life.  Ambient or *gasp* fluorescent light just puts a funny spin on color.  Try shooting in an area that has a lot of natural light, a window that just brightens up the room.  Or do what some of the West coasters do: photograph your food outside al fresco style.

Try different angles and perspectives. – I have no idea what makes a good photograph; sometimes my “eye” is just a bit off and nothing is working.  So I try a difference angle.  Turn the plate, shoot from the front, shoot from above, get up close and personal – but don’t be afraid to step back.  Try cropping.  There are so many different things to make each dish look original.

Experiment with your settings.  – And not just your camera settings.  Be aware of your background, the colors of your dishes, your napkins, plate your food with style in mind.  Some people have a knack for food styling – this gal doesn’t, so I’ll try a couple different things before I find something I like.  But be bold!  Who says all your photos have to be taken inside?  Take it outside, photograph on the deck, on the grass, on the sand – you don’t know how awesome it can be until you try.

And now… the list of don’ts.  What?  You knew this was coming, didn’t you?  You didn’t?  Well, it’s OK you’re late to the party.  We love ya anyway.

–          Don’t be afraid to try new things.  We live in a digital age which means you can take as many photos as your little memory card can hold.  And you can delete.  Easy peasy lemon squeezy. 

–          Don’t take pictures of people eating.  It’s unbecoming.  Even if it is George Clooney – I don’t need to see him chomping away on some Frito Lays… I think… the jury’s still out on this.

–          Be careful not to get too close to your food.  Hot foods will steam and fog up your lens and scraping cheese off the filter never makes for a fun afternoon.  Believe me, I know.

–          Don’t be afraid to share.  Flickr is a fun place to share your photographs and is filled with professionals and amateurs alike.  And everyone loves food.  Everyone.  Well, normal people do.

Here is Brooke’s super tasty Flickr stream. It’s really good food porn. Also, Brooke hosts a photo challenge, I participated for a while this year before life became nutty. But stay tuned, she promises to host a bigger and better one next year. Now go forth and BooBoo!
www.shutterboo.com
the bacon flavored blog

PS: Use lots of exclamation marks in your comments. She loves ’em. mmmmwwhhahaahahahaha.

Anamaris

We should talk…

 OK, don’t freak out, this will be a good conversation. I think we’ve reached that point in our relationship when we should meet…, so to speak. We should figure out where things stand, what we’re doing, where we’re going. I mean, we’ve been carrying on for a bit over 6 months now. Yep, I can hardly believe it, our little blog is 6 months old! And, as a girl, I want to make sure you get me, still like me and that we’re clear about our expectations.

When I started this blog, the only thoughts on my mind were to have an outlet for my love of cooking and photography and my desire to share both with you. It’s been a fun and challenging ride, though inconsistent at times. And that’s what I want to talk about.

If, like me, you’re completely addicted to the Next Food Network Star, you know that one of the things the judges keep pressing the contestants on is having an identity. A direction. A message for their audience. When I go through my archives and analyze the posts I have brought to you, I have to admit that I’ve failed you in this respect. There is no clear identity  or direction. No clearly defined message or purpose.

 That’s about to change. My identity? This one you know. Cien por ciento latina: 100% Latina. My direction? Latin-Caribbean cuisine. I will focus on the flavors I know, the experiences I’ve lived, that’s what I’ll share. My message/purpose? I’m still having a hard time verbalizing that one. I will use some imagery to help it along.

Think back to a meal you had on a visit to Latin America or to a nice Latin restaurant, maybe you’ve never been there before. You read through a menu and every dish described sounded more delicious than the other, even when you didn’t know what some of the ingredients were.  Then remember what you saw, smelled, thought when the waiter placed the dish before you. It was a culinary feast to your senses. It was beautifully presented. The scents were intoxicating and slightly foreign. And when you took the first bite you knew you weren’t going to be able to help yourself. Halfway through the dish you came to the sad realization that, as enjoyable as this meal had been, it was beyond your culinary ability, the dish was intimidating enough not to attempt it in your own kitchen.

Well, I can take you there again. I can help you make it right in your kitchen. I’m here to tell you that the dish you drooled over is only a point, click and a webpage away from your dinner table. I will help you navigate exotic Latin ingredients and you will be as versed and comfortable with them as I am. I know these ingredients, I understand the culture and I want you to enjoy it as much as I do. So, open that pantry. Pull out those pots and pans and let’s get cooking!

That’s the what, now for the when. I started posting on a daily basis, almost compulsively, but as of late, my posting has been quite erratic. Concerns about my family have kept me from the kitchen and this blog. Truth is, blogging has become more than just entertainment or a hobby. It’s therapeutic. From the planning to the execution and presentation, it all brings me a great deal of enjoyment.

My promise to you and myself–to us, is to provide you good content 3 times a week. You can count on a new post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. There may be more, but not less than that.

See? That wasn’t so bad. Think we should go steady?

Cookingly yours,

Anamaris