Thursday, December 22, 2011

¡Feliz Navidad!

Hi everyone! Hope you all have an amazing holiday weekend. Looking forward to posting some delicious recipes next week.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Carne Asada

There is an episode of American Dad! where Stan Smith hires a family of Mexican illegal immigrants to manufacture teddy bears out of his basement. In the episode, INS is onto him, so he has to sneak them out in his van in order to get his shipment of bears out on time. Before he leaves, Francine warns him, "If you stop for more than five minutes, they'll have a barbecue." You guys, it's true. It's so true. We love to barbecue. I distinctly remember stopping on the side of the 405 freeway in L.A. to barbecue. If there's grass and enough room to set up some chairs, then you bet we're gonna fire up the grill. We are a resourceful people.

Typically, at our barbecues, we serve "carne asada." It's either flank or skirt steak, marinated or spice rubbed, and cooked on a grill. If you don't have a bbq-happy Mexican family or access to an outdoor grill, fear not! I present to you a stove-top recipe for carne asada!

Carne Asada
Serves 4-5


2 lbs skirt or flank steak
2 garlic cloves
1/2 an onion, roughly chopped
2 oranges, juiced
2 lemons (1 juiced)
1 tbs worcestershire sauce
4 sprigs of Cilantro
Salt & pepper


Place garlic, onion, orange juice, lemon juice, and worcestershire sauce in a blender and liquefy. Place steak in a glass baking dish and season both sides, generously, with salt and pepper. Place cilantro sprigs over the meat. Pour the onion-orange mixture over the meat. Cover and let marinade for at least 3 hours.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Remove meat from marinade (do not clean off) and place on skillet. Brown on both sides for about 3 minutes per side. Only turn once! The more you move it, the more the juices run. After you turn it the first time, squeeze a bit of lemon and sprinkle with salt and pepper and finish cooking. Remove from skillet and let rest for about 5 minutes.

You may or may not be Mexican, but now that you have five minutes, you can have a barbecue! Serve the carne asada with a side of rice and beans or chop it up into small pieces for tacos or quesadillas.

For tacos, I like to sauteé the chopped meat a bit in some oil (or lard for you crazy people) and provide some toppings for delicious taco making. Topping suggestions: Diced onions & chopped cilantro, salsa, grilled spring onions or scallions, guacamole, radishes.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Salsa Verde

Put a little salsa in your step with this recipe for a tangy green salsa.

The star of this post is the tomatillo. The tomatillo is similar in appearance to a green tomato, but it's flavor is very different. It is a tart fruit with a slight sweetness that you'll often find in most green salsas. When you buy them fresh, they come in a husk that needs to be removed prior to cooking. The easiest way to do this is by soaking them in water for a few minutes and then peeling off the husk.

The tomatillo can be roasted, boiled, toasted, or fried. For this recipe, I like to roast them for a smokey flavor that I think goes well with its tartness.

Salsa Verde


1 lb tomatillos
2 serrano peppers (or jalapeños, they are less spicy)
1 small white onion, quartered
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup cilantro
1 tsp lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat oven to broil

Place the first three ingredients on a baking sheet and coat with a bit of olive oil. Note: If you want to reduce the heat of the salsa, remove the seeds from the peppers. Place under the broiler for about 8 minutes or unil the skins of the tomatillos and peppers have charred. Feel free to remove the peppers and/or onions if they are ready before the tomatillos.

Put everything in a blender and puree. Season to taste.

Try replacing peppers with any of the following for a variation on this recipe: 2-3chipotle peppers, 1 roasted poblano, or 10-12 chiles de arbol (tree chiles).

Great salsa for tacos or chip dipping!

Friday, December 9, 2011


Chill a what? It's pronounced chill-ah-key-less. Or you can always call them fancy nachos, like the gringo boyfriend does.

Chilaquiles are generally served for breakfast or brunch. However, they hold up on their own as a main dish for dinner. Or any time, really. Like most dishes in Mexico, chilaquiles can vary depending on the region. Some people will cook them in a sauce until the tortillas are very soft, on the other end of the spectrum, you'll have regions that prefer the tortillas to remain crisp. The recipe my mom taught me is kind of in the middle, slightly soft, while keeping a light crisp. You will also find that you'll have a variety of sauces to choose from. For this recipe, I use a red sauce, very similar to enchilada sauce.

Feel free to add chicken, beef, chorizo, egg, or your favorite toppings!

Serves 4


1 dz corn tortillas, cut into 6 triangles
1 cup of onions, thinly sliced
2 cups of red sauce (recipe to follow)
1 cup monterey jack cheese, shredded
Corn oil


Queso fresco, crumbled
Crema Mexicana (creme fraiche)
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1 avocado, sliced


Heat 1-2 cups of oil (about an inch deep) over medium heat (350-375° F for you fancy people). Slowly add the tortillas in batches and fry until golden. Remove and let drain on a paper towel-lined plate.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions and sauteé until soft (about 5 minutes). Add the fried tortillas and gently stir so that you don't break them making sure that the onions are mixed in well. Sprinkle a teaspoon of salt. Sauteé everything for about 2 minutes. Add the red sauce and gently fold into the tortillas until everything is coated. Sprinkle monterey jack cheese over tortillas, cover for two minutes or until cheese has melted.

Serve in a bowl or plate, sprinkle with queso fresco, top with avocado, cilantro, and drizzle with cream.

Red Sauce


3 cups of dried guajillo peppers (seeded and deveined)
1 large garlic clove
Hot water
1 chicken bullion cube
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp cumin
1 tbs oregano
Salt and pepper


Place peppers in a blender and fill with hot water. Cover and set aside for 15 minutes. Pour out about 2/3 of the water and save for later. Once peppers are tender, add the remaining ingredients. Cover and puree until you have a smooth mixture. Place a fine strainer over a large bowl and strain through. The sauce should not be too runny or too thick. If it’s too thick, add 1 table spoon at a time of that water you saved earlier until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.Heat two tablespoons of oil in a large sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add the pepper mixture to pan, constantly stirring, until oil is well incorporated and sauce has darkened in color. Watch out for splatter! Add oregano (crumble with your fingers) and cumin. Continue stirring for about two minutes. Add heavy cream and simmer for five minutes. Lower heat and add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.

Scarf it down like a champ! *plays Eye of the Tiger*

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mexican Hot Chocolate

Do you like chocolate? Of course you do, you're not crazy. Here's a recipe for a delicious cup of hot chocolate, Mexican style. You'll need to find Mexican chocolate bars like the one pictured above. The most popular brands are "Abuelita" and "Ibarra." My favorite is Abuelita because it has a picture of a cute grandma on the box.

Mexican Hot Chocolate


2 1/2 cups of milk
1 cup mexican Chocolate, roughly chopped
1 stick of cinnamon


In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add milk and chocolate and stir. Continue to stir until most of the chocolate has melted.

Pour the mixture into a blender. Close the lid making sure that there is a bit of an opening to let out any pressure that builds up from the steam. Blend until it gets foamy and you no longer see small pieces of chocolate (about 45 seconds).

Pour into mugs and grate a bit of fresh cinnamon over the top.

You like living on the edge? Try adding a pinch of cayenne pepper into the mix. Adds a nice kick!

Cuddle up and enjoy!

(Note: I did not take these photographs, and I don't have info for credits)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Review: Pequeña

86 South Portland Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11217

I constantly complain about there not being any good Mexican restaurants in New York City. I'm not the only one to say that, I've heard this from many people. You would never expect that such a popular cuisine, in one of the food capitals of the world, would be so disappointing. Ok, I have to admit that I'm a fan of the hyperbole and often find myself making statements that more than likely are exaggerations; "There's no good Mexican in NY" is one of these statements. The truth is that I've found a few gems that can hold up to the best restaurants in California; Pequeña in Fort Greene, Brooklyn is one these places.

I've been living in Brooklyn for three years. I recently moved to the mean streets of Bushwick (but seriously, these are the mean streets. No cute hipsters around here trying to prove something or other). Previously, I lived in Fort Greene. The thing I miss most about no longer living there are the great restaurants, especially my beloved Pequeña.

Pequeña means "tiny" and tiny it is. There are about six small crowded tables that seat two people each and an outside area that seats about 10 more people. The decor is a hodge podge of Mexican items. There are decorative plates on the walls and it's dimly lit by sconces and multi-colored lights. My favorite part are the Alebrijes hanging from the ceiling. Alebrijes are brightly colored Mexican folk art sculptures of fantastical creatures. My dad has been making his own for about 20 years now. When I see them outside of my home or Mexico, they bring back fond memories of my dad standing at his work table, creating beautiful monstrosities.

What it lacks in size, it makes up in flavor. My favorite item on the menu is the Pork Enchiladas with Red Sauce. The pork is always really tender, savory, and juicy. The red sauce is a tomato-based chili sauce that is perfectly seasoned and just mild enough to not overwhelm the rest of the dish. They are garnished with melted oaxaca cheese, salty "queso fresco" and fresh cilantro. If you make your order a "Main," they serve it with black beans and rice. For some odd reason, in NY, most Mexican restaurants serve black instead of pinto beans, which are the customary bean to use. My hypothesis (adjusts glasses) is that since there is a larger Caribbean population here, people are not as used to pinto, so restaurants use the more familiar black beans. I move on to the rice. Oh, the rice. I'm pretty sure it comes from a box. This seems to be a common problem in this city, and I don't understand why. So, either I'm just jumping to conclusions, or there is one shared recipe amongst Latin American restaurants here because I've had that exact same rice at so many places. My other observation, that has led me to this conclusion, is that the rice doesn't "blossom" like homemade rice should. Now that I've gone on for probably too long about their rice, the good news is that it's the only issue I have with their food. Go with a big appetite because their menu is full of delicious Mexican dishes, some traditional and some with a bit of a twist.

Pequeña's comfy atmosphere and extremely flavorful dishes make sitting elbow-to-elbow with a stranger worth it. A few things to note are that they only accept cash and also, if you're in the mood for margaritas, you'll be paying a lot for not very much booze. Not to worry, there are plenty of bars in the neighborhood to guzzle down some No No juice.

Friday, December 2, 2011

'Tis the Seasoning

Do you feel like your food is always under-seasoned even though you followed the recipe?

Here's a tip:

Season as indicated in the recipe. Then, half way through the process, taste your food (a big spoonfull so that all of your tastebuds cop a feel). If you feel it's under seasoned, add a tiny bit more. Finally, once everything is cooked, taste again and make any necessary adjustments.

If you think you've gone overboard with the salt, adding a bit of brown sugar, vinegar, or cream can help. Just make sure to add these ingredients a little at a time.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Rice! A Rice Chicken!

(Yes, that title is an ATHF reference)

I've never had so much difficulty figuring out a recipe as much as I did with Mexican rice. It became the one thing I was super afraid of making. The first time I attempted to make it was back in high school with my friend Veronica. My grandfather was visiting from Mexico, so we decided to make him dinner. We were going to make him enchiladas suizas with rice. I remembered all the ingredients my mom used, but we added all of them at the wrong time. We put the bullion cube in while we were toasting the rice and then the tomatoes at the end. It was quite the mess, but my "Pallen" (that's what we call my grandpa) was a good sport and ate it all up, burned bits and all.

There is definitely a right way to make Mexican rice and a wrong way, but you should never eat the stuff that comes out of a box. You deserve better. So, here's my recipe for delicious rice that you can serve alongside all your dishes.

Mexican Rice
Serves 6-8


2 cups of uncooked white long grain rice
3 large tomatoes
1 large onion, quartered
large garlic cloves
4-5 cups of chicken stock
1-2 chicken bullion cubes
1 pinch of cumin
4 tbs oil


In a blender, combine the tomatoes, 1 garlic clove, 1/2 of the onion, and puree until smooth. Add chicken stock to the mixture until the mixture creates 4 cups of liquid.

Meanwhile, dice the remaining onion.

Heat oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add 1 garlic clove and saute for 2 minutes. Add the rice, the diced onion and saute until rice begins to toast and turn golden. Remove the garlic clove. Add the tomato-stock mixture to the pot and let cook for about 5 minutes. Add a 1/2 cup of chicken stock. You are adding a total of 4 1/2 cups of liquid. Bring the liquid to a boil, add the bullion cube, cumin, and pepper to taste. Cover and lower heat to a simmer. After about 5 minutes, open the lid (watch out for steam!) and stir, gently. If at this point, not much liquid is left, add the remaining stock. Cook for another 10-15 minutes or until all liquid has evaporated and rice is cooked through.

Remove from heat and let cool for about 5 minutes.

Feel free to add some veggies to the rice after you add the liquid. My mom used to add peas or corn. I hated both, but I was a brat.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Taco Tuesday

Every now and then I wish the boyfriend would quit art and become my personal taquero. Then, I remember that he's way too talented and that he can't cook. Instead, this recipe for "Tacos Al Pastor" is my solution for those days when I regret not having answered the cat calls from the taco cart guy.

Al Pastor is a pineapple-chile marinated pork that is usually slow-cooked on a spit (sort of like shawarma). This recipe is a version for those of us who don't have one of them fancy spits or a taquero boyfriend.

Tacos Al Pastor
Serves 6-8


1 large white onion, coarsely chopped
2 cups coarsely chopped fresh pineapple
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
1/4 cup guajillo chile powder
3 garlic cloves, halved
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1-2 chipotle chiles and 1 to 2 teaspoons adobo from canned chipotle chiles in adobo
8 1/4-inch slices of boneless pork chops
1 cup of white onions, chopped
1 tsp paprika (smokey)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Corn tortillas
Avocado, sliced
Lime wedges


Place chopped onion and pineapple in blender. Add orange juice, vinegar, chile powder, garlic cloves, salt, oregano, cumin, chipotles, and puree marinade until smooth. Place pork in large resealable plastic bag. Add marinade and seal bag, releasing excess air. Turn to coat. Let marinade in fridge for at least 4 hours and up to 1 day.

Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Grill pork (do not clean off excess marinade) until slightly charred and cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer pork to cutting board and let rest for about 10 minutes. Chop into small cubes.

Clean off skillet and place over medium-low heat. Add a tablespoon of oil and add ½ of the chopped onion. Cook until transparent and add the pork. Sprinkle paprika over pork and sautee for 5 minutes. This is the part when I like to taste the pork and see if it needs any seasoning. Season with salt and pepper if needed.
Meanwhile, add the remaining chopped onion and cilantro in a medium bowl, toss to combine.

Warm and grease a griddle with a bit of oil. Warm tortillas until slightly golden, about 20 seconds per side. In Mexico, they grease the griddle with lard, so if you're feeling adventurous, do that. It's so worth it.
Serve with onion-cilantro mixture, salsa, avocado, and lime wedges.

Give lots of taco-flavored kisses to your loved ones!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Thanksgiving may be a US holiday, but Mexicans get to celebrate it too. We'll just call it even 'cause of the whole Cinco de Mayo thing.

Here's a recipe for those of you who want to add a little spice to your Thanksgiving. It's super quick and easy and everyone will love it.

Queso Fundido


1 package of Mexican chorizo*
2 cups of shredded Monterey jack cheese
½ cup of diced white onions
1 tbs of chopped cilantro for garnish
1 tbs of oil
Salt & pepper

*Do not use Spanish chorizo. Mexican chorizo is loose, and uncooked. You can purchase it in sausage casing or it comes loose by the pound.


Heat oil on a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions, season with a pinch of salt and pepper, and cook until transparent. Remove from pan and set aside.

Remove oil from the pan and wipe clean with a paper towel. Place pan back on burner and add the chorizo (if it’s in casing, remove from casing). Cook chorizo for about 5-8 minutes or until it turns a deep color. Lower heat and drain any excess oil.

Sprinkle all the shredded cheese over the chorizo and cover the pan with a lid until the cheese completely melts.

Move the chorizo-cheese mixture onto a plate or if you can/want, you can serve it on the skillet. Just remember to be careful because it will be hot. Sprinkle with grilled onions and garnish with cilantro.

I like to serve this dish with chips, warm tortillas, toasted bread, or pitas.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

I Got it From My Momma

Last Christmas, I flew to Illinois to meet my gringo boyfriend’s family for the first time. He wanted me to impress them by cooking a traditional Mexican dish. He told me that his favorite was enchiladas, so that’s what I should make for them. There are a few variations of enchiladas throughout Mexico. The ones that I grew up with aren’t covered with a tomato-chile sauce, but rather, the tortilla is dipped into a guajillo pepper sauce to soak up the flavor and color. To impress my potential future in-laws, I made sure I put my best foot forward. I packed my trusty sack of dried guajillo peppers that my mom sent me from Mexico, and was ready to win them over!

This is a variation of the recipe that I used to cook my way into their hearts, for those who prefer sauce-covered enchiladas. I've also included the recipe I grew up with.

Chicken Enchiladas
Serves 4-6


Variation 1: guajillo enchilada sauce (recipe to follow)
Variation 2: tomato-chile sauce (recipe to follow)
16 corn tortillas
Chicken filling (recipe to follow)
1 cup queso fresco, crumbled
Vegetable oil
Crema Mexican (crème fraîche) or sour cream

Toppers: chopped cilantro, avocado, pico de gallo


Heat about a cup of vegetable oil in a skillet. Dip the cold tortillas, one by one, in the oil until slightly golden yet remaining soft. This step is really important because it will help keep the tortillas soft and not dry out.

Variation 1: Dip each fried tortilla, one by one, in guajillo sauce for a few seconds. Flip over making sure each side is covered in sauce.

Variation 2: Skip dipping the tortillas in the sauce and go straight to filling them up.

Place the tortilla on a plate and add a little bit of the chicken filling, then roll them up and place them on a plate. Make sure that each tortilla is rolled up tightly and that you stack them close together on the plate.
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet (add more oil as needed). Place about 2-3 of the filled tortillas on the skillet and brown on each side (about a minute each side). I find that sticking to about three at a time and keeping them close to each other prevents them from coming apart.

Variation 1: Place 2-3 enchiladas on a plate. Sprinkle with queso fresco and about a tablespoon of crema Mexicana. Garnish with the toppers of your choice.

Variation 2: Place 2-3 enchiladas on a plate and pour the tomato-chile sauce over them. Sprinkle with queso fresco and about a tablespoon of crema Mexicana. Garnish with the toppers of your choice.

I like to serve enchiladas with a side of rice and refried beans. If you want to go the extra mile, make those beans “frijoles charros.” Stick around for that recipe!

Chicken Filling

3 cups shredded cooked chicken
1 large onion, cut into thin slices (kind of like little parentheses)
1 jalapeño, finely chopped
2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 cup of chicken broth
Salt & pepper to taste
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp cumin


Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until tender.

Add the jalapeño and tomatoes. Cook until all ingredients have been cooked through.

Add the chicken and season with salt, pepper, cumin, and oregano. Stir until everything is all mixed in.

Add about half of the chicken broth and cook for about two minutes. Make sure that the mixture is moist. If it’s a bit dried out, add more broth.

Guajillo Sauce


3 cups of dried guajillo peppers (seeded and deveined)
1 large garlic clove
1 chicken bullion cube


Place peppers in a blender and fill with hot water. Cover and set aside for 15 minutes. Pour out about 2/3 of the water and save for later.

Once peppers are tender, add the remaining ingredients. Cover and puree until you have a smooth mixture.

Place a fine strainer over a large bowl and strain through. Add salt to taste. The sauce should not be too runny or too thick. If it’s too thick, add 1 table spoon at a time of that water you saved earlier until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Tomato-chile Sauce


3 medium size fresh and ripe tomatoes, stewed and peeled
¼ oinion
1 garlic clove
1 or 2 canned chipotle peppers (in adobo sauce)
1 tbs oil
Salt and oregano


In a blender, add tomato, onion, garlic, canned chipotles, and about ½ cup of water. Blend until slightly smooth. If you prefer a more rustic sauce, don’t blend too much.
Heat the oil over medium-high heat on a skillet. Fry the mix, when it starts boiling add salt and oregano.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


(not to be confused with "holla!")

I know, everyone’s mom’s food is the best, but I’m one tough cookie when it comes to judging Mexican cuisine, and I’m confident in saying that my mom could totally beat up your mom… in the kitchen, with some oregano… and peppers, and maybe throw in some tomatoes. I could keep going, but it’ll get way too messy. I don’t know much about genetics and if something like being a good cook can be inherited. Although, I am pretty certain that somewhere in my DNA, there’s a chromosome that has a little red pepper next to it, because I can cook the hell out some Mexican food.

When I was 15 years old, my parents opened their first Mexican restaurant. After soccer practice, I’d take my sweaty, grass-stained self to the restaurant and hang around with my mom because she was the coolest person I knew. I don’t think the feeling was mutual. In an attempt to entertain myself, I started to help her around the kitchen (Please note that I took sanitary precautions and made sure that I wasn’t in my gross soccer clothes). I started to pick up on some of her recipes, and soon enough she allowed me to cook some orders. After seeing that I was able to do what none of the other employees could, duplicate her recipes, my mom let me take over the cooking and would allow herself to take a break. I don’t cook in a restaurant anymore. Now, I cook for my friends and loved ones; it’s one of the things I enjoy doing the most.

I’m a strong believer in keeping Mexican cuisine authentic. However, I wanted to make my mom’s recipes my own, by either giving them a twist or enhancing them with spices she may have not been familiar with, while never compromising authentic Mexican flavors. Mexican food can either be extremely easy to make or can be a labor of love. You sometimes have to work with few ingredients and figure out a way to bring out the best in them. Sometimes you’re given a laundry list of spices and it’s up to you to make them work together perfectly. It takes time and practice to cook Mexican food the way it should be.

I take a lot of pride in my cooking, and I want to be able to share it with people. One day I hope to open a restaurant of my own. That dream seems a bit far for me right now. In the meantime, I’m happy sharing my recipes, cooking tips, and when I don’t feel like cooking my own Mexican food and I venture out into NYC, I’ll share my reviews on the restaurants I love and mouth-off about the ones I hate.

It’s about to get real official up in here. My name is Maria Palafox and I live in Brooklyn, NY. I was born in Mexico, but raised in the US. I speak Spanish fluently and can dance the hell out of some “corridos” (google it).