Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Review: Mary Ann's

116 8th Avenue
New York, NY 10011

One of the many perks of living in NYC is that more often than not, if you're walking around and try a new restaurant, you will leave with a full belly, a happy palate, and a new place to take friends when they visit. Most of my family and friends come from either California or Mexico, so when I have to think of restaurants to take them, I know that they probably won't want Mexican. This works out well for me because, as I've mentioned before, this city is not the go-to for Mexican, but that doesn't mean I won't stop trying to find the few hidden gems. In my quest to find more good Mexican restaurants, I wandered into a place called Mary Ann's on 8th Ave. (between 15th and 16th street). Unlike a good role playing game, I was not instructed to go there by the recommendations of a friendly quest giver. Instead, my decision was solely based on seeing a floor packed with tables of hungry villagers, which was a big mistake that cost us about sixty dollars.

When seated, guests are served with salsa and tortilla chips. The chips are freshly made and perfectly crispy, but that's not enough to distract you from their flavorless and underwhelming companion, the salsa. Not only was it watery and not spicy, but I'm pretty convinced that there was not even a pinch of salt in there, let alone spices. While putting to use my secondary talent, eavesdropping, I heard from the table next to us, "Wow! They must have changed owners. I've been coming here for years. This salsa has no flavor." That comment confirmed what I also tasted, but it also gave me hope that maybe it was just a bad batch and the main courses would be better.

The gringo boyfriend seems to always be in my party when I go on these quests for delicious Mexcan food. I guess in the world of RPGs (role playing games) I would be the tank and he is my off-tank. I'm the first to taste the food and assess the situation before handing it off to him for support and to analyze our strategy. In the case of the battle at Mary Ann's, we ordered Pork Enchiladas in Red Sauce, with a side of rice and beans. This was not a battle we were unfamiliar with, since this is typically the dish we order. In typical NYC Mexican food style, the rice was dry and bland. It had the tell-tale sign that it came from a box; the rice grains didn't blossom. The beans were not bad; they were seasoned well and creamy. Unfortunately, that was the highlight of the dish. When we wielded our knives and forks and took a swing at the enchilada, we were very disappointed. The pork, although very tender, was under-seasoned. The red sauce was almost impossible to taste because it was overwhelmed by the heavy cloak of cheese that was slathered on top.

We are not the kind to step away from a challenge, so I do have to admit that we ate all of the food and left our plates clean. That's not because we enjoyed it, but because we are both gluttons that have no self-control when it comes to food. We might as well yell out "Leeeeeroy Jenkins!" before we begin any meal. Although we left Mary Ann's with a full belly, over all it was a disappointing meal that left us with no desire to go in for more attempts.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


For today's post, I bring you the awkward stylings of Maria Palafox! I'm tempted to speak in third person only because I don't want to admit that it's me who you are about to witness attempting to make a "How to" video.

For this recipe, I thought it more important to actually show you the technique instead of rambling on in a wall of text. Since I am no stranger to making a fool of myself, I decided to post these videos of me rambling and awkwardly flaring my nostrils in order to teach you how to make a Sope. I also feel the need to throw out as many disclaimers as I can, like how the audio and video are pretty bad because it's amateur night at Pretty Picante and all I have for recording equipment is my iPhone (for now).

Sopes are a traditional Mexican dish that is served as either an appetizer or a main course. You begin with the base, which is made out of masa (cornmeal dough), and formed into a sort of thick tortilla, deep fried, and filled with different toppings. There is a technique for making the base, which can be easily learned after a few attempts and hopefully not too many burned fingers. I'm providing you with two how-to videos that will hopefully simplify the process.

In the videos, I use a tortilla making "machine," which can be usually found in Mexican grocery stores. If you can't find one, you can just as easily use two cutting boards or even two books! I also use a large ziploc bag that I cut to the size of the machine to line the inside in order to prevent the dough from sticking.Many of us don't have access to a corn mill, so it might be difficult to get a hold of good quality masa. Instead, you can purchase some from a Mexican grocery store that has already been prepared or use a product like "Maseca," which is pretty tasty.



Maseca or "Masa for Tortillas"
2 cups oil
Refried beans
3 cups of filling (i.e. chicken, carne asada, potatoes)
2 cups of finely shredded cabbage
1 cup diced white onions
1 cup chopped cilantro
1 cup cotija cheese (or parmesan)
Sour cream


Prepare the masa following instructions on label. Make sure to cover the masa with a damp cloth to prevent drying. Once the masa is ready, make equally sized balls of dough by rolling between the palms of your hands. Flatten to make a disc. Use your tortilla machine to gently flatten. Remove and place on a warm griddle (or pan). Let cook for 1 minute on each side. Continue turning until both sides have turned a slightly darker color and have developed a slightly hard exterior. Please see video below for details.

Once the sopes are cooked through, you will need to form them and here's the video to show you just that!

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Gently place each formed sope into the oil and fry until they are golden light brown and slightly crispy, about 1 minute on each side. Remove and drain on paper towels.

The final step is to top them with lots of goodies. You begin by laying down a base of refried beans. Add a heaping tablespoon of your favorite filling, top with cabbage, onion and cilantro, salsa, sprinkle a tablespoon of cotija cheese, a dollop of sour cream, and salsa!

Wait, the final step is to put on a bib and get ready for some deliciously messy eating!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Chiles Rellenos

Is one of your New Year's resolutions to lose weight? Then, I suggest you move along... move along... because these aren't the recipes you're looking for. Before you go about your business, if you do allow yourself a cheat day, indulge in this recipe for Chiles Rellenos!

Chiles Rellenos are quite the treat! It's a roasted poblano pepper stuffed with your choice ingredient (usually cheese or ground beef), then egg battered, deep fried, and bathed in a savory tomato sauce. For this recipe, I like to use queso fresco. The smooth and salty flavor of the cheese really compliments the smokey flavor of the poblano. If you don't have queso fresco, feel free to use a mixture of half mozzarella and half monterey jack cheese.I hope you have a good electric mixer or a really big muscley arm to beat some egg whites and get to stuffing!

Note: See that little tomato icon down there? That's my super fancy way of noting that this is a vegetarian friendly dish!

Chiles Rellenos
Serves 4


4 poblano peppers
2 cups of queso fresco, crumbled
1 cup all-purpose flour (reserve half for dredging)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
5 egg whites, room temperature
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
1-2 cups of vegetable oil
Tomato sauce (recipe to follow)
Crema Mexicana (Mexican cream), creme fraiche, or sour cream
10 toothpicks


Place the peppers on a skillet over medium-low heat. As each side gets roasted (turns black), turn each pepper, making sure that all sides have been roasted. Once the peppers have been roasted, and cooked through, place in a plastic bag and close tightly. Leave them in the bag for about 15 minutes. After the 15 minutes are up, remove the peppers and begin peeling the charred skin off. Once all the skin has been removed, cut a slit down the side of each pepper (lengthwise), remove seeds, and veins.

Take a handful of your filling (i.e. cheese or beef) and compact it in your hand, forming a sort of "ball" and insert into each pepper through the slit that you made earlier. Be gentle when handling the peppers, you don't want them to tear. Close the slit and pin together with toothpicks. Try to use the same number of toothpicks for each pepper. You'll need to remove them later and this makes it easier to know how many need to be removed from each pepper. Dredge each pepper in flour, dusting off excess, and set on a plate. Once you have dredged all the peppers, cover, and let them set in the freezer for about 25 minutes.

Mix 1/3 cup of flour, salt, garlic and onion powder in a bowl and set aside. In a separate, chilled, bowl, beat the egg whites until the whites form a stiff peak. Gently fold in the egg yolk and flour-salt mixture. Once everything has been incorporated well, remove the peppers from the freezer and dredge them in flour again, dusting off excess. Hold the pepper by the stem and dip into the egg batter, making sure it is fully coated (be gentle).

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil has reached frying temperature, gently place the battered peppers into the oil and fry on both sides until golden brown. Use a large cooking spoon to gently pour oil over the side that is facing up, this helps when you have to flip them. Remove peppers to a paper towel-lined plate. Now for the tricky part. Gently feel around and find those pesky toothpicks. REMOVE THE TOOTHPICKS!

Serve on a plate and pour a generous amount of tomato sauce over it and a tablespoon of cream.

Now get to om nom noming!

Tomato Sauce


3 medium size tomatoes, stewed
1/4 onion
1 garlic clove
1 tbs chicken bullion
1/2 tsp cumin
Pinch of ground clove
1 tsp Oregano
1 tbs oil


In a blender, add tomato, onion, and garlic. Blend until smooth.

Heat the oil over medium-high heat on a skillet. Fry the mix, when it starts boiling add 1/4 cup of water, bullion, clove, and oregano. Lower heat and allow to cook for 5 more minutes. Adjust seasoning as needed.

Serving Suggestions:
Over a bed of rice
Remove the stem and cut into four parts. Make yourself a vegetarian burrito!
Heat up some tortillas and make tacos.

Produce Selection Tip:
When choosing poblano peppers, look for a deep green color, free of bruising, with a firm skin. For this recipe, pick peppers with a long stem, it will help with the battering process.