Friday, February 18, 2011

From Spain to Mexico and onto the Middle East

My cooking has taken me vicariously through great countries of the world! After we wrapped up Spain, we quickly moved into Mexican cuisine. Cooking authentically is much more rewarding than I had anticipated. Mainly because we have to study the country we are working on, not just following a recipe. In fact, we didn't even use recipes yesterday.

Mexican cuisine is so much more than tacos and burritos. Yes, there are plenty of beans and rice dishes -- but nothing like we get in Ameri-Mex restaurants. I learned that flour tortillas are used in northern Mexico and corn tortillas in the south. "Smothered in cheese" is not a Mexican thing, that's the American way -- not surprising. I've learned the work it takes to make fresh tamales and I don't think I will ever eat one at a restaurant again -- unless, of course, I am in Mexico. I love the fresh ingredients that bring the dishes flavor - simple, yet multilayered sauces without adding oils or fats.

Yesterday we had a surprise "black box" to be worked on in a group. It was actually really fun because he challenged us to look through all these cookbooks he had, but try not to follow a recipe. He wants us to cook by technique and ingredients. YES! This is how I cook at home and finally I am able to be creative and show my stuff! I have to say, I could NOT have done this a year ago or even 6 months ago. I felt like I had to get things perfect and I'd read the recipe a million times -- but that totally slows me down. I finally realized that sometimes you have to go with what is in your soul. And my confidence rubbed off on my teammates. :)

We made chicken and chorizo tamales with mole verde sauce, arroz de Mexican (Mexican rice), chiles relanos, pan fried potatoes with mushrooms and green onions, and an AWESOME pinto bean salsa (pinto beans, tomatillos, onions, garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, and lime juice) with blue tortilla chips. We all did a fantastic job -- and used only our technique and the ingredients we had available. It was awesome.

While we have been venturing in Mexico, our team is also working on cuisine from the Middle East for a special event coming up next week. We are having a huge fundraiser at the school that will be for scholarships for the culinary students -- and I have applied for one of the scholarships. Our class was assigned 4 countries and I chose the Middle East -- mainly because I wanted to learn more about this area, but also because it's close to Tunisian and North African cuisine. Of course there are a lot of differences, but I am so much more drawn to that part of the world since we visited there in 2009. Anyway, our jobs are to be authentic -- but we also need to appeal to a wide group. We chose to make vegetarian dolmas, fatayer sbanikh (spinach triangles), lamb kebobs and spiced almonds. We've tested all the recipes and we are good to go. Our event is one week from today -- I can't wait!! There will be 500-600 people in attendance, so we have to be on our "A" game!

Wish me luck!!