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TIP OF THE DAY: Hispanic-Style Cheeses & How To Use Them

In the past, Hispanic-style cheeses could be difficult to find in the U.S., often requiring a trip to a Mexican specialty food store. But as with Mexican food in general, Hispanic-style cheeses continue to grow in popularity, with many varieties now available in mainstream supermarkets across the country.

California is the country’s leading producer of Hispanic-style cheeses, followed by Wisconsin. You don’t need to wait for Cinco De Mayo to try them, but they’ll make the celebration more authentic. Thanks to the California Milk Advisory Board for this guide to domestic-made, Hispanic-style cheeses.

Note that the names given here are the most common names for these cheeses. However, it is not uncommon for a Hispanic-style cheese to be called by more than one name. Also, some cheesemakers sell their cheeses under a proprietary name. In most cases the names given here will be on the package.
 
FRESH HISPANIC-STYLE CHEESES

Fresh (unripened) cheeses are very young cheeses that have not been allowed to age. Typically, fresh cheeses are soft and moist, white or off-white in color. They have a shorter shelf life than aged cheeses and must be kept in the refrigerator.

Many Hispanic-style cheeses soften but do not melt when cooked. Because they hold their shape when heated, they are often used as fillings or toppings in recipes. They also tend to have mild to pronounced saltiness, so require less salt added to recipes. You can find them in whole-milk or low-fat varieties.

  • Oaxaca (wa-HA-ka) is a mild, firm white cheese with a sweet milk flavor and slight saltiness. Its texture is similar to mozzarella and string cheese, and it is used the same way. The cheese is made either in a rolled ball or braided, the latter said to represent the braided silver crafted in the town of Oaxaca, Mexico, where the cheese originated. The cheese melts well and is often shredded into main dishes prior to cooking.
  • Panela (pah-NAY-la) is mild and moist with a sweet, fresh milk flavor and a firm texture similar to mozzarella. It doesn’t melt, but softens and holds its shape. It can be fried and is also used in sandwiches, salads and with fruit. Pamela has a distinctive basketweave texture from the round basket in which the cheese is drained.
  •    

    Braided Oaxaca Cheese

    Queso Fresca With Salsa

    Top: Braided Oaxaca cheese (photo courtesy Cheese.com). Bottom: Queso fresco with mango salsa (photo courtesy EatWisconsinCheese.com).

  • Queso Blanco (KAY-so BLAN-co) is a white, mild, creamy cheese similar to a mild Cheddar or Jack. It is used in much the same way.
  • Queso Blanco Fresco (KAY-so BLAN-co FRES-co) is also called Queso Para Freir (KAY-so PA-ra fray-EER), cheese for frying. It is a firm, moist cheese that is used in cooked dishes. As its name implies, it is often fried because it holds its shape under heat. It is also crumbled onto fruit, salads, beans and other dishes.
  • Queso Fresco (KAY-so FRES-co) is the most popular Hispanic-style cheese, soft and moist with a mild saltiness and slight acidity similar to farmers cheese. It crumbles easily and softens but does not melt. Queso Fresco is often used in enchiladas, and as a topping or filling in cooked dishes.
  • Requesón (ray-keh-SOHN) is similar to ricotta: It is made from whey and has a soft, grainy texture and fresh milk taste. It is used much the same as ricotta: in salads, spreads, fillings, in cooked foods and desserts.
  •  

    Crumbled Cotija

    Enchilado Anejo Cheese

    Top: Crumbly Cotija cheese can be used like feta (photo courtesy BakeoffFlunkie. blogspot.com). Bottom: Enchilado Anejo is similar to Cotija, but is rubbed with mild red chili or paprika for added flavor (photo courtesy SpecialtyProduce.com).

     

    AGED HISPANIC-STYLE CHEESES

    Aged Hispanic cheeses are made in semi-firm and firm styles. Some will soften but not melt when heated; others are excellent melting cheeses that add richness and creaminess to cooked foods.

    Aged cheeses have a longer shelf life than fresh cheeses. Store them in the fridge and handle them as you would Cheddar or Jack. Most are available in whole-milk or low-fat varieties.

    Note that “añejo” (aged) means something different in Hispanic-style cheeses: It is not analogous to American and European aged cheeses. Hispanic-style cheeses are aged to some degree, but their dry texture and pungent, sharp flavor come from being salted, pressed and dried rather than being aged for a long time.

  • Asadero (ah-sah-DARE-oh) is a mild, firm cheese molded into a log and sold sliced. It is similar to Provolone in its slightly tangy taste and firm texture. It melts well and is used in such dishes as nachos and quesadillas, as well as on hamburgers and sandwiches. Note that Asadero comes in processed versions as well as natural cheese versions. Go for the natural.
  • Cotija (ko-TEE-hah) is named after the town of Cotija, Mexico, where it originated. This firm, very salty cheese is similar to a dry feta in many respects, and is used similarly in cooked foods. It is often crumbled and sprinkled as a garnish over soups, salads and bean dishes. The moisture content will vary by manufacturer, ranging from semi-firm to very firm, although all versions are quite crumbly. Cotija is also sold in grated form.
  • Cotija Añejo (ko-TEE-hah on-YAY-ho) is a version of Cotija that has been aged longer; it is typically made from low-fat milk. Some manufacturers call it Queso Añejo, or simply, Añejo. It is fairly hard and dry and is a mainstay of Mexican cooking, often crumbled over dishes. It has a salty flavor and can be grated or crumbled and used like Parmesan or Dry Jack on salads and cooked foods.
  • Enchilado (en-chee-LA-do), also called Enchilado Añejo, is a dry, crumbly white cheese similar to Cotija añejo. It is distinguished by its colorful reddish appearance, the result of a coating of mild red chili or paprika, which adds a slightly spicy flavor. Crumble or slice it onto Mexican foods, soups and salads. In cooked dishes, it softens but does not melt.
  • Manchego (mon-CHAY-go) is based on the famous Manchego cheese of La Mancha, Spain, where it is traditionally made from sheep’s milk. Here, it is made from low-fat cow’s milk, which gives it a different personality. This firm golden cheese has a mellow flavor similar to a slightly aged Jack, but more nutty. It is used as a snacking and sandwich cheese, and as a cheese course or snack with fruit and wine. It also melts well in cooking.
  • Menonita (meh-no-NEE-ta) is a mild, smooth white cheese that originated in the Mennonite community of Chihuahua, Mexico. Menonita is a good table cheese: Similar in flavor to Gouda, it can be used just like Gouda in recipes.
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    IN SUM…

    Latin cuisine can be spicy, but the cheeses are usually mild, providing a pleasant contrast. Dairy products also lessen the heat of fiery chile peppers*.

    When choosing a Hispanic-style cheese for cooking, keep these three categories in mind:

  • Fresh cheeses like Panela, Queso Blanco and Queso Fresco soften when heated but don’t melt. You can use them to make dishes with a soft, creamy filling that won’t run out onto the plate (like Chiles Rellenos).
  • Melting cheeses like Asadero, Oaxaca and Queso Quesadilla are creamy and mild: excellent for eating as a snack or on a cheese plate. They’re the preferred cheeses for quesadillas, queso fundido and tacos, but they’re also great for topping burgers and pizza. Sprinkle some pickled jalapeños and chopped cilantro on top for even more authentic Latin flavor.
  • Hard cheeses like Cotija can be crumbled or grated for a garnish, or mixed into a casserole or sauce for added flavor.
  •  
    Delicioso!
     
    *The casein (a protein) in dairy binds with the capsaicin (the heat component of chiles) to help wash it out of your mouth.

      

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    RECIPE: Blood Orange Margarita

    Depending on which survey you read, the Margarita may be the most popular cocktail in the U.S. There are scores of variations, from Ginger Margarita and Melon Margarita to Frozen Grape Margarita to a Frozen Kiwi Cilantro Margarita.

    For Cinco de Mayo, we’re adding a new Margarita recipe to our repertoire: the Blood Orange Margarita.

    The original Margarita was made with tequila, Cointreau and lime juice. Here’s the story and more Margarita trivia.

    The recipe was developed by Chef Billy at Prepara.com. If you can’t find fresh blood oranges for the purée, look for frozen purée or substitute refrigerated blood orange juice.

    RECIPE #1: BLOOD ORANGE MARGARITA

    Ingredients Per Drink

  • .75 ounce Cointreau
  • .5 ounce tequila
  • 1 ounce blood orange purée (recipe below)
  • .5 ounce lime juice
  • Optional: splash simple syrup
  • Ice cubes
  • Optional: coarse salt or salt-orange zest combination for rim*
  • Garnish: Blood orange wheel or lime wheel
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    Blood Orange Margarita Recipe

    Toast Cinco de Mayo with a Blood Orange Margarita. Photo courtesy Betty Crocker.

     
    Preparation

    1. PREPARE the optional salt rim. We like to mix 1/3 orange zest with 2/3 salt (zest the orange before squeezing the juice). Dip the rim of the glass into 1/4 inch of water, then twist in a dish of the salt or salt mix to create the rim.

    2. COMBINE all of the ingredients in a shaker. Shake well and strain into a glass with more ice. Garnish as desired and serve.
     
    RECIPE #2: BLOOD ORANGE PURÉE

    Ingredients

  • 4 blood oranges, peeled, segmented and seeded
  • 2 tablespoon simple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  •  
    Preparation

    1. ADD all ingredients to a blender or food processor and purée. Taste and add more simple syrup and.or lemon juice as desired.
     
    MORE MARGARITA RECIPES

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Homemade Dulce De Leche & Dulce De Leche Rice Pudding Recipes

    Dulce De Leche Rice Pudding Recipe

    dulce-de-leche-imusa-230ps

    Top: Use ‘em if you got ‘em—serve pudding in cocktail glasses (photo courtesy Taste Of Home). Bottom: A ramekin of Dulce De Leche Rice Pudding (photo and recipe courtesy IMUSAusa.com.

     

    Rice is not native* to Mexico; dulce de leche caramel sauce is. Combine them to make a most delicious fusion food: Dulce De Leche Rice Pudding. It’s a treat for Cinco De Mayo or for any day of the year when your sweet tooth calls.

    WHAT IS DULCE DE LECHE?

    Dulce de leche (DOOL-say day LETCH-ay) is a caramel sauce, prepared by slowly heating sweetened milk to create a confection that can be used as a filling or sauce.

    You can buy it, but it’s easy to make—simply by heating sweetened condensed milk until it caramelizes, as in the recipe below. Before the invention of sweetened condensed milk (it was patented by Gail Borden in 1856), dulce de leech was made by more laboriously reducing milk (cow’s or goat’s) with sugar. Now, it’s easy, so let’s start by making a batch.

    RECIPE: DULCE DE LECHE

    Ingredients For 1-1/4 Cups

  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 425°F with the rack in middle. Pour the sweetened condensed milk into a 9-inch, deep-dish pie plate and cover tightly with foil. Set the pie plate in a roasting pan and add enough hot water to reach halfway up the pie plate.

    2. BAKE for 45 minutes, then check the water level. Add additional water as necessary, and bake another 45 minutes, or until the milk is thickened and brown. Remove the plate from the water bath and cool, uncovered.

    3. REFRIGERATE, tightly covered, until ready to use. It will keep without loss of flavors for up to 2 weeks.
     
    You can also make dulce de leche by boiling the unopened can of sweetened condensed milk in a pot on the stovetop, simmering for 2-3 hours. The oven technique is faster.

     
    _______________________
    *Rice has been consumed in China for some 5,000 years. The first documented account of cultivation appears in 2,800 B.C.E. The grain then traveled west: to ancient Greece, from Persia to the Nile Delta, wherever there was the warmth and aquaculture it required. It came to the Western Hemisphere, landing in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1685. [Source]

     

    Our father’s favorite recipe was rice pudding. The first of two recipes.
     
    RECIPE: DULCE DE LECHE RICE PUDDING

    Ingredients

  • 1 cup uncooked rice
  • 4 cups whole milk, divided
  • 2 egg yolks
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups dulce de leche
  • Optional garnish: powdered cinnamon
  • Optional garnish: slivered almonds, toasted (instructions below)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. BRING 3 cups of milk to simmer in a small pot over medium heat. Add rice and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring with a wooden spatula every ten minutes.

    2. WHISK the egg yolks, vanilla and salt with the remaining cup of milk and set aside.

    3. SLOWLY MIX the egg yolk mixture into the rice and add the dulce de leche. Continue mixing until the contents come to a simmer and the rice pudding starts to thicken. Remove from heat and pour into individual bowls or ramekins. When ready to serve…

    4. GARNISH with cinnamon and almonds.
     
    MORE DULCE DE LECHE RECIPES

  • Cheesecake
  • French Toast
  • Dessert Grilled Cheese
  • Noche Bueno Sandwich Cookies
  • Popcorn Fudge
  •  

    dulce-de-leche- audinou-wiki-230

    Dulce De Leche Cheesecake

    Top: It may look like chocolate pudding in this photo, but in person, dulce de leche is a deep caramel color (photo Audinou | Wikimedia). Bottom: Make Rice Pudding Cheesecake With Dulce De Leche, with this recipe from Kraft.

     

     
    HOW TO TOAST ALMONDS

    You can toast slivered or whole almonds in just five minutes, in a regular or toaster oven. Toasting gives all nuts a deeper, smoother flavor. Toast 1/2 to 1 cup as a garnish. If you have leftovers, store them for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container. Use them cereal, on salads and soups, on vegetables, in muffin batter, on frosting, etc.
     
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Spread the almonds in a single layer on cookie sheet or in a roasting pan. Bake for 3-4 minutes; then shake pan to for even browning.watching closely so that they don’t get over-toasted or burn.

    2. RETURN to the oven, checking every minute until the almonds are the desired color. Don’t let them get too dark; they’ll acquire a burnt taste.

    3. REMOVE from oven and immediately pour transfer to a large plate to cool in a single layer (otherwise, the almonds will continue to brown from the carryover heat.

    4. STORE, completely cooled, in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Jalapeño Compound Butter

    Ravioli With Hazelnut Butter

    Roquefort  Butter

    Top: Ravioli with walnut butter (photo courtesy David Venable | QVC). Bottom: Steak with Roquefort Butter (photo Recipes101.com).

     

    Whatever you’re cooking for Cinco de Mayo, spice it up with Jalapeño Compound Butter (recipe below). You can use it for cooking, as a garnish (a pat on the top of grilled meat, seafood, corn-on-the-cob), or as a bread spread.

    WHAT IS COMPOUND BUTTER?

    Compound butter (beurre composé), seasoned/flavored butter, is a staple of French cuisine. Almost any flavor can be blended into butter, which is then rolled into a log, covered with plastic wrap, and refrigerated. When needed, just cut a slice from the log.

    For most of its life, compound butter was used as finishing butter: a pat to top hot proteins and vegetables, or blended with pan juices to make a sauce.

    Perhaps the best-known compound butter in the U.S. is garlic butter, known as beurre d’ail or beurre à la bourguignonne) in France. Italian-American garlic bread is an Americanized bruschetta, made with butter instead of olive oil.

    The great French chef Escoffier (1846-1935) published 35 combinations in 1903. They included such classic combinations as anchovy butter with steak and seafood, Roquefort butter on steaks, beurre à la maître d’hotel (lemon parsley butter) with escargots, various herb butters for meat, poultry, fish and vegetables; and numerous nut, spice and wine butters.

    As a truffle lover, we find truffle butter to be a transformational experience, whether used simply on pasta or in a more elaborate preparation. We can have a joyous meal of only a fresh baguette and a tub of D’Artagnan truffle butter.
     
    MODERN COMPOUND BUTTER

    You may not cook French cuisine, but if you like butter, you can incorporate compound butters into much of what you do make: grilled meats and seafood, pasta, potatoes, rice and other grains, eggs, anything that needs a butter sauce.

    Use your favorite flavors: the classics or more modern additions to American cuisine, such as curry, hot sauce, lavender, wasabi…you can think of dozens of great pairings.

    Consider combinations such as:

  • Blue cheese butter in the center of a burger.
  • Chipotle butter for corn-on-the-cob.
  • Chive butter for baked potatoes.
  • Cilantro butter for grilled fish.
  • Coffee butter for toast or steak.
  • Harissa-za’atar butter for lamb chops.
  • Herb butter for cooking eggs.
  • Radish butter on slices of baguette.
  • Seaweed butter for fish or noodles.
  • Sriracha-honey butter for biscuits and chicken.
  • Sweet butter for pancakes, waffles, muffins and toast (chocolate butter, cinnamon butter, maple butter, pecan butter, strawberry butter, vanilla butter).
  •  
    Any of these butters can also be used as spreads; on potatoes, rice and vegetables; and for basting and sautéing foods in butter, or making a quick butter sauce.
     

     

    RECIPE #1: JALAPEÑO COMPOUND BUTTER

    This recipe, from Gordy’s Pickle Jar, uses Gordy’s Thai Basil Pickled Jalapeños. Or, you can pickle your own (recipe below).

    This recipe is for a small batch: good for testing and then adjusting the ingredients.

    Ingredients

  • ½ (1 stick) cup salted butter
  • 2 tablespoons diced Gordy’s Thai Basil Jalapeños (about 8 pieces) or substitute (we minced the jalapeños for more even distribution of flavor)
  • ½ teaspoon brine from the pickled jalapeños
  •  
    Preparation

    1. SLICE the stick of butter into eight pieces and place it in a stainless steel bowl. Let it soften to room temperature.

    2. ADD the diced jalapeños and the brine and blend with a wooden spoon until the jalapeños are evenly distributed. Using the back of the spoon, shape the butter into a ball and transfer to a sheet of plastic wrap.

    3. WRAP the butter in the plastic wrap and shape it into a log. Refrigerate the wrapped log and chill at least 1 hour to harden. When ready to serve, remove from the refrigerator and slice into whatever size you need.
     
    RECIPE # 2: QUICK-PICKLED JALAPEÑOS

    This quick-pickling recipe is meant for short-term consumption and storing in the fridge. Do not use it to “put away” pickles. You may wish to cut the recipe in half if you won’t be using the pickled jalapeños for any other purpose (burgers, salads, jalapeño mayonnaise, etc.).

    Ingredients

  • 1 pound jalapeños (we used red for more color)
  • 2 cups white or white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons pickling salt (substitute kosher salt)
  • 1 tablespoon favorite spices (clove, coriander, cumin, oregano)
  • Optional: 2 cloves garlic
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon sugar*
  •  

    Jalapeno Compound Butter

    Compound Butter

    Top: Jalapeño butter (photo courtesy Gordy’s Pickle Jar). We minced our jalapeños finely for better distribution of flavor. Bottom: Different compound butter flavors (photo courtesy SheKnows.com).

     
    *You can add sugar to the brine, but make a batch without it first. It’s healthier, and it will let the flavor of the spices shine through.
     
    Preparation

    1. SLICE the jalapenos and place in a jar (for compound butter, mince). Cover with white or white wine vinegar (alternative: use half vinegar and half salted water). Add your favorite spices to the brine.

    2. ADD the jalapeños to the brine, making sure that the brine covers the jalapeños. Let sit overnight, although if you’re in a pinch, you can use them after an hour of marinating. They just won’t have a more complex flavor.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Try Authentic Mexican Recipes For Cinco De Mayo

    Mexican Ceviche

    Chicken Fajitas

    TOP: Ceviche Acapulqueno, from the Pacific Coast of Mexico (photo courtesy KatanaeStudio.com. BOTTOM: Tex-Mex foods like fajitas are not authentic Mexican (photo courtesy Wild Oats), but Tex-Mex cuisine that originated in Texas.

     

    Chef Johnny Gnall’s mother is from Mexico, so he grew up eating the real deal: authentic Mexican cuisine. So today’s tip is: Cook something authentic for Cinco de Mayo.

    It’s easy to default to Tex-Mex favorites: most “Mexican” food North of the Rio Grande is Tex-Mex, a cuisine developed by Mexicans who moved to Texas (Tejanos). For example, beef, cheese-stuffed burritos and wheat [white] flour are not common in Mexico. You won’t find chili con carne there; or chimichangas, for that matter.

    Queso dips and fajitas were born in the U.S.A. Nachos were invented in 1943 on the Mexican side of the border, as a spur-of-the-moment solution to feed a group of Army wives from Texas who stopped at a restaurant when the kitchen was closed.

    Anything with beef, black beans, Cheddar or other yellow cheese, cumin, wheat flour, black beans, and canned tomatoes are Tex-Mex, a term that first appeared in print in the 1940s. Tex-Mex was developed by Tejano restaurateurs using local ingredients to appeal to gringos (there’s plenty of beef in Texas). The fusion cuisine began to expand nationwide when food writers “discovered” it in the 1970s.

    While cooking Mexican cuisine is often a multi-step process, there are some simple yet authentic dishes you can make. Also note: There is no single “Mexican cuisine.” As it is everywhere, different regions of any country have different specialties, based on local ingredients.
     

    AUTHENTIC MEXICAN RECIPES FOR CINCO DE MAYO

    RECIPE #1: CEVICHE ACAPULQUEÑO

    Ceviche can be found throughout Mexico (and the rest of Central and South America). Its origins lie along the country’s coastlines, where fresh fish was a staple. Recipes vary according to the local catch.

    This recipe is a popular Pacific Coast ceviche. The distinguishing characteristic of Pacific ceviches is the use of tomato juice and, often, pickled chilies in the recipe. Eastern ceviches, from Mexico’s Gulf Coast, are less complex, using fresh chilies and foregoing the tomato juice.

    You can serve ceviche as an appetizer, as a light entrée (especially at lunch), or a snack. Chef Johnny’s mother eats a big bowl for breakfast when vacationing in Acapulco.

     
    Always buy the freshest fish you can find for ceviche.

    Ingredients For 4 One-Cup Servings

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless fish fillets, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
  • 1 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 1 orange, juiced
  • 1 cup tomato juice
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried Mexican* oregano
  • Optional: 1 bay leaf
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 2 roma tomatoes, diced
  • 2 fresh serrano chiles, seeded and minced
  • 20 green Manzanilla olives, pitted
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • Optional garnish: sliced avocado
  • Optional: tortilla chips
  •  
    ______________
    *Mexican oregano is a different herb than Mediterranean/European oregano. It is in a different botanical family and has different flavor notes. Mediterranean oregano is sweeter, with anise notes. Mexican oregano is grassy, with citrus notes. That being said, you can substitute Mediterranean oregano; just use a little less of it. You can also substitute dried marjoram, which comes from the same botanical family as Mexican oregano and also has citrus notes. Dried lemon verbena is another option.

     
    Preparation

    1. PLACE the fish in a non-reactive mixing bowl and cover it with the lime juice. Let the fish marinate for 3 hours. (This part of the process is curing—essentially, cooking—the fish).

    2. ADD to the bowl: the onion, tomato, orange juice, half a cup of the tomato juice, 1 tablespoon of minced serranos, a few tablespoons of olive oil, a pinch or two of dried oregano, bay leaf, olives, cilantro, and a pinch of salt. Cover the bowl and let everything marinate overnight. The next day…

    3. TASTE and adjust the seasonings to your preference. Garnish with avocado and serve with tortillas chips.

     

    RECIPE #2: FISH VERACRUZ STYLE

    The Mexican state of Veracruz on the Gulf Coast is known for its fine cuisine. While recipes can be quite elaborate, this one is quick and easy.

    This dish was adapted from a Spanish dish called Frita that uses chicken, not fish. The Veracruzeños substituted fish and also added the spicy chilies, as is typical when “Mexicanizing” a dish.

    Ingredients

  • Snapper fillets (substitute tilapia or other white fish)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 limes
  • 1 white onion
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 2-3 pickled jalapeños
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup sliced green olives (pimiento-stuffed is fine)
  • Garnish: avocado or lime slices
  •  
    Serve With:

  • White rice
  •  

    Mexican Tilapia Recipe

    Tilapia Veracruz Style (photo courtesy MexicoInMyKitchen.com).

     
    Preparation

    1. SEASON the filets by rubbing salt, pepper, and lime into the flesh; let sit fit for 15 minutes. The goal here is not to fully cook the fish as in ceviche, but rather to infuse it with a bit of flavor. While the fish is sitting…

    2. CHOP half a white onion, the garlic, bell pepper, pickled jalapeños and tomatoes. Sweat the onion, garlic, and peppers in a pot until soft; then add the tomatoes with as much of their liquid as possible. Add the olives, bring to a simmer and cook for ten minutes.

    3. ADD the fish to a pot, covering the filets as best you can with the sauce. Cook, covered, for about 10 minutes, until the fish is done. Garnish and serve.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Your Own Corn Tortillas

    Do something different for Cinco de Mayo: Make your own corn tortillas.

    Americans eat lots of tortillas: Back in 2000, the Tortilla Industry Association estimated that Americans consumed approximately 85 billion tortillas (not including tortilla chips). They haven’t updated their website information, but we can safely assume that tortilla sales have only gone up. [Source]

    Yet the majority of us have never have seen handmade tortillas. Most Mexican restaurants and retailers have machine-made tortillas, pressed very flat with added preservatives to extend their shelf life.

    Tortillas are a flatbread (see the different types of bread). In a tortilleria (tortilla bakery) or Mexican restaurant, masa (cornmeal dough) is rolled into small balls of dough, flattened and cooked them quickly on a hot skillet. They require only one ingredient—masa harina, a special cornmeal—plus water.

    Like fresh-baked loaves of bread, fresh-baked tortillas are heavenly—and much faster to make. They have no fat or preservatives, so must be eaten the day they’re made (or stored in the fridge for 2-3 days).

    If you don’t have a local tortilleria, it’s easy to make your own.
     
    THE ORIGIN OF TORTILLAS

    Before wild yeast was harnessed by man, bread meant flatbread the world over: arepa, bánh, bannock, focaccia, injera, johnnycake, lavash, matzoh, naan, piadina, pita, pizza, puri, roti, tortilla and dozens of others.

    Tortillerias are native to Mexico and Central America, where they remain a staple food. The oldest tortillas discovered by archaeologists date back to around 10,000 B.C.E., made of maize (maize—corn—is native to Central America). The dried corn kernels were ground into cornmeal, which was mixed with water to make a dough called masa.

    When Hernán Cortés and his conquistadors arrived in what is today Mexico (on April 22, 1519), they encountered the native women making tortillas—flat corn bread. In the Aztec language Nahuatl, it was called tlaxcalli (teu-ax-CAH-lee). The Spanish called them tortillas, little cakes.

    Originally hand-flattened, “technology” most likely evolved to flattening with an implement, and later to manually operated wooden tortilla presses, flattening the tortilla dough one by one. Modern machinery can produce up to 60,000 tortillas an hour.

    Tortillas are now wheat flour in addition to maize. Typically, corn tortillas are used for tacos, flour tortillas for burritos.

       
    Tortillas Recipe

    Tortillas Recipe

    Tortilla Recipe

    Top: The dough is rolled into small balls, eachh of which becomes a tortilla (photo courtesy LoveAndOliveOil.com). Center: The balls are flattened and placed on the grill (photo © Jim Damaske | Tampa Bay Times). Bottom: Beautiful, fresh tortillas (photo TheGumDropButton.com).

     
    Women Making Tortillas
     
    Mexican women making grits in a work by Carl Nebel, 1836.
     
    THE DIFFERENT FORMS OF GROUND CORN

    Unless you work with these products regularly, you can’t be expected to know that all arground cornmeal, dried corn that’s ground down into smaller, coarse bits.

  • Corn flour is the most finely-ground maize. When nixtimalized, it becomes masa harina, used to make tortillas and other flat breads. Compare it in uses to all-purpose wheat flour: for fried food batter (start with a 50:50 mix of wheat and corn flours, for dredging, pancakes, etc.).
  • Cornmeal, also spelled corn meal, is coarse-ground maize (corn). It is used for arepas, grits for breakfast cereal or dinner sides, cornbread, fried foods, gluten-free cakes and pie crusts, hush puppies, Indian Pudding, shrimp and grits, and many other recipes.
  • Cornstarch is a thickener made from refined maize starch. It is a very fine powder.
  • Grits are hulled and coarsely ground grain. Grits can be made from any cereal, although corn grits are the norm. Here are uses for grits for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • Hominy grits are the same thing as grits. Grits is the shortened term for hominy grits.
  • Masa harina, meaning “dough flour for tamales,” is very fine-ground nixtimalized corn used for tortillas and tamales.
  • Masa and hominy are both nixtimalized corn kernels, but hominy is ground from white corn.
  • Nixtimalization is a process that soaks the grain kernels in an alkaline solution, usually limewater—a diluted solution of calcium hydroxide. The kernels are then rinsed. This loosens the hulls from the kernels and softens the corn. Masa harina is nixtimalized corn,
  • Polenta is a paste or dough made from medium- or coarse-ground cornmeal. It is cooked, formed into a roll and then fried or baked.
  • Southern grits are made from a different type of corn than polenta. Grits are made from dent corn; polenta from Italy is made from flint corn. Flint corn holds its texture better, which is why grits are the consistency of porridge and polenta is coarser and more toothsome.
  •  
    RECIPE: HOMEMADE CORN TORTILLAS

    All you need to make tortillas is masa harina and water. Masa harina, Spanish for dough flour, is the corn flour (corn meal) used to make tortillas and tamales. You can’t substitute regular cornmeal: Masa harina is specially treated corn (see the next section).

    You can find masa harina in any Latin American market or other market with a good Latin American foods section. We prefer Bob’s Red Mill brand, which we pick up at Whole Foods. Rick Bayless uses Maseca brand. Since the cornmeal provides the only flavor in the tortilla, go for the freshest, best-quality product. And don’t buy “instant.”
     
    Ingredients For 15 Tortillas

  • 1-3/4 cups masa harina (substitute 1 pound fresh smooth-ground corn masa*)
  • Water
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    ________________________________
    *If you’re near a tortilleria, you may be able to purchase fresh, smooth-ground corn masa. On the other hand, if you’re at a tortilleria, you can purchase the tortillas freshly baked.

     

    Masa  Harina Bob's Red Mill

    51L2KlaJw7L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

    Top: All you need to make tortillas: masa harina and water (photo courtesy Bob’s Red Mill). Because the corn flour is the only flavor to the tortilla, buy the best. Bottom: The tortilla recipe is from Rick Bayless’ great book, Everyday Mexican (photo courtesy W.W. Norton, Inc.).

     

    Preparation

    1. MEASURE the masa harina into a bowl and add 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons hot tap water. Knead with your hands until thoroughly combined. Cover and let stand 15 minutes. (If using fresh-ground masa, available from a tortilleria, scoop it into bowl, break it up and knead a few times until smooth.)

    2. SET a large griddle (one that stretches over 2 burners) or 2 skillets on your stovetop. Heat one end of the griddle (or one skillet) to medium, the other end (or other skillet) to medium-high.

    3. SQUEEZE the dough gently. If it is stiff (it probably will be), knead in some water, 1 or 2 teaspoons at a time, until the dough feels like soft cookie dough: not stiff, but not sticky. Divide the dough into 15 pieces, rolling each into a ball. Cover with plastic.

    4. CUT 2 squares of a plastic bag, 1 inch larger than your tortilla press (we used our George Forman grill with the flat plates). Open the press and lay on one piece of plastic. Lay a dough ball in the center, and gently mash it. Top with the second piece of plastic and close press. Gently flatten the dough into a 1/8-inch-thick disk. Peel off the top piece of plastic.

    5. FLIP the tortilla onto your right hand (if you’re right-handed); the top of the tortilla should line up with the side of your index finger. Gently roll it onto the side of the griddle (or skillet) heated to medium. Let the bottom of the tortilla touch the griddle, then lower your hand slightly and move it away from you. The tortilla will stick to the hot surface so you can roll your hand out from under it as it rolls down flat. After 30 seconds, the edges of the tortilla will dry slightly and the tortilla will release from the griddle. Until this moment, the tortilla will be stuck.

    6. FLIP the tortilla onto the hotter side of the griddle (or the hotter skillet) with a metal spatula. After 30 seconds, the tortilla should be lightly browned underneath. Flip it over. Cook 30 seconds more—the tortilla should puff in places (or all over—a gentle press with metal spatula or fingers encourages puffing). Transfer to a basket lined with a napkin or towel.

    7. PRESS and bake the remaining tortillas. Stack each newly baked tortilla on top of the previously baked tortillas. Keep the tortillas well wrapped in a kitchen towel for warmth.

     
    REHEATING CORN TORTILLAS

    Some people have a tortilla steamer to reheat tortillas in the microwave (we picked up a silicone steamer and use it every day to warm or steam other foods in our microwave). But you don’t need one: You can substitute a kitchen towel.

  • In the microwave: Drizzle 3 tablespoons of water over a clean kitchen towel and wrap the tortillas. Place in a microwaveable plastic bag and fold it over—don’t seal the bag. Microwave at 50% power for 4 minutes to create a steamy environment around tortillas. Let stand for 2 or 3 minutes before serving.
  • In a vegetable steamer: If there is a center post, remove it. Pour 1/2 inch of water in the bottom of a pot. Wrap the tortillas (no more than 12 at a time) in a clean kitchen towel. Place it in the steamer, put the lid on the pot and set it over high heat. When the steam begins to seep out under the lid, time for 1 minute. Then turn off the heat and let the tortillas steam for 10 minutes.
  • On a griddle: Quickly reheat the tortillas one at a time on a dry griddle or skillet.
  • With kitchen tongs: Hold the tortilla with tongs over a low flame.
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    CORN TORTILLAS VS. FLOUR TORTILLAS

    People who don’t enjoy the more pronounced flavor or texture of corn tortillas prefer the milder, softer flour tortillas are prized for their mild flavor and softness. Either can be used in any recipe requiring tortillas. However:

  • Flour tortillas are made with added fat—lard or vegetable shortening—and salt.
  • A standard six-inch corn tortilla contains about half the fat and calories and one fourth the sodium of a similar-sized flour tortilla.
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    Recipe © copyright 2005 Rick Bayless, Mexican Everyday, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
     

      

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    PASSOVER: Matzoh Strawberry “Shortcake” Recipe

    Matzoh Strawberry Shortcake Recipe

    Substitute matzoh for the biscuits or cake in this Passover Strawberry Shortcake recipe. Photo and recipe courtesy Good Eggs | San Francisco.

     

    In addition to Chocolate Matzoh Crunch and chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons, we’ve added anther Passover treat to our recommendations. It’s courtesy of Good Eggs in San Francisco.

    “Shortcake“ is a stretch as a substitute for biscuits or sponge cake, but this no-cook, no-bake Passover dessert is delicious and oh-so-easy to make.

    Speaking of sponge cake, our standard family Passover dessert is Strawberry Shortcake with sponge cake, strawberries and whipped cream. Since sponge cakes are not leavened with yeast, they can be eaten during Passover when made with matzoh meal instead of wheat flour.

    RECIPE: MATZOH STRAWBERRY “SHORTCAKES”

    Prep time is 15 minutes.

    Ingredients For 3 Servings

  • 1 pint strawberries
  • 1 orange, juiced and zested
  • 8 ounces mascarpone
  • 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 boards matzoh
  • Optional garnish: mint sprigs
  •  
    Preparation

    1. SLICE the strawberries and let them macerate in the orange juice, reserving one tablespoon. Mix the mascarpone with the powdered sugar, half of the zest and the reserved tablespoon of orange juice.

    2. MELT the butter in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted, add the matzoh and fry until crispy and golden-brown, about 1 minute on each side.

    3. ASSEMBLE the shortcakes: spread a generous layer of mascarpone on each piece of fried matzo, then top with sliced strawberries and mint. Dust powdered sugar over the top for an extra touch of sweetness!

     
      

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    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Australian Lamb

    While Mom always served great meals, a leg of lamb was a special treat. It was the star of our yearly Easter dinner, served with mint jelly and sides of spring peas and roasted potatoes.

    When the folks from Aussie Lamb contacted us with the offer to try Australia-raised lamb, they didn’t have to twist arms. The lamb arrived frozen, but it didn’t stay that way for long. We defrosted a different cut overnight in the fridge, and the next day enjoyed an exceptional lamb dinner.

    Australia is known worldwide as a producer and exporter of high-quality lamb with a top food safety record. The lamb is 100% free-range, feeding on grass. It is all-natural, free of artificial additives including hormone.

    Naturally lean, tender and juicy with superb flavor, the lamb is aged to retain moisture and then vacuum-packed. Our “Lambathon”—three consecutive days of lamb dinners—has made us a big fan. The chops were wonderful, the rack of lamb celestial.

    All of the cuts are available, from ground meat and kabobs to shank and shoulder—for special occasions to every day. The lamb is certified Halal.

    And, it is half the price of fresh lamb (we checked prices at FreshDirect.com). No one could tell the difference.

     

    Rack Of Lamb

    Cooked Lamb Shank

    Top: Elegant rack of lamb for special occasions. Bottom: Luscious lamb shank for every day. Photos courtesy Australian Lamb.

     
    LAMB: A HEALTHY RED MEAT

    Lamb is a lean protein with low cholesterol. An average 3-ounce serving is just 175 calories. Lamb is an excellent source of protein, niacin, selenium and vitamin B12, and a good source of riboflavin.

    And here’s a surprise: Lamb has three times more iron than chicken and two times m ore iron than pork and salmon. While fish contains the highest level of omega-3 fatty acids, lean lamb is close behind.

    Australian Lamb is a healthy choice for any lifestyle—a naturally nutrient-rich food with high levels of zinc, Vitamin B12, iron, riboflavin and thiamin.

    In our neighborhood, it is carried by the best markets, Citarella and Whole Foods among them. Here’s a store locator.

    There are more recipes than you can shake a tail at, at AustralianLamb.com, along with cooking tips and a video library.

    The council will also send you a free cookbook.

    Could you ask for anything more?

      

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    FOOD FUN: Easter Popcorn Recipe

    For an Easter weekend snack, how about some “Easter” popcorn?

    Just combine plain popcorn with an Easter-theme confection: pastel sprinkles, mini pastel jelly beans or baking chips. We use pastel mint chips from Guittard, but a trip to the nearest candy store will yield other choices.

    You can go one step further and make white chocolate popcorn bark with an Easter candy garnish. Because the candies adhere to the chocolate, you can use pastel M&Ms and other heavier confections (without the chocolate they’ll sink to the bottom of the bowl). This recipe is from Popcorn.org.

     
    RECIPE: WHITE CHOCOLATE POPCORN BARK

    Ingredients For 1 Pound (Twelve 3-Inch Squares)

  • 5 cups popped popcorn (purchased or home-popped)
  • 12 ounces white chocolate baking chips, chopped white chocolate or white candy coating*
  • 1 cup pastel candy (less for sprinkles)
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    ________________________________
    *We use Guittard white chocolate chips or chop Green & Black’s or Lindt white chocolate bars. We avoid white candy coating because it substitutes vegetable oil for the cocoa butter in real chocolate (and that’s the reason many people dislike “white chocolate,” as they’re actually eating white candy coating).

     

    popcorn-rainbow-sprinkles-urbanaccents-230

    Easter popcorn. This batch is made with white chocolate and pastel sprinkles. Photo courtesy Popcorn.org.

     
    Preparation

    1. COVER a baking pan with foil or wax paper; set aside. Place the popcorn in a large bowl; set aside.

    2. MELT the chocolate in a double boiler over barely simmering water, stirring until smooth. When the chocolate is melted, stir in the candy.

    3. POUR the chocolate mixture over the popcorn and stir to coat. Spread the popcorn onto the prepared pan and allow to cool completely. When chocolate is cooled and set…

    4. BREAK into chunks for serving. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Easter Egg Dessert Pizza Or Fruit Platter

    fruit-pizza-easter-egg-sugarhero-230

    This Easter egg “dessert pizza” is glazed fruit atop baked cookie dough. Photo courtesy Elizabeth LaBau | Sugar Hero.

     

    Pastry chef Elizabeth LaBau of the blog SugarHero.com decided back in 2013 to create an egg-shaped dessert “pizza” for Easter: a cookie dough base topped with glazed fruit.

    Looks delicious, doesn’t it? Here’s the recipe.

    We always bake a cake with Easter decorations, and also serve a fruit salad. So three years ago, we adapted the “pizza” idea to a fruit platter.

  • Year 1: We took a tray and piped royal icing in an Easter egg shape, a border to contain the fruit. You could arrange the fruit without one, but as guests serve themselves, the border keeps the shape of the egg (not to mention, it keeps the grapes from rolling away).
  • Year 2: We had an inspiration to go back to the original recipe’s cookie dough, but use it raw to build the border. Unless you have a very steady hand, it’s much easier to shape strips of cookie dough into an egg than to pipe the shape. We used a tube of egg-free sugar cookie dough. Some people nibbled on the dough, some didn’t.
  • Year 3: We used chocolate chip cookie dough. Not surprisingly, most of it was nibbled up.
  •  

  • Year 4: This year, we’re using cream cheese frosting for the border. It’s easier to pipe and tweak (fix the shape) than royal icing. A recipe is below.
  •  
    Truth to tell, even with three years of practice, Ms. LaBau’s work is still far lovelier than ours. But we never claimed to be a professional pastry chef—just a professional pastry eater.

    RECIPE: CREAM CHEESE FROSTiNG

    Ingredients

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup strawberry jam, room temperature
  • 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar
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    Note: To frost a cake, you need a larger amount of icing. For vanilla cream cheese frosting, combine: 16 ounces cream cheese, 2 sticks (1 cup) softened butter, 1-1/3 cups confectioners’ sugar (sifted after measuring) and 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract.
     
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the ingredients and place in a piping bag and pipe an Easter egg shape.

    2. TIP: If you don’t want to pipe freehand, cut an egg shape from foil or parchment and use it as a guide. The trick is to fold the foil in half and cut half an Easter egg, so the halves will be perfectly symmetrical when you unfold it.

      

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