Monday, July 1, 2013

Outfitting The Mexican Kitchen

One of the things I loved about our cooking class was the beautiful outdoor kitchen in Chef Paco's backyard. That’s the great thing about being in San Miguel. The temperature is so constant that you can use an outdoor kitchen here all year round.Now if only I had one. I’m intending to meet everyone here who does so I can authenticate the tradition. Don’t be shy about inviting me to dinner.

Chefs kitchen was fully equipped with a variety of tools to make Mexican cooking a bit less complicated. Not exactly the same convenience tools you would use in the states however.

I took notes and went to the market to purchase some of those gadgets from the vendors he introduced us to. Amazingly, they all remembered me and extended the same prices they offered when we first went there. That in itself was worth the price of the cooking class.

More about the class later.

Buen Apetito!


For many Mexicans, a cazuela is as important as a cast-iron pan is to a Southern cook. These clay pots are great for cooking soups, beans or stews.

What I love about using a cazuela is that it holds a steady heat allowing foods to cook both slowly and evenly. You can even make Carnitas in one. I’m so ecstatic that I finally learned to make REAL Carnitas and it took a Cazuela to do it...not to mention a celebrated chef with a good recipe.

They are pretty expensive to buy in the states but you can find a magnificent one in Mexico for under $10. Yes, I’m already taking orders.

It’s no wonder that Cazuelas are collected by Mexican families and handed down through the generations. Some people are so attached to them they even give them a name. I have yet to name mine but probably will before this trip is over.

Chef showed us how to cure a cazuela by rubbing garlic on the unglazed portion and then cooking a tortilla in it until it burns. I cured mine today.

By the way, here is a drink recipe to break your new cazuela. Remember, Mexican’s can always think of an excuse to celebrate. Don’t you just love that?

2 oz tequila or to taste depending on how much I have to do the next day
1 dash salt
1 slice lime
1 slice orange
1 slice grapefruit
1 slice lemon
1 tsp grenadine syrup
Fill with Squirt 

In a cazuela, put ice, salt, lime, orange, lemon, and grapefruit. Add grenadine, tequila, and fill with squirt. Shake and serve.


Like a true Mexican, learn to snatch tortillas with your finger tips. Mexicans DO NOT turn tortillas with tongs so get use to it. I watched Chef and tried it a few times myself. Practice makes perfect so I expect to be an expert by July.

Remember, dry-roasting chiles, peppers and tomatoes imparts flavors that nothing, not even an oven, can duplicate.

Love my comal.

Tortilla Press:

A wood tortilla press is harder to use than a cast-iron one but we all agreed in our cooking class that the wooden ones look more authentic and create a certain legend to the art of making tortillas.

I’m told that Mesquite is the best wood to make a tortilla press and most people swear by them. I’m hoping that my woodworking brother-in-law is in the process of making one for me now.

All I know is that there must be a reason why all of the women at Maxwell Street Market in Chicago and the Tuesday Market in San Miguel use them.


A mortar and pestle made from porous volcanic rock, most people use them to grind spices, make salsas or to cook Mexican dishes with bubbling queso or shrimp. Just talking about all this good food is making me ravenous.

You cure it first by rinsing it well with water; do not use soap.

With the pestle, grind small amounts of rice until the gray sand and grit is ground away.

It’s a labor well worth the results because using a molcajete is the best way to release the flavors from your herbs, spices and all the other ingredients you are using.

Corn Grinder:

This hand crank grinder was a lot of work but got the job done perfectly if you want to make great tasting corn tortillas from scratch.

The result: I finally admitted for the first time that I never liked corn tortillas and always ate flour. I have been rehabilitated and I think that in itself made Chef Cardenas happy.

                                                                                                                               Photo from Amazon
Juice Presser:

What would I do without my hand juicer? I just recently discovered one having religiously used my mother’s glass juicer for years. So much for the splendor of tradition.

Most Mexican’s have them and it’s a handy gadget to get the most juice out of a lime or lemon.

Made of cast-iron, just put your lime or lemon half in with the pulp facing down and squeeze.

It’s an essential tool in the Mexican kitchen, especially when making margaritas.


This keeps your tortillas warm as they come off the comal. It’s a covered basket with a beautiful hand-embroidered table linen.

There are also a lot of thin, fabric warmers for sale that just don’t do the trick. I found this thick one and it kept the tortillas warm the entire meal.

Remember, only enough tortillas are placed in the warmer to get through Round One of the meal. How many rounds at a Mexican table?

Stay tuned for the stats.