Monday, February 04, 2008

Taste Treats

If you grow up in California, Mexican food is as much a part of your diet as hamburgers, pizzas and spaghetti. From fast food chains to family diners to elegant (and expensive) restaurants, everyone eats Mexican. But like the "California Roll" sushi, Mexican food has been highly Americanized in many of these places. For more authentic Mexican food, you'll have to venture into the real Hispanic neighborhoods, or step into a hole-in-the-wall taqueria, or stand in line with day laborers in front of a taco truck.

Mexico, being the giant country that it is, has many regional dishes, and each area will prepare things differently, but I find the food here much simpler and tastier than the Mexican food up north. I absolutely LOVE the chile rellenos here and even when I'm up north, will buy fresh pasilla peppers to make my own rather than settle for the gooey, cheesy mess they call rellenos there.

Yet, after a while...you start craving other flavors. You want more variety. Thank god for a kitchen! And if you are used to improvising, you can do amazing things with the ingredients at hand. (Once, in the States, when I was rolling out pie crust with an empty Corona beer bottle a friend laughed that it might make a good beer commercial.) Like last night's lime ice cream. It was a real winner.

There's this thing called Chantilly Top Cream here. It's just cream with sugar (quite a lot!) and vanilla that they sell in cartons, but just add some egg yolks to it, cook it in a double boiler (small pot in a big pot of boiling water works fine) til it's thick, then add fresh lime juice and cook some more. Then, whip up the egg whites (Miss J's kitchen had no electric beater -- at least none that I could find -- so I just put it in her blender on high for a minute or so) pour that into the cream-egg-lime mixture and when it seems thick enough, remove from stove and let cool. Stick the whole thing in a container and freeze for a while, then beat it with a spoon. I suppose you'd get better texture if you did this a few times, but either way, the end result is a rich, sweet/tart ice cream that tastes a bit like frozen cheesecake. Very rich. Very yummmm.

Our village has a paleteria that sells paletas, homemade popsicles (terrific!) but their ice cream shops pale in comparison to the ones we've found around Oaxaca and further south (with flavors like mescal, tequila, chili and cactus) and the exotic concoctions of Ice Cream of the Gods up in Tepoztlan, so I'll have to keep experimenting. Besides, Big Dog is an excellent lab rat for these sorts of experiments.

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