Inspiration

The heat wave that has hit central Mexico in the past week has debilitated us completely. People think about Mexico as a very hot place with beaches and jungles, but actually here in the center of the country the average temperature is nice and pleasant all year long without any extremes of heat and cold. You have to remember that the center of Mexico is a very high altitude plateau and that Mexico City is at around 7500 feet and where we live is closer to 8200 feet. We even have an active volcano within 25 miles that is close to 18000 feet, the Popocatépetl. Thus we are accustomed to temperatures in the mid-70’s at midday almost all year long, and when it raises to over 90F our systems do not cope with it. I am from Quebec where I was used to extremes of temperature from -45F in the winter to over 95F and humid in the summer, but after living here for over 7 years you lose your adaptation to those extremes.

What does that has to do with inspiration? I have been cooking since I was a little kid when I started baking cookies with my grandmother when I was probably 4-5 years old. Being in a kitchen are amongst some of my earliest memory, and I have a sense of piece and accomplishment when I am working in the kitchen. I am used to the extreme heat of a working kitchen, but when I sit in my office trying to accomplish some work, concentrate on something, or plan what we will eat next and it is over 95F like it is now, my inspiration dies instantly with my transpiration. When you are in the eat of the kitchen you have a task and a goal, and you concentrate to reach it no matter how uncomfortable you get. Here in the office I am slowly dripping bit by bit to the floor, and creating a big puddle under my chair.

Yesterday we did not publish a Daily Express column as Normita was out at a school event with our nieces, and she had something to eat there. It was so hot that I did not even eat anything as I was not hungry. When Normita returned we decided to wait until it cooled down at night and see what we would eat. By 9pm we finally relented and went to eat something and she had the little bit of leftover chicken salad, and I had cold leftover rice from earlier in the week or last weekend. We had a few bites and that was it.

We both woke up starving and had some of the nice banana bread I baked earlier in the week and a nice grapefruit. Now it is getting late again and I have no real inspiration to prepare anything. The heat is not helping, but the fact that it is so hot up here that we do not have the energy to drive down the hill to the store where it must be over 110F in the sun is killing my creativity. Since we did not go shopping we have nothing fresh in the refrigerator. I looked around in there for inspiration earlier, and found a large moldy onion that was starting to sprout, a few old tomatoes, some limp radishes, and some potatoes. Not a great source of inspiration for a great meal.

As I am sitting here I am wondering what I will finally prepare and at least I do not have to prepare a “Menu du Jour” for a restaurant today, as I would simply tell people that the kitchen is closed for the day. I am sure I will figure out something in time. Normita is currently in the shower to refresh herself and I will go do the same soon. After that, refreshed, I am sure that the inspiration will come. Even just thinking of cooling down is helping a bit.

Let’s see… Since I have nothing fresh except those tomatoes, what could I do with them? If they are still firm and nice maybe just a simple tomato salad. Sliced ice-cold tomatoes with some fresh basil, bits and pieces of nuts, some olives, cheese, a sprinkling of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and whatever else the inspiration brings when I get into the kitchen.

See? It was not that difficult. When I cook for ourselves or invent new recipes I let inspiration direct me. Cooking for others is a different thing as some experiments are better left behind the kitchen’s door. Do you hear that, young chefs of the world who are dying to cook something different? There are some reasons that after thousands and thousands of years that some things are not combined in strange ways that are not pleasant. Probably millions of chef trying to do something different tried those combination and found out it did not work, and left it at that…

Sorry about the digression, I did not want to turn this into a rant. Getting back to the title of this post, I found my inspiration just by focusing on this post and letting my mind drift away from the heat, and something interesting came out of it and hopefully the tomatoes in the fridge will be nice enough for what I have roughly planned for them. If not I will be mighty disappointed and there will probably be another post about it…

One last word, as strange as this may sound I actually just planned today’s meal as I was writing this using a technique I developed when I was still a kid. It is somewhat related to directed dreaming, where you focus your mind on something and let your subconscious work the details out. It is a great method to find inspiration and also to find solutions to complex problems. I normally do it very differently, but since I wanted to post about finding inspiration I decided to try the method in finding a solution to my dilemma while I posted about it. It did work remarkably well and if people are interested in hearing more about this technique please let me know and I will elaborate more.

Until then, the shower awaits me and after that it will be the kitchen…

Lucito

Photos – Chicken Salad

It is now past 9pm here and it is still over 90F in the office. Outside it is around 70F, but even with wind no fresh air is entering. The chicken salad we hate earlier was just what was needed on such a hot day. It is a bit cooler in front of the house, but not by much. We enjoyed the nice light salad and even have a bit left for tomorrow. We will see what we will recycle then…

The plated chicken salad perfect fare for a hot day

Lucito

Daily Express – Chicken Salad

It is over 90F in the office today and we are just melting on the floor. We still have half of the roasted chicken we bought yesterday and in our traditional way of not letting anything go to waste we are going to prepare it as a nice chicken salad. It is about the only way I would get it down in this heat. We will dress the chicken with a bit of mayonnaise and cream, herbs and spices, some frozen peas and carrots, and some little cubes of celery. Normita disinfected a head of romaine lettuce and we will serve the chicken salad over a bed of fresh lettuce. With a tall glass of ice-cold water it should just hit the spot…

Lucito

Photos – Chicken Sandwich

In our new found quest for everything leftovers I thought that we would have a leftover free day today as we bought a roasted chicken, but of course when we started to prepare the sandwiches we ended up as usual using a lot of odds and ends we found around the kitchen. First the bread, then Normita found some leftovers pickled chiles in the refrigerator and I found some pickled ergh… pickle slices… We also found an avocado and some cheese slices. so we had some nice sandwiches on small French rolls with cheese, roasted chicken, a touch of mayo, avocado, pickles for me, and chiles for Normita. They turned out great.

When we arrived home I noticed that the roasted chicken was “Ranchero” flavored. Since Ranchero roughly means farmer or ranch owner, I was hoping the the flavor was not sweat and dust, or worse sweat and manure… Luckily it was neither and it tasted to me like any supermarket roasted chicken I ever ate.

Our Ranchero-flavored chicken. Just a plain roasted chicken.
The opened plastic tub makes the chicken a tad more appetizing
Half of the chicken cut in small pieces
My mini-sandwiches ready to eat

Lucito

Daily Express – Chicken Sandwich

I guess that by now most of you who are following us daily are starting to see a trend evolving over the last week or so. It seems that we never have time to do much cooking as we are rushing all over the place trying to put together some big projects on many front. Today is the same as we needed to go out this morning for some business meeting, and we were delayed as the neighbors on one side who are building a house came to visit with their little kids and 3 puppies. Of course a bunch of screaming kids and yapping puppies did not go well with our dogs who joined the fun, the the kids humans and animals on the other side of the fence were just running back an forth raising a huge cloud of dust. Since we cleaned the hose yesterday, that made us both very happy as there is now a huge amount of accumulated dirt everywhere.

I then had to go talk to the owners to convince them that it would be a good idea to finish building the huge wall they started to build and abandoned with the section still open being the center of a huge pile of dirt that the workers are sending to us daily. We have been living in a dust storm for over 2 months now and hopefully they will soon finish they wall so we can breath a bit of clean air once in a while. While we were driving to our meetings we both realized that once again we had forgotten to plan something for lunch. We finally stopped by on the way back to a supermarket and bought a cooked rotisserie chicken and some bread, so I guess we will now go make some chicken sandwiches. I will report later on how they turned out…

Lucito

Daily Express – New York Steak

As mentioned multiple times we finally manage to have our nice steak as we both had the energy and the weather cooperated for a change and I could cook on the barbecue outside as the wind was only moderate. I quickly marinated some zucchinis cut in medium thick slices.

The marinating zucchinis waiting to be grilled.

Prior to that I had prepared some nice baked potatoes and maintained them hot in a low oven while I prepare the rest. About 15 minutes before cooking, I took the steaks out and simply salted them and put some Montreal-style steak seasoning on them. Strangely enough I was raised in Montreal and when I was young you never saw that stuff in the supermarkets. Now I live in Mexico and you can see that stuff all over the place. Go figure… I prefer a simple dry seasoning to my steaks and never use things like oil either on the meat or on the grill. I cook the steaks at very high temperature with the barbecue lid closed, and that has worked for me for over 30 years, so I stick with what works.

The nice New York steaks with a sprinkling of Montreal-style steak seasoning pressed into them.

I grilled the steak to around medium-cooked for Normita as she likes her meat dead, and to blue for me as I like my meat with a nice crust outside and with the inside at body temperature. If it does not go moo when I stick my fork in, it is perfect for me. We enjoyed the meat as it was extremely juicy and very tasty. Next time we go to town to do some shopping we will definitely buy another side of New York.

Normita's plate ready for her to eat.

Lucito

Daily Express – Hot Dog Pilaf

Yesterday, Sunday, I had thawed some nice New York cut steak. Late last fall I had bought an entire piece of New York and butchered it myself into some steaks and two small roast. I still have one of the roast frozen and those were the last of the steaks. We were planning to have those yesterday, but we had an emergency and had to go out late in the day. When we returned we were both too tired to cook and the weather was not cooperating as it was to windy for the barbecue.

In keeping with last week’s pattern I tried to creatively used what was at hand in the larder and use leftovers in creative way. I look into what I had around and found some rice, leftover sausages, chopped onions and tomatoes from Friday’s hot dogs, a few small zucchinis, a bit of frozen corn and chile poblanos, and another head of romaine lettuce. My devious plan was done in quick order. I decided to make some rice pilaf. Since I used the hot dog sausages as part of the ingredients I called it a Hot Dog Pilaf.

Making a pilaf is very easy, you put a bit of oil in a pot and brown the rice in it a bit, add your liquid and cook until absorbed. I first added to the oil the leftover onions and tomatoes as well as the zucchini. Then I added the rice and browned it a bit, then added the water with some powdered chicken broth and seasonings and herbs, and a tab of hot chile paste. I mixed everything and added the sausages cut in cubes to the mix, and cooked until the water was absorbed and the rice was tender.

It turned out surprisingly good, as my expectations were not high. We enjoyed the meal a lot as it was no problem to prepare and used up a lot of things we would not have know what to do with. today we will finally have the steaks and I will write about that later when I have a bit more time.

Lucito

Daily Express – Capellini Alfredo

As mentioned earlier, last weekend was so hectic that I did not even had a chance to post the Daily Express. We were planning to relax and in the end we ended up rushing to the point that we forgot we even had to eat. It was late in the day Saturday when we realized that we were both extremely hungry and that we had not even thought about what to prepare. After a few minutes of quick thinking about what we had in the refrigerator, I decided to prepare a quick Capellini Alfredo. The very thin spaghetti like pasta in combination with an ersatz Americanized version of the original fettuccine with butter and cheese sauce was very satisfactory and very quick to prepare.

Since I had a few leftover hot dog buns form the day before I got an idea to make some garlic buns and to used the prepared garlic butter to make the Alfredo sauce. I made the garlic butter with a large clove of garlic and some fresh basil from the plant that is growing so nicely in Normita’s office. It was dying over the winter when it was in the living room, and since we moved it there has been thriving.

Fresh garlic and basil ready to make the bread and sauce

Starting with a basic garlic and basil butter I prepared the buns and then disinfected some romaine lettuce to make a nice fresh green salad. I boiled the capelettis and when ready, which only took a few minutes as they are so fine, I drained the pasta and in the same pot added the garlic butter, a bit of milk and heavy cream, salt, and pepper and brought that to a slow simmer. Once simmering I added some fresh Parmesan and when that was well melted and incorporated added the cooked pasta and tossed it in the butter and cheese sauce. We served it with a bit more Parmesan and a fresh grating of black pepper for toppings. It was just great and took almost no time at all to prepare.

The plated Capellini Alfredo ready to be devoured

Lucito

Daily Express – Hot Dogs

It has been one of those days again. Somebody reported to me last night that the theme of the blog did not display the first photo of any page correctly as it appeared after a huge space. The problem only happened with Internet Explorer and everything was fine with Firefox. After I fixed the problem I finally ended up rewriting the entire theme to comment it better and to update things that were from many previous versions and I also started beautifying the interface. The day went by and I did not see it.

Around midday I realized that Normita had invited here sister and our two young nieces for lunch and we really did not have anything to serve them. After a brief moment of panic we ended up looking around and came up with some hot-dog sausages so we asked Normita’s sister if she could not pick up some hot dog buns on her way here. I made some mashed potatoes and Normita made some sugar-free gelatin for desert and a few jar of citrus fruit water and everybody had a good time and ate well. At least we managed to please everybody on short notice…

Lucito

Daily Express – Enchiladas de Mole con Pollo

In continuation of our stressful week today we had the leftovers from yesterday which were partly leftovers from some weeks back that we had frozen. As a first course we had the leftover chicken soup from yesterday that, as usual, was tastier on the second day. We did another quick Mexican dish with the leftover mole from yesterday which had the leftover shredded chicken cooked to make the soup yesterday.

That’s a lot of accumulated leftovers. We made some enchiladas that are essentially tortillas dipped in a chile sauce. You start with some nice corn tortillas, in our case we used some Jalapeño tortillas we bought Tuesday. You normally fry them in oil, but we just cooked them on the comal until nice and crisp.

Our nice corn tortillas with Jalapeños crisping on the comal

When the tortillas are nice and crisp, you just dip them in the chile sauce and fold them in half. In our case we dipped them in the mole and chicken from yesterday.

Dipping the corn jalapeño tortillas in the mole sauce

Once you have placed your folded tortillas on the plate you ladle more of your sauce over them.

The plated enchiladas de mole con pollo

Traditionally like yesterday’s chalupas the enchiladas are served topped with grated cheese, and like yesterday we did not have cheese so we used a dollop of heavy cream on them.

The plated enchiladas ready to eat

The meal was very tasty as usual and took a grand total of 10 to 15 minutes to prepare. Now we need to really think about what we will have tomorrow as we ran out of easily accessible leftovers and we will need to actually cook something.

Lucito