Tag Archives: cook

Dinner with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at Casa Azul

Guadalupe Rivera Marin remembers the elaborate meals served at Casa Azul, home of her father Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.  Lupe lived with them for a few years and claims to have taught Frida how to cook. Evidently, Frida loved to entertain but didn’t take much to the preparation. I wouldn’t either if it required grinding the masa by hand on a metate to make tortillas over a smokey charcoal fire! The lore around Diego and Frida continues.

Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Art History Tour                     July 2014

In this Washington Post interview about Diego Rivera’s favorite foods, Lupe recalls tables set with flair, abundant meals featuring Oaxaca’s mole negro, and table conversation with famous guests. DSC_8739 Now age 90, Lupe Rivera authored a 1994 cookbook Frida’s Fiestas that replicates many of the recipes served at the Casa Azul dinner table.  Lupe learned these recipes from her mother Guadalupe Marin, Rivera’s second wife and a subject of both Rivera’s and Kahlo’s paintings. EatMexico72013-41 During our art history tour, we visit Casa Azul where these foods were prepared and served, eat some of these favorites at some great restaurants, and explore the paintings of both Rivera and Kahlo with in-depth narrative by a Mexico City art historian who speaks fluent English.

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We invite you to join us!

Special thanks to Bruce K. Anderson for sharing the Washington Post article with us!

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Baking the Improvised Cheesecake: More Art Than Science

Cheesecake is becoming more popular in Oaxaca, Mexico.  Though it’s difficult to find springform pans here that are used to bake the traditional New York-style cheesecake.  I know one store, Pastigel on Calle Rayon near the Periferico that sells pastry baking supplies where you can buy one.  Called moldes, they are very expensive, about thirty-five dollars.  There are plenty of low-cost aluminum cake pans, though.  Line one with buttered parchment paper and it’s easy to improvise.

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Everyone here loves cake.  And, cheese.  RequesonQuesillo.  Queso fresco. Cream cheese, known as Philadelphia, can easily be bought but it’s also costly. More than two dollars a package at our corner tienda in Teotitlan del Valle.  So, we make the best of it and improvise once more.

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To prepare for our cheesecake cooking class, I gave Janet and Diana a shopping list in advance.  Six eggs, one cup of sugar, real butter, a large container of sour cream, four packages of Philadelphia, and one lemon for each cake.  In Spanish, lemons are called limas.  That makes me think of Lima, Peru, which I just realize is named for a citrus. Diana arrives with six ripe lemons picked this morning from the tree in her garden.  It’s not even February.  

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Janet needed my pan and forgot eggs.  I used a deep dish casserole, also buttered, lined with a parchment paper circle partly cut into pie wedges and overlapped.  Improvise, I say.  We redistributed the thirteen eggs between us, so they used five each.  I used three.  Another improvisation. I had two packages of Philadelphia, so I added a cup of Requeson and creamed it along with the cheese and sugar. Then, I added one cup of sour cream and reserved the rest for the topping, which we later adorned with a flor de jamaica (hibiscus flower).  I told the girls that cooking is more of an art than a science for me.

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It took us four-and-a-half hours to make and bake three cheesecakes. As we prepped, Janet translated the steps into Spanish for her family.  Most importantly, we had a lot of fun.

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Many, many years ago, when I owned a gourmet cooking school and cookware shop in Indiana, I baked and sold whole New York-style cheesecakes for twenty-five dollars, three dollars a slice.   I had commercial equipment. Today’s lesson employed a hand-mixer and a food processor (lucky to have them here), which we used to make a cookie crumb crust with Marias instead of graham crackers.

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We are at six thousand feet altitude, so baking is slow.  What usually takes forty-five to sixty minutes in North Carolina is closer to an hour-and-a-half here.  I had to bump up the Celsius temperature on my oven to get a cooked cheesecake.  Translated here: 400 degrees F. instead of 350. Another improvisation.

For the Oaxaca Cheesecake Recipe, click here.

So Easy Recipe for Homemade Organic Corn Tortillas + Yummy Mini-Quesadillas

Mini-quesadilla on a Talavera de la Reyna plate

Who would have thought that making fresh corn tortillas would be so easy?  I have watched for years as Magda takes her organic corn kernels to the local molina (corn grinder) in Teotitlan del Valle, then adds lime and salt, mixes the dough, tenderly pats out the little corn circles by hand, and tends them with her thumb and forefinger at the hot comal in the garden kitchen.  I make a mental note:  Too much trouble.  Easier to buy them. But it doesn’t have to be like that!

I discovered the simplicity of homemade tortillas during the cooking class I recently took with Pilar Cabrera Arroya, chef of La Olla Restaurant in Oaxaca.   She bought the masa (corn dough) already prepared fresh that morning at her local market.  Back at class, we used the tortilla press to make 6″ tortillas that we used for mini-quesadillas — a perfect botana (appetizer).

Testing the masa (dough) for pliability

So, back home in North Carolina I bought a similar tortilla press at my local Mexican tienda, stopped at my local organic market and purchased a bag of Bob’s Red Mill Masa Harina (not organic), followed the recipe on the bag and went to work. (Readers recommend using Gold Mine organic masa harina.)  Of course, the comal (griddle) you see below is a thin steel one that I picked up from the Tlacolula market, hauled home and then seasoned.  You might be able to find a comal like this at your local Mexican store, too.  Thinner is better for making tortillas and roasting peppers, garlic, onions, tomatoes, etc.  Season it first before using!

I use Bob's Red Mill Masa Harina (organic)

Steps for excellent, fresh and easy tortillas:

1.  Mix the dough according to package instructions.  Let it rest for an hour in a covered bowl.  Test the dough with your thumb to be sure it is soft and no cracks appear on the surface.  If needed, flick water on it, then knead to absorb moisture.  Your thumb should make a nice, soft impression!

2.  Take a small thin plastic bag that you have used to package your vegetables from the supermarket.  Be sure it is clean has has no veggie residue on it.  Cut it in half and trip off any excess.  Lay one half on the bottom of the tortilla press.

Dough ball is centered on plastic

3.  Heat your comal on a medium-high burner.  Do not add oil.  The comal should be dry.

4.  Form a 1-1/2″ to 2″ ball of masa with your palms.  Center it on top of the plastic.  Lay the second sheet of plastic on top of the ball.  Press.  Flip the plastic covered dough to the other side and press again.  Flip and press again (3x).

5.  Lift the plastic encased dough off the press.  Gently remove one side of the plastic.  Careful, don’t tear the edges of the tortilla!  Then, remove the second sheet.  Place on the hot comal.

Gently peel the plastic from the tortilla

6.  Good things come in 3’s!  Pilar says to cook the tortilla on one side for about 30-45 seconds, turn it, cook again, and then turn it and cook one more time.  I like a little color on my tortilla, so you can watch to see how well you like it done.  There should be little bubbles on the surface of the first side, then the second side should be smooth and a little puffy.

Cook tortilla until it begins to puff, turning 3x

Lay tortilla onto hot comal (no oil)

7.  Make a little quesadilla:  use Oaxaca string cheese (quesilla) or a slice of Swiss or Monterrey Jack cheese.  Put the tortilla back on the hot comal.  Add the cheese, a tablespoon of green salsa verde, chopped onion or scallion, a sprig of cilantro, and Buen Provecho!

Quesadillas with fresh corn tortillas hot off the comal

And the taste is so much better than what you could buy in the store.  Plus, this would be a great party activity — make your own tortillas!

P.S.  Come to Oaxaca with us for the 2011 Day of the Dead Documentary Photography Expedition led by Bill Bamberger.  Register today!