How To Follow A Recipe

We ladies love to talk about food. What we eat, what we cook, who we feed, how many people we were able to feed out of that one dish, Verdad que si? My bestie is in town and when she’s around I eat healthier and we talk about “creative cooking.” I’m not sure if that’s the best description of our food discussions. We’ve been working on easing me away from my Mexican food comfort zone. I tremble at the thought of using a recipe, es demasiado quehacer! Ya se, que exagerada, just how difficult is it to follow a recipe? Pues! Let me tell you that for me, it’s really hard to stay within the lines. Mira, here’s an account of another attempt to follow a “simple” recipe.

I have been talking a lot about stepping out of my comfort zone, cooking something that is not Mexican. The other day, I went all out and told Ben that I was gonna make breakfast for dinner. I told him I was going to make an egg bake, no recipe needed and it wasn’t Mexican. He said “ok” What else was he supposed to say right?. Caso Cerrado!  Until the afternoon when I was talking to my son Thomas about having an egg bake for dinner. He said, “oh…” imaginate the sad emoji with that “oh” I felt it. Especialmente when he said “Ma, I’m gonna be out so don’t worry about me for dinner” Wow! And I said “Maybe I should make a quiche with all the vegetables since…” My husband heard that and said “ooh quiche” and I had to quickly explain that I wasn’t really prepared to make a quiche. Ves, it required a recipe. Besides, I didn’t have the special cheeses and time and I couldn’t make a flaky crust and…I remembered my desire to go outside of the box. I told Ben I would find a recipe for a nice flaky crust. My flaco smiled.

The Recipe In My Kitchen

I jumped on youtube and found an easy recipe. I’m trying to keep my eyes from rolling, because again I confirmed the precipice of recipe climbing. All those details make me lose my way. 

Flour. Sugar. Salt.  Ice cold water. Diced up butter. Combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt, use your knuckles and fingers to work out all the clumps, until it’s all blended. Sprinkle in the ice cold water and use your knuckles to knead it and palms to fold it over, do not over knead it. Form into a ball and “chill” for 30 minutes. Then, use a pastry mat to roll out and transfer to fit your pie pan, remember to pinch off the excess. Luego, cut out parchment paper to fit and line the pie crust with it and freeze it for 30 minutes. Remove the frozen crust from the freezer, it was almost ready for a blind bake (huh?) Make a foil liner to fit into the frozen pie crust that is already lined with a parchment liner. Push it gently around the crust to shape it, weigh it down with pie weights (Que?). This will support the crust as it pre-baked at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

 That was the instructions for the pie crust. What of all that did I actually follow? I used ice water and fingers and knuckles. I baked it for 15 minutes. Let’s put it this way, I’m glad I wasn’t taking a test. Although I did learn two baking terms I didn’t know: “pie weights” and blind bake, I always called it pre-bake. I did not have all the ingredients for the filling, so I worked with what I had, como siempre. 

En Conclusíon

In my opinion, my quiche version looked really nice, pero, did my flaco like it? Yes he did, he asked for seconds. Did he love it? No se. I’m gonna try again, with the right cheeses and heavy cream, I used half n half. In the end I did make Thomas try it, veggies and all. He admitted that he was not a fan of quiche with all it’s veggies and pie crusts. Hijole! Why did I ask? He must have seen my disappointment because he then said “ It’s better mom, it’s almost flaky” maybe I was getting closer to flaky. Heavy sigh, Maybe the layers of tin foil with pie weights would have created the much desired flaky crust. I kind of want to run back to my easy green chile enchiladas.

My bestie says that she finds a recipe and always tweaks it, is that the case for most people? Does everybody do that? I want to know, quizas it’s ok to pick and choose parts of a recipe and let the “sazon” take over, I mean at the end of the day there’s got to be some magic in your fingers.

Getting Comfortable With My Cooking

Te Sirvo Mas?

I’m not sure my ama ‘loved’ to cook, but having a family of 10 and growing exponentially as the grandchildren arrived she spent a lot of time in the kitchen. It was here that she was very comfortable and, I believe, confident. When visitors came over they would eventually be sitting at the kitchen table eating some of her comida casera. “Te sirvo mas?” She delighted in serving a second helping. After meeting my flaco for the first time and seeing his need for “fattening up” She approved of his zeal for her good cooking as she put in front of him a second, then a third serving of her comida Mexicana. At the end of that visit mi ama concluded that maybe our mixed marriage would do well, after all she had taught me her ways in the kitchen. 

Finding My Way in the Kitchen:

Before I got married I was so intimidated by the beautiful pasta meals my roommate put together. Her stuffed shells were beautiful, she used ingredients I never heard of, like ‘ricotta cheese’ something the ricos used. Then she’d make a colorful green salad that accompanied the pasta, hijole, it was so ‘chef like’ that I hated messing it up by cutting into  her delicious presentation. Seeing her meals convinced me that I did not know how to cook, so I said that, until I got married. When I did marry my flaco, those words accused me “I don’t know how to cook”. Imagínate,  how relieved I was to receive for a wedding gift my little paperback Better Homes and Gardens “New Cook Book.”.

Ahora si, I felt equipped to cook for my gringo. I figured he needed his kind of food. I worked really hard at following the recipes…really, really hard… my greatest obstacle was sticking to the recipes. I’d hear my amas words Pruébalo, si necesita sal o chile, échale más” Did it need more salt or chile? Eventually I mastered some basic recipes. I discovered basic drop cookies, and learned that making cookies wasn’t too hard and much tastier than the store bought. I learned how to make white sauce, and the different variations, just like a pro. This Mexican American girl even made Quiche Lorraine, muy profesional! Asi es, every time it came out of the oven so nice and dark golden I was so proud of myself. Oh those unenlightened days before cell phone cameras, I couldn’t even show off! Ben’s lack of a reaction was always a mystery to me. 

Just Like my Ama

I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and eventually I’ve made my way back to my mothers way of cooking, testing and tasting. I took those recipes I learned and I shaped them into my own stilo: a tweaked recipe and my amas way. I work with what’s in the cupboard. I remake a leftover dish into a whole new meal. I stretch my food to feed my unexpected children and grandchildren and rarely do I make the “favorites” exactly the same. It keeps my daughter in law  on her toes. Just as she has mastered something she learned from me, I change it. 

She comes to visit and finds me in the kitchen, after a brief interruption of hugs and kisses from my little loves and Jeremiahs sweet greeting mixed with a kiss and a “Hi ‘Ma.” She sits at the counter to chat while I cook and sure enough she notices I’ve done something new to the Mexican rice I taught her to make or the mac n cheese that her girls absolutely love. They say, “our mom makes the best mac n cheese.” I can’t resist telling them that I taught her how to make it. Of course it doesn’t phase them, their mom is the best mac n cheese maker in the world! As it should be. A standard conversation Denise and I have which usually starts with my back to her as I’m adding an ingredient while she tries to peer over my shoulder from the counter.

Denise: Wait! What are you adding to the sauce? I don’t remember you telling me to add that?

Me: What? Oh, yea. 

Denise: Have you always added that? 

Me: I have before. I don’t know if I always do.

Denise: Man! I wish I had a hidden camera here to watch you cooking and get those secrets.

Me: I don’t have secrets, I just work with what I have.

If my son Thomas happens to be home, he would add his spice to the conversation.

Thomas: Yea, whenever anyone asks mom for her recipe, she is never never sure what she added this time! I love her experiments.

Back to the Directions:

Recently I’ve been thinking that I need to “learn to cook” with recipes again. It’s needed. It teaches discipline. Just as I’ve convinced myself to use my cookbooks again, my little 5 year old Rachel made one comment and my resolve has tumbled to the ground.

Rachel– “D’ma I wish you douldn’t have tollowed the directions so that the pancakes dould have been delithish” Her lisp always makes this strong Latina woman melt.

I was focused on making pancakes for my little overnight visitors. I was reading the directions from the Bisquick mix but of course I was tweaking it so that I would make just enough and waste food. I hate wasting food. 

Me: What? Don’t you like these pancakes?

She mumbled something, but I couldn’t understand her. I chuckled, my brain received her comment as a compliment.

En Conclusión

I like to think that I’m like my ama when it comes to cooking. I enjoy feeding others. I work hard to prepare good food and love it when others eat it up. Thomas has established an unspoken rule. After you’ve tasted the food and your tastebuds rejoice, you must tell the cook her food is good. It boosts her confidence and keeps her cooking. “Good cook Ma”