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Tita’s Carne con Salsa

MEXICAN RECIPES- Carne con Salsa

“My memories of Tita are unfortunately fuzzy.”

I made this comment to Mom as she drove me to the airport last weekend.

“I don’t think it’s that you’ve forgotten them completely, but you went through a lot early on in your life and sometimes that’s the body’s way of living through the difficulties. The memories will come back to you.”

I come from a long line of women who have learned to make lemonade from lemons.

My grandmother, Tita, which is short for abuelita in Spanish, stepped into her father’s role as director of the telephone company after he passed away, something rather unheard of at the time. While most women took care of hearth and home, she became a working woman. Yet deep inside of her, she longed to marry and have children of her own. And the story of this dream coming to fruition is for another day. When she and Tito journeyed up north to the United States, they found themselves in somewhat dire straits. Their story of survival and adjustment is probably woven into the fabric of most immigrant stories just as their sacrifice could be associated with that of most parents.

Mom, their eldest child was a bit of a terror. Headstrong and stubborn from a young age, she was every part the neighborhood rabble-rouser and leader of adventures and escapades. Not much has changed in that regard. She gave her parents a run for their money and Tito doted on Mom. I think in her he saw his own headstrong thread which bound them together. Living in South Texas during this period, the opportunities for immigrants were not many and they scraped by, living off of love and resourcefulness.

This carne con salsa recipe is testament to that plucky attitude of Tita’s. Mom told me Tita used to make this on a weekly basis. She would use whatever meat was stickered on sale as the foundation for this easy, filling entree. Recently when we were in Costa Rica, eating Gallos con Carne con Salsa, Mama remarked the flavor of it reminded her of Tita’s recipe.

If you think about the place taste holds in the memory, it might be the second most powerful way to remember after smell. That said, smell ties into taste as best evidenced when eating with a cold. One bite of this mixture of beef with tomatoes, of sweated onions and grilled peppers and Mom was transported back to a dinner table in a place not so far but quite different from this Central American lunch table.

My interpretation of Tita’s recipe actually doesn’t use peppers, though you can add one in if you so choose. In the few times that I’ve made this at home, Beck has gone back for seconds. That’s when I know I’ve found a keeper.

You’ll find this something easy to throw together on a Sunday afternoon and the flavors get better the next day as they coalesce. The sauce in my version is more sticky than a traditional salsa and I admit you could add in more water to get a thinner consistency, but the current version will have you licking the spoon for those errant stray bits.

carne con salsa recipe

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Tita’s Carne con Salsa

  • 4 small potatoes
  • 1 medium Spanish onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons safflower oil
  • 8 ounces can tomato sauce
  • 1 pound meat (I go for grassfed & organic when possible)
  • Dash of cracked black pepper
  • Dash of salt
  • 1/3 cup water plus 1 tablespoon

1. Dice the onion and the garlic. Pour the oil in a wide mouthed pan and set on medium high heat. Add in diced onion, garlic, cracked black pepper and salt. Saute for 4 minutes or until onion begins to look translucent.

onion flower

diced onions & garlic
2. While the onion mixture is cooking, wash the potatoes in a colander. Then slice them into rounds.

sliced potato rounds
3. On another cutting board reserved for meat, slice the meat into bite-sized cubes.
4. Add the entire contents of the tomato sauce to the onion mixture.
5. Brown meat and half cook it for about a few minutes.

carne con salsa

6. Add in water and place a potato round atop each meat chunk. The steam will cook the potatoes. If you have extra potatoes and no more meat, just scatter the potatoes in the sauce below. Cover. Cook for 25 minutes over medium heat.


7. Serve with warmed corn tortillas.

~ Makes 4 servings

 

carne con salsa over mashed potatoes

Serving Variation: You could serve this over carrot puree or mash the cooked potatoes with stewed carrots & leeks for a tasty winter variation on a roast or stew. (Note the photo of the variation above used 1/3 cup water instead of 1/2 cup for a thicker sauce and slightly charred consistency. We liked it just fine, but you want to make sure you get the liquid proportioning to your tastes.)

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Recipes

Migas

BRUNCH RECIPES- Migas

I have never been a morning person.

At a young age, Mom and I developed an understanding about me and the morning. Tread gently or waken the hibernating bear. It is one of her many graces that she knew me to be a creature of the night, my creative outlet waking up when the sun set to sleep. One evening when Tita lived with us, she remarked to Mom how bad the thunder had been the night before which elicited a giggle from me and a puzzled look on Mom’s face. I had been moving furniture and re-arranging my room the evening before, envisioning a new layout and convinced I couldn’t sleep until it was in place. I was the kid that kept a style book for interiors with a high need for change.

Thus, Mom never turned on all the lights to burnish the room with mock sunlight. She never threw back the covers laying me vulnerable to the chilly morning air. Instead, she would awaken my olfactory senses knowing the others would soon follow. Piercing my nostrils might be the warming smell of sunshine, of eggs being turned in a pan. And depending on what other aromas mingled with that first one, I had a pretty good idea of what might be waiting.

She would come into my room and say, “Annelies, you have 10 minutes before you need to get up.” The recognition of the nose as alarm clock somehow roused me a little before that deadline if not right on time. Waiting for me would be a homemade breakfast that gentle nudge of a mother wanting to nourish her child and for that child to succeed at school.

My Mom knew the way to my heart.

I have been volunteering with Share our Strength this year believing no child should go hungry and understanding that sometimes though all parents want to provide a food stable environment for their children, they simply do not have the resources. SOS seeks to connect families in need with the services that can provide nutrition counseling and food resources. Last year, 17 million children in the United States went hungry, finding themselves the recipients of school cafeteria programs and in food unstable homes. If you’re in San Francisco April 7th attend Taste of the Nation at the Bently Reserve to help support Share Our Strength.  The best part is that these events are raising funds that will be funneled back into our community. From my volunteer work, I’ve had an opportunity to interview participating chefs asking them about their favorite childhood food memories and what Share our Strength means to them. Each of them has a dynamic answer and is sharing their strength by cooking a feat for Taste of the Nation attendees. All proceeds from this event are going back to Food Runners, SF Fresh Approach, and Children of Shelters.

If you’re in town May 14th, swing by the SF Food Blogger Bake Sale, being held at 18 Reasons for homemade baked treats with all proceeds going back to Share our Strength. This national bake sale encourages home cooks (and in this particular assembly food bloggers) an opportunity for them to share their strength of baking for the good cause of SOS. I am helping organize the event with friends made from last year’s Food Blogger Bake Sale: the accomplished Anita of Dessert First, the indomitable Irvin of Eat the Love and the effervescent Shauna of Piece of Cake.

I am grateful that I never went hungry as a child and am volunteering with Share our Strength to do my part to ensure that can be true for other children.

And anytime I’m feeling homesick or a bit blue, my comfort food of choice is migas. The kitchen wafts again of smells from childhood, of rousing from sleep to take action, of being loved.

Mexican breakfast

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Migas

Some people would think it anathema, but I like to eat migas with ketchup. I know salsa is probably more of a natural choice, but my tastebuds rebel and want those flavors from childhood…

YIELD: 2 servings

Use this recipe to make fresh tortilla chips, but cut them into short strips instead of triangles, as shown below and then continue on with recipe link.

making tortilla chips

making homemade tortilla chips

In a large pan, add chips. Set over medium high heat. If you made the fried chips, no need to add extra oil, but if you made the baked chips, you might want to add 1 tablespoon of oil.

Add salt and pepper to scrambled egg mixture and whisk. Then pour scrambled egg mixture over the chips.

Toss and turn the egg-enrobed chips until the egg fully cooks.

Serve immediately.

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Categories
Recipes

Chilaquiles

BRUNCH RECIPES- Chilaquiles

International travel is a great way to delve head first into understanding a person better.

As one of our first major outings as a newly dating couple, Nathan and I headed down south to Mexico. I popped the question a few weeks into dating, not thinking it was a terribly big deal. The backstory is the invitation was to accompany me to a family wedding. This would be the first time for him to meet my mom and all my Mexican family. Again, this thought never crossed my mind. I have been to several Mexican bodas (weddings) and knew what to expect. I also knew they required a sidekick.

We flew into Mexico tired and hungry. After feasting on homemade delicacies, I took a nap. Nathan accompanied my Tio Eliud to the airport to pick up my mom. It didn’t make me nervous that they would meet for the first time without me present. I liked Nathan and knew he would go over well with the Mom and I was not disappointed.

The next day, we piled into a bus rented to carry all 60 immediate family members and a few friends that might as well be family members to head down to the coastal town of Tampico. Snacks were passed around and a cooler at the front of the bus held beverages. A movie began to play and we were off. All the cousins had already introduced themselves to Nathan, but would sometimes walk down that center aisle smiling and with a “knowing” look. We watched the scenery as the bus took us through neighboring small towns and deeper into the Tamaulipas area of Mexico. Off went one movie and on came another, “The Orphanage.” I got roped into watching this movie partly for its suspenseful story line and the accompanying eerie cinematography. My cousins and I yelped and groaned at the scary parts. As the bus approached the hotel, we made the bus driver do a few extra loops so we could catch the end. Everyone was deeply engrossed and on edge.

We sipped tamarind margaritas by the pool before dinner. This became my drink of choice that weekend as it featured a cumin and chili dusted salt on the rim that complemented the tangy sweet cocktail. Later that night, after dinner 20 of us sat around the hotel lobby drinking beer and telling stories. The mother of the groom Normita, proudly danced with her son, Hector showing such excitement at this rite of passage. A few drinks in and hours in, some calls were made for one of my favorite Mexican traditions: the serenata.

Hector had found a mariachi band for hire to serenade his bride the evening before the wedding. All 20 of us piled sardine-style into several cabs and headed nearby the bride’s house waiting for the mariachi band to arrive. A beat-up maroon van crawled to a slow stop and inside we saw spangled white uniforms. The mariachis had arrived on the tails of their last gig. All 20 of us followed them down the small neighboring street, trying to keep as quiet as 20 people can and trying also to not arouse suspicion from neighbors or notice from the bride. I suppressed multiple giggles as I considered the folly of us walking down that street- this large mass of people intending to surprise the bride. We filed into the carport behind the mariachis. Their stark contrast to the pitch of night in their white sombreros and white uniforms only escalated the delicious anxiety of the moment.  And then just like that, such a noise erupted from the eight piece band that made the dogs howl and the humans no longer contained their laughter, ourselves included. The bride’s father came out, looking a bit bedraggled but smiling, happy to see our merry group celebrating this occasion No bride, and on the mariachis played with the horn popping off bursts of  bright noise. We waited until she came out, fully clothed and made up- the surprise on us.

Through the house we walked, out into her family’s plaza-style garden, as we listened to the mariachis play songs the groom requested while we held his soon-to-be-wife close. Long after Nathan and I had returned to California, this memory remained the highlight of this trip- his first initiation into the Mexican boda.

The next day, some of my cousins swam and relaxed poolside before the big event later that evening. My mom, Nathan and I decided we wanted to explore Tampico. We started out at a café in downtown Tampico known for its good breakfasts. As we were getting up from the table, a man motioned to me and asked if I was an actress on television. I responded saying I wasn’t but he was convinced he’d seen me on TV. It was a funny moment. Off we went scavenging the streets of the downtown, walking past stores and restaurants, walking through flea market-style booths. We ventured into the local cathedral, noted for its interesting tiled floors. Outside we bumped into the Tias and Tios out to the downtown salon to get their hair done for the evening and picking them up, respectively. Nathan, Mom and I climbed onto the bus headed for the beach. Since we were on the coast, we couldn’t imagine not going to see what their beach looked like. A slow, bumpy and circuitous bus ride I spent in between two of my favorite people.  Once we arrived, the hour was late, so we snapped a few photos, sandals in hand and toes dredging their way through sand. We hailed a cab and sped back to don our fineries.

Now, if you’ve never been to a Mexican wedding you may want to think a bit about snacks. In fact, I don’t think it would be too bold to say that Mexico is a nation of food-minded people, resourceful in the ingredients proffered by the land and available at hand. Of the weddings I’ve been to, they have all started at 9:30 p.m. We ate a quick bite before getting dolled up. The wedding was beautiful and the reception stunning. Dinner at 11:30 p.m., we knew we were in it for the long stretch. Course after course arrived. The dance floor flooded with people eager to move their bodies to the rhythm and tempos of the live band. A Mexican wedding embodies celebration: on the plate, on the dance floor, in your ears. The bride and groom looking equal parts exhausted and exultant. Nathan and I would be flying out in the wee hours of the next morning so we did not brave it with the party all night brigade. But here’s what you need to know as my other favorite tradition of Mexican weddings. At 3 a.m., if people are still celebrating, out come the chilaquiles.

Food. Fiesta. Family. Can you really ask for anything more at a wedding celebration?

One night when I was visiting my mom’s home a year or so later, I couldn’t sleep. My brain whirred and hummed, making me acutely aware of its refusal against slumber. I wandered into my mom’s room and lay on her bed. She had heard me pacing in the other room and knew I couldn’t sleep- neither could she. It had been a little over a week since my dad had suddenly died and I had flown back for the wake and funeral. She tried to coax me into talking about it and eventually her gentle nudges let the doorway to the insomnia-riddled anxieties out. After about an hour of talking and listening, she said, “If we’re still awake in an hour, I’ll make chilaquiles.”

And wouldn’t you know it that did the trick better than counting sheep.

Chilaquiles Recipe

 

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Chilaquiles

Chilaquiles have become very en vogue as of late. My mom mentioned that people put eggs in their chilaquiles or even chorizo, but I’m giving it to you as a I remember them from my youth, simple and unadulterated. After conferring with my Tia Berta, we’ve stumbled onto this recipe which will give you crispy chips drenched in mouth-watering salsa. These do not keep well and are best enjoyed right when prepared. Buen provecho!

YIELD: Makes 2 servings

  • Full order of homemade chips
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Crema Casera (you can find this in Latin American groceries)
  • ¾ cup Salsa Verde or Salsa Roja (your preference)
  • ½ cup Oaxaca cheese or Mozzarella cheese, shredded (you want a melty white)

chilaquiles ingredients

chilaquiles ingredients

Place oil, salsa and cheese in large pan over medium heat.

making chilaquiles

chilaquiles sauce

Stir until cheese is fully incorporated into salsa. Add chips to the pan and quickly turn them over until all chips have been coated with salsa mixture. Remove from heat and serve. Garnish with some Crema Casera and chopped onions if you like.

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