I enjoy cooking, especially when I have a reliable recipe to follow for something that piques my interest and appetite. I get excited when I find a recipe with a long list of ingredients, specific multiple steps, and lots of reviews and suggestions from others who have made it. It’s a challenge, a new puzzle to be solved, and an afternoon spent making a new dish is delightful, satisfying, and something I look forward to. So, let’s just say it’s been interesting (and surprising) to realize that not everyone feels the same way about cooking as I do.
That said, it’s not that I don’t make mistakes! Just last weekend, one of the appetizers I had decided to make for a get-together failed miserably and ended up in the trash. (It took two days to soak the caramelized chickpeas off the baking sheet, and even then, there were still darkened round spots where they were.) Was it the recipe, or did I do something wrong? Who knows?!
Sharing these kitchen escapades with you each week has been a joy. Some long-time readers know that this column has always been about what we can make with the ingredients found in the Mexican markets and stores where we live, not necessarily about making Mexican food. I also try to stay aware of what’s in season, although that varies wildly in different parts of this big country.
Some things are available everywhere all year round, like limes. Limeade is a given, but this Brazilian Lemonade, made with fresh lime juice and sweetened condensed milk, was a delicious surprise. Because of this recipe, I now keep a few tiny cans of sweetened condensed milk in my cupboard at all times.
Avocados are always available, too, and while avocado toast and guacamole are standards in my house, Avocado Fries were a revelation. Because of the avocado’s high natural oil content, when slices are lightly battered and fried quickly at a high temperature, they turn into creamy, melt-in-your-mouth chunks of lusciousness. Add some dipping sauces and you’re good to go!
I live on the west coast in Mazatlán, a port town where shrimp are plentiful. Shrimp appears on breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus in omelets, burritos, entrees and more. One-kilo bags of flash-frozen shrimp are inexpensive and easy to find, and I always have at least one in the freezer. I’ve made many shrimp dishes in my life, but this recipe for classic Garlic Shrimp takes a simple dish to perfection with one easy step. Try it and see!
Now, I’m the first to admit I have a sweet tooth and always seek new ways to satisfy it. Mango Hand Pies accomplished that and gave me another way to use up all the mangos that appeared in June and July. This recipe for Fresh Pineapple Upside-Down Cake modifies a classic favorite to account for the juicy sweetness of the fresh pineapples we get here in Mexico. No need for canned fruit! My childhood memories led me to play around with cookie recipes, and these Cornflake Clusters reminded me of the ones my Mom used to make. (In Spanglish, they’d be “Bocaditos de Corn Flakes.”) They’re fun and easy to make, and everyone will love them.
Although it’s not part of my heart-healthy diet, sometimes I splurge and make something with coconut milk. In this case, canned is easiest, although I have blended fresh coconut water and meat to make my own. This recipe for Coconut Flan is a keeper and not as difficult to make as you would think. Coconut-Ginger Black Beans are savory, spicy, filling on the other end of the flavor spectrum. Use them as a side dish, in burritos or tacos, or as part of a protein-rich breakfast bowl.
Because sometimes we want what we want, I played around with recipes and came up with a no-fail recipe for Barbecue Sauce. Make a batch, and you’ll have it on hand for chicken, fish, tofu, or pork. Even a simple ham and cheese sandwich brightens up when this is added.
Some things effortlessly incorporated into my life, like this Strawberry Jalapeno Mocktail and Cucumber-Ginger Mint Cooler, instantly becoming part of my regular repertoire of drinks. Both are non-alcoholic, made from easily available ingredients, and are pretty and flavorful enough to quench your thirst and make you feel good, too.
As 2023 comes to a close, I wish all of you fellow cooks and enthusiastic eaters best wishes for a year full of delicious food and drink.
Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, featured on CNBC and MarketWatch. She has lived in Mexico since 2006. You can find her on Facebook.