Mexican Everyday

I am not the biggest fan of Mexican food. Or should I say – American-style Mexican food. Regular salsa doesn’t seem to have a lot of flavor dimension – just hot, hotter, and taste doesn’t really matter hot – and everything is loaded down with heavy sauces. And don’t forget about the gut-bomb/inevitable post-meal regret you experience after going crazy on the chips, cheese, and beans. If I do eat it, I’m looking for the fruit/cucumber style salsa, something that’s grilled, and guacamole. My daughter asked for guacamole for Christmas a few years ago. We’re serious about guac, but for the rest…..I’ll opt for Thai takeout.

This cookbook is not that kind of Mexican.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised this week. First, the book is by Rick Bayless, arguably one of the best chefs around, let alone Mexican cuisine specialists. He’s the winner of Top Chef Masters. And he’s a hard-core yogi. (Tidbit from the book!) I’ve had this book for about 3 years and have used it primarily for guacamole and for Cinco de Mayo inspiration. Since it’s the first week of May, this was the book of the week! Rather that just subject my family alone to my 99 cookbooks project, we invited neighbors over for a feast to thank them for feeding us when our kitchen was gutted. That meal was one of the few food highlights I had this past winter, so I was ready to show my gratitude.

The Recipes
Home Cooked Beans
Gulf Coast-Style White Rice Pilaf
Avocado-Mango Salad with Fresh Cheese and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
Rustic Roasted Tomato Salsa
Guacamole Three Ways
Grilled Chicken Breasts with Tangy Yucatecan Spices and Seasonal Vegetables
Chorizo, Potato, and Mushroom Tacos
Smoky Pork Tinga Tacos with Avocado and Fresh Cheese
Tomatillo-Sauced Enchiladas with Spinach and Mushrooms
Pineapple Skillet Upside Down Cake

The Good
The vegetarian options were by far the best this week. The Avocado-Mango salad was the big winner – everyone’s favorite, from adults to the kids. A kid-friendly tip on salads – serve them deconstructed, platter style, so everyone can load up on their favorites. My kids devoured the mango and avocado and nibbled on the lettuce as an afterthought. I’ve snacked on the leftover pumpkin seeds all week. A definite make again. The spinach and mushroom enchiladas were also lights out good. A great dish for guests – and it came together easily on a weeknight. Loved by carnivores and vegetarians alike. I also really liked the rustic salsa and of course – the guacamole recipe. Most people (and restaurants) serve fancy guac, with added lime, tomato, cilantro, onion, but I like it the simple way – avocado, garlic, kosher salt. That’s it. And because it’s so easy and so good, we have guac on a fairly regular basis. (A lot more before I broke my suribachi bowl, but that’s another story.) The grilled chicken was also super, super delicious – a little heat, not too much – and the kids loved the chicken. The pineapple cake was a winner with everyone, but that’s fairly predictable. And I was finally able to overcome my problems with cooking dried beans – the slow cooker. FINALLY beans that tasted good that were actually easier than opening the can.

The Bad
I’m not really into chorizo, so I didn’t love the chorizo and potato tacos. I thought the pork tingas were good; Jeff didn’t like the cubed potatoes. He likes his tacos potato free. Many of the recipes call for corn tortillas; I’m not always the biggest fan of corn but after I followed the suggestion of how to rewarm them, I found the corn tortillas much tastier.

The Ugly
Nothing food-wise was ugly this week, but some of the kid comments were. C screaming “Milk Milk Mik” after trying chorizo. H eating guacamole straight out of the bowl…then making a guacamole taco. Our neighbor’s grandson excusing himself when C grabbed the bowl of mangos and shoved his grubby little paws into it. C crying “not those! not those!” when he saw soft tortillas on the table (he likes crunchy.) And C was creative with leftovers – he made a peanut butter taco the next morning. On his own.

Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless
Final Cookbook Rating – 4 out of 5 stars
I really liked the structure of this cookbook. It’s a fun one to read, and it will make you a better cook with the “rifs on…” following each recipe. Chef Bayless gives a lot of suggestion how to take the basic recipe and make it seasonal, vegetarian, etc. It has heat – and if you like things super, super hot – you can amp up the chiles easily. And if you’re like me – it’s easy to lean back from the amount of chile. Most importantly, every recipe I tried really was fresh and fairly light – even the pork and chorizo tacos weren’t weighed down with cheese. When I’m eating Mexican, THIS is what I’m looking for.

And now for my next cookbook – Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. In fact, I have an almost-4 year old begging for the granola I just made. Maybe this will be a food friendly week for this little guy.

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