Why Aren’t You Eating?

Why aren’t you eating…serrano peppers

Photo credit: Wikipedia

I’m celebrating Cinco de Mayo all week long with info and recipes all about my favorite Mexican foods. So let’s get right to it. Serranos. You have to look carefully at this picture, but the serranos sold at my local market are always green (squint and you’ll see ‘em in between the red ones).

I prefer the flavor and bite of serranos to jalapeno peppers in fresh salsas and guacamole. (And truth be told, serranos are much more common in Mexico than jalapenos anyway.)

See jalapenos have a strong initial heat at the front of your mouth. The zing is overwhelming to the point I can’t taste what I’m eating. But serranos have a different heat experience entirely. It comes at the back of your throat, a little sweet, tingling of heat, building as you munch.

I usually toss in a serrano or two whenever I want to add some heat to a Mexican dish. For a real kick, don’t bother seeding them. For you slow cookers out there–add these to the pot too (the heat will diminish the longer you cook ‘em).

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Why aren’t you using…cumin

Cumin. It’s the 2nd most popular spice in the world after black pepper. And yet you’d have to dig to find it at the grocery store.

In the same family as parsley, dill and caraway seeds (with similar shape and look), cumin has a strong earthy flavor and smell. It adds that layer of old world essence to Mexican and Indian dishes.

When I seasoned our molcajete, I used cumin seeds to smooth out the rough surface of the Mexican mortar and pistol. While you can freshly ground your own cumin seeds, I’ll readily admit I usually don’t have time to do it. I order mine from Savory Spice, but you may have another spice shop in your neighborhood where you can pick up this must-have ingredient.

Try adding it to chili, barbecue sauces, soups, meat rubs, and anywhere else you might reach for chili powder.

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Why aren’t you eating…baby bok choy

You know I’m a fan of all things in miniature–mini-challah bread, mini-quiches–so when I found mini boy choy, well I had to get some. I like to add regular-sized boy choy into stir-fries and even sneak them into sandwiches. So the idea of using small ones, without even having to chop them up immediately appealed to me–and my kids.

I found baby boy choy at my neighborhood Asian grocers (I’ve never seen it at the regular grocery store). After rinsing them you can use them whole in any dish where you’d use the normal variety. With the cook times, I add them when I would green onions and they seem to cook up in much the same way.

Yesterday for lunch I made a quick stir-fry by adding fresh garlic and ginger to about 1/2 Tablespoon of oil and then I added chopped baby bella (yeah, baby) mushrooms, green onions and baby bok choy. After sauteing that for just a few minutes, I added in about 1/2 cup chicken broth, a 1/2 tablespoon of hoisin sauce. I heated that for a couple minutes then added it over rice. Yum.

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Why aren’t you using…almond extract?

I ran out of vanilla extract a few months ago. And I haven’t missed it.

Instead almond extract has become my go-to addition to cookies, cakes and all things sweet.

Pop the cap of the almond extract and you might be a little overwhelmed with the pungent scent that only hints of almond. But baked into goodies, the flavor mellows and deepens giving sweets an added boost of nuttiness.

Your turn–are you an almond extract fan? Are you ready to swap out your vanilla extract for something zingier?

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Why aren’t you drinking…LaCroix?

Photo credit: LaCroix.com

Seltzer water is an acquired taste. And I’ve got it.

Instead of drinking soda around our house, when my kids have a craving for bubbles, I like to give them LaCroix seltzer water.

I usually mix LaCroix with fresh juice to give it some flavor (and to clean out my fruit drawer–mandarin oranges that might be too sour for eating are perfect squeezed into a drink). When I don’t have the time or the fruit on hand, I’ll use boxed orange, pineapple, or apple juice.

Alone, I find juice is just too sweet straight, and seltzer alone, too boring. Together, they make the perfect combo for kids–they feel like they’re getting a treat, while I know they’re getting fewer calories and sugar than if they were drinking soda or even juice.

So for New Year’s Eve if you’re looking for something for your kids to drink besides soda (or you!), pick up some LaCroix. I’d suggest that you fill their glasses first halfway with seltzer water and then the rest of the way with the heavier fruit juice.

As a side note, after extensive testing I find that LaCroix is better than the store brand seltzers which tend to be way too bubbly and to loose their bubbles much faster. I know, I know, I’ve given this way too much thought:)

How about you–what do you give your kids when they want something special to drink?

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Why aren’t you drinking…Mexican cocoa?

Each time I open my spice cabinet Abuelita stares back at me. It’s sorta unnerving. With her wiry glasses perched too far down her nose and one raised, wrinkled eyebrow, her expression is a mix of grandma goodness and mischief.

Abuelita is Mexican hot chocolate. These are no powdery cocoa packets, but six disks of cinnamon-infused chocolate disks with a hint of spice. To use them you heat 4 cups of milk with the disk until it begins to boil.

You can give any hot cocoa a bit of a Mexican twist by adding a bit of ground cinnamon (or stir it with a cinnamon stick). And if you’re more adventurous, go ahead sprinkle just a tad of cayenne pepper. Either way, whether you try Abuelita or just tweak your own hot cocoa, the mix of chocolate and cinnamon fits perfectly with a a few holiday goodies.

Have you tried Mexican hot cocoa? Did you like it? What other tweaks do you give your hot cocoa?

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Why aren’t you eating…purple potatoes?

Photo credit: kthread

Looking over my neighbor Dave’s garden, you can’t help but expect a little blue bird to start chirping in your ear then land on your finger wanting to share a tune. Small, white picket fences separate the butter lettuce from the spinach, romaine and mustard greens, vines of green beans flank both ends of the 15′ by 6′ plot, onion stalks shoot up in perfect rows. And while there’s no bluebirds nearby, he does have a baby bunny living in the garden.

“Aren’t you worried the bunny is going to eat everything?” I asked him one day.

“No, there’s enough to share,” he patiently explained. He’d found the little bunny alone somewhere in his yard and plopped him in the middle of the garden to enjoy the summer. Dave was right. There was plenty of lettuce for the bunny, Dave, and still baskets full of goodies to bring over to our family.

Dave took pity on me. See, I’m no gardener. I think he was a bit worried that my kids would grow up without knowing how to grow anything. He volunteered to till our garden spot (I accepted). Then he came over to show us how to plant seeds. That night he even snuck over and planted potatoes beneath the cucumbers. He told me later, “I wanted you to have a surprise.”

We did end up having a few sweet peas. We managed one salad before a bunny took over our garden and ate the rest (I’ve since decided bunnies are akin to rats and that I don’t like them anymore). Seriously, I would have to loudly clap my hands then flail my arms to get the bunny to leave our garden. Even then, he’d leisurely hop about five feet away and then as soon as I went back inside he’d hop right back into my spinach.

Sadly, when it came to digging up our “surprise,” well, we never did find them. Dave again took pity on us and brought over a large bags of Peruvian purple potatoes. I was hooked. For dinner that night I made whipped, mashed purple potatoes. When my youngest spied the bowl of purple goodness, she couldn’t resist and used her finger to try a big dollop of what she thought was frosting–nope, mashed potatoes. Come dinner time, my youngest just couldn’t get over the idea that her mashed potatoes looked more like Play-doh or frosting than potatoes. She didn’t like them. I did and so did my other two girls.

We’ve since moved away and Dave is sadly no longer our purple potato supplier, but I’ve been happy to find them at our local produce grocers.

There’s a few things to keep in mind when cooking purple potatoes–they’re much softer than regular potatoes so they won’t hold their shape–or have the same cooking time as heartier varieties. The outside skin is a deep purple, then there’s an edge of white and lighter purple flesh. So if you whip them, removing the skin, you’ll end up with a batch of beautiful, lavendar-colored mashed potatoes. For roasting, leave as much of the skin on as possible so they hold their purple color–the inside will lighten with cooking. I roasted them with a medley of red potatoes, yellow carrots and onions and they turned out the mushiest of the batch. Still, the novelty of the color overshadowed any failings with the firmness.

Have you tried purple potatoes yet?

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Why aren’t you drinking…Ya-Cool?

A cousin to drinkable yogurt, this Mexican “cultured dairy beverage” is perfect for packing as a snack or in lunchboxes. My kids LOVE them. Plus, there’s the whole novelty of it. While they might be popular and available everywhere in Mexico, you can’t find them just anywhere in the U.S.

I usually stock up at our Mexican grocers, which is sadly a half-hour drive from our house. Ah well, it’s worth the drive–I grab fresh-made corn tortillas, lime mayo, dried ancho chiles, pinguinos (I’ll have to post about those later–think less sugary, moist Hostess Chocolate Cupcakes). Ya-Cool come in packs of 5 small bottles with an easy to peel off aluminum lid. There are several different companies that make them and plenty of varieties to choose from. My kids’ favorite are the peach and pineapple. I like the regular which has sort of a mild, indistinguishable fruity flavor and strawberry (fresas).

According to the packaging, they are supposed to aid in digestion. I’m not really sure about the health claims, I just know they taste good. Perhaps Activia for youngsters?

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Why aren’t you eating…ZBars

If manna ever falls again from the heavens I think it will be in the form of ZBars.

I had intended to have one right beside me to look at, refer to–eat–while I wrote this post but they’re all gone. And I started the week with two full boxes of six a piece. I first discovered ZBars in the health food section at my grocers (I’m a Luna bar fan too–Nuts Over Chocolate is my all-time favorite). I thought I’d pick up a box as an after school snack for my kids–after all, they are supposed to be energy bars for youngsters. My husband found them–and promptly hid them–after downing just one. They are that addictive. My kids noticed my husband’s (okay, mine too) need for ZBars and wanted to try them too. Now we have a house rule of only one a day. But with five of us….well, we go through boxes quickly. (I found the best price for ZBars is at Target.)

Haven’t tried a Zbar yet? Let me describe the addiction. ZBars are organic granola bars put out by the folks who craft Clif bars. They’re designed for kids, packed with rolled oats, chocolate, oat fiber, fig paste and all sorts of good-for-you ingredients. Each bar has two grams of fiber, no cholesterol (and no undecipherable ingredients either). There’s only 3.5 grams of fat per serving and less sugar than a slice of bread. But I’ll admit, that’s only part of the reason I buy them. The real reason? They taste just like brownies. I should back up and say my flavor of choice is the Chocolate Brownie bar (Chocolate Chip isn’t nearly as satisfying–I promise).

So for after school, after dinner, after soccer practice, after a long day, after pretty much any activity, ZBars are great for kids, but you should really try one too.

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Why Aren’t You Eating…Cholula

Photo credit: jessie.whittle

My oldest could literally drink this stuff–and she does. Splashed on sandwiches, nachoes, soups, she even put a few drops on her chocolate cake a few weeks back.

Cholula is common in Mexico–people serve it as you would ketchup in the US. The flavor is a tangy, vinegary blend of spices that give meals a kick not just of hot, but also chile flavor. It’s like Tabasco sauce with more depth.

You can find cholula at the grocery store in regular, chipoltle, and jalepano. Around our house, we like them all. So the next time you have hot sauce on your shopping list, why not reach for cholula instead?

Hint: Toss a little in the next time you make potato salad.

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