Saturday, July 16, 2011

Tequila and Magic In a Mexican Garden

Tequila and Magic

In a Mexican Garden

By Mad Coyote Joe

Looking over at the kitchen window, making sure that his wife Norma isn’t watching, Santiago reaches into the big burlap bag and produces a half empty bottle of tequila. He slowly takes a generous gulp of the golden brown liquid. Smacking his lips together, he utters, “Madre de dios, I needed that.”

We are in the garden collecting hibiscus flowers for Norma. After they dry she will use them to make Jamaica tea. I am thirteen years old and spending the summer in Guadalajara, Mexico with Santiago and Norma. Years ago they worked on my grandfather’s avocado farm in Escondido, California. They are both in their late seventies.

“ Now you want to be careful to pinch the stem just below the base, like this,” Santiago said, carefully removing the flower from the bush. “Turn the flower facing up and gently slide your fingers inside without crushing the flesh of the flower or disturbing the delicate core.” The old vaquero gets a little smile on his sun darkened face and continues, “Trust me mijo, one day, when you have a senorita, she will be very happy that you know how to do this.” He reaches over messing up my hair, while patting me on the head and then goes on. “Pinch this part, called the pestle, at the base and carefully remove it. Then take off the green cup that surrounds the flower, make sure there are no little bugs and then drop the flower into this burlap bag.”

As he drops the deep red blossom into the bag, he gestures with his calloused hand, suggesting that I start picking. “Be gentle, and do me a favor, hurry up every chance you get. I don’t pay you nothing for nothing.” He says with a grin. “Every time you pick one of these flowers a new one will grow back the next day.”

Checking over and then dropping one of the flowers in the bag, I look up and ask “Why?”

The lines around the old man’s face tighten a little, as his smile grows and I can almost see the story coming into focus behind his eyes, “Well… a long time ago, a beautiful woman lived in a little Casita, that eventually was added onto and finally became our big house that you see before you. Her husband got hurt and could no longer work.

“How did he get hurt?” I ask.

“How the fuck do I know? Maybe he worked in the circus washing the elephant’s balls and the elephant sat on him. Whatever happened he couldn’t work.” The old man pauses, taking another slow sip of the tequila, “Ahh! Que bueno… Soon the couple had no money, not even for food. The woman was very worried and would cry every night right here, on this very spot. One night a little fairy was out collecting moonlight and he heard her and asked why she was crying. She said that she needed work, anything to feed her family. The fairy, feeling sorry for her, said he would try to help. He touched the earth and said something in a secret language that only fairies know, and then he disappeared.

I break in, going along with the story, “A fairy… really abuelito, did you ever see a fairy?”

Gordito hush!” Santiago says, as he sharpens his focus on me raising his index finger, in an attempt to look serious. “Pay attention. The next morning the very first one these bushes, popped up right here where her tears hit the ground, and the bush had one perfect red flower. It was so beautiful that the woman thought it must be a sign of good luck. She put it in her hair and went to town to look for work. Times were hard and there was no work to be had, but richest man in the town was having café’ on his terrace. The wonderful scent of the flower intoxicated him. Looking up he saw the beautiful woman with the flower in her hair, and had to have her. He offered her money to spend the night with him. She was so desperate that she agreed.

The next day, when she left the rich man’s home, she was overwhelmed with guilt, and went to the church to pray for forgiveness. As she looked into the font of holy water, in her reflection, the shame of what she had done was as clear on her face as the perfection of the flower that was still in her hair. And then it happened, as she touched the surface of the holy water, the flower shriveled and died… her shame left. She could feel her sins disappear. Then the dried up flower fell from her hair, into the holy water, which instantly turned dark red, like the blood of Christo.”

“Was it blood?” I asked.

“No, the holy water just turned the color of blood. The woman went to the confessional and told the Padre about the rich man and the magic flower and the blood red holy water. He thought it must be a sign from god, so he absolved her of her sins. She went home with food and told her husband that she had paid all the bills. She was free of guilt and her husband had no suspicions.

After she left the Padre went to look at the holy water that looked like blood. He worried it would scare away his flock, coming to confession. He had a big problem… he couldn’t just throw it out, so he blessed himself and drank it.”

“What did it taste like?” I ask?

“I don’t know, but it looked like blood and that padre had the cajones to drink it! Well the next morning when the woman went outside, the bush had grown a new flower, just as beautiful. The woman, thinking that it might be a good idea to make a little more money to put aside in case of hard times, put the flower in her hair and went to town. Another rich man fell under the flower’s spell and this time they went to a hotel. Again she felt the guilt and again she went to church and again the flower shriveled and died along with her sin, but this time, not wanting the Padre to know what she had been doing, she caught the flower before it fell into the holy font. She went home and tossed the dried flower into a big empty vase. This went on for a while; every day a new flower, everyday more money and her husband never suspected a thing. And their little shack soon turned into this big beautiful hacienda.”

Santiago takes the flower I am working on out of my hand and inspects it, “Good, make sure the center is all gone, it can make the tea bitter.” He drops my flower into the bag and pulls out the bottle taking another sip. As he savors the tequila he thinks about the story, then he continues. “I tell you Mijo, living a lie is a funny thing, it eats away at you. Finally the woman could take it no longer. She went and told the Padre what she was doing. The Padre made her promise to quit. Then he told her about drinking the holy water.”

“Did she keep her promise?” I asked.

“Yes, she did, but every morning the bush kept making the flowers. She would pick them, but she was afraid to just throw them out so she put them in the vase, which was filling up very fast. She decided to get rid of the flowers before they caused any more trouble. Remembering the Padre’s story, she made a tea with them and served it to her husband… and this is the same Jamaica tea we drink today.

Now maybe it was the holy water and maybe it was the miracle of her forgiven sin… the tea she made at home was delicious and it truly quenched her husband’s thirst; but not like the Padre who after the first drink of the magic tea, was never thirsty again, and the people around here say that he never took a drink of anything except the wine at communion, as long as he lived.”

Friday, July 15, 2011

Katie’s Taco Meat

My daughter Katie learned Spanish at the age of 8 from the little Mexican girls next door. She spent many an afternoon at their house, playing, talking, and cooking. She brought this recipe home and made it for us when she was 11 or 12. It’s a family favorite. And it makes the best taco salad you’ve ever eaten.

1/2 white onion, minced

2 cloves garlic

4 tomatoes, diced

1 large bunch cilantro

2 pounds ground beef

1 pound breakfast steaks (round steak thinly sliced), sliced into little strips

Salt to taste

Corn tortillas, warmed


Shredded green cabbage, finely chopped white onion, avocado slices, crumbled queso ranchero, key lime wedges, and chile tepins

Place the onion, garlic, and tomatoes in a skillet and start sautéing. As soon as the tomatoes give off their liquid, add all other ingredients. Cook until the meat is done. Serve with warm corn tortillas and garnishes.

Serves 4

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Meanwhile back at the Bread 7-14-11

When last we baked the summer monsoons were in full tilt! I was standing outside in a dust storm that made national news for being 3 miles high and 50 miles wide along with a raging summer rain. It was like working in a wet, muddy, blanket that a group of pit bulls had been sleeping in. The bread refused to rise. This made me think long and hard about my choice to bake in an oven that was outside in our yard.

On our current bake I, once again, made a few changes. In an attempt to lower the moister content of the loaves, I reduced the hydration percentage by 37 grams per 600-gram loaf or about 21%.

This is huge and can only be achieved after learning how to handle wet, sticky dough! In past bakes when the rise was weak I think it was from not working the structure enough. In my bench rest I would not pay enough attention to the sag of the individual loaves. This is key, if the loaves are sagging after the bench rest re-stretch and rebuild the tension and allow an extra bench rest.

The loaves should have a smooth but tight feel after the stretch. I’m also starting my fire earlier and burning less wood, in an attempt to get more even oven heat. I sweep the oven very well after the fire has been removed and only use a damp mop not a wet mop… just enough to remove the ash and coals. And last no additional pot of water. Just a few moist towels on the door and a few sprays of water as most of the humidity comes from the loaves. The result is beautiful loaves that have complete oven spring and full caramel color. The sponge is just right. So… I’m off to deliver bread!

See you on the net.

Mad Coyote Joe

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Another great way to drink Tequila

I made this wonderful drink for my TV show about 12years ago and used it in my first book “The Sonoran Grill” We make these for dinner parties and they are always a big hit, but there seems to be an issue… they affect your wrist. I notice that every time they get close to my mouth my wrist seems to turn further than I wanted and the whole drink magically disappears down my throat. So just to make sure I try another and viola gone again. In short these are way too easy to drink.

Stevie Ray

I made this excellent drink in honor of the great American Blues legend Stevie Ray Vaughn. They are both hard and smooth at the same time!

2 OZ Silver Tequila

1/2 OZ Blue Curacao

1/2 OZ Mandarin Napoleon or Grand Mariner

Juice of 1 Key lime

Give your car keys to someone else. Shake all ingredients with ice, strain and serve in a martini glass. Repeat as needed!

Shrimp Etouffée

Ask a Frenchman what “Etouffée means and they will say “to choke” ask a Cajun and they will say “To Smother” and that’s exactly what this wonderful Cajun dish is, Shrimp smothered in an amazing, spicy, complex flavored sauce. I can only say one thing more about Etouffée, make some… tonight.

½ green bell pepper, chopped fine

½ red bell pepper, chopped fine

½ white onion, chopped fine

2 stalks celery, chopped, fine

½ cup canola oil

½ cup all purpose flour

3 cups, in all chicken, or seafood stock,

½ cup green onions, chopped very fine

1 ½ pounds peeled shrimp

½ stick unsalted butter

4 cups cooked rice

Etouffée Spice mix: mix together and set aside

2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. cayenne pepper or more!

1 tsp. dried basil

1 tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. white pepper

1/2 tsp. dried thyme

In a large heavy iron skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat until hot. Carefully whisk in the flour a little at a time until smooth, with a long handled whisk. Keep whisking constantly, until roux is dark red-brown, about 8-10 minutes. Do not let burn. Remove from heat. Immediately stir in bell pepper, onion, and celery. Continue to stir until skillet cools down, about 4-5 minutes. Then allow to fully cool.

In a medium sauce pan, over medium heat, bring the stock to a boil. Add the roux mixture and whisk constantly until roux is totally dissolved and nice and thick. Remove from heat, set aside.

In a large saucepan, over medium heat, sauté the green onions, Etouffée spice and shrimp in the butter for about 2 minute. Add roux mixture. Stir gently until well blended. Serve 3/4 cups Etouffée over 1/2 cup rice.

Note, if sauce separates a little, add 1 or 2 tablespoons water or stock and shake pan until it binds.

Serves 8