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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Science and cooking go hand in hand and what a beautiful couple they make

"Cooking is the manipulation of food for the purpose of rendering it suitable for consumption"
How many times have we tried to cook a recipe that is dear to us or followed our mother`s/grand mother`s recipes or any recipe, only to be disappointed with the end result?
I hope this bit of information gives you the idea of how cooking should be approached. Cooking to me is more than just following a recipe, adding things to a pot or regulating heat. There is a bigger picture to be seen here, we need to think in advance, before we even read the recipe.
In life I have two greater passions, cooking and learning about the universe and the cosmos and my own personal opinion is that there is nothing more fascinating and humbling than that. You might wonder why I mention the universe and the cosmos if i`m talking about cooking. Well; like everything else in the universe, cooking is subject to the laws of nature, so when we cook we can control the outcome if we understand the applicable natural laws.
In other words, once we know the science of cooking, we know what will happen before we even start, basically there is no more guess work, no more wondering how a dish will turn, trust me.

Cooking is not just following a recipe, a recipe is only a map to give us direction, but what happens if we don`t know how to read the map? Simply said, we won`t reach our destination. We also know that maps leave out a lot of important information that is key. Likewise a recipe can not account for all the factors that affect successful cooking, such as the amount of juice in one lime versus another, the stove`s BTU or the quality of our cooking equipment pots and pans), and their ability to conduct heat. This is why I always recommend copper or stainless steel. The best way to navigate in a kitchen is to learn as much as you can about the natural laws behind cooking, and please, do so before you start cooking.

To be a good cook, it helps to be conversant in many different fields, both hard sciences and social sciences. These are the ones I consider important and the ones that will facilitate the work and understanding of what happens when we cook.

Chemistry; understanding the chemical makeup of ingredients enables us to predict how they will react to heat or cold, or to other ingredients. it tells us why sugar melts or why meats brown in the skillet.
Anatomy; knowing how an animal is put together tells us how to take it apart. If we know the skeletal structure of the chicken for example, it will help us to break it down in minutes.
Mathematics; without an understanding of numbers or ratios, you`d never be able to recreate a dish. It would be pointless trying to cook using more than one ingredients without the concept of what "how much" means
Biology; the science of life tells us why veal bones are better than beef bones for making stock, and what happens to chlorophyll when it comes into contact with acid.
Geography; The geographical origin of a given dish or cuisine can tell us a lot about what to expect from it. As the cuisine of any region is heavily influenced by the ingredients that are locally available in that region.
History; The story of a dish is an echo of the story of the people who created it. To understand the popularity lets say of my cuisine (Mexican), follow the paths of the New World explorers.
One of the things thati have always loved about cooking is the range of knowledge that you acquire when you are learning how to do it WELL, simply put, the better informed you are in all things, the better cook you will be, with or without recipes.
The key to cooking, then, is understanding your ingredients: what they`re made of (protein, starch, fiber, water, etc), how they are put together ( what is the skeletal structure like, where are the seeds?) we must understand how they interact with each other and how they react over time when exposed to various types of heat. Knowing that the seed of a mango dictates how you cut the flesh into pieces. Knowing that acid affects protein the same way heat does will Help you obtain a great ceviche when preparing one, in which raw fish is "cooked" in an acid such as lime jjuice. Knowing in advance what is going to happen to an egg if you crack it into a pot of boiling water, rather than the much lower temperature of poaching (160F to 180F), will help you avoid a mess
In addition to learning as much as you can about ingredients, to become a skilled cook you must have a good understanding of method and technique. Method is the order in which you put ingredients together; technique is what you do to food to get it ready to cook: cutting up vegetables, scaling a fish.
if you know your ingredients and you know your methods and techniques, you will be able to cook virtually anything. And that to me is priceless and a great place to be.
Greater results will be achieved when doing this with love and passion.

Monday, January 3, 2011

One Tequila, two Tequila, three Tequila, floor (George Carlin)

Tequila history lie with the indigenous Aztec people of Mexico, the Chichimecans, the Toltecans, the Otomis and the Nahuatls who made a beverage with the agave plant long before the Spaniards arrived in a village called Tequila in the shade of a dormant volcano called tequila in the land they called Tenchinchan
Tequila was first produced in the 16th century near the location of the the city of tequila, which was not officially established until 1656. The Aztec people had previously made a fermented beverage from the agave plant, which they called Octli (later and more popularly called pulque), long before the Spanish arrived in 1521. When the Spanish conquistadors ran out of their own brandy, they began to distill agave to produce North America`s first distilled spirit

The tequila that is popular today was first mass-produced in the early 19th century in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Don Cenobio Sauza founder of Sauza tequila and president of the village of tequila from 1884-1885 was the first to export tequila to the United States and shortened the name from "tequila extract" to just"tequila" from the American market. Don Cenobio`s grand son Don Francisco Javier gained international attention for insisting that "there cannot be tequila where there are no agaves!"
His efforts led to the practice that real tequila can only come from Jalisco
The tequila process

The "jima" consists in cutting off the leaves of the plant Agave tequilana Weber blue variety down to its base, to keep only the heart of agave, which is the raw material of tequila. The person who does this is called "jimador"

Cooking or hydrolysis. is the process of transformation of the complex starches of the agave into simple sugars, which are easily fermented and converted into alcohol, this is done through heat or other methods like hydrolysis.

Extraction of honeys: before or after cooking, the sugars or starches obtained from the pineapples of agave must be separated from the fiber in order to use these sugars for fermentation

The formulation: in this step, it will be decided which category of Tequila will be done and the juices obtained from the extraction are prepared for fermentation

The fermentation is where the transformation of vegetable sugars into ethylic alcohol is carried out thanks to the work of yeasts. Other components will also be formed during this step that will contribute to the final sensorial attributes of the Tequila

Aging is the slow transformation of Tequila that lets it acquire additional sensorial characteristics like odor, color and texture by physical chemical processes that in a natural way have place during its storage in recipients or barrels of wood oak or holm oak. The extra aged and ultra aged tequilas must be matured in wooden barrels not larger than 600 liters

Bottling is the action of pouring the Tequila in the recipients that will contain it in order to keep it and protect its physical and chemical stability and market it. Tequila must be bottled in new recipients, allowed by the sanitary authorities. The range of alcoholic content allowed by the standard of Tequila is from 35 to 55 alcohol percentage by volume. Both categories of Tequila may be enhanced by the addition of sweeteners, colorings, fragrances and/or flavorings allowed by the Ministry of Health of Mexico


The appellation of Origin of Tequila is formed by 181 municipalities from 5 different Mexican states, which are Jalisco in its entirety with 125 municipalities, Nayarit with 8, Guanajuato with 7, Tamaulipas with 11 and Michoacan with 30.
Only in these municipalities the raw material for Tequila, Agave tequilana Weber blue variety, may be harvested and used for the production of Tequila
No other alcoholic drink produced in Mexico or abroad can be named "Tequila"
The agave tequilana Weber blue variety is the heart and life of Tequila. It belongs to the amaridillaceas family, with long, fibrous, green-blue colored leaves, and whose main and colorful parts is the pineapple or heart

There are two basic types of Tequila 100% agave and Tequila, and five classes for each one; white or silver, young or gold, aged, extra aged, and ultra aged
Tequila 100% agave is produced only from the fermented and distilled juces of the Agave tequilana Weber blue variety and it is bottled exclusively at the AOT
Tequila is made with at least 52% of Agave tequilana Weber blue variety sugars and 49% of sugars from other sources.
Aged (2 months aging)
Extra aged (1 year in barrels)
Ultra aged (3 years in barrels)

The Tequila Standard NOM-006-SCFI-2005 allows the existence or two categories: Tequila 100% Agave and Tequia, and five classes for eachone, white or silver, young or gold, aged, extra aged, and ultra aged.
Interesting facts:
*In the United States, July 24 is National Tequila day (go figure)
* the Agave is not a cactus plant as rumored, but belongs to the lilly family and has long spiny leafs (pencas)
* it takes 8 to 12 years for the agave plant to reach maturity
*More than 300 million plants are harvested each year in Jalisco alone
*If you are not sure of the authenticity of your Tequila look for the acronym NOM and the *unique 4 digit number and the acronym CRT
There is a common misconception that some Tequilas contain a "worm" in the bottle, only certain Mezcals usually from the state of Oaxaca, are ever sold con gusano (with a worm), and that only began as a marketing gimmick in the 1940s. The worm is actually the larval form of the moth Hypopta agavis, which lives on the agave plant. Finding one in the plant during processing indicates an infestation and correspondingly, a lower quality product. However this misconception continues, and even with all the effort and marketing to represent Tequila as a premium liquor similar to the way-Cognac is viewed in relation to other brandies, there are some opportunist producers for the shooters-and-fun market who blur this boundaries

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Words borrowed from Nahuatl

Totopo (totopo)
Totopo is an action that comes from the Nahuatl word totopotchtli= to fry or to toast

Chia (chia seeds)
Chia comes from the Nahuatl chiyan and it is a plant from the family salvia Hispanica that was cultivated by the Aztecs in pre-Hispanic times and it was so valued that it was given as an anual tribute from the people to the rulers. This plant has blue leaves with edible seeds and it is related to mint

Chocolate (chocolate)
Chocolate comes from the Nahuatl xococlatl or chocolatl which would be derived from xococ=bitter and atl=water (with an irregular change of x >ch). However the word socolatl does not appears in Nahuatl language until the 18th century. This was a foamy drink made with cacao beans, drank only by the emperors.

Chayote (chayote)
chayote comes from the Nahuatl word chayotol

Epazote (epazote)
Epazote sometimes mispronounced ipasote or ypasote is devived from the Nahuatl epazotl. Epazote is a leaf vegetable and a herb with a pungent flavor that is hard to describe.

Mezcal (mezcal)
Mezcal comes from the Nahuatl mexcalmetl=maguey. Maguey grows in many parts of Mexico and it was the conquistadors who began experimenting with the maguey plant to find a way to make a distilled mash. The result is mezcal

Nopal (nopal)
Nopal is a word that comes from the Nahuatl word nopalli=for the pads

An Ancient language but very much alive

Chipotle, avocado, chia, tortilla, totopos? what do these words mean?

To understand what these words mean and where did they come from? we have to first know the language they came from.

Nahuatl has been spoken in Central Mexico since at least the seventh century AD. It was the language of the Aztecs who dominated what is now Central Mexico during the last postclassic period of Mesoamerican Chronology. During the preceding century and a half, the expansion and influence of the Aztec Empire had led to the variety spoken by the residents of Tenochtitlan becoming a prestige language in Mesoamerica. With the introduction of the Latin alphabet. Nahuatl also became a literary language and many chronicles, grammars, works of poetry, administrative documents and codices were written in the 16th and 17th centuries. This early literary language based on the Tenochtitlan variety has been labeled classical Nahuatl and is among the most studied and best documented languages of the Americas.

Many words from Nahuatl have been borrowed into Spanish and thence have diffused into hunderds of other languages. Most of these loanwords denote things indigenous to Central Mexico which the Spanish heard mentioned for the first time by their Nahuatl names. English words of Nahuatl origin include. "Avocado", "chilli", "coyote", and "Tomato".

Lets explore some of these words.
Aguacate (Avocado)

Aguacate comes from the Nahuatl word ahuacatl ('testicle' in reference to the shape of the fruit) and atl=agua, water

Guacamole (guacamole)

Guacamole comes from the Nahuatl word ahuacamolli. Ahuacatl+ molli=sauce,stew, porridge, so the word guacamole means 'avocado soup'

Jitomate (tomato)

Jitomate comes from the Nahuatl word xictli=belly botton and tomatl, tomahuac=something fat, thick and corpulent

Huitlacoche, cuitlacoche, cuiclacoche, guitlacoche (corn smut)
Cuitlacochtli comes from the Nahuatl words (cuitlatl=excrement or "rear end" and cochtli "sleeping" from cochini="to sleep"), thus giving a combined meanig "sleeping excrement" or "corn excrement" meaning part of the vegetable that did not survived, instead it went asleep.

Chipotle, chilpocle (chipotle pepper)

Chilpoctli or xipoctli comes from the Nahuatl words chil=pepper and pectli=smoke (smoked pepper)

Tortilla (tortilla)

Tlaxcalli,tlaxcallan comes from the Nahuatl word which means ('cooked bread or bread house') tla=a thing or something; xcalli=cooked, boiled "the cooked" name given to the tortilla

Saturday, October 30, 2010


To us Mexicans the day of the dead is a celebration in which we bond with the souls of the people that we love and have left before us. To us THE DAY OF THE DEAD is a celebration of family and life. It is a tradition of pre-hispanic origins and was celebrated by the Mayans, Aztecs and Incas.

The United Nations Educational, scientific and Cultural organization has declared this festivity "patrimonio cultural intangible de la humanidad" (intangible cultural heritage) and it is now the most celebrated Hispanic festivity the world over.

The day of the dead celebration in Mexico can be traced back to indigenous cultures. Rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors have been observed by these civilizations perhaps for as long as 2,500 to 3,00 years. In pre-Hispanic era, it was common to keep skulls as trophies and display them during the rituals that symbolize death and rebirth.
The festival that became the modern Day of the Dead fell in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, about the beginning of August and was celebrated for an entire month. The festivities were dedicated to the god known as "The Lady of the Dead" corresponding to the modern "La Catrina"
In most regions of Mexico, November 1 honours children and infants, whereas deceased adults are celebrated November 2. This is indicated by generally referring to November 1 as "Dia de los Inocentes" (Day of the innocents) but also as "Dia de los Angelitos" (Day of the little angels) and November 2 as dia de los muertos or dia de los difuntos (Day of the Dead)

The adults souls will begin arriving at their loved ones homes anytime of the night of the 31. All saints` day is for the "Angelitos" or little infants, it is on this day that their souls return to be our guests. In many places people confuse Halloween with the Day of the Dead because of the calendar overlap.

People go to cemeteries to be with the souls of the departed and build private altars containing their favourite foods and beverages as well as photos and memorabilia of the departed. The intent is to encourage visits by the souls. so that the souls will hear the prayers and comments of the living directed to them. Celebrations will often take humorous tones as people remember funny facts and stories of the deceased.
People often go to cemeteries to clean grave yards and decorate them with ofrendas ("Offerings") it is common to see graves decorated with Mexican orange marigolds called cempasuchitl, originally called cempoalxochitl. Nahuatl for (twenty flowers), it is also called "The flower of the dead" and it is thought that its scent attracts souls of the dead to the offerings, the paths to the graveyards are covered with the petals of these flowers to guide the souls
The most common offerings to attract spirits are: Marigolds, beverages like tequila, mezcal y atole (it is thought that the word "spirits" as in wine and spirits had its origins here.)

Pan de muerto (Bread of the dead)
sugar skulls with the name of the departed written across its forehead
and the deceased favourite foods, music, and things the loved one was close to.
The ofrendas are left out in the homes as a welcoming gesture for the departed. Some people believe the spirits of the dead eat the `spiritual essence` of the ofrendas food, so even though the celebrators eat the food after the festivities, it is believed that the food lacks nutritional value.

I consider this festivity appealing because of the combination of art, culture, food and folk. It is not intended to be a morbid celebration at all, but a celebration of Life itself.

The Mayans and the Aztecs considered this life to be nothing but a dream, and when we die is when we truly awake and are able to enjoy. Given the situation we are in at the moment, climate changes, the quality of life and all the chaos and atrocities happening here on this big blue ball of clay, I do not think it would be such a bad idea to wake up somewhere else where we can truly enjoy ourselves, but that`s just me.


Friday, September 10, 2010


Morita chile
The morita chile is a small, dried, smoked chile. triangular in shape with a smooth shiny, mulberry-coloured skin. An average one is 2.5 cm (1 inch) long. It is hot and should be used with discretion. it is sometimes available here in Toronto ( Kensington market). As far as I know (not quiet sure). Moritas are the last picking of the serrano crop.
The chile is either toasted lightly and blended with other ingredients or soaked in boiling water until soft, but veins and seeds are not removed


The chipotle chile (as it is known colloquially) or chilpocle is the jalapeno chile ripened and smoke-dried, as its Nahuatl name (chil, chile; pectli, smoke) suggests. It is a leathery and wrinkled with a sweet-smokey smell. it is actually a darkish brown color highlighted with golden brown ridges. The size of an average chipotle and this depends on the crop is (6.5 cm) long 2 1/2 inches and 1 inch wide at its widest part.

canned chipotles in adobo sauce are a popular condiment, and in this form they can be used in most dishes where chipotles are called for. the plain dried and smoked ones can be used for pickling to flavor soups and pasta dishes, or soaked and ground with other ingredients in a sauce for meatballs, shrimp or meat. They are extremely hot and are available dried or canned in adobo sauce here in Toronto (kensington market)


This chile is always used with the veins and seeds.

For sauces it (not the canned one) is often soften and then put to soak before being blended with other ingredients. the soaking time depends on how dried it is but usually from 15 to 30 minutes is average