Sunday, February 6, 2011


I grew up on this sausage. It's a Portuguese smoked sausage with a garlicky flavor and a rough texture. I can't remember the brand we used then, but I'm pretty sure it was a regional specialty company brand. I grew up on the Central Coast of California, which is home to a highly concentrated Azorean Portuguese population, of which I am a member, 100% on my father's side and 25% on my mom's.

When I married my Navy man and moved away from California, this is something I definitely missed on the East Coast. The only concentration of Azoreans in the East is in Massachusetts, about eight hours north from where we were. Then we spent a few years in San Diego, where if there is any available, it was too difficult to find. But then we spent seven years in beautiful Hawaii, with a large Azorean population from way back, where linguica is widely available as Portuguese sausage. It is even sold at McDonald's!

Two years ago we moved back to the East Coast and again are missing our special sausage. My sister brought some when she came for Jim's retirement and we DEVOURED it. My kids have been asking for it ever since, and I've even been scouring the internet for online ordering sources. Then, by a fluke, I was looking in the sausage section at Harris Teeter's for something completely different, when I spotted a package of Gaspar's Portuguese Linguica. We were practically dancing in the aisle for joy!

Tonight we had linguica sandwiches - on rolls with sauteed peppers and onions and spicy mustard. Yummm! I can't wait to have it in the traditional ways - grilled and sliced at almost every barbecue as a appetizer, added to scrambled eggs, and in caldo verde or Portuguese bean soup.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Homemade Corn Tortillas

It's been a long, long time since I had those incredible, hot, freshly made corn tortillas that I remember from authentic cooks, like our childhood family friend, Trudy. It took this recent trip to Mazatlan to reawaken my love for them. We had them everywhere, with everything, and they were truly amazing!

This wonderful lady even taught Richard and I how easy they are to make - even in her makeshift, outdoor kitchen in the Universo Colonia. So simple, that I purchased the equipment while there, and made them for my family already. These are going to become a staple around here!

First, I needed to find a local Tienda (Mexican market) to find a specific kind of corn flour, called Manseca. I was told this is the kind to use to get the best tortillas. The package has the recipe in both English and Spanish - basically, just the flour, water, and maybe a little salt. You work it into a dough with your hands to get the right consistency - it should be pliable like playdough, but not sticky. If your first few tortillas rip, they are too dry - if they stick, they are too wet. Add water or more Manseca to get it just right. Roll into golf ball size balls of dough - to get just the right size, use the recommended number of balls in the recipe. Dough dries out quickly, so keep it covered with a moist towel or plastic.

Next step is the press. Certainly you can roll out your dough, or pat it out by hand, but the press is so consistent and quick, it is well worth the money. Mine cost about $165 pesos in Mazatlan - about $16. You want to have two pieces of a thick plastic, a ziploc type bag is better than plastic wrap for this. Put the first piece of plastic on the press, top with a ball of dough, then the second piece of plastic. Press well - you want it pretty thin, not as thin as a flour tortilla, but close.

They need to be cooked immediately on a hot surface - a stainless steel or cast iron comal is best, but a griddle would work also. Peel off the top layer of plastic, and pick up with the bottom piece. Invert onto your clean hand, peel off the plastic, and slap onto the hot comal. Cook about 30-45 seconds, then flip. If you are brave you can use your hands, but if not, use a steel spatula.

If you are going to use immediately, keep warm by wrapping in a moist towel or placing in a tortilla saver (I got a fantastic foam lined one in Mazatlan that I love). If not, let them cool before wrapping in plastic and refrigerating. Reheat on a comal or in a microwave.

Once you see how simple it is, and how superior handmade tortillas are to store bought, I think you will find yourself making them, too!

Pico de Gallo recipe

We recently returned from a missions trip to Mazatlan, Mexico. Love, love, love the food there! So fresh and real. Having been away from California for so long, I miss the real deal.

We were blessed to work together with some local ladies in one of the church kitchens, and they helped us make some pico de gallo, Mazatlan style. It is so simple!

Of course, we were making an insanely large amount for our mobile kitchen, so last week I experimented at home with a more manageable amount. Here is the recipe:

6 very firm but ripe plum tomatoes
1/2 yellow onion
4 serrano peppers
1/2 bunch cilantro
3 limes

Basically, you just dice the vegetables, mix, and serve, but I *did* learn some tricks to make it just right. The first trick concerns the tomatoes - there is a *right* way to dice them if you don't want a watery, mushy salsa. You must use a very, very sharp knife, and be careful while cutting not to squash the tomatoes, but you still want a very small dice. The way that works for me is to cut each tomato in half lengthwise, then lay on board cut side down. Take your sharp knife and cut into 2-3 slices by cutting parallel to the board - like you would slice a bagel. Then slice into strips lengthwise, and finally dice the strips. You may need to sharpen your knife, as this only works well with a VERY sharp knife.

Also, wash your cilantro well, but also dry very well before dicing. Water on your cilantro will mean watery sauce.

The limes should be welled rolled before cutting to release the juice, then squeezed well. A hand held juicer works best for this.

Finally, the peppers - I never did find out the name of the variety of pepper we used in Mexico. It was shaped like a large jalapeno, but it was incredibly hot - hot enough to wear gloves just to handle them. The serranos here work OK, but next time I am going to experiment with habaneros. With any pepper, be sure to mince them very, very small. It is no fun getting a big piece of hot pepper in a bite.

Anyway, this sauce should last about a week if kept in a sealed container and refrigerated. It is really, really delicious!