Friday, June 4, 2010

Cooking with Chef Marcela Valladolid: Season 2 of Mexican Made Easy on the Food Network

Tijuana native, chef and cookbook author Marcela Valladolid kicked off her 2nd season today on the Food Network. The show airs on Saturdays at 9:30am/8:30c. Marcela's show, Mexican Made Easy, is a fresh take on Mexican food that brings this treasured cuisine to all levels of cooks, and tastes. Her book, Fresh Mexico, just cracked the Amazon Top 100, and has been featured just recently on the Today show and the View.

A couple of weeks ago I was invited by dear friends Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu, the talented chefs from La Casita in Bell, CA, for a cooking demonstration at Surfas by chef Marcela. Since "Chela"(short for Marcela) was my friend on Facebook, we'd already been introduced via social media, it was a cinch to become fast friends. Not that that's a problem for Chela, who has radiance, charm, and an infectious personality. She kept us all fed and entertained during the demo, which was a warm-up for the new season of Mexican Made Easy.

Chef Marcela prepares an agua fresca of watermelon while delivering cooking tips with a smile.

These women, Marcela's assistants, plate the bunuelos with ice cream. They were praised several times by Chef Marcela for their great work and support. Plus, they got the delicious plates out to us fast for the 20 or so guests present!

She started us out with an agua fresca, the fresh water beverages from Mexico made from fruits, seeds,vegetables and sometimes legumes. On this day she made an agua fresca of watermelon flavored with thyme. The chef told us that normally you would make simple syrup to sweeten, but this watermelon was so sweet already that all she added was the thyme.

The thyme added an elegant herbal touch to this nectarous fruit. I did have seconds. The producers of Mexican Made Easy also made sure we had plenty of wine, a nice sauvignon blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand, Nobilo, which is a fantastic value wine.

Our first course was rajas! Poblano chile strips in cream were dolloped on corn bread. Marcela has lived between San Diego, were she was born, and Tijuana,where she grew up, so she brings American ingredients and flavors along with the Baja spice. Anyone who's dined in Baja would recognize this aesthetic as pure Baja. All of us asked for more of these, it's such a comforting dish.

Chef Marcela roasted poblanos, showed us a better way to peel the charred flesh, sliced them into strips, and cooked them with Mexican crema, heavy cream, and Oaxacan cheese.

Next up was the tacos gobernador, which she calls tuna quesadillas in her recipe. These tacos come from the state of Sinaloa, and were brought by Sinaloans to Tijuana where they are very popular. These are shrimp or smoked marlin tacos in Mexico, but to satisfy the dietary needs of some in our group, they were made with canned tuna. Now, it was a $6 can of tuna, so, good stuff.

Not being a kosher diner AT all, I was a little disappointed.....that is until I tried them. Chuy of Real de Mexico tequila and Javier, were sitting next to me and I believe Chuy and I looked at eachother sadly when Chela told us that she likes to make this with shrimp, but we'd be using canned tuna today.

The taco filling of tuna was sauteed with vegetables in olive oil and finished on a pan in the tortilla with cheese. Even with the canned tuna these were delicious tacos.

Her simple guacamole of just great avocados, salt, lime, and cilantro is the way it should be, and the way I make it at home. Anything more is superfluous. Us Mexicans in the corner displayed our taco expertise, loaded Marcela's gobernador with salsa Guacamaya and the luscious guacamole.Of COURSE, Jaime and Ramiro did pretty well finishing their tacos,too. Some of the other folks had their knives and forks out. Yes, you can eat tacos with your hands even if you're not at a truck or stand!

The taco gobernador was named after a mayor in Sinaloa.

Oh, and the filling is good enough to eat by itself. Now, I was feeling like I was in Chela's home.

For the dessert course, chef Marsela showed us how to make easy bunuelos with just flour tortillas, cinnamon, and sugar. These are translated to cinnamon-sugar crisps.

Marcela made her own dessert, and then sat and chatted with Javier, Chuy, and I. We shared our favorite taco stands and street eats in Tijuana, and waxed poetic about the famous Tortas Wash Mobile. We agreed that it might be the quintessential Tijuana spot. I believe Chela and I will be tearing up the streets of Tijuana in the very near future. Taco run, Chela?

I wish we could have gone all day, it was such a pleasure to spend the day with wonderful food and friends.Chef Marcela gave me a parting gift, a copy of her new cookbook, Fresh Mexico. Inspired, I went shopping later that day and decided to make her tacos gobernador. Hey, it's Mexican Made Easy, you can do these at home too.

I first laid out the ingredients.
Tacos Gobernador(Tuna quesadillas), courtesy Marcela Valladolid
1 Tbsp lard(sub. olive oil for lighter taco)
1 pd. shrimp (sub. canned tuna if you can't eat shrimp)
1 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and diced
1 small white onion
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 can tomato puree
1 tsp dried oregano
1 bay leaf
Paprika, to taste
salt and pepper to taste
10, 6in. corn tortillas
1 1/2 cup shredded Oaxaca cheese or mozarella cheese
lime wedges, for serving
bottled hot sauce, for serving

Yes, I also cook! The recipe was cut in half since I wasn't cooking for a large group.But, I cook with lard, so does Chela, but not on TV, haha. The only changes were the shrimp, the lard, and that I made my own tomato puree.

Heat the lard, or oil, in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp(or drained tuna), bell pepper, onion, tomatoes, tomato puree, oregano, and bay leaf.Cook to combine flavors, about 12 minutes.Season to taste with paprika, salt, and pepper.

Heat a large heavy skillet, or a comal if you have one, over medium-high heat. Add corn tortillas 2 at a time, side by side, to heat. Place a small mound of cheese on half of each tortilla. Wait until the cheese melts slightly, about 1 minute, then add about two Tbsp. of the filling to each tortilla. Fold over the tortillas into half moons and cook to melt the cheese completely, another minute or two. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, cheese, and filling.

transfer quesadillas to a platter, or my plate, in this case. Serve with lime wedges and bottled hot sauce on the side. I added Chela's guacamole, and some salsa of exotic chiles from the La Guerrerense stand in Ensenada that I bought on a recent trip. Hey, you would too.

Be sure to catch Mexican Made Easy on the Food Network, Season Two, Saturdays at 9:30am/8:30c.

Learn more about chef Marcela Valladolid at her website.

Pickup a copy of Fresh Mexican here.

Chef Marcela on Facebook
Follow Chef Marcela on Twitter


Ravenous Couple said...

it's great to see FN has a Mexican chef cooking mexican food...can't believe the don't have an Asian one!

nelehelen said...

the tacos look amazing!! I love Mexican like I love my Korean food! ;)