Mexican foodways: Tamales and Candlemas

With their penchant for making a party out of every occasion, Mexicans will finally wrap up the long Christmas holiday period (which began December 16 with Las Posadas and continued through January 6th with Dia de Los Reyes Magos or Day of the Wise Men) this coming week with Dia de la Candelaria (Candlemas), celebrated on February 2nd.

Candlemas, so called because this was the day that all the Church’s candles for the year were blessed, stems from Paganism; in pre-Christian times, it was the festival of light. This ancient festival marked the mid point of winter, half way between the winter solstice (shortest day) and the spring equinox.

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Tamales with Squash Blossom, photo by Adriana Almazan Lahl from Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

“La Dia de La Candelaria commemorates the ritual purification of Mary, 40 days after the birth of her son Jesus in accordance with Jewish law. Ritual purification stems back to a Jewish tradition that women were considered unclean after the birth of a child. For 40 days for a boy, and 60 days for a girl, women weren’t allowed to worship in the temple. At the end of this time, women were brought to the Temple or Synagogue to be purified” (Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes, p. 119). This day also marks the ritual presentation of the baby Jesus to God in the Temple at Jerusalem. While it is unclear why these two holidays fall on the same day, the Gospel of Luke says that Jesus Simeon held the baby Jesus and called him a Light to the World.

(On a side note, February 2nd is also Groundhog Day, which owes its origin to Candlemas. There is an old European supposition that a sunny Candlemas day would lead the winter to last for ‘another six weeks’ from

Dia de La Candelaria in Mexico

It all begins with the tradition of the Rosca de Reyes, a ring-shaped cake shared on Dia de Los Reyes, which provides a clever way to extend the Christmas holiday celebrations for another few weeks. As with all Mexican holidays, its a family affair: On January 6th neighbors and family usually share the light evening meal, each having a chance to find the figure of Baby Jesus in their slice of the Rosca. The lucky guest who finds Him is designated to provide tamales and Mexican Hot Chocolate (recipe) Dia de La Candelaria, February 2nd.


photo by Martha Silva: Finding the Bay Jesus hidden in the Rosca 

Tamales: Communal cooking in Mexico

The name” tamale” or more correctly tamal —  comes from the Nahuatl word tamalli — and is masa steamed or boiled in a leaf wrapper, which is discarded before eating. Tamales are made very much the same way today as they were by Aztec and Mayan women as far back as 8000 to 5000 BCE, with some minor modifications; and are an essential part of many Mexican festivals. Initially disdained by the invading Spaniards in the 16th century Mexico as food of the lower class, described here by Jeffrey M. Pitcher in his book Que vivan los tamales!: Food and the making of Mexican culture; this portable culinary wonder eventually won over the Europeans;

“part of the ongoing effort . . . to Europeanize Mexico was an attempt  to replace corn with wheat [which was introduced to Mexico by the Europeans  of the Spanish Conquest]. But [corn], native foods and flavors persisted and became an essential part of . . . what it means to be authentically Mexican”

Tamale-making is a ritual that has been part of Mexican life since pre-Hispanic times, when special fillings and forms were designated for each specific festival or life event. Today, tamales are typically filled with meats, cheese or vegetables, especially chilis. Preparation is complex, time-consuming and an excellent example of Mexican communal cooking, where this task usually falls to the women. Rather than being seen as demeaning, this opportunity for Mexican women to gather and work together gives them respect and power in their communities. Here, an abuelita (meaning “grandmother” but also a term used to refer to the oldest generation of women in the village) describes how the women gather to carry on a tradition that has been passed through the generations, making tamales de elote corn tamales):

“Three pair of hands, work together, seamlessly . . . in a process [that] includes husking the corn, cutting it off the cob, grinding the kernels in the molino [mill] with pieces of cinnamon, breaking fifteen eggs and separating out the yolks, opening cans of sweetened condensed milk . . . [and beating] all the ingredients together in the masa for a long time…. Next we fill the husks with the masa [dough and]…sprinkle raisins on top. Finally we fold the husks to enclose the dough.” (Maria Elisa Christie in Kitchenspace: Women, Fiestas, and Everyday Life in Central Mexico)

Celebrate Dia la Candelaria at home

Even if you didn’t find a figure of Baby Jesus in your Rosca de Reyes on January 6th, do it like the Mexicans and make Candlemas a excuse for a cozy, warm mid-week gathering of friends; this is an easy fiesta to do yourself. For the more adventuresome foodies among you, try your hand at making your own tamales, the slideshow here has step-by-step instructions with diagrams. Find ready-to-use masa at La Palma in San Francisco’s Mission district at the corner of Alabama and 24th Sts. (they also sell pre-made tamales), but be prepared for a line out the door and down the block on any Mexican holiday where tamales are on the menu, as they are the only place in town which mills their own corn to make the masa. Easy fillings are stewed, seasoned chicken breast (with fresh tomatoes, sauteed Spanish white onion, a little garlic, salt and chiptoles to taste) or, for a vegetarian option, try Rajas de Chiles Poblanos (poblano chili strips with Panela cheese,which is available at Casa Lucas on 24th and Florida).

If you would prefer to buy your tamales pre-made, then no one makes better tamales than Alicia of Tamales las Mayas. So add another holiday to your calendar and have a tamalada (tamale party) this Tuesday! Or, have an entire tamalda catered by Tres Señoritas Gourmet, a member of Private Chefs of the SF Bay.

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Secrets and pleasures of Mexican cooking: Mexican Hot Chocolate


Hot Choc & CHurro

The perfect combination: Mexican Hot Chocolate and Churros (photo by Adriana Almazan Lahl, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED). For churro recipe, see Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes, or contact Private Chefs of the SF BAY to serve churros are your next party.

Nothing warms you up quite the way traditional Mexican Hot Chocolate does, there’s an authenticity in the making that translates in the tasting. Everything about it is old world, when its done right.  Even the word chocolate is believed to have its origins in the Mayan word xocoatl, cocoa from the Aztec word cacahuatl.


From Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes (which I wrote with co-author Adriana Almazan Lahl):

Cacao beverages dates back to 1900 BCE. The first chocolate drink is thought to have been created around 2,000 years ago by the Mayans, and there is clear evidence of some form of cocoa beverage in Aztec culture by 1400 AD. Recently, Mexico’s National Institute ofAnthropology and History announced that archaeologists have found, for the first time, traces of 2,500-year-old chocolate on a plate in the Yucatan peninsula, suggesting its use as a condiment or sauce as well.

Aside from being an ingredient in food and beverages, the seed of the cacao tree was a kind of currency. All of the territories that had been conquered by the Aztecs and grew cacao beans were ordered to pay them as a tax or, as the Aztecs called it, a “tribute”. Chocolate also played a special role in both Mayan and Aztec royal and religious events. Priests presented cacao seeds as offerings to the gods and served chocolate drinks during sacred ceremonies. The Mayans sometimes mixed cacao with annatto, the most common food dye of that era, to form a sacred liquid resembling blood with ritual applications. There were several very specific recipes for combining the raw or roasted cacåhoatl with various grains to create many different beverages: some believed to have aphrodisiac properties, others to address health concerns such as “emaciation”, as well as serious illness like dysentery or liver disease. Original texts include warnings against excessive consumption, which the Mexicas believed could lead to numerous illnesses.

In 1519, in a gesture meant to convey a great honor, Montezuma II presented explorerHernan Cortes with the gift of a beverage made of ground cacao beans, vanilla and chiles, xo- xoatl (in Nathuatl it is called chocaltl). When Cortez returned to Spain, what we know as chocolate, which had been sweetened with sugar, was introduced to Europe.


What we call Mexican chocolate has a unique taste. Its texture is also quite different from that of any baking or cooking chocolate found in a typical American pantry.The product comes in hexagonal or round tablets and has a taste and texture quite different from any baker or cooking chocolate found in an typical American pantry; the sugar is more grainy and the chocolate is quite sweet. It is a blend of cacoa paste,  Mexican brown sugar, (hence the coarser texture) and cinnamon which results in the signature Mexican chocolate flavor. Recipes using this ingredient conveniently call for however many “tablets” of the product, rather than ounces; which is a good thing since the typical package contains an odd 19 ounces or 540 grams.

Two of the more popular commercial brands are Ibarra and Abuelita. Rancho Gordo sells a spectacular, Stone Ground Mexican Chocolate, “from the beautiful state of Guerrero in Mexico, [where] a cooperative of women grow and harvest their own cacao, toast it on clay comales (pans) and then stone grind it with piloncillo (an unrefined sugar) and canela, the famous soft cinnamon preferred in Mexico.


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from Rancho Gordo’s website

This special chocolate is the base for Mexican hot chocolate, champurrado (which is basically a mixture of Mexican hot chocolate and atole, and a Mexican breakfast staple found every morning on streets throughout Mexico and in the Mission here in San Francisco, thanks to hard-working señoras with shopping carts and oversized thermoses) and is the chocolate traditionally added to the famous mole poblano.

The authentic, old-school method for making Mexican hot chocolate calls for several kitchen tools that you will want to have if you are accumulating a Mexican kitchen anyway.  The first is a Molcajete y Tejolote or traditional Mexican mortar and pestle, which you will use to pound your small block of pure cane sugar and Mexican chocolate into powder form. You’ll also use a molinillo (available on-line at or hollow wooden stirrer, which is similar in use to a whisk, but so much more beautiful.

For this recipe (for two mugs of hot chocolate) from Tres Señoritas Gourmet, buy piloncillo, cubes of Mexican brown sugar, at Casa Lucas on 24th St. near Florida (or on-line at and ground with the molcajete y tejolote until it is a fine powder. Add 1 teaspoon of the piloncillo powder to 2 1/2 cups of milk that has been warmed over a medium heat with a teaspoon of vanilla added to it (or, preferably, use a couple of vanilla beans direct from the pod, in which case you will want to add when you are pulverizing your Mexican chocolate, the next step, so you can grind the vanilla beans as well). Stir occasionally as you are warming the milk mixture, being careful not to allow the pot to boil (or boil over!) Next, clean the molcajete, and use it to pound a tablet of the Mexican chocolate into a powder, (it will look a bit like cocoa powder). Remove warmed milk mixture from the stove. Whisk all of the chocolate into the milk mixture, taking care not to burn yourself with the warmed milk mixture, rotating the molinillo between the palms of your hands until the hot chocolate turns frothy. Pour into individual clay mugs. Garnish with a stick of cinnamon.

Can all this be accomplished with a whisk and powdered chocolate (sold under the Abuelita label)? Of course, but somehow the experience just wouldn’t be the same! Ice your chocolate for a chilly summertime treat. And for an extra taste experience, experiment with adding just a hint of chipotle (see Chipotles- what are they…).

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Romantic Valentine’s dinner a la Mexicana Part 2: aphodisiac drinks and dessert

In Part 1 of this series, Home-cooked Valentine’s Day dinner a la Mexicana, what could be more romantica?, we looked at menus and recipes that let you bring all the passion and sabor of la Riviera Mexicana to your Valentine’s dinner. In fact, with such a long list of ingredients with aphrodisiac properties commonly used in Mexican cuisine; we may just have discovered the secret to the legend of the Latin lover!

But no night of romance is complete without the requisite drinks to begin the evening and just the right dessert to put the finishing touches on a perfectly planned meal, so here are great options for to complete your menu:

You’ll want to include or combine these with your favorite mixed drink or dessert:



Ginger– (from the OralFix Aphrodisiac Cafe of the New York Museum of Sex) has been highly regarded in many cultures for its medicinal and aphrodisiac qualities.

The 10th century Salerno Book of Health, which incorporated elements of Classical, Jewish, and Arab medicine, described its properties as such:

“Within the stomach, loins, and in the lung

Praise of hot ginger rightly may be sung.

It quenches thirst, revives, excites the brain

And in old age awakes young love again”

Coffee– we all know it as stimulant for both the body and mind, but did you know that7495946474_d82166146e_m

“the mid-15th century, monks of the Sufi monasteries of Yemen were the first to roast and brew coffee as it is known today. They gave it the name, kawah, or ‘that which excites and causes the spirits to rise.’ Legend… claim[s] that Turkish husbands were legally required to provide their wives with a daily quota with the beverage, upon penalty of divorce.


 Vanilla– derived from an orchid native to Mexico and was originally cultivated by the Totonac people.

Its local name, ‘Xanath’, references the myth of Xanat, the youngest daughter of a fertility goddess who had fallen in love with a mortal. Since she was a goddess and he a human, they were unable to marry. In one version of the story, the lovers ran off together but were captured and beheaded. The vanilla orchid grew where their blood touched the earth, and the intoxicating aroma of vanilla embodies the transcendent experience of love.



Chiles– commonly used by both the both Aztecs and Incas as an aphrodisiac.




Honey– the nectar of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty and sexuality from whom ‘aphrodisiacs’ take their name.

The famous Aztec emperor, Montezuma was known to drink an ancient beverage called atextli. “Although few written records survive, Francisco Hernandez (1514-1587 AD), a naturalist and court physician to the King of Spain, recorded a recipe for a chocolate-based aphrodisiac … made from a thin paste of cocoa beans and maize, mixed with macaxochitl (Mexican Pepperleaf) and tlilxochitl (Vanilla)” before visit his numerous wives (according to the OralFix Aphrodisiac Cafe website).



Cardamom–  considered an aphrodisiac in Arabic cultures as noted in this ancient work of literature, The Perfumed Garden of Sensual Delight, which is referred to as one of the best-known Arabic sex manuals.




Cinnamon – used in many aphrodisiac preparations throughout the world,  this Biblical passage in Proverbs 7: Warning Against the Adulteress, warns against the allure of its scent,

“I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon. Come let us take our fill of love till morning.”


Sensual cocktail suggestions: ask any Mexican and you’ll get a resounding endorsement of, what else, Tequila as the liquor of choice for almost any occasion, especially a romantic one! Here are several variations on the theme, combining some of the above “love potions”, with links to their recipes.

  • Devil’s Handshake– tequila, lime and pineapple juices, simple syrup, sweet ginger puree, egg white (trendy, new ingredient)
  • Twice Spice Daisy– jalapeno tequila, Canton ginger liqueur, lime juice, simple syrup
  • Spicy Piña– tequila, pineapple and orange juices, simple syrup, jalapeno pepper
  • Crafty Maestro– tequila, lime juice, mint leaves, simple syrup, red pepper
  • Dobel Spicy Chill– tequila, basil, Serrano chili pepper, lime juice, simple syrup

Seductive dessert suggestions:

  • Azteca (dessert cocktail) – “Vanilla has a warm, intoxicating aroma, and chocolate and chile peppers have been known as aphrodisiacs forever,” notes bartender Tomas Delos Reyes. Epicurous features Delos Reyes in a video that give you easy, step-by-step instructions for this “based on the beverage the Aztec emperor Montezuma would sip before seducing his harem of women”.
  • Flourless Chocolate Chipotle Torte- this is an easy dessert to make, even if you don’t fancy yourself a baker; it combines chocolate, espresso coffee, chiles, cinnamon and is topped with cardamom whipped cream… 5 out of 7 from our list, above!
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What does it take to be a private chef, Part II: does the plate make the chef?

(Author’s note: all photos below are with permission from Private Chefs of the SF Bay)

Rose Plating

Chef Rose Johnson caught in the act

In this, Part II of our series on “What does it takes to be a private chef?” we will examine that most elusive of creative kitchen questions: Is a menu or recipe for particular dish created by a particular chef copyright-protected? Is it permissible to copy a chef’s menu? Is it legal?


While this certainly is not a new question, it is one that comes up with much greater frequency, not just because the Internet makes restaurant menus widely available on-line, even from Michelin star chefs; but with the advent of a plethora of “dining alternatives”, from services like Kitchit Tonight, which use “chefs” to heat up and plate dishes from chef-developed menus (food is prepared in a commissary kitchen) in their customers’ homes to community-dining sites like Feastly and EatWith, more and more private chefs find themselves competing on the same site for the same customer. And, as many chefs have found out, there is little or nothing to stop a potential host from “shopping” a menu they received from one chef to another, in search of the most bang for their buck.

All of which begs the query: what is a chef, really?

It all begins with the menu, which takes us back to the title of this article. A chef designs a menu based on their repertoire of recipes, and prepares or oversees the preparation of that menu. The chef’s understanding of flavor profiles, seasonality and cooking methods as they apply to the kitchen he or she is using (in the case of a private chef cooking in your home, for example) very much determines and is reflected in the menu he or she designs.

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Menu development is at the core of what a chef does, as is recipe development. Chefs kitchen-test recipes and refine them, and re-test and refine again– all long before a dish appears on a menu and is served to you and your dinner guests. So how to protect this creative process? Do copyright and intellectual property laws apply? While “in recent years, a handful of chefs and restaurateurs have invoked intellectual property concepts, including trademarks, patents and trade dress — the distinctive look and feel of a business — to defend their restaurants, their techniques and even their recipes” (NY Times) this has applied to restaurant chefs with a physical address and/or printed menu with specific design flourishes, not to private chefs. According to Justin Massa, founder & CEO of Food Genius  “The text, layout, format, and data schema (if published on the web in some proprietary format created by the restaurant owner) are all the intellectual property of a restaurant owner”.  But what of the private chef?

While the recipes a chef develops are not subject to copyright law (that is, the list of ingredients is not), the method of preparation used to create a unique dish from those ingredients can be. So if you hire Chef B to make a dish that originated with Chef A, you should not expect the dish will be the same. The ingredients may or may not be, but what the chef creates from those ingredients, which is the heart of the matter, will surely differ and that difference will be palatable.

What about plating style?

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Chef Mariana Carvallo’s plating skills transform pasta

So far we know that a chef is a menu-designer and recipe-tester and developer, long before he or she takes knife to hand. Next comes that kitchen magic that only years of experience can teach. And finally, to the plate. So is a particular plating style, perhaps, something that can be protected? This brings us to the question of “trade dress”.  According to intellectual property law attorney Naomi Strauss, as quoted in a Dec. 2012 article by Amy Mceever in Eater, “Trade dress is a form of trademark. You can use your trademark to protect your brand name, to protect your logo…. Trade dress has also expanded to protect things like interior [restaurant] design”. So what about plating? While Strauss focuses on the restaurant industry, where she argues that “another possibility for protecting restaurant dishes … [is] a small expansion of trade dress to cover the plating of restaurant dishes [as] an ideal way to codify existing norms”  (UCLA Law Review on Trade Dress Protection for Cuisine), its not a huge stretch to apply that same expansion to cover private chefs. Her argument is this: “Yeah, I mean, if we can protect the way a restaurant looks, why can’t we protect the way that the food in the restaurant looks? This isn’t really established at all, but there’s a possibility of analogizing to other cases to show that if it’s a signature dish that people really associate with the particular chef and it looks a specific way, that could theoretically be protected as trade dress,”

Holiday Tabletop

Chef Andrea Gray’s unique tablescapes are a hallmark of her Cal-Mex cuilinary style

but likely only if a chef has a well-developed brand, Strauss suggests. It is possible that if this comes to be, then the expectation would seem to be that, at least in practice if not in law, plating-style could protect the high end, well-established chef, working in or outside the restaurant, from copycats.

So where does this leave the private chef in terms of protection? Maybe nowhere, yet. But with an industry burgeoning the way private in-home dining is, expect to see changes soon. If plating becomes subject to trademark laws, it could apply to private as well as restaurant chefs. In the meanwhile, be aware of the way your meal is designed and who created the menu and who is cooking it.


Chef Bobbie Jo Wasiliko’s Wild Game presentations are her signature

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3 nights of Spanish food & wine come to the Mission directly from Catalan, Spain

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 6.04.11 PM.pngwill host three (3) nights of fine Spanish Food & Wine @ The Producer’s Loft Studio; located in the heart of San Francisco’s culture rich Mission District.

Chef Jordi Guillem, direct from Catalonia, Spain will be in San Francisco to present his special culinary dishes and kitchen magic. Chef Guillem is chef – owner at Hotel Leida Mam in Tarragon, Catalan, Spain; where the restaurant is known for its “cuisine prepared an artisan[al] tradition…  but updated today with new techniques”. His illustrious culinary career has taken him from Barcelona to London, to Chicago where he worked at both Elizabeth (1 Michelin star) and Grace (3 Michelin stars) and back to Tarragon, Catalan, where he was born. Chef Jordi Guillem was a 2014 Finalist for Spain’s Best Chef of the Year.

The menu will feature House Tapas / Wild Red Fruit Gazpacho with lobster, scallops and forvm pearls / Fish of the Day with Plancton Sauce and seasonal vegetables / Dried Rice Mushrooms with chestnuts, sweet potatoes and sausage / “Trinxat de la Cerdanya” (herb-crusted lamb ribs) / Glazed Olive Biscuits with chocolates and hazelnuts / Petit Fours

Sommelier Lucia Ramos, World Ambassador for Cune Wines, will be on hand to match the perfect wine with the perfect meal.

Entertainment by special guests.

Ticket prices – $190./person
21+ only event
Limited seating
7:00PM – 11:00PM

Thursday, January 14, 2016
Friday, January 15, 2016 – SOLD OUT
Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Producer’s Loft Studio
2773 Folsom Street, Suite 101
San Francisco, CA  94110

For more information: or go to

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SF loses a piece of its history– and Mexico’s

Tamales, of course, are a traditional favorite this time of year in Mexico, and are served whenever friends and family gather, starting from Dia de La Virgen de Guadalupe all the way through Dia de Los Reyes or Three Kings’ Day on January 6th, and even beyond on Dia de La Candelaria or Candelmas (Feb. 2nd). The following is excerpted from my book Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes (co-authored with Adriana Almazan Lahl)

 Tamales: A Historical Look

Tamales are an essential part of many Mexican festivals. Preparation is complex, time-consuming and an excellent example of Mexican communal cooking, where this task usually falls to the women. Preparing tamales is a ritual that has been part of Mexican life since pre-Hispanic times, with special fillings and forms designated for each specific festival or life event. Franciscan monk Bernardino de Sahagun, considered one of the father’s of culinary history, wrote in an amazing 1590 text based on personal observations, detailing that the first thing Aztec women did when preparing a festival was to make lots of tamalli (in Nahuatl):


Photo by Jorge Ontiveros, from the book Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipesby Andrea Lawson Gray and Adriana Almazan Lahl. All rights reserved .

In the photo (above) a Nahua woman is preparing el Zacahuil (tamal gigante). Ethnographers report up to 370 different kinds of tamales , including el zacahuil, which is 3 feet long, weighs about 150 pounds, and requires most of the leaves of a banana tree to wrap it. While almost all tamales are steamed, a few are distinctive in that they are baked either in the ground or in a bread oven. Other tamales that are distinctive include those made by the Otomi people near San Miguel de Allende, which are pastel-colored and fresh fish clapiques of the coast, prepared since the time of Moctezuma II.

“Salted wide tamales, pointed tamales, white tamales… rolled-shaped tamales, tamales with beans forming a seashell on top [with] grains of maize thrown in; crumbled, pounded tamales; spotted tamales, white fruit tamales, red fruit tamales, turkey egg tamales; turkey eggs with grains of maize; tamales of tender maize, tamales of green maize, abode-shaped tamales, braised ones; unleavened tamales, honey tamales, beeswax tamales, tamales with grains of maize, gourd tamales, crumbled tamales, maize flower tamales. These were passed around in a basket at banquets, [and custom mandated that they] were held in the left hand”

Tamales were initially disdained by the invading Spaniards in the 16th century Mexico, as food of the “lower class; as described by Jeffrey M. Pitcher in his book Que vivan los tamales!: Food and the making of Mexican culture,

“Although a poor coyote mestizo [half-breed]… Diego fancies himself a noble…..[however] His appetites betray his lower-class origins [as] He carries tamales….”

Oddly enough, their immense appeal must have finally convinced the Spaniards, as “Tamales became one of the representatives of Mexican culinary tradition in Europe, being one of the first samples of the culture that the Spanish conquistadors took back to Spain as proof of civilization” (WIKI).

A Landmark Tamale Parlor Closes

If you would prefer to buy your tamales at a restaurant, then Roosevelt Tamale Parlor at 2817-24th Street (near Alabama) has been the place; a San Francisco landmark (the original Roosevelt’s was founded in 1919 in the same locale), photos of old San Francisco and long-gone staff line the walls while the booths and decor have a definite old-school feel. Sadly, December 6th is the last day for this Mission landmark, just a week before the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, when tamales are a traditional menu item. All  their tamales are made with organic, stone-ground corn and there is variety: round tamales, black bean tamales served in a corn husk, sweet corn tamales (called canarios in Mexico for their pale yellow color) and plenty of options for meat-lovers and vegetarians alike. A real loss to the community and tamale-lovers in and around the Bay, this 93-year old fixture on one of the Mission’s main corridors (24th street) closed last week, citing a shrinking labor pool. The fact is, with exponentially-rising rents, those who work minimum age jobs, even with a rising minimum wage, can no longer afford to live in the neighborhood.

Where Else to Get Your Tamales

From Alicia’s Tamales Los MayasAlicia’s slogan is My tamales are stuffed with love and the best people are stuffed with my tamales”. Alicia Villanueva has good reason to be so enthusiastic about her food. Her story is one of a dream come true, in fact, Alicia says that sometimes she has to pinch herself to make sure its true, that she really has her own business. Alicia Villanueva was born in the city of Mazatlan, located in the northeastern part of Mexico in the state of Sinaloa. In August of 2010, Alicia Villanueva came to La Cocina with a dream: to start her own tamale cart, as a means to financial independence and to spread her own Mexican traditions and customs. 


Tamales and atole are a typical early breakfast in Mexico

made its debut at the 2010 San Francisco Street Food Festival and launched at Justin Herman Plaza in October 2011, where it’s now stationed five days a week. NOW also at Off the Grid at Fort Mason, Fridays from 5 PM – 10 PM. Here’s what’s on the menu:

  • Chicken Tamale- The House Specialty – The mother of all the tamales we make! The best ones yet! Chicken breast, carrots, potatoes, zucchini, peas and salsa verde.
  • Beef or Pork Tamales- Carnivores Rejoice! It’s hearty and zesty! Carnitas and chile chipotle salsa.
  • Cheese Tamales- Awesomely cheesy with just a bit of kick! Oaxaca cheese, green pepper and salsa verde.
  • Veggies Tamale- You won’t miss the meat! Nopalitos (tender cactus paddles, if you’ve never tasted this Mexican specialty, here’s your chance!), green beans, garbanzos, and bell peppers with black olive salsa.
  • Sweet Tamale- filled with fruit of the season
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Got Leftovers? Thanksgiving Leftover Recipe Ideas from Private Chefs of the SF Bay

IMG_4583(Note: this is a Guest Blog Post from Bobbie Jo Wasiliko via Private Chefs of the SF Bay. We are a collective of 9 private chefs, in and around the Bay, offering 31 cuisines and collectively bring over 70 years of experience to the table. We use sustainably-sourced, organic and local fare. While our culinary styles vary, our cooking philosophies are similar. First and foremost, we believe in respecting the ingredients– which means the natural flavors of what we cook directs our dishes and menus. We believe in working with small, local farmers, ranchers and fishermen whenever possible, and have partnered with some of these amazing folks.

From Chef Bobbie Jo:

It’s amazing the amount of preparation that goes into one day a year! As early as summer, folks are scanning airline websites searching for the best deal for Thanksgiving flights. It’s the eternal challenge: What is the cheapest flight with the least amount of stops, in the early morning one can take from the West coast to the East coast? And if you’re anything like my sisters, you’d begin working on your Black Friday maneuvers, with a playbook filled with plays like, “Well if store A on this side of town opens at midnight, then we can make it to store C across town for their opening at 3 am and stop at store B along the way”…and on and on. And the moment turkey season opens, Danny is hard at work hunting turkey. Of course, we always have to consider an alternative if the turkey isn’t going to appear in his crosshairs. Like this year, we opted for a Diestel free range turkey from a family owned farm in the Central Valley of California…. just in case the deadline comes and goes without a hunted bird to show for his efforts.
In my private chef business, I receive phone calls as early as July from clients who try to get the jump on others as they plan their holiday parties and celebrations. They know by the time September rolls around, chefs are already booked and they’ll be out of luck for someone to cook for them. To chefs, Thanksgiving marks the busiest time of year and we know sleep will have to wait until after New Years’ Day.

Even a month prior to Thanksgiving I start planning my own dinner and working towards the day when “George”, as we refer to him in our family, will make his front and center debut at our table. No, I’m not talking about an Uncle, I’m talking about the gloriously roasted turkey, which is stuffed with a wonderful stuffing, from a recipe handed down by my Great-Grandfather. Even though I cook for a living, and I’ve made this recipe my whole adult life, I still call my Mom to walk me through it, every year. “Okay, Mom, if the turkey is X pounds, how much butter for the stuffing should I plan on?” And how many hours will it take, and at what temp?” Some things never change.
I also begin creating my table design, and choose the dinnerware and stemware I’m going to use. I send out invitations to family and friends to join us for the celebration of being “Thankful”. Then as it gets a little closer, I begin pressing my table linens, and my favorite turkey platter is taken out of storage. I search through recipes to decide which perennial favorites I’m going to prepare, as well as adding new recipes to keep things fresh. When it comes to the dessert list, both our daughters insist at least one dessert must be my pumpkin cream pie, or they’re not coming home for Thanksgiving. They always try to blackmail me with that one but I know they’d come home anyway.
So we spend months in preparation for the iconic holiday we all know and love here in America. And then the big day comes and Mom’s been up for three days baking, prepping and setting the table with her best china. Gram is complaining about Mom’s method for “lump free” gravy. Meanwhile Dad spends his time in his recliner while screaming at the tv screen while watching the game and cracking a big bowl of mixed nuts. And only occasionally gets up and walks into the kitchen for a beer (“Save my seat”, he says) and a sample of stuffing. And Grand-Pap is on the other recliner, blissfully napping until Gram yells at him for snoring so loudly. And the kids?? Well, in my childhood we’d be playing outside, or driving Mom crazy about Dad watching the game on the ONLY tv we had in the house, when we wanted to watch Miracle on 34th Street. But children today are most likely listening to music on their iPhone, posting on Facebook, texting friends, and watching a movie on their iPad all while playing a video game! lol
So why do we put ourselves through this craziness for just one day? Thanksgiving leftovers, of course! For those Thanksgiving leftovers, I’ve created a few ideas you can try to make the most of the best meal of the year!

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!!!

Leftover mashed Savory Sweet Potato Spring Rolls: egg-wash the edges of a spring roll wrapper, and add a few tbs. of cold mashed sweet potatoes in the center, roll up and seal then heat oil to 350 and deep fry until brown and add a dipping sauce with leftover cranberry sauce mixed with a Serrano chili, lime zest, a little water: OR make it a Dessert Sweet Potato Spring Roll by frying it then dusting the spring rolls with powdered sugar, and making a warm caramel sauce with pecans and a pinch of cinnamon (or warmed maple syrup).

You can use leftover mashed potatoes for Spring Rolls also by mixing in some shredded cheddar cheese, a few tablespoons green onions, and crumbled bacon and filling spring rolls wrappers, then deep fry and dip them in ranch dressing or creamy peppercorn dressing: OR make Potato Pancake for breakfast by mixing cold mashed potatoes with some shredded gruyere cheese, crispy bacon crumbles, a beaten egg and coating the patties with a little flour and frying in a pan with a bit of oil and top with eggs.

LEFTOVER STUFFING/DRESSING: Make a Stuffing Patty Eggs Benedict by forming a patty with leftover stuffing and then coat each side with Japanese bread crumbs and sear it in a pan with oil and serve it as a base for eggs Benedict and Lemon Hollandaise: OR Stuffing Balls by shaping stuffing into small balls, coat in flour, then egg, and bread crumbs then deep fry and dip in cranberry sauce: OR Stuffing Dumplings on top of Pheasant Stew, make the stew then roll the stuffing into balls to create dumplings poaching them in the broth for a few minutes: OR one of my favorites!! SCOTCH EGGS!! Partially boil eggs until the yolk is still runny inside and the egg white is just set, then peel the eggs, then flatten out some stuffing in your palm, then place an egg in the center and wrap the stuffing around the egg, coat in flour, then egg, then bread crumbs, deep fry until golden brown and serve with a salad and Caesar dressing or mustard horseradish vinaigrette.. BOOM!

IMG_4377LEFTOVER CORN:  Ravioli: Mix corn with ricotta and some canned crab meat, a pinch of cayenne pepper and wrap in spring roll wrappers or pasta dough to make corn crab ravioli. Boil for a few minutes, drain and then sauté ravioli in butter, cream and freshly grated parmesan, with just a touch of brandy or cream sherry, and top with chopped chives and serve alongside sautéed chanterelle mushrooms: OR Corn Soup: OR make some Corn Risotto and add leftover corn and a half cup mascarpone cheese (Italian cream cheese) at the end and top with a butter poached lobster tail.

LEFTOVER CRANBERRY SAUCE: The Dipping Sauce can be used for the sweet potato spring rolls listed above: OR as a Savory BBQ Glaze by mixing together with a bottle of chili sauce some onion flakes, and 2 tablespoons brown sugar and heat in a pot for 3 minutes until the brown sugar is melted through, then brush on to glaze bacon wrapped dove, quail or Cornish game hens.

LEFTOVER ROASTED VEGETABLES LIKE BROCCOLI AND CHESTNUTS: Make a Morning Hash with fried potatoes and add the broccoli, and/or other roasted vegetables and top with leftover gravy, scrambled eggs and cheese: OR make a Quiche by whipping eggs, some half and half, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and add the vegetables and chestnuts and pour into a ready made pie crust and bake 350ºF until set.

LEFTOVER CARROTS: Use in soups or stews: OR add to Carrot Coconut Soup by adding chicken stock, bay leaves, fresh thyme leaves, sautéed onions and puree into a soup and add some coconut milk.

LEFTOVER PUMPKIN SOUP: Use it as a base for some amazing Pumpkin Risotto by replacing some of the stock normally used and do half soup, half stock.

LEFTOVER PEAS: Use it in Soups and Stews: OR add to pasta to make an Alfredo with shredded turkey and an Alfredo sauce made with butter, heavy cream and parmesan cheese.

LEFTOVER TURKEY!!!: Well there are soooo many but a couple that I like are: Open Faced Turkey Sandwiches with gravy and french fries: Turkey Rice Soup: Turkey Hash by frying leftover vegetables with fried potatoes and eggs: Homemade Turkey Lasagna with béchamel (white sauce) and three cheeses: OR how about a wonderful Turkey Strudel!! Made by layering 3 sheets of phyllo dough and brushing with melted butter, and adding some turkey, roasted peppers, sautéed mushrooms, and a little goat cheese and sun dried tomatoes, then fold over and bake until golden brown: OR my favorite, a Sandwich made with turkey, stuffing, a little gravy, cranberry sauce, and cream cheese!!!! I once described this sandwich to my daughter, Caitlin, and one day she went to a sandwich shop and she called me and said, “Mom! they have your favorite sandwich on the menu and… wait for it…. it’s called “The Bobbie Jo!”…true story.

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