PepperFool.com Diana Kennedy Article
 
    MEXICAN CUISINE AUTHENTICIY IS HER GOAL
    
    By DAI HUYNH 
    Houston Chronicle 
    
    Diana Kennedy is the ultimate perfectionist. Some may even describe the
    British-born author as opinionated, curt and difficult. 
    
    "Ridiculous," she retorts. "I don't know where people get that idea
    from." 
    
    Relaxing on the patio of Ouisie's Table on San Felipe, Kennedy is tanned
    and elegant in her gray pantsuit -- a different picture from the
    truck-driving, iron-willed adventuress of her cookbooks. She speaks quickly and
    excitedly about her work, of years traveling across Mexico in her white truck,
    hunting and documenting recipes from young wives and grandmothers in
    out-of-the-way places. 
    
    In the culinary world, Kennedy did for Mexican food what Julia Child did
    for French. She went to the source, searched out authentic recipes and
    translated them for Americans. It was from Kennedy's first book in 1972, The
    Cuisines of Mexico, that many American cooks learned of the corn fungus,
    cuitlacoche, and the incredible variety of chili peppers, not to mention
    the different uses for tomatillos, and of epazote, the wild herb without
    which tortilla soup is not the real thing. While Kennedy's face is not as
    readily recognized as Child's -- she's never had her own TV series -- her books
    are classics. 
    
    The petite, salt-and-pepper-haired Kennedy was in Houston to sign her
    latest book, My Mexico: A Culinary Odyssey With More Than 300 Recipes
    (Potter, $32.50). While in town, the doyenne of Mexican cookery
    discusses her travails collecting off-the-beaten-track recipes and talks about
    "her" Mexico. Kennedy acknowledges the possessive noun sounds a little
    arrogant. But it's across the deserts and high in the mountains of this land that
    she's experienced countless culinary adventures. Among them, discovering chili
    peppers that taste like sweet apples; preparing a salsa with a wasp's
    nest; and eating maggots. 
    
    "They were delicious. We fried them," she says. 
The Art of Mexican Cooking : Traditional Mexican Cooking for Aficionados



The Cuisines of Mexico



My Mexico : A Culinary Odyssey With More Than 300 Recipes
    Kennedy has enlightened and educated many on the nuances of Mexican cooking. 
    
    "I ate tacos," says admiring fan Rich Levy of Houston, "and that was the extent of my knowledge
    about Mexican food in the '70s. Her (first) book opened my eyes. 
    
    "Her recipes were at times long -- some were four pages long. And they
    sounded so strange, but they were delicious. Her book was a revelation." 
    
    Kennedy has helped dispel many misconceptions about Mexican food. 
    
    "The general concept is that it's a plate of mixes -- a mix-and-match of
    thefour starches blanketed with cream and cheese," she says. "That's simply
    not true. Mexican food is so varied." 
    
    During her research, she discovered that spices such as cinnamon, cloves
    andcumin are used very sparingly in cooked sauces, and that a large variety
    of mushrooms are used in the colder highland areas of Mexico where there
    are pine forests. The food anthropologist also points out that Mexican cooks
    use many different herbs and aromatic plants, not to mention the hundreds of
    different types of chilies. 
    
    "Mexico has more chilies than any other country in the world, ranging in
    size and color," she says. "Nobody has done a complete collection of them,
    and some of them have been misused. 
    
    "My approach is that we can learn a lot about them from traditional
    recipes. The young chefs can play around with them as long as they use them in a
    reasonable way. But first, we have to establish how do we use them, and
    why do we use certain chilies." 
    
    Kennedy loves the excitement of traveling into the unknown, searching
    and extracting undocumented and exotic recipes, some of which are several
    hundred years old. But equally as daring is biting into a chili. 
    
    "It's an adventure, eating a chili. Oh yes, absolutely," she says. "You
    never know how hot it's going to be." 
    
    Kennedy, who now lives in San Pancho near Zitacuaro, Michoacan, first
    traveled to Mexico in 1957 to marry Paul Kennedy, a foreign
    correspondent for the New York Times. In following her heart, Kennedy found home, and
    even after her husband died, she remained in her adopted country, living
    and writing. 
    
    In her latest volume, Kennedy takes a different approach from her
    previous works, which include The Tortilla Cookbook and The Art of Mexican
    Cooking.  "The thought of writing another conventional cookbook was just about to
    kill me. You know, ingredients, methods," she says. "So I thought, how can I
    incorporate all these things that go on in my life when I'm doing my
    research. You know, it's not only about recipes; there's also the wonderful
    countryside, wonderful farming methods that create these ingredients." 
    
    As in her prior writings, Kennedy remains a stickler for authenticity. 
    
    "There are lots of myths about the food (of Mexico)," she says.
    "Somebody has got to try and be a perfectionist at this -- why not me?" 
    
    
    
    Capirotada de Doña Rosa's Bread Pudding 
    
    Rosa, who comes a few days a week to a friend's home in Puerto
    Vallarta to cook, is well known for her capirotada. Her recipe is unlike
    the more common ones in Mexico: rounds of bread fried crisp and
    soaked in a syrup with nuts and raisins or other regional elaborations.
    Hers is more like a bread pudding moistened with custard. -- Diana
    Kennedy. 
    
    7 cups whole milk 
    1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick 
    1/2 cup sugar 
    1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch 
    2 egg yolks 
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
    Vegetable oil for frying 
    6 (5-inch) corn tortillas 
    1 (1-pound) ripe plantain, sliced 
    16 small slices of dried bread (picon, challah or brioche), cut
    1/2-inch-thick 
    10 ounces dried prunes, soaked until slightly softened, drained, and
    pits removed 
    1/2 cup each: roughly chopped pecans and raisins 
    
    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a saucepan, warm the milk with the
    cinnamon and sugar. Put cornstarch into a small bowl, add a little warmed milk,
    and mix with a wooden spoon until smooth. Add some more milk, stir well, and
    then return to pan. In a small bowl, mix egg yolks -- just to break them up,
    not beat them -- add a little warmed milk, and quickly mix until smooth. Add
    more milk and return to pan. Cook over low heat, stirring from time to
    time and scraping the bottom of pan to prevent sticking until mixture begins
    to thicken slightly. Stir in vanilla and set aside. 
    
    Heat about 1/8 inch of oil in a skillet and fry the tortillas on both
    sides until they are leathery, not crisp. Add a little more oil as necessary. Blot
    them well and line the bottom of an ovenproof 8-by-3-inch mold. 
    
    In skillet, fry the plantains on both sides in oil until golden brown,
    blot, and set aside. 
    
    Put a layer of the bread over the tortillas, sprinkle with a third of
    the drained prunes, nuts, and raisins, and add a third of the plantain. Remove the
    cinnamon stick from the custard. 
    
    Very slowly pour 1 1/2 cups of the custard over the first layer, a
    little at a time, allowing the bread to absorb the liquid -- if you pour it too
    fast, it will all sink to the bottom of the dish. Repeat with second and third layers,
    then pour remaining milk over top. 
    
    Bake in the top of the oven until most of the liquid has been absorbed,
    about 40 minutes. Set aside for about 20 minutes before serving so that the
    remaining liquid is absorbed. Serve lukewarm with crème fraîche or
    whipped
    cream. Makes 8 servings. 
    
    Bistec en Vire Vira (Steak and Onions Campechana) 
    
    This is a very simple, quick recipe for small steaks, usually served
    with fried plantains, plain potatoes and a salad of lettuce, tomatoes and
    radishes. Always leave some fat on the steaks for flavor -- you don't
    have to eat it. -- Diana Kennedy. 
    
    1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns 
    1/2 teaspoon dried oregano 
    3 garlic cloves 
    Salt to taste 
    5 tablespoons bitter orange juice 
    2 tablespoons pork lard or oil 
    6 small steaks, about 1/2-inch-thick, lightly pounded 
    1 medium white onion, thinly sliced 
    
    Crush peppercorns, oregano, and garlic together with salt. Dilute with
    the orange juice. Season the steaks on both sides with mixture. Stack steaks
    on top of one another and place in refrigerator to marinate for at least 30
    minutes.
    
    Heat the lard in a skillet. When lard is very hot, sear three of the
    steaks on both sides. Remove and continue with the remaining steaks. Return steaks
    to pan; add onion. Fry until browned. Pile onion on top of steaks. Cook
    only until tender. 
    Makes 6 servings. 
    
    
    Chilies Pasillas Rellenos de Papa 
    (Pasilla Chilies Stuffed With Potato) 
    
    Señora Williams says this is an old family recipe that possibly goes
    back some 200 years. -- Diana Kennedy. 
    
    12 pasilla chilies 
    1 pound new potatoes, cooked, peeled and roughly mashed 
    6 ounces queso fresco or cream cheese, crumbled (freeze it first) 
    Salt to taste 
    1/3 cup vegetable oil 
    2 pounds tomatillos, husks removed and rinsed 
    2 tablespoons roughly chopped onion 
    2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped 
    1 heaping tablespoon dark brown sugar 
    1/2 cup chicken broth or water 
    
    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
    
    Carefully slit the chilies open and remove the seeds and veins, leaving
    the top intact. Cover with hot water and leave to soak until just soft -- about
    10 minutes. (The time will, of course, depend on how dry the chilies were
    in the first place.) Drain. 
    
    Mix together the potatoes and cheese, with salt if desired, and fill the
    chilies (cut edges should almost meet). 
    
    Heat the oil in a skillet and fry the chilies, rolling them over so they
    fry evenly, about 5 minutes. Remove, drain and hold in a warm place while preparing
    sauce. 
    
    In a saucepan, cover tomatillos with water and simmer until soft, about
    10 minutes. Drain and transfer to a blender. Add onion and garlic; blend
    until smooth. 
    
    Reheat the oil in which the chilies were fried, add sugar and fry the
    sugar for a few seconds. Add salt to taste and continue cooking the sauce over
    fairly high heat until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Add the broth to dilute to
    a medium consistency. 
    
    Place chilies in large casserole dish or baking pan. Pour sauce over
    chilies, cover, and heat in 350-degree oven until sauce is bubbling and potato
    filling is heated throughout, about 15 minutes. 
    
    Serve the chilies with plenty of sauce and corn tortillas. 
    
    Makes 12 servings. 

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