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Día de la Muertos!

As a child I was encouraged to go to church and Sunday school but rarely went and never developed any strong religious beliefs. Add to that, I've never been a fan of appropriating someone else's culture as my own but, the Mexican tradition of Dia de los Muertos has just the right amount of folk art, paganism and pageantry to appeal to me.

I'm a huge fan of Mexican cuisine. Not Mexican restaurants mind you but, true, Mexican cuisine. I don't remember ever eating at a Taco Bell. I did however work as a server at a Chi Chi's back in the mid 1980's. I can't stand the smell of your typical Ortega or Old El Paso seasoning.

In the early 90's I had the good fortune to work with and, befriend a primarily Mexican kitchen staff and was indeed fortunate to be invited on several occasions to break bread with them and their families. Through these experiences and independent research I've learned a little about real Mexican culture and cuisine.

So this year I decided to go all out and celebrate the two days of, The Day of the Dead. Well three if you count the fact that I painted my face like a sugar skull to hand out candy for Halloween.

It's my understanding Pazole is a traditional celebratory dish and a favorite during the cooler weather of November 1st and 2nd. I've made it a few times, a couple different ways and thoroughly enjoyed it each time. So.

I started out at 8:00 in the morning. I pulled out my little deep fryer to fry up my tortilla chips and strips.

One thing to keep in mind when frying your own tortillas. Your chips are not going to be a nice blonde color like the ones you get in the supermarket. If they are they're going to be leathery and chewy and, dry hard instead of crispy. Also, I season my chips with salt and fresh cracked black pepper so, if they are a little chewy they're still tastier than any store bought chips.

Next I set up my mise en place for Pazole with pork. The original recipe calls for 1 pound of stew pork cut into 1 inch cubes. I doubled the recipe and cut 2 pounds into 1/2 inch cubes. The recipe is from the cookbook 'Cantina' The best of casual Mexican Cooking. By Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken by Sunset Books.

1 lb. boneless stewing pork

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 cups water

4 dried ancho chili peppers (stemmed and seeded)

5 cloves of garlic

1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 large yellow onion, diced

2 cups well drained canned white hominy

3 cups chicken or pork stock (or as needed for consistancy)

A few adulterations I should mention. I had a pork shoulder in the freezer so, I de-boned and used about a third of it. I'll marinate and grill the rest of it in the next couple days.

I had boiled up some chicken the day before to use on salads so I used the stock (approximately 4 cups back extreme left in plastic container) from that, in place of the water in the recipe. I always use stock in place of water. Also, I always have an abundance of chicken stock either canned or frozen around so on the back right is 1 quart of home canned chicken stock. I used a combination of ancho and guajillo chilies. Ancho chilies are very mild and guajillos are double that yet, still pretty mild. The rest is pretty self explanitory, oil, salt, oregano, garlic and, sweet onion.

In a large sauce pan, combine the pork, salt and stock (water). Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered until barely tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let the pork cool in the liquid. Drain and reserve the liquid in a bowl. Set the meat aside, covering it with a damp towel.

Place the chilies in the reserved warm cooking liquid and soak for 20 minutes. Add the garlic, onions, and oregano to the liquid and transfer to a blender.

In a heavy saucepan (I used the same one I first stewed the pork in) over medium high heat, add the vegetable oil and onions and saute till onions start to brown. About 10 minutes. Add the prueed chili mixture, hominy and chicken or pork stock, adding more stock if needed for a more soupy consistency. Stir in the reserved pork.

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer uncovered until the pork is fork tender. The original recipe says 30 minutes but, I found it to take about an hour. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

While not the traditional "Day of the Dead bread" I did bake a couple of loaves of rustic spent grain bread, which is basically a whole grain bread mixed with the sparged grains leftover from making home brew.

Also, while not a traditional dessert, I have a ton of homegrown rasberries and locally grown organic blueberries, strawberries and blackberries in my freezer so I made a gluten free (long story) mixed berry crisp.

While the Pazole was cooking I prepared the garnishes and a large batch of royal icing and colored it for decorating the sugar skulls I made about a month ago. Typical garnishes for Pazole are shredded lettuce or cabbage, radishes, onion, avocado, lime and tortilla strips.

Squeezed some limes for margaritas and set out some chips and salsa. My guests were going to show up soon.

My Guests.

This being the first time doing this I didn't want to go too big so aside from my wife, I invited my friend Amber (you've probably heard of her in other posts) her fiancé who didn't come because he was out deer hunting and, her two children.

The first order of business was decorating the sugar skulls. It was a blast! Especially with the two little girls ages 3 and 6. Their Mom and I helped the youngest one a little bit but she's quite independent and I was informed by her, more than once, that, "okay, I can do it."

She made me giggle on more than one occasion. The older of the two enjoyed herself immensely and was very focused. She'd watched and helped her Mom decorate cookies with royal icing before so the only help she required was with cutting the foil for the eye sockets.

My Wife and Amber of course needed no assistance what so ever, and both created impressive sugar skulls.

When all was said and done.


Sarah's Skull Amber's Skull

Lyric's Skull Trinity's Skull

6 yrs.old 3 yrs. old

My Skull

Cook well, eat well and live large my friends.

Yours truly,

Chef Tim

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