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Blog,  Expat Life,  Foodies,  Life in Queretaro,  Tom's Cooking

Tom’s Test Kitchen Is in Overdrive

The reason we decided to build our own house was so that Tom could have his dream kitchen, or something close to it. What we kept seeing during our house hunt was that there wasn’t enough storage or counter space in new house construction. This puzzled us since so many Mexican dishes are labor intensive with grinding, roasting, chopping, and cooking.

Our house in Florida was a 1960s ranch style home with a galley kitchen. Galley kitchens are perfect for one person or people who don’t cook, but Tom loves to cook. So we converted our second living room into a pantry and half of the dining room was occupied by a large freezer and wine storage. 42 boxes of kitchen stuff came down with us when we moved to Mexico.

The one house we did see with enough storage space was shown on our episode of House Hunters International. It was owned by our realtor, Gilberto and had a decent size island with a maid’s quarters in the back that we could use for a pantry. Unfortunately, the price and other parts of the house did not agree with us.

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So we sat down with our architect, Alejandro, and designed our kitchen. Money ran low before we could finish it, and many items are still on the drawing board like cabinets and the island. But we made do with baker’s racks from Home Depot, 3 stainless-steel tables from the restaurant supply store and tomato crates from the Sunday market. Tom has his workspace, and I can wander in to grab something from the fridge or clean dishes without getting in his way. For now, it works. We can see everything we own and locate spices, powders and other dry items easily.

With COVID-19 keeping us isolated in our house except for the occasional trip to the grocery store, Tom has been cooking up a storm! He’s making things from scratch like breads and barbeque sauce, experimenting with fermentation to make flavored vinegars, and creating ethnic fusion dishes for dinner.


Why didn’t Tom become a chef?

Tom’s first passion is food, his second passion is wine. Anyone who is passionate about something can tell you that they want to do it for the love and joy that it brings them, not for the money. He’s also not someone who likes to do the same thing over and over. Once he has perfected his technique with a dish, it’s time to move on to another one.

On occasion, I’ve shared a few of his dishes on social media and maybe wrote a post or two about a delectable dessert, but I think you all need to see what a scary genius Tom is with food when he has the space to create.

From salsas and vinegars to Indian and Asian cuisine, here’s just a few remarkable dishes Tom has whipped up in his test kitchen.

BREADS

Focaccia

Plain focaccia for sandwiches tomorrow. Focaccia primavera pizza for tonight! The dough puffs up so much from the long fermentation and the addition of a tablespoon of honey, it is more like Chicago style deep dish pizza.

Corn Bread

Made some Dos Equis bread this morning with sour corn (just like saurkraut but made with sweet corn), pickled garlic and pickled jalapenos (all homemade). I feel toasted cheese sandwiches happening today.

Naan

That freaking Garlic naan with wild cilantro (that somehow landed in my pineapple container) was world class with the habanero pulled pork. Such a satisfying dish we ate it all before we could take pictures! This was the second batch.

GEORGIAN BREAD

I had to make this Georgian bread recipe from Flipboard. Classic with cheese and egg, with onion/anchovy jam and roasted tomatoes and with harissa (homemade), roasted zucchini and sumac.

 

FROM OUR GARDEN

Had to severely cut back the backyard planter today because stuff I could never grow in Florida like mint, cilantro, basil and thyme go CRAZY here. Made a tincture of four cups of densely packed mint and dried a cup of Mexican oregano. Then made a liter of Tepache/cilantro vinegar.

The one thing you never, EVER want to do is spill mint tincture. So intensely green it looks brown in the photo. It stained my chinous, stainless steel sink and funnel in less than two minutes!

SAUCES, DIPS AND SALSAS

When life gives you basil this sexy, you make Hazelnut/Idiazabal pesto and why not make some spinach dip for Tiffany while you are at it.

Canned some Harrisa spice paste and spicy tamarind sauce today. If I die from Covid, the pantry is full, and my wife will survive until she finds another man to cook for her.

If your veggies are going bad in the fridge, it’s time to make them into salsa. Roast in the oven or on a plancha, then place in a Vitamix blender and make salsa. We roast tomatillos, onions, garlic and jalapenos for our salsa verde.

So this science project is the juices from lacto-ferm mushrooms and huitlacoche mixed into salt water. Then I dry the huitlacoche and mushrooms, add them to the brine and boil. When reduced, I will puree and strain. Shooting for an umami bomb seasoning sauce.

He also just finished a lacto-ferm habanero sauce by pureeing the peppers, onions, garlic and carrots that have been souring for two weeks with sugar, pineapple vinegar, orange and grapefruit juice. Hit that with a bit of vitamin C to keep the oxygen out and the color in and then into a food grade container to age. Man is that sucker hot!

Other tasty food projects include Nam prik num (smoky eggplant and green chilie dip) and fresh jerk paste.

TIP: Keep your guacamole green for days by adding Vitamin C (ascorbic acid).

Vitamin C stops the oxidation process (guac turning brown). You can add it to other food and liquids to  keep for a longer period. Vitamic C can be bought as capsules from any health food or supplement store.

 

FERMENTATION

Many of Tom’s experiements have revolved around fermentation. From pineapple tepache to prickly pear vinegar, he’s been having fun making unusual flavors into additonal flavor bombs. If you’d like to experiment with fermentation, we highly recommend the book The Noma Guide to Fermentation: Including koji, kombuchas, shoyus, misos, vinegars, garums, lacto-ferments, and black fruits and vegetables (Foundations of Flavor).Prickly pear vinegar Prickly pear vinegar[/caption]

 

COCKTAILS

Tom has made a variety of shrubs to add to to We use pineapple this custom cocktails like rhubarb shrub, pineapple shrub and mango shrub.

Tom’s Spiced Rum: Appleton silver, cloves, star anise, cinnamon, black peppercorns, pink peppercorns, orange peel. Two hours sous vide at 153F.

 

INTERNATIONAL DISHES

MEXICO

Tacos are the comfort food of Mexican cuisine. From street food taco al pastor to Pujol’s fancy Taco Omakase tasting menu, tacos can be as simple or as complex as the chef wants them to be. In our household, they always seem to be more complex unless Tiffany is throwing together a leftover taco. From brisket to shrimp tacos, we’ve made them all during COVID2020, but the rabbit tacos were the best.

Rabbit Vaca Frita Tacos

Rabbit Vaca Frita Tacos, Salsa Verde, Pineapple salsa, avocado. Salsa Verde from roasted vegetables and blending in our Vitamix. Pineapple salsa from fruit and herbs in our garden.

Sopes

Sopes with black bean puree, jalapeno cheese, chicken, onions and potatoes sauteed in chili oil and crema.

USA

Seafood Gumbo

Hanks’s New Orleans Cafe & Oyster Bar is a popular local and expat hangout in both Queretaro and San Miguel de Allende. Every once in awhile, we get a hankering for some Southern Creole cuisine. But since we haven’t been dining out these last few months, Tom made his own seafood gumbo. We don’t get okra here until June, Tom used leeks as a substitute. Everything else is legit!

Being a southern boy, BBQ is always pork (whole hog) and the sauce is always mustard based. Everything else is Kansas City Ketchup and Smoked Meat.

I did manage to make some homemade BBQ sauce, red with Chipotle and Carolina mustard sauce. When I say homemade, I mean I made the ketchup, mustard, vinegar, brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce from scratch before starting on the sauces.

KOREAN

Some fried chicken thighs I have been marinading in plain yogurt and a plethora of spices for three days. Served with my red salsa and David Chang’s Bo Saam sauce with some Korean pickles.

 

ITALY

Shrimp Bucatini with Saffron, orange and star anise sauce.

Pizza

Pizza crust has been a challenge at 7000 feet elevation. Tom has tried different flours and different recipes, but the crusts keep coming out hard. I told him just to use focaccia bread as his pizza crust. Determined to get it right, he used the Georgian bread recipe which calls for milk.

Pizzas he has made:

Alfredo sauce, parmesan, hot chili flakes, piquillo peppers, zucchini, olive oil, Italian herbs, Jalapeno jack cheese Roasted red chili sauce, onion, tomato, bacon and manchego

But the best pizza and pizza crust was the crispy, roasted squid ink “pancake” with ocho sauce (eight chile roasted red salsa), fiery adobera chipotle cheese (local), lemon-chile crisp shrimp and goat cheese stuffed into zucchini blossoms. The crust stayed firm with a little chewiness.

squid ink "pancake"
squid ink “pancake”

VIETNAM

Pho

“Pho with brisket and chayote tonight. Best I have had since Hanoi.” I bought a whole brisket from City Market. I cut off the thickest 60% for smoked meat and cooked the other 40% in the pressure cooker after a heavy sear with a browned onion. Added half bottle of red wine and a quart of water. The stock was so intensely beefy there was only one option. The rest becomes tacos tomorrow!

Banh Mi Mexican Vietnamese Fusion

Adding a little Mexican chorizo to your usual Vietnamese banh mi sandwich.

 

MIDDLE EASTERN

Medjool dates stuffed with homemade green chorizo. Braised in homemade Harissa with cava and chicken stock in a tagine. Served with plain couscous.

 

NORTH AFRICAN

Seared Tuna steaks, mashed potatoes with chorizo “sand”, cumin carrots “mulligatawny”, curried carrot gastric.

 

SEAFOOD

Poke Bowl

Tuna

Tuna steaks with Asian caramel sauce, udon with sesame sauce and stuffed bola zucchini with cured lemon, piquillo pepper cheese sauce.

For the Asian caramel sauce: Dark soy, mirin, ginger rice wine vinegar, sambal (marinade). Sear the steaks, remove to warm plates. Pour in the marinade, the sugar in the mirin quickly seizes up and then you add a half stick of cold butter and swirl until emulsified. Adjust saltiness with more mirin if needed.

 

DESSERTS

Tom knows how much I love desserts, so every few days we have something sweet to nibble on. Sometimes its ice cream like Fig Mezcal or Licor 43 and Banana ice cream, and sometimes its baked goods like Strawberry-Rhubarb crumble, mango Claflotis, fig skillet pie and chocolate peanute butter cookies.

While I’ve enjoyed licking the spoon, fork or my fingers after these finishing these scrumptious desserts, these two are uniquely Mexican:

Cheesecake

Licor 43 cheesecake with Chokis crust and home-made Mexican Chocolate ganache. See the full recipe in our post Licor 43 Cheesecake with Mexican Chocolate Ganache.

Chocoflan

Chocoflan, a favorite Mexican dessert dubbed “the impossible cake” is made with with dulce de leche flan on top of chocolate cake. The cake batter and flan flip places while baking. Tom substituted cajeta (goat’s milk caramel) for the dulce de leche. Thick and moist!

 

Do you need inspiration in the kitchen? Here are some of Tom’s favorite books:


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