250 Cookbooks: Elena’s Famous Mexican and Spanish Recipes

Cookbook #179: Elena’s Famous Mexican and Spanish Recipes, Elena Zelayeta, Dettners Printing House, San Franscisco.

Elena's Famous Mexican and Spanish Recipes cookbook

Driving out of Boulder last week, I noticed a new Mexican grocery store. I wanted to go in! I love discovering small stores with interesting ethnic products. I used to get the best corn tortillas from a store in almost the same location. Makes me hungry for Mexican food. Time to pull another Mexican cookbook off my shelf!

And I have only one that I have not yet covered: Elena’s Famous Mexican and Spanish Recipes. I covered another of her cookbooks, Elena’s Secrets of Mexican Cooking, in one of my earliest posts. That book was published in 1958, and this one in 1944. Inside the back cover is the price it originally sold for: $1.50 from May Co. I think I bought it from a used book or junk store, way back when we lived in Boulder. But I am not sure. It could have been my mother-in-law’s – there is some writing in this book that might be hers.

The introduction to Elena’s Famous Mexican and Spanish Recipes is written by Elena’s friend Katherine Kerry, while the introduction to the (later) 1958 book is written by Helen Evans Brown. Her friends just loved her! If you read my other blog entry, you will learn that Elena lost her sight as an adult, but blindness didn’t stop her from cooking. That amazes me so much! Katherine Kerry writes of her friend’s book:

“This book of her own much-used recipes is just one expression of Elena’s love of people, her knowledge of how to make them happy. Each recipe is a shining star of courage, faith and hope, plus a full measure of gastronomic enjoyment for you who use them.”

“Elena is a bouncing ball of pep, gaiety, kindliness and heart – a heart so big it encompasses all she meets.”

Some of the recipes in Elena’s 1944 book were carried through to the later book – “because no book on Mexican cuisine could possibly be without them”.

The first chapter of Elena’s Famous Mexican and Spanish Recipes is “Sopas – Soups”. I learn that there are two types of soup in Mexico: wet and dry. Wet soups are liquid (plus meats and vegetables) and served at the beginning of the meal, dry soups are served next. Dry soups are rice or vermicelli cooked in soup stock, the stock being entirely absorbed in cooking, in effect making them more like our idea of seasoned cooked rice.

“Eggs, Glorified ways of serving them”, the next chapter, has at least one recipe I’d like to try: “Rice Nests with Egg”. In this recipe, bacon is wrapped around a small pile of cooked rice and secured with a toothpick, then topped with a raw egg and baked in the oven. I like this recipe for a couple reasons. One, it sounds good! And two, it illustrates Elena’s Mexican dishes. They are often simple home cooking, and barely our typical ideas of “Mexican” cooking.

Some of the salad recipes look very good, like an avocado salad with pineapple, oranges, fresh mint, lettuce and French dressing. Chiles Rellenos – green chiles stuffed with cheese, dipped in egg batter, deep fried, and served in a spiced tomato sauce – are in the vegetable chapter. I have made them Elena’s way for years! She suggests frying them the day before serving, an idea that might me prepare these delights more often. (Much easier than frying while your guests are there.) Fish, poultry, meats and beans each has its own chapter. (Some of the meats, like tripe, kidneys, rabbit, and pigs feet, I guarantee I’ll never cook.)

“Tortillas, Tacos, Tostadas, Enchiladas and other things made with masa” is the title of another chapter. Elena talks about treating a pan with “hydrated lime” when one makes homemade tortillas. Hydrated lime is not made from limes, instead, it is calcium hydroxide, and is used to help the masa bind together. All of her recipes that include masa (a type of cornmeal) call for purchasing it fresh from a Mexican store. I’m not sure this type of masa is still available, and I ran into problems when I tried making a tamale casserole using the bagged masa that is currently sold in US supermarkets. But in general, her recipes call for store bought tortillas, so it’s not a huge problem. She also mentions an item I’d like to find called “raspadas”, thin tortillas specially made for tostadas.

And last but not least, desserts! Flan, rum and macaroon pudding, Mexican bread and rice puddings, banana pudding, cookies (Little Drunkards sound interesting!), and turnovers are among the sweet recipes in this chapter.

Elena’s Famous Mexican and Spanish Recipes includes several pages of menus for Mexican meals. Below is a great example:

Mexican menus

I do like this cookbook and definitely will keep it. Lots of good recipes, information on historical Mexican cooking, and written by an interesting woman.

For this blog, I decide to make Carne Deshebrada, or Shredded Skirt Steak, Mexican Style:

Shredded Skirt Steak recipe

Usually when I make “shredded beef”, I braise a roast for a long time until it falls apart easily when shredded with a fork. In this recipe, the skirt steak is broiled just to medium rare – sounds like an interesting variation. I found it hard to “shred with a fork”, so I went back and forth using a fork and a sharp knife to shred/chop instead of following the directions. I couldn’t find a green bell pepper, so I used a red one. I like lots of fresh cilantro and garlic so I increased the amounts. And I added the green chiles as suggested. I preferred not to serve this “in soup plates and eaten with soup spoons”. Instead, I kept the meat a little drier by adding less water, and served the mixture in a corn tortilla with grated cheese and salsa.

Shredded Skirt Steak
serves 4

  • 1 skirt steak, about 1 1/2 pounds
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 green (or red) bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chile powder (optional)
  • fresh cilantro, 1/4 cup chopped (or to taste)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 small can chopped green chiles

Cut the steak into several pieces and broil in an oven just until medium rare. Cool, then shred with a fork and a sharp knife.

Fry the chopped onions in a little oil until tender. Add the tomatoes, bell pepper, chile powder, cilantro, garlic, chiles, the shredded meat, and about 1/2 cup water. Salt and pepper to taste. Simmer about a half hour, adding a bit more water if needed to keep the mixture moist. Serve wrapped in tortillas with cheese and salsa.

Below is a photo of the skirt steak after I cooked and “shredded” it.

shredded skirt steak ingredientsAnd here is the pan of shredded beef and vegetables, ready to be served.

Shredded Skirt Steak

And how did it turn out? Wonderful! The skirt steak was so, so flavorful! A different experience than my braised style shredded beef. I used “Tortillaland” corn tortillas, half-cooked tortillas that heat up on a dry grill into soft but sturdy tacos. These tortillas were strong enough to stay together, even packed with shredded beef and fixings.

I made another meal using the leftovers by mounding the mixture and some grated cheese in thin flour tortillas, rolling them up, then browning in a big fry pan in a little oil just until all sides were browned. Then, I cut into bite-sized pieces and served with salsa and sour cream. Yum again.

250 Cookbooks: Elam Biggs Favorites

Cookbook #178: Elam Biggs Favorites, Elam Biggs, Grass Valley, CA, 2009.

Elam Biggs Favorites cookbook

We stayed at the Elam Biggs Bed and Breakfast Inn while visiting family in Grass Valley in 2009. The breakfasts there were amazing! Fruit, juice, eggs, sausage or ham or bacon, and breakfast pastries, served at a fancy table setting. All homemade and wonderful. It was so pleasant to sit and chat with other guests as Elam showed us his card tricks. The rooms are ornately decorated with antiques. A great stay!

I couldn’t resist buying one of the little booklets of breakfast recipes that they offered. Seven years later, though, and I haven’t cooked a single recipe from this booklet. The reason is that they are a little more calorie-laden than we usually have for breakfast (when not on vacation). Elam Biggs Favorites has sat on my shelf as a souveneir of our visit, rather than as a “cookbook”.

There are only eight recipes in this booklet, so it won’t take long to decide which to make for this blog:

  • Dutch Babies (my chosen recipe, below)
  • Corn Flake Potatoes (hash browns, mushroom soup, sour cream, cheese topped with cornflakes and baked)
  • Breakfast Omelette (butter, eggs, flour, baking powder, green chiles, cottage cheese, Jack cheese, baked in the oven)
  • Stuffed French Toast (sourdough bread, cream cheese, raisins, milk, eggs – start the night before)
  • Brunch Enchiladas (flour tortillas rolled around ham, onions, green chiles, and cheese, topped with eggs and half-and-half and baked – start the night before)
  • Scalloped Corn (canned corn, butter, eggs, sour cream, corn muffin mix)
  • Overnite Strawberry French Toast (bread soaked in eggs and milk overnight, next morning put strawberries and bananas in a pan and cover with the soaked bread and bake)
  • Elam’s Eggs (cheese and eggs baked in a ramekin)

I decide to try “Dutch Babies”. These are Dutch pancakes, or pannenkoek. Many versions are available on the web – basically, they are a mixture of eggs, milk, and flour poured into a hot buttered pan and baked. They puff up and then fall, leaving the edges fluffy and the middle gooey and rich. You can serve them with powdered sugar or fruits or syrup. I found 4 clipped Dutch baby recipes in my old “clips” database – and noted that I made them once and loved them. They have always intrigued me, but they rarely fit into our eating pattern. Time to change that!

Below is my adaptation of Elam Bigg’s recipe for Dutch Babies.

Dutch Babies
serves 2

  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup butter

Put the eggs in a blender and blend about half a minute. Then, with the blender open, add the milk and then the flour and blend another half a minute. This batter can rest a while if your pan is not yet ready.

Choose a pan that holds 2 quarts and is at least 2 inches in depth. Add the butter and heat the pan in a 425˚ oven until the butter melts.

Remove the hot pan from the oven and pour in the batter. Put it right back into the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until puffy and the edges are well browned.

Here is my Dutch baby right out of the oven:

Dutch Baby

As it cooled the middle fell (as expected). As soon as it was cool enough to eat, we cut chunks and smeared them with fresh peach jam and enjoyed. Very eggy and very buttery. I think you could use less butter (and save a few calories), but this Dutch baby tasted great as is!


Elam Biggs’ directions for other sizes of Dutch babies:

  • 4 eggs, 1 cup milk, 1 cup flour, 3 quart pan
  • 5 eggs, 1 1/4 cup milk, 1 1/4 cup flour, 4 quart pan
  • 6 eggs, 1 1/2 cup milk, 1 1/2 cup flour, 5 quart pan
  • ramekins or any size pan: fill one-quarter full with batter

250 Cookbooks: Cover and Bake

Cookbook #177: Cover and Bake, by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated, a Best Recipe Classic, America’s Test Kitchen, Brookline, MA, 2004.

Cover and Bake cookbook

I discovered my first Cook’s Illustrated magazine sometime in the early 2000s. This magazine has no ads – what a treat! I clipped and saved several recipes, then I subscribed to Cook’s Illustrated online. (It’s the only cooking magazine I subscribe to.) I ordered this book, Cover and Bake, and I use it a lot.

Christopher Kimball founded the enterprise that includes Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen, where they develop the recipes in their publications. This “Kitchen” is located in Brookline Massachusetts, and is where the TV show “America’s Test Kitchen” is filmed. Most of my friends who are into cooking love this show!

Cook’s Illustrated recipes always include a lengthy discussion. In their test kitchen, they try each recipe many different ways, and report on their findings. This appeals to my scientific side! Plus, when I follow the directions, the recipes always come out excellent. For instance, their recipe for pie crust taught me how to finally make a tender, easy-to-roll crust. I often browse the site for new ideas, or how to cook . . . anything! I also use their reviews of kitchen equipment to help decide on a new purchase.

The chapters in Cover and Bake are: Assemble and Bake (casseroles), Pot Pies and More, Oven Braises and Stews, Skillet Casseroles, Savory Side Dishes, Breakfast and Brunch, and Slow-Cooker Favorites. My favorite chapters are the pot pies and oven braises and the slow-cooker recipes. I have so many notes in this cookbook!

It will be easy to find a recipe to cook for this blog. I start flipping through the pages. What catches my eye is “Chili Mac”, from the first chapter, Assemble and Bake. I haven’t made many of the casseroles in this book, and it’s time to try one.

Chili Mac is an American comfort food, although I’ve never made it before. It even has its own Wikipedia entry. Briefly, it’s made with meat-bean chili, noodles, and topped with cheese. Sounds good to me!

Because of copyright issues, I am not scanning in this recipe. It’s a relatively recent publication, and the editors are still actively publishing. The original recipe is on pages 80-81 of the Cover and Bake. Page 80 is a two-column discussion of how they got this recipe “perfect”! Page 81 gives the recipe in 1 1/2 columns. This is the typical layout of Cook’s Illustrated recipes: not a fast food publication! I changed their recipe a bit (my adaptation is below).

Chili Mac: adapted from Cover and Bake, America’s Test Kitchen
makes a 9×13-inch casserole, enough to serve 8, depending on appetites

  • 8 ounces elbow macaroni
  • 3/4 cup reserved macaroni-cooking-water
  • 1 1/2 pounds hamburger (I used 90% lean)
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced garlic (4-8 cloves)
  • 2 tablespoons hot chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomaotes
  • 1 28-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 8 ounces grated cheese, preferably “colby Jack” or a mixture of cheddar and Jack cheese

Cook the macaroni in salted boiling water until al dente. At my altitude of 5300 feet, this took about 10 minutes; it would take less time at sea level. (It’s important not to boil the macaroni too long, as it will continue to cook when the casserole is baked.) Before draining the pasta, reserve 3/4 cup of the pasta water; this will be used later when the casserole is assembled.

As the macaroni cools, cook the hamburger in a large pan or pot, salting to taste. (The original recipe recommends cooking the hamburger in a little oil; it’s up to you.) When the meat is cooked, drain it in a colander to remove (and discard) the fat. Set the meat aside.

Add a little oil to the now-empty pan and cook the onions, red bell pepper, garlic, chili powder, and cumin, stirring, until the vegetables soften and begin to turn brown (about 10 minutes). Add the diced tomaotes, tomato sauce, brown sugar, the 3/4 cup reserved pasta water, and the drained hamburger. Simmer 20 minutes.

Stir the cooked macaroni into the pot and season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into a 9×13-inch rectangular casserole and sprinkle with the grated cheese. Bake at 400˚ for 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.

Chili MacOh yes, this was good! Yum!

I will definitely keep this cookbook. (And tucked inside is the little Rival Crock-Pot Cookbook that I mentioned in an earlier post.) With fall coming on, I am sure I’ll be back to Cover and Bake soon, looking for warm and hearty meal ideas.

250 Cookbooks: Cooking for Your Dragon

Cookbook #176: Cooking for Your Dragon, a cookbook for chocolate lovers, Randal Spangler, Fantastic Art (Books), Kansas City, 1996.

Cooking For Your Dragon cookbook

I’ve been a fan of Randal Spangler’s art for decades. On the wall above my computer I have two framed Spangler prints. One is a cat chasing a computer mouse that a “dragling” is using to lure her in. The other is a white-haired scientist pedaling a bike in a crazy contraption. Draglings are a Spangler creation, and cats and computers and cookies are among his favorite subjects. (Mine too!)

Cooking for your Dragon is full of Spangler’s artwork and every recipe has chocolate in it. Chocolate is a dragon’s favorite food! Legends of the mythical world of dragons are throughout the cookbook. It’s a delight to read.

The recipes are all very rich. I don’t think I’ve ever cooked a single one from this book! Mostly I enjoy the illustrations and whimsical stories. For this blog, I decide on “Brownie Cupcakes”.

Brownie Cupcakes recipe

Well. Here is how my cupcakes turned out:

Brownie CupcakesTotal failure! They look terrible. Rose up, fell down.

The recipe does not explicitly state: “Pour into 24 paper lined cupcake pans”, although it states “24 servings”. I cooked them in two batches. The first batch, I probably filled them too full. I cooked the second batch after I scraped the first batch out of the pan, and I made sure to fill each cupcake only half full of dough. Baked, and same result as above.

Why did they fail? Not sure. But there is no baking powder in the recipe. Compare this recipe with the one I have for “Fudgy Brownies” in Baker’s Book of Chocolate Riches. That recipe is almost exactly half of the above recipe, except it has baking powder in it and is baked in an eight-inch square pan.

The only other reason for failure (that I can think of) is that we live at high altitude and I didn’t make any of my usual altitude-dictated adjustments.

Win some, lose some! These did taste good, as “crumbles”. But I won’t try this recipe again – I’ll stick to Fudgy Brownies!