July Cook the Books! Review and Wrap-up: Gran Cocina Latina


So, I’m churning this out from the road. I’m in California, with my brother and parents, working through things with my Dad.

grow and resist july cook the books gran cocina latina

Corn tortillas are so easy a Babylady can do it

We were out-of-town for a chunk of the month. July brought a fantastically fun road trip (bring my folks car back to California from Iowa). We took a long, non-direct way, stayed off the interstates as much as possible, and saw family and friends along the way. We did a few short hikes in Colorado and Utah. We went to some national parks. Listened to chapter books with the Babylady (Matilda, The BFG, The Penderwicks, and The Wizard of Oz) and discovered she is amazing on road trips. She rocked the 10 hour days in the car, interspersed with breaks, perfectly and we really had a fun time together.

grow and resist july cook the books gran cocina latina

fresh corn tortillas

July also brought us a new-to-us puppy! He is an 8 month old Labradoodle. He belonged to my brother and family, but wasn’t working out for them. He is a the cuddliest, softest, little Muppet around. We re-named him Mister Rogers, or “Freddy.” So far, he is the perfect four-legged companion – meaning, he walks well on a leash, doesn’t jump on people, and will happily (and calmly) hang out at coffee shops. There is a bit of a separation barking issue that is resolving, but other than that? Perfect. He has even learned not to harass the chickens through the coop/run fence.

grow and resist july cook the books gran cocina latina

Corn on the Cob on a Stick, Mexican Street Vendor Style

Yeah, yeah, yeah… but what about the cooking? There wasn’t enough time to do all I had hoped (per usual). In fact, the more I read the cookbook, the more overwhelmed I became. where to start? What to make?

I went down the street to the local Castillo’s Supermarket to stock up on an amazing selection of assorted dried peppers and Maseca corn flour. (*Note, I subsequently discovered that my local Safeway also carries nearly anything I could have needed. However, that depends entirely on the community where you live.) Sadly, I didn’t actually use any of the peppers. Yet. I’ll get there. There were so many things I wanted to try and didn’t get to. Tres Leches, Rice Pudding (though, I might get on those this weekend). Barbacoa. Something with plantains. More meat. I’ll get there. What I discovered in using the book is that this is more encyclopaedia. Packed with information and something to go to when you are wanting to make a particular item. Mostly, I wasn’t in the mood to cook really so the longer and more interesting recipes, I didn’t attempt.

grow and resist july cook the books gran cocina latina

corn on the cob, columbian green beans, black beans, fresh corn tortillas

The Cooking:

  • Corn on the Cob on a Stick, Mexican Street Vendor Style (Elotes con Crema y Queso Plaza de San Francisco), p. 237 I love corn-on-the-cob, but have shied away from this version at the food truck down the street because I don’t like mayonnaise-y or sour cream-y things. But, the mexican crema mixed with butter and spread on the cob, then rolled in aged cotija cheese, sprinkled with salt, ground ancho chiles (it asked for piquín chiles, but I used what I had), and a squeeze of lime juice? Pretty damn good! It started off our summer corn season well I’d say!
  • Cuban Cornmeal Polenta with Sofrito (Harina de Maíz Guisada) p.256 I was very underwhelmed with the polenta. Onions, tomatoes, and garlic – it was all there, but the taste was blah.
  • Columbian-Style Green Beans Cooked in Milk (Habichuelas Guisadas al Estilo de la Costa) p.263 I made these at the beginning of the month and don’t really remember anything special about them one way or the other. Not a fantastic endorsement I suppose. I didn’t note that cooking the beans with milk added anything special.
  • Mexican-Style Boiled Black Beans (Frijoles Hervidos) p.271 Standard, straight up cooked-from-dry beans. Beans rule. She spells the process out well if you haven’t cooked your dried beans before. If you have, it is pretty standard.
  • Mexican Rice (Sopa Seca de Arroz Mexicana) p.302 A few others made this and liked it, but I really didn’t. Mine turned out really mushy for some reason. Though, I like the idea of cooking the rice with the tomatoes, onions, and garlic… so I’ll try it again.
  • Avocado and Onion Salad (Ensalada de Aguacate y Cebolla) p. 547 Simple and fantastic. Just picked and sliced walla-walla onions from the garden, avocado and a vinaigrette. I added some cilantro, which I would do again.
  • Cuban Avocado, Watercress, and Pineapple Salad (Ensalada de Aguacate, Berro, y Piña) p. 548 I really, really, REALLY loved this salad. A lot. I have loads of lettuce, arugula, and kale in the garden to use, so I didn’t buy watercress. No worries. It turned out perfect. I want to eat it every single day.
  • Mexican Corn Torillas (Tortillas de Maíz) p.579 I haven’t made tortilla before. Though, I did buy a press a few months ago at Goodwill and it has been riding around in my truck with me for about 4 months. So it was time, right? I can’t believe how simple straight corn tortillas were to make. I didn’t get to the wheat variety, but I want to do that soon.
  • Caramelized Milk Custard (Dulce de Leche) p. 809 Sadly, the only dessert that I got to this month. The recipe called for caramelizing some of the sugar in the pot and then quickly pouring in the (cold) milk. That caused the caramelized sugar to solidify on the bottom of the pot. No worries. I switched pots, added the amount of sugar that was now hardened on the first pot and proceeded without the caramelizing step. Afraid of overcooking the mixture, I stopped to soon. I imagine that, like jam making, a sense of done is developed. I stopped cooking when my thermometer read 225°F, as recommended, and it turned out way too thin. I was hoping it would thicken up, as she mentioned it would, but alas, it did not. No worries. I get it. It is a ‘feel’ thing and I rushed it. I was going to try and heat it again and see if I could get it to thicken. But, know what? Even runny dulce de leche rocks. And it is rocking my ice cream… so I doubt I’ll get around to it.
  • Grilled Skirt Steak with Argentinean Chimichurri (Entraña con Chimichurri Argentina) p. 704 I love skirt steak. Cooks up quick. Tender and flavorful. Makes great leftovers. The perfect meat. This steak was pretty similar to the Romanian Steak I made back in April with the Mile End Cookbook – lots of smoked spanish paprika. I loved it then, and I loved it this go around.
  • Pisco Sour I hadn’t tried Pisco before, but a bottle came my way after a trip my folks took to Peru. I’ve only a handful of drink with egg white, but enjoyed them all. The Pisco Sour was no exception.

grow and resist july cook the books gran cocina latina

cuban cornmeal polenta with sofrito (with an over easy egg)

The Review:

This is going to be short, given the circumstances. It is all I can do in my fog.

Recipe/writing style:

  • Did the recipes taste good? overall, yes. I LOVED the salads. They were amazing and in in my permanent rotation. The rice, polenta, and green beans were meh. I loved the meat (skirt steak) as well!
  • Would I use it again? Yes. And, for others I suspect, this cookbook will serve as a cooking encyclopedia of sorts. A great book to refer to when a Latin American inspired meal is desired. I really can’t wait to dig in further. I am looking forward to making empanadas, tamales, moles, pupusas, barbacoa, short ribs, and condiments
  • Is it reliable? Yes, for the most part. Definitely for the types of recipes I am most likely to use the resource for!
  • Does it use real food? Yes
  • Can I replicate the recipes and are the results worth the effort? I can’t speak to this as much as I didn’t chose any recipes that were overly complicated or even implied any real effort. But, it seems that those that did really enjoyed the more complex sauces and such and that the recipes make large portions to continue to use in future meals. So, I am guessing that the more complex layers (such as mole) will be worth the effort

grow and resist july cook the books gran cocina latina

avocado and onion salad

The Participants:

Marisa at Marisa Makes returned to Cook the Books this month (and with gusto!) Welcome back Marisa! She made:

  • Coconut Chicken from Cartenga (p. 668)
  • Mango and Hearts of Palm Salad (p. 551)
  • Avocado Watercress Pineapple Salad (p.548)
  • Chicken Fricassee (p. 662)
  • Mexican rice (p.302)
  • Coconut Shrimp (p. 621).

Somehow I missed the Braised Chicken in Coconut Sauce in the Style of Cartenga! That looks and sounds fantastic and is now on my list. And, I agree, the Avocado/Pineapple Salad ruled.

grow and resist july cook the books gran cocina latina

Braised Chicken in Coconut Sauce in the Style of Cartenga, from Marisa Makes

Janet at Jams, chutneys and other misadventures had some problems with cross-referencing and editing that she didn’t like. While I didn’t note that on the recipes I made, I agree! That would be super annoying to me as well! Bummer! Janet made:

    • scallop cebiche (p. 486)
    • fried plantains (p. 182 or 184)
    • onion avocado salad (p.547).

I also loved the Avocado and Onion Salad – simple and delicious! If you make it again, try it with a generous pile of cilantro too! I regret not trying the plantains, so glad to hear that they came out well! Janet wondered if she is a recipe book person or not. Who knows, but I understand. I have a really hard time following recipes and not improvising. I tend to lean towards books that are full of things I can imagine cooking on a regular basis (day-to-day), but are well rounded and reliably just work. And a selection of others that I won’t use on a regular basis, but keep around in case I am dying to make something from a specific genre (Good Fish, Asian Dumplings, and now this fit the bill for me) I hope you’ll stick around for ice cream! Because, ICE CREAM!

Karen at Prospect: The Pantry always blows me away and July was no exception. I agree, Karen, on the the discussion on the effect of the medieval cooking on Iberian colonialism and onto local foodstuffs. And, you were a medieval scholar as well She made:

  • Achiote-infused Oil, page 89,
  • Salpimentado, page 536,
  • The Famous Mole Poblano of Santa Rosa, page 771,
  • Turkey in Mole Sauce, page 781,
  • Mexican Rice, page 302,
  • Brazilian-Style Simple Pilaf, page 298,
  • Shrimp in Coconut Sauce in the Style of Bahia, pages 621-22,
  • Scallop Cebiche in Tumbo Juice, page 486,
  • Black Bean Soup with Epazote and Chipotle, page 506,
  • Dominican-Style Corn Stew, nicknamed “Parrot’s Crop,” pages 238-39

Aimée from Homemade Trade, no stranger to the foods of Latin America, whipped up

    • Hibiscus Syrup (p.807)
    • Smoky Pureed Pumpkin & Cacao Soup (p.527) ,
    • Peruvian Rice Pudding with Brown Sugar and Coconut (p.808).

I was intrigued by the soup as well, and I might still give it a try. That hibiscus syrup is stunning! What a gorgeous color, I can’t wait to try that. Sounds like you did it up right with cocktails. Rice pudding is on my agenda as well, hopefully this weekend!

grow and resist july cook the books gran cocina latina

hibiscus syrup from Homemade Trade

Angela and J.K. from Tea Time Adventures popped in under the wire and made:

  • Costa Rican Hibiscus Wine p.339
  • Short Ribs in Black Sauce with Chocolate and Cacao p.713
  • Basic Pupusas p.402
  • Garifuna Coconut Bread p.593
  • Spicy Prickly Pear Cocktail p.376

How did the coconut bread turn out? It sounded intriguing. I can’t wait to try a few of those options as well. And, you were not alone in feeling overwhelmed with how to begin on the book! So.Much.Information!

*Update:  My partner-in-crime, Briggs, at Oh, Briggsy got their post in under the wire! Briggs has been busy growing amazingly ginormous tomato bushes and hanging out this summer, but also got down to business this month!

  • Veracruz Tomato Sauce for Fish, page 48
  • Red Chimichurri, page 133
  • Cuban Style Rice, One Step Boiling Method, page 294
  • Pupusas with Cheese and Loroco, page 403
  • Grilled Skirt Steak with Argentian Chimichurri, page 704

Agreed! The skirt steak was fantastic! Our favorite cut of meat for summer grilling. And I can’t wait to make pupusas! Official Cook the Books Dinner Party this month, friend! Ice cream and catch-up month!

grow and resist july cook the books gran cocina latinaThe feathered kids are the reason I can’t make corn cob stock, even though I desperately want to make it. Leftover cobs are their favorite thing on earth.

Will you play along in August? Briggs will officially introduce the selection this week, but we’ll be doing Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones: 90 Recipes for Making Your Own Ice Cream and Frozen Treats from the Bi-Rite Creamery. It is August! And Ice Cream! Perfect time to whip up a ton of ice cream and hit up the previous Cook the Book selections, now that all the summer bounty of vegetables are coming in! I’ll be re-visiting Dorie Greenspan and Nigel Slater in particular! grow and resist july cook the books gran cocina latina

Mister Rogers “Freddy” likes to hang out at coffee shops


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