How to make: a Pupusería for your Nacimiento

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As a member of Lowe’s Creative Ideas Network I received gift cards from Lowe’s in order to purchase supplies to complete projects. All opinions are my own.

In El Salvador and many other Latin American countries, the nativity scene, or “nacimiento” is not the quiet, traditional scene most Americans are used to. In addition to Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus, barnyard animals, a shepherd and three wisemen, Salvadoran nativity scenes can take up a whole room and look like an entire village complete with soccer players, musicians, and figures of favorite TV characters.

If you wanted a pupusería (restaurant that sells pupusas) for your nativity this year, you’re in luck! Here’s how you can make your own custom pupusería, either for your nacimiento or to gift to someone as a decoration.

How to make: a Pupusería for your Nacimiento

What you need:

1 primed inside corner crown moulding block
1 pack wide hobby [popsicle] sticks (found in hardware in the drawers labeled “hobby”)
scissors
hot glue gun and glue sticks
Valspar paint samples and/or craft paint in various colors
hobby-size craft paint brushes
cutting pliers
ruler
painter’s tape
newspaper (to protect the surface you’re working on)
paper towels

Optional (to make people or animal figures):
craft board (light, thin wood)
pencil
jigsaw
sandpaper

Directions:

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First you’re going to want to place some painter’s tape halfway up the “walls” as shown so that you’ll have a clean line when you paint. Many Salvadoran houses are painted in two colors like this, but you can paint it just one color if you wish. You will also want to paint the “roof” a brownish color so that any spots that show through won’t be obvious when you’re done with the roof tiles.

cut-popsicle-sticks

To make the traditional looking “tejas” roof tiles which are popular in parts of El Salvador, you’ll be using the wide popsicle sticks (also called “hobby sticks.) Cut as many as you need with the pliers for the first row which you’ll hot glue to the roof. Mine were about 1 1/2 inches long, but I think it would have worked better if I cut them slightly shorter.

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For the corners, you may need to cut your roof tiles with the scissors so they’re beveled (see photo.)

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Once you hot glue the first row, you may find it necessary to put a few layers of hot glue and allow it to harden on parts of the roof before you add the next row to give yourself a more even surface to work on.

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You may also find that cutting some of the roof tiles in a “tear drop” shape, as shown, will work better in some areas.

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I’m not going to lie – the roof took a long time and it was far from perfect. I’m definitely not going to be hired as a roofer anytime soon! However, once you have it all tiled, you’re ready to paint it.

roof-complete-with-details

I didn’t have a specific Valspar color on hand that I felt was the right shade so I ended up mixing my own color. You want sort of a dark reddish-orange. After I painted them that color, I used a dry brush in dark brown paint to add a little more detail.

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Feel free to get creative with whatever details you want to add. As you can see, I painted a little potted plant on the outside wall near the entrance.

As for the figures of the woman and the dog, I just traced their shapes on craft board and cut them out with a jigsaw. Sand the edges until they’re smooth and then you can paint them as you wish.

If you look closely, you can see a little plate of pupusas inside. For that I used a wooden nickel (available in the “hobby” drawer in the Hardware department), which I painted blue. For the pupusas, I used a knife to slice a rubber cork from a wine bottle into little discs and painted them. Once dry, I hot glued the pupusas to the plate and hot glued the plate to the little triangular ledge on the inside.

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When I went to paint the pupusería’s sign on a popsicle stick to hot glue to the outside wall, my younger son walked by the table. He pointed to the figure of the woman which I had already painted and he said, “Is that you?” … I decided then that it would be my pupusería. (And yes, I spelled my name the Salvadoran way!)

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Rajas con Crema Taco Casserole

Rajas Con Crema Taco Casserole

Rajas con Crema is a traditional Mexican dish consisting of strips of roasted Poblano peppers and onion simmered in Mexican cream. The rajas are then usually eaten in corn tortillas as tacos or atop rice. It’s one of the few vegetarian dishes that leaves me totally satisfied. Here’s my version of the dish made into a casserole; it’s perfect for potlucks or for when you want a meal you can prep in the morning then pop into the oven at dinnertime.

Rajas con Crema Taco Casserole

You need:

6 – 8 chiles poblanos
16 oz. crema Mexicana (I used Lala brand)
2 cups shredded mozzarella or shredded queso chihuahua
half of one medium red onion, (about 1/2 cup when later cut into strips)
12 corn tortillas, lightly toasted on a dry comal and cut in 1 inch strips
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
salt
cooking spray for greasing the pan

Note: A pizza cutter works great to cut the tortillas into strips

Method:

1. Roast the whole chiles until the skin is blackend, either over fire if you have gas stove, or on a dry comal (griddle.)

At this time you will also cut the onion half in quarters and place on the comal, moving as needed to slightly roast all flat sides. Remove the onion to cool for a moment before slicing in tiny, thin strips. Measure out ½ cup onion for this recipe.

2. Wrap the chiles in a paper towel and seal inside a large paper or plastic bag for at least 5 minutes. (This process is called “sweating” the chiles.)

3. Remove the chiles from the bag and the paper towel. Use your fingers, a knife or spoon to scrape most of the blackened skin off the chiles. It’s okay to leave some behind. Do not wash the chiles in water.

4. Use a knife to cut off the stem and slice the chiles open. Cut off and discard the seeds and membrane, then slice the chiles into ½ inch to 1 inch strips. It’s okay if a few seeds remain, just be aware that the more you use, the spicier the dish will be.

5. In a greased 9×13 glass or metal pan, put down a layer of tortilla strips, overlapping slightly. Sprinkle with a little salt. Next add a layer of chili strips and a layer of onion, using all your chili and onion.

6. Drop crema by the spoonful on top of the chiles and onion, spreading in an even layer with the back of the spoon.

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7. Top with another layer of tortilla strips, sprinkle with salt, and then add the cheese. Drizzle the melted butter over the top.

8. Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes uncovered, then broil high for 1 minute to get some nice, toasty brown spots on the cheese. Cut and serve. Serves 4 to 6.

Tip: Cooking for a crowd? Double the ingredients and layers! (This may require a slightly longer bake time.)

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Café Mayorga

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. Scroll down for English translation!

Hace mucho tiempo he querido visitar Café Mayorga en Wheaton Mall en el estado de Maryland. Finalmente fuimos el fin de semana pasado para tomar un cafecito y comer algocito dulce. Aquí hay unas fotos de nuestra visita.

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elephant-ear-cafe

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cubanito-alfajor

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Tomamos unos cafés cubanitos pero Carlos tuvo que añadir mucha leche y azúcar. A pesar de que añadió un montón de leche y azúcar me dijo que todavia era demasiado fuerte para él. (¡Es café expreso! No sé qué esperaba.) Con mi café disfruté de un alfajor y Carlos comió una oreja de elefante. Por la mayor parte él utilizó el café sólo para remojar la oreja de elefante pero a mi me gustó tanto como mi café y la galleta.

Nuestra visita a “Café Latino” salió un poco caro, pero entiendo que es por calidad y me gusta apoyar las empresas que tratan bien a sus fuentes, socios y trabajadores en América Latina – y eso hace Café Mayorga. Si pasas por el área, te recomiendo parar por un cafecito auténtico y una delicia.

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

For quite awhile I’ve wanted to visit Café Mayorga in Wheaton Mall in Maryland. Finally we went this past weekend to have a cup of coffee and a little something sweet. Here are a few photos from our visit.

We drank little Cubano coffees but Carlos had to add a lot of milk and sugar. Even though he added a mountain of milk and sugar he told me it was still too strong for him. (It’s espresso! I’m not sure what he was expecting.) With my coffee I enjoyed an alfajor and Carlos ate an elephant ear. For the most part Carlos used his coffee to dip his elephant ear into, but as for me, I really liked both my coffee and cookie.

Our visit to “Café Latino” turned out a little expensive but I understand it’s for the quality and I like to support businesses that treat their sources, partners and workers in Latin America well – and Café Mayorga does. If you pass by the area, I recommend you stop by for a little authentic coffee and a treat.

Recipe: Marquesote (and some baking tips)

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I’m never sure whether to call Salvadoran Marquesote a “cake” or a “bread” – It’s not quite either, but it’s kind of both. My best description of it which will give you an idea of what to expect is “very dense, less sweet, angel food cake.” It’s definitely something you want to eat along with a cup of milk or coffee or else you’ll get hiccups!

I actually posted this recipe several years ago but the recipe received recent new comments from people who were having difficulty with it. I decided to bake the marquesote again to make sure my recipe works, and it does perfectly – but I’ve added some tips this time to help ensure it turns out.

First of all, there was concern that the baking temperature of 450 F is too high and people wanted to know if you can bake the marquesote at 350 F.

While 450 F is indeed the right temperature, I decided to try the recipe at 350 F to see what happens. Here is the result:

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Upon first glance it seems that both marquesotes turned out great, but if you were to touch and taste the marquesote baked at 350 F, I think you’d agree with me that it’s not as good. The texture and color of the marquesote baked at 350 F for 30 minutes is not right, in my opinion.

I prefer a crisp, brown crust like you find on angel food cake. Baking for 30 minutes at 350 F gives a lighter-colored crust which is moist – that is not what we’re going for. If you bake it longer than 30 minutes it’s possible that it might improve, but I didn’t test that, so you can try it at your own risk.

So, back to the question – can you bake the marquesote at 350 F? The answer is yes, but I don’t recommend it.

While I’ve never been to cooking school, I can provide plenty of tips and resources which will hopefully help you in future baking attempts. If your marquesote didn’t turn out at 450 F there can be several reasons for this – here are the most common:

Your oven is running hot. If your oven is running hot, then your marquesote can burn. Here’s one way to check to see if your oven temperature is accurate. Use an oven thermometer if necessary.

You walked away from the kitchen toward the end of bake time. As ovens vary, it’s important to keep an eye on whatever you’re baking and check for doneness through visual cues such as the color of whatever you’re baking – this is especially important when trying a recipe for the first time. The recommended bake time in a recipe is not necessarily an exact time. In the case of this marquesote, when it’s a nice medium brown, (not yellowish brown and not dark brown or black), on top, and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean, it’s done.

You baked it too high or too low. Unless otherwise instructed, you should always bake things on the middle rack of your oven.

You didn’t beat the egg whites correctly. Egg whites should be beaten until stiff for this recipe – no more and no less. This is a really important step. If you aren’t sure if you’re doing it correctly or if you’re having trouble, read this great article: Beating Egg Whites Tips and Hints.

You beat the batter too much after flour was added. Once you add the flour, it’s important not to overbeat the batter or your cake/bread will be a tough texture.

Your yeast was dead. It’s really important to have fresh yeast. When you poured the batter into the greased Pyrex, did you see little bubbles start popping up? If you did, the yeast was good — If not, that could have contributed to the problem you experienced. Next time buy fresh yeast if yours has been sitting around a long time, or you can proof some of it to see if it’s still good. (Need to know how to proof yeast? Click here.)

You used regular flour instead of cake flour. The recipe specifically calls for cake flour because it makes for a more tender cake/bread. I do not recommend substituting other types of flour in this recipe.

Your measuring cups or measuring technique are not accurate. Some recipes are more forgiving than others, but for some it’s very important to be sure your measuring cups and spoons are accurate and that you are measuring correctly. (Here’s a good article on the topic.)

Okay, now that we got all of that out of the way, let’s bake a marquesote!

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Salvadoran Marquesote

Ingredients:

8 eggs
2 cups of cake flour
1 cup of sugar (rounded if you like it a little sweeter as I do)
2 teaspoons of quick rise yeast
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

Optional: A few dashes of cinnamon

Method:

1. Mix together the yeast and cake flour in a medium bowl. (Add the cinnamon if using.)

2. Separate the eggs into two different bowls. (The whites should be in a large mixing bowl. Yolks in a small bowl.)

Tip: To separate the eggs, crack an egg in half and pour the yolk back and forth between the shells over the bowl until all the white has dropped into the bowl below. You will be left with just the yolk after a few passes back and forth. The yolk can then be dropped into a separate bowl. Make sure you don’t have any yolk in the whites.

3. Grease a 9×13 glass Pyrex, (I use Canola oil cooking spray.) Preheat the oven to 450 F.

4. With an electric mixer on high, beat the egg whites until stiff.

Tip: Not sure if the egg whites are stiff yet? Tilt the bowl – if it moves or there is any liquid, you’re not done.

5. Add the sugar little by little while continuing to use the electric mixer.

6. Add the yolks little by little while continuing to use the electric mixer. Repeat with the flour/yeast mixture. Add vanilla extract. Mix until all ingredients are combined but be careful not to overbeat the batter at this point.

7. Pour the batter into the greased Pyrex and bake for 15-20 minutes or until a medium brown color. The marquesote is finished when this color is achieved and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Serve with milk or coffee.

Recipe: Salvadoran Relajo Spice Mixture

For those of you who are unable to find Salvadoran relajo to make salsa Criolla to go with Panes con Pavo, pollo, or tamales, here is a “recipe” I came up with so you can make your own if necessary. I read the ingredients on several different brands of authentic Salvadoran relajo and most of them have these spices, (although a few don’t include cloves, peppercorns and/or cumin seeds – so including or excluding those is up to you.) Feel free to tweak it to your family’s preferences, but this should be a good place to start!

Salvadoran-relajo-recipe

Videoblogueras Salvadoreñas

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. Scroll down for English translation!

Parece que cada año salen más videoblogueras de El Salvador en YouTube, enseñando como hacer las ricas recetas salvadoreñas y asegurandose que la cultura salvadoreña no se pierda, incluso para los salvadoreños en el extranjero. Hoy quiero dar un “shout out” a las mejores videoblogueras salvadoreñas.

#1. FranciscaBo

#2. LaCocina deLupita

#3. Cocinando Con Ingrid

#4. Carmen Orellana

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

It seems that each year there are more Salvadoran video bloggers on YouTube showing how to make delicious Salvadoran recipes and ensuring the Salvadoran culture isn’t lost, even for the Salvadorans living abroad. Today I want to give a “shout out” to the best Salvadoran video bloggers.

Passing on Tradition in the Kitchen!

Image credit: Martin Kang Photography

Image credit: Martin Kang Photography

Disclosure: I received Nestlé Abuelita products and compensation for this post, but as always, all opinions are my own.

In October I was invited to a Día de los Muertos (#AbuelitaDDLM) event with celebrity chef Richard Sandoval in California, but unfortunately wasn’t able to attend since I’m in the DC area. Luckily the good people who invited me were nice enough to send some Nestlé Abuelita products and recipes to check out so I’m predicting plenty of chocolate-flavored recipes in my family’s future!

As for the chef – Richard Sandoval – he’s the owner and chef of 37 Latin-themed restaurants around the world, but that isn’t what impresses me most. What impresses me most about Chef Sandoval is his commitment to the importance of passing down traditions to the next generation in the kitchen. In today’s world it’s so easy for many families to forget, or become too busy, to show their children the recipes which were taught to them by their mother or grandmother, which means many of those special recipes will be lost. Don’t let that happen! Make a list of the recipes you know and show them to your kids – write them down if you can. Some people make recipes from memory but you won’t always be around, so next time you make a special family dish for which there’s no written recipe, take the time to write it down as you go along. Likewise, if there’s a family recipe you still haven’t learned from a mother or grandmother, ask them to teach you the next time you’re together!

And just as important as sharing traditional recipes, as Chef Sandoval points out in the video below, is creating new ones – like these Creamy Chocolate Guava Pockets! I can’t wait to try them, (you already know how much I love the combination of cream cheese and guayaba!)

For the written recipe shown in the video and many other recipes using Nestlé Abuelita and other Nestlé products in both English and Spanish, visit El Mejor Nido!

Which recipe do you most want to teach your children? Which recipes have you created together?