A Mexican Potluck, and a Tortilla Demo by Melanie

May 17, 2011
By Holly Jennings

It’s easy for a potluck menu to come together seamlessly when everyone attending is cooking from the same cookbook, and particularly the same cuisine—in this case, Mexican.

Last week DCCC club members gathered at Dowdy Corners for a Mexican feast that consisted of twice- or thrice-tried favorites and dishes that were first-time try outs—all from The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy, or almost all.

Our Menu

Margaritas, prepared by me. Though not authentically Mexican, and definitely not in The Art of Mexican Cooking, they taste good and are a good conviviality enhancer.

Cazuelitas, prepared by Judy. Named for a Mexican earthenware casserole, these individual-sized pastry cups, formed of a masa-and-crushed-potato mixture, are shallow-fried and filled with fried morsels of chorizo, and are enjoyed as a snack or appetizer (botana). Diana Kennedy says they are a dangerous botana because they are addictive and filling. And that is true. Because they are pleasantly fatty and crunchy, they are an ideal accompaniment for cocktails.


Fresh Corn Tamales (Uchepos), also prepared by Judy. These subtle, delicately sweet tamales were served with crème fraiche, warmed Salsa de Jitomate de Michoacán, and queso fresco, literally, “fresh cheese.”

Fresh corn tamales

Chicken Tacos (Tacos de Pollo), prepared by me. These were unlike any tacos I’ve had. They were made with fresh corn tortillas, made on the spot by Melanie, filled, rolled up, and fried. They were served piping hot with fresh, shredded lettuce, crumbly and pleasantly salty queso fresco, tangy crème fraiche, and spicy salsa. (The salsa called for in Diana Kennedy’s book is Salsa de Jitomate de Michoacán, which Judy had made; in addition to this salsa, I made the Salsa de Plaza, one of my favorites from the book.)

Chicken in Red Country Mole (Pollo en Mole Rojo Sencillo), prepared by Melanie. This was the third time Melanie had made this mole, her favorite dish in the book. (In one of our email correspondences about the cookbook, Melanie had written that though she was pleasantly surprised by all the recipes she’s tried, she could classify this mole as “outrageously delicious.”

Homemade Corn Tortillas, prepared by Melanie. These accompanied the Chicken in Red County Mole, and we also used them to make the Chicken Tacos. I video-taped Melanie making tortillas to show just how easy making homemade tortillas is. All you need is a tortilla press (Melanie purchased hers at MexGrocer.com) and authentic Mexican corn flour called maseca corn masa or masa harina, which is ground from field corn treated with a lime-water solution. (In the tortilla video, Melanie and I couldn’t remember what the lime solution does to the corn—what bad students of Mexican cooking we are. In case you’re wondering, I did a little research: The lime loosens the hulls from the kernels, softening the corn, and makes an important nutrient in corn, niacin, more easily assimilated by the body.) Melanie experimented with a few brands of maseca before settling on her favorite, which uses 100-percent white. In Mexico, a circular griddle called a comal is used to cook tortillas. A cast-iron griddle or lid to a cast-iron Dutch oven, like the one Melanie uses in the video, is a good substitute.

Bolillos, a bobbin-shaped bread roll, prepared by Matt Considine, Melanie’s husband, an avid home bread baker. With homemade dinner rolls what more could one want? Only flan.

Traditional Caramel Custard (Flan a la Antigua), pepared by me.


In her directions for unmolding the flan, Diana Kennedy advises the home cook to “pray that the flan comes out whole” after inverting it. Since this isn’t very encouraging, and because I don’t own a flan mold, which is what Diana Kennedy uses, I used several individual ramekins. With help from Judy, an experienced flan maker, the small flans came out easily after being set for a time in a bath of hot water, and loosening the edges with knife. The caramel had a pleasant burnt sugar taste, giving the flan a boost of complexity and making it particularly delicious with the last two beverage optons of the evening:

Strong-brewed coffee (Vermont Coffee Co.’s Italian Rustica)

Corzo’s 100% agave reposado tequila, recommended by mixologist Miguel Aranda

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