Discussion Questions for The Art of Mexican Cooking

May 01, 2011
By Holly Jennings

Prior to the potluck for each DCCC cookbook, I post a set of questions to stimulate discussion and to make sure we don’t forget to cover some of the most basic discussion topics at our meeting—such as, “Which recipes does everyone like best?” and “Will members likely cook from this book again?”, and so on. These questions are meant to used by anyone or any club that has been reading and making recipes from The Art of Mexican Cooking. If you’re a member and have a question you’d like to add the list, please send it to me to include.

How would you describe Diana Kennedy’s writing style? Authoritative? Personal? Sensual? Humorous? Do you like her tone?

Did you get a sense of Mexico—it’s people, the place, and, of course, the food—from her writing?

What did you learn about Mexican cooking that you didn’t know before using this book? Were you surprised by anything? Before using this book, did you know, for example, that lard is a common cooking fat in Mexican cooking?

Did you learn any new cooking techniques or approaches to cooking that you’ll continue to use—either when preparing authentic Mexican dishes or when making other types of food?

Do you feel that by making the food of Mexico, you learned something about the culture that you could not learn by simply eating the food in a restaurant? If so, what?

Did you enjoy the introductory sections of the book—the book intro, chapter intros, and recipe intros? In those sections of narrative text, do you feel Diana Kennedy did a good job of describing the general characteristics of Mexican cooking, including the importance of corn and the ubiquitous tortilla in the culture, the individual recipes, and of providing useful, practical information?

Did you find the text in the back of the book useful? In these back-of-the-book sections, she describes the basic ingredients and kitchen equipment used in Mexican cooking and includes some of the most basic sub-recipes—such as recipes for crème fraiche or ricotta cheese. Were you inspired to go the extra mile and make homemade crème fraiche or other sub-recipes? If so, do you think it was worth the effort?

Do you think Diana Kennedy’s expectations for the average American cook are unrealistic—such as, for the preparation of masa (the corn flour used for making tortillas), cooking dried corn kernels with powdered lime and then either taking it to a mill to be ground or grinding it yourself? Or, do you enjoy this level of authentic detail as a good read and appreciate its inclusion, which gives you a choice of just how authentic you want to go? Do you think she’s struck the right balance between honoring the integrity of authentic Mexican cooking—making one of this cookbook’s functions to record regional food ways for posterity—and making the recipes accessible for those living outside of Mexico, and from another cultures, to prepare them?

What skill level do you think this cookbook is geared toward? Does it assume a basic cooking knowledge? Did you find her recipe steps and explanations of cooking techniques clear and complete? Is there anything in the recipe instructions that you think could be clearer?

Was cooking from The Art of Mexican Cooking your first foray into Mexican cooking? If so, do you think it was a good introduction for someone new to cooking Mexican food?

Have you been to Mexico? If so, how does the food in The Art of Mexican Cooking compare to the food you ate while there?

In general, what do you think of the food? Did you enjoy it? How does it compare to other Mexican food you’ve eaten, either prepared by you using another Mexican cookbook, prepared by other home cooks, or that which you’ve eaten in restaurants?

Of all the recipes you tried, including those prepared by others at the potluck, which are your favorites?

Do you think you will make recipes from this book again? If not, why not?

If the club were to do another Mexican cookbook one day, is there a particular aspect or regional style of Mexican cooking that you’d like to delve into in more detail?

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