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Party Fixin's from Quezada and La Palma

Melanie Wong Aug 2, 2004 05:14 PM

A week ago I surprised the hostess by making a couple appetizers to bring to her party. There seems to be an impression out there that I never spend any time in the kitchen. (g) I picked up the ingredients from two Mexican markets, Quezada in Novato and La Palma in SF.

Quezada is the sister grocer to the market of the same name in Santa Rosa. The Novato store is larger and feels less cramped. Quezada has a large selection of dried chilis, a carniceria and take-out counter, and also some South and Central American products as well as Mexican. I bought avocados, queso fresco (cut and weighed to order), pepitas (4 oz. for $1.59), and dried pequin chilis.

The night before the party I roasted and seasoned the pound of pepitas. It's easy as can be. Start cold with a big skillet, dump in a pound of pepitas, a head of garlic broken into cloves but unpeeled (about a dozen cloves), 3 tablespoons of EVOO, and 2 tablespoons of pequins. Turn the heat up to high and when the crackling, popping sound starts, turn the heat down to medium-high and start stirring the mixture. Sprinkle with sea salt to taste. Continue stirring until the popping sound slows down/stops and most of the seeds are lightly browned. This takes about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool completely, then store in air-tight container.

The afternoon of the party we stopped by La Palma on our way to pick some warm and freshly made chicharrones. The chicharrones, cut into inch-size cubish pieces, can be selected with mostly meat or with meat and the rind. I got about a mixed pound for around $4. We ordered a carne asada taco with the handmade thick corn tortilla upgrade to share that hit the spot for an afternoon snack. I also bought a bag of the handmade potato chips which are at a prime part of the season right now.

I'd brought the ingredients for the second appetizer - aguacate y queso fresco con chicharrones - with me to make fresh on site. This is a stripped down version of guacamole, unmucked up by onion, tomatoes, limes, cilantro, etc., to be made only at the time of year when avocados are ultra-rich and buttery to show off the pure rich flavor of the aguacate. In a medium size bowl, mix and coarsely mash together two peeled and roasted garlic cloves (leftover from making the pepitas) with 1/3 pound of crumbled queso fresco, mix in two minced jalapeños (ribs and seeds removed), and two ripe avocados. Add sea salt to taste. Mound the avocado mixture in the middle of a large plate, strew the chicharrones around the rim, and serve.

The reactions of the Latinos in the group to these snacks was really gratifying, ranging from "omigod, real guacamole!" to "I love chicharrones, I'm not supposed to eat them, but could I have another?" I presented them as the Atkins low carb version. We got into discussions of the varying chicharrone styles and avocado treatments in different Latin American countries. Julio made me a delicious margarita with Tommy's fresh mix that was great with the spice in both appetizers. Eugenio stood over the plate of chicharrones, gulping down bite after bite of fried pork rinds dipped in guacamole. He looked like he was going to cry when it was all gone.

Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/16119#43524

Image: http://www.tommysmargarita.com/newsit...

  1. r
    roxination Jun 13, 2012 01:04 PM

    I have read this like 5 times and I cannot find anywhere where u indicate how or what u used the pepitas for or if u made it a salsa...? Sounds so good, pls help!

    4 Replies
    1. re: roxination
      Melanie Wong Jun 13, 2012 01:21 PM

      Just put the roasted and seasoned pepitas in a bowl on the table for folks to eat out of hand.

      P. S. Quezada in Santa Rosa has closed. Don't know if Novato branch is still open.

      1. re: Melanie Wong
        roxination Jun 13, 2012 01:40 PM

        So guests will be snacking on the roasted pepitas and pequins...are those very spicy?

        1. re: roxination
          Melanie Wong Jun 13, 2012 03:19 PM

          Pequins are pretty hot. The pods are large enough to eat around. I don't suggest chewing on them.

          1. re: Melanie Wong
            roxination Jun 13, 2012 03:32 PM

            Awesome. Thanks!

    2. f
      felice Aug 2, 2004 10:14 PM

      is this the same tommy's as the restaurant out in the richmond? is this mix as good as a margarita made from fresh limes?

      4 Replies
      1. re: felice
        Melanie Wong Aug 2, 2004 10:37 PM

        Yes and yes. The mix is fresh lime juice, it's a refrigerated product. This was my first taste of it, and it's so much better than what most people can make at home even if they use fresh limes. I'm a little embarassed that I didn't pay attention to the tequila used to tell you. But the hostess's little dog is named Chamuco, so that might give us a clue about the house's favorite pour. (g)

        1. re: Melanie Wong
          Missy P. Aug 2, 2004 11:14 PM

          Adding Melanie's endorsement to that of the tequila experts, Michael and Rochelle, means that I will be off to buy me some Tommy's ASAP. Linked is a list of places to buy in California.

          Link: http://www.tommysmargarita.com/newsit...

          1. re: Missy P.
            Melanie Wong Aug 3, 2004 04:35 AM

            Wonder if anyone's tried making sorbet with the lime and agave nectar mix?

            1. re: Melanie Wong
              Pssst Aug 3, 2004 12:45 PM

              Hmmm, Thanks for the idea Melanie.

              I was just brainstorming about what to make for the picnic in October. Last year, I made a lovely, if boozy Margarita Bundt Cake, perhaps I'll continue the tradition and make a "Tequila Snow Cones" with Tommy's Margarita Mix as its base!

              FYI - we always a have a bottle of TMM in our freezer, it lasts something like 6mo in the freezer (not in our house) and defrosts quickly. Another drink we make in our house is the basic TMM margarita with a splash of seltzer - it lightens it up a bit so you don't get as smashed as quickly & it allows to you hydrate while you dehydrate.

              Another FYI - Today is Julio's 40th birthday so be sure to go to Tommy's this week and let him know he's over the hill!!

      2. o
        originaljoe Aug 2, 2004 07:10 PM

        Don't you think that the chicharrones at La Palma are to rock hard? We have gone to La Palma(which we love) several times in the past two months or so and find them rather hard and dry. They look great behind the glass but wow the teeth when you bite them. We had Chicharrones one time at another Mexican deli which was soft and juicy but we forgot where it was. But we do like all the other goodies at La Palma.

        7 Replies
        1. re: originaljoe
          Melanie Wong Aug 2, 2004 07:29 PM

          This was the only time I've bought chicharrones from La Palma. I didn't know where else to go in SF, and fortunately they had 'em. I was there on a Sunday afternoon, and maybe they have more turnover and don't dry out under the heat lamp. I didn't consider these hard, even though they were very browned (and therefore a little concerning). Are you buying the ones with or without rind?

          1. re: Melanie Wong
            felice Aug 2, 2004 10:12 PM

            There are a few other stores in the area that carry chicharrones...
            The meat counter at El Chico on 24th, one or two blocks west of La Palma.
            Belmar Meat Market/La Gallinita on 24th, west of El Chico but still on the same block.

            1. re: felice
              felice Aug 2, 2004 10:19 PM

              speaking of belmar meat market, i really like that place. the butchers are nice and very helpful. the whole store smells great. and the two times i bought meat there, it was very well marbled and not too expensive (definitely cheaper than safeway). sundays they close at 2pm, but most other days they are open until 6pm.

              1. re: felice
                Melanie Wong Aug 2, 2004 10:23 PM

                Thanks for the info - was just about to ask if you had a preference between the two stores. I don't shop for food in SF that much.

                Is it just me or do the Latin markets have better avocados? It seems that whenever I pick up an avo at Safeway, Whole Foods, etc., I cut them open and there are bruises, rot, etc. too many times to be acceptable. But I don't have this same problem when I buy from the Mexican markets in Santa Rosa, Salinas, etc. Plus, they're usually cheaper and more evenly ripe.

                1. re: Melanie Wong
                  felice Aug 3, 2004 03:09 PM

                  I've been shopping at the markets on 24th a lot more lately because I think that some of their produce is much better... roma tomatoes were 33cents a pound last week, avocados are always good. I'm not sure if this is because their customers demand it or if it's because the turnover is so high. They also have good onions and cheap citrus. (Good onions are sometimes hard to find in Chinatown, where I do the rest of my grocery shopping). And finally, fresh and dried herbs and spices are cheap at those markets also. The only thing I don't get there are my asian vegetables.

                  Considering most of the produce probably comes from Watsonville, it's probably better to do your shopping down there - although a few months ago, I went to Pajaro foods in Watsonville and couldn't find epazote. Perhaps there's another market that I don't know about that sells ingredients for Mexican dishes.

                  1. re: felice
                    Melanie Wong Aug 3, 2004 03:29 PM

                    This weekend when we were down in Salinas, as we were driving on Sanborn Rd. where the produce trucking and rail shippers are located, someone mentioned that the world's supply of lettuce passes through that intersection. I've been down there a lot and posting my meals on the Calif. board. Haven't gotten over to Watsonville yet...maybe I should visit my auntie.

            2. re: Melanie Wong
              originaljoe Aug 3, 2004 07:56 AM

              With the rind. Will try the other market mentioned. Maybe its is the heat lamp drying them out as you said. As i mentioned we bought them before at another market that had crunchy skin but soft and juicy meat. We never found them again so maybe they went out of business.We go to LaPalma for the Pupusas,which are excellent.

          2. n
            nja Aug 2, 2004 06:47 PM

            That all sounds fantastic.

            I made a similar guac this weekend. I started with six avocados that I not so much mashed as spent about five minutes continuously slicing in a bowl with a large knife followed by a quick stir. The result is plenty of distinct chunks of avocado in a creamy base. I then added a little lime, salt, and garlic. I was about to start adding some spoonfuls of the salsa cruda I had already made, but I tasted it first and thought it was just perfect. Most of Erika's family thought I was loco for not adding any onions, tomatoes, or chiles, but only the very stubborn felt it necessary to mix the salsa in themselves once they had tasted the guac. I didn't have any chicharrones, but I must have eaten two whole avocado's worth with some Casa Grande (Sacramento) tortilla chips.

            I don't care what time of year it is or how good or bad the avocados are: cilantro should never be added to guacamole. Never.

            1 Reply
            1. re: nja
              Melanie Wong Aug 2, 2004 07:27 PM

              No chilis - wow!

              We should say "no" to mayo and sour cream in guacamole too.

              For me, the hardest transition was to leave out lime juice. And, normally, I wouldn't use garlic in this simple guac either except that I had cloves leftover from making the pepitas. The taste of the jalapenos becomes more pronounced in the simple blend, moderated a bit by the dairy smoothness of the cheese.

              Has anyone tried substituting queso fresco for fresh paneer?

              Oh, and forgot to mention that I picked up a pound of very good carnitas from Quezada. I like the pieces with the small end of the rib. Yeah, you're paying for the bones, but I love the texture of rib meat.

              Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

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