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November 2006 Cookbook of the Month: Mexico, One Plate at a Time

Welcome to the general discussion thread for the November 2006 Cookbook of the Month, Mexico, One Plate at a Time by Rick Bayless. Use this thread to make general comments about the cookbook or discuss the whole cookbook-of-the-month idea. This would also be a great place to suggest future cookbooks.

The following two threads are the places to talk to other hounds about recipes you're trying or to write notes on recipes you may have previously tried:
Here is the recipe selection and recipe link thread:
http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...
Here is the previous picks and pans thread (for short notes):
http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

To post a full-length review of any recipe, please select the appropriate thread below:
For starters, snacks, and light meals:
http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...
For soups, stews, and sides:
http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...
For entrees:
http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...
For desserts and drinks:
http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

You may wish to bookmark this thread since it has links to all the other threads for the November cookbook of the month.

Finally, the Chowhound Team has asked me to remind you that verbatim copying of recipes to the boards is a violation of the copyright of the original author. Posts with copied recipes will be removed.

Happy cooking!

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  1. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems as if, overall, everyone has not been that thrilled with the recipes from this book! (I haven't had a chance to try anything yet- hopefully I will after I get this baby shower over with that I'm hosting this weekend!) Is this true or is it just that Marcella's recipes were so mindblowing that they overshadowed Rick's recipes?

    5 Replies
    1. re: Katie Nell

      I don't know about anyone else, but I haven't been overally impressed with the few recipes that I've tried. I still have to post about my last few dishes and while they were good, they weren't great. More importantly, I don't find that it's worth the amount of time and effort spent on the dishes themselves.

      I'm not giving up yet. There are still more recipes I want to check out. But, this book isn't high on my "to buy" list.

      1. re: beetlebug

        I haven't made anything specifically from the selected book, but I've been cooking out of Bayless' Mexico Every Day and his Mexican Kitchen and I'm also not thrilled. I don't know if I'm just not meant to like Mexican food or if it's the books.

        1. re: cheryl_h

          i've decided that it wasn't my cup of tea. i have an amazing mexican restaurant by my house that i run to or order from once or twice a month and i don't have much interest in cooking mexican really. so i kept braising! still going...

          1. re: ceeceee

            Same with me Ceeceee, we have such good Mexican around here and out in East Los where Mme ZoeZ and I go once a week, tht I don't have much interest in cooking Mexican but really love the braising book....

      2. re: Katie Nell

        I don't really think of this book as a set of blockbuster recipes. It reminds me more of Alton Brown's "Good Eats" show: perhaps the best resource for learning the basic fundamentals of the cuisine, but better recipes are out there for just about everything in the book. It's still the first place I turn when I want to try a new type of dish, and I'll read the relevant section start to finish. And lacking any alternatives, I'll start with his recipes. But in just about every instance, I've been able to turn out a better dish by supplementing with other resources (other books, websites, family advice, or just tinkering on my own). For example, I made some gorditas from another cookbook recently but was disappointed with the results. So I read the chapter in this book and applied the techniques (in particular the two-step cooking) to the other recipe and they came out far better.

        And if you'll allow me to channel Alice Waters for a moment... I also think that since most of the recipes are so basic, the quality of the raw materials is of utmost importance. If you don't have excellent masa, or beans, or chiles, or tomatoes, or crema, or epazote, or whatever, the dishes aren't going to impress.

        -Nick

      3. hmmm--finally today I get my hands on the book, and now I read such subdued comments. I was very excited to participate this 1st time, and will try not to be discouraged before I begin.
        I've never tasted chipotle, or tomatillos, and never tried to make masa. I'm hoping I can find a recipe that includes all 3? Well, I'll study the book, and cook, and report.

        1. blue room: please don't be discouraged! I bought the book a few months ago but had never used it. This cookbook of the month initiative has given me the motivation I needed. I'm having a great time with the book, especially since I'd never worked with some of the ingredients (and some are proving difficult to find, others impossible), but I'm loving getting started on Mexican cuisine. Fine, I'm familiar with eating a lot of the food, but preparing it has been daunting, until now that I feel encouraged. Also, it's so nice that we have each other for support, right?!! I find this book perfect as a good starting point. Nice simple recipes, good ingredients, correct, basic preparations, easy to follow and results are good! Maybe later on, once I'm comfortable with techniques & ingredients, I'll move on to more difficult & challenging recipes, maybe from other books. By then, I'll know what ingredients I can get, where to find them etc.
          I'm quite happy with the book and the results. Carry on, and enjoy!! When I sat down to study the book, I marked about 15 recipes that I wanted to try! We'll see how many I get done.
          My great-grandmother taught some of the recipes that are in the book to my grandmother, & she used to cook them for us. My grandmother is 97 now so she doesn't cook, but her chiles rellenos etc etc were magnificent! Noboby in my family learned to cook from her unfortunately, but this book is bringing a lot of those foods & food memories back, which makes me glad. My great-grandmother was Mexican, obviously.

          1. Except for the outstanding, but very strong, margarita, I’ve only tried one recipe so far and wasn’t all that impressed. But since I’ve never cooked Mexican food before, it’s taking me a while, among the regular vicissitudes of life, to get around to finding and/or mail ordering what I hope will be the best ingredients to show off the recipes advantageously. It’s still early in the month (although I’m sure everyone’s T’giving preps will cut this month rather short); perhaps better reviews are to come.

            Judgment still withheld, but I think it’s possible we simply chose the wrong book and, if so, it should be a lesson for the future. This is what? His third book? And one specifically published to accompany a TV show. Perhaps he was catering to a lower common denominator? I know that when we were first thinking of Bayless for Cookbook of the Month I checked his newest book at Barnes & Noble and deemed it Mexican Lite. It was more about keeping calories down than about authenticity. Since Authentic Mexican was his seminal work, maybe we should have chosen that one. Maybe he really only had one or two books in him. That wouldn’t be at all unusual.

            Has anyone following these threads tried a sufficient number of recipes from Authentic Mexican or the award-winning Mexican Kitchen to tell us whether or not the recipes in those books are generally more successful than those from OPAAT?

            18 Replies
            1. re: JoanN

              I often cook from Mexican Kitchen... but I do so very loosely. It helps that I have eaten all the dishes & know what they are supposed to be like. In my experience, Aaron Sanchez of Food TV delivers consistently good recipes... and they are free! But I find myself defering to Bayless on his understanding of the basic concepts & philosphy... because well, I am pretty sure he has traveled Mexico more than I have.

              His recipes don't turn out... often, his Tres Lechez Cake is pretty much a disaster... but you can figure things out. Also, I am not too thrilled by his food pairing / plating... he is way to fond of carbs for my taste.

              1. re: JoanN

                Joan, I have cooked from all of the Rick Bayless cookbooks and my favorite is probably his least known one - Salsa's That Cook. Everything I've made out of that little book I've loved. And what I really love about that book is that in the front he provides 7 or 8 basic sauce recipes (complete with chile substitutions or variations) with 3 different quantity yields. The rest of the book is 60 recipes using those sauces.

                Mexican Everyday his new book, BTW, is pretty good. No, it's definitely not authentic (which I don't think he's claiming) but it does give you the flavors of Mexico with the least amount of fuss. I tried quite a few of the recipes last Spring after I got the book and was pleasantly surprised by how easy they were and that they turned out far better than I had expected. I particularly liked some of his crockpot recipes, though I think his cooking times on them are too long. I also thought some of the salad dressings and entree salads looked really good.

                I haven't eaten at either of his restaurants, but I did spend a week in Oaxaca cooking with him, where what he prepared was very authentic and very good. As I said in another thread, I think Rick's greatest asset, aside from cooking skill, is in teaching. His technique is suberb and his ability to teach it even better; it does carry over to his books. He is, however, not my go-to for Mexican cooking. That is, and forever will be, Diana Kennedy. I usually read what each has to say about a particular dish and then go with whichever on fits my style better. And as Eat Nopal said, there is a lot of flexibility. Traditional Mexican cooking is not rigid and inflexible.

                Finally, I have been more impressed lately with contemporary Mexican, which I think is underrated and underapreciated at the moment. I've eatena few contemproary Mexican dishes prepared by Rick Bayless (and paired with wine) and they were spectacular. Some of the contemporary Mexican now available in D.F. is jaw-droppingly good.

                1. re: DiningDiva

                  I have eaten at Topolobampo... it was extremely busy with old money locals on a Wednessday night... the food was very classy & decor impeccable but the food was always a little bit disappointing.

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

                  1. re: DiningDiva

                    "And as Eat Nopal said, there is a lot of flexibility. Traditional Mexican cooking is not rigid and inflexible."

                    I think that is the essence of Mexican cuisine. Although there is a huge list of classics evolved from its 6,000 year culinary history... every cook has his own take. When people teach a dish or provide you a recipe in Mexico... it is always very loose & imprecise... cooking is a very personal thing & each cook should provide his / her own style.

                    This may seem contradictory, for those that witness people like me decrying non-authentic takes. But in reality... its not innovation that I (& others ) decry... its the cheapening of the cuisine by people who don't know what they are doing.

                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                      I don't think it's contradictory at all. Even though there is a lot of flexibility in the Mexican kitchen, you use what's on hand either in the kitchen or the market. The basic structure of the recipes and the techniques remain the same which, I think, preserves the integrity of the finished dish and the cuisine. Mexico is a BIG country with 31 states, it would be hard to think that everyone in every state made the same dish the exact same way.

                      There's a big difference between making tacos and serving a guisado as the filling rather than opening a little packet of taco seasoning, stirring it into a pound of ground beef and calling it a Mexican taco.

                  2. re: JoanN

                    Even though my personal vote was for Mexican Kitchen, I find it hard to conceive that we chose a "wrong" book. Even if the recipes aren't receiving many rave reviews so far, I think going through the process of testing and critiquing recipes (even ones that aren't particularly successful) is very useful and brings up rich discussion; in fact, this is more interesting than when every recipe works. I enjoyed the pipian verde dish I made tonight, and I look forward to trying out other recipes before I have to start focusing on T-giving dinner.

                    1. re: Carb Lover

                      CL your point is a good one. Even if the recipes aren't earthshaking, at least we're all cooking from the chosen book or books. Unfortunately I'm coming to the conclusion that either Bayless or Mexican cuisine don't appeal to me. I've been cooking out of Mexican Kitchen, Mexico Everyday and I'm about to try something out of the selected book, but I don't have great hopes.

                      1. re: cheryl_h

                        Sounds like you've tried a number of recipes across books and haven't been thrilled w/ anything. I've made just a few from Mexican Kitchen and have generally liked them.

                        One of the reasons I like Bayless is because I find him to be a wonderful translator of this cuisine. His comments help me to have a broader understanding, and I find the recipes very do-able. His tone is very encouraging for me...

                        I think that most recipes need to be tweaked for an individual's palate, and I'm not well-versed enough in Mexican cuisine (as opposed to European or Viet cuisine) to know how to improvise yet. I wonder if that's also true for you? Do you enjoy eating out at Mexican restaurants?

                        1. re: Carb Lover

                          I don't have much experience eating in Mexican restaurants, and I always wonder how authentic they are. As an Asian, I'm often embarrassed by the Chinese restos in the burbs. I've been to New Mexico, Texas, California and Colorado and have eaten in Mexican (or Tex-Mex?) restaurants there, but I have yet to visit Mexico.

                          The Bayless recipes haven't been really bad, just not exciting. I cooked my way through Diana Kennedy's Art of Mexican Cooking years ago and had the same reaction. So it's probably just me. I was hoping to change that opinion with this month's book.

                          1. re: cheryl_h

                            Interesting...your tenacity to continue trying recipes when you've had little reinforcement is admirable. It might be you, although I imagine there are regional specialties out there that would excite you when made well. I feel similarly about Indian food, but I haven't experimented enough w/ it at home nor have I tried some of the CH-praised restaurants in my area.

                            I'll be interested to read your reviews on recipes for this month.

                      2. re: Carb Lover

                        Point taken. But I never cooked Mexican food before and although reading about how others might adapt or adjust is interesting, after going out of my way to purchase special ingredients I would have much preferred to start this adventure with recipes that really excited me. I’m all for testing and critiquing once I’ve got the basics down, but I don’t know enough yet to even guess how to tweak a recipe and would have been a lot happier, and certainly more encouraged to delve further, with recipes that were better than just “Enh!”

                        1. re: JoanN

                          I definitely understand... specially if you are cooking items you have never even tasted before. Please do me a favor & cook from the following recipes before you give up on the cuisine:

                          http://web.foodnetwork.com/food/web/s...

                          Please feel comfortable choosing recipes with high rating.

                          1. re: JoanN

                            I see why you might be frustrated. I live in CA where the ingredients are readily available, so I don't have to struggle too much on the front end. Prices for ingredients are relatively cheap too. I'm going to go to a large Mexican supermarket later today to stock up on some ingredients.

                          2. re: Carb Lover

                            Excellent point, the process of working through a book is a valuable one. One thing I do know from cooking from all of the various Bayless books is that structurally his recipes are sound (as are Diana Kennedy's), meaning that they'll turn out reasonably well if you follow the directions. And his directions are usually pretty detailed. Then it just becomes a matter of personal taste.

                            Once you find a recipe that works, you've mastered any technique involved and that you like reasonably well but would like to make a few modifications, go for it. That's what most Mexican cooks would do.......

                            1. re: Carb Lover

                              I find this whole thread interesting and don't mean to sound negative (above). I'm very happy I tried this book because it's been on my list. The book is growing on me. Part of that is because I am now more familiar with cooking Mexican. The other is because I think the flavors of the dishes are better the next day. I do wish there were more explicit technique directions or that the times were more accurate, but that's the nature of the beast. I'm willing to take the good with the not so good.

                              I agree with CL that a book with slight flaws is more interesting. I like watching people tweak the recipes and see what's worked and what hasn't. I also have really enjoyed using ingredients that I normally wouldn't, such as tomatillos. I've never focused on Mexican cooking before because it's easy to get fast and cheap takeout. However, I have a much greater appreciation for the techniques behind the food that I've enjoyed in the past.

                              I may not stick with Mexican cooking for much past this project. But, I am inspired to try more dishes because of other people's experiences (esp. CL's gorditas. It may be well past turkey day, but I am completely intrigued with that recipe.)

                              I will say that since the recipes take a lot more active time, I'm more behind on my posting. I still have to post about the cake. But, the corn flake fish is resting quietly in the fridge and I can't wait to fry it up.

                              1. re: beetlebug

                                Bayless' Mexican Kitchen http://www.amazon.com/Rick-Baylesss-M..., has phenomenal, detailed descriptions of technique & ingredients.

                                When looking to purchase one of his books, I passed up One Plate at a Time... precisely because it was heavy on Antojitos & dishes that are easy to find in U.S. restaurants. It is an earlier, more simplistic book.

                                Mexican Kitchen... has a much higher proportion of what I call Mexican Grown Ups food... which is hard to impossible to find in the U.S. & which are much more satisfying & sophisticated. Whereas, I really don't need him to tell me how to make Ceviche or Shrimp Cocktails (I think all Mexicans know that through osmosis)... Mexican Kitchen is actually a book that Mexicans find value in.

                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                  I agree with you 100%, Mexican Kitchen is a far better cookbook.

                                  It's got a chile glazed sweet potato recipe in it that's great for Thanksgiving and yields enough for a crowd. And the chocolate pecan pie. Both timely recipes for the next few weeks, but the rest of the recipes are really good too and worth investigating.

                                  1. re: DiningDiva

                                    Mexican Kitchen is my favorite too, and I actually voted for that. However, I'm finding that I'm really glad we chose this one, only because I'm not as familiar with it and now have found some very nice recipes that I never would have tried.

                          3. One of the few books I have returned. I love mexican and southwestern food but don't get this guy's appeal - seems pretentious.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: Elsie

                              What Mexican cookbooks or cookbook authors do you prefer?

                              1. re: Carb Lover

                                With all due respect to those of you who are, I'm not a Bayless fan either.

                                My preference list:

                                Diana Kennedy: any of the books, as much for the stories she tells as for the absolutely perfect recipes. Yes, she's of the "first you plant the seeds" school (much like Julia Child), but she knows what she's doing from the ground up.

                                Alicia Gironella d'Angeli, *El Gran Libro de la Cocina Mexicana*, five volumes, Larousse: unfortunately not yet translated into English, but incredibly thorough coverage of Mexico's cuisines through the centuries.

                                La Gironella is the grande dame of the *alta cocina mexicana*. The books are about to be re-issued by Larousse in one volume, but still only in Spanish.

                                Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz, "The Complete Book of Mexican Cooking": a great workaday choice. My copy is from 1965. It's tattered and torn, the cover has fallen off twice, and the pages are spattered and stained. I wouldn't want a new copy; this one is a complete history in *manchas* of my study of Mexican cooking.

                              2. re: Elsie

                                Oh my, Rick Bayless is one of the LEAST pretentious guys you'll ever meet. He's a nice guy that hasn't finished last.

                                1. re: DiningDiva

                                  I agree Bayless is very down to earth & unpretentious... the food may come across as pretentious relative to Tex-Mex & Southwestern... but that is true Mexican cuisine.... it really is about the sophisticated Moles, Mixiotes, herb combinations etc., I think he just emphatically describes the differences... but he does it in a down to earth way.