Guacamole de Molcajete

My grandmother owned a large metate (mealing stone) to grind fresh corn to make dough for tortillas or tamales. A molcajete is very similar looking but smaller. It’s a traditional Mexican mortar and pestle to crush and grind spices, and prepare salsas and guacamole. A molcajete might be intimidating at first because it needs to be “broken in”. A tradional way to season one is to grind white rice in the molcajete, a handful at a time. When the crushed rice flour has no visible grains of basalt in it, the molcajete is ready to use.

An easy and quick method to season a molcajete is to spray it down with a power washer making it grit free and ready to use.Guacamole-avocado

I love avocados and although there are many ways of preparing them my favorite is a pure and simple guacamole. Stay away from powders or imitation anything on this recipe and the end result will be a delicious combination of seven simple ingredients. Chunks of avocado, onions, and tomatoes make a beautiful, delicious presentation, so be careful not to over mash.


  • 4 ripe avocados
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup minced white onion
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, minced (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice


If you own a molcajete (lava-stone mortar), using the tejolote (lava-stone pestle) grind the garlic, onion, jalapeño, and salt until all the ingredients are well ground. Dice the avocados and gently fold into the garlic-onion-chile paste, keeping the avocados fairly intact. Add tomatoes and squeeze the lime juice over the avocado and gently stir until the mixture is chunky. Taste and add salt, if necessary. Serve immediately, directly from the molcajete (or bowl), with tortilla chips.

Comfort Food

In every hero’s journey, or in my case, heroine’s, there is a call to action.  There’s some problem to solve, some question to answer.

On Monday night, that call to action came once again in the form of Sofi asking, “Mami, what’s for dinner?”

So many times I’ve met that call with dread, anxiety and aversion.  Practically speaking, that call has been met by a Domino’s pizza guy or the sweet old Asian man who delivers regularly from Sushi Maki.

In the past couple of months, I don’t know that I have become a better “chef”.  That said, it is something just to recognize that I consider myself a “chef” in any capacity.  I definitely don’t feel compelled to cater parties, nor do I day dream about things like how I can incorporate rosemary or cumin into a dish.  What I have found, is that I can celebrate my family and my friendships. I can bring comfort and show affection.  I have found that with some courage, discipline and patience, I can define that role of “chef” for myself.  I can answer the paola

I began this challenge with so many strong and harsh feelings about what it meant to be a woman who cooks.  I held a contention that somehow made me feel more independent, more liberated more at ease.  In reality, I had made myself a slave to that idea. In the same way that any statement that begins with “I’m not the kind of person who…” is just a shackle, a delusion, a limitation.

So this week, when my sweet and hungry little girl presented me with the challenge, I knew how to respond. With my Wok, some rice, left over chicken, eggs and a few slices of deli ham, I was able to answer the call.

For years I’d look at my refrigerator as a vault of disappointment.  I saw things in three categories:  what I should eat, what I shouldn’t eat, and what is not edible.

Now, my relationship with my refrigerator has changed quite a bit.  Like a magician’s trunk, not only can I make a dinner happen when I’ve got hours to traipse about town buying this and buying that, I’ve learned I can make something out of seemingly nothing.

On Monday night, that something was Fried Rice with Chicken and Ham. It was the perfect mish mosh of comfort and creativity, it was the perfect meal to end this journey.

Originally I had imagined I’d make some big meal and host all my family and close friends.  I’d have it on nice tables and plates and the whole neighborhood would be filled with aroma of my delicacy.  But that’s not who I am.  I’m still a single mom who works a lot.  I’m still a single mom who wants to be more for my children and for myself.

That “more” doesn’t come in the form of showing anything off to anyone else.  It’s in the quiet moment within my heart when I hear

“Mami, what’s for dinner?” that instead of dread, I feel delight.

So I’ve reached the end of my 10 week experiment and what I want to do is offer up a reflection on what this venture has meant to me.  It’s so simple to say “10 weeks”, but I invite all of you to pause and look back on your own 10 weeks, or at least, let today mark the beginning of a new set of 10 weeks.  What I mean is, that of all the experimenting with ingredients, heat and appliances, the biggest gift hasn’t been all the gadgets I’ve collected or the spices and sauces that fill my cupboards and fridge.  The biggest gift has been my ability to see myself differently.

By |Bio, Chef Paola|Comments Off on Comfort Food

A Sunday to Savor

Ever since I got really into cooking, I’ve always made it a point to figure out the fastest way possible to make a dish. In fact, in looking through my recipe index, I think it’s safe to say most of my recipes can be made in as little as 15 minutes and most in no longer than one hour. If we’re talking about weeknight cooking, especially for those who have very little time to get a decent, healthy dinner on the table, I call that a win. Sometimes, though, isn’t it nice to just take it slow?

I was chatting with a friend last week — one who admittedly lives on egg salad and deli meat — who told me that if there was anything in this world he would learn to cook, it would be his Italian mother’s red sauce. My response, “You can do it; how hard can that be?” Turns out it’s not as difficult as much as it is a process… an eight-hour process.

While I didn’t get his mother’s recipe, my paleo-diet-rejecting self was craving pasta on Sunday — delicious, al dente, thick, pappardelle-like pasta — and nothing would go better with it than what I’m going to call Sunday Sauce. I grabbed the best ingredients I could find at the store — organic 90% lean ground beef, a can of San Marzano tomatoes (the kind Giada di Laurentiis and Mario Batali say they like to cook with), fresh oregano, shaved parmesan cheese and this delicious egg yolk pasta that cost $4 for the pound, which I’m sure you know is a lot for pasta. I got home and got to work. If you can call it work.

I decided that, in addition to cooking with a little extra love, what would be different this time is me not turning off the stove at the 30 or 45-minute mark. Nope. Instead, I would let this sauce simmer for at least three hours, and those three hours ultimately turned into five.

If you watch cooking shows, you always hear the host advising you to let the flavors hang out a bit — to let them marry, if you will. The longer ingredients sit together, the more their flavors develop in each other, if that makes any sense. Why do you think leftovers almost always taste better than the day something is made? It’s all about letting those ingredients falling in love. And fall in love with this sauce I did.

I’m sure you know you can modify the recipe to make it “fit” you. You can swap the beef for ground turkey and use crushed tomatoes instead of sauce. But in all honestly, I wouldn’t recommend changing a single thing. And if five hours sounds like more time than you have, I suggest you plan ahead. Had I not been starving, I would’ve been tempted to let this sauce go for the eight hours that inspired the recipe to begin with.


Pasta with Sunday Sauce


Ready in: at least 3 hours

Serves: 4-5


You’ll Need:pasta luisana

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/4 pounds organic ground beef, 90% lean
  • 1 small white onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 stems fresh oregano, divided
  • 1 28-oz can San Marzano tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic glaze
  • 1/2 pound your favorite pasta
  • freshly shaved parmesan cheese to taste


Here’s How:luisana soup

1. Heat the olive oil in a large IMUSA caldero over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef, using a wooden spoon to break up the meat. Cook for about 10 minutes or until cooked through.  The caldero is PERFECT for this kind of low and slow cooking!

2. Add the onion, garlic, bay leaves, red pepper flakes, two-thirds of the oregano (stems and all) and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the onions are translucent, about five minutes.

3. Add the tomato sauce, 1/2 cup of water, balsamic glaze and a dash more salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat down to low. Cover and let simmer for at least three hours.

4. Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Drain and toss with the sauce. Serve, then garnish with fresh oregano and cheese.


I also made a spinach salad because it’s almost always impossible for me to feel as peace if I don’t eat something green with every meal. This salad, which I prepped way ahead, had spinach, reduced-fat feta cheese and golden raisins. At the bottom of the bowl, I whisked together a tablespoon of balsamic glaze, a tablespoon of olive oil, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, and salt and pepper. I layered the spinach, cheese and raisins over it, and tossed everything together right before serving to prevent the spinach from wilting.


I spent the day “housekeeping,” i.e. cleaning out my closet to make room for the little shopping spree I allowed myself on Saturday. It was the perfect thing to do while the sauce cooked itself. Having gotten done with an extra 30 minutes before my dinner guest arrived, I whipped up a fresh crab salad inspired by Ina Garten, one of the Food Network hosts who taught me the most about cooking. Here is my recipe after I modified it according to my cooking style and what I had at home. In other words, after I “Fit Cooked” it. 😉 Her original is Pic’s Fresh Crab Salad with Lime Zest.


My Fresh Crab Salad with Lime Zest


luisana-blog 10Total Time: 5 minutes

Yield: 2 servings



  • 1/2 pound fresh lump crabmeat
  • 1 lime, zested
  • 2 tablespoons plain, non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • fine sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper


In a bowl, combined the crabmeat, lime zest, yogurt, Dijon mustard, Old Bay seasoning, a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve with lettuce leaves, sliced cucumbers, fresh red pepper wedges or with whole grain crackers.


Now that’s what I call a delicious Sunday… buen provecho, amigos!

Using a Tortilla Press

My mother recently made a video making homemade flour tortillas and it made me think about a tortilla press. Flour tortilla dough is too stretchy and elastic to be pressed out in a tortilla press. Flour tortillas must be rolled out with a palote (rolling pin). We do not use a tortilla press to make flour tortillas, but we do use a tortilla press to make delicious homemade corn tortillas and lots of other great recipes.

Many of the common tortilla presses I have encountered use cheap finishes and hardware that wears out quickly and rusts. Personally, I really like the IMUSA cast iron tortilla huaraches-torilla-press-smallpress. The plates are heavy, which means you don’t need to physically apply as much force to the handle to get a good even press. The cast iron has a non-stick finish, and the pivot pin is aluminum, so you don’t have to worry about rust.

With a tortilla press you can make huaraches — A huarache is flat bread made with masa. It looks slightly like a thin sandal sole, hence the name huarache. Molotes (Oaxacan Masa Empanadas) can also be made using a tortilla press. Molotes are made with a disk of fresh masa then usually filled with a chorizo and potato filling, fried, then topped with salsa, crema, queso fresco, and garnished with sliced radishes. Sopes can also be made in a tortilla press. They are small, round, tartlet-like cakes made with masa.

If you need other ideas on what to make with a tortilla press please be sure to check out this great video by Zarela Martinez: Corn Tortillas, Picadas, Sopes and Tlacoyos Demonstration.

Holiday Cocktails Sure to Jingle Your Bells!!!

It’s holiday time!! Holiday parties mean it’s time to serve up the festivities. Thanksgiving is definitely my favorite time of the year. It’s the time of the year that it’s acceptable to gorge on food like you’re one of those snakes that has to dislocate their jaw to eat their prey.  Christmas is my second favorite holiday. That’s where your extended relatives come over and remind you of how much weight you’ve gained the whole year. It’s a great time to be had by all! Christmas can be a joyous occasion, but it can also be a bit stressful. The pressure of attending and/or throwing a holiday party can be stressful. Well, fret no more! I recently whipped up some cocktails at my sister’s restaurant, Atchana’s East West Kitchen at the Mutiny Hotel ( in Coconut Grove, Florida and we came up with some libations that will surely jingle your bells!


“Whipped Gold”




  • 1 oz. Flavored Whipped Cream Vodka or regular vodka
  • 1 oz. Grenadine
  • 1 oz. Pineapple Juice
  • 1 Wedge of Lime
  • 1 Marshmallow
  • 1 Tbs. Gold Sugar (Commonly used for sugar cookies)



Using a clean dry martini glass, spray the rim with gold spray mist. (Or if you have gold rimmed glasses, you can use those too!) Set aside to dry. In a shaker, pour the pineapple juice, grenadine and whipped cream vodka. Throw some ice in there as well. Squeeze in a wedge of lime. Throw the lime out – do not put it in the shaker. Shake vigorously all the ingredients and strain into the martini glass. Take a marshmallow and lightly wet the surface and dredge into the gold sugar. Cut a slit in the bottom of the gilded marshmallow and place on the martini rim. Voila!


“Santa’s Helper”santas helper

  • 1 Tbs. Orange Colored Sugar (Can be found in the baking section of most major grocery stores)
  • 1 oz. Whipped Cream Flavored Vodka or Regular Vodka
  • 1 oz. Pumpkin Vodka
  • 2 oz. Apple Juice
  • 1 Lime Wedge



Taking a martini glass, take a lemon or lime wedge and rim the glass with the juice. Place the orange colored sugar on a plate and turn the glass upside down and dip onto the plate with the colored sugar. Set aside. In a shaker, pour the whipped Vodka or regular vodka, pumpkin vodka, apple juice, and some ice. Next, squeeze the juice of one lime wedge into the shaker. Throw the lime out. Shake vigorously. Strain and pour the drink into the prepared martini glass and enjoy that holiday cheer!


“Ginger Bells”



  • 1 Tbs. Green Colored Sugar (Found in the baking section of most major grocery stores)
  • 1 ½ oz. Vodka
  • ½ oz. Chambord
  • 2 oz. Cranberry Juice
  • 1 oz. **Ginger Simple Syrup or Canton Ginger
  • Splash of Prosecco or Sparkling Wine


(Served in a Highball Glass)





Take your highball glass and moisten the rim with your lime or lemon. Place the green colored sugar on a small plate. Turn the  glass upside down and dip it into the sugar. Now, pour the Vodka, Chambord, Cranberry Juice, Ginger Syrup into the glass. Gently stir with a drink straw. Now top off with a splash of prosecco and serve immediately! Enjoy your Ginger Bells!

**To make Ginger Syrup, Take equal parts of sugar and water ( 1 cup water: 1 cup sugar) in a small sauce pan. Peel some fresh ginger root and cut into 2 inch piece. Throw in about 3-4 pieces of the ginger in the simple syrup mix. Bring to a boil and lower heat to simmer until all the sugar granules are melted. Set aside to cool. Can be refrigerated.


“Rocking Around the Coffee Bean”

rocking chair



  • 2 oz. Brewed Espresso Coffee
  • 1 oz. Kahlua Liquor
  • 1 oz. Bailey’s
  • Steamed Milk
  • Shaved Chocolate





In a thick Snifter glass, or clear cappuccino glass, pour your espresso coffee first. Then pour in the Kahlua. Next, take a spoon and slowly pour the Bailey’s over the spoon into the drink. This will layer the dark coffee with the cream of the Bailey’s. Yum! Next, top off with some steamed milk froth and top off with shaved chocolate. This is perfect for Christmas morning, or after you’ve eaten a little too much Thanksgiving turkey!


Hope your holidays are joyous and from the IMUSA family to yours…Happy Holidays!!