Sunday marked our inaugural Meso event, celebrating corn as integral to Mexican cuisine and a staple of Midwestern agriculture. We welcomed our preliminary guinea pigs, friends and family members Vicki, Scott, Vanessa, Sam, Moe, Kiyoto, Sam, Kelley, Elodi, Megha, Anna, Francisco, Felipe, and Walter. Our guests drank Café de Olla, warming their hands and mouths as they became better acquainted. After a few remarks, we distributed rating cards and allowed our testers to begin their hard work.

Café de Olla
1 quart of water
⅔ cups coffee, coarsely ground
4 oz piloncillo
1 stick of cinnamon

Bring water with sugar and cinnamon to a boil. Once boiling, remove from heat and pour in ground coffee. Stir and let steep for 5 minutes. Pour through fine mesh sieve to separate grounds from coffee. Serves 3.

Our group rated this recipe an 8.4 out of 10, calling it “comforting,” “spicy,” and “molassmas.” One tester said, “Literally never had better coffee in my life. This would keep me warm all winter.” Thanks! We like you too.

On to the popcorn.Palomitas_02-2

Elote Palomitas
1 cup popcorn kernels
2 sticks of unsalted butter
2 packets of mac and cheese powdered cheese (we used Annie’s Homegrown White Cheddar)
1 T garlic powder
1 t salt
2 T guajillo chili powder
1 T other chili powder of your choice (we used Nanami Togarishis Assorted Chili Pepper)
2 T fresh lime zest

Pop your kernels however you’d like! We popped them in the microwave, ¼ cup at a time, but you can also use the stove or an air popper. Put them in a big paper grocery bag, preferably one with handles. Melt butter with one pack of mac and cheese powdered cheese. Slowly drizzle the butter mixture over the popcorn, gently shaking the bag as you add the butter. Add the second packet of cheese, garlic, salt, chili powders, shaking the bag between each addition. Adjust the seasonings to your liking. At the very end, add the fresh lime zest, shake once more, and serve.

This recipe was the crowd’s overall favorite, giving it a solid 9 out of 10. Every single member in our creative group said yes, they would make this recipe for their friends. They called it “zesty,” “bright,” “4-H Fair,” “surprise,” and “suede.” Some noted that the flavors came in “stages,” and another suggested we cut down on the butter. Everyone agreed that the lime zest was the key to transcendent popcorn.

Our next popcorn was a caramel corn–an homage to Chicago as the birthplace of Cracker Jacks.

Cajeta Corn
1 cup popcorn kernels
2 cups cajeta (we made ours with goat milk and cane sugar, but we also tried Coronado brand Cajeta Quemada and it was excellent)
½ stick butter

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees F. Pop the corn and place it in a large bowl (we divided this into two batches). Heat the cajeta and butter in a saucepan over low heat, stirring until well blended and very smooth (this should only take a few minutes). Drizzle over popcorn, stirring it to coat as evenly as possible. Spread evenly on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (again, we divided between two baking sheets), and bake for approximately 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes. Serve!

This recipe received an 8.4 and our tasters called it “warming,” “addictive,” “Halloween,” and “complex.” Many noted the subtle goat flavor and loved that it was still a little warm when we served it.Palomitas_01-2Variations
We were too excited (and hungry) to simply stop there, so our next popcorn was a variation on the elote popcorn. We used the same ingredients, but swapped out a lime butter for regular butter. To make the lime butter, we melted 1 stick of butter with the juice of three limes. Although the group liked the additional lime flavor, they rated this a 7.6, noting that we really like butter–perhaps a little too much. We agreed, and recommend cutting back! They called it “spunky,” “tangy,” “lime-tastic,” and, well, “buttery.”

Finally, our last popcorn was a variation of the cajeta popcorn, this time with bacon–a shout-out to the “hog butcher for the world,” our fair city, elegantly nicknamed by Carl Sandburg. We cooked four slices of bacon, and stirred in the bacon fat with the cajeta instead of butter. Then we crumbled the bacon in with the caramel and baked it like the last one. Our guests rated it an 8.2 and one amazingly nicknamed it “pigoat.” Other comments included “VELVET,” “smooth,” “male,” and “soothing.” One guest suggested we try other meats like chorizo or pancetta. Yes, we love this idea.

But more than this delightful feedback, our group gave us very real and meaningful insight to a question we posed: What role does authenticity play in food? We will need a bit more time to digest the amazing discussion and comments we received in response. More soon on this, we promise.

The evening ended with guests making their own Chicago Mix popcorns, playing off of the combination of cheese and caramel corn that Garrett Shops sell. Their version is trademarked. That’s fine, we’re calling ours The Chicago Mixed, a celebration of hybridity and multiplicity in identity. Zesty-cajeta-lime-chili-bacon-suede-Chicago-Mexican corn.

Try our recipes at home and let us know your thoughts. What did you try? We’d love to hear about your variations!
–Christina and Danny
Photos courtesy of Elodi and Vicki.

Welcome to Meso

In this project, we set out to celebrate our hybrid identities and call out to each of us who have felt like we’re in the middle, neither this nor that, but something of two or more, and still distinctly American. There is a reason we chose to communicate through food. For those of us living with mixed-race identity in the United States, it is a fitting metaphor for experience–mixed, concocted, politicized, appropriated, and of course, consumed. Food’s very nature allows for alterations to the recipe, improvements, mistakes, and quickly the “authenticity” of a dish becomes muddled. And, in the end, food brings us together like nothing else.

With this and much more in mind, we present Meso, an exploration of Mexican-Chicago cuisine.

This project is a test kitchen. Our process is collaborative and inclusive. We seek people who are interested in exploring identity, making connections between foods and cultures, and are not afraid of bizarre, spicy, frothy, heavy, exquisite, charred, or whatever else might describe the concoctions coming from our chefs’ baking dishes. Our participants give honest feedback and input on food, collectively deciding which recipes are published on this site.

Thank you for joining us.