Adelaida from Mexico & Her Lasting Impact on America {Plus Two of Her Recipes!}

Adelaida Cuellar photographed in 1901 with three of her children. photo courtesy of D Magazine.

In 1892, two young lovers crossed the border from Mexico into the United States and got married in Texas. They spoke no English but were very fluent in the language of love. They were dreamers yearning for better opportunities then their home country could provide, and they were determined to work hard to create a beautiful life that would bring them all  they desired.

The newlywed years of Macurio and Adelaida Cuellar led them through a myriad of jobs on ranches around the Texas countryside. For five years they moved about before they settled down in Kaufman, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, where Macurio started sharecropping and Adelaida started a family. As the seasons passed, their family grew, eventually producing twelve babies.

This is an unidentified farm photo from the Cuellar collection. It may have been the farm where Adelaida and Macurio raised their family. If not, it gives an interesting perspective on what farm life looks like in Texas during the time Adelaida and Macurio lived and worked there.  Image courtesy of the University of North Texas Digital library.

Ranch and farm work weren’t the most profitable of jobs, so Adelaida took a stall at the Kaufman County Fairgrounds in 1926 selling two things…  chili and tamales. It was her hope that her homemade recipes, so loved by her family, would bring in a little extra income to help support her children.  To her surprise, the food stand was an instant success.  The profits she made from her entrepreneurial endeavor were much larger than farm or ranch work earnings, so Adelaida kept at it, turning her stall into a tidy little family business.  Some of her children helped her cook while others formed a family band playing Mexican music to entertain the eaters.

During the 1920’s, Tex-Mex cuisine was a new style of cooking that combined traditional recipes from Mexico and Spain but with toned down spice factors which were more appealing to American palates. Adelaida’s chili and tamales debuted at just the right time – exotic enough for adventurous eaters and flavorful enough without being too spicy to dissuade repeat business. With every taste of tamale and every cup of chili, Adelaida’s reputation for preparing delicious Mexican food began growing.

Adelaida’s Cafe – simply called Cuellar Cafe – opened in  1928.  Image courtesy of the University of North Texas Digital library.

In her mid-fifties, Adelaida opened her own restaurant which did well until the Great Depression hit and she was forced to close due to the terrible economy.  Each of her grown boys inspired by their mother’s own entrepreneurial spirit opened their own independent Mexican restaurants in different cities throughout Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana using the recipes that Adelaida made for them growing up.

Each of the sons, enamored with cooking just like their mom, quickly realized there was something missing from their independent ventures… family love and support. From the beginning, in the county fairground days, the Cuellar family was successful at the tamale and chili stand because they all worked together towards one common goal. But now the family was spread over many cities, and their restaurants couldn’t be as successful because they all weren’t working together.

This is one of the original porcelain neon signs from the first El Chico restaurant in Dallas. It’s now for sale on ebay here.

So in 1940, five of the brothers banded together to form one restaurant in Dallas, which they named El Chico. The entire family and extended family worked there together, each bringing their own unique talents.

Opening night of El Chico featured a Mariachi band to entertain the crowd. Image courtesy of the University of North Texas Digital library.

Everyone who worked at the restaurant was fluent in Adelaida’s style of perfection when it came to selecting quality ingredients and blending the spice mixtures in the correct way, so the food was authentic and consistent, which kept customers coming back. And the Cuellar family was proud of what they were accomplishing.  At the heart of their restaurant lay the heart of Adelaida and all that she stood for.  Her children wanted to extend that same level of love and devotion with all who dined at El Chico.

A popular dining place indeed! This photo was taken in 1945. Image courtesy of the University of North Texas Digital library.

Just like Adelaida’s chili and tamale stand, El Chico became phenomenally successful, making the Cuellar family and the El Chico brand one of the greatest American success stories. They went on to open more than 40 restaurants throughout the country, built a successful packaged food division for the retail market, and offered franchise opportunities for budding entrepreneurs. By the 1970s, they were the largest full-service Mexican food company in the world. They cooked for United States presidents at the White House, for princess Grace Kelly at her palace in Monaco and entertained movie stars like John Wayne in Dallas. The family stayed together through all these years and all this growth, never veering from what they knew – good food taught to them by Adelaida.

A Cuellar family portrait with Adelaida and Macurio in the front row center. Image courtesy of the University of North Texas Digital library.

Adelaida passed away in 1969 at the age of 97, not before experiencing the overwhelming success of her family and seeing how her humble tamale and chili stand at the Kaufman County fairgrounds grew into a multi-million dollar corporation over the course of forty years. The Cuellar children credit both their mom and their dad with teaching them about the value of working hard (and quickly) toward their goals and the importance of taking chances.

In 1970, El Chico published a small, spiral bound cookbook of some of the family recipes that they used in the restaurant, along with some others collected from their travels. Hailed as one of the most authentic Tex-Mex cookbooks ever published, it’s now a hard-to-find treasure.  It is in fact, so special and represents such an importantand  integral part of the ethnic American food landscape, that it’s held in special collection at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. We are also very pleased to offer a copy in the kitchen shop. 

Since Cinco de Mayo is coming up this Saturday, on the same day as the Kentucky Derby, we thought it would fun to highlight two vintage recipes from the El Chico cookbook to ring in the festivities. A general crowdpleaser with a ton of creative toppings, these recipes are fun party foods so whether you are celebrating Mexico or Kentucky, or both this weekend, there will be something edible for everyone.

On the menu it’s El Chico’s Homemade Beef Burritos & Ranchera Sauce. Both are really easy to make. You’ll have the whole thing whipped up in under 30 minutes. Each recipe features fresh ingredients with generous amounts of spices, so you can skip buying the taco seasoning packages and the taco sauce at the grocery store. There’s plenty of flavor between the two recipes.  In addition to ground beef, you could also incorporate ground pork, turkey or chicken if you wanted to offer multiple variations.

What’s especially great about the Carne Mexicano recipe is that it includes vinegar which gives it a little bit of tang and de-greases the pan all at once so you don’t need a thickening agent like cornstarch or flour which is included in most commercial taco seasoning packets. As with many vintage recipes, we cut down the salt by 2/3rds, so we recommend starting with our measurement first and adding more to taste if you feel it needs it.

Carne Mexicano for Burritos

2 lbs. ground beef (we used grass-fed beef)

2 tablespoons chili powder

2 tablespoons paprika

2 tablespoons salt (we used only 2 teaspoons)

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 cup vinegar

1/4 cup chopped onion

In a cast-iron pan over medium-high heat brown the beef and onions until cooked through. Add the spices and cook for 1-2 more minutes. Add the vinegar, scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze it. Remove from heat and serve immediately or store mixture in a covered dish and keep warm until ready to serve.

El Chico’s Ranchero Sauce (A La Caballero)

2 cups fresh chopped tomatoes

1/4 cup chopped onions

1/4 cup chopped hot green peppers (we used serrano peppers)

2 tablespoons shortening (we used olive oil)

Salt and Pepper to taste

Saute the onions and peppers in shortening (or olive oil). When the onions are translucent add the tomatoes and simmer over a low fire for five minutes.  Serve it immediately or at room temperature.

Obviously, the hotter your peppers, the spicer your sauce is going to be. This recipe makes about 1/2 cup of sauce so if you are cooking for a crowd you might want to double or triple the recipe. We used serrano peppers which were quite hot so a little bit spooned on top of your Carne Mexicano goes a long way!

There are so many topping options when it comes to burritos, so your creativity can really shine here based on your preferences.  El Chico suggested that their burritos include only cheese, refried beans, Carne Mexicana and the Ranchero Sauce. But we added a bunch of our favorite toppings too which included sour cream, spring lettuce, red onion, mango, tomato, cilantro, avocado and lime juice.  Other possibilities re guacamole, green olives, rice, etc etc. The sky is the limit. Can your burrito ever really have too much stuff?

Coming up tomorrow on the blog, we’ll be sharing our picks for the Kentucky Derby winner, as well as our table decorations for the Derby Party, which tie together both the Mexican theme and the horse theme. If you are planning a party for either event, we’d love to hear how you are celebrating.

In the meantime, cheers to Adelaida and the Cuellar family for sharing their long-time favorite family recipes with all of us. We will definitely be sending a toast their way on Saturday!

Explore more information about the El Chico cookbook here. And learn more about the restaurant chain, still in operation, here. 

Summer Dinner with Sunset: Cold Roast Beef with Whipped Horseradish circa 1962

In 2018, a sunset celebrates its 120th birthday. No, it’s not the anniversary of the blushing pastel sky that shadows overhead just before night (that’s as old as time).  And it is not the commemoration of Billy Wilder’s movie Sunset Blvd (that was 1950) nor the anniversary of the actual naming of the boulevard known as Sunset (that was the early 1900’s).  Instead, we are talking about the kind of sunset that stacks up on your coffee table – Sunset Magazine – one of the oldest, longest running magazines in American publishing history.

For over a century, this West Coast-centric lifestyle publication has been entertaining readers with outdoor recreation, travel, home design, gardening and food-focused articles steeped in the natural beauty of the United States’ Pacific side. Originally produced in 1898 to dispel myths about wild, wooly California, Sunset magazine was created as a marketing and promotional piece for Southern Pacific Railways. Its goal was to encourage tourists to buy land in California so the railway could profit in transportation, tourism, and land ownership sales.  By highlighting the natural beauty of the scenic coastline, the agreeable climate and the sophisticated resort towns of Southern California, in particular, early readers were introduced to the artistic side of the state through nature photography, regional literature, and poetic musings.

Sunset Magazine then, in 1898 (first issue!) and now (the current issue July, 2017)

The up and down decades of the 20th century brought many changes to the magazine’s content, format, and layout but throughout its long life,  Sunset has always inspired readers to get outside and enjoy the natural landscape. The recipe we are featuring today involves just that – a nod towards a relaxed dinner geared for outdoor ease and feast enough for a dozen family members and friends.   It is a perfect packer for the picnic basket or a set-it-and-leave-it sort of arrangement that yields plenty of time for firefly watching or sprinkler swimming or whatever your favorite summer pastimes include.  It is a cold roast beef, cooked early in the amiable hours of the day,  and then put away to chill in the fridge until hungry appetites demand to be fed.

The recipe comes from the 1962 Dinner Party Cook Book compiled by the editorial staff of Sunset Magazine. This very cool collection features a wide assortment of party menu recipes that coincide with big and small occasions throughout the year. Birthday parties, graduations, theme night dinners, and holidays are all tackled with a wealth of ingenuity and imagination in the menu planning department. Our cold roast beef fell under the theme of an Easy Summer Dinner, combining a selection of dishes that were cool to the palate and required little heating (other than baking the roast).

Temperatures have been heat-wavish here in the South reaching 100 degrees for the past week with even higher heat index numbers.  This Easy Summer Dinner was just what we needed. The ease comes in a 24-hour red wine, onion and herb marinade and then a quick pop into the oven for 2-3 hours of cooking. Once it comes out of the oven it cools on the counter before heading to the fridge where it chills until dinner time.  The benefits of this dish are many because the roast is large – big enough to feed up to 18 people – which means you could have a lot of leftovers depending on your party size. Here in the Vintage Kitchen, that meant practically a week of additional dinners plus extra for the freezer. From just one roast we made fajitas, beef pot pie, steak salad, stuffed peppers plus two extra nights of the actual recipe. Easy summer dinner indeed!

The recipe calls for a 5-6 lb rump roast which we substituted for a 4 lb. grass-fed beef rump roast.  We like grass-fed beef the best because it’s healthier for humans and because it is a better lifestyle for the cows who forage on open pastures eating only natural grasses instead of being lumped together on feedlots eating only grain. If you try this recipe and incorporate grass-fed beef too, there are a couple of factors that need to be altered. Grass-fed beef cooks faster since it is much leaner than grain-fed beef so it’s important to pay attention to the roasting time.  Instructions for both types of beef are included with the recipe here, depending on your own preferences. Other than that, this very easy dinner is as promised – very easy.  And the whipped horseradish is the perfect accompaniment so definitely don’t forget it.

Sunset’s Beef A La Mode

(serves 12-18)

5 – 6 lb. rump roast (or 5-6 lb. grass-fed beef rump roast)

2 cups dry red table wine

1 onion, sliced

1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme

1/4 teaspoon crushed whole black pepper

1 bay leaf

Flour seasoned with salt and pepper

1/4 cup beef fat, shortening or oil

1 cup tomato puree

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup grated horseradish

Place the roast in a large bowl and cover with the wine, onion, thyme, black pepper and bay leaf. Marinate for 24 hours in the fridge,  turning a few times throughout the marinade process.

After 24 hours, remove the meat from the marinade, setting the marinade aside for future use.  Let the beef warm up to room temperature before patting it dry and dusting it all over with the flour/salt/pepper mixture.

In a Dutch Oven brown meat on all sides in the beef fat, shortening or oil. If you are using grass-fed beef do this step in a hot skillet with 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Sear meat about a minute per side on all sides.

Seared on all sides and ready for the oven.

Pour the marinade and the tomato puree in the Dutch oven, cover and bake at 350 degrees for 3-4 hours or until fork-tender. If you are using grass-fed beef, after searing, place in Dutch oven or a large casserole dish, add the marinade and tomato puree and top the roast with three pats of butter. Cover and bake at 425 for 20 minutes then turn the oven off and keep the roast in there for two hours, being careful to not open the oven door for the entire time.

You want the internal temperature of your roast to be about 135 degrees when finished. Once your roast is done, remove it from the oven and let it rest at room temperature until it is cool. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

While your roast is cooling, in a small bowl, whip together the sour cream, mayonnaise, and horseradish in a bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Once dinner time arrives, thinly slice the roast beef, arrange on plates and drizzle with the horseradish mixture.

The original 1962 recipe included side dishes of hominy, watercress salad and sesame seed crusted toast points. While those sound lovely we skipped those dishes and served our grass fed roast beef with a simple side salad of mixed greens tossed in a homemade lime vinaigrette. It was simple and complimentary and easy. The words of the day!

If you time your dinner and your day right, you’ll be able to experience two sunsets at once. One a feast for your eyes, the other a feast for your belly. Hope you find this vintage recipe as effortless as we did.

Explore 61 other 1960’s themed menus in The Dinner Party Cook Book available in the Vintage Kitchen Shop here.

New to grass-fed beef cooking? Visit the website of our favorite grass-fed beef vendor at the Nashville Farmers Market and learn more.

Cheers to easy summer nights and to the good friends that fill them.

Taco Tuesday: In the Vintage Kitchen

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In 1963, a new edition of a popular 12 year old cookbook was published by Beverly Pepper.

glamour magazine's after five cookbook

The cookbook was Glamour Magazine’s New After Five Cookbook containing a year’s worth of dinner recipes designed for the young modern woman who didn’t have a lot of extra time to sit down and menu plan. With an audience comprised primarily of busy career girls, new mothers, college grads, young marrieds and the over extended singleton…

photo via pinterest
photo via pinterest

the After Five Cookbook was a dream come true. Broken down by month and then further by week, each section begins with a pantry staple list needed for the month followed by a weekly shopping list of all ingredients needed over the next six days..

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The recipes are laid out from from Sunday to Friday of each week with Saturday of course left out, assuming either a night off, a party engagement or better yet, a dinner date out.

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The last twenty pages contain special large-scale menus ideal for holidays or house parties when ladies were cooking for a crowd.

photo via pinterest
photo via pinterest

This is the section where Ms. Jeannie found the recipe for this blog post – a feast of flavor (or a gourmet gangfest as Beverley Pepper liked to call it) that serves eight but could easily be doubled or tripled to feed the proverbial army. Time is always short-handed in December so while this recipe does take two hours to prepare, it freezes wonderfully, sits well in a chafing dish, makes excellent leftovers and transports easily if you are tailgating or pot-lucking your way through the month.

Mexican Beef with Olives

Mexican Beef with Olives (serves 6-8)

3 lbs. cubed grass-fed stew beef

4 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 lb. ground grass-fed beef

2 minced garlic cloves

3 green peppers, cut in 1″inch strips

6 onions, chopped

2 tblsp. tomato paste

6 dashes Tabasco sauce (or equivalent hot sauce)

3 tblsp. chili powder

3 cups chicken broth

2 cans corn kernels, drained but reserve the liquid

1 cup spanish olives, sliced

salt and pepper (to taste)

  1. In a large pan, brown the stew beef, ground beef, garlic, peppers and onions in the olive oil over medium high heat until the beef is browned and the onions begin to caramelize.
  2. Add the tomato paste, tabasco, chili powder, salt and pepper to the pan and mix well.
  3. Add the chicken broth, reduce heat to medium, cover and simmer for one hour.
  4. Add the corn kernals and simmer uncovered for an additional 30-45 minutes until most of the liquid is consumed.
  5. The mixture at this point should be thick and saucy, if it looks too liquidy or thin let it simmer longer, if it looks too dry add some of the reserved liquid from the drained corn kernels. Once the mixture reaches the desired consistency, add the olives and stir thoroughly over medium heat for 4 minutes.
  6. If you prepare this dish ahead of time add the olives just before reheating.
  7. Serve with rice, soft tortillas, hard tacos and lime wedges.

Mexican Beef with Olives

Ms. Jeannie served her tacos with white rice that was lightly tossed with freshly squeezed lime juice (half of a lime), a touch of salt and a few dashes of cumin.  Other serving options that would be equally delicious include: sour cream, cheddar cheese, cilantro, and/or sliced mango.

Fun for family and friends, this recipe only gets better as it sits in the fridge making leftovers and quick dinner reheats fast and easy throughout the week. A fun gift for food bloggers, kitchen experimenters and vintage cookbook lovers, the After Five Cookbook is available here.

Happy cooking dear readers!

 

The Post-Derby Post: A Minty Affair

The mint julep is always the star of the show at the Kentucky Derby in the drinks department.  But when Ms. Jeannie’s own party plans got significantly waylaid this year, she decided instead of going all the traditional routes she was going to mix things up a bit. Instead of the mint julep, she created the Minty Donberry…

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Which was a glass of chardonnay with a spring of mint and a slice of strawberry. Like a mini sangria, it was light and refreshing and looked pretty from the side…

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Instead of traditional red roses, she went white and peach and purple in the flower department…

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with bouquets of lilacs, snowballs, flowering dogwood and clematis.

And instead of a formal sit-down dinner following the race she went with a smattering of appetizers for a more informal cocktail party-like atmosphere.  The favorite of the appetizers was a sausage and mint brown rice meatball accompanied by a cucumber mint raita sauce.  It was a nice match with the Minty Donberry, easy to prepare ahead of time and made a lot.  So even though there was no julep –  mint was still a main attraction!

Here’s the recipe…

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Sausage and Mint Brown Rice Meatballs with Minty Cucumber Raita Sauce…

For the Meatballs

1 lb. ground grass-fed organic sausage

1 cup cooked brown rice

1 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

1 egg, lightly beaten (preferably free range organic!)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup milk

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon allspice

Prepare brown rice ahead of time and let cool. Add all ingredients together in a bowl and mix until well-combined. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour (up to one day – if you want to prepare ahead). All ingredients should look evenly dispersed throughout the mixture, like this…

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Roll into 18 golf-ball sized meatballs or smaller if you want to make a miniature version. Bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Turn each meatball once and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes until the meatballs turn golden brown. This may require a little more or a little less cooking time depending on the size of your meatballs. Also, Ms. Jeannie broiled hers for the last couple of minutes to get a nice dark brown crust on each.

 

For the Minty Cucumber Raita…

1/2 large cucumber – peeled, seeds removed and then grated

1 cup sour cream

1/8 cup chopped fresh mint

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon honey mustard ( Ms. Jeannie used Inglehoffer’s which is a German mustard)

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Place grated cucumbers in a paper towel and squeeze out all the extra liquid. Then combine all ingredients in a bowl until thoroughly mixed. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.  Makes 2 cups of raita.

Arrange the meatballs on a platter alongside the raita. Ms. Jeannie served her sauce in her grandmother’s 1930’s teacup – which looked pretty! If you want to garnish the plate you can use (you guessed it) fresh mint or dill. But the meatballs don’t last long once out among the party crowd so you may not want to even bother!

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Ms. Jeannie was rooting for longshot Wildcat Red…

wildcat_red

and even though he didn’t win – it was still a great race! Now it is on to the Preakness to see if California Chrome will become a Triple Crown winner. Ms. Jeannie’s two best friends couldn’t make last night’s party so they’ve all decided to get together for round two on May 17th to watch the Preakness. It might just be a California themed event!