Clementina Llanes transforms humble Mexican dishes into exquisite fare on her blog, A Little Cup of Mexican Hot Chocolate. Shown here are beautiful, handmade tamales. (Photo/Courtesy Clementina Llanes)

Food blogs we love: A Little Cup of Mexican Hot Chocolate

Who’s blogging: My name is Clementina Llanes.  I never thought in a million years that I would become a blogger, much less a Mexican food crusader of sorts, a champion of homemade chiles rellenos and nopales (cactus sans the stingers, of course), but I guess that is what I am.  My sweet and funny mother Rosa María was a wonderful cook who used to sing ranchera music with a cry in her voice.     Not only did her death break my heart, but she took with her our family’s prized recipes, almost all of them unwritten. We, like so many other families, lost a precious legacy.  So, when a young friend sadly admitted to me that she didn’t know how to cook any of her mom’s dishes—not even beans and rice—that is when the idea of my blog was born.  It was time to start cooking and blogging.

Explain your blog name: I named my blog A Little Cup of Mexican Hot Chocolate because when I was a little girl there was nothing I loved better than drinking a cup of cinnamon-spiced hot chocolate served with a fat toasted bolillo (a Mexican style French bread) smothered in melted butter.  My two sisters and I would sit at the kitchen table drinking hot chocolate while our parents danced to cumbias and ranchero music with friends and family.  At other times, my mamá and papá told us stories of growing up in rural Zacatecas, of our grandparents’ life during the Mexican Revolution—like the times my great-grandfather would hide my grandmother Clementina in an abandoned well whenever revolutionaries or soldiers rode into town. It was a wonderful time of life for me.  To this day, there is no place I would rather be, than to be sitting in a cozy cocina listening to a story with una tacita de chocolate and a toasted buttered bolillo.  I try to bring that same feeling to my blog.

Blogging since: 2008

Blogging from: I live with my husband in the Central Coast of California, north of Santa Barbara.  My community is surrounded by fields of strawberries, cauliflower, lettuce, broccoli, and vineyards of pinot noir wine grapes. I will always consider Los Angeles home, but I love the golden hills, the fresh air and the rugged California coast.

Food blogs we love: A Little Cup of Mexican Hot Chocolate clementina llanesedit food NBC Latino News

Clementina Llanes transforms food not only with her extraordinary culinary skill, but with the poise and beauty with which she writes about them. (Photo/Courtesy Clementina Llanes)

Most popular post: The Pumpkin Moon Empanadas recipe is my most popular post, so popular that I have written a children’s book based on the story.  It will be published in this fall – look for it on my blog! My post titled La Rancherita’s Pot of Beans is a love story of a poor little cook who wins the heart of a handsome charro.  It was inspired by the life of my mother. Another favorite is The Tragic Tale of the Demon Rooster. How that diabolical piece of poultry that terrorized us all became the best chicken soup I have ever tasted is quite a story!

What you’ve learned about food while blogging: Food is powerful.  Nothing stirs up memories like a delicious home cooked meal made just the way your abuelita made it. The face of Mexican food is changing, as it should because we live in a modern world. Avant-garde Mexican food has become quite fashionable, and I for one, am very happy about that.  I love creativity and innovation.  But if truth be told, my heart belongs to the old traditional dishes.  Those Mexican cooks of long ago sure knew how to take a few simple (and sometimes, unloved) ingredients and turn them into a fabulous feast. Going back to la cocina and cooking the dishes of those strong, self-sacrificing women who are our mamás and abuelas will fill, not just our stomachs, but our corazones, too.  I love other cuisines—French and Japanese are among my favorites—but a bowl of menudo (tripe stew) comforts me in ways Beef Burgundy à la Blah-Blah-Blah never will.

Where do you get inspiration for your posts?  I get my inspiration from all sorts of people and places:  From the food stands of Grand Central Market on Broadway and 3rd Street next to the theater where my parents first met in Downtown LA, to a load of tomatillos scattered by the side of the road, to stories my mother used to tell from the time she worked as a cook and a maid for two stingy old spinsters in Zacatecas, Mexico.  Perhaps it’s the sight of a large pile of guajillo chiles in my local Mexican market.  I’m inspired by the hard-working people who work in the strawberry fields one block away from home and the Mixteco-speaking women from Oaxaca whose delicious food is a source of fascination for me.  Sometimes it is the pieces of conversation I used to hear between my mother-in-law Doña Catalina and a wayward son, or an even a huge orange Pumpkin Moon hanging in the dark sky. . . all of them get thrown into my pot of inspiration.

What have you learned from blogging?  It is amazing to me, that I, a very ordinary person, can sit here in my virtual cocina and share a few stories and recipes with a world-wide audience.  Yes, it can be hard work, from shopping for ingredients, cooking the food, developing the recipes, styling and photographing each dish, to writing the posts, but it has also been very rewarding.  One young woman wrote to me saying she never had a desire to cook, but after reading my blog she learned how to cook all that “fattening” Mexican food and lost 60 lbs.  Very nice!  My nieces read my blog and are learning how to cook.  I believe my mamá would have been proud.

Where else can we find you online? You can find some of my recipes in the Food Section of Mamiverse.

What are your favorite food blogs? I love Yvette and Veronica at Muy Bueno Cookbook. Their Mexican food is different from mine, but I believe that we share the same passion and love for our families and our culinary heritage.  I’m also a fan of Nicole Presley of Presley’s Pantry, who is so cute and spunky – so East LA! And, there’s Javier Cabral, Señor Glutster himself foodie, bon vivant, and loves his mother, though not necessarily in that order.  His feature article on Zacatecas style food in Saveur Magazine brought a little tear to my eye.

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