I think by now I've established that I'm not the world's greatest cook. I can prepare a meal that's both nourishing and delicious, at least to my non-Mexican taste buds, and I've become more comfortable improvising recipes over the past year. This is especially important when following an American cookbook.
I registered for several cookbooks when we were married and among my favorites is Rachael Ray's 365: No Repeats. She takes a recipe then changes up main ingredients so you learn to mix and match things on your own. This is very helpful for those of us who spent more time in restaurants and the frozen food aisle than the kitchen.
I've had to take that knowledge and step it up a notch since moving to Mexico. While the basics are more or less the same, there's always one thing that I just cannot find at the market. We've made alioli sauce with lime instead of lemon (tastes the same) and our experiment with Thai food resulted in a pink curry that thankfully still tasted all right.
The recipe I've chosen for today is Pork Chops in a Sweet Chili and Onion Sauce with Garlic Mashed Potatoes. Right there I've already made a change. Ms. Ray calls for Creamy Cilantro Potato Salad but I'd much rather have mashed. I'm keeping the cilantro so there's some green on the plate. I'm skipping the ingredients I don't like or didn't feel like buying for this one dish (celery and black pepper) and regular Idaho potatoes will stand in for russet.
The ingredient that's stirring the pot? Dark brown sugar.
This is essential. You can't have sweet chili and onion sauce without the sugar! The only form I found in the store is Splenda Brown Sugar. My husband won't touch regular Splenda so I doubt he'd appreciate me cooking with it. Plus it was expensive. We searched the market this morning but no one sells it loose; you have to buy a gigantic bag. As this is the first time I've needed brown sugar in almost a year it would end up shoved in the back of the cupboard and serve as additional bait for the ants.
Finally Ibis told me what to use. "That." he said, pointing at a solid cone that looked vaguely like chocolate, but more of a caramel color. It's four inches tall and the base is an inch in diameter. Reminds me of a giant pencil tip.
"Isn't that chocolate?" I asked.
He confirmed with the cashier and reassured me that it's the closest thing to brown sugar they have. It cost all of 3 pesos (that's about a third of a cent) so I tossed it in the bag with the rest of our groceries.
Now, do you see the problem? Have you guessed what I'll be doing after I finish this post? Yes, I'll be grinding, grating and chopping the solid hunk of sugar so it acts like it's supposed to when I throw it in the sauce. I suppose this makes me a better person or something like that, but I sometimes can't believe I've become a woman who spends over an hour preparing a meal.