To Marina Espino Garcia, comida y familia (food and family) go together. With a family of seven children, 14 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, Garcia is the matriarch of not only her family, but also of the memorable 1970s Garcia’s Mexican Restaurants, some of the earliest Mexican eateries in Kansas City.
Born in Guanajuato, Mexico, Garcia came to the United States in 1950 as a 26-year-old bride to Carlos, who died in 1992 after 42 years of marriage. Today, she is at home in her Prairie Village kitchen.
Garcia’s oldest two daughters — Vickie Worrel of Olathe and Marina O’Sullivan of Leawood — say their mother shows her love through the food she makes from scratch. “One of my earliest memories is washing dishes on a red step stool in the kitchen,” Worrel says. “Our mother showed us a taste of her Mexican home through the food she made.”
“Mamaíta is a lover of the arts, and growing up, she showed us how we could do anything — from sewing, to playing the piano, to dancing,” O’Sullivan says. “Cooking is an art to her as she still cooks for us all and remains the heartbeat of our family.”
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Q: What are your plans for Mother’s Day this Sunday?
A: If the weather is beautiful, the whole family usually meets outside in a park, because only in the great outdoors is there enough space to accommodate everyone. I feel so blessed to have my seven angels as children — and that goes to the next generation, and the generation after that. We enjoy having picnics together and everyone brings food to share. We eat, laugh and enjoy music when we are together. Food and music are core elements in all our gatherings.
Q: Are there misconceptions in the United States about what authentic Mexican food is?
A: The food I make is Guanajuatense, which is not spicy. When people say they want their Mexican food spicy, I hand them hot sauce to season their own food. You need to add spices gradually in Mexican cooking. In the end, there shouldn’t be one flavor standing out, it should be a blend of spices and fresh ingredients, including garlic, onion, oregano, cumin, chili powder and cilantro.
Americans love cheese, but that is not part of authentic Mexican food. When we opened Garcia’s in Waldo, people didn’t even know how to pronounce “taco.” My husband grew up working in his family’s restaurant — Las Palmas, which started in 1948 on Prospect Avenue — so he and I worked together with our family to make our own restaurants work.
Q: Tomorrow a lot of people are going to use Cinco de Mayo as an excuse to party and eat Mexican food. Will you also be celebrating?
A: Many people think Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of Mexico’s Independence Day, which is actually on Sept. 16 to honor Mexico’s freedom from Spanish rule in 1810. Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Mexican victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla in 1862.
Growing up in Mexico, we didn’t really celebrate Cinco de Mayo. But as Mexicans, we don’t really need an excuse to get together to have a good time, so Cinco de Mayo can be another reason to get together. I am proud of my heritage and that we raised our children to know Mexican traditions and food. But I am also proud to be American and never take for granted the freedoms we enjoy. I think everyone has a little Mexican in them on Cinco de Mayo.
Q: Of so many savory dishes in your repertoire, why did you choose this sweet recipe to share?
A: Everyone loves cake and what a wonderful dessert to try for your own mother this Sunday. This family recipe has been translated by Vickie and is the made-from-scratch version recipe for Pastel Imposible. It is called the “impossible cake” because, as it bakes in the pan, the flan portion sinks to the bottom. When the cake is turned out of its pan, the flan is on top of the chocolate cake.
This is the long recipe for bizcocho de chocolate or chocolate cake, but for a quicker version, you can make one that uses a cake mix. It is like a tiny miracle every time this cake comes out of the oven, and while this one has orange flavoring, you can also experiment by adding a teaspoon of instant coffee for a coffee-flavored flan instead of the orange peel. You can turn every one of your special occasions into impossibly magical ones with a Pastel Imposible.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org to nominate a cook.
Impossible Cake (or Pastel Imposible)
Makes 16 servings
For the caramel:
1 cup sugar
For the cake:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar, divided use
1/2 cup, 1 tablespoon softened butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup crema de leche (see note)
For the flan:
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (12 ounce) can evaporated milk
1 (8 ounce) package softened cream cheese
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 orange, zested, divided use
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a Bundt cake pan by coating it with nonstick cooking spray and set aside. Using an oven-safe pot that will easily accommodate the prepared Bundt cake pan inside it, fill the pot a quarter full with water and place in oven to prepare the bain-marie or water bath.
To prepare caramel: Pour sugar into a heavy-bottomed, high-sided saucepan and heat over low on the stovetop. Using a wooden spoon, stir sugar constantly until it dissolves and liquefies.
Put down spoon. Holding the handle of saucepan, gently tilt and swirl melted sugar over low heat as it turns an amber color and caramelizes. The caramel is finished when a candy thermometer reads at least 340 degrees or melted sugar is golden brown. Be careful, as the sugar can burn quickly, and if it does, begin the process again.
Pour finished caramel into prepared Bundt pan and set aside.
To make the cake: In a large mixing bowl, sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt together. Set aside.
In a separate large mixing bowl, whip egg whites until soft peaks form and slowly add 1/4 cup sugar, continuing to beat until stiff peaks form. Set aside.
In a clean mixing bowl, cream butter with remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Add egg yolks, one at a time, and beat until well incorporated. Beat in vanilla and crema de leche.
Slowly incorporate dry sifted ingredients into mixture and beat until just combined. Slowly fold egg whites by hand into cake batter and pour into Bundt pan. Set aside.
To make the flan: Into the bowl of a blender, pulse eggs, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, cream cheese, vanilla and 1 teaspoon orange zest until well combined. Carefully pour over cake batter in prepared Bundt pan.
Carefully place into bain-marie in oven and bake for 90 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Carefully remove pan from oven and allow to cool to room temperature. Place in refrigerator for at least 3 hours, to allow cake to chill completely.
Before serving, invert Bundt pan onto serving plate, revealing the flan on top and cake on the bottom. Garnish the top with remaining orange zest and chocolate curls, if desired.
Note: Garcia uses the Nestlé brand of crema de leche.
Per serving: 368 calories (44 percent from fat), 18 grams total fat (11 grams saturated), 143 milligrams cholesterol, 45 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams protein, 262 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.