Mike Gonzalez had a hankering for his grandmother’s cooking when the Internet failed him.
“I was literally looking for a recipe one day,” he says. “So I Googled ‘Hispanic Food Network’ because I thought … the Food Network has probably captured this market, but nothing came up.
“I was just looking for arroz con pollo, a Cuban chicken and rice. I’m from Miami, so I was kind of looking for something different. I usually use mojo in my chicken and rice and I was longing for my grandmother’s recipe.”
That’s when KXLY’s morning co-anchor saw an opportunity. With the help of a friend and colleague, he snapped up Internet domain names for Hispanic Food Network ( www.hfntv.com) and other related sites and started dreaming.
“Our economy is so tenuous and journalists are being shuttled out the door,” he says. “As our business dissipates and becomes so fractured you almost have to look for something else that you can do to sustain yourself down the line.
“I kind of looked at it as an opportunity to build something and eventually be able to get out of local news. Not that I don’t love it, because I love going to work every day… but not waking up at 3 every morning is a goal for me, too.”
But it is Gonzalez’s early morning schedule that has given him the time to work on the centerpiece show for his Hispanic Food Network site, “En La Cocina” (“In the Kitchen”).
He’s writing and producing the show, which features Latin cooking and culture in the Northwest. It airs on KXLY-4 on weekends, as well as on ABC affiliates in Yakima and the Tri-Cities. He’s hoping to get the show into the Seattle, Portland, Boise and Missoula markets.
“The station has allowed me the opportunity to do it,” Gonzalez says. “They’ve given me the venue. They said if you can produce a show we’ll put it on, but it’s got to be good.”
While his mother is Puerto Rican (his father is German-Irish), Gonzalez has shared his love of all types of Hispanic food on his show.
Born in Miami, he landed in Spokane a little more than two years ago after working for news stations in Nebraska, Missouri and North Carolina.
He gets to work by 3:30 a.m. for the morning show and is usually done by lunchtime. That’s when he works on interviews, filming, writing and editing for “En La Cocina.”
Oh, and weekends are dedicated to the Hispanic Food Network, Gonzalez says.
“I’m probably working 18 hours a day,” he says. “There was one night that I was up until midnight editing and then I went to work the next day. We’ve come far with not a lot of capital.”
Gonzalez, who is recently divorced, also balances work and the new network with family time. His son is in kindergarten and his daughter is a third-grader.
And he recently became the president of the local Hispanic Business Professional Association.
He does have some help. Gonzalez’s colleague and friend Dwight Finney does some editing and producing. He’s the one who helped launch the network with advice for purchasing the domain names.
Another partner, Louie Flores, is a “Cuban guy from South Florida that I met on the set of a movie,” Gonzalez says.
He and Flores were working as extras for a show filmed in Spokane when they started talking about their backgrounds.
“It just happens that Louie loves to cook and he’s working on a bed and breakfast,” Gonzalez says.
A former mortgage broker, Flores helps coordinate operations and receipts for the venture.
Learning to cook
Since Gonzalez first started working on his cooking show in September, he’s traced tortillas made from local Shepherd’s Grain flour from the food lab at Washington State University in Pullman to the factory at DeLeon’s on Francis Avenue where they’re made.
He’s profiled Carla and Kiko Barajas, who started as server and dishwasher respectively at Azteca Mexican restaurant 23 years ago, and now are partners in three restaurants, including Azteca Northpointe, Spokane Valley and Coeur d’Alene.
He’s traveled to Seattle for a segment which featured Anna Castro, who immigrated to the United States and cleaned hotel rooms for a decade before opening her Seattle-area Salvadorian bakery.
“Our philosophy on it has been to tell the story behind the food,” Gonzalez says. “It’s not necessarily just a show where we are just cooking. We’re going to tell you the story of the restaurant and what went into it.
“I’ve really taken a journalistic perspective to it. I think if I was a cooking expert – which I’m not – I would look at it differently. But I want to tell people’s stories.”
Gonzalez has featured the Latin-inspired flavors at Sandpoint’s Oshii Sushi, cooked Cuban ahi tuna with Wild Sage chef Alexa Wilson, and made salsas with Frank and Lynne Wiedemann of the Coeur d’Alene-based Cook with US and with Taco Chic Juanita Carmack of Post Falls.
He also made tamales with Mario DeLeon, at DeLeon Foods, in an episode that kept people coming in to the store for masa long after Christmas, when Mexican families traditionally make them.
Sergio DeLeon says the show has drawn people from across the state into the store for ingredients and advice. Gonzalez was at DeLeon’s again recently to film a segment for “En La Cocina” that featured different kinds of chilies and how they are used in Latin cooking.
“To us this is kind of our bailout,” Sergio DeLeon says. “The government is bailing out all these banks and stuff. This show is our bailout.”
Gonzalez says he loves the feedback he’s gotten from viewers and is learning how to cook different dishes than those he grew up with in Miami.
“I’m not really a cook, I just love Latin food,” he says. “I’ve learned a lot about Mexican cooking. It’s a lot different than Puerto Rican and Cuban food.
“There are differences in the use of the chilies, the cilantro, just the different spices they use. For me, it’s always a learning experience.”
Gonzalez says he worried at first that he wouldn’t have enough material from the area for a Hispanic Food Network. Now, he has a backlog.
“People are coming to me and saying they want to be on the show,” he says.
Mike’s Mom’s Cuban Mojo Chicken
Mike Gonzalez grew up in Miami. This is one of his favorite recipes for chicken. He says, “It’s a unique way Cubans prepare chicken. Although my mother’s Puerto Rican, she would make it for dinner often.”
For the mojo seasoning sauce:
2 tablespoons onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1 dash ground bay leaves
1 dash black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon sherry
½ teaspoon vinegar
For the chicken:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
6 cloves garlic, crushed
½ onion, sliced in rings
Olive oil, for frying
Fresh parsley, to garnish
To make the mojo, mix onion and garlic, along with the spices, salt and pepper in a bowl. Add these to a pan which has heated olive oil in it. Cook just until onion becomes translucent and then add lime juice, water, sherry and vinegar; simmer about 5 minutes. It should yield about ½ cup sauce.
To make the chicken, pierce meat in several places with long fork prongs and place in nonreactive (glass or stainless steel) bowl. Combine onions, garlic and mojo seasoning sauce. Pour mixture over chicken. Cover and marinate in refrigerator for about 1 hour; if you have time to marinate the chicken overnight it intensifies the flavor.
Remove chicken breasts from marinade, pat dry and fry in olive oil until they are golden brown. Place chicken on a serving platter and keep warm.
Remove onion and garlic from marinade and brown in same pan. Sprinkle over chicken and garnish with parsley.
Yield: 4-6 servings
Dominican Soup for Your Soul
From Mike Gonzalez, Hispanic Food Network. “Every culture has its version of chicken soup. When you feel a need for comfort food or a light meal, try this tropical twist on an old-fashioned favorite,” he says. “This recipe uses calabaza (West Indian pumpkin). If you can’t find it locally, try Hubbard or acorn squash as a substitute. This soup recipe is also great for using up leftover chicken.”
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 pounds cooked chicken, skinned, boned, cut into small pieces
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1/2 cup celery, chopped into cubes
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon white pepper, or to taste
1 tablespoon dried cilantro (see note)
2 cups calabaza, peeled, seeded and cubed
10 cups water
8 ounces angel hair pasta
Heat olive oil in a soup pot.
Add chicken, bouillon cubes, celery, garlic, salt, pepper, and dried cilantro. Sauté for 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the squash and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes.
Break up the angel hair pasta and add to the pot. Stir frequently until noodles are tender. Remove from the heat and serve.
Note: If dried cilantro is not available, substitute dried parsley.
Yield: 6 servings
Salsa de Orizaba
Gonzalez recently featured Lynne and Frank Wiedemann of Cook with US. The Coeur d’Alene couple opened a cooking school in Todos Santos in Mexico, but were forced to close after a series of arson fires. They’re now teaching some of their cooking classes at The Greenbriar Inn. Look for more information a cookwithus.com or call (208) 665-0282.
This recipe was featured in Gonzalez’s story. The Wiedemanns say, “This is our rendition of the peanut salsa we enjoyed in Orizaba. It took quite a few tries to duplicate the taste and flavor, we hope you like the results.”
8 to 10 roma tomatoes, cut in half, seeds removed
1 medium white onion, quartered
6 cloves garlic, unpeeled
3 to 4 dried guajillo chilies
3 to 4 chipotle chilies
1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
1 tablespoon Mexican oregano, dried
1 tablespoon coriander, ground
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cups Spanish peanuts, roasted
Roast the tomatoes, onion and garlic on a hot comal or cast iron skillet. Turn occasionally so they blister evenly. As each ingredient softens and blackens in spots, remove from heat. Allow to cool. Remove papery skins from garlic.
While vegetables roast, submerge guajillo chilies and chipotle chilies in a bowl of very hot water for approximately 15 minutes. Remove softened chilies from liquid; reserve 1 cup.
Bring 1 cup fresh water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add roasted vegetables (tomato, onion and garlic) and salt, oregano, coriander and black pepper. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes until most of the liquid evaporates. Cool.
While the tomato mixture cooks, chop or crush the roasted peanuts in a molcajete or with a mortar and pestle. Set aside.
In a blender puree the guajillo and chipotle chilies and crushed peanuts in 1 cup reserved liquid. Blend until smooth and creamy. Add the tomato mixture to blender and pulse just until blended.
Serve salsa at room temperature or refrigerate for up to one week.
Yield: 3 cups