THE TABLE: Explore cuisine from Cancun in the Gulf of Mexico

The Gulf of Mexico is an ocean basin surrounded by the North American continent. This includes Mexico, Cuba and the United States. The United States bordering it are Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas. The Gulf is broken in down to seven areas stretching from Key West Florida to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

The shape is roughly an oval and is 810 nautical miles wide. The floor is made up of sedimentary rocks. Due to the continental shelves, about one-half is quite shallow. There are many hypotheses to the forming of this basin of water. The Gulf of Mexico was formed over 300 million years ago. Before that time, it is believed to have been cover by land.

European explorer Amerigo Vespucci was the first to discover the Gulf in 1497. Christopher Columbus’s expedition only got as far as Cuba.

The U.S. coast portion covers 1,680 miles, receiving the flow of 33 major rivers. The Mexican coast is 1,743 miles for a total of 3,423 miles. Yet, the distance from Key West, Fla., to Cancun, Mexico, is 368 miles over water. Finishing out the oval is the island of Cuba.

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Warm Atlantic Ocean currents known as the Gulf Stream are known to aid in the development of tropical storms. These warm currents feed powerful dangerous systems that create Atlantic hurricanes. It is not unheard of for earthquakes to accrue, but usually not over 5.0 in the Richter scale.

A major pollution contributor is oil drilling and agriculture runoff. There is believed to be approximately 27,000 abandoned oil and gas rigs in the Gulf waters. “Red Tide” algae plagues Florida from the south and southwest — from Key West north to Paso County. Poor agriculture practices along the Florida Panhandle adds to algae problems, causing lack of oxygen in the water.

The Florida Panhandle (West Florida) is located 200 miles along the coast and varies from 50 to 100 miles north. The largest city is Tallahassee, and it is the state capital of Florida. Many residents in this area migrated from Alabama and consider themselves more in line with Alabama than Florida.

The entire Gulf Coast is made up of lagoons, inlets and bays along with marshlands. The east side (Florida) offers stunningly gorgeous sunsets, soft sand, clear waters and great fishing. On the west side (Mexico), it offers a unique and rich area at times known as “Paradise.”

To travel overland between Key West and Cancun would be about 3,500 miles. To fly the distances between the two places takes about one-hour flight time. But if you travel the distance by car or bus ,you would be able to visit so many great cities and places, such as New Orleans, Mexico City and all the places in between.

Back in March 2016, The Table highlighted Key West, so today let us look at Cancun. The pronunciation is “Kaan Kun”, often called “Concoon.” The city is located on the eastern most part of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Originally, the area was inhabited by the Mayan people. There remain several pre-Columbian Mayan structures in Cancun’s Hotel Zone. More substantial sites are located outside the city limits. As their population dwindled, only small settlements remained. In the early 1970s, the area began to develop in a resort area catering to visitors from near and far. About 4.8 million visitors annually vacation in this area.

Mexican food is noted to be quite spicy with hot peppers of many varieties. To some, the hotter the better, but to me, to over spice (heat) doesn’t allow you to taste the true flavor of the ingredients in a dish.

The fusion of our southwest and Mexican ingredients is called Tex-Mex, which is known to be high on the heat gauge. Many of the foods of Mexico are mild and delicious without all the heat.

TRADITIONAL MEXICAN TOSTADAS

Corn tortillas (1-2 per serving)

1 to 2 cups oil for frying

15 oz. can refried beans

1 lb. ground meat

Fresh herbs & seasonings of choice

TOPPINGS

Tomatoes and lettuce (chopped)

Avocado slices

Shredded cheese

Salsa

Mexican Crema*

Brown meat in skillet. Add in herbs and seasonings. Set aside. Heat oil in a deep frying pan or shallow pot. Fry one to two tortillas at a time until firm. Drain on paper towels. Spread each fried tortilla with refried beans. Add chopped tomatoes, lettuce and browned meat. Top with avocado slices, cheese, salsa and Mexican Crema*.

*You can purchase Mexican Crema at the market or make your own by combining 1 cup sour cream, 1 cup heavy cream and 1 teaspoon salt.

EASY GUACAMOLE

Serve with tortilla chips or as a topping

2 avocados

1 small onion (finely chopped)

1 clove garlic (finely sliced)

1 ripe tomato (chopped)

Juice of 1 lime

Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and pit avocados. In a bowl, mash avocado meat. Add in remaining ingredients, lime juice last. Chill for at least one hour so flavors blend with each other.

QUESO FUNDIDO with CHORIZO

Bubbling and steamy

1 tbsp. oil

5 oz. Mexican Chorizo

12 oz. Monterey or Oaxaca cheese (2½ cups)

Floured tortillas or tortilla chips

1½ cups roasted salsa

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grate cheese and remove chorizo from castings. Heat oil and cook chorizo for about six to eight minutes breaking into pieces. Drain cooked chorizo on paper towels to absorb grease. In an oven-proof dish or terra cotta dish, place cooked chorizo on bottom (serve 1/8 cup for garnish). Place grated cheese on top and bake for 10 to 12 minutes until cheese is melted; do not over bake. Sprinkle top with set aside chorizo. Serve with flour tortillas or chips along with salsa on the side.

CELEBRATE LIFE EVERY DAY!

Let me hear from you: banjack303@verizon.net. Search YouTube for “Look Who’s Cooking with Bette Banjack,” as well phoenixvillenews.com (search bar: Banjack) for this column. Find Bette on Facebook by searching “Bette Banjack’s Downtown Kitchen.”