Category Archives: Food

A Little Miami Fusion in the Heart of Birmingham!

Luis Delgado, owner and operator of Miami Fusion Café in Downtown Birmingham, stands by the door that he refurbished for his new restaurant.

I lived in Puerto Rico from the ages 7-12, and while the island itself held many great memories growing up, the food always bring back so many vivid ones.  I remember going to our church fair and looking forward to getting bacalaitos – cod-fish fritters.  I recently had one in Birmingham and it took me directly back to the church fair when I was 9 years old.  Amazing how food can do that to you.

When I met Luis Delgado, he had his business – Miami Café – operating out of gas station in Alabaster.  I remember going to visit him with my friend, Luis Fernandez to talk to him about participating in Fiesta – Alabama’s largest Hispanic cultural event, as a food vendor.  We enjoyed an amazing lunch that day and I was completely sold on his food from that moment on.

The Miami Fusion Café sign went up in March. A nice addition to the city of Birmingham backdrop!

Fast forward to this past week…Luis has been hard at work since last October, converting the old Cameo Café in downtown Birmingham into his new Miami Fusion Café location!  I’ve been following his short Facebook videos on the progress and challenges of opening a restaurant.  He’s always so honest, and puts it all out there for you to see.  I love that about him.  Many people have been anxiously awaiting the grand opening and that will finally happen on Monday, May 22nd to the delight of many – me included!  I work within walking distance of Luis’ new location and I cannot wait to try everything on his menu!

I was fortunate to be able to attend the soft opening this past Friday.  When I arrived a little after 11 a.m., there were just a few people sitting in the restaurant enjoying their food.  I was taking photos as I entered the Café so that naturally drew a little attention.  I went to the counter and Roxie was ready to take my order and make recommendations.  I thought about going for the Roasted Port  as she suggested, but I remembered seeing a photo of a sushi roll on Facebook and I thought…now THAT’S something you don’t typically see in a Caribbean style restaurant!  So I ordered the Cuban CariMaki Roll and Roxie seemed pleased with my choice!

The yellow and red colors really pop with the art deco design reminiscent of Miami night life!

While I waited for my food, I walked around the restaurant taking photos and spent some time speaking with Luis’ mother – Maria Teresa.  She took me around and showed me some of the artwork displayed in the restaurant and told me there is more to come.  We talked about the art deco style design of the restaurant and also the colors selected.  I love the gold tones of the walls and the red accents in the booth seats.  It gives the store front a tropical vibe.  Later, when Luis was out from the kitchen, he told me and a few other patrons about how he built the bars and added the art deco embellishments by hand.  He also created the new door for the store, after which he commented…”that’s why this took so long!  I did all of this by hand!”  I told him the love and care he put into this place is so evident!  Luis also talked about how he wants to make the bar I was sitting at an active one where maybe one month he is making Cuban sandwiches so people can see how it’s done and then another month serving up ice cream with tropical flavors like tamarindo and mango.  He completely had me at tamarindo…another great memory of Puerto Rico for me!

Cuban CariMaki Roll – first time I’ve had the pleasure of trying this and it was incredible! The sweet plantain on the top was an unexpected surprise flavor!

My food arrived and all I can say is – OMG!!!!  The Cuban CariMaki roll is made with Cuban palomilla steak, tomatoes, lettuce, avocado and grilled onions.   It is topped with sweet plantains which is that surprise flavor you are not expecting when you pop one of these into your mouth!  As I was eating, people were coming into the store and trying to decide what to order and many saw my plate and walked over to have a look.  I know the roasted pork plate was popular on Friday but I do believe my oohing and aahing sold quite a few CariMaki rolls too!

In addition to the main courses, like Masitas, Mofongo and Cuban sandwiches, there are a number of sides you have to try as well.  Several people ordered the tostones, which are green plantains that have been flattened and double fried until they are golden brown with a side of mojo sauce.  Fried Yuca sticks were another favorite – also described as a Caribbean style French fry.  And don’t forget the empanadas – fried pies with your choice of chicken or beef!  I could make a meal out of empanadas alone!

Finally…if you have a bit of a sweet tooth there are some great options to try.  First, the Jesus Cake – also known as Tres Leches (Three Milks) cake and Guava pastry.  You can’t go wrong with either…which is why I got both!  I watched someone say they were just going to take a few bites of the Jesus cake and before you knew it that cake was gone!  If you like creamy desserts, this is the one for you!  The guava pastry is one of those foods that takes me back to Puerto Rico.  Very flaky crust with just a hint of sweetness.  Great with Cuban coffee!

I always love the tidbits of information you get at events like this too.  Luis talked about searching for a man named Fernando who makes the Cuban bread for him.  Fernando was doing other work but when he came to the restaurant it was clear he missed making bread and came on board.  Bread is a huge factor in making Cuban sandwiches!  My next meal at Miami Fusion Café will be a Cuban sandwich…I already know it!  Luis also has big plans for the upstairs of the restaurant with catering and events.  His mind is always twirling with ideas!

After taking a few more photos of the foods leaving the kitchen and talking to a few more patrons, it was time for me to go.  I talked again to Roxie,  who brought me a large bag so I could take my Jesus Cake and guava dessert home.  She said she looked forward to seeing me for lunch on Monday with my husband.  I told her I couldn’t wait to come back often!  We joked how I had camped out at the bar area while I was there.  I told her I didn’t want to leave and that I needed a plaque with my name claiming that spot as my own!   She replied, “well, you’re family when you come in…we want you to stay!”

This was the perfect way for me to leave Miami Fusion Café on Friday.  I felt like family the minute I walked into the restaurant.  I know you will too, so please do yourself a favor and go by if you are in Birmingham.  Luis and his staff are anxious to serve you!

P.S.  On Saturday morning, Luis and his wife, Samantha, added to their lovely family with the birth of a daughter!  Quite a big week for the Delgado family…the restaurant opening and now a new baby!  Congratulations to Luis and Samantha and best wishes for great success with Miami Fusion Café!

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HICA’s Annual Tamale Sale is BACK!

HICA Tamales go on sale Thanksgiving Day!

HICA Tamales go on sale Thanksgiving Day!

I know it’s Thanksgiving Day and you are all probably up to your eyeballs in turkey and dressing…BUT…give some thought to Mexican food too because today is the beginning of the 13th Annual HICA Tamale Sale!!!!!

If you live in the Birmingham area and love tamales, you don’t want to miss out on this fundraiser benefiting the programs of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama  – HICA.  The sale runs through December 11th and orders are taken online with pick up date on December 16th at the HICA offices.  If you work with a Tamale Captain, you may be able to get them delivered to you.  All this information is on the HICA website so be sure to check it out today and place your order.  Flavors include chicken with green sauce, pork with red sauce and MY favorite, cheese and pepper tamales.

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Tamales have become a tradition for many non-Hispanic people in Birmingham over the years of our sale.  It’s definitely a tradition with Mexican families, mine included!  Friends and family get together to have a tamalada (where you make the tamales) and then after they are all made – dozens and dozens – you eat them together!  Tamales are fairly labor intensive to make so they aren’t necessarily made on a regular basis.  Christmas is one of those special times when they are made and we’ve shared this information with the people who return every year to buy tamales from HICA.  They come back and share their stories of eating Christmas tamales with their own families along with salsa and other fixings!  It’s so fun to hear the stories every year during pick up day.  We may try to record a few this year!

Me and Isabel Rubio after filming our tamale sale video this year in he kitchen.

Me and Isabel Rubio after filming our tamale sale video this year in he kitchen.

This year, HICA’s Executive Director, Isabel Rubio and I made an English video that will run beginning Thanksgiving day.  HICA Staff members, Monica Black and Cindy Garcia were on hand to make a Spanish video to run as well.  We gathered in Isabel’s kitchen to made the videos a few weeks ago with Latino News.  And the best part?  We got to eat the tamales afterward!  YUM!!!

Cindy Garcia, Isabel Rubio, me and Monica Black after the tamale videos wrapped up - thanks to Latino News for filming!

Cindy Garcia, Isabel Rubio, me and Monica Black after the tamale videos wrapped up – thanks to Latino News for filming!

Being a part of the HICA Tamale Sale is one of my favorite things to do each year as a board member!  If you’ve never tried our tamales before, I encourage you to give them a try this year.  They are simply the best and hopefully this will be the beginning of a new holiday tradition for you and your family!

Fiesta 2016 – Some of my Favorite Photos

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Drummer for Los Canarios on the Fiesta Coca Cola Main Stage

We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day!  The sky was blue and the temperature reached the low 80s and the sun made itself known throughout the day.  After the constant drizzle of the previous year, this was so welcomed to the Fiesta board, volunteers and especially the patrons!

Approximately 14,000 people made their way to Linn Park in downtown Birmingham for the 14th annual Fiesta event on Saturday, September 24.  My favorite things to do every single year is to walk the park, visiting all the booths and meeting and greeting all the nonprofits, businesses and vendors who come to be a part of this incredible event.  I take their photos, welcome the new folks and catch up with old friends along the way.

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A little girl wearing a traditional Mexican dress gets her nails painted in the Family Village.

One of the highlights of this years event was the competition between countries in the Cultural Village – the heart of Fiesta.  A group of judges went through – anonymously – and voted on the best country booth based on presentation and creativity.   This year the Mexico won the competition and took home $500!  Next year, the stakes will be even higher as the best country booth will walk away with $1,000!

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A collage of photos from past Fiestas adorned the Mexico booth in the Cultural Village. The Mexico booth won the first ever competition of Cultural Village country booths!

By the way…next year will be Fiesta’s 15th year anniversary – our quinceanera…and we have big things planned for this milestone!  Mark your calendars for Saturday, September 30, 2017, for Fiesta 2017 and stay tuned for an event packed year leading up to this great event!

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Mark your calendar for Fiesta 2017!!!!!

Meanwhile…please enjoy some of my favorite photos from this year’s Fiesta!

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A Little Turkish Culture

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The “official” flyer for the Turkish Food Fest. This is the 3rd year for the event.

Three years ago I found out about the Istanbul Cultural Center in Hoover.  I was participating in the FBI Citizens Academy that fall and I met fellow classmate, Umut Gunebir, Executive Director of the Center. The following year, Umut invited me to visit the center to learn more about Turkish culture and events they conduct there.    So, of course, I liked their Facebook page so I could stay current with the center’s activities.

Last year, I heard the Turkish Food Festival was being planned and I was really looking forward to attending.  Unfortunately, the date turned out to be the same as my daughter’s wedding so THAT didn’t happen!  This year, no wedding, so I got an early start and headed over to the Center at 10:45 a.m. to check things out.

The crowds gathered early for the festival!

The crowds gathered early for the festival!

There was already quite a crowd when I arrived.  The smell of food was permeating the area and I was pretty hungry since I had skipped breakfast.  Turkish music was playing over loud speakers.  I wasn’t sure if I should go ahead and get food tickets right then or make my way around to see everything and take photos.  I chose the latter and landed at the vendor tables and started clicking away.  All the pretty hand painted bowls  pulled me in and every single one was unique!  Achmed, the vendor did not speak much English so the young lady at the next booth did some interpreting for us.  I had all kinds of questions about the ceramics and he was pleased to share details about how the pieces were created and how time-consuming the process was for the artists – from kiln to painting to kiln again.  I told him I would be back before I left to buy some of the items and he smiled and said he would give me a “good deal.”

Some of the beautiful hand painted Turkish ceramics.

Some of the beautiful hand painted Turkish ceramics.

Next I walked around checking out all the food.  It was a food festival after all!  Each table had signs describing the food being sold which was a nice touch.  The first food items included things like yaprak sarmasi (stuffed grape leaves) and kisir (Turkish tabooli).  Next came the big-ticket items  – gyros and kabobs – served in pita bread with lettuce and tomatoes on top of rice.  Along the last line of booths you could find Turkish coffee or tea to go with some scrumptious dessert items.  Things like baklava, cezerye – a carrot and coconut delicacy, elmali kurabiye (apple cookie rolls with powdered sugar), rice pudding and Turkish cinnamon cookies.  I think they need to create a sampler platter for next year!

Turkish cinnamon cookie and cezerye (with the flag pick).

Turkish cinnamon cookie and cezerye (with the flag pick).

One of the longest lines for food was at the gozleme (Turkish flatbread and pastry) table.  A young man and his mother were hard at work making this tasty and traditional dish.  When I read there was feta in it, that’s all I had to hear!  Like a woman said behind me…”they had me at feta!”  I had to agree!  (Here is a recipe I found online for gozleme.)

One of the longest lines was for the gozleme - a traditional Turkish flatbread and pastry made with feta cheese. Yum!

One of the longest lines was for the gozleme – a traditional Turkish flatbread and pastry made with feta cheese. Yum!

As I waited for my gozleme to finish cooking on gas-fired sac griddle, I told the young man that his mother was the hardest working person at the festival.  He translated for me and she gave me a smile.  From the time I arrived, she was rolling the dough with the “oklava” – a very long and thin wooden rolling-pin.  As she finished rolling out each dough piece, she would hand it off to her son who would paint it with butter and add a feta and Turkish white cheese mixture before sealing it to cook.  I found out that the son was attending the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and majoring in Physics.  His mother had just arrived in the US and was staying with him for several months which clearly made him happy.  I loved how seamlessly they worked together making the gozleme.  It was well worth the wait and my last 3 food tickets.  Plus, I really enjoyed the conversation.

One of the beautiful henna tattoos I saw at the festival.

One of the beautiful henna tattoos I saw at the festival.

Activities for kids included inflatables and face painting and plenty of kids took advantage of this.  I was very interested in the henna tattoos.  I didn’t have time to get one myself but I was able to photograph a few people who did.  I asked the young woman who was in charge of the henna tattoos what purpose they served and she explained they are a way to adorn the body for special celebrations, just like wearing jewelry.  She had several designs to choose from at her table.  On my list of things to do one day – get a henna tattoo!  They are so beautiful!

By the time I left two hours later, the festival was packed!  The lines were long every where you looked and it pleased me to see this for the organizers.  A young man by the name of Huseyin saw me taking photographs shortly after I arrived and introduced himself saying he was the Social Media Director for the festival.  He asked how I found out about the event and I told him through Facebook.  The festival continued on Sunday and from the pictures people were posting, it was another packed house!  Huseyin mentioned they may be looking for a bigger venue next year because of the growth they are experiencing.  Food and cultural festivals definitely bring in a crowd!

Crowds of people enjoy delicious Turkish food at the 3rd annual Turkish Food Fest!

Crowds of people enjoy delicious Turkish food at the 3rd annual Turkish Food Fest!

Oh…and as I promised Achmed, I returned to his vendor booth and bought several of the Turkish ceramic bowls.  And as he promised me…he gave me a good deal!

Here are a few more photos from the event…

 

Feel Like Getting a Cuban Sandwich?

Cuban Sandwich from Kool Korners Sandwich shop in Vestavia.

Cuban Sandwich from Kool Korners Sandwich shop in Vestavia.

It was 11:15 a.m. and I was sitting at my desk thinking about lunch.  Actually…I was sitting at my desk thinking about Cuban Sandwiches since it was the day after Kool Korners reopened in Vestavia!!!

I’ve been waiting for many months for this to happen – 9 to be exact!  This cute little sandwich shop used to be in the Vestavia Hills City Center but closed in June 2015 after 6 years because the owners Bill and Ildefonso Ramirez, could not agree on a new lease with the shopping center’s owners.  They assured all their regular customers that they were looking for a new location in Vestavia and would be back soon.  Well, the wait is over!  On March 21st, Kool Korners reopened in Vestavia.  This time in the Vestridge Commons retail center on US 31.

The senior Ramirez is 93 years old and immigrated from Cuba in the early 1970s with his wife, Lucia, and young son Bill.  They fled the Castro regime in Cuba where Sr. Ramirez was a very successful chemist.  He and his family first landed in Spain for several years and then arrived in Miami.  Eventually they moved to Atlanta so their son could attend college on a scholarship.  In Atlanta, Sr. and Sra. Ramirez opened a grocery store where they began selling Cuban sandwiches.  Unfortunately, the store burned down but soon after Sr. Ramirez opened Kool Korners in Midtown Atlanta.   He ran his business there for 25 years and received many accolades and quite a fan base for his food.  When the building that housed Kool Korners was sold in 2008, Sr. Ramirez moved to Alabama to be closer to his son, Bill.  On a side note,  I remember Bill Ramirez back in the day when our sons played soccer together in the Hoover Soccer Club.  Bill was always the voice on our answering machine when the Club would have messages for the players and parents!  Small world, huh?!

Kool Korners opened in Alabama in 2009 and Cuban sandwiches were introduced to a whole new fan base in Alabama!  I remember taking my mother there for lunch once and Sr. Ramirez came by to check on us and we started speaking in Spanish – of course, this was after my mother said – “my daughter speaks Spanish!”  He is such a sweet man and so interested in his customers and their enjoyment of his food!  You could tell he loves his work!

We got a front door parking spot at Kool Korners on the 2nd day of the shop reopening in Vestavia!

We got a front door parking spot at Kool Korners on the 2nd day of the shop reopening in Vestavia!

So, on Tuesday, March 22nd, I sent a text to my hubby saying, “Feel like getting a Cuban sandwich?”  He said “Sure!  Where?” We headed over to Vestavia and luckily found a parking space right in front!  The place was packed already and as we looked around, there were no seats available.  We got in line to order and hoped for the best!  Eddie and I both ordered the Cuban sandwich combo which includes a drink and chips of your choice.  I really, REALLY wanted a Guava and Cream Cheese Pastelito, but they were out of them…and this was at11:45 a.m.!!!  I’ll have to save that for another time.  I just love guava!  I could probably write an entire post about guava.  (jot that down, Teresa….)  Let me just say for the record too…those Cuban sandwiches did NOT disappoint!!!

I'm surprised I even got a picture of the sandwich after taking a bite...it was hard not to inhale this deliciousness!

I’m surprised I even got a picture of the sandwich after taking a bite…it was hard not to inhale this deliciousness!

Some people may wonder what all the fuss is about with Cuban sandwiches.  After all, it’s just pork, ham, swiss cheese, mayo, mustard and dill picked on bread, right?  Well…..not quite.  It’s Cuban style roasted pork and the Cuban bread that make these sandwiches so tasty.  Cuban bread is similar to French bread but during baking includes a small amount of lard or vegetable shortening.   There are also any number of ways you can season the pork roast and I found and bookmarked numerous excellent recipes all over the Food Network on how to do this.  Once all the ingredients are assembled and layered on the bread, you press the sandwich down for about 5 minutes on each side with a bacon press or even a heavy cast-iron pan.  If you have a sandwich press, that works too!  The finishing touch is to slice it diagonally.

I wanted a chance to see Sr. Ramirez when Eddie and I went by that day but the place was so packed that I decided to wait until another time.  Right as we were leaving, I spotted him coming out of the back kitchen area and greeting a few people waiting for “to-go” orders.  I hope I get the chance to speak to him next time I’m in Kool Korners.  I’ve been looking over their menu and  I’m hungry again!  The photo of the empanadas on their website already has my stomach growling!  YUM!

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The counter and menu at Kool Korners. I was hoping to get a glimpse of Sr. Ramirez when I ordered. The place was so crowded that I figured he was a little busy back in the kitchen!

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Lots of interesting art on the walls at Kool Korners. Eddie and I sat under this painting of an old Chevrolet in Havana as we enjoyed our lunch.

 

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I had to post a photo of my handsome lunch date as he patiently awaited our delicious sandwiches!

Warm Up Your Christmas with a little Coquito!

Coquito - Puerto Rican eggnog - is a tradition at Christmas time!

Coquito – Puerto Rican eggnog – is a tradition at Christmas time!

Coquito…it’s a cool word to say, isn’t it?  Well, it’s even better in a glass over ice!

Coquito [koh-kee-toh] – is Puerto Rican eggnog and it’s delicious!  It’s made with rum, coconut milk, sweet condensed milk, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.  Some people add eggs and others don’t – it’s a personal preference here.  You’ll find coquito being served and enjoyed around Christmas each year.  It’s in high demand!

There are a number of recipes you can find online but I must confess, I’ve never tried to make coquito.  I lived in Puerto Rico from ages 7-12, so I was a bit young for this drink!  But I did know about it’s popularity.  I had some at a friend’s pig roast several years ago and was hooked.  Still, I didn’t try to make my own.  Then recently, I found out that a friend of mine, Luis Delgado, was making coquito and selling it by the bottle!  I got to know Luis several years ago when his restaurant – Miami Cafe – was a food vendor at Fiesta, the Hispanic and cultural event I have worked with for the past 13 years.   Miami Cafe in Alabaster served up everything from Cuban sandwiches to chicken wings with a Carribean flair.  His food was wonderful and I enjoyed eating at his little place the few times I was able to go.  Luis’ love of cooking comes from his grandmother as a little boy growing up in Puerto Rico.  He was always asking her questions about how to make different recipes and she gladly shared everything with her grandson.  He carried this love of cooking to Miami before eventually moving to Birmingham.  At the urging of friends who loved his food, he opened Miami Cafe.  Since his restaurant closed, he is now catering.  I attended an event at Birmingham International Center (BIC) a few months ago about doing business in Cuba and as I glanced at the food, I knew immediately it was Luis’ cuisine!

Back to the Coquito…I tried Luis’ coquito just last night and OMGEEEEE!!!!!  Believe me when I tell you that it’s to die for!  I poured it in a bigger glass than normal – you usually use a shot glass – so that I could share it with my husband.  I took one long sip and swooned, it was so good!  Then I handed the glass over to my husband.  After one sip he wouldn’t give it back to me!  So much for sharing!

If you are in the Birmingham area and you are interested in buying a bottle of this deliciousness, contact Luis Delgado on Facebook and place your order and let him know you read about it on Southern Senora blog.  Coquito is $35 a bottle and well worth it to enjoy with your family.  Of course, after one glass you might not WANT to share!

A glass of coquito garnished with two cinnamon sticks! Best served over ice and sipped in front of a Christmas tree!

A glass of coquito garnished with two cinnamon sticks! Best served over ice and sipped in front of a Christmas tree!

Tamales and Cole Slaw? Yep!

HICA tamales with a side of Salsa Senorita spicy cole slaw!

HICA tamales with a side of Salsa Senorita spicy cole slaw!

So you say you want to enjoy a complete meal of tamales and something else…but what? What do you add to tamales to make it even more delicious? Why not cole slaw!

Lori works on the slaw ingredients while Jessica Chriesman does some filming.

Lori works on the slaw ingredients while Jessica Chriesman does some filming.

I filmed a video with Lori Sours – better known as Salsa Senorita – a few weeks back to promote the HICA tamale sale. She has some great recipes made with her wonderful salsa and I was surprised to find she added her salsa to cole slaw. She gave me a little demo in this video (posted below) and I tell you…it was delicious!!! My husband and I are not a big fans of mayo but you really can’t tell there is even mayo in it with all the other added ingredients. I have never heard of adding honey either.  I mean really? HONEY? But it’s the unexpected that really makes the difference in recipes, isn’t it?

I loved filming with Lori…she is such a natural on the camera and we had a great time talking about New Mexico and her salsa and how she got started in the salsa business. We filmed 4 segments in one day under the eye of Jessica Chriesman – a recent UAB Film graduate. She did a fabulous job showcasing Lori’s salsa recipes and also highlighting the HICA tamale sale.

Lori Sour's spicy cole slaw before it all got mixed together...

Lori Sour’s spicy cole slaw before it all got mixed together…

HICA – the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama – sells tamales each year as their signature fundraising event. The organization has sold over 70,000 tamales since 2003 and in the process have introduced a wonderful part of Mexican culture to the Birmingham community. We hope to sell 18,000 this year and we have two more days to do that! I hope that if you are in the Birmingham, Alabama area that you will consider buying a dozen, or two (or three!) and support the great work that HICA does in our Hispanic community!

Me and Lori after the filming was finished.

Me and Lori after the filming was finished.

Meanwhile…check out the video and jot down the spicy cole slaw recipe from Salsa Senorita!