Thursday, July 23, 2015

Do The Continental

A Classic Continental Breakfast
First of all, let me say that I am not an aficionado of Continental breakfasts. Nor am I drawn to Bed and Breakfast lodging for many reasons, among which are all too frequently parsimonious Continental breakfasts. I am compelled to take up the sword against this scourge following my reminiscence on our Michoacán Yahoo Group. I'd recalled the breakfast fare at a simple beachside hostelry in Troncones, Guerrero, consisted of white toast, jam and coffee or tea. In my opinion, this sort of minimalist breakfast shows a lack of effort on the part of the hosts. At that time, February, 2006, a cold water palapa hut cost $38 USD, now risen to $50. I don't know if the generosity of the breakfasts has increased. At least, the hosts were congenial.

(I read on TripAdvisor an enthusiastic review by a guest who stayed for a month at that place. My mind boggles. I was insane with boredom in less than three days.)

Turning back many years, we stayed one night in a newly remodeled B&B in Galveston, TX. It was a very spacious room. I remember that the large bathroom had slippery slate floors. Style over practicality. In the morning, we were offered stale Danish pastry, unripe fruit and coffee and even staler conversation by a surrogate host. That to me showed total indifference to guests' needs.

I define a minimal Continental breakfast as comprised of superior baked goods, real butter, a quality jam or marmalade and strong coffee.

Then there was an ex-miner's hotel in Telluride, CO, which despite its wretched sagging beds, put out a generous selection of quick breads, coffee and tea. They benefited from a highly productive Telluride bakery.

Spain is among the world's leaders in meager Continental breakfasts. We stayed several nights at a casa rural in Las Merindades in Burgos Province, where the included breakfast was toast, margarine, jam and, I will admit, decent strong coffee. An active traveler would wither away on such a breakfast were it not  for intermediate stops at local bars where you could get a sort of breakfast sandwich of egg, ham and cheese, or, if you were lucky, a chapata roll with chorizo Español or perhaps sardines. We would halt our journey at small town bars where we would often get freshly made tortilla Español. While not fancy, it gave sustenance.

Breakfast at a Madrid bar.
After crossing the crest of the Cordillera Cantábrica, we were fortunate in finding "El Vejo", a bakery café in the town of Reinosa, Cantabria, where we stuffed ourselves on a full, real breakfast.

Superior Continental breakfasts were offered at the Hostal Alfonso, in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia. There were nice croissants, at least. The hosts are very nice people.

Bakery cafes in Spain may be the secret to getting by with slender breakfast rations. This is one showcase in a bakery in Santiago de Compostela.

Credit where it's due: about three years ago, we stayed at an Air BnB listing, the Great House in San Miguel Chapultepec, México, D.F. The breakfasts were what can be called enhanced Continental. Toast, juice, cereal, yogurt, granola, coffee, tea, juice. That shows care on the part of the hosts. I would have liked some protein foods and variety, but then it would not be Continental, would it? Unfortunately, the upscale neighborhood seemed to have a dearth of adequate street food options.

I have mentioned the Turotel hotel in Morelia in previous posts. For a modest additional fee, guests may have a very nice, full breakfast, from a generous buffet, or request special dishes from the accommodating kitchen staff. While it's not gourmet fare, it's good and will give you the energy for your day's tasks. THe Turotel is one of my favorite hotels in Mexico.

Soon we will stay at the Fiesta Inn, Aeropuerto Ciudad de México, which includes a full breakfast in its rate. Whether we will have time to take advantage of it remains to be seen, as we have a mid morning flight departure. I hope to report back.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Rites of Purification

Cabbages may be Kings in the Pátzcuaro Mercado. But even a King needs to be purified.
Mexico's mercados are a joy to the dedicated home cook and foodie. But there's a dirty underbelly to the abundance of inexpensive fruits and vegetables offered there. If you, as we are, are interested in maintaining your health while enjoying the bounty of fresh produce, there are a few simple steps you can take to do so.

Some of these tips were picked up several years ago on Victoria Challancin's  blog, Flavors of the Sun, but I don't have the exact quote.

The essence is that when you get home with your mercado swag, you do not put them away until you sort them, trim them and clean them.

Here, at Las Cocinas del Rancho Las Cuevas, we first open all the bags and lay out the produce on our ample kitchen counter. The different vegetables are roughly sorted according to type and dirtiness.

La Cocina in pristine condition before we moved in.
For example, sweet peppers have the least dirt; celery is relatively clean; parsley, not bad; cucumbers, deceptively clean looking but really carrying sand and earth; celery somewhat more (often with dirt hidden en sus áreas escondidas.); lettuce, usually more, requiring extra vigilance; and the worst culprit, cilantro, which often has clay, etc (¿cacá?) clinging to its roots.

Then we go to the cupboard for a few simple tools.
1. A bowl big enough to hold a medium sized cabbage or a "tree" of celery for washing.

2. A tall plastic container used for the disinfectiing solution.

3. A colander, sometimes two, if we have a lot of produce to purify. With two, you can set up an efficient line of purification , but for small amounts of produce, one will do.

4. Clean kitchen towels or aprons; or plastic bags.

Simple tools of purification
There are a few easy steps to make your produce safer to eat raw.

1.  Spoiled or discolored areas, such as outer leaves are trimmed away with scissors or a sharp knife. Pick out any yellowed or ugly parsley  or cilantro branches. Then taking the cleanest items first, they are washed under cold water in the bowl, scrubbing with a brush if necessary. Rinse in cold water.

2. The tall plastic container (or another bowl, what have you) is filled with cold water, then Microdyn disinfecting drops are added. I usually put 4 drops per liter of water, then add a few more for good measure.

The Microdyn bath
Pepinos Persas prepare for purification
Pepinos get washed in cold water
The washed fruit or vegetable item is then immersed in the Microdyn and water solution, for abut 5 minutes,. Fairly clean vegetables, such as sweet peppers or cucumbers are left for about 3 minutes. Nasty, dirty stuff such as lettuce or cilantro, up to 15 minutes.

Cilantro tends to be schmutzig, sucio, dirty
Trimming roots, clay, y ¿quien sabe? from cilantro
before washing and disinfecting
3. The now disinfected produce item is then drained for a couple of minutes in the colander(s).

Pepinos Persas drain while new vegetables are washed and disinfected.
At this point, you can choose to wrap disinfected green, leafy herbs and vegetables either in ...
A. clean kitchen towels or aprons
B. Clean plastic bags.
(And, NO! Don't reuse the plastic bags from the mercado to re-bag the produce, for if you do, you will have just undone all your careful work!)

Cilantro, now clean and pure, about to be wrapped and refrigerated.
Cilantro, in a paper towel then bagged in a Bol Lock bag.
It's best to thoroughly drain the leafier produce before wrapping or bagging.

Then refrigerate.
Doña Cuevas is a fan of the kitchen towel/apron wrap method, for increased longevity of the greens. I, prefer clear clean plastic bags for their visibility of what's inside them.  Searching for apron and towel wrapped Anonymous Produce tends to make me crazy.Your kitchen needs will vary.

A side note: if you keep your produce drawers clean and well organized, your fresh produce will keep longer as well as be easier to locate when you need it.

There are a few exceptions to this ritual of cleaning and disinfecting. Optional items like tomatoes, avocados, green beans, or chard or spinach, and especially nopales we don't wash and disinfect until just before use. And obviously, if it is to be cooked, it's only washed well, but not disinfected, just before cooking. I don't disinfect nopales ahead, as I found that they become slimy before their time.

Besides disinfecting your produce purchases, pay attention to the work surface and knife and cutting tablet to  keep them clean and sanitized. We wash the kitchen tools with dish detergent and water. Our wooden block butcher's and baker's table is similarly washed, but with very little detergent, then gone over with a solution of white vinegar and water, then dried. The same methods can be used to clean the counters.

With these simple but effective Rites of Purification, you greatly lessen your chances of food borne illness.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

¡Papa Oom Wow Wow!

Here're THE RIVINGTONS, for your entertainment:


(Of course, this video and song has absolutely nothing to do with today's dish, other than the word "papa".)

Papitas de Cambray Al Ajo.

This is a simple dish that lifts the humble, dumpy potato to a new level of can't-stop-eating them-garlicky glory.

I first saw the recipe in Mexico— The Beautiful Cookbook; recipes by Susanna Palazuelos and text by Marilyn Tausend. HarperCollins Publishers. (It's one of my favorite Mexican cookbooks.)

There's a recipe, which really isn't necessary. But here's an easy guidance.

Boil a kilo of very small (or not so small new potatoes in well salted water, until tender, about 20-25 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat up to 1/2 cup butter (really, IMO that's too much. A couple of tablespoons will do.)

Add 2 tablespoons of oil. I used olive oil.

Add up to 8 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced. (I had roasted garlic on hand, with very large cloves, so I just squeezed off about 6 cloves from the roasted head. I didn't bother mincing the garlic. It was already buttery soft and luscious. The choice is up to you  ow you like your garlic. If you hold off putting the minced galic in the skillet as the papitas finish browning, you have a somewhat more refined dish. If you put whole garlic cloves in at the outset (whether raw or roasted), you get fascinating caramelization.

 O.k. "BURNT", for which we of lusty primitive tastes crave and fight over.)

Add the potatoes and sauté 8-10 minutes over medium heat.

Salt and pepper to taste, plus the juice of 1 or 2 Mexican limes.

The Palazuelos recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon of Tabasco Sauce! I used instead, about 1/3rd of a seeded chile manzano (Chile perón) in the skillet, and dusted the potatoes with a coarsely ground, medium picante chile seco. Finally, I added a very little Pimentón de La Vera, to give the dish a touch of smokiness.

This is a great dish to accompany grilled meats, but yesterday, it stood on its own as an irresistible appetizer.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Food Memories of a Brooklyn Childhood

Dedicated to my Mother, Helen; my Grandma Ann; Minnie, our Italian American neighbor, and especially to my Uncle Irwin, who fixed me spaghetti and meat sauce for breakfast when I requested it. Tradition should be honored, but never be a barrier to enjoyment.
I was born in Brooklyn, NY and spent the first seven years of my childhood there. We were in the Bensonhurst neighborhood. We lived in the attic apartment of a three family dwelling on 83rd Street. After we moved to Montreal, Canada in 1949, we made fairly frequent visits back to the old home place, where we'd stay in my maternal grandparents' second floor apartment on busy commercial 86th Street, facing the EL tracks.

Alas! I have no photographs to share, so I will have to depend on word pictures.

There are many food memories of Brooklyn, which to this day undoubtedly have had profound influences on my tastes. Some foods were a challenge, even slightly hazardous to eat. But they were fun, and I like to believe helped develop a sense of adventure in eating.

Among the earliest influences were our Italian neighbors, originating in either Napoli or Sicily. Wife and mother Minnie would cook deeply satisfying pastas and calamares and more, all redolent of sharp cheese, olive oil, garlic, herbs, economical but delicious seasoned breadcrumb toppings; served up hot, and accompanied by jugs of inexpensive red wine. (Which, of course, mi amici and I didn't partake.) Their ground floor apartment was infused with the aroma of hearty and savory food.

Close by my grandparents' apartment were numerous food attractions. One, that I have written about before was Hy Tulip's Deli, to which I would be dispatched from the apartment to buy hot dogs for take out, topped with steaming sauerkraut, and for me, a leaden potato knish with the appearance of an anti personnel mine. What a delight it was to open the steaming bag, deploy its contents on the scrubbed wooden kitchen table, and squirt spicy brown mustard from its brown paper cone onto the hot dog.

Sunday mornings at my grandparents' occasionally featured smoked fish from the "appetizing store", a narrow emporium jammed with every sort of pickled olives, pickled and smoked fish imaginable.

Our Sunday "brunch" (although that word had probably not been invented yet.) consisted of lox, smoked whitefish and/or carp; the latter garlicky, paprika dusted, oily and bony, but a delight to winkle out lush morsels through the bone barriers.

Equal importance must be given to the breads, baked in the Jewish bakery a few doors away. Besides dense, chewy, hand made bagels, there were even denser bialys, dusted with flour and carrying a small bit of chopped onions and poppy seeds. The bialys were so tough as to give your jaws a workout. Yet it was good and enjoyable exercise.

The kaiser rolls, real hand pleated ones, crusts were so crisp that they shattered into delightfully sharp flinders, our mouths soothed by generous applications of sweet butter.

Rye bread, its shiny crust speckled with caraway seeds, was every day fare, but no less valued for that.

In the late '40s. Pizza was for us an exotic, even forbidden dish. But my mother bravely took us to an Italian restaurant a few blocks away on 86th Street. At that time, as far as we knew, pizza was made and served in Italian restaurants, not in pizzerias. Definitely not in chain restaurants. It had a statue of an "obviously" Italian pizza chef holding up a pizza.

Pizza chef statue of those days
Out of fear of tref (non kosher) ingredients, we probably ordered a cheese pizza. In those days, the mozzarella on pizzas formed long, elastic strings when you ate it. You had to be careful that the hot strings didn't lash your chin, or drop on your shirt. That was part of the fun of eating pizza. Sadly, the strings seem to have vanished.

In later years, an inexpensive pizza by the slice store opened on 86th Street, where we could get a slice of tomato pie for 15¢, or a small fried cheese filled calzone. Or zeppole, nothing more than browned bubbly balls of fried dough, dusted with powdered sugar. A Brooklyn beignet.

Another exotic locale was a Cantonese restaurant, located on the second floor of a building overlooking 86th Street and the EL. It had the obligatory red color decor theme and somewhat tacky chinoiserie, and the food was basically "Slop Gooey", but great fun and a special treat for this kid. Of special note was the thin, watery egg drop soup, of which my mother facetiously claimed was made by running a pulley line over the soup pot and skimming the chicken over the boiling water. Thus, one chicken could supposedly be made to serve customers over several days.

Doubtlessly, not knowing anything different, we ate Chop Suey and Chow Mein, with lashings of soy sauce and hot mustard, washed down with nearly endless cups of weak tea.

The waiters were especially kind to well behaved children, and I would be rewarded with an almond cookie for cleaning my plate. Back then, the Chinese immigrant population was very small.(I think.) Now, this has changed.

Less pleasant food memories include the trek to the Kosher Chicken Store with my mother, who pushed a baby carriage with me in it . Feh! The store smelled musty, and it was staffed by these guys with long beards and curly sideburns. The idea was to select a chicken, and the employee would take it to the back and do it in. A little later, it would emerge, still warm, free of gross feathers, feet included. Then Mom would pay and we would make the long walk home.

One of the least pleasant aspects is when she took the bird to the gas range and burnt off the pin feathers. The smell made me gag. If I recall correctly, she'd then coat it with Kosher salt to "purify" it.

After a singe and purification, she'd boil it a while with onion, carrot, parsley, etc. When it was cooked, she'd look for the coveted unborn eggs and snack on this delicacy.  (Or maybe those were cooked separately. I don't know.)

Then there were the creepy, gnarled feet, which were fun to nibble. At least the toenails had been cut and tossed away.

This unquestionably nutritious, economical chicken dish can be duplicated by us lucky folks living in México, although most chickens I've seen for sale here have already been killed and plucked. (A neighbor lady until recently kept live chickens at the ready for a pot of caldo de pollo.)

It's fun to look back with fond food memories, but we live in the reality of the present day. The food adventures of childhood enable me to try different, even strange foods here on México.

Don Cuevas

Monday, April 06, 2015

Fishing For Compliments: Filete de Pescado en Hoja Santa

Pescado en Hoja Santa at El Muelle, Oaxaca. A simple, and picante version.

I am not a cooker of fish. We prefer to eat fish in marisquerías (seafood restaurants) where we can chose from a variety of species, cooked in a variety of ways.

There are occasional exceptions to my no fishing habits. One such was last Wednesday while visiting the home of Ms RedShoes in Morelia.

Taking Leaf of Our Senses
A few days before, while lunching at El Rincón de Las Delicias, I detected hoja santa in my green salad. When I asked Laurencia Tobías, one of the partners in the restaurant, she confirmed it. Hoja santa (Piper Auritum) is one of my favorite Mexican herbs. Laurencia gave me a pair of scissors and invited me to pick some from their organic garden outside. I was delighted and grateful.

On Wednesday, when Jennifer (MS RedShoes) suggested that I cook some tilapia filets for our comida, it was a natural step to use the hoja santa with the fish. Some fast Googling yielded several recipes with a wide spectrum of treatments. I chose one of the simplest, by Ana Saldaña.

A few modifications were deemed desirable.
I used a chile manzano (perón) instead of the chile guajillo, preferring the fruity fresh taste of the manzano to the dry, leathery guajillo.

Yes, we have no banana leaves. 
A major modification was that we had no banana leaves for the wrapping. I had asked about them at the corner vegetables and fruit store but they were unavailable. As nearly every restaurant in which I'd had this dish presented it wrapped it in aluminum foil, I wasn't preoccupied with the banana leaves. Besides, they must be cut to size and roasted to make them flexible. More work!  Would Diana Kennedy forgive me if I used foil? Probably not, pero así es. Tough bananas.

The hardest part of the recipe, now that the banana leaves were out of the picture, was the roasting of the onions, tomatoes, garlic and chiles. Not really hard, just taking a little time and patience. At Jennifer's request, I did this in a cast iron skillet.

The next departure from tradicíon was to chunk up—roughly chop, not liquefy— the above ingredients in a blender, not in a molcajete. Oh, the horror! Really, any Mexican housewife who can afford one has a licuadora (blender) in her kitchen. They are a must in the modern Mexican kitchen. The resultant salsa needed a squirt of lime juice to balance out the sweetness of the tomatoes.

Salsa roja cocida
The oven was preheating to 190º C (374º F) while I assembled the packets in this manner, a  somewhat daunting process:

• Foil
• Hoja santa
• Salsa roja cocida
• filete de pescado, sprinkled with salt and pepper mixture
• a sprig or two of parsley; no, NOT cilantro, as it would clash with the hoja santa
• olive oil, a few drops, when I remembered it
• hoja santa

Close and seal the foil packet well and place on a baking tray with sides.

Bake 15 minutes. Open a packet and see if the fish flakes when probed with a fork. Yes, the leaves are eaten with the fish. Some sources suggest removing the central spine of the hoja santa before further use, but I consider that an unnecessary refinement.

Suggested accompaniment: steamed white rice with toasted pine nuts, optional fried slices of plátano macho.
The extra hoja santa, chile and onion were roughly chopped to make a sort of "dry salsa".

We all approved the results. The fish was juicy, savory and aromatic, with just a slight kick from the chile.

The following Sunday (Easter), I cooked Blackened Salmon Filets with fresh asparagus and creamy mashed potatoes, but that is another posting.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Emilio's Grill— Plaza La Huerta, Morelia

Emilio's Grill looks like a fast food outlet in the Gastronómico food court, sandwiched between a bank, a Blockbuster and the Home Depot, at Plaza La Huerta shopping center in Morelia. But it is really a small self service restaurant with an ambitious menu of grilled meats, hamburgers, some seafood, salads and more. We have been pleased with our many lunches there over the last several years.

We usually have their chargrilled hamburgers, averaging about $70-$80 pesos, complete with French Fries or a salad, or nicely steamed vegetables, as you wish. But yesterday, we saw on the menu "Parrillada para dos" ( or para tres, cuatro, etc.). These are combinations of grilled boneless chicken, sirloin, and shrimp. There is another combo including chorizo and two other meats, but I wasn't paying attention. The parrilladas cost $155 pesos, a very good deal, indeed, for two hungry diners.

The parrilladas come with Papas Francesas, but as always, you can substitute salad or vegetables.

The salads and "guarniciones"—side dishes— are displayed as in a salad bar, but they are not self service. The employees will dish up your selection, and usually with a generous hand.

Some of the salads
Carbos offerings
You can help yourself to the several good salsas and condiments. We like the salsa de aguacate, a sort of smooth and more picante "guacamole". There are free totopos (tortilla chips). Yesterday we also tried some interesting fried, crisp garlic chips with flecks of red chile. The creamy, orangey salsa was picante, but too salty to our taste.

  A few salsas at our table
When the flashing buzzer alerted us (think: Outback Steakhouse) that our parrillada was ready, an employee carried it to our table because it was presented on a hot metal plate over a Sterno type burner. This is the modern version of the anafre. (a small stove).

La Parrillada ion its anafre
The shrimp and sirloin on our parrillada were the choice morsels. The sirloin was savory, tender and moist. The chicken was just o.k., but not bad. We liked the 5 shrimp, but I suggest you ask an employee to apagar  Put out the flame) of the anafre in order not to overcook the food. I should mention that this meal comes with ordinary tortillas.

Soft drinks, beer and aguas frescas are offered. We especially like their creamy horchata.

The seating and ambience at the Gastronómico food court is not conducive to long, leisurely lunches, nor business meetings.  You will never mistake it for a fine dining venue. But it's fine if you accept it as is is. And, since the video games area closed a few years ago, the noise level is more acceptable now.

The men's rest room, (far end of the food court) at least, appears to have been refurbished and was well maintained when we were there yesterday.

The Gastronómico food court is located towards the northern end of Plaza La Huerta, close to Home Depot.

Emilio's Grill also offers breakfast, but we have never tried that.

Food: ***

Service: Semi self service. It's not Fast Food. Meals are prepared to order, average wait, 10 minutes. Well supplied with decent plastic utensils, napkins, straws, etc. You only need to look or ask.

Prices: Average about $80 per person

Hygiene: Satisfactory

Parking: Just outside is the Plaza La Huerta parking lot.

I don't have info on their hours of operation, but I imagine that they open around 10 a.m. We are usually there in the early to mid afternoon.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

You say "Tomato", she says "Tomahto", I say "Criollo".

The tomato may have originated in México (or in the Andes), but among tomato connoisseurs, the Mexican grown fruit/berry of the nightshade Solanum lycopersicum  has gotten a bad rep. I add, justifiably so. The common jitomates saladets or huajes (essentially the same as a Roma tomato, but nowhere as much flavor.), abundantly available in mercados  and supermercados are too often underripe fruits with little flavor. It has been argued by some that the saladet is best for purposes other than eating out of hand; as in salsas and cooked foods.

It's true that these fleshy but insipid fruits perform best when broiled, for example, before adding their mild flavor to a picante chile salsa. But for fans of juicy, ripe, raw tomatoes, better tomatoes are essential: for eating out of hand, in salads, for tomato sandwiches, and, for the World's Greatest Sandwich, yes; the BLT! Glory to Blessed Tonantzín for Her gifts!

Blesséd Lycopene Loaded Tomato sandwich.
Summers, when we visit our family in New Jersey, a great pleasure are the red ripe, fragrant tomatoes available there. Back in our Arkansaw years, we would revel in the fresh, ripe tomatoes grown and harvested not far from our home (often by Mexican field workers.)

What does México offer us tomato lovers in recompense for the pallid saladets? Well, there are great rewards, but  they are ephemeral.

For barely more than a week in 2012, Frutería Dany's in Pátzcuaro had "black" globe tomatoes; juicy and of superior taste. But they were never offered again at Dany's.

Black Prince Heirloom Tomato. (Not quite as "black" as Dany's)

Around the same time, we were in Zihuatanejo, where I was delighted to find Tomates Criollos, and colorful Tomates Cherrys.

Don't judge a good tomato by the color of its skin. Even still green, the tomate criollo  beats the saladet in the flavor stakes.

Still green, but these tomates criollos will quickly ripen 
More robust tomates criollos
For the purpose of illustration, let's have a photo of Tomates Cherrys.

Tomates cherrys tend to be tarter than the criollos.
Their lifespan is short.
It was this past January, in Oaxaca,Oaxaca, that we truly hit the Tomates Criollos jackpot. The Mercado  de la Merced, across the avenue from our hotel, had the precious criollos almost everyday. I won't swear to it, but I think that they were $12 pesos a kilo.

Clockwise, from L-R : Tomates "Criollos" bolas, Tomates Criollos,
Jitomates saladets or huajes; chiles de agua.
While in Oaxaca we'd eat Tomates Criollos nearly every day. We improvised a tomato washing and disinfecting rig in the bathroom sink from a plastic bag filled with tap water and a few drops of Microdyn.

How about a close up shot of those glorious tomatoes?

Glory, glory, glory! The tomates bolas, L, are pretty good two, but second in flavor to the "creased" criollos on the right.

How to derive maximum pleasure when eating Tomates Criollos and Tomates Cherrys. A few suggested ways:

Here, Tomates Cherrys offset the salt tang of anchovies and capers
of a Pizza Napoletana, from the, alas! now closed Café Santina in Zihua.

Torta Casera Vegetariana, featuring Tomates Criollos and organic lettuces.
(All ingredients from the Mercado de La Merced, Oaxaca 2015)

Our former neighbors, Geni and Larry, returned recently from a short visit to Zihuatanejo. They brought back both Tomates Cherrys  and Tomates Criollos. We quickly made good use of them.

Salad of Pepinos Persas, Tomates Cherrys y Cebolla. Homemade Croutons.

Tomate Criollos sliced, fresh basil, olive oil and coarse salt

"Cemita" sandwich of Tomate Criollo and basil
I encourage you tomato lovers out there that if you see Tomates Criollos for sale (and Tomates Cherrys, to a lesser degree), grab all you can.

This concludes today's program.

Just to be a nice guy, I won't post a video of the highly annoying song, "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off." But if you cahn't live without hearing it, just click here, and you can get your fill of tomahtos, and potahtos.

Late Breaking News:
Cristina Potter, the noted blogger of Mexico Cooks! (probably the most authoritative blog on Mexican cooking) mentions tomates criollos as one aspect of her post yesterday, "Food Wanderings in Mexico: Memories of 2014". In it, she identifies the tomates criollos as "tomates riñon",or, "kidney tomato". 
You can read it here.
Most fascinating, she writes that the tomate riñon is an icon in France, where it is known as Coeur de Boeuf, nearly identical in all but size to its Mexican progenitors.
Thanks to Mexico Cooks!, our knowledge of our favorite tomato has increased.

Don Cuevas

Saturday, March 14, 2015

El Rincón de Las Delicias Morelia

Back in the '70s, when we lived in Springfield, MO , the Vegetarian Wave was sweeping ashore with the counter-culture movement. So it wasn't a big surprise that even in far Southwestern Missouri that a vegetarian restaurant would open.

You can get an immediate sense of the place from its name: "Earthwonder Is ...". It was a righteous hippy place, infused with patchouli and dedicated to the proposition that every mouthful should be chewed 32 times. The tables had printed paper placemats (I wonder why they weren't made by Third World artisans from hand made paper using all natural vegetable dyes.) listing rules for healthier eating. The most unforgettable rule was to avoid mucus-producing foods, specifically dairy products. Yuck. How unappetizing a thought, as we awaited our food.

That food was slow to come from the kitchen, for they had to cook the brown rice to a glutinous glop while over seasoning the vegetables with excessive curry powder. ( A mark of truly righteous vegetarian cooking back then was the abuse of curry powder.)

Our sole visit to Earthwonder Is ... put vegetarian cuisine on my blacklist for years afterward.

I had, over the years eventually come to appreciate well prepared vegetarian cooking, as exemplified in the one of my favorite cookbooks, The Vegetarian Epicure, Book Two, by Anna Thomas. Its emphasis is on fresh ingredients to make good tasting food that almost anyone would enjoy. Best of all, it's free of self righteous proselytizing.

Not long ago, our Morelia friend, Ms RedShoes, told us of a small restaurant in the colonia of Lomas de Santa María, Morelia, where the chef offered an inexpensive set menu Monday through Friday. The food was balanced, healthy, locally sourced organic ingredients and professionally prepared with creative flair.

We had an opportunity to have comida  at this restaurant, El Rincon de Las Delicias last Thursday. The location is off the beaten track, a house in a residential area. No sign nor house number announces its existence. Only we, the cognoscenti know. ;-)

Inside the white fronted house
There's a pleasant patio and garden with a large, umbrella shaded table. Inside, the dining room has three large tables, although another could be deployed if the need arose. Classical music softly plays, enhancing the air of tranquility. The kitchen is open to view and you may see the food being prepared by the Chef and the one assistant. I liked what I saw of this kitchen.

La cocina
Chef and owner Cecilia Solis greeted us and told us the menu of the day. We were brought glasses of a very good agua fresca de guayaba. Refills were freely offered.

The salad had a choice of three dressings. We all chose yoghurt with dill dressing. The salad was modest in size but flavorful. The dressing was applied with a very light hand. There were neither bread nor tortillas, nor did we request any.

Salad with yoghurt-dill dressing
There were two soup choices: an oatmeal soup (don't snicker; I've made this myself, with fresh peas.) or a clear soup of huitlacoche, nopal, tomate y frijoles. All of us chose the latter. It was simple but clean tasting and enjoyable. Again, seconds were offered.

Soup of huitlacoche, nopalitos and frijoles
For the plato fuerte that day, there were two options. One was a tart of chard, and I think setas (shelf mushrooms) plus requesón, a Mexican version of ricotta. The other option was a calabacita rellena de setas, tomate y romeritos sobre mole casero con arroz integral y arroz silvestre. (A zucchini "boat" filled with setas, tomato, romeritos on mole of the house, with a mound of brown rice mixed with wild rice.) The mole was so good that Doña Cuevas asked for more and her wish was immediately fulfilled.

The calabacita rellena was a very nice dish and the presentation artful.
The zucchini was perfectly cooked al dente.

Calabacita rellena
We requested some salsa picante and were immediately brought a small dish of thick green sauce, compounded of chiles jalapeños, oil, salt, and I think, green pumpkin seeds.

Cecilia cheerfully answered our questions when we asked her about the food and other related topics. She described her low key restaurant as a "comedor familiar". A family style dining place.

Dessert was offered, again with two choices: gelatina con chile  or compota de melón. We unanimously chose the compote. A good choice, served warm, with perfectly cooked spheres of honeydew melon, naturally sweet.

Compote of honeydew melon
The price for this excellent meal was $60 pesos.

Food: ****
Service: *****
Cost: $ Bargain!
Ambience: Tranquil simplicity.
Hygiene: Impeccable.
Rest rooms: Impeccable also.
Other foods, such as wraps, vegeburguers, and pizzas are offered, besides the menú del día.
Key words: "Balanced, light, organic, healthy, nice, creative."
We will return.

Hours: M-F 11:00 -4:30
Menú del día from 1:30 to 3:30

Calle Antonio Plaza s/n between #425 and #437
Lomas de Santa María,
Morelia, Michoacán, México
Tel: 4433-30-10-77 or 4432-39-68-08

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

XIII Encuentro de Las Cocineras Tradicionales de Michoacán

Two Fish In A Bowl
What can I say? I was wrong. After attending one of the first of these affairs in Pátzcuaro, back around 2005 or '06, I'd sworn off going to any more. My reasons were based on my negative impressions of that earlier event. It was colorful but poorly organized. The food lines tended to be long. The dishes we sampled were often pretty bad, bony, tough, tepid and unappealing. Maybe it was just our bad luck to have chosen those particular puestos. But I shouldn't have judged subsequent Encuentros based on that early unappealing experience.

Over the last few years, we heard encouraging reports from sources both close and distant to us that the Cocineras event had greatly improved since it had moved to a new location. The Centro de Convenciones y Exposiciones in Morelia has hosted it in recent years. This year, we decided to attend. After all, with 12 previous events under its belt, it surely must be better than ever.

With Ms RedShoes driving, we arrived Saturday at about 11:30 a.m. Parking was a challenge, in spite of the vast Convention Center parking lots. (Some areas had been closed off for some other event.). We turned ourselves around and crossed Calzada Ventura Puente then entered the ServiPlus Bazar parking lot, (ServiPlus is a large collection of small shops under a hangar like roof.) worth a visit if you are a shopaholic.)

After some negotiation with the parking attendant/guard, and the passing of a $50 peso bill, we were allowed to leave Ms Shoe's car there for a couple of hours.

Entrance to the Happy Eating Grounds
I was very pleasantly surprised by the organization and well thought out logistics of the event. But even more pleasing were the Cocineras and their comida casera. Some of the dishes were familiar but others were new to me.

Smoke gets in your eyes ... and lungs.
Because the stoves were wood burning, there was a lot of smoke, especially along the right hand side of the pavilion closest to Calzada Ventura Puente. While somewhat unpleasant, we managed to evade it when possible, and figure that it's a small annoyance for such a wonderful event.

Tortillas baked on a comal over a wood burning stove
We bought our funny money (boletos) at one of two ticket booths. It is generous of the organizers to allow attendees to cash in any extra tickets at the end of their visit. We started with $200 pesos of tickets but had to return later for supplementary tickets. We ran out of tickets twice. Later in the day, some vendors would accept cash or a combination of cash and tickets.

Ticket booth
The main challenge is first walk to around and review the possibilities. It's difficult to do the entire paseo without succumbing to the siren song of the Cocineras and their gustatory, visual and olfactory temptations. I only made it as far as Puesto # 5 where I immediately knew that I had to return there. They were offering platillos of La Tierra Caliente, from the area of Apatzingán.

Puesto # 5: Comida de Apatzingán. Note the toqueras on the comal.
It was torture to only give each stand a quick look, take a few pictures and walk on. I got a small taste of the Encuentro during my once over lightly visit. Next time, I hope to attend two days in a row.

About five booths along, I succumbed to food lust at Puesto #5. Sra. Cuevas and Ms Shoes were ahead, on the other side of the pavilion. I caught up with them near a puesto featuring Caldo de Trucha and Hueva de Trucha (trout roe). We established ourselves at a tablecloth clad table, with comfortable chairs, under a shady roof festooned with papel picado. There were napkins in holders, and a container of actual metal eating utensils!

Well set tables were very welcome
I then returned to Puesto # 5. I saw that they were cooking toqueras on the comal. There was a waiting line for the toqueras,  so I got some Cecina de Res en Chile Rojo, con arroz blanco y frijoles. I could come back for toqueras after I ate the cecina.

Cecina En Chile Rojo
Sra. Cuevas went to one of the nearby beverage stations to get me a green drink, which I think was agua fresca de alfalfa y limón. Horchata, and I think, agua de Jamaica were also offered. The level of hygiene was at its highest at these drink stations. The servers were clad in hair coverings and wore plastic gloves. At the puestos themselves, hygiene was quite high for the most part, yet a friend got very sick the night after eating some food left too long at ambient (very warm) temperature.

The Cecina en Chile Rojo was very simple but very satisfying. Cecina, as many of  my readers know, is a thin sheet of lightly salted, sun dried beef. In the dish I had, it had been cooked in a medium picante salsa de chile rojo, and served on blessed plain, white rice, with small brown beans on the side.

Meanwhile, Sra. Cuevas had a hearty bowl of Pozolillo, a non-nixtamalized, vegetarian version of pozole, made with dried corn, I was told.

Ms Shoes had a Taco de Chiles Capones. The Chiles Capones at the event were much more caseros y rústicos than those at  Restaurante La Mesa de Blanca in Ziracuaretiro. But I didn't try the rustic but rough looking Chiles Capones from fear of, um, digestive problems.

Chiles Capones del Encuento
Chiles Capones de La Mesa de Blanca 

Cristina Potter, the notable México Cooks! blogger and Mexican food expert came and sat down across the table from us. She was a featured speaker that day on la Comida Michoacana, but, unfortunately, we could not stay to hear her speech.

Cristina was eating a bowl of Caldo de Chile Relleno, a clear soup containing a small, cheese stuffed chile and a spicier Chile Güero. A young cocinera, dressed in traditional traje (outfit) came by and gave Cristina a gift of three tamales de la milpa, filled with diced vegetables, one of which was topped with hueva. (trout roe). Cristina invited us to taste the tamales, which I did, bypassing the scarce hueva. It was very nice.
Tamales de la Milpa
Although near satiated, I still had to have some toqueras.  We'd had a good version of these fresh corn griddlecakes at the venerable Fonda Marceva restaurant in Morelia Centro.

Those at Stand # 5 were more rustic and even better than Fonda Marceva's. Cooks were cutting the kernels from ears of white corn, while another cook passed the kernels through a hand cranked meat grinder. Yet another cook patted the ground corn into ovals and loosely wrapped the masa in fresh, green corn husks.

The woman at the comal then baked the packages until the outside had browned and the masa was cooked.

What I hadn't realized in my earlier stop was that the toqueras  served as a sturdy base for a white sauce/soup of white cheese cubes laced with rajas (strips) of mild Chile Poblano. When I asked what it was, I was told "Minguichi". I immediately recalled the legendary  minguichi of Michoacán, of which I'd read recipes, but none were like this.


I asked for three plain toqueras and two with minguichi packed into two of several Tupperware type containers we'd brought with us.

Toqueras with Minguichi on them
Inevitably, I had to seek the Men's Room. At one end of the pavilion were a very large truck trailer elevated above ground level, and another, more permanent looking building. Up the few steps to the traler and through the heavy, spring loaded door revealed a surprisingly classy "sanitary facility". It was finished in nice woods with granite-like sinks and splash panels. The interior was immaculate. What a relief to have such a high quality rest room, a striking difference from the anticipated nasty, smelly Port-a-Potties.

A restroom worthy of Don Cuevas.
More here
On the way back to our table, I stopped at a stand selling products of Michoacán. I bought a large chunk of Queso Cotija, which ranks worldwide among the finer aged strong cheeses.

Queso Cotija. What's the jarred version like?
On a final pass on the way out, I stopped and got some Mole de Pollo con Arroz to go. I wasn't to eat this until the following morning, and my instincts proved correct. It was a very good dark mole, emphatically more picante than dulce, as I prefer it.

The experience was further enhanced by the presence of attractive women, both in traditional traje, below ...
Beauty through the ages.

... and, wearing contemporary clothing
Free Tequila samples, served by a pretty girl
At the end, I was tired but greatly satisfied. The Encuentro was a wonderful event, and I hope to be able to attend again. Ms Shoes told us that there will be another in October.

Before picking up the car, we did an quick tour of the labyrinthine interior of the ServiPlus Bazar. If you are to enter, carry a a big ball of string to unreel as you thread your way into the complex, or have a guide.

Encuentros de Las Cocineras tips: wear sunblock and a broad brimmed hat. We always have with us hand sanitizer moist towelettes.

Carry a few Tupperware type containers in order to have reliable carry home containers. Disposable styro foam containers are sold on the site, but they are expensive.

Park nearby, for example at the Plaza Camelinas shopping center, on Avenida Camelinas at Calzada Ventura Puente.


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It would be unwieldy to post all the photos I took, but you can, if you wish,see them as a slideshow (below) or click through and see them in larger format.

Don Cuevas