Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Celebrating With Seafood


Our car was ready, having been in the shop, Automotriz Garvez, since Thanksgiving. Our neighbors, Sergio and Bety, gave us a ride to the taller. We left suddenly, so I was without camera.*

The boss, Hugo Garvez, handed us the key so we could test drive it. All was well. The bill was $1690 MXP for a complete overhaul of the belts, pump bearings, oil and other lubes, readjustments with $1000 MXP for labor and so on. This was reason to celebrate.

So we went down the road to celebrate by having a late lunch/early supper at Mariscos "La Güera". It's a very nice place; clean and airy. with reasonably restrained maritime decór. It's located at the junction of the Libramiento and Ave. Federico Tena. There are actually two, across the street from each other, but the one on the side closer to centro does not have a "hot kitchen".

I was in the main one the day before, and had had a small octopus cocktail for $2.40, and a large, fresh-squeezed orangeade. I found the sauce in the coctel de pulpos too sweet, but it can be corrected to a degree by squeezing in more fresh lime juice and salsa picante al gusto.
There was a large selection of bottled salsas both on the tables, and if that wasn't to your liking, more on the service shelves close by.

The "Naranjada" was very good, bearing no resemblance to the wretched orange flavored drink served on trains back in the 90's. (No wonder passenger trains went out of business!) I used to call that "naranjanada".

Today we ordered a trio of little seafood empanadas, which came out after the main course. One has shrimp and rice ("eh"), the other 2 with a sort of picadillo hash of fish-—good!

Susie got a full platter of Camarones al Mojo de Ajo, drenched in butter with plentiful chunks of garlic; very nicely set up with fresh citrus fruit garnishes and sliced tomatoes, avos and onions, plus rice.

I had a big bowl of Sopa de Mariscos, among the best I've ever had: a dark and spicy, almost gumbo like stock; lots of large shrimp, octopus, squid, "scallops"—which I suspect were cutouts of shark, but good; and a few small oysters. With it came a plate with chopped cilantro and onion, and a half avocado, We were also served some big, crusty rolls in a basket, a lot like a crusty Kaiser roll, but not quite the same cuts on top.

I drank a very well made Michelada, served in a goblet with a salt and chile rim; Susie had a large limonada (same size, and freshly squeezed, of course.)

The bill: $209 MXP, about $20 USD. Tip: $20 MXP
(And, this is inland, about a 4 1/2 hour drive from the sea.)

*Since I didn't have my camera along, we'll have to return soon, to eat there again and take some photos.
Updated 12-17-2005

Coming Soon: the Second Encounter of the Traditional Cooks of Michoacán
Taking place December 2-4, in Pátzcuaro and Tzurumútaro.

Patzcuaro Restaurant Notes and News

(I'm taking a break from serious obras today, and will republish some notes I just wrote on Mexconnected.com Forum.)

A few notes on a trio of restaurants in Pátzcuaro:

"Parrillada Argentina—El Rincon de 'Che'" will have its inauguration this Friday, Dec. 2, 2005.
It's a small but attractive place on Federico Tena, between the ex-Pemex station and Mariscos La Güera. I stopped at chatted with the owners, Carlos and Aurora (who lived in LA, CA, for over 10 years). He was test-cooking 2 spatchcocked, lemon-basted chickens outside on a large, charcoal grill. They looked good, and smelled great.
They plan to be open from 8 AM until 9 PM. (God bless them!) The dinners, from 11 AM on (if I understand that correctly) will be served in an all-you-want-to eat fashion, a la espada. Possibly some items will be autoservicio, a la buffet. Dining on a shaded terraza is among the plans they have.
I believe this one will be worth watching and trying.

I made my first visit to Mariscos "La Güera" on the way home. Rick Davis of Restaurante Cha Cha Cha had recommended this place to us, as had others.
This is a popular establishment on the end of Federico Tena, where it joins the Libramiento and the road towards Sta. Clara de Cobre. There's a sister location across the street, which doesn't have a "hot kitchen", the lady in charge told me.

I was blown away. I had been expecting it to be a hole-in-the-wall place, but on the contrary, it's a large and attractively decorated restaurant. There are many attractions, not the least of which is the extensive menu of various seafood preparations. (But one of the unsung attractions for me are the very comfortable chairs. What a treat!) The baño para caballeros was clean, although no seats were included. I also noted the hygienically-oriented cooks, wearing hair restraints and surgical masks.

I conducted a quick lunch test, to restore my strength after marketing ,before heading up to the comida waiting at home. I ordered a coctel de pulpos chico, and "una naranja". I was given a small plate of crunchy tostadas and a Tupperware type container of crackers. The coctel arrived soonest. It was pretty good, although a bit sweet for my taste.
I was beginning to wonder what the delay was on my "orange soda", when I saw arms vigorously squeezing oranges. Soon, I took delivery of an beautiful orangeade, made with fresh juice and some sort of fizzy mineral water or refresco.
I had used the waiting time to look around and see what others were eating. The couple in front of me had a good looking michelada and a great bowl of Caldo de Camarón. The broth made me think of shrimp gumbo. They also had a basket of —get this— big, crusty hard rolls, with what appeared to be distinctive toppings. Based on that, I ordered four para llevar.

They ARE good. They remind me of the huge hard rolls I used to make in my bakery: light crumbed yet crispy crusted.
My entire bill was $43 MXP. I'd return with Susan sometime for a real meal.
I think that they are open from 11 - 7, every day.

Meanwhile, "Ricos Caldos de Gallina 'Doña Mary'", (the original between a paint store (?) and a hardware on the Libramiento, more or less across from the bus station), has opened a new location in the last month, on Calle Arciga (if I have that right), in the row of shops across from the Basilica; but in this case, almost across from Calle Benigno Serrato. It's small, it's simple, and the menu is focused on one dish only: a large bowl of rich chicken soup, with rice and garbanzos, accompanied by bread or tortillas. A few condiments are offered. The individual customizations are in choosing which piece of chicken you wish in your bowl. Service is simple, informal and very friendly. The typical cost for an order is $25 MXP.
Closed! :-(

Monday, November 28, 2005

Coctel de Mariscos Fingido

Early yesterday morning, I replied to a post on the Mexconnected.com Mexican Kitchen Forum.

"I had the most fabulous shrimp cocktail at the Plaza in Ajijic, the other day! Does anyone out there have the recipe for the sauce/soup/liquid the shrimp is in? I would love to serve this over the holidays to family and friends. Thank you! "

I answered as follows: "There seems to be some regional variations in preparing this delightful dish. I did a Google search on "Coctel de camarones", and without exhausting the results, I found little that resembled the cocteles I have had.
It seems to start with a simple syrup or clear stock of shrimp shells (I'm not clear on this), and then a thin tomato salsa based on ketchup or tomato puree. Certainly, the cocteles de mariscos we recently enjoyed at Marisquería "El Delfin" in Morelia were not as sweetened as some we had at the Taquería Karina, back in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Chopped onion, some bottled salsa picante OR finely cut, seeded chiles Jalapeños or Serranos is added. The cooked shrimp is added. (Now, of course, I'm speaking of a coctel con todo. We once ordered some cocteles on the Pacific coast, and got a hot concoction in a steaming natural, uncondimented broth. We had those exchanged pretty quickly.)

One recipe I read, I think in a cookbook, (still in its packing box), called for orange soda as one of the ingredients. I think this is exceptional, not the rule.

Typically, cilantro is added. Usually it's mixed into the sauce, but at El Delfin, they topped the coctel with it. Finally, slices of avocado generously garnish the top of the concoction. Freshly squeezed lime juice enhances it overall. Saltine crackers in quantity are the classic accompaniment.

It has only been since Tuesday since we had some, but now I'm craving another."

I just dug a little deeper on Google, and discovered this recipe, which looks pretty good to me:
(Right hand sidebar)

Salsa para cóctel de camarones
(para 4 personas)

2 tazas de catsup
1/2 taza de jugo de limón
1/4 taza de jugo Clamato
1/4 taza de refresco de naranja
1/4 taza de salsa de Worcestershire
1/2 taza de salsa Valentina o Tabasco

Para adornar:
1/4 taza de cebolla, picada
1/4 taza de jitomate, picado
1/2 aguacate, en cuadritos
rebanadas de limón
galletas saladas

Mezcla todos los ingredientes. Coloca los camarones en cuatro copas, añade la salsa y revuelve. Mezcla la cebolla, el jitomate y el aguacate, y agrega encima. Adorna con el cilantro y una rebanada de limón. Acompaña con galletas saladas.

The idea of a coctel de mariscos was so compelling, I just couldn't wait. I had to make one, even if it were "fingido".
Not having any seafood on hand, I made up a coctel out of available ingredients, such as hard-cooked eggs, radishes, fresh Roma tomatoes, cooked potato (I might have used some of those red, radish-shaped Mexican potatoes if I'd had any); and avocado. This all landed in a sauce of tomato juice, chile manzano (BEWARE!); chopped onion, cilantro, ketchup, fresh lime juice, Southeast Asian Fish Sauce, (and please, buckle your seat belts and return your trays and seat backs to the upright position as you reach for the bag in the seat pocket in front of you): a dash of maple syrup).

In a large beer mug, I constructed "El Coctel Fingido" as follows: a layer of thickly sliced red radishes; a stack of boiled potato sticks; one hard cooked egg, sliced into half moons; another layer of radishes.

Now: I poured on the spicy-sweet-tangy red salsa slowly, so that it would sink to the bottom without splashing.
I left some room atop to place the large cubes of ripe avocado; then another squeeze of lime juice. and several sprigs more of cilantro.

It looks good to me, and I'll be eating it shortly, after I edit the photos.

Hasta la vista, muchachos, and I'll let you know how it tastes.

Later: Very good, but one would have to be bastante borracho to think it was made with seafood.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Straining the Pumpkins

                     Eventually, everyone shows up for dinner

We are going to Thanksgiving dinner at Restaurante Cha Cha Cha, owned by Rick Davis, an American from Woodside, CA; and his Mexican partner, Enrique Ramirez Granados.

I'd volunteered to make pumpkin pies, as they only had pecan pie on this, their first Thanksgiving Day menu here in Pátzcuaro. Rick generously and very bravely accepted my offer.

What a project that turned out to be! First off, pie pumpkins are not common in or near central Michoacán. Susie and I were in Morelia on Tuesday (parenthetically, to pick up, at last, our FM-3 visas from Migracíon. It didn't take but an hour this time. We celebrated by lunching on shrimp and octopus cocktails at a nearby stand, Mariscos "El Delfin".)

Later, we went shopping, but couldn't find any pumpkin. I developed a backup plan, to use either camotes ( a sort of sweet potato) or mamey, a luscious, largish, football shaped fruit with deep orange flesh and a taste, when ripe, of pumpkin, sweet potato, honey and an indefinable but alluring taste. The interior of these mameyes, when cut, is sort of "alien pod" looking. The seeds, often in pairs, are  very smooth and shiny.

Back in Pátzcuaro and pumpkin-less, I decided to go early to the mercado and try to buy something there. I got there early, as the stands were being set up, but there was still a lot of produce for sale. After searching up and down the mercado streets, I was directed to one fruit stand whre I found mameyes. They were expensive: $81 MXP for 3 kilos, but I got them. I also had 2 kilos of camotes and a 1 kilo of carrots. I then walked back up Calle La Paz to the Basilica, where our car was parked to the side near the restaurant.

Rick was just opening up (9 AM) so I hoped to get a fast start on the pies. But things slowed down. Rick had been to Morelia also, and had brought back 3 large shopping bags of pumpkins, perhaps 4 or 5 kilos, cut in large sections.

"All we had to do" was scrape out the seeds and fibers, cook them, cool them; then remove the flesh from the rind. That's it! ;-)
Except also, for mashing, then straining the pulp. All this is prelude to mixing the filling, which is the easy part.

As the pumpkin chunks simmered on the stove top, along with the carrots (used to give a richer orange color to the filling —an old baker's trick—, I peeled and sorted out the mameyes. This may have been the Forbidden Fruit in the Garden. It is easy to peel with the hands, The seed(s) are easy to remove. The rich and lascivious flesh is simple to scrape out with a soup spoon. It didn't take 25 minutes to do this and then puree it in the Cuisinart food processor.

Mamey exposed

Meanwhile, I'd go over and check the cooling pumpkin.  Because there was so much pumpkin, I had to cook it in 3 batches. Fortunately, there are more than adequate stove burners available in the open kitchen. I constructed the pies in the oven/washup room, just behind some swinging doors, next to the walk-in cooler. (Restaurante Cha cha cha is very well set up, for the most part. However, the ovens are uniquely compact, and require special skills to operate.

Rúben, the waiter and general kitchen helper assisted me in straining the pumpkin, as well as both he and Rick assisting with the utensil washing. The mood was focused, yet friendly, and not pressured, for which I give thanks.

Making the crusts was not fun. The only flour I was able to buy is a relatively strong bread flour. Worse, the local solid vegetable/meat shortening is extremely stiff. It's not emulsified, like our familiar Crisco™. This makes it difficult to get the right moisture content in the pie crust dough, without over handling, and thereby toughening the crust. Eventually, I worked it out, but I fear that the crusts I made will be only a durable foundation for the creamy pie fillings.

As I was doing this, a bearded, older American came into the patio just outside the oven/washup room. He was making reservations for himself and his mother. I introduced myself and asked his name. He said, "Jimmy B——r".

Finally, we met, after all these years. He's used to live in  Izard County, AR, not far from from my Mother-in-law's house. He and Susie and I didn't know each other well; but we saw him on occasion. Our former doctor, Craig M—m, is Jimmy's ex-brother-in-law.
Jimmy used to have guest rooms to rent in a casa on the edge of Pátzcuaro, but by the time we arrived, that business had closed. We may see him and his mother at dinner today if our reservation times coincide.

Meanwhile, Rick turned on the unusual ovens for me. They are small, steel sheet chambers with no racks nor runners for shelves. You light them with a butane torch from underneath, turning a very small knob to more or less adjust the heat. The temperature gauge, of course, is in Centigrade. Fortunately, I'd brought a good oven thermometer with me.
To keep the baking food from burning, the pans or whatever are placed on upside-down clay bowls. (Very tricky to reach into the hot oven with a pie pan loaded with crust and liquid filling. Oh, YEAH!

But eventually, with help, I got the four motley pumpkin pies in. They should take 1 hour to bake: 15 minutes at 425ºF, and 45 min. at 350º F. This was only partially successful. The pies took nearly 2 hours to bake!

I was getting very tired, and I really wanted to get the 2 mamey pies into the oven. (There was just barely enough filling to do 2 pies, although I hadn't used anywhere near all the pulp. It was just possible to redistribute the filling so that each pie had a fair share. finally, I put them into the oven, trusting that Rick and Rúben would get them out in good order. I went out, got in the car, maneuvered it gracefully through town, without running into anyone (or vice-versa) and up the road of 50 or so topes to home. It was fun, sort of, but before I'd ever do it again, I'd better survey the layout and available equipment.

PS: I awoke early today, as is my habit, and decided to make potato rolls. I've already formed a sheet and a half of cut rolls, and it seems that the LP gas tank is running low. (Symptoms: water heater pilot light went out twice, gas stove top lights with difficulty.) Fortunately, we have a second, full tank. When the day breaks,, I'll find out where the wrench is, and change tanks. Fortunately, the gas company is less than a mile away, and they deliver promptly on request. Too bad we don't have a phone to call them. I've put the potato rolls into the cold, second bedroom, where they should rise very slowly.

Happy and Bountiful Thanksgiving Day to all my readers! We'll let the lovely Restaurante Cha Cha Cha feed us. There'll be no cooking nor dishwashing for us. Please pass the dressing, the gravy and the creamed onions. Thanks.