Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Bad Dream: Where's my Luger, Peter?

A little while ago, I had a bad dream in which I was invited to eat at Peter Luger's Steakhouse, in Brooklyn, NY. It was my first visit, as I would seldom if ever pay that kind of $$$s for a meal there. But in this dream, someone else was paying. I found myself, fully suited and cravatted, in company with friends and friends of friends. Some of the latter were very rude diners, going so far as to reach across the table, to sample morsels using their fingers. On top of that, the obsequious waiter would suggest side dishes, but they sometimes wouldn't ever arrive. I ordered a side of sauteed spinach (FOOL! I can make that at home.) and it never came.
(Click on photo for an enlarged view.)

But the worst moment was when the dining companion next to me hastily got up to take a cell phone call or something. In doing so, he disarranged the chairs, and in the momentary confusion, the waiter came and cleared our plates. I could see my unfinished steak over on a sideboard. I cried out; "Don't let him take it away!", but in moment, it was too late. It was gone. (I could describe its grain and texture, and the degree of doneness. I'd been pleased that it hadn't been pre-sliced. I'd just begun to get a sense of its savor.)

I got the captain's attention after a bit, and haltingly explained what had happened. He listened sympathetically, but with a thread of skepticism. He asked me which cut of meat I'd been eating, and he might be able to replace it. I was so consternated, that I couldn't tell him. He gave me a menu, and despite several scans of the list of steak offerings, I couldn't remember. My credibility was fading fast. I despaired of ever finishing that famed steak.

My dining companions scattered, to return to their corporate endeavors, and I was left holding a couple of cellophane-wrapped peppermint candies.

After this post, I shall be banned from Peter Luger's for life. Ni modo.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Bitter Oranges and Sweet Mermelada

From late last winter, this post has been slowly aging in its cyber-cellar, until now it is ready for publication.

Yesterday, near Pátzcuaro, we visited a neighbor's ranchito along with a friend. Our amiga pointed out the orange trees and said "Son naranjas amargas."
I asked if they could be used to make mermelada, and she didn't know. These are not the same as the "Naranjas Dulces, 5 kilos por 15 pesos", described in another post. These oranges are bitter, but free.

I'd like to know more; whether they might be used to make a tasty, coarse shred orange marmalade. I suppose I'd need pectin, wouldn't I? I soon found out that it wasn't necessary.

A week later, there was a call at our gate. Our young amiga and her cousin had brought me some 5 kilos or so of oranges. I soon set to work.

After finishing the preparing, cooking and canning of a test batch of mermelada, I'm now having a medicinal brandy. ;-)

I started at about 5 a.m. cooking the washed and scrubbed oranges, then boiling them in plain water until tender. Although the recipe in the book, "Better Than Store Bought" suggests 6, large Seville Oranges, boiled for an hour, the 12, small to medium Mexican Seville (?) Oranges were done in about 35 minutes.

They are cooled in the liquid, which is reserved. Then each orange is cut in half, and the pips and membranes are scraped into a wide, copper clad bottom, stainless steel Revere Ware pot).

That pulp is cooked with the water for an hour. This step extracts the pectin. This mess is then food milled.

The resulting strained pulp is mixed with the finely cut peels. (I did that with a sharp knife on a cutting board, 2-3 peels at a time while the pectin was extracting.) Others recommend using a food grinder with a coarse plate, but that sounds less attractive in its results.

(We then went for a walk)

On our return, I divided the total into two batches of about 6 cups each. To each I added about 6 cups of sugar. There's also fresh lemon/lime juice in it. Each batch is cooked over a fairly high flame until the mixture thickens, and the liquid falls from the spoon in sheets rather than droplets. (Yeah, right.)

Now it's poured into sterilized jars, and, in some cases, a circle of brandy paper is placed on the gel before sealing. In other cases, I said, the heck with it, and just dribbled a little brandy on top of the marmalade.

The jars are wiped off with a hot, damp towel.
(I just heard a lid, "POP!")

This looks pretty good, and the tiny tastes we had indicate that it's worth it. However, I wouldn't think making any less than 4 pints is worthwhile.

Tip to Myself: Get the proper jars ahead of time next time you plan to make this.

UPDATE: We now have the jars, and the oranges are ripening on the trees. After the Christmas holidays, I will make more mermelada.
While looking for a picture to (a-hem) borrow as an illustration, I came upon a Chili-Orange Marmalade recipe. It's from a Danish chili (sic) lover! I didn't use his picture, but I will definitely try his recipe.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


We have a bottle of locally purchased salad dressing. (No, we didn't buy it. Our departing neighbor gave it to us.)
It's labeled, " All Seasons Aderezo Campestre RANCH Picante".
In other words, it's Picante Country Ranch Dressing". Its country of origin is Canada. (I didn't know that the Canadians did picante anything.)
It was shipped across the border, at Laredo, Texas by an exporter.
It was distributed within Mexico by a distributor in el D.F. Who shipped it to a bodega somewhere in Michoacán, I guess, from where it was transported to the store where our neighbor bought it.

It's a well-traveled salad dressing.

I also found it on a blog, VidaMexicana.blog3
It appears to be in Spanish AND an Asian language.
This stuff must be widely distributed.

Oh. It's not bad, for bottled dressing.

Confronting Menudo

After many years, I think I've finally overcome my fascination with menudo, and the thrall in which it held me.

Let's face it. To eat menudo is a test of machismo. To eat it, without quivering or without echarme las tripas (puke my guts) would mean I was ready to experience the fabled " Real Mexico". On my first meeting with menudo, I failed the test. It took place in a small, Mexican cafe, near the railroad tracks, in Lordsburg, New Mexico, on a Sunday morning, about 7:30 a.m., sometime in the 1980s.

a sort of restorative soup, is tripe and sometimes other innards, cooked with onions, garllc and chiles. In El Norte, it often contains maíz pozolero as well. In the North, it's cooked blanco, sin chile; en El Sur , se cuece con chiles y lo sale rojo, sin maíz.

Sunday mornings, I knew, were prime menudo time, because the vatos locos borrachos de la noche pasada needed the curative powers of menudo para curar La Cruda. La Cruda (note the feminine ending) is a hangover of mythic proportions, scaled to how much machismo you possess. (I'd read The People's Guide to Mexico cover to cover, so I knew this stuff.)

When they brought the bowl to our table, I immediately and instinctively knew I wouldn't be able to eat it.
There was A Smell.

I applied as much crumbled orégano, chile piquín, y cebolla picada and limón as possible to mask the odor of somewhat aging viscera.
Not only was there a smell, but it was visually repulsive; a slightly viscid broth with unidentifiable fragments of innards rising to the surface to greet me.
I cautiously took a spoonful.

Not only did it smell funky, and look repulsive, but it was tepid. Brrrrr.
My brave wife took charge, called over the owner/waiter, and asked if it could could be heated more en la microonda.
Soon it returned, steaming hot and smelling as bad as before, but palatable for Susan, who cleaned the bowl.
As for me, I slunk out of Lordsburg, covered in shame. Me avergonzé.

Years went by, and in 1991, we traveled deeper into México, specifically to the fabled Silver City of Zacatecas. Our train arrived at dusk, and our taxi drove us down cobbled streets illuminated by the soft glow of wrought iron faroles de dragones lanterns. We were immediately enchanted.

The next morning, as I took a walk in the frosty air, I chanced upon the Plazuela Genaro Codina, with the statue of the eponymous Prof. Genaro Codina, playing his harp.
This charming little plaza became the center of my world in Zacatecas. Its two principal culinary attractions are side by side: La Panadería La Flor de México and Menudería La Güera.
There is also the Mercado El Laberinto, hidden away inside, and slightly hard to find.)

The Menudería opens very early. The front opens to the plazuela, doors wide open. Its walls are of polished gray stone with swirls of white. In the front of the shop, two señoras stand at the gas range, maintaining the large pots of menudo. It is a spotless eating place.

Theirs is a superior menudo. The pieces of tripas are larger and not iggy-squiggly. The caldo is boiling hot, and stoutly seasoned with aromatics and red chiles. The large size comes with a portion of meat on the bone. No pozole corn, just meat and chiles and herbs. The tortillas are hot. You can drink coffee (Nescafé) or orange juice.

I liked it. No; I loved it. It fortified me against the freezing cold, rarefied air of the 8000 feet a.s.l. of Zacatecas. After a bowl or two of that Menudo La Güera, I could climb the steep hills without gasping (much).

Years later, we moved to Michoacán. It's a different, and in my opinion, generally inferior version. The tripe is cooked apart from the caldo. The tripe is bland, white and squiggly. It's cut up into serving pieces, placed in your bowl and a ladle or two of caldo is poured over it. To me, it's like eating a bowl of tasteless, gelatinous wigglies in a relatively insipid chile broth.

Last week, here in Las Cuevas, they were cooking a menudo de olla for the early morning workers and cooks outside the church while preparing for the Día de La Virgen de Guadalupe. That menudo was bubbling nicely in a large clay olla over a charcoal fire. Everything in one pot; the broth, the seasoning and the víscera. It looked...umm... interesting. But we were on our way to a breakfast elsewhere, so we couldn't try it.

Yesterday, our neighbors killed a large beef animal for the wedding today of Sr. Jesús O. and his bride, Sra. Praxedes.
I observed some of the butchering, which employed an ax as the principal tool, as the skinned head of the animal gazed sightlessly over its own dismemberment. It gave me pause. (I will probably recover my my brief spell of queasiness in time for dinner.)

Besides the obligatory, considerably simplified local version of barbacoa a la penca para la comida; menudo will be served for breakfast. Gracias, muy amable. Yo me quedo con mi pan tostado y huevos revueltos.

(Please. Let's not talk about eggs.)

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Confessions of a 79% Coffee Addict

The terrible truth is that I am a coffee addict. I recently had my suspicions confirmed when I took and online quiz. (See below) My years I'd worked the graveyard shift as a baker had taken their toll.

Now, it's one thing to be a coffee maven, but it's a terrible thing to lose your mind to caffeine.
The signs become clearer when, instead of grinding selected Chiapas beans, you start drinking Nescafé Clásico. Not for nothing is it referred to as "No es café". That stuff used to taste like the condensations of a Mexico City bus' exhaust. Now, it doesn'
I don't drink it for the taste but for the kick-start to my day.

After one mug, I now switch to decaf. Do any of you coffee snobs know that there's a decent decaf with the Clásico label? I'll bet not.
We were introduced to this at the Restaurant del Arcángel, near Tzurumútaro. They have an espresso machine, but at 9:30 in the morning, the only coffee available was Clásico Descafeinado and a tea kettle of boiling water.

Accept no substitutes. Folger's Instant Decaf tastes bad. Very bad.

Real coffee, good coffee, is available for you mavens who scorn instant.
You can hardly get around Pátzcuaro's Centro without bumping into a cafetería. I might go so far as to say that Pátzcuaro Centro is two plazas defined by coffeehouses.

The sight of the Hygeia ice cream cartons of the Palomares coffeehouse fills me with nostalgia, but my Mundo de Café Centro revolves around the La Surtidora, on the Plaza Grande; or at the Gran Hotel, on the Plaza Chica. Those are favorite gringo aggregation social loci.

When I'm on my own, I sometimes get a café cortado at Lilian's Coffee, a tiny place niched into the Hotel Los Escudos, which has its own coffee shop. (We drank there once. Once only.) Lilian's is excellent, maybe a bit over priced, although the coffee is served in a paper cup. They also sell whole bean and ground coffee, but it's prepackaged, I think. I also like having choices of different types of beans, even though I almost always buy the same kind.

La Surtidora has the advantage that you can buy a variety of beans. (They also sell puros (cigars), both marcas nacionales y Habanos. However, that's another story for another day. One bad habit is enough for now. La Surtidora serves a deep cup. It's good, with the occasional trace of grounds to remind you that it's the real stuff.

If you are in Uruapan or Quiroga, you can buy excellent coffee at Café Tradicional Uruapan. The coffee at Café La Lucha is ok, but to me, it lacks that deep roasted flavor I prefer. Their drinking chocolate tablets are very good. Buy some to take home. The aroma alone is heavenly.

In Morelia, Café Europa has very good coffee. (Just not at their Wal-Mart Super Center outlet.)
There are several branches. There's a big café on Avenida Madero, but I haven't tried it. We usually bought coffee beans at a small Europa outlet on Humboldt, near the Casa de las Artesanías. (I haven't been there recently, so I'm not sure it's there.) Another café with food is the Europa on Avenida Enrique Ramírez, just beyond the Superama. They have especially nice service there.

Take The Coffee Addiction Test.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

¡Alto! ¿ Jugos there?

Our isolated ranchito is well served by numerous motorized vendors that supply our needs. There's the gas trucks with their jingles and romantic musical pleas to housewives, the verduras truck, the artículos de limpieza truck (Fabuloso by the 2-liter Coke bottle, etc) and the "Beep-beep!" hot tortilla man, and now, we have the Naranjas Dulces driver.

"¡Aproveche! ¡Naranjas dulces, cinco kilos por quince pesos!", goes his recorded cry.

My wife warned my that if I succumbed to the blandishments, I would have to juice the oranges myself. Well, I'm retired. Now I'll have orange stains on my hands
in addition to the time already there.

Some vendors have a schedule. The suave blandishments of the Gas Del Lago truck come at 7:30-ish in the morning. The blaring klaxon of the tortilla truck awakens any lingering slugabeds.
I'm not clear if the Naranjas Dulces man has a fixed time. Being México, it's not a clockwork naranja.

The truck came up our street this afternoon while I was dozing. I sprang to my feet, threw on my pants, and slipped on my flip flops.
Usually, the Naranja Man turns around in front of our landlady's house. That, in combination with my inertia, and other inhibiting factors (miedo de exprimir, lack of sex apeel, whatever) have until now kept me from making a purchase.

This time, I made it. Out in the mellow Michoacán afternoon sun stood the truck, heaped with oranges. Our neighbor, the venerable Sr. Jesús O. was just finishing up his purchase. We shook hands, as is the custom on every meeting. He recommended those oranges to me. "Mucho jugo."
Sr. Jesús O. is a man of few words.

The teenage boy in charge of Atencíon a Clientes looked dubiously at my pale güero face and asked me how many I wanted.
"Cinco kilos, por favor." I said. He scooped them up from the waiting bin and deposited them in a large bolsa plástica. I gave him exact change. (Maybe he should have thrown in an extra medio kilo for me having exact change. ¿quien sabe?)

Cinco kilos is a whole lotta naranjas. Squeezing them ought to improve my arm strength as well as helping our Vitamina C intake. I figure on getting a liter or two from these juicy fruits.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

¡Holey Moley Molcajete!

(Even though they're not my kitchens, I'll be reporting on interesting eating places here.)

Yesterday, Rose Calderone, Susan and I had a pleasant visit with Didi of Posada Espíritu Libre, looking around Quiroga and environs.
Our appetites whetted by the mountain air, we then went to supper at Taquería Los Compadres, on the main street. (Unfortunately, I didn't get the address.)


This place is a hole in the wall, but its food is first rate. (Note the shapely female silhouette on the sign painted on the facade. I'm not sure of its significance.)

The restroom is placed in an interesting spot under the stairs, which provides for some challenging personal configurations. Men, especially.

I'm of the opinion that places that specialize in one or two dishes, and keep their menus simple, often serve the best food. At Los Compadres, the menu (on wall signs) consists of various combinations of grilled meats, chicken and cheese, served in a variety of ways. At its heart, the ingredients are simple.

The Especialidades de La Casa are its molcajetes. (I have to confess, that before this visit, I thought of the molcajete presentation as a tourist gimmick, something on the order of Curried Chicken Salad served in a pineapple half. But this is a terrific dish; unlike one that Susan had in another, larger restaurant in Morelia, where the molcajete was a sloppy mess of acidic sauce and greasy food. But, enough about that.)

We ordered the Super Molcajete, which is more than enough for 4 hearty eaters. The cooks start by heating a molcajete (volcanic stone grinding bowl), inverted over a gas burner. The owner then throws a few carnes onto la plancha to asar them. Voilá! Carne asada!

These are then cut into fine ribbons and placed over some onion sections and salsa in the now heated molcajete. Strips of cooked chorizos are added, as is pork. There was supposed to be some chicken in it, but I couldn't detect it, and really, didn't miss it.

Word comes from another aficonado of Los Compadres that you can specify the degree of picante in the molcajete. Ours must have been "default", because it was tasty but not very picante. That's easily adjusted with an application of the table salsas.

Nopales are grilled and artistically draped over the sides of the bowl. An avalanche of shredded Queso Oaxaca crowns the creation. The cheese gradually melts due to the retained heat of the stone bowl.

We were presented with this monster molcajete, along with hot tortillas de maíz and a salsa roja and a salsa verde. Both were good, although I gave the edge to the red sauce. As you dig down, various goodies emerge from the depths of the seething crater. The cebollas were especially coveted.

The napkin consumption per person ranged up to 5, and the lime halves usage up to 8, depending on the personal squeezing power of the diner.

There was some leftover food, which they wrapped for us.
With 5 or so soft drinks, our bill was $210 MN for all four of us, plus tip.

If you are still hungry afterwards, you can find pan dulce vendors and candy shops all up and down the street. (You won't be hungry.)

SPECIAL NOTE of MERITORIOUS SERVICE: The plates and utensils were delivered to the table *before* the food came. This is a sign of good service, one not always experienced in other restaurants hereabouts. Quiroga seems like a progressive city, after all.

Footnote: On a walk after the meal, we stopped in at Café Tradicional de Uruapan, located in the inexpensive Hotel Tarasco, and purchased some excellent coffee for brewing at $45 pesos a half-kilo. I brewed some this morning, and what few hairs I have stood at attention.

On the Plaza, a couple were selling musical Christmas lights of different styles, playing different songs; which blended together in a not unpleasant cacophony. It was sort of a musical molcajete for Christmas.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Chow's the Mein Thing

Ever since we lived up in the hills south of Pátzcuaro, we'd drive into town past a roadside food wagon that advertised "Comida China Hoy", in addition to "Burritos Gigantes", "Desayunos Americanos" and more.

A recent poll of favorite Pátzcuaro restaurantes elicited a glowing endorsement of this humble highway-side stand from expat and bon vivant "C.C". He said it was unbeatable for freshness and for price in the Pátzcuaro area. (He and his late wife operated a Chinese restaurant in the States.)

Susan and I tried it at last this past Saturday. We ordered: she Chow Mein PLUS Fried rice con pollo; and I, Cerdo Agri-dulce with Fried Rice and Chow Mein. Carbo loading, for our athletic lifestyle.

We took seats under threatening skies at one of two card tables at one end of the stand. There are also counter seats under the fold-down awning.

The friendly operators of the food stand, Chef Martín, his nephew Lorenzo, and Sra. María , will chat with you; Martín in more than passable English.

The ingredients are cleverly semi-prepared and finished a la plancha; that is, on a flat grill. Various sauces, some unique to this open air restaurant, are applied to the sizzling ingredients, each in its time.

We ended up with two, generously filled plates. Susan's Chow Mein-Arroz Frito con Pollo had tasty chunks of char-grilled chicken. My pork dish was a bit unusual: the pork part were several split wieners, coated in batter and fried. A bit wierd, but not bad.

The outstanding part of the food were the combined fresh vegetables, including broccoli, carrot, onion and sliced daikon radish. The latter takes the place of water chestnuts, which are virtually unobtainable here. I give them points for that, for when I looked for a substitute for water chestnuts, I used jícama, which works ok but is a bit too sweet.

Another plus is that the food is not swimming in gloppy sauce. There's just enough to point up the fresh ingredients.

We were brought a cruet of soy sauce and a larger squeeze bottle of a tasty, thick salsa picante. The plastic forks were doll house sized. Chopsticks are available, but we are inept with them.
(Also, using chopsticks in this venue might be a tad pretentious, don't you agree?)

When the rain began, we moved over to the counter seating and chatted with the staff. Martín had spent 16 years in the LA area, learning to be a chef. He returned to Pátzcuaro 2 years ago.

Our total bill, including two soft drinks, was $96 MXP.

My conclusion is that if you are looking for authentic Chinese food, this is not the place for it. But if you are looking for a meal of freshly prepared vegetables, interestingly combined, a change of place from la comida típica Mexicana, it's worth trying. After all; the chow's the mein thing.

Located on the Libramiento Ignacio Zaragoza, left hand side as you head up and to the south toward the Autopista to Uruapan; before Supercodallos super market (on the right). Open every day 9-5 except Sunday.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Quick Bites: Caldo Tlapeño; Beets, Beans, and Bread Pudding

(I've slowed down a bit posting here, as we were away for 9 days, and our cooking "audience" had dwindled to one.)
But yesterday, I made a few things, an old favorite, Caldo Tlapeño; Susan also roasted beets, cooked acelgas (chard) and green beans, and I've got some eggplants and sweet peppers lined up for the next project. (She has a forte in vegetable cooking.) Small beets, roasted with a little olive oil and coarse sea salt, are unbeetable for deep concentrated flavor. We had hardly ever done this before. I even ate a section without peeling it.

The Caldo Tlalpeño in the linked photo is a bit on the heavy side. This time, I made a smaller quantity, starting with slowly simmering chicken stock out of bony parts, including the feet and the menuditos. I used onion, garlic, bay leaf, sea salt, epazote and black peppercorns, with one, dried chile chipotle for seasoning. After straining it, I had 3 liters, which I refrigerated over night.

Next day, I degreased it and passed it through a finer strainer. It wasn't gelatinous as I'd hoped, but it tasted good. I brought the stock to a boil and cooked one large, deboned chicken breast at a simmer for 15 minutes, then turned off the heat and let it sit, covered, for 45 minutes. Removed the breast to cool before shredding. (This breast was so large that it could be the basis of two soups, or one soup and some enchiladas de pollo or other antojitos.

I'd already cooked 2 cups of garbanzos and had them on hand. A cup of finely chopped carrots, a cup of onion, and two more cloves of garlic were sauteed in a little vegetable oil, then 6 cups of the stock, plus two, slivered chiles chipotles en adobo
were added. A bit more epazote also.

The garbanzos and all of their cooking liquid were added.

Meanwhile, I finely diced one ripe round tomato, and set it aside. Then, 1/2 cup of cleaned, disinfected cilantro, stripped of its stems. One half cup green medium hot chiles. Serranos were called for, but I used chilacas. One small avocado, peeled and cut into medium slices.

To the side, in a separate pot, I cooked rice for a total of 3 cups.

When the soup had simmered long enough to get the carrots tender, I set up the bowls for service.
A small portion of shredded chicken breast, about 1/2 cup; a small scoop of hot rice; chopped tomatoes; a couple of ladlesful of soup, being sure to distribute the garbanzos. Then, the finishing touches: cilantro, avocado, and at table, we passed the Tostadas Charras (an effective simplification of the original tiritas de tortillas fritas), and the ubiquitous limón sections.

Later, for dessert, I made Bread Pudding out of some staling mildly sourdough bread we'd bought in the Panadería El Maple in San Miguel de Allende. The pudding was composed from odds and ends we had in the fridge, such as a dried fruit compote, about 1 cup of homemade "condensed milk" from an experiment, a can of evaporated milk, 1 cup of whole milk, 1/3 cup of white sugar, 5 whole eggs, some vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt. I'd also lightly buttered each of the 6 large slices of sourdough on one side. All in a large earthenware baking dish, lightly sprayed with PAM.
I gave the mixture 5 minutes or so to soak, covered it with heavy aluminum foil, and set it into a 300-350º F oven. It was done in 55 minutes. I removed the foil for the last 8 minutes of baking. There were a few traces of scorch on the bottom, but it didn't detract from the custardy deliciousness. Next time, I'd try to set up a lower container of water to prevent the scorch.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Retired Older North American Men That Do Breakfast; At Las Cuevas

Even before we'd arrived in the Pátzcuaro area in late September, 2005, I'd read of the "R.O.M.E.O.s.", an informal group of retired men that met at a local restaurant every Tuesday morning for "networking" and breakfast. ("R.O.M.E.O.s." stands for "Retired Old Men That Eat Out".)

The homebase of the group is the Restaurant Cha Cha Cha, where co-owner Rick Davis serves the group a notable breakfast, buffet style. On alternate Tuesdays, the group meets at a different restaurant. This is usually a good plan, as it allows for some variety and change, but it is not without its risks. A few months ago, we met at a place popular for its lunches, but it turned out to be undesirable for both the food and the "networking ambience." I will not name it here.

Afterwards, I thought, "With a little help, I can do this far better myself." Some time passed, but Ricardo Lo Giudice, the informal "Jefe" of the group. was enthusiastic. We made our plans for Tuesday, February 27, 2007.
Here are some preliminary comments that I made on the Thorn Tree, Get Stuffed Branch:

This is the menu in general, and it's now set, except for small additions such as freshly squeezed orange juice.

Southern Style Meets Mexican Style

Cinnamon rolls
Angel Buttermilk Biscuits
Milk Gravy with homemade breakfast sausage
Scrambled eggs estilo N.O.t.B. with choice of red or green salsas
Real Southern Grits
Oven Roasted Potatoes
Thick-sliced, hickory smoked Wright's Bacon
Ambrosia Tropical Fruit Bowl
Real butter, jams and jellies.
Fried Apples, maybe...
Coffee 'Marat' of Coatepec, Veracruz
Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice

I will have our neighbors and Mrs. Anon (Susan) to help me. The preparation already began last week, when I bought 3 kilos of custom-ground pork at a local carnicería, seasoning it back in my kitchen with my Secret Blend of Herbs and Spices. (So secret, that I can't remember what they were. It's safer that way.)
I bought 10 dozen eggs. Do you think that will be enough? (I just calculated, based on 3 eggs each, plus those I need for baking, and I know I should buy more.)
Today I'll buy the potatoes, the fruits and any last minute stuff.

I'm also making 3-4 loaves of Oatmeal 3-Seed Bread, just to have it on hand.*
I'm hoping that one of our neighbors can take pictures during the event, between squeezing oranges, cutting up fruit, and making coffee. We will be serving buffet style, on better quality disposable "china", etc. The tables are already set up in our semi-outdoor entryway/"porch".

*The bread went unused.

All you care to eat, $70 Mexican Pesos.

Now it's Thursday, and the event is past. We are still eating and putting away leftovers. Looking back, it was a tremendous success. All the attendees were appreciative and they stayed longer than usual, schmoozing over their coffee, tea or juice.

The last hours were crucial to the operations. I arose at 12:30 a.m, made a pot of coffee, and was at work by 1:00 a.m, mixing 2 batches of cinnamon rolls, turning sausage and bacon drippings (sausage had been cooked the day before) into a huge Le Creuset pot of milk gravy
and cutting up and seasoning parboiled potatoes, for chipotle, orégano and cumin seasoned oven roasted potatoes with onions.
The Angel Biscuits had been mixed and stored as a dry mix two days before, then moistened with buttermilk the previous day, to be stored in plastic bags in the fridge, slowly maturing to tangy goodness. The day before I'd made two salsas, a coarse green salsa of tomatillos and a more finely textured red salsa, both of oven roasted fresh vegetables. In an insane moment on Tuesday morning, I'd also made a chunky salsa fresca of fresh tomatoes, chiles, diced avocadoes and radishes, seasoned with lime and orange juices. (We are still trying to consume that, as the texture becomes less crisp and much less attractive. The salsa roja and the salsa verde will keep longer, but need to be frozen for future enjoyment.)

Wright's Hickory Smoked Thick Slice Bacon, our favorite store bought brand, was panned up on parchment paper covering baker's half sheet pans. That was slowly cooked in the oven, two sheets at a time to "almost done", then removed to a paper towel lined deep quarter "hotel pan". Four dozen eggs were cracked, two at a time, beaten with a whisk, and poured into a half gallon plastic Rubber Maid bottle then refrigerated.

About 8 apples were cored and sliced, and placed in a bowl of acidulated water. Later, they'd be slowly fried in butter, sprinkled with light brown sugar and a squirt of lime juice.
(There is more, but I fear that it may become tedious to list everything.)

At 7:45, Geni and Larry arrived, bringing chairs, a beautiful bowl of Tropical Ambrosia (bananas, oranges, mangos, pineapple, Maraschino cherries, and topped with pecans and toasted coconut), PLUS, a half gallon of freshly squeezed OJ.

The staffers squeezed in a quick breakfast at about 8:45, and the crew was motivated in part by the thoughts of the Sangrita Marías that awaited us when we cleaned up afterwards.

Butter was put into ramekins, the paper Chinet plates were set out alongside the plastic tableware, jams and jellies, honey and napkins, salt and peper, all the salsas were on the dining tables or the sideboard.

The first guests arrived at 9:10. We encouraged them to have coffee and a cinnamon roll. I had the biscuits rolled out and panned on the half sheets, taking the place of the bacon.
Into the oven. Poof! They started rising magnificently within a moment. (Photo "lifted" from an unknown Web source.)

I got busy cooking scrambled eggs in two non stick skillets. This was actually the least time consuming and challenging part of the operations. I lagged behind two or three minutes, but once caught up, everyone was served.

I went out to the chowhounds during a lull, and proposed a toast: "To Mel O'Hara—who first showed us this beautiful place. Here's to you, Mel!"

The cooking dwindled to a stop, but the work continued. We were putting away surpluses and cleaning pans and utensils. The group stayed on, and I went out and sold them home made cookies (peanut butter, chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin) as a charity fund raiser, I also decided to sell off what I could of surplus cinnamon rolls for the same community causes."

At 11:00 o'clock, the last guest had left. We continued cleaning and putting away. Then I made a pitcher of Sangrita Marías. Here's the recipe:

For four hearty kitchen staffers:
Three, well chilled, 12-oz cans of Mexican V-8 Juice
Juice of 6 small Mexican or Key limes
1 cup of Tequila, nearly frozen in the freezer
Salsa picante, such as Salsa Tampico, Valentina, Búfalo or Tabasco, to taste
Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce, to taste
A dash or two of Pickapeppa Sauce (optional)
Salt, or as here, Chipotle Salt, made by finely grinding a stemmed, but not seeded dried chipotle chile with a tablespoon of coarse sea salt, to taste.
Ice cubes. Strain into glasses, drink.
Below, the Chef in his cups.

Link to PicasaWeb Album Photos

Friday, February 23, 2007

Up By the Roots: Learning from Doña Chucha

El Monstruo Verde
has been dead since last Autumn, when the chapulines used it as a place for their frenzied orgies of mating, only taking time out to nibble at the leaves for renewed energy. After a week or so of this behavior, El Monstruo had been reduced to a ghostly remnant of its former grandeur. A few days ago, Doña Chucha asked me if it would be all right if they removed the remaining roots. There is a motive besides yard beautification. Los raices del chayote can be cooked in a salsa de chile colorado. Susan had eaten a plate of this when we were at El Camino Real Restaurante. Although the root is bland and somewhat starchy, it makes a good base for the smooth, brick-red and picante salsa.

Yesterday, Don Mateo came and dug up the roots, first removing the unsightly supporting structure of tubería plásticas. In an hour or less, he had reduced the once fearsome plant to a small wash tub of tuberous roots.
A day or two passed. On Sunday morning, Chucha came to tell us that she would cook the chayote roots at 1 p.m. I would be there with my camera.

When we arrived at the house, we entered the dimly illuminated kitchen. The walls are covered with a gray colored, optical illusion patterned tile. What light entered through two small windows gave the kitchen an muted, shimmering feeling.
Their daughter, Verónica was already there to help.
Chucha had already peeled and boiled the roots. She'd also prepapared the thin, slightly picante tomato-chile sauce.

We watched Verónica separate the eggs by tapping out one end with a fork, then draining the whites out into a shallow dish. The yolks went into another bowl. Verónica first whipped the egg whites with a hand held electric mixer, then the yolks and folded them together.

Chucha then passed each thick, starchy slice of raíz by hand through the egg batter, or capeado, placing three slices at a time in a skillet of hot oil. As the slices browned, she turned them, then tilting them to drain off excess oil, placed then into a cazuela de barro in which simmered a medium thin puree of chiles and tomatoes. When all was done, we gathered around the kitchen table and ate of the flesh of El Monstruo Verde, now reddened with salsa; arroz a la Mexicana, and hot tortillas. It was simple, tasty and satisfying.

I'd run home next door for 15 minutes or so earlier to refashion some rolled chicken breasts, stuffed with acelgas and cheese, cooked in a light white wine sauce with diced tomatoes and sweet peppers. (all the parts were cooked previously, and all I had to do was assemble and reheat it.) All the family tried my dish and seemed to enjoy it, but I agreed with her that it was something only for a cook with a lot of free time available. In my opinion, her dish also required a cook with extra time, because I seldom batter fry anything, and the concept of an egg batter consisting only of whipped eggs and no flour is novel to me. (At the end, I saw Mateo heating up more homemade tortillas with which to fill out his meal.)

Chucha gave us a large quantity of Raíz de Chayote en Salsa Colorada to take home. A day or so later, I made a new, thicker sauce, more akin to to that served at Restaurante El Camino Real. I soaked 2 each seeded and stemmed, then lightly toasted chiles anchos y chiles mulatos in very hot water. Meanwhile, I toasted a little whole cumin seed and Mexican orégano with a small onion in chunks, and a large clove of garlic. I added a splash of plain vegetable oil
and 1 large and one small Roma tomato, cut into small dice, and proceeded to fry and reduce the tomatoes.
Meanwhile, I drained the now softed soaked chiles, and blended them in a powerful blender with the tomatoes and seasonings.
Be careful when doing this, as hot tomato chile sauce may spew out of the top of the blender. Blend it in small portions if necessary.

I added water as necessary to attain the desired thickness of sauce; something thinner than a typical mole, but thicker than a caldillo. The sauce is returned to the 14 inch iron skillet, to blend and thicken, over a low flame. Seasoning checked. I thought that it needed salt, which I added in the form of coarse sea salt and some Knorr-Suiza Caldo de Tomate. I placed all of the precooked, battered and fried chayote slices into the sauce to heat up. To lessen splattering of the thicker sauce, I put a perforated pizza pan, non stick side down, over the frying pan.

When a small pot of Texmati rice was done, we ate it with the chayote roots in their salsa de chile colorada rica. The three versions we had now tried were interesting, if minor variations on the basic dish, but all were good.

UPDATE: The raices de chayote got a new and (I hope, final) incarnation, as I have heated them up in the microwave, while a casserole of cooked grits, black beans and cheese, smothered in Salsa Colorada bakes in a cazuela en el horno.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Tiritas de Pescado Tres Veces

Three's a charm:
In the last week, I've eaten Tiritas de Pescado three times; one in Zihuatanejo, at La Sirena Gorda; once in Troncones, at the Burro Borracho; and now, in Pátzcuaro, at one of our favorite local restaurants, Mariscos La Güera. Surprisingly, this dish of lime-marinated strips of fish was the best of the three. I thought it was going to be a small appetizer plate, but it turned out to be a large and beautiful salad, with what seemed to be a half pound of fish strips heaped up, under rings of red onion and a sprinkling of crushed red chile. In fact, the setup was nearly identical to that of the other dish I'd had before, Camarones en Aguachile. It's on a bed of (washed and purified) lettuce, surrounded by crisp, fresh cucumber and orange slices.

I didn't have my camera along today, but here is a photo of the camarones version.
I ate this with the tortillas tostadas set on the table, although there are plenty of saltine crackers provided for those who prefer that. I squirted on Salsa Huichol, probably my favorite bottled salsa with fresh, cold seafood.

In reality, the plato de tiritas was about a third larger than the camarones plato. (All this for $45 MXP, about $4.10 US!) Not realizing the size and extent of the tiritas, I'd also ordered a Sopa de Mariscos (chica), which turned out to be a large bowl brimming with seafood, among the items were shrimp, crab, octopus, frog's legs (that's a first for me!) There were scallops and various pieces of unidentified mollusca. I did see a few small oysters in there.

The Sopa came with mini-baguettes, a plate of chopped red onions, cilantro, and limes.
Again, lacking my camera, I can only offer you a picture of the simpler but similar Caldo de Camarones, taken on an earlier visit.

I could only finish half of this delicious soup before requesting our waitress (she of the star-spangled eyelids) to pack it to go. (I can't imagine the size of a Sopa de Mariscos Grande; it must be enough to feed a family of six, with room for rubber duckies in the tub of soup.
Our total cost for the meal of two cervezas, 3 tostadas de ceviche, an order of fries, the tiritas, the sopa and a limonada, came to $182 MXP; or $16.56 USD.

Things moved a bit slowly, as the restaurant was beginning to fill up with customers (at about 3:30 PM) but the servers are energetic, and the kitchen clean and well organized. Besides, I think they cut and marinated the fresh fish to my order. The tiritas was one of the most refreshing dishes imaginable.

Mariscos La Güera, Avenida Federico Tena # 61, Centro, Pátzcuaro, Michoacán.
Telephones: 342-09-50
Open every day, from about 1 to 6 PM

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Terror Reigns For Innocent Vegetables!!

Yesterday, Monday, Februrary 5, 2007 marked a brief reign of terror. Innocent vegetables, rudely torn from Madre Tierra, were trimmed and sliced open, then plunged into a savory marinade. Then each, in a precise order, was roasted over live coals.
Susan was in charge of the roasting, and she was indeed a fierce sight, as she hacked at the coals with her wickedly curved machete.

A few days before, I'd bought eggplant, sweet red and yellow peppers, chiles Poblanos, as well as onions and medium, red potatoes in the mercado. To my amazement, grape tomatoes were on offer, at a premium price. I'd planned to cook these sooner, but the trip to Tangancícuaro came up Saturday. Our neighbors had other activities for Sunday, so it was Monday, after we hiked up on the shoulder of the mountain, that we finally sacrificed the vegetables to appease our hunger.

The marinade was a vinaigrette of fresh lime juice, white wine vinegar and a splash of balsamic vinegar; olive oil, garlic, ground red chile, basil, coarse French mustard, salt, and minced anchovies. I used about 2 1/2 cups of olive oil in all. Frequent tasting by finger dipping was necessary, seasoning to get the right balance.

I trimmed the egplants and cut them lengthwise into 1/2 inch slices. The peppers were stemmed, seeded and cut into approximately 2 inch squares. The vegetables were briefly anointed and set in a large, stainless steel baking pan, while Susan prepared the fire.

Earlier, I'd baked Rosemary and Garlic Roasted Potatoes in the kitchen oven. I seasoned them with olive oil, coarse salt, thyme, rosemary, Pimentón de la Vera, and studded it with numerous whole cloves of garlic.

The vegetables were cooked in a precise order: first, white onions, cross-cut and wrapped in aluminum foil, dripping with the marinade and a few drops of Salsa de Chile Chipotle "Cosecha Purépecha". Then the eggplant steaks, followed by the sweet and mildly hot pepper chunks. Finally, the grape tomatoes went into a perforated "stir-fry grill pan" for a quick toss over the flames.

We had no troubled consciences as we dug into the smokey, savory and crisp-tender vegetables. It was accompanied by a sourdough, rosemary foccacia.

Dessert, after a polite pause, was a fresh fruit plate of watermelon, pineapple and papaya by Geni. (You can see more of her photos of this feast here.) Then, a warm, deep-dish apple pie.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Birria and variations

Birria revisited
Among the wonders of La Cocina Mexicana are the regional variations. In Tangancícuaro, perhaps 85 miles from Pátzcuaro, we found at least two very different types of birria.

Yesterday, we visited Tangancícuaro, Michoacán for the first time. We ended up having our second meal of birria, having breakfasted on it from the first stand just inside the left side, as you enter the Mercado de Antojitos in Pátzcuaro.

The Pátzcuaro birria is in an unthickened but savory chile broth. The meat is kept in a sort of steamer kettle, submerged within the caldo. The cook was just opening for the day's business, so at first we ate this birria "al natural", putting only chopped onions on it, and for the masochistic, some salsa amarilla de chile manzano. Later, the cilantro appeared, but we were finished.
I also had a media porcíon de lengua, which was firm and tasty.

The birria at the plaza in Tangancícuaro, though, was something like large slices of beef pot roast, or, tongue, if you wish, in a thickened, very mildly spicy tomato sauce. Our friend, Sr. Alfredo Río, calls it "calduda".

This version of birria would have been ok, although rather uninteresting to me, had it not been for the wonderful condiments on the table. There was a sort of dry salad of tomato cubes, onion shreds, cilantro, just piqued enough with chile manzano. There was a saucer of small, green, chiles, with a somewhat grassy taste and media picante. Huge bowls of salsas anchored the ends of the table. To my left was a fresh, Salsa Mexican, but I did not try it. To my right was an equally large bowl of salsa verde de tomatillo, with plenty of picante punch and a full complement of cilantro. This salsa was so good, that I bought a bolsita to take home with us.

We ended our meal by buying some locally made pan dulce, vended from an umbrella-shaded pushcart, then adjourned to a dulcería, where we purchased substantial amounts of jamoncillos, flanes and fruit ates.

Monday, January 22, 2007

BL Tease

We, the North American Mexpats must keep in touch with our roots. So it is important that we take care of our native needs, one of which is to make and eat the fond foods of home.
The 3 R's
Yesterday, Geni and Larry, our next door neighbors, brought us a red, ripe round tomato. These are rare here, where we have a Roma-rama of pale plummy tomatoes all year. Abundant, and relatively cheap, verdad, but quite lacking in flavor. As an American boy, born and bred , I immediately realized where my duty lay: BLT's.
(Tomato Sandwich Photo by Geni Certain)

These are the necessary elements.

The only items lacking were lettuce (which James Beard, in his seminal work, American Cookery, claimed was unnecessary to a proper BLT. With all respect to the Master, I must disagree. Lettuce must be part of the manifold textures and savors of the sandwich.)

It was Beard, perhaps, or our bearded friend, Ned Kehde, who said that a well made BLT sandwich is equal to the finest Peking Duck. Think about it. The soft, bland bread, the crisp lettuce, juicy, ripe tomato; the salty fat and smoky savor of the bacon. The Peking Duck features crispy, fatty duck skin in a soft, white po-ping. a tortilla-like flour pancake, crisp scallions and the tang of a Hoisin based sauce.

Homemade White Bread
But most importantly, freshly homemade white bread must be at hand. I set to work making a large loaf of Buttermilk White Bread in the Cuisinart Food Processor. About 4 cups of bread flour (Sello Rojo brand), 2 teaspoons of instant active dry yeast, 3 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon white sugar (a little more to taste) 3 tablespoons of SACO Buttermilk Powder, and 2 teaspoons of salt.

Whirl the dry ingredients for a moment, then add approximately 2 cups of cool water. Process the dough steadily for 45 seconds, then stop. Test the dough consistency and moisture with your hands. Mine was a bit wet, so I threw it on the work table and kneaded it by hand for 2 or 3 minutes, then placed it in a lightly oiled 1 gallon ziplock back. Setting it out in the mild sun helped ferment it to a workable stage in about 1 1/2 hours.

I then shaped it into a loaf of about 1 pound, 12 ounces, placed in a pan sprayed with non-stick veg oil spray, stuck it back in the ziploc, and let it rise another hour.

Set oven to 375º Farenheit.

When the bread dough is about 1 inch over the edge of the pan, put it in the preheated oven. Bake about 35 minutes, or until well tanned on top. Test for doneness: remove the loaf from the pan and tap with your knuckles on the bottom. It should sound hollow. Cool on a wire rack.
Proper mayonnaise. I will settle for purchased mayo, although I still fondly remember my experiences at

Sam 'n Ella's Ho-made EATS Café

The essential element is really good bacon. For this, realistically speaking, since we can't get Coursey's Smokehouse Bacon nor Ozark Mountain Smokehouse Bacon, we use Wright's Thick-Sliced, Hickory Smoked Bacon, a terrific product. We get it at a premium price at Sam's Club in Morelia, but it's worth it.

The bacon: we figure on 2 1/2 slices per person, which we slowly fry in a large, cast iron skillet.
Meanwhile, we are washing and disinfecting our lettuce and tomatoes.

The bread is best sliced medium thick and very lightly toasted, spread with mayo or pickle relish sandwich spread, then a layer of carefully dried lettuce leaf, a couple of slices of red, ripe, round tomato, and the crisp, but not burnt bacon, still retaining a few areas of bubbled fat.

You may serve the pickles of your choice with it as you like.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

El Refranero del Pan

Several years ago, while researching a trip to Spain, I came across this collection of sayings about bread, all in Spanish. The website was a site for professional bakers and the baking industry in Spain. Today, however, I couldn't pull it up.
So, for the sake of perpetuity, I am reprising these sayings here.


A buen hambre no hay pan duro.
A gana de comer, no hay mal pan ni agua mala a gran sed.
A pan duro, diente agudo.
Aceitunas, pan y queso, eso tiene la corte en peso.
Al pan caliente metelle el diente.
Al pan de quince días, hambre de tres semanas.
Al pan, vino; y al vino pan.
Amigo por amigo, el buen pan y el buen vino.
Bien estoy con amigo, que come pan conmigo.
Buen pan y mucha leña, en invierno nunca enferma.
Buen vino y buen pan, ellos se pregonarán.
Cada día pan blanco, hace apetitoso el bazo.
Carne de hoy, pan de ayer y vino de antaño y viviras sano.
Casa sin mujer es como mesa sin pan.
Come pan y bebe agua y vivirás vida larga.
Con carne nueva, vino viejo y pan candeal, no se vive mal.
Con pan caliente y leche añojal, medra el pastor como un perujal.
Con pan hasta las sopas.
Con pan y vino se anda el camino.
Con tres "pes" te abrirás camino: pan, paciencia y padrino.
Con vino añejo y pan tierno, se pasa pronto el invierno.
Cuando comieras pan caliente, no bebas de la fuente.
Cuando el hambriento lo pilla, el pan duro le sabe a rosquillas.
Cuando fueres al mercado, pan liviano, queso pesado, buey combo y caballo pando.
Cuando la cuchara es de pan, ella remata el manjar.
Dame pan y dime tonto.
De buen mantener, huevos de hoy y pan de ayer.
De la harina el pan; del habla, el refrán.
De los olores, el pan; de los sabores, la sal.
De tal harina tal pan.
Donde no hay harina todo es mohína.
El ayuno del cristianillo, no deja el pan en el cestillo.
El holgazán no come pan.
El pan tostado, ni luce al amo ni al criado.
El pan, por el color; y el vino, por el sabor.
El vino por el calor, y el pan por el olor, y todo por el sabor.
El vino que salte, el queso que llore y el pan que cante.
El vino y el pan a las veces se dan.
En chica aldea, no hay pan duro ni mujer fea.
Fruta de hoy, y pan de ayer, carne de antier.
Harto come de mal pan, el que lo hace con afán.
Harto estoy de Juan como del mal pan.
Hecho a provecho, como pan casero.
La carne engorda, el vino esfuerza, el pan sustenta.
La comida sin pan, ni en el infierno lo dan.
Leña de romero y pan de panadera, la bordonería entera.
Más vale comer pan que gastar en botica.
Más vale pan y nueces que amor mil veces.
Mayor loco, fiestas muchas y pan poco.
Media vida es la candela, pan y vino la otra media.
Necio es pasar afa´n quien de sobra tiene vino y pan.
Ni mesa sin pan , ni mocita sin galán.
Ni mesa sin pan, ni ejercito sin capitán.
No da Dios pan sino en el ero sembrado.
Nunca buen pan de mala harina.
Pan a hartura y vino a mesura.
Pan acabado quita cuidado.
Pan candeal, pan celestial.
Pan con ojos, queso sin ojos y vino de Godojos.
Pan de centeno, mejor en tu vientre que en el ajeno.
Pan de trigo, aceite de olivo y de parra el vino.
Pan de trigo, de ese sí que soy amigo.
Pan de trigo, pero prieto, es de mucho alimento.
Pan duro duro, más vale duro que ninguno.
Pan para el hambriento es faisán un pan prieto.
Pan tierno, pan de mal gobierno; pan asentado, en hogar bien gobernado.
Pan, vino y carne crían buena sangre.
Para viuda y hambriento no hay pan duro.
Por carne, vino y pan, deja cuantos manjares hay.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

South East (Asia) by West Central (Mexico)

Another South East Asian Dinner in Michoacán

Yesterday afternoon, we had some guests for a semi-outside dinner. The day was sunny and pleasantly warm, so we set up the tables in the shade of the entryway.
While we waited for some delayed arrivals, I whipped a quick appetizer to tide the rest of us over. I mashed up a small brick of Philly Cream Cheese, added some sweetened, dried cranberries and a little diced Chiles Chipotles en Adobo, then sprinkled the resulting ball with sliced green onions. I served that with sliced, hot Vietnamese type Rice Flour Baguettes and Fiibran Crackers.

When the tardy party arrived, we launched into the opening courses; a salad of charcoal grilled/bbq's eggplants dressed with soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, sambal oelek, fish sauce and a little lime juice.

I'd bought some impressively large and long rábanos largos, which Geni cut into disks to garnish the Green Mango and Shrimp Salad. She did a beautiful job composing a colorful array of fresh fruits and vegetables.
To the right you'll see a larger, more complex composed salad of green mango shred, carrots, giant red radish slices, and more, surrounded by shrimp and topped by strips of slightly chewy queso de puerco (head cheese).
The very tangy Thai or Vietnamese style dressing was made of fresh lime juice, fish sauce, piloncillo (crushed brown sugar cone), sliced green onions, cilantro, sliced Serrano chilis, and a bit of sambal oelek.

After the the salads, we had bowls of Tom Yum Goong, with medium thick rice noodles. There was just exactly enough to serve 8 persons, although I had a lot of surplus cooked noodles, some of which I am breakfasting on with eggplant salad.

During all this, we offered a variety of tequilas and mescals, as well as Agua de Papaya, and water. We also had some Chardonnay brought by our neighbors.
After a pause, we had brewed dark roasted Mexican coffee and two Coconut Cream Pies, made with a buttery, cookie crumb crust further enriched with coconut flakes and toasted almonds in the crust.

Many jokes were told, and then our friend Luis surprised us by borrowing my guitar and singing "old favorites" Mexican songs of the past, in a beautiful voice with great projection. It was a bravura performance.

About 8 PM, the last guests departed, then Susan and I tackled the mountain of dirty dishes. An hour later, we were done, and collapsed into bed. It had been some work, yet great fun.

View Album: click the picture.

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year's Eve Dinner—LangosTiko's, Morelia

I know, I know: this blog is supposed to be about my Mexican Kitchen, but sometimes we eat out, and yesterday was a special occasion, so, there it is.

There are numerous excellent seafood restaurants in the Morelia-Pátzcuaro area, but when you want something a bit out of the ordinary, something with a little creative flair, I recommend LangosTiko's Restaurant in Morelia.

We spent New Year's Eve Day with our neighbors, Geni and Larry, in a shopping cycle of 4 or 5 big stores in Morelia.
Actually, we'd intended to go to Restaurante Amazonia, on Camelinas, a few blocks east of Star Médica, for "Carnes a la Espadas", but when we got there, it was closed for the New Year's weekend. Fortunately, our other top choice, LangosTiko's, was nearby, on Avenida Santamaría, about 2 blocks south of Avenida Lázaro Cárdenas, and a short distance north of the lateral that houses Amazonia. (The trick is to know which streets are one way, and where a left turn is allowed.) There was plenty of street parking, but for peace of mind, we parked in the estacionamiento next door, for 5 pesos an hour.

The restaurant was open, yet the afternoon rush had not begun. That gave us plenty of time to torture ourselves deliciously with the very tempting menu specialties. (Almost everthing is listed under "Especialidades".)
Three of us wanted to have the Sopa de Ostiones , Susan ordered the Pulpos LangosTikos, which she'd enjoyed on a previous visit; but first we ordered our drinks. There is a nice selection of national beers, although I had "Tequila Bandera". In keeping with the colorful, casual creativity of this restaurant, there is also a specialty drink, "Michelada LangosTikos", which is a red beer in a salt-rimmed goblet with a generous portion of boiled shrimp and raw oysters. I'd had that on a previous visit, although I got it without the oysters, which I avoid eating raw in México. While we sipped and read the menu, we nibbled on tostadas spread with the "Ceviche Hawaiiana", not really a ceviche, but a tangy spread of seafood bits in a spicy mayonnaise reminiscient of a remoulade sauce.

The Sopa de Ostiones is prepared tableside, a gimmick which normally doesn't attract me, but in the casual, palapa thatch covered; gravel- or deck-floored ambiance of LangosTikos, dried puffer fish hanging over the table, whiskers from an indigenous mask tickling the back of my neck, while I sat perched close to a 3 foot drop behind my chair, it enhanced the experience. We all three enjoyed the soup, although I found it to be somewhat different in overall sabor this time; perhaps the "Toque de Pernod" had been applied with a lighter hand.

We made our choices, and as the restaurant began to fill with large groups of customers, we placed our orders:
Larry, the Camarones Rellenos; plump shrimp, split and filled with queso asadero, then wrapped in bacon and fried; Geni, Filete Comonfort, a filet of delicate fish in a white wine cream sauce, further enriched with melted cheese atop; Susan, a brocheta of large, grilled shrimp and sweet peppers; I, Camarones a la Cazuela. This dish involves no casserole, but is described as shrimp sauteed with garlic and slivered onion, in a Spanish Sauce with red wine; bacon and slivers of chile serrano on a bed of spaghetti. It sounded a bit "busy" in the menu description, but was a delicious combination, notable for the generous quantity of shrimp, the crunch of fresh chiles, and especially the vivid green spaghetti, greener than any spinach pasta I'd ever seen. Maybe it was cilantro spaghetti.

All were pleased with their selections, although perhaps the cheese on the Filete was a bit over the top, and the bacon, although delicious, detracted somewhat from the shrimp on the brocheta. My only quibble is that the bread in the basket is a truly ordinary pseudo-baguette. But I can overlook that. We would go back again.
Drinks were 4 beers, one tequila bandera, 3 aguas minerales.

Our bill, tax and tip included, was $1000 MXP for the four of us.

We had no room for dessert, but we walked 8 blocks or so north, across the "Río", to Hornos Ortiz, to see the Christmas display, all made from bread dough, and the magnificent Roscas de Reyes (Three Kings Cakes) being decorated with candied fruits, in floral and other designs. The bakery has been beautifully enhanced by a new, central checkout bar and new display shelves. We lamented not having brought our cameras, a sore point further emphasized by the blazing sunset igniting the clouds in the western sky as we drove home.

¡Feliz y Próspero Año Nuevo 2007!