Saturday, August 27, 2011

Carport Comida: La Cocina de Betty, Morelia

Sra. Betty Zamudio 
August 2nd, 2011

We were once again at INAM in the process of renewing our FM3s. It was Tuesday and we were weary.

Our FM3s had been delayed due to circumstances which I prefer not to go into here. So during a lull, we retreated to the Auto Lavado/Internet café on the corner, presided over by the affable Sra. Myrna. I did some Internet time, while Doña Cuevas snoozed in a corner.

Sra Myrna and Hija Marí
We were getting hungry, and asked Myrna for restaurant suggestions close by. She mentioned Iguazu, a Brazilian meat-on-a-sword place; and Infierno, a taquería/carnes asadas. She told us that they were within a few blocks.

But I'd noticed earlier a flyer on the counter, advertising the newly opened La Cocina de Betty, and when I asked Myrna and Marí, her hija bonita, they responded enthusiastically. Myrna offered to lead us to it, an offer we gladly accepted.

It was just a half block down the street that runs behind INAM and angles over from Camelinas to Ignacio Chávez. A sharp right on the first side street to the right, a cerrada, and we arrived at an attractive casa in an obviously affluent neighborhood.

Calle Retorno Felipe Tena Ramírez
Colonia Camelinas.
Morelia, Michoacán,

View Pátzcuaro and Morelia Best Eats in a larger map

Sra. Betty Zamudio herself came out, and with others of her staff (whom I think are mostly family), they explained the program to us. That day, at least, you got a choice of chicken, beef or pork chop, cooked on the charcoal grill. There was a sidebar of salad ingredients and a hot table of guarniciones (side dishes), including a tasty rice, cauliflower fried in egg batter in a tomato and lightly picante sauce, and herbed spaghetti. Spicier salsas were close at hand.

The salad table included the usual salad bar items; not a broad selection, but a good one. The broccoli and cauliflower were lightly cooked but served al tiempo, and didn't have that raw green taste I associate with these vegetables. Betty brought out a homemade salad dressing based on flor de jamaica. It was excellent, and neutralized the negative points I'd given the kitchen for the bottled dressings I'd seen.

Aderezo Flor de Jamaica

We were given a choice of two aguitas: mango or melón. We chose the refreshing melón, and a generous glass lasted through our meal.

After visiting the salad table, we started to eat but flies were zeroing in on our table, so we moved inside to a small area where there were two tables.
We hope that the fly situation has been addressed by the owner.
The inside dining room was decorated in good taste. There were but two tables, but it looked as though a third might be shoehorned in.

Almost as an afterthought, Francisco, the grill cook, had asked if we would like soup. His English was earnest but limited and what kind was unclear from his description.

Our waiter brought us a beautiful lentil soup with bits of ham and pork chop. The soup was delicious; the highlight of the meal. We were offered tortillas, but passed. Bread, de horno de leña, is mentioned in the flyer, but was not available that day.

Sopa de Lentejas

The beef was thin and cooked well done,nice and also tender, seasoned with garlic and black pepper. The pork chops were o.k. and came with two slices of grilled pineapple. Salsas were available near the salad bar. My impression was that you could take and eat all you wanted, except for the meats, all at one price. That price was only $60 pesos a person. An excellent value, in my opinion.

Dessert was optional, at a surcharge of $15 pesos, and in the interests of research, I decided to try the pastel de tres leches. It was obviously homemade, and wasn't bad, but not fabulous, either. There was also a pink blob of gelatin available as well as something that looked like stewed prunes, but might have been figs.


Food: ***1/2

Service: ****

Price: $ (less than $100 pesos per person. We paid $60 each, plus $15 for a dessert.)

Ambiance: Genteel, upper middle class home; patio dining optional. Very friendly, sincere staff. Above all, "nice".

Rest room: spotless

Hours: 1-?, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday ONLY

In my opinion, it was not a revelatory gastronomic experience, but an extremely pleasant one and just the right place to soothe your soul and have a nice meal. The price is a very good value. Owner and staff are all affable and charming. After, we also met Sr. Maurilio Flores Garduña, Betty's husband, and Manager of the Restaurante Miralago, at Lake Zirahuen, a considerably more elaborate dining experience. (From what I've read.)

Betty gives cooking classes on Saturdays.

At the time of writing, La Cocina de Betty had been open only a week. We are looking forward to our next meal there.

Tel: 443 324 7831
email: bettyz1501[AT]hotmail[DOT]com

*Update: La Cocina de Betty está cerrada.

I recently received an email from Sra. Betty that she was forced to close the little restaurant due to economic considerations. She is hoping to revise her business plan and reopen sometime in the future. We wish her the greatest success.

UPDATE UPDATE: Betty has reopened her kitchen. We were there March 8, but arrived too early to take comida. Service starts at 2:30 p.m. We hope to dine there in the near future.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Babushka's Russian Deli, Livingston, NJ

A woman's headscarf folded into a triangle and tied under the chin; worn by Russian peasant women. Also, a grandmother.

Now, Mother Russia has come to Livingston, NJ in the new, Babushka's Russian Deli, conveniently located (and associated with) Livingston Bagel and deli, a couple of doors west.

The store is packed with amazing and delightful delicacies, both imported and domestic. I have have been there four times in just over a week, exploring the myriad bottled, canned and fresh foods. Moreover, the prices are very reasonable.

Among the highlights are the variety of pickled mushrooms, relishes and conserves. I admit to not having tried any yet.

But I did try kvass for the first time, and of the three kinds I sampled, I liked two. Kvass was originally made from an infusion of fermenting black bread heels. Olga Snyder, the friendly owner-manager, who was kind enough to allow me to take pictures, also pointed me to jars of kvass concentrate from which one can brew kvass at home.

I also purchase a lot of canned smoked fish, especially sprats, a sort of small, smoked sardine that we love. The prices were amazingly low.

A highlight of the store is the deli meats and cheeses case. I was offered samples of a coarsely cut, heavily smoked Russian style salami, as well as some garlicky pork roast. Close by is a smaller case of salted, cured and smoked fish. We enjoyed some delicate, white sliced smoked escolar. (Next door, the Livingston Bagel deli case has more and different smoked fish, as well as great looking herring.)

Over in the dairy case are various yoghurts and kefirs. I did buy some Amish Brand organic kefir, which is a thick, clotted creamy dairy product.

There are prepared foods, to go, as well. An appealing salad is "lobio", made of red kidney beans, walnuts, cilantro and garlic.

I started emailing Tancho about these foods, as he is of Russian ancestry. We covered kvass, pelmeni (boiled meat filled dumplings), piroshki (fine pastry enclosing meat, fish or cheese), and the intriguing okhroshka, a cold soup, originally based of kvass but now more often made with kefir or yogurt. He sent me his family's kvass recipe. I don't know if I have permission to reproduce it here, so I await word.

One of the original motives for visiting Babushka's was to find out if they had whole grain kasha, which we were unable to find at the nearby Shop Rite supermarket. Baushka's not only has whole grain kasha, it has several varieties, from a golden brown Polish kasha to a very dark, heavily toasted Russian variety. There's even a very large family sized package for about $15.

I needed the kasha to make Kasha Varnishkes, a blend of kasha pilaf and bowtie noodles. The recipe follows.

I also improvised a wildly phoney version of okhroshka, by putting chopped cucumber, sweet pepper, onion, pickled cucumber and finely diced salami in a bowl, covering it with kvass, adding chopped fresh dill, then salting and peppering to taste, and topping with thick kefir. It was surprisingly good.

I plan to return at least once more to Babushka's, to get some deli meats to make sandwiches for our flight to Mexico City. I also need more kasha.

To make the Mexico connection, I know of one Russian restaurant in Mexico City, Kolobok, in Santa María La Ribera, but have never been drawn to dine there.

Here's a recipe, of sorts, for Kasha Varnishkes.

• Whole grain roasted buckwheat kasha, 1 1/2 cups
• Bowtie noodles. If unavailable, you can substitute broad egg noodles.
• One large yellow onion
• Vegetable oil or rendered chicken schmaltz (fat), or a mixture; as needed.


Thinly slice or finely chop the peeled onion.
 Cook very slowly in enough oil or schmaltz in a skillet, stirring often, until onions are golden brown.
 Set onions aside. Do not wipe out the skillet.

(You can use the skillet to cook the kasha, if the skillet has a closely fittimg lid.)

Heat the skillet with the residual oil. Add the 1 1/2 cups of kasha. Stir over low heat until toasty.
Meanwhile, bring 3 cups of water of beef or chicken stock to a boil.
 When the kasha is evenly toasted, carefully add the stock.

Bring to a boil, reduce to a low simmer, and cook, covered, about 15 minutes. Then turn offthe heat and leave covered while you cook the noodles.

Meanwhile, in a separate pot, bring 3-4 quarts of well salted water to a full boil. Add the bowtie noodles, stirring briefly to separate. Cook about 8 minutes, until al dente, then drain well.
 In a large heatproof bowl, toss the cooked kasha with the cooked noodles, adding the cooked onions. Salt and pepper to taste.
This is usually served as a side dish to meats, such as brisket or pot roast.

More pictures in the slideshow. Clic a pic to go to the larger version.

Babushka's Deli
Russian European Food
Olga Snyder, owner
Full Catering Services
45c East Northfield Road
Livingston, NJ 07039
ph: 973.533.0394
fax: 973.533.0395
email: Olga[at]2bagel[dot]com

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Joint In New Joisey— The Landmark Tavern

Out in the west Jersey suburbs, where Livingston fringes into East Hanover, lies the Landmark Tavern. This cozy Joisey joint has been in business for many years. Originally it was a stagecoach stop. We'd passed the small, red painted wooden structure many times but until yesterday had never eaten there.

Three in the afternoon, after a harrowing visit to the Short Hills Mall, our moment had arrived to check out the popular pleasures of a classic, New Jersey tavern.

There are steps up from the parking lot. Once inside, you are in a small cavern, dimly illuminated by the light of at least five flat screen TVs. We were greeted by the amiable staff. A small sign on a wall stated,"Keep your hands off the waitress." That got me in the right mood.

Although the menu offers more, such as pizza and steaks, we focused on the famous burger and the baby back ribs.

But first we ordered some beer. Sra. Cuevas had a Guinness Stout, which took about 10 minutes to draw properly. The Yuengling Lager was faster. We also had a decent order of onion rings. We don't think they are made in the tiny restaurant kitchen, but they were fine.

We ordered the big Jersey burger with cheese. It came with a big thick slice of tomato and a tiny spearette of pickle on the side. The sesame seed topped bun was o.k. but not toasted, and the American cheese slice barely melted into the upper surface inside the bun. The burger was cooked medium according to my request, and was juicy and brawny with beefy flavor. Not the greatest hamburger I've ever had, but it filled the ticket.

The half rack of ribs was lean, nicely broiled and the lightly applied sauce was just enough. The ribs were accompanied by steakhouse type French fries and lettuce and tomato.

We were satisfied and happy with our meal. Our expectations had been more than met. Service was friendly and personal but sincere. An employee offered to take our picture in front of a mural in the nook.


Food: ***
Service: ****
Price: $$
Ambience: 1930's roadhouse
Restroom: Serviceable.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Primordial Pasta

Out of a clamorous clash of titans, born of a seawracked tempest, came a primordial pasta, immersed in the essential broth from which life emerged.

My Mom's favorite pasta dish is Linguine with White Clam Sauce. We each have our own way of doing this. I have to admit, that the pasta sauce she made today was the best I've ever had. (Of course, I cooked the linguine to the perfect point.)

Over the years, she has developed a recipe using simple ingredients but an exact technique that if done according to the following instructions, will bestow upon the eater a pasta of primordial essence.

There are a few basic but essential keys to this dish.
• Butter
• Extra Virgin Olive Oil
• Garlic
• Canned chopped clams
• Dehydrated onion flakes
• Fresh parsley
• Bottled clam broth

•Linguini pasta. We like Barilla. You can pay more if you wish.

Here is the method, to serve 4 persons.

• 1 pound of linguine pasta.
• 4 quarts well salted, boiling water.

Put the pot of water on the stove, turn the heat up to full.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce.

You'll also need 3, 6.5 ounce cans of chopped clams. We had great success with Snow's brand. Open and drain, reserving the liquid.

• 1, 8 ounce bottle of clam broth. We happened to have Cento brand.

• 5 cloves of garlic, peeled, trimmed and ready to press.

• Sweet butter, at least a stick. You will need a lot of butter. Don't hold back!

Extra virgin olive oil.

Fresh parsley, washed, patted dry and trimmed of coarse stems. Chop about 3+ tablespoons parsley medium fine.

In a 2 quart saucepan, put about 1/8 cup of olive and a tablespoon of butter. Melt over low heat. Press the garlic cloves into the pot. Cook over low heat, stirring. Do not brown.

Pour in the reserved liquid from the clams plus the 8 ounce bottle of clam broth plus the parsley. Add a generous shake of dry onion flakes. Let's say 1 tablespoon. Simmer on low heat for 10 minutes.

By now, the salted water for the pasta should have come to a full boil. Put the pasta into the water gradually, stirring with a wooden spoon or fork so it does not stick to itself.

You may turn off the heat under the sauce as the linguine cooks, approximately 6-8 minutes at near sea level, longer at higher elevations.

Please cook it al dente, so it is still slightly resistant to the bite. Test a strand often.

Meanwhile, prepare a serving dish as follows: in  a microwave proof casserole or souffle dish, place 3/4 stick of butter (6 tablespoons) and heat in the micro until the butter is melted and sizzling.

Just before the pasta is done, turn up the heat on the clam broth-garlic-parsley mixture. Drop in the reserved clams and bring just to a simmer, then turn off the heat.

Drain the pasta into a colander in the sink. Do not rinse. Shake the colander a couple of times and invert the contents into the dish with the heated butter. Toss well to coat every strand with butter.

No linguine lingers languidly in the bowl.
Serve the pasta separately from a bowl of the clam sauce. Heated soup bowls are strongly advised. Forks and soup spoons are the tools of the day.
Perhaps it should be called Green Clam Sauce
Pass the black pepper grinder for those who wish it. It is not the custom to put cheese on seafood pasta.

Primordial pleasure in pasta
Pass some warmed, crust French or Italian bread for sopping up the extra juices.

For dessert, we had freshly and lightly cooked peaches and plums, with just a little sugar. I also indulged in a Pignoli Cookie.

(By the way, my Mom isn't even Italian.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Time for a change?

I'm thinking of renaming this blog.

When it started, back in 2006, it was supposed to be about Mexican food made in my kitchen. You can see where it has evolved. There's precious little about Mexican home cooking, let alone home cooking of any sort. Let's face it. I hate to type recipes, and it's very challenging to photograph step by step cooking techniques.

Others do that so much better than I.
I also don't want to be committed only to Mexican food, which, despite its obvious vibrant warmth, is but one of the world's great cuisines.

My Mexican Kitchen has become a restaurant review site, with the occasional home dinner description. I like it this way, but the name no longer reflects the reality.

The decision is not yet made, but I'm open to suggestions from our readers for new, descriptive names. Points OFF for alliterative names!

 Don Cuevas

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sol Mar, Tarrytown, NY

How far would you drive for a special meal? Yesterday, we drove nearly 50 miles from the Oranges, NJ area to Tarrytown, NY, to meet our niece and her husband for lunch.

J, our niece, had suggested that we meet about halfway between their central Connecticut home and our family's home in New Jersey. To tell the truth, they drove twice as far as we did.

I had read something of dining in and around Tarrytown, on the Hudson River, just north of the Tappan Zee Bridge. (Which,it should be noted, charges $5 USD per car going eastward and nothing going westward. I appreciate the gesture.)

After much intensive Internet research, using Yelp!, Chowhound and other foodie sources, I'd focused on the Portuguese and Brazilian restaurant, Sol Mar. Other contenders were Tarry Tavern and Sweetgrass, but in the end, Sol Mar won.

Why? Because I believe that ethnic restaurants can provide honest cooking and are a good value. It's not that I don't appreciate locally sourced, perhaps organic ingredients presented in creative ways. (Well, to be honest, it doesn't excite me much.) But I get more excited by a family operated ethnic restaurant serving specialties of their native land.

Sol Mar 12 Main Street, Tarrytown, NY
Sol Mar proved to be a very good choice. As always, I sought out dishes of which I was unlikely to prepare at home.

We were brought crisp crusted, warm bread, good butter, and a few small cubes of cheese on food picks. Good start.

The Lunch Menu.

But, first, the drinks.
I had a couple of glasses of a delightful Fuzelo Vinho Verde, throughout the meal. It was refreshing, flavorful, balanced and with an impudent effervescence, an attractive sign of its youthfulness. (Hmm?)

My companions quaffed several kinds of Brazilian and Portuguese beers, including one very black brew. At the opposite end of the visible light spectrum was "Sköl", a light, Brazilian lager. It was the only one presented in a can.

For appetizers, we began with an order of Bolhinos do Bacalau, or codfish fritters. They were everything I wished for. Slightly crispish outside and creamy salt cod interior. The salt was present but restrained.

J. had a Portuguese Salad with grilled sardines, a rather substantial affair, spangled with capers.

Crab cakes on a menu are hard to resist, and while this pair, served with a sweet red pepper sauce and a beurre blanc were fine, they were overshadowed by the other dishes.

Doña Cuevas made a very wise choice in ordering Grilled Calamari with Sun-dried Tomatoes, a treatment which made a mockery of the ubiquitous breaded rubber bands accompanied by overcooked Marinara Sauce, as commonly served.

I opted for Grilled Sardines. These were the subject of some controvery on Yelp! or Chowhound. So, like, OMG! Sardines have bones! Yelp!

The sardines were pure, simply prepared, and tasted like fresh, grilled sardines should. They were seasoned with a little olive oil and coarse salt, and garnished with a few strips of roasted sweet peppers. Boning them was a snap.

WAITER! My sardines have bones! ;-)
G went all out and got Feijoada, the Brazilian national dish. It's a hearty dish of black beans, pork and choriço, accompanied by rice and a trio of traditional condiments.


From left, clockwise: toasted manioc meal; garlicky collard greens, vinaigrette dressing.

J, in an adventurous mood, ordered Porco Alentejano, a remarkable dish of tender pork stewed in a rich but mild sauce, topped with whole Little Neck clams in the shell. I might be tempted to call this dish "a revelation", but I'll refrain.
Porco Alentejano


Of the five desserts presented on a tray, several looked a little tired, but Alex assured us that we would get fresh portions. He is a sincere and affable young man. two were made in house. They were the "Molotov", a soft meringue striped with a caramel sauce; and flan.

Flan. We have eaten hundreds of flans over the years. They have ranged from terrible to acceptable to pretty good. But the flan at Sol Mar is unmissable, probably the best we've ever had. It's a delicate custard, perfectly flavored, and had a serious burnt sugar top, as it should be.

The Molotov would not have been my choice, as I am not fond of whipped egg white desserts. But this was very pleasant. (I only ate a small spoonful.)

We finished with coffee, an Americano for G and an espresso for me. The espresso came very close to meeting the ideal standards of our absent friend, Ron, El Exigente.

Alex returned with a bottle of Moscatel do Douro and four cordial glasses. We were treated to a drink on the house. I went up to Chef-Owner Senhor Carlos Mendonça to thank him and congratulate him.

The bill was serious,, but not because the prices are high. The cost was because we'd totally indulged ourselves, enjoying a great meal.


Food: *****
Service: *****
Cost: $$ (Each $ represents approximately $10 USD per person.)
Ambience: warm and friendly, quiet while we were there.
Restroom: Tiny, clean and it works.
Patio dining available.
Reservations suggested: Tel 914-333-0151

A Better map:

View Larger Map

Friday, August 12, 2011

When it's cherry blossom time in Orange, New Jersey, we'll make a peach of a pie.

"When it’s cherry blossom time in Orange, New Jersey
We’ll make a peach of a pair. I know we cantaloupe
So honeydew be mine..."
Fragment of an nutty routine by Danny Kaye. Lyrics by Sylvia Fine. Complete, insane routine, "Manic Depressive Pictures Presents" here.

A nutty, insane routine food magazine recipe for stone fruit pie follows, with my snarky comments.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

California Dining Part V: Vung Tau

 No Pho, Pa?

We'd almost forgotten about Vung Tau, as our 10 days in the San Jose, CA area drew to a close. Although we love Vietnamese food, the Vung Tau Vietnamese Restaurant had been an alternate choice for our Tuesday lunch with our financial adviser. But we ended up at McCormick and Schmick, which was very nice, indeed, in an Executive Luncheon sort of way. (I see that I haven't posted that yet. Sigh... maybe some day.)

On Sunday we realized that we had an unfilled spot in our California dining calendar. So, with my in-laws, we went Monday at about 1:00 to Vung Tau.

After first parking on a nearby street, my brother in law, R. realized that there was free customer parking at the restaurant, so he moved the car.

The menu is intriguing and presents a style of Vietnamese cuisine that is more upscale, yet accessibly priced, than many other restaurants of the genre. Full PDF menu here. It was notable in that I found only one kind of pho, Pho Bo. Possibly there's others and I just didn't see them.

O.k. Here is the menu. Click to enlarge.

For starters, the Banh Khot were highly recommended by other reviewers. They are described as "cupcakes", but really, they are small, crispy skinned rice tortitas, filled with shrimp and green onions. Truly outstanding.

Banh Khot
We then chose a Shredded Green Papaya Salad with Dried Sesame Beef and Basil. This was a delightful mingling of tart and sweet flavors with small herbal explosions of taste.

Shredded Green Papaya Salad with Dried Sesame Beef
I couldn't resist the Lemon Grass Marinated Grilled Ribs on the menu. They were nearly perfect in the combination of porkyness, aromatics and a nice nibble. The only flaw was perhaps a bit too much salt.

Lemon Grass Marinated Ribs
A Tamarind Soup with fish was next up. R & J got to choose which fish, and they decided on striped bass.

This was a very nice soup, although I would have preferred to have the vegetables cut a bit smaller as well as cooked a little more.

The fish soup was followed by another fish course. From among the many possible options, we chose a Caramelized Catfish with Fish Sauce and Black Pepper in an Earthenware pot.

This is comfort food; extremely soft, almost custard like in texture, in a lush and savory sauce.

Caramelized Catfish, etc.
The restaurant closes for lunch at 3:00 p.m. and at that time, our waiter asked us to place any last requests and to settle the bill. (This, of course, would almost never happen in Mexico.) But it was done courteously, so we paid, after two of us ordered hot Vietnamese drip coffee with condensed milk. My new opinion of that drink/dessert is that I don't have the patience to wait for it to finish dripping. Besides, when it's done, the coffee is usually tepid.

The bill was quite reasonable, $106.89 before tip.


Food: *****
Service: *****
Price: $$-$$ 1/2
Ambience: Simple, modern
Restrooms: Clean and well maintained
Would we return? Most definitely!