Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Six Days Stoveless in Michoacán

In the last two years or so I'd become more and more dissatisfied with our old, GE (made by Mabe, México) stove and oven. The oven was especially underpowered for baking pizzas and hearth style breads. It couldn't get up over a temperature of around 410º F.

The Old Stove huddles nervously in its corner
Then, the range burners started to falter. Some gave out yellow instead of blue flames. Carbon was accumulating on the bottom of my cookware.

Part of that we attribute to the overzealous cleaning methods and overly lavish application of cleansing agents applied by our energetic but often insouciant house cleaning girl, Srta. M. (The younger half of our house cleaning team.) Many times after a cleaning, the burners would not light until thoroughly dried and regularly reamed with a wire to reopen the orifices. The piezoelectric spark plugs were failing. One large burner lost its spark plug when it irretrievably fell down inside the burner plate as my wife was cleaning it.

But we could get by, if necessary with the rangetop. We could light it with a butane torch. What I couldn't tolerate was the wimpy oven. It was good for baking cookies, but not much else. I was badly wanting a new stove and oven. After a year or two of searching, reading and reviewing the possibilities, I'd decided on the following requisites.

1. Heavy range burners.
2. Heavy, well built construction.
3. Oven with two racks.
4. Stainless steel finish.
5. Electronic ignition.
6. Brand: Probably IO Mabe or GE.
7. "Estufa de piso"; that is, on legs, not a built in.
8. Runs on LP gas, not electric.

What I didn't want, deeming as unnecessary: a "capelo", or hinged glass cover; digital controls, "auto slide oven racks." Nor did I want to spend over $10,000 pesos, tops. ¡JA JA JA JA JA!

It was on a Tuesday 3 weeks ago, while visiting Ms RedShoes in Morelia, that we went to Sears at Paseo Altozano to "just look over" stove prospects. There was a substantial array of stoves, many of which met some of my criteria but not all. One in particular was very attractive. A GE (made by Mabe in México). Heavy burner grids. Sturdy construction.Electronic ignition. Stainless steel cladding. Oven with two racks,  auto slide could be enabled or disabled by the user. Capelo. Seemingly a useless frill, but almost impossible to avoid having. Comal thrown in. "Deli drawer" under the upper burners, which at first seemed to be a broiler. Wishful thinking. It was truthfully described by the salesman as a "cheese melter" or food or plate warmer. At the time we were unaware that this feature was electrically powered. I should have known by the digital control panel. But that was not a deal breaker.

The real gasper was the list price. Over $19,000 pesos. But lucky us! There was a sale on in February. We could save 20 % on any stove, including this one. After a few more pass by in review of the other ranges, I took a deep breath and ordered the top model. Final price was about $14, 500 pesos. Yo know that you wanted to ask ...

After much paperwork and getting 6 months' free maintenance coverage, we determined that it would be delivered in "about" a week. There would be a delivery charge of $500 pesos, payable to the transportistas.

The stove arrived on the Wednesday of the following week. The transport guys unpacked it and placed it in front of the stove recess in the kitchen, but not in it. The reason became apparent. The "Técnico" would have to come and set it up. After all, this is a sophisticated piece of kitchen equipment. Ms M helped by calling the Sears Technical Services Department, and we expected that the Tec would come on Friday. But that was not to be. On Friday afternoon, I called again, and learned that the next Tuesday would be The Day.

Beautiful, tantalizing but inútil.
We'd sold our old stove to Sra. Salud for a token amount, and the transportistas had kindly hauled it down the street to her house. So now we were without a working stove.

Que te vaya bien, mi vieja estufa
We hunkered own to survive without it. That wasn't very difficult, for we have a freezer full of prepared thaw 'n heat food, and a microwave oven. But of course, I wanted to cook and bake. Although I was impatient to get going to work with the new equipment, its unavailability helped also to calm me down a little.

On Tuesday I was enjoying breakfast with my mates at Restaurant El Camino Real when Sra. Cuevas called from home. ""Better get here soon. The Tec is here!"

Hot little red Sears truck
I actually left a third of my breakfast uneaten and hotfooted it back to el Rancho.

When I arrive, the Tec had finished the challenging task of leveling the new stove on an uneven floor, and was ready to continue the setup.

At this point, we watched raptly as he setup and explained various parts and functions. Rather than bore you with further verbiage, I'll let the photo slideshow illustrate it for me.

After an hour or more of preheating the oven in order to burn off Factory Odors", I was ready to cook. I cooked and baked so much in the next few days that I've forgotten most of what it was.

I've had the new stove now for a week. I love it. A highlight was baking two batches of Danish Pastries on two separate days. I've made soups, stir fries and baked heavy, Five Grain Bread for 2 1/2 hours. I got to like the auto slide oven racks. I learned that the Triple Burner wasn't for higher heat but for incremental nuances of lower heat levels. I used the comal once or twice for rewarming tortillas. I haven't used the Deli drawer "gratinator/ plate/food warmer yet.

The new stove has been placed Strictly Off Limits to our house cleaning duo by my edict. I cover it with a large black plastic before they arrive. I think we understand each other. (I hope.)

Burning Pizza On Your Grill

A Pizza Margherita (Nice topping, poor crust, baked in my feeble old oven)
YES! You can do it, by reading my description of how I fumbled through it.

I'd read much about cooking pizza on a gas or charcoal grill. In fact, with the help of fellow blogger Tancho, we'd played with this concept a few years ago, with tentative results. I was also chafing under the constraint of not having a working stove or oven for almost a week. More about that later.

The essence of baking pizza on the grill is to first quickly bake a crust directly on the grids above the burning coals. The grill marked dough piece is then removed, turned over, and a very light amount of pizza sauce and of toppings is applied to the baked side. The pizza is then placed back on the grill, the cover is lowered, and the toppings heat up as the cheese melts, say, 3 minutes in all.

The moment of truth
A nice, browned bottom is important
It's essential to have all your ingredients "mise-en-place".
One of the challenges of this approach is the series of movements onto and off the grill. Care must be taken that the dough doesn't stick. Toppings must be pre-cooked and of minimal quantity. These movements must be deft and confident. And, in the end, it's not classic pizza, but a sort of grill baked flat bread with pizza type toppings.

About a year ago, I hit upon the idea of preheating a clay comal in the charcoal grill, then peeling the already topped pizza onto the comal. In theory, this is a workable solution, but there were snags in practice.

The principle snag was sliding the raw pizza off the improvised cookie sheet "peel", although dusted with cornmeal. I got a little better at this during the recent Sunday cookout, but never expert. To further test this concept, we invited a neighbor lady and her daughter to be our guests. They were pleased, I know, but I was not totally satisfied. More practice will be required.

Here's the meal we had:
Sra. Salud brought her specialty, Caldo de Pollo, for a starter.

Caldo de Pollo (iPad photo)
I was feeling very ambitious, so two days before I made a biga  of a very small amount of yeast, water and flour, refreshing it twice at about 12 hour intervals. Then the dough was mixed the day before, and after one full rising at room temperature, formed into balls and refrigerated overnight. This made a definite improvement in crust flavor, but was somewhat hard to work with until it had completely warmed back up.

Dough balls resting prior to extending
I was out of mozzarella, and had unfortunately substituted an inferior Queso estilo Oaxaca, plus some grated Asiago and Parmesan Reggianito. So I think that was why the cheeses barely melted. Since then, I bought some Precious™ 5- Cheese Blend at Costco in Morelia. It's very good, but expensive, at over $90 pesos for 907 grams. Costco also has their Kirkland brand shredded mozzarella, but it comes in 5 pound bags, which is too much for me to use at once. It runs about $200 pesos.

The first pizza was a Pizza Vegetariana of grilled seasoned eggplant slices, sweet colored peppers and onion.

Pizza Vegetariana. 
Next, a Pizza of Spinach and cheese. The spinach should have been precooked more before placing on the pizza.

Spinach Pizza. A bit stringy.
Next up, a pizza of homemade Italian style sausage and purchased Italian style salami.

Pizza Mixta. Note the browner than usual crust. Good.
Overall, I think these pizzas passed the Taste Test. But although they came close, they did not fully pass my Browned Crust Test. When I do it again, I'll have the moves down better.

Approved by Inspector # 4
An ideal crust bottom.
 (browned in a cast iron skillet on another occasion.)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Dim Sum Sunday

"The Sum Never Dims On The Chinese Empire."
Not Our Dim Sum, but Singapore's Best
Two visits in the past seven months to Jing Teng, a dim sum restaurant in Mexico City, animated Doña Cuevas and me to plan a dim sum luncheon at home.

Sra. Cuevas and I invited a total of six guests to attend. Nancy volunteered to make Wonton Soup, Ms. RedShoes was to bring a salad of mixed, organic greens from her garden, Geni and Larry brought nibbling food of seasoned peanuts and fava beans, and Ron, made a sorbet/iced Mandarin Orange soup.

I was delighted to organize the meal, as well as making Char Siu from scratch, uncovering recipes for scallion cakes, bao dough and two bao fillings.

My first step was to go to our favorite carnicería in Pátzcuaro, La Sin Rival. On a Friday the week before the slated Sunday lunch, I had a long and detailed discussion with the son of the owner in regard to which cut of pork would work best. We decided on panceta, unsmoked bacon, better known as belly pork. I was emphatically assured that they would have it for me on the following Wednesday. I needed this meat several days in advance of the Sunday meal, as it must first be marinated, then roasted, and then chopped and stir fried with other ingredients for the filling.

Wednesday came, and the meat was not ready. I was told that it would be in on Thursday. Thursday came, and it was still not ready. I was tired and more than a little annoyed. I'd just come from the Pátzcuaro Mercado, where Carnicería La Norteña had had exactly what I needed. But I was reluctant to walk back to the Mercado, and sat down in the cafetería next door to La Sin Rival with dimming hope that son and father could obtain the promised cut of pork. After waiting 15 minutes, I was steaming. But then, Papá appeared on his motor bike with a bag. The pork was in the bag. My buns were saved!

Panceta (belly pork) and a few marinade ingredients
DC photo
Early Friday morning, I mixed the marinade for the char siu  and thawed a whole boneless, chicken breast for the other bao filling.
This is the recipe, from NoRecipes.com I used for the cha siu, with a few personalized changes, of course.

Marinated pork strips are double bagged.
DC photo
This was then refrigerated for 24 hours.

On Saturday, I slow roasted the pork strips for 1 1/2 hours. They came out irresistibly savory and fragrant. I used two strips for bao filling, about a pound each, and froze two more.

Marinated Pork Strips Before Roasting
DC photo
Marinated Pork After Slow Roasting 1 1/2 hours
DC photo
Small samples (L), were taken for testing and quality control.
DC photo
Early Sunday morning, I chopped the char siu and made the bao filling. I gussied it up by adding some diced bamboo shoots and special condiment sauces.

Dicing the Char Siu.
DC photo
I also made the Chicken—Shiitake Bao filling.

DC photo

A hard working cook must eat, so I took some diced cooked chicken breast, sliced ginger, a little rice and some ready to use Kirkland Organic Chicken Broth and made Chicken Congee. Congee is a slowly cooked rice gruel, with zesty condiments added to taste by the eater.
(The congee was not part of the dim sum meal.)

Cook's breakfast: Chicken Congee; mezcal de pechuga to the right.
DC photo
I sliced a boatload of scallions (Really, the smallest cebollitas I could find) for scallion cakes or other uses.)

Scallions are used in much of dim sum cookery.
G. Certain photo 
Several cups of scallions were used in the opener course of Scallion Cakes.

Hot Scallion Cakes. G. Certain photo
Details of the making of scallion cakes can be viewed here.
Next came the preparation of the bao doughs, containing both yeast and baking powder, as well as powdered milk. The recipe worked very well.

Meanwhile, Nancy and Mark arrived. Nancy and her helpers set up a won ton manufactory line on our ample kitchen counter.

Each won ton packet begins with a single step. This is the first.
G. Certain photo 
Wonton wrapping, step two.
G. Certain photo 
The ranks of the Peoples' Won Tons rally for the march!
G. Certain photo 
Soup by Nancy.
G. Certain photo 
The first courses, after the spicy nuts and nibbles, were the beautiful, home raised salad of Ms RedShoes and Nancy's Won Ton Soup.

Ms RedShoes' Organic Salad.
G. Certain photo 
Sayings of Chairman Bao
When the bao doughs were risen and punched and divided, bao stuffing and forming began. It had been so many years since Doña Cuevas and I had made these, that we'd forgotten how to do the fancy pleating of the wrappers. But we did the best we could. In the end, our guests were replete with bao.

Doña Cuevas stuffs chicken-shiitake bao

People's Regional Consolidated Bao Production Center
Esteemed buns, chicken shiitake. Take a bao.
Cha Siu Bao (roast pork stuffed buns).

Steamer baskets of hot bao go to the table.
G. Certain photo 
Guests get their wonton rations
Carnage, post comida.
G. Certain photo 
Ron's Sopa Fría de Mandarinas was a refreshing dessert
G. Certain photo 
I'd made some Chinese Almond Cookies.
G. Certain photo 
and some ginger snap cookies. G. Certain photo

It was a great experience, but one unlikely to be reprised in all of its complexity. I would make perhaps one dim sum dish, but not all.
Thanks to all who attended and participated.

(Promises, like bao, are often broken.)

I forgot to mention a Spicy Cucumber Salad I'd made. The recipe, in Virginia Lee's and Craig Claiborne's The Chinese Cookbook, was overly complicated, but I devised a simplified and very good version.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Parrilla y Canilla in Morelia's Heights

We have been dining at Parrilla y Canilla since July, 2012. Over the years, it has been very good. Parrilla y Canilla is arguably the best restaurant in Morelia, and continues so in our estimation despite an occasional, minor slip up. The cuisine is Uruguayan/Argentine/Italian. The restaurant's style is casually elegant.

Parrilla's new private dining room
Yesterday, after conducting some Heavy Shopping not far away, we joined our friend Jennifer for another meal at La Parrilla. Apart from restoring our red blood cells and relaxing after the sometimes arduous shopping, we were able to relax with a glass of wine and, for me, a very generously poured and potent Gin and Tonic.

The restaurant was surprisingly very busy for a Tuesday afternoon, but there were still a couple of umbrella shaded tables on the attractive terraza, with a view of the city below.

Table on the terraza
Our friend, Ms. Redshoes, had a glass of red wine, but I wanted something stronger: a Bombay Gin and Tonic. It was very gratifying. It was without a doubt the strongest, most generous drink I'd ever had in a restaurant.

We were brought a basket of house made breads. It was apparent that the quality of baking had greatly improved since our earliest visits three years ago. There were the usual little dishes of well made chimichurrí and salsa roja.

All three of us ordered appetizers. Sra. Cuevas and our amiga both got an Empanada de Carne. I saw a new dish on the menu, Lengua Nico Pérez. 

Empanada de carne
The empanadas were attractively browned and well filled. Accompanied by a salad, they could serve as a modest lunch. 

The tongue was presented as a sort of warm salad, in a delicious, light vinaigrette with minced parsley and egg. There were three moderately thick, tender slices, which together could have sufficed for my lunch. But I'd already ordered my second course.

Lengua Nico Pérez
Which was ...
Bife Rosso: A 400 gram Bife de Chorizo, on a bed of buttered linguini, generously topped with chunky sauteed mushrooms, with a wine reduction sauce on the side. Not a dish for light appetites, but I was able to make good progress on it. I took home a substantial piece. The linguini, simply dressed with butter, was notably good. I requested  a small dish of Queso Parmesano.

(The wine reduction was delicious, but murky. The kitchen should dedicate its efforts in clarifying sauces and Jugo de Carne. (The latter, a cloudy and wretched dish which I foolishly ordered on two previous occasions.)

Bife Rosso
Both Ms Shoes and Sra. Cuevas had their favorite cut, Vacio. It came with the Parrilla's signature Lechuga Orejona a la Parrilla.

Vacio and orejona a la parrilla
Our waiter recited a tempting list of desserts to us, but as we were already sated, so finished with coffee. I had an Espresso Doble. It was superior to most we've had in restaurants in Mexico.

The complimentary (purchased elsewhere) cookies were cute, but we skipped them. We were accustomed to homemade little polvorones.

The final tally was around $400 pesos per person, plus tip.

Food: *****

Service: *****

Ambience: Casual, upmarket

Cost: $$-$$$$ (Each $ represents approximately $1oo pesos per person.)

Restrooms: classy

Location and Contact info:
60 José Juan Tablada Morelia, MICH Mexico
Tel. (443) 3198352

Lunes a Sábado 1:30PM - 11:00PM
Domingos 12:30PM - 6:00PM

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sea Hunt: Marisquería La Perla de La Roma

Marine life mural sculpture
We had begun our trip in Colonia Roma with a comida at the casually elegant (read "pricey") seafood restaurant, Salón Progreso. When we returned to el D.F., we craved another seafood meal. Our criteria were: within walking distance of our hotel and neither "hip", trendy or expensive.

A look at the usual Mexico City restaurant review websites wasn't fruitful. (Too far, too trendy, too expensive.) I then turned to Google Maps. I'd already given it our location as Hotel Embassy, Calle de Puebla 115, Colonia Roma Norte, México, D.F.

Google quickly came up with a result within easy reach:

Marisquería la Perla de la Roma
Avenida Cuauhtémoc 35, Cuauhtemoc, Roma Norte, 06700 Ciudad de México, D.F., Mexico ‎

Not only close to the Hotel Embassy, (which is really at # Puebla 115. I don't know why Google Maps thinks it's at # 111.) it's just around the corner where Calle de Puebla meets Avenida Cuauhtémoc.

View Larger Map

I'd glimpsed this restaurant earlier as we rode a taxi to the hotel. Then I rechecked the restaurant review web sites, including Yelp! The reviews were generally favorable to enthusiastic, but several mentioned "waiting in line to get in". I consider that a good sign.

La Fila
When we arrived, there was indeed a waiting line. A security guard served as both doorman and host. We waited about 15 minutes before he led us through two huge dining rooms to a table in the cozy, dining room annex, located over the loading zone ramp. (By now you should be beginning to grasp that La Marisquería La Perla de La Roma's style is the polar opposite of that of Salón Progreso's.)

One half of La Marisquería La Perla de La Roma main dining room
The other half of the first dining room.

There is a second dining room similar in size to the first.

Cozy, more intimate annex dining room
Perhaps 10 minutes passed before a waitress arrived to give us a do it yourself order form. The wait time was understandable considering that all dining rooms were nearly full to maximum capacity. Surprisingly, while the noise level was LOUD, we could, with care, still communicate vocally across our table.

Once we had our do it yourself order form filled out, our waitress returned and read the order back to us.

Then things moved quickly. Our meal arrived in just under 10 minutes.

Sra. Cuevas started with a Coctel de Camarones, sin catsup. It was very nice, although not equal to the one she'd had at Marisquería  La Red in Oaxaca.

Coctel de Camarones, sin catsup
I had a Coctel Ceviche de Pescado, (other marine life ceviches are offered), a simple but good rendition. It was purely good sized chunks of firm fleshed fish in its marinade liquid. I think I added some salsa picante and cilantro from a dish on the table. We both noted that each coctel had a few drops of olive oil, a kind of old fashioned, special touch infrequently encountered nowadays.

It wasn't long before our platos fuertes arrived: Doña Cuevas got Pulpos al Mojo de Ajo which was good, but again, not as good as that she had at La Red. But keep in mind that La Red is over 6 1/2 hours away by bus.

Pulpos al Mojo de Ajo
Following enthusiastic recommendations on various restaurant review sites  (YELP!) I had "Empapelado", a melange of seafood baked (?) in a sizable aluminum foil pouch. It wasn't bad, but it was under seasoned, and not very imaginatively at that, and it very quickly became boring.

In fact, we found ourselves so full from our cocteles that neither of us could eat but half of our platos fuertes.

Sra. Cuevas drank agua mineral and I had a do it yourself michelada. That is, a glass with a half inch of lime juice in it, a bottle of beer and a selection of bottled salsas on the table.

Although the main courses we had ranged from mediocre to o.k., we saw some probable veteran customers getting some attractive dishes. The Sopa de Mariscos, for example looked spectacular, with a crab claw boldly emerging from a large bowl. A plate of Camarones Empanizados looked perfectly cooked. Numerous customers received well browned, crunchy crusted quesadillas o empanadas.

Our neighboring table received a dozen pristine and very tempting ostiones en su concha . (Tempting, but not tempting enough for me to have, remembering the dire illness I'd contracted from eating raw oysters in Tuxpan Veracruz in 1980.) The price is a remarkably low $70!! A half dozen oysters are also offered.


Food: *** What we had was under seasoned, but obviously we had but a small sampling of the menu offerings. Portions tended to be very large. Seafood without frills.

Service: **** Efficient!

Price: $$+ Nuestra cuenta aquí.

Ambience: Huge, noisy, popular,  unpretentious, crowded, blimp hangar sized dining halls. But fun!! Some review sites describe it as nearly devoid of decor, but that's not true. Look:

Marine life sculpture
Restrooms: very nice, but no paper towels at the time of our visit. (Not unusual in México.)

Glib, snapshot summation: Better than The Red Lobster, not as good as Fonda La Veracruzana. This is la marisquería para el pueblo.

Yes, we would happily return.