Sunday, June 28, 2009

Conservas de Corazón

Until very recently, I'd never heard of Conservas Santa Rosa at Santa Rosa de Lima, Guanajuato; a women's co-op dedicated to conserving and selling fruits of that area.

We had the opportunity to pay a visit to the shop, located on the main street of upland Santa Rosa, at an elevation of over 8000 feet above sea level. It's about a half hour by car from Guanajuato Capital, on the highway to Dolores Hidalgo.

If I had ever visited Oregon state, which I've not, then I could say that the area resembles that state.

The shop is small, neatly and attractively set up. The walls are lined with shelves displaying the co-op's various products. Above are jars of beautiful, selected pear halves and peaches; below, an extensve assortment of marmalades of several types. Fresa is popular, and is avalable in different sizes. Durazno, chabacano, ciruela, piña, nopal, xoconostle, mango and guayaba. I may have missed a few.

Another shelf unit holds sweet fruit licores, such as tamarindo, of which I was not fond for its sweetness. There are others.

I was drawn to a shelf near the back door holding very attractive jalapeños encurtidos, but I can make those myself. More interesting were the Conservas Santa Rosa's Chiles Chipotles, in glass jars which showed off the chiles' dark, smoldering and smoky potential to advantage.

All the products are packaged in attractive glass jars with brown paper caps and twine. They would make good gifts. We bought about 10 items and have already given way 3 of 4.

This is a recommended excursion out of Guanajuato. You can visit the Valenciana mines; Las Conservas Santa Rosa, the fancy Alfarería Mayólica; and have a nice comida at one of the famed local restaurants, sch as Restaurante de La Sierra, Rancho Enmedio, or where we did, at La Cabaña de Lolita.

Product Catalog.
These are their hours of operation:
All I know is that weekends, they open
 sabado    10 AM to 6 PM
 domingo  12 PM to 5 PM
The tienda may be open only on weekends.

Their website says that you can try some of the mermeladas in Tok's Restaurants; various locations in La República Mexicana. 

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Carne en Su Jugo

Carne en su jugo is, literally, "Meat (cooked) in its own juice". It's somewhere between birria and caldillo, on their way to evolve into Chile Con Carne, Texas Style. (The latter contains neither beans or tomatoes. However, the recipe for CESJ I used contains frijoles de olla.)

Ever since I read the Mexican Cooking Project #10 on, for Carne en Su Jugo, I've wanted to make it. I think I made one careless (insouciant?) attempt before, with limited success.

This time, I used Cristina's*  Carne en su Jugo 2, with very few modifications of my own.

The marinade consists of fresh Mexican jugo de limón, Salsa Inglesa (Worcestershire), Maggi Jugo or salsa China (soy sauce), and Salsa Tamazula, a bottled hot sauce.

One of the keys to the dish is to add no salt until it is almost done, after tasting it. The seasonings and the knorrsuiza de res add a lot of salt. (I actually used Knorr Suiza Costilla Jugosa de Res tablets, and they worked very well).

It seemed to be a boatload of bacon and thus, of fat, but you only live once, and well. The pieces of marinated meat are drained and dried off, then browned in the bacon fat. It made sense to me to first caramelize the cebolletas in the fat, remove them, and then cook the meat, thus adding more flavor from the onions to the meat.

When all the necessary elements are browned, I added the liter of caldo de res made from the tabletas Costilla Jugosa de Res. Follow package directions carefully, as it's always better to start with not enough and add more later if necessary. The meat is then simmered until tender. Surprisingly, it did not take as long as expected. Some cooked frijoles de olla and some of their broth are pureed in a blender and added to the pot.

One of the very important garnishes are cebolletas (young knob onions) or cebollettas de cambray (scallions). These small onions are caramelized in the fat leftover from cooking the bacon and they are wonderful. Next time you are at a taquería, be sure to get some cebolletas with your order. The well browned ones are the best.

The bacon is recommended to be added to each bowl of CESJ at the moment of serving, but in a lapse, I added it to the pot in the last few minutes of cooking. It was still good.

Condiments can make or break a dish. Here the recommended additions at the table are fresh, crisp and pungent radishes; chopped white onion, cilantro, limes and sea salt. We had the sea salt ready, but the CESJ did not need any more salt.

We ate hot flour tortillas as we generally prefer them to corn tortillas, but I think hot, crisp-crusted pan Francés would be good.
(We have found above average pan baguette Francés at the Bodega Aurrerá in Pátzcuaro.)

I recommend a good cerveza clara to accompany the dish, or an agua fresca de jamaica.

Some versions contain tomates verdes or tomatillos. That's something to try the next time I make the dish, and it won't be as long until I do so again.

*Cristina Potter of the excellent Mexico food and culture blog, Mexico Cooks!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Guanajuato: Restaurante Las Mercedes.

I have to confess that the title I chose for my earlier post on Guanajuato, ("Guanajuato: Eating the Mummy") was meant to seduce you, titillate, and horripilate, with a promise of the delicately macabre. After all, Las Momias are among the icons of Guanajuato. But in reality, we prefer not to visit them "in the flesh," but to keep them at a safe distance.

In truth, there was nothing at all macabre about our wedding anniversary dinner at Restaurante Las Mercedes. I did indulge my imagination with an appetizer of Chile Pasilla Relleno de Queso, Envuelto de Tortilla de Harina con Natas. When I thought of the dark, shriveled chile pasilla, shrouded in a sheet of tortilla de harina, an alternate name, "Momia Envuelta" leapt into my imagination. The reality was a pungent chile, filled with requesón, in a very buttery wrapper. The flour tortilla, made in house, took on some of the qualities of a strudel, but with more substance. It was an appetizer with an earthy heart, despite the refined presentation.

Doña Cuevas enjoyed a "Napoleon" of nopal, (or, may we call it a "Nopaleon"?) with smoked salmon, goat cheese, capers and anchovies, sided by a very dark crushed chile salsa. That had a very nice balance of acidity and unctuousness.

I had better return to the beginning. After a whirlwind ride in a Guanajuato taxi through calles y colonias, tuneles oscuras y carreteras panorámicas, we were deposited at the gate of the sunny contemporary Mexican house in the Colonia San Javier hills. We were greeted like old friends by our host, Sr. Jesús Cárdenas and our model waiter, Pedro. La Chef, Sra.Luzma Gonzáles, was in the kitchen.

Sr. Cárdenas is a very good host, charming and engaging in a very friendly and informal manner. Pedro's service is nearly perfect, quietly attentive and unobtrusive.

Jesús enjoys interacting with interested guests, explaining the origins of each dish and its ingredients. The menu is verbal, and we had several excellent selections among the choices.

We were brought amuse bouches of tiny, crisp envelopes, perhaps made from fried flour tortilla, filled with a cool black bean pico de gallo. We were also brought complimentary, small raspaditos (shaved ice) drinks of mezcal de la sierra with the juice or puree of xoconostles, a sour cactus fruit.

Then, the above mentioned entradas, or appetizers, the "Nopaleon" and the Pasilla Chile.

My second course, a dramatically presented (an empty bowl set before me, a dried red chile protruding from julianas de tortilla, a wooden paddle perched on the dge of the bowl, holding clantro, cebolla and limón; then the Sopa Negra de Cuitlacoche is served at the table. It was an excellent choice, and for all its earthy complexity, lighter than anticipated. My wife wisely chose a nice salad of mixed greens, flor de calabaza with herbed goat cheese, and a light tarragon dressing.

Doña Cuevas continued with the salmon theme for her plato principal with a perfectly cooked, moist fleshed salmon fillet, a little mound of very rich mashed potatoes, a bit of spinach, touched with capers and anchovies.

I chose a Chamorro de Cerdo en Caldillo de Frijól Negro, which was very good. It carries a lot of porky meat. I enjoyed it, the bean broth more than the pork shank, but it was too much to finish.

Already sated, we regretfully were going to skip dessert, but Jesús, in his charmingly convincing manner, said that Chef Luzma had prepared a special Anniversary dessert. It was a small basket of good chocolate, filled with a light cream of garambullo, a variety of ripe cactus fruit. It rested next to half a small cake of a budín de elote or steamed corn cake. I liked the combination very much, especially the corn cake.

With a bottle of very good Argentine wine, Roca Valdivieso 2004; one bottled water, 1 cafe Americano and and 2 cafés express, the total bill was $1010 pesos Mexicanos, about $77 USD, apart from a well deserved tip to our waiter. We consider the meal a fantastic one, and a bargain by our standards.

An earlier review from another blog, "Living and Working In Mexico")

Restaurante Las Mercedes

Calle de Arriba No.6, Fracc. San Javier, C.P. 36020, Guanajuato, Gto.
Telephone: 01-473) 732-7375 y 733-9059
Mobile: 473-756-3836
Nextel: 52*185656

Guanajuato: Eating the Mummy

We were just in Guanajuato for our 41st wedding anniversary over a long weekend, and had some enjoyable meals (and some less so.).

Our first stop was Casa Valadez, where we had a pleasant supper in plushly elegant surroundings that belie the moderate pricing. Doña Cuevas had Caldo de cebolla, a very good French Onion Soup, Fettucine con Camarones; I, Tacos de Arrachera, tender and tasty. Other than the superb Flan de Cajeta, nothing that we had was ground breaking, but the food and service were good.

The beautifully appointed restrooms were a plus! Have a peek into the Men's:
The restrooms broke the scale on the SBRT, Standard Baño/Restroom Test.

Following the advice linked from Rachel Laudan's website, we booked for Saturday afternoon at Las Mercedes, where we had a delightfully memorable, 2 1/2 hour meal. I won't recount the details here, but will expand on that in a separate post. Meanwhile, a preview here. (Scroll down to "Anonimo's" second post.)

Breakfasts at Restaurante Truco 7 (part of our B&B package) were "o.k."; filling but undistinguished. That was very disappointing to us as we had warm memories of the place back in the 90s. The Enmoladas con Queso were dreadful, IMO, as the almost fudgy mole was thickly sweet while the queso, both inside and on top was totally excessive. I was unable to finish it, which is unusual for me.

However, on our first morning at Truco 7, I had a slice of Pastel de Tres Leches, and I'm happy to report that it it fulfilled my fondness for this dessert very satisfactorily. Truco 7's Pastel de 3 L's is among the best ever in México. The coffee is decent if not outstanding.

A small but enjoyable "find" were the antojitos stands up by El Pípila. One cart was already open on the morning of our vist, and the woman's sopes were beautifully done while her tlacoyos eran muy guapos.

One of the highlights of our visit was riding up towards Santa Rosa, about 30 minutes out of town, with a resident American friend, "Chacho Johnny", where we visited the Conservas Santa Rosa. I recommend the store for its variety of delightful products, low prices, and friendly service.

While in Santa Rosa, my wife enjoyed a roasted elote, served in a fresh corn husk and painted with lime and chile molido. It was a style of elote we'd never seen before. (It was too dry and chewy for my tastes, but Doña Cuevas enjoyed it.)

After considering the options for comida, Restaurante de La Sierra (big) or La Cabaña de Lolita (small), we went to the later, off the highway at Puerto Barrientos, just a few kilometers back towards Guanajuato Capital.

I liked the simple, relaxed family country restaurant feel, and our meal bore out the wisdom of my decision. A decision, based in part, on the SBRT; the Standard Baño/Restroom Test. Below, you'll see two very simple facilities, in out buildings, painted appropriate colors. (Spotless and freshly scrubbed, also.)

Our meal was of traditional comida campestre favorites:
Caldo de borrego, caldo de pollo, one order of cecina, one order of mixote de carnero, a mescal curado con naranja, two jugos de naranja; an agua mineral. About $310 pesos.

(Doña Cuevas, perhaps affected by my general cynicism, proposes that the mixotes at Cabaña de Lolita are made up in bulk in a big pan, then wrapped in the foil packets when a customer orders it. She claims that the foil was just too clean of smoke or soot on the outside. I hate to believe that, but it could be true. Personally, I really would have preferred the mixiotes be cooked in the traditon parchment of maguey, pero, así es. Despite that, it was tasty, if rather ridden with bones.)
A specialty of La Cabaña de Lolita is the cecina. It's cut extra thin and cooked very crispy. It will virtually shatter in your mouth. It was lightly salted, if at all.

On our last morning in Guanajuato, we skipped breakfast at Truco 7, and instead, I bought 4 plump, steaming hot tamales from a vendor setting up, on a callejón just off Plazuela Baratillo. $28 pesos, supplemented with some so-so pan dulce from Panadería La Infancia, the one on Calle Alonso.

If we could have gotten better sleep, we would have stayed another night, with the aim of revisiting the Mercado Hidalgo, La Carreta, Cafe Tal, and more.

But we'd had a very enjoyable visit of two full days and part of two others, and we were ready to get home and get some rest.

I realize that I haven't explained the title of this post, "Eating the Mummy". That may happen in my next post.

Meanwhile, contemplate this:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More On the Cecina Scene

I posted a link to this blog on the Any port in a storm forum, and got some feedback from Oaxaca area resident. "Bixaorellana"

Nicely done report, DonC, although I've got some quibbles. One is that the pork version of cecina is not semi-dried. As a matter of fact, it's quite common to order it and wait for the butcher to make it from a solid piece of pork right in front of you. And the two versions are cecina blanca -- simply salted, and cecina enchilada. The cecina enchilada is smeared not with chile molida (ground dried chile), but with a paste of ground chile guajillo, garlic, oregano, vinegar, salt & maybe some secret ingredients. Each meat stall has its own recipe.

Ditto the beef tasajo (no accent on the o!). When you ask for tasajo, it's fresh beef, although dried versions are usually hanging over the display area. I need to find out if they're called tasajo as well. It's always simply dressed with salt around here -- no enchilada version.
Mexican food is so very regional, however, (note the disparity between what's cecina here & what's tasajo) that maybe cecina in other parts of the country is always semi-dried.
You are totally correct in your response to the reader who questioned the red flag. That misguided person must think that all the meat he buys in the supermarket is truly "fresh".
And more:

Food in Oaxaca is frequently over-salted. When I first moved here, I thought I'd never be able to eat out, as so often the food seemed ruined with too much salt.
Cecina and tasajo don't have to be too salty. Since meat cutters (who are very frequently women around here) are quite willing to make it for you on the spot, you could request it with no salt at all.
If you wanted to try it, you could have your local meat cutter thinly butterfly something like a piece of top sirloin. Take that home & lightly salt it yourself. Let it set at least a half hour, then cook it in a very hot, lightly oiled skillet. For pork, something like boneless loin would do the trick. It's very good with some kind of light salsa added at the table -- try fresh minced chiles, minced or crushed garlic, lime juice and cilantro.
I can't vouch for this recipe as I've not tried it, but it looks like a pretty good guide if you want to try the spiced pork cecina. As I point out above, there's no reason to bother with the drying process.
I appreciate the authoritative input from our friend, Bixa.
Over the weekend, Doña Cuevas and I visited Guanajuato. Rachel Laudan had given me a lead on a restaurante campestre, "La Cabaña de Lolita", at Puerto Barrientos, a few kilometers from Santa Rosa.

Three of us sampled their crispy cecina, as part of a more extensive meal. It was delicious yet even less substantial than the usual kind, cut more thickly.
Here's a look:

I found a photo I took in January of plated cecina enchilada, at Restaurante María Bonita, in Oaxaca.
Nice, but it doesn't have the rustic character of that at La Cabaña de Lolita.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Cecina: Worth Its Salt

  Cecina is thinly sliced, salted and partially dried sheets or strips of beef or pork. The technique for making it requires an extremely sharp knife and considerable skill and patience. A largish piece of boneless beef of beef is turned into a continuous roll of thin slices by deft cutting, back and forth, within the mass of muscle.

It's much simpler to go to a specialist who'll make it for you. Remember, a little piece goes far to satisfy your need for both protein, and salt, for that matter.

I've had it, both in the United States and in different parts of Mexico. Some (at a Mexican restaurant in Little Rock, Arkansas) it was so tough that it was impossible to chew. Even 4 hours of slow simmering at home rendered it barely masticable.

But cecina varies.

In Chihuahua city, in 1990, we entered a small shop selling everything needed to make antojitos Mexicanos: dried chiles, hojas de maíz para tamales, masa fresca, maíz pozolero preparado. They also served platillos típicos del Distrito Federal. The owner, Ramón, was from el DF and Edomex. One platillo offered was cecina enchilada. Although the hour was late, and the owner was reparing to close, he cooked a slab of cecina enchilada for me, and heated up a bowl of first rate pozole for Susan.

When the cecina arrived, I was a little surprised: it was like a large, thin, boneless steak. I had misunderstood and had been thinking of "enchiladas": corn tortillas dipped in a thin chile sauce, lightly fried, with a filling.

This was different. Pura carne, lightly coated with chile molido. It was pleasantly salty and mildly picante, chewy but doable. I'd rate it a "9" on the Chewy but Doable Decimal Scale.

Some years later, while in Oaxaca, we had tasajo, the Oaxacan version of cecina, often served in small pieces on tlayudas, (extra grande tortillas), smeared with a paste of frijoles negros, and nicely garnished with onions, avocado, tomato and quesillo, or Oaxacan string cheese. One is a meal.

Oaxaca goes its own separate way in la comida regional. There, "cecina" refers to sheets of semi dried pork, often with a sprinkling of chile molido. Tasajo is made from beef. This section of the Mercado 11 de noviembre, in Oaxaca Centro, specializes in grilled tasajo and cecina. It looks like a scene from Hell, but it smells great.

Here's a picture of a tlayuda con tasajo.

Tasajo Tlayuda in a Fonda Oaxaqueña

Last week, I saw that one of our favorite Pátzcuaro carnicerías, La Sin Rival, had some strips of cecina on top of the counter. I asked the hard working owner, Sr. Moíses Pérez H. about it. He guided me to some that was drier, for not long ago, at another carnicería, I'd bought some that spoiled. The fault was mine, for leaving it in the plastic bag without refrigeration. Not all cecina attains the dryness of carne seca, otherwise known as jerky.

Red flag means "Fresh meat today"

The cecina from La Sin Rival fared better. It became breakfast a few mornings later. I lightly oiled a skillet, and browned the meat on both sides. Meanwhile, I fried some huevos estrellados. These were flanked by a steaming mound of stone ground speckled grits from Nora Mill, Helen GA. Add some salsa casera of your choice, and you're all set. It's my Mexican version of a Good 'Ol Boy breakfast down South; the cecina a perfect stand-in for salty, aged Country Ham.

A couple of days  later, I lucked out when carrying my camera while in Pátzcuaro Centro. I went to La Sin Rival with hopes of photographing some cecina. Sr. Pérez told me that none was available until later, as it was drying at that moment, in the patio of the family house. 

He generously allowed me to pass through the work area of the carnicería to the pleasant patio where a large slab of plywood held sheets of meat drying in the sun.

Cecina drying in the sun

The carnicero and his assistant apply vegetable oil to keep flies from alighting.

Applying a light coat of vegetable oil

Sr. Moises with some dried cecina

I asked if any jugo de limón was used in the process, as I'd read in an old Mexican food cookbook.
"No Señor, solamente sal y un poco de aceite.", he replied.*

I recommend trying cecina when you have the chance. Just be sure to get it from a reliable shop like La Sin Rival in Pátzcuaro. (But, if you are less adventuresome, get una Hamburguesa Doble, como te gusta, at the Cafetería Chió's next door. Sr. Pérez wife runs the tidy little lonchería, and makes some of the best, juiciest hamburgers in Pátzcuaro.)

Soon, we hope to sample some at a Santa Rosa, Guanajuato Restaurant, "La Cabana de la Lolita", recommended to us by Rachel Laudan, food scholar living in Guanajuato, as serving "Incredible cecina."

I hope to report back soon with my findings.

*I have the theory that all too often, American writers on Mexican food make overly complicated, overly elaborated versions of some simple, uncomplicated food. We could discuss the example of carnitas, but not here at this time. Remind me later.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Camarones a la Mandarina o Naranja

   Our comida yesterday was a big deal. The day before I'd bought 500 grams of headless shirmp in the shell. I have had this idea of Camarones a la Mandarina for sometime.

I got out an old Chinese cookbook by Virginia Lee and Craig Claiborne. It's notable for its excess in seasoning. I found a recipe for Szechwan Shrimp, which was my anchor.

The night before I put some dried tangerine peels to soak in some Cien Años Tequila (lacking Absolut Mandarin).
Today, I slowly dissolved a big cone of piloncillo (crude brown sugar) in simmering water, and reduced it to a molasses like syrup.

Meanwhile, I shelled and deveined the shrimp, trying to keep the tails. That was only partially successful. It was also tedious.

I put the shrimp in a small bowl and sprinkled on some tangerine peel-Tequila infusion. Some Controy Orange Liqueur figured somewhere in here also.

Separately, I peeled my last remaining ginger root, shredded it as well as some garlic and 3 or 4 very picante yellow Chiles Piquines (as defined in Michoacán terms).

Next, I peeled and julienned one stubby carrot and about 1/3 of a large, sweet red pepper. Celery, cut small. Then one white onion, cut vertically into segments. (Supposed to be green onions—scallions— with the tops, but I didn't have any.)

A sauce was mixed in a small bowl of light and dark soy sauces, red wine vinegar, brown sugar, plus some Tuong Cu Da, to substitute for the Fermented Rice I didn't have. I figured some Sichaun (modern spelling) Pepper would go well, so I ground up a little and sifted it through a tea strainer, to avoid those hard little pieces. There was sesame oil in the sauce and on the shrimp with the Mandarin infusion. Black pepper also.

I also used some of the macerated mandarin peel and shredded it finely to add to the ginger, garlic and chiles.

First I stir fried the carrots, celery, onions, and removed them from the pan.

Then I stir fried the shrimp, adding the chiles, ginger, etc. There was an eye and sinus-searing blast of strong chile fumes.

As the shrimp became opaque, I tossed in the soy sauce mixture. Next, a small amount of that reduced piloncillo syrup. Then the cornstarch-water suspension, which I failed to mention earlier. It took a moment to thicken.

I tasted it: too sweet. More vinegar to perfect it.

I garnished it with a small thicket of very nice cilantro leaves, and we ate it with our Basmati Rice, green beans, etc; and a plate of sliced cucumbers, radishes, a tomato and the rest of the cilantro.

With this meal, I paired a lovely, red Agua de Jamaica, Mexico, 2009; which exhibited subtle floral notes that were underscored by its native acidity. I had to drink a lot of it, but really, the picante aspect of the main dish was less assertive than expected.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

On Eating Cocteles de Mariscos

A friend emailed me regarding shrimp cocktails as sold at MEGA Comercial in Morelia. You get them in the Fish Department, preferably earlier in the day.

Until now, I was unaware that Mega offered such. Somehow, it just doesn't seem quite right to eat a coctel de camarones in that setting. Coctelería should be left to the specialists, not a mega hypermart chain. This is the same, "full service" store that among its notable features is an espresso bar, but one that is rarely staffed. To get a coffee, you have to flag down the Produce Manager or whatever employees nearby and they'll hail some especialista callow teenager barista to put the coffee pod into the machine and push the BREW button.
My friend asked, in a followup:
"Now then, about those stands at Plaza Chica (Pátzcuaro) that you seem to regularly 'never frequent'???"

Yes; what about them? I don't eat at those out of concerns of hygiene. Friends who've eaten at those open air carts, with the blocks of ice, (passed on by Canine Inspection Teams as the blocks lay waiting in the early morning gutter) have reported no ill effects. But I'd rather spend a little more for assuring quality and good hygiene. Chopping onions or tomatoes on a wooden board perched on an upturned catsup bucket, resting in the street, as traffic sputters by within arm's reach doesn't cut it for me.
In 2004, within the Mercado Independencia in Morelia, I ordered a coctel de camarones. I waited and watched while the guy defrosted the plastic bag of shrimp under running tap water. It was a passable, but not great CdC. What do you expect for breakfast at a stand overlooking the skinned cow's heads over at the carnicería close by? I'll spare you the foto de las cabezas de vacas.
A couple of years ago, I had a small, cheap CdC at Don Prisci's within the Pátzcuaro Mercado. It was poor; the shrimp were mealy, the sauce corriente. Don P should stick to his birria.

The first coctel de camarones I ever, ever had was the Gulf Coast village of Nautla, Veracruz. It was our first trip to Mexico, Feb, 1980. The air was warm and sultry, under the palms. A borracho entertained himself by mildly bugging us.

The coctel arrived; a very tall glass, brimming with very fresh, barely cooked shrimp, in a light red, not too sweet sauce, studded with fresh, picante bits of chopped chile jalapeño, minced onion, and LOTS of chopped cilantro. This was El Chingón Coctel de Camarones, one which will always be that against all others are measured.

The restroom was, unfortunately, quite memorably ghastly.

Nowadays, at least here in central Michoacán, cocteles are made too sweet for our taste. Even at our querido y lindo Mariscos La Güera. The trick is to ask for it as you like. "Poco catsup, pero con mucho cilantro, por favor."

The one exception, so far, to sweet cocteles has been at LangoStiko's in Morelia. They offer specialty cocteles including a Coctel Mazatleco style, made with NO CATSUP but with pepino and pineapple, and garnished with carambola. (starfruit.)

Actually, it's almost too pure for me. I'd appreciate the addition of some cilantro.

The same restaurant, and by no means, the only one, makes Micheladas Preparadas con Clamato and shrimp and oysters in it. Very tempting, but as I don't eat raw mollusca while in Mexico, I ordered it with shrimp only. (Michelada is basically beer with lime juice in a salt rimmed glass. Starting there, many different seasonings and variations are possible.)

We are lucky to have decent seafood inland here in Michoacán. Years ago, in Zacatecas, inland, far from the sea, I had a coctel at Mariscos Boca del Río, at the Plazuela Genaro Codina. It was murky and borderline hazardous. I hope that it's better there now.

La Jaiba, on Blvd. Garcia de León in Morelia has amongs its offerings huge chabelas (large goblets) full of Vuelve a la Vida (occasionally called "Levantamuertos"), either of which seem to have some sexual revival connotations. The La Jaiba version has just about every kind of boiled and raw seafood in it that they have. I had the oysterless version once. It was quite good, but lacking the oysters, I can't report on the sexual revival aspects.

Similarly, the "Viagra" coctel at El Pescador, Morelia. It's something like a Vuelve a la Vida coctel but in Clamato instead of the usual clear syrup-stock and catsup. Here is the Vuelve a La Vida under an alternative name of "Rompe Colchón": "Break Mattress". You figure it out. Here's a recipe, in Spanish, for this treat.

To conclude; in my opinion, you generally get what you pay for. In the better marisquerías, you can customize your cocktail al gusto. It helps to speak Spanish.

As a reward for staying the course until this point, our Feature Presentation of Pátzcuaro's beloved Mariscos La Güera, below.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Chicken Hash: An Improvisation

Leftovers? What to do.

I had some leftover, boneless poached chicken, some sliced, boiled potatoes, celery, onion and a lot of seasonings and condiments. And some Granny Smith apples.

The chicken, although less than two cups in all, needed to be used, soon.

Solution: Chicken Hash.

I found a nice recipe on, but I didn't have more than a cup and a half of chicken and no green pepper. So, instead of green pepper, I used green, Granny Smith apple, diced.

The rest was easy. Instead of chile powder, I used Pimentón Español Picante and Pimentón de la Vera Agri-dulce. I did have branch thyme.

Instead of cream or half and half, I used Crema Aguascalientes, an excellent brand.

Here, a pic of it cooking:

Here's a picture of the finished, plated dish:

A question arose on the forum, "Any Port In A Storm".
"Don do you cook the eggs like that?"
The answer was, "I spray some custard cups with non-stick food spray. I get a small round sauce pan going with simmering water. I crack one egg each into the custard cups, and immerse them up to their midlines. Then I partially cover the pan and lower the heat.
Despite the PAM spray, the eggs wouldn't slip out easily, so we just spooned them out of the cups."

We did have the requisite whole grain toast; some oatmeal and bulgur bread I'd made, which toasted up beautifully. The Chicken Hash was a hearty, brunch dish, and it sustained us until 4 o'clock in the afternoon.

Bodega Aurrerá Pátzcuaro Opens

No Frills, and No Thrills, Either

We went today, June 13, 2009, to the newly opened Bodega Aurrerá in Pátzcuaro, after the opening day crowds had subsided. Getting in and out was easy, as long as you are headed up the Libramiento. It's a good location for those living north of the city center.

We arrived at about 11:00 a.m. and it was only moderately busy. The inflatable jump-up-and-down-and-scream games had been deflated and taken away after Tuesday's uproarious opening.

I'm please that the building is relatively attractive, and the paint job is o.k., although the earlier, adobe color was more attractive. (Another, well-known, local blogger, told me that the city made them repaint it to approximate Pátzcuaro traditional colors.)

The publicity campaign had been intense, as sound trucks carted persons costumed as "Mamá Lucha", the indomitable Aurrerá super heroine about the city. Even distant ranchos were visited by publicity trucks bringing a little excitement to la vida cotidiana.

The real life store is fine for what it is, but it has few thrills to anyone seeking specialty foods ("gringo necessities"). Mamá Lucha has fought hard to bring you precios bajos, and that's what it's all about.

Parking seems limited, but probably adequate.
The store has that enjoyable "new store" smell of fresh paint.

It's essentially a stripped-down Wal-Mart, a warehouse look, bare cinder block walls, exposed girders; without flash or decor, focusing on low prices in a no frills environment. Our brief reconnaissance shows a very limited selection of brands and varieties in many categories. There are lots of options in the rice and dried beans department, and in Tequila ready-to-drink. No Controy, pero sí, (ugh!) Margarita Mix.

At least one item was represented only by the house brand.

On the bottled salsas shelf, I couldn't find either Salsa Huichol nor Salsas Cosecha Purhépecha. It was mostly Valentina and La Costeña.

One brand of agua, Santorini, in big garrafones.

The carnicería is small and seems to have a very limited selection, but that could be my (possibly erroneous) impression. Surprisingly, two women were working in the carnicería. I didn't see any men. This seems a little unusual in Mexico.

Huevos, rojos or blancos, I think are higher than in the tienda de abarrotes where we usually shop for them. At Bodega, over $30 for 18. At Abarrotes Los Fresnos, I think they are less. I recall paying $27 for 18 at Soriana, but it's been a while.

The produce was above average, and a wider selection for a supermercado. We got some nice looking and smelling nectarines, pears and firm, not overmatured smaller cucumbers.

I didn't look in detail at the panadería, but it reminded me of Soriana's, perhaps a little smaller.

This is a store for staple items and very few, if any imported luxuries. The deli was pushing those pale pink hot dogs and bland cheeses so beloved in Mexico. Not a Chorizo Español or Jamón Serrano to be seen.
The meat department, surprisingly, not the Deli, had some cooked pork ribs in barbecue sauce in a hot case.

The checkouts are narrower than Soriana's. Overall, though, the store's aisles are better arranged, with only two racks of shelves per aisle. Better than Soriana, it's easy to get to the checkout without threading the maze of clothing racks and other merchandise obstructing your way.

There is no snack bar, no cafetería, no kiddie rides, no ATM, as far as I could see. iPod Shuffles and iPod Classics in Electrónica, but no iPod Touches. They don't offer to cook your meat purchase for free. There are also no "Savings Cards", which suits me.

These are my first time impressions, and they may change on future visits.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Stretching the Strudel

Baking Madness may strike at any time. Back in March, I had a powerful urge to make a strudel. On of the motivators was that we have in our dining room a round table capable of seating six diners comfortably. This is just what strudel stretching calls for. You need to be able to walk the perimeter in order to evenly hand stretch the dough.

The ingredients for strudel dough are few and simple: bread flour, warm water, vegetable oil, eggs, salt and possibly a small amount of vinegar or lemon juice.

The ingredients are mixed, then the resulting mass is vigorously kneaded; either by hand or machine. Ten minutes of heavy handed dough slapping is considered normal and not excessive. But a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, or a heavy duty food processor makes short work of it.

After kneading, the dough rests under cover for 20 minutes to an hour.

Meanwhile, the table is prepared by first placing protective plastic sheets down and thumbtacking them into place. Then a patterned tablecloth or bed sheet is placed over the plastic. The pattern is useful to determine how this you've stretched the now nearly transparent dough.

While the dough rests, the filling is readied, cinnamon sugar is mixed, and toasted bread crumbs prepared.

The rest of this semi tutorial will be in slide show format. If you click the slide show window, you will be taken to a web album of the photos.
(This post was backdated to synch it with the actual event occurence. It was then updated on June 9, 2009. In other words, a reprise.)

Thursday, June 04, 2009

El Pescador, Morelia

Our favorite food when eating out is seafood, and it's good to try someplace new. Rose Calderone recommended El Pescador, at Cuautla # 77, Centro, Morelia. It's down at the western end of Avenida Madero where it goes into a tree-lined area, then about a block south on Cuautla.

I was pleasantly surprised to see such an attractive dining room. Some of the places we frequent around Sanabria, a tiny crossroads north of Tzurumútaro,  populated by 3 roadside fish shacks. El Pescador has one of the nicest dining rooms of the various marisquerías we've tried, with prices to match. When I looked at their website, Mariscos El Pescador , I saw that there's a simpler, upstairs dining room as well.

The menu is compact yet covers a lot of ground. The entradas include the usual tostadas and more. (Sorry, I wasn't taking notes. That means I'll have to return and try more dishes.)  I had a tostada de marlyn (their spelling) and Larry had one of calamar. The marlyn was meatier than most that I've had elsewhere, and it was heaped upon the tostada in a way that sort of justified its price of $20 MN.

Susan ordered a Coctel mediano de Camarones y Pulpos, and it was about average, good, but not stellar.
I noted that one coctel was called "Viagra", a combination of callos, ostiones, camarones and some other shellfish, in a Clamato-tinged sauce. As I don't eat raw oysters in Mexico, I didn't try it. That's the only reason.

My three companions all ordered some form of filete de pescado. Larry's was the best looking, Filete dorado; lightly crumbed and cooked in a little oil.

Rose had her filete asado, which if I understod our waitress correctly, is grilled a la parilla. Susan had hers a la plancha, which is cooked one a flat top grill. It was simple but pleasant. She told me that as in most seafood places, the filete de pescado was bland and with a very soft texture. I speculate that the fish used is Blanco de Nilo, or Tilapia, which to me has very little character.

The plates of filetes were accompanied by arroz blanco and a finely chopped carrot salad with raisins, which Larry enjoyed but I thought was boring. Thus tastes vary.

For a main course, I went for the gusto, ordering a
mediano Huauchinango a la Veracruzana. Truthfully, it's not my top favorite way to prepare fish, but it's a classic, and serves as a test of the restaurant's kitchen. And, at $100MN, it was deal.

A pescado entero mediano turned out to be more than I could finish. The whole fish was heaped with tomatoes, onions, garlic, sweet peppers, olives (but no capers) and lots of chiles Jalapeños. In fact, it was the Huachinango a la Veracruzana más picante de siempre. The only accompaniment was a big scoop of plain white rice. It was welcome in toning down the "heat".

El Pescadors' version of pescado al al Veracruzana was pretty good, but was somewhat overwhelmed by the chiles. In addition, the flesh of the fish seemed very wet and cooked almost to the point of mushyness.

Their treatment was the polar opposite of that of La Güera, in Pátzcuaro, which was spartan to a fault, at least the only time I tried it a few years ago. The best Huachinango a la Veracruzana I've had in the region was at a marisquería on the outskirts of Ario de Rosales, of all places. Also, that at El Navegante, also in Morelia, on Blvd García de León was better than average.

In the end, it was a nice lunch, although a bit pricier than that to which we we are accustomed. With a Coke, a Michelada preparada, a half pitcher of horchata and a small bottled water, the cuenta was $541 MN, plus propina

After we paid la cuenta, we looked into the sparkling clean, tiled kitchen. One of the cooks, I could tell, was preparing crepes. We asked what they were for. They said that the crepes were used mostly in desserts, as in crepas con cajeta, but there was at least one dish, involving crepes filled with shrimp, but not on the printed menu.

PS: There's a more down market seafood place next door called "El Corsario". We don't know any more about it than that.