Thursday, December 22, 2005

¡Que Vivan Los Tamales!

Yesterday we had the pleasure of brunching at an old friend's home, in the Colonia Roma Sur area of Mexico City.
Our friend always delights and surprises us with interesting foods whenever we join her and her family for a meal. Often, it first involves going for a walk through the neighborhood, to some special market stall, roast chicken place or, yesterday, a very special tamalería. She knows that we appreciate these walks that allow us to explore her world and to learn something about it.

During our walk, I was surprised, after passing tempting carnitas and other food stalls, to end up at Tamalli. This is a small takeout restaurant, with—I have to say it—that "plastic, franchise chain look", as evidenced by the full color posters on the walls.

But exteriors are often deceiving in México. Our friend knows her tamales. We got an assortment of at least four different and quite distinctive tamales, and three liters of delicious atoles: Guayaba, cajeta y arroz con canela.

Once back out the house, plates of cut tropical fruits awaited us, but we eagerly tore into the festively wrapped tamales. Each type has a colored ribbon to help identify it according to the handy takeaway menu that you are given. It was almost like opening Christmas presents, except that these were hot and savory little bundles of masa, wrapped in either tawny corn husks or green banana leaves.

The "Gourmet" tamal de chipilín was for me the most distinctive. Years before, we'd had Sopa de Chipilín in the wonderful Tuxtla Gutíerrez restaurant, "Las Pichanchas. Chipilín is a green herb vaguely reminiscient of chives, but really not the same. Yesterday's tamales dough was flecked with the herb. The filling (almost secondary to the well-made masa, was of chicken in a salsa roja.

Tamal de Chipilín

Tamal de Frijol y Queso

Another unusual and surprisingly tasty tamal was the Frijol con Queso. This was a very pale dough which held a generous amount of frijoles negros and queso panela. Modest appearance but simply delicious taste.

We concluded our leisurely brunch with cups of coffee. Unfortunately, we had no room left for the fresh fruit.

Now, we look forward to Christmas Eve, La Nochebuena, when we will help prepare the Christmas Eve supper (to be served at midnight!). This meal will be a fusion of Mexican and Gringo traditions. But the most important part of the celebration it must be said, is the gathering together of family members and friends, to share in the feast. We always feel warmly welcomed into their family celebrations. It's one of the really great things about living or visiting México.

More later....

Saturday, December 17, 2005

El Segundo Encuentro, etc

I have some catching up to do, because I have been sick with bronchitis for two weeks. I'm just feeling better now.
The big event here was the Segundo Encuentro de Las Cocineras Tradicionales de Michoacán, (I love those long Spanish titles), which took place over the weekend of December 2 to December 4th. See photos here:

We attended the Saturday sessions, held in the Antiguo Colegio Jesuita of Pátzcuaro.

Here is a copy and paste of a post I made to the Mexico Branch of the Thorn Tree.
Today, we attended the 2º Encuentro of Las cocineras Tradicionales de Michoacán. It was held in the Antiguo Colegio Jesuita, in Pátzcuaro. In neighboring Tzurumútaro, there was an exhibition and sale of traditional breads, tamales and atoles. We plan to visit that tomorrow.
The main events, divide among 3 salas, were a fascinating living exhibition of traditional, often pre-Hispanic foods, prepared principally by women cooks, all dressed in colorful regional traje.
We started off in the first sala, dedicated to foods of La Tierra Caliente. There were approximately 7 different pueblos or communities reperesented. The one from Maruata was serving langostas, haf a small lobster, but that didn't seem so interesting to us. We went to the Huetamo booth, where we had a half portion comida of of chicken in a pumpkin seed sauce, (very mild), rice, and some frankly unappetizing beans, served whole and at ambient temperature.
From the same booth, I got a much livelier pork backbone (?) in a thick, coarse red chile sauce, same rice, same beans.

After a pause for refreshment at the Cebadina stand down the hall. (I had been thinking that it was Coke™ that people were drinking, but it was Cebadina.
BEBIDAS.- La bebida tradicional es la Cebadina, agua fresca de cebada a la cual se le agrega bicarbonato de sodio al momento de consumirla.

Meanwhile, Mrs Anon (Susan) was arranging an order at the Tlalpujahua booth, of 3 sopes made with masa azul (in fact, almost a dark green). We had our choice of toppings: (whole frijoles—much better ones— first on, then variations followed: mushrooms, onions and nopalitos, chicken in salsa verde, and carne de puerco con nopalitos for the other. There was a rough ground salsa verde, but it wasn't really necessary, as the toppings carried sufficient picante punch. These were excellent.
So far, our food had cost us $80 MXP of the tickets we'd purchased at the door.

That was a happening scene, There were probably 10 to 12 different booths, very hard to assimilate the scene due to the crowds, the "buzz", and the increasingly smoke filled air from the wood and charcoal fires. Yet, it was intensely vibrant and beautiful. About the best I could do was take as many pictures as possible, ask qestions from the cooks and helpers about some of the more unusual, often pre-Hispanic dishes. I did eat one taco, served on a large leaf, filled with a paste made from the finely ground seeds of the guajillo chile and another that I forget. The taste was sort of strangely herbal, with a slow burn that was not overwhelming. These were bicolor tortillas, a sort of "yin-yang" symbole created inadvertently with two different masas. Overall, there was just too much to taste and describe.
The third and final patio/sala, complete with central tree, had perhaps 5 booths. One of the more impressive was the piscatorially-focused booth of Janitzio. Unusual leaf-wrapped preparations of tiny fish (not charales, but a word that starts with "T" were among the varied dishes. Another booth had a glass case of some of the scariest carnitas I've ever seen. Yes, not all the foods looked appetizing. There were some well-cooked atapkuas (?) that looked like overcooked baby food with chunks.

We are just going to have to go back tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Celebrating With Seafood


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patzcuaro Restaurant Notes and News

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

A few notes on a trio of restaurants in Pátzcuaro:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 28, 2005

Coctel de Mariscos Fingido

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salsa para cóctel de camarones
(para 4 personas)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Straining the Pumpkins

                     Eventually, everyone shows up for dinner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mamey exposed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Improvising, Part II

I'm a sucker for fresh produce from the mercado, I often buy more than we can consume in a few days. So it was that we are preparing to be away from home for an extended period, yet we had on hand potatoes, two chiles Poblanos and an awful lot of fresh cilantro.

My wife urged me to make Sopa Crema de Cilantro, a truly wonderful soup that we'd first eaten in the restaurant of the then Hotel Las Brisas, in San Blas, Nayarit, many years ago. (I think that the restaurant was called "El Delfín" , and the Chef was Betty Vásquez.)

The following is more a descriptive guide to making my interpretation of this soup, not at all a strict recipe.
(Previously posted on The Thorn Tree Forum, Get Stuffed Branch.)

Sopa Crema de Cilantro
serves 6 +

Roast over an open flame 2-3 fresh Chiles Poblanos until the skin blackens. Set aside in a bag until you can remove the skins, seeds and stems.
Roast 1/2 white onion. Cool and remove blackened areas. Cut in chunks for easy blending.

Prepare the cilantro by washing and, if necessary, disinfecting. Remove and discard the stems. Pat dry in a kitchen towel. The quantity used is approximately equal to 6-8 bunches raw, as typically sold in US supermarkets.

Meanwhile, cook 3 medium white potatoes in salted water, until tender. Drain but reserve the cooking water up to the quantity of 2 liters.

Next, melt 6 TBSPS butter in a large, heavy bottomed sauce pan. Stir in 6 TBSPS of plain flour to make a light colored roux.
Add approximately 6 cups of milk, and one largish can of evaporated milk, whisking frequently to blend well.
Add 3 TBSPS of Knorr Suiza Caldo de Pollo ( A relatively high quality chicken stock base powder.) and a little black pepper.

When the potatoes are tender, peel and section. Place the onion piece and a good handful of cilantro in a heavy duty blender (liquidiser) and a little reserved potato water. Do not fill more than halfway! Blend, pulsing, then steadily until finely liquidised. Add to the white sauce in the pot. Continue with the peeled chiles, the cilantro and potato as needed to thicken the soup to a medium creamy consistency. Try not to overcook the cilantro, but cook long enough to remove any "grassy" taste.

(You'll need to use your own judgement as to how to balance the liquid with the white sauce/potato thickener.)

Taste for seasoning. I added a pinch of smoked Pimentón de la Vera paprika and about 1/4 cup of Fino Sherry. (Thus crossing the boundary from Mexican to Spanish cuisine, I suppose.)

Served with crudites plates and packaged tostadas and "crema" to accompany the soup.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Improvising, Part I

It seems an article of faith amongst aware travelers, that when traveling in another country, you should try to eat the local cuisine. I subscribe to this belief, but it's another matter when you live in that country. When you are there full time, as we are, then you want some variety in your diet.
To accomplish this, you must improvise, mixing specialty ingredients that you have brought across the border, and local, readily available foods, such as cilantro and jícama. Some imagination is useful.

Thus it was, two Sundays ago, that we traveled to the other side of Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, México to the lovely home of a Mexican-American couple. I had met them through various Internet fora and Blogger.

The reason for our social engagement was to visit them and to enjoy a Asian style meal together, made with local ingredients (not counting several dried fungi I'd brought from the States). Our house was too small, and not ready for guests at that time. Their house is notably more cómoda, besides being very atractively decorated.

Our dinner began with a Vietnamese-style Vegetable Soup. To make this, I'd first cooked a stock of water, dry-scorched onions and garlic; lemon grass, ginger, star anise and a bit of sugar and Vietnamese Fish Sauce. This made quite a heady and concentrated broth.

The next stage was to prepare and cut into soup-sized chunks several local vegetables; principally chayote, calabacita, chile Poblano, carrots, and Roma type tomatoes. We'd brought these vegetables, precut, to the house for on the spot cooking.

For that, I used a separate kettle, to which the aromatic stock was added and a judicious amount of the very useful Knorr-Suiza Caldo de Pollo powder. When the vegetables reached the tender but not mushy stage, and I corrected the seasoning with some more Vietnamese fish sauce and freshly squeezed lime juice. Cilantro and cut limes were place in bowls on the table, to be used at the pleasure of each diner.

The main course was Mu Hsu Pork, a Northern Chinese dish with a distant resemblance to burritos, but with a distinctive filling: shredded boneless pork, briefly marinated in wine, soy sauce and cornstarch; soaked and prepared dried vegetables, including black mushrooms, tiger lily buds, and "wood ears", a crunchy tree fungus and "bamboo shoots"—in this case, sliced jícama— seasoned with soy sauce, pepper and sesame oil.

Meanwhile, 3 eggs were cooked in a separate skillet to a soft-scrambled stage, then combined with the stir fried meat and vegetables. The seasoning was corrected, and a sprinkle of the aromatic sesame oil added.
Our hosts provided an attractive cazuela de barro from which to serve the dish at the table.

Meanwhile, my wife was putting a light film of sesame oil on white flour tortillas, then cooking them in pairs in a dry skillet. These were the easy way to substitute the traditional "po-ping", sometimes loosely translated from Chinese as "Mandarin Pancakes", but our method served very well, with much less labor.

When all was ready and on the table, we ate our soup (photo) and then after, each made our own rolls of Mu Hsu Pork and ate them out of hand. It was different, tasty, and importantly, fun.

Our beverages included Martinelli's Sparkling Cider and coffee of Uruapán with our dessert: a home made flan, and fresh pineapple and mango.

I hope that we can do something similar in the future, either here at our own house or again at the house of friends.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Comida Norteamericana

Splattered: I made hamburgers last night. Good ones are hard to find here in restaurants and snack bars. They are like thin, weird-tasting, breadcrumb-filled patties. They often put a slice of ham on it! If I'd wanted a ham sandwich, I'd have ordered one.

So I bought 3 lbs of not very attractive ground beef at Wal Mart.When I got it home and divided it into thick patties, it didn't smell so fresh, Not spoiled, just unfresh. In the cooking, they turned out just fine.

We didn't cook them until yesterday. I loaded one side with lots of chopped garlic, then seared them in a skillet. (splattering the stove). I put coarse salt and pepper on them, and finished them with L&P Worcester Sauce. I made "pickles" by peeling and slicing a cucumber and whipping up a quick marinade of vinegar, sugar and spices plus onions. we ate them on Mexican teleras rolls—sort of a French roll, but slightly flat, with one or two creases along the top. They were the best hamburgers we'd had since we last cooked them in Little Rock. We even bought sliced yellow processed cheese to make it more authentically American.
Crusty fried sliced potatoes alongside, with plenty of ketchup. Ahhhh!!

Tonight was a supper of Kir Brand Jumbo Hot Dogs, acelgas (chard), betabeles (beets) y papas (potatoes. With the exception of the very pink hot dog, (Obviously, I am not a purist.) all was at the peak of natural freshness. We had made a leisurely walk throgh the mercado and had bought wisely today.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Friday, the baker made bread

Yesterday, Friday, was an active day. I awoke early, at 3 AM, and baked fudge brownies and whole wheat bread. Our new gas room heater stove seemed determined not to light, so I sent an email to the Service Department of to ask for solutions. Interestingly, in a couple of hours I got an answer that worked. The solution was, in essence,"Fiddle with it until it lights."

Later, I prepared our comida, a sort of fusion between an Asian, Mexican and slightly Belgian beef stew. The key ingredients were beer and lemongrass, but three, dried chiles pasillas made it dark and spicy. Luckily it was laden with fresh vegetables, such as chayote, calabacita, carrot, celery and potato. We had it with plain, steamed Basmati rice.

While awaiting lunch, I took advantage of the nice weather, and we sat on the porch in the sun. I smoked a Churchill cigar that I'd bought at Sanborn's on wednesday. I'm no cigar expert, but this one was rich and mellow. I suppose a few little glasses of Tequila El Cabrito from a Wal Mart (!) promotion, helped the general relaxed ambience. To help set the stage, there was a nanny goat tethered outside our casita to help cut the grass.

The only bicho en el ungüento was the highly intermittent Internet connection. This problem persisted to Saturday morning, and despite my best Net wrangling, may yet be a problem. ¡Ojalá que no!

Friday, October 21, 2005

My First Day On the Blog

Hola. I'd been posting messages on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree message boards (especially the Mexico Branch and the "Get Stuffed" food Branch) for several years now, as well as maintaining galleries of photos on
We recently moved to the vicinity of Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, México, and it occurred to me that I could consolidate my posts on various subjects, along with photos, all on one blog. So, here I am.

My interests are primarily cooking, especially the regional cuisines on México. What better place to test this out than the foods of Michoacán? Our kitchen is very small, but I'm adapting to it. Today, I hung a gift from a chef-friend, from the archway to "bless" the kitchen.

This being my first blog-day, things are a little sparse here. I hope to be filling out the virtual table before very long.

¡Buen provecho!