Wednesday, February 28, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

Southern Style Meets Mexican Style

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

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

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

*The bread went unused.

All you care to eat, $70 Mexican Pesos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to PicasaWeb Album Photos

Friday, February 23, 2007

Up By the Roots: Learning from Doña Chucha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 16, 2007

Tiritas de Pescado Tres Veces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Terror Reigns For Innocent Vegetables!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Birria and variations

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

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

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

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

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

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